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Women in Leadership in the Church

Keith Sharp

Just recently the Episcopal Church elected its first woman presiding bishop over the objections of a sizable minority of Episcopalians. A spokesman for the dissenters explained their concerns were not over a female to lead the church but over her support for openly gay bishops. There are so many issues here it is hard to know where to start. But I want to discuss whether or not it is right for a woman to take a leadership role in the church.

I know that even raising this issue places me on the "kook fringe" with many professed Christians. So be it. If you've never taken an unpopular stand and been called insulting names, you had better question whether or not you are really a Christian (Matthew 10:25; John 17:14).

If you truly follow Christ, the world and its standards are not your standards. Rather, the will of Christ as revealed in the New Testament is the rule by which you live (John 12:48-49; Matthew 28:18; Colossians 3:17; John 16:13-15; 2 Timothy 1:13). Thus, we will let the New Testament settle this question.

The apostle Paul revealed, "But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God" (1 Corinthians 11:3). How does the New Testament apply this principle?

In the same letter Paul commanded:

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 church. (1 Corinthians 14:34-35).
What restrictions do these verses place on women as teachers of the Bible?

It is obvious that "churches" in verse 34 and "church" in verse 35 refer to the public worship assemblies of the local church. The immediate context pertains to tongue speakers and prophets addressing the worship assemblies (verses 27-33).

Does this mean no woman may utter a word in the public worship assemblies? If so, women cannot sing (Ephesians 5:19), confess their faith (Romans 10:9-10), or confess sin (James 5:16) in church. The apostle prohibits women from engaging in the kind of speaking of the context - authoritatively addressing the public worship assembly. By doing this women cast off their role of subjection to man. From the very beginning the principle of feminine submission has been true (verse 35; cf. Genesis 3:16). Women must not speak in the assembly in such a way that their subjection to man is violated.

The apostle later wrote:

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. (1 Timothy 2:11-12)

The purpose of First Timothy is to teach an evangelist how to conduct himself relative to the church (1 Timothy 3:14-15). These principles fulfilled in the local congregation, the only organized relationship divinely authorized for the church.

1 Timothy 2:9-15 gives divine legislation peculiar to godly women and reasons for these commands. Verses nine and ten regulate the dress of women. These requirements apply both in and out of the assembly. Verses eleven and twelve limit the woman in her roles of learning (verse 11) and teaching (verse 12). Verses thirteen and fourteen state the reasons for the woman's subjection, and verse fifteen assures her she can be saved. These truths do primarily apply to her relationship to the local congregation, in light of the general context, but their application is not limited to the public worship assembly.

Verse eleven regulates a woman's learning. Her activities as a Bible student have two limitations not placed on men: "in silence with all submission." In short, in all the woman's learning activities in the local church, she must be submissive to male leadership.

Verse twelve forbids women to "teach" or "exercise dominion over men in the church. The principle is the same as that of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35. Women, in their roles as students and teachers of the Bible in the church, must be submissive to men.

Thus, a woman may not be a preacher. Evangelists are to speak "with all authority" (Titus 2:15). The woman in her teaching role, relative to man, must be under authority; whereas the preacher, in his teaching, is to be in authority over the audience.

Furthermore, the fact the woman must be submissive to man in her teaching forbids her to take any leading role in the assembly of the church when men are present. This is the reason the apostle makes special reference to woman's submission when he forbids her to do the kind of speaking some women were doing at