Concerning all the comments on women as pastors, I thought it might be helpful to go through a few passages on the subject, as it is a vital one but one that is often misunderstood. I hope and pray these will be of some help to anyone who may be confused or need reassuring. I will start by going through 2 key passages in the New Testament that pertain to the order of leadership in the local church. Then we’ll go through the examples of Deborah and Priscilla, which are brought up frequently, and Galatians 3:28 which is often taken out of context, and finally pastors and elders and spiritual gifts, which can help put these teachings into perspective. Note, this is only a brief overview as I don’t have time to go over everything. If you’re looking for an excellent resource that covers the topic in more detail, I’d recommend “Men and Women Equal Yet Different: A Brief Study of the Biblical Passages on Gender” by Alexander Strauch.
Headship in the local church
For whatever reason – and we don’t need to understand the reason why – God has ordained that men be the leaders in the local church. This does not mean that women are never leaders. They may lead women’s ministries, etc; this will be discussed further in another section.
The bible is absolutely clear about this and to dispute this matter is to not only to make a mockery of God’s Word, but to disobey Him. Scripture speaks for itself:
1 Corinthians 14:34-38 “Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says. And if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is shameful for women to speak in the church. Or did the word of God come originally from you? Or was it you only that it reached? If anyone thinks himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things which I write to you are the commandments of the Lord.”
The last verse says it all: If anyone thinks himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things which I write to you are the commandments of the Lord. How can one argue with that? The only way to argue with it is to deny Scripture. Or will we also deny 2 Timothy 3:16: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.”?
1 Timothy 2:11-14 “Let a woman learn in silence with all submission. And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression.”
For all those who want to say that Paul was writing this in a particular period of history when women would shout out in the middle of the service or whatever, there is no way that this passage can be dismissed on cultural grounds. In 1 Corinthians Paul says clearly “the things which I write to you are the commandments of the Lord.” Here, Paul appeals to Creation. He is not giving cultural reasons. Unless we want to deny that the Scriptures are the infallible Word of God, there is no way we can deny that it is not God’s will that women remain silent in the church, that they do not have authority over a man – ie, they are not to be in leadership over, or to be teaching a man, in the local church.
One OT illustration that is often used to suggest that women should have positions of leadership in the church is that of Deborah in Judges 4. However, if you read the story carefully, the exact opposite point is clear: God has ordained that men should be leaders.
1. The Israelites were not exactly following the Lord during this period (4:1-2 “When Ehud was dead, the children of Israel again did evil in the sight of the Lord. So the Lord sold them into the hand of Jabin king of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor.”) So to begin with, Deborah was judging Israel at a point when they were not following the Lord. She is not commended for this; it is stated as fact, and to take an example for women leadership from a period when God’s people were not following Him is probably not a good principle.
2. Deborah herself rebukes Barak for not taking more of a leadership position in leading the Israelites into battle against their oppressors (4:6-7).
3. Barak doesn’t want to be a leader. In the case where the man called to take leadership refused to take it, God in His mercy used a woman. In verse 8 Barak says to Deborah, “If you will go with me, then I will go; but if you will not go with me, I will not go!” Deborah responds, “I will surely go with you; nevertheless there will be no glory for you in the journey you are taking, for the Lord will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman.” Here, Deborah is again acknowledging the Barak should be the leader, but that the Lord will use her because he refuses to take on the responsibility. As a result, he will not receive any glory. Deborah is to be admired as a woman who followed the Lord when no man would, and for that she is a great example. But she is not an example of the norm, and that is clear.
4. To an extent, this is not even a relevant example for the discussion of whether or not women should be in leadership in the local church. Although male leadership is the norm throughout Scriptures, and is commanded in the New Testament for the local church, it is not wise to take examples from the Jews of the Old Testament and apply them to the way the local church operates. We have been given ample instruction in the New Testament dictating how the Lord would have the church operate. (Note, many people are confused about the Jews and the church – they are not one and the same. I don’t have the time to go into detail here).
Aquila and Priscilla
As previously mentioned, Aquila and Priscilla work as a team to correct a young man who is zealous for the Lord. Notice, Priscilla is not working alone but with her husband. Also, this is not within the context of the gathering of the local church. See….
Galatians 3:28 (“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”) To use this verse to say that women can have roles of leadership over men in the church, is to a) take the verse out of context, and b) to make the Scriptures contradict what is clearly taught in other passages. Taken in context, this verse is talking about the availability of salvation to all believers. Galatians 3:26 says, “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.” In the Old Testament, the Jews were God’s chosen people. Jesus was prophesied to the Jews as their Redeemer. What was not universally understood at the time was that Christ also came for the Gentiles. Here in Galatians, Paul is reassuring the Gentiles in Galatia that salvation is for all men, not just the Jews. The phrase, “for you are all one in Christ Jesus,” further proves the point. This is not a verse suggesting that there is no order in the church, that there is no structure, that there is no distinction between the roles of men and the roles of women in the local church.
Pastors and Elders
There is much confusion in the local church today about pastors and elders. Nowhere in Scripture is there a pattern for modern-day pastors. Nowhere does it suggest that there should be one or two men solely responsible for all the teaching in the church and for all the caring of the spiritual needs of the church. In the local churches in the New Testament, the spiritual leaders were elders. 1 Timothy 3 outlines the qualifications for elders (those responsible for the spiritual care of the local church) and deacons (those responsible for maintenance of the local church – this might include being responsible for the church budget or for coordinating ministries under the elders, etc).
Today, churches hire a “pastor,” who is primarily responsible for the spiritual care of the local church. The term is somewhat unfortunate, as a pastor could technically be someone who has the gift of pasturing – caring for and being spiritual leaders, in any capacity. So technically, a woman can be a pastor.
I bring this up because I notice at times in this debate that some people, saying that women can be pastors, simply mean that women can be the leader in a ministry involving the spiritual well-being of women and children, which is absolutely correct. However, it doesn’t mean that a woman can be in leadership in any capacity over men.
One of the women people bring forth in the debate over whether or not women can be in leadership positions in the local church is that of spiritual gifts. Nowhere does Scripture say that any spiritual gifts are only for men, or only for women, so if a woman has the gift of teaching or pasturing, why would God have a structure in place that doesn’t allow them to teach or pastor?
This stems from a misunderstanding of spiritual gifts. In 1 Corinthians 12 Paul says, “Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be ignorant.” He goes on to say, “There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all.” He goes on to list some spiritual gifts.
Notice: there are different gifts, different ministries, and different activities. So perhaps a man has a gift of teaching. This does not necessarily mean that he is gifted to preach from the pulpit in the local church. Perhaps he is gifted in teaching one-on-one. Perhaps he is gifted in teaching and evangelizing, to clearly explain to the gospel to non-believers. As such, he may be involved in a ministry of teaching outside of the local church, in street ministry or something. Or perhaps another man is good at teaching through writing, and is involved in writing books or articles to teach others. This is just discussing one gift – teaching – but there different ministries and different activities that it can be used in.
As such, a woman may have the gift of teaching. The Lord, in His wisdom, has ordained clearly that women should be silent in the church, that she should not be teaching and leading and having authority over the men in the local church. But perhaps she can use her gift in Sunday School, or at a girls camp, or as a speaker at a women’s conference.
Perhaps a woman has the gift of pasturing. She may have a ministry of overseeing a ladies’ bible study, or of meeting with women in the local church to pray with them and encourage them in times of need. She doesn’t need to be standing at the front of the church to be used mightily by God.
I think she articulated it very well and I'm grateful to her for spending the time writing that! I once wrote the following and it can be found here:
When claiming that God created you in some way, always remember that you are a fallen creature. You are not without sin. Your natural desires, talents, and skills must be harnessed to God's will, not allowed to reign freely. Yes, he gave you skills, talents, and desires that he wants you to use and have fulfilled. But he wants you to submit those to his will and keep them under his hand.
It has always bothered me that women who are gifted in teaching and "pasturing" as Jen put it would rather go against scripture and lead an entire congregation than go with scripture and teach women about what it means to be a woman of God. I've long contested that if those women had embraced women's ministries, then the women's ministries wouldn't be in such shambles right now.
And finally, an awesome quote from Jen that she ended her post with:
What is more important, our society’s view of what is just? Our society’s view of what men and women should or shouldn’t do? Our own sense of what is fair and right? Or what God has plainly instructed?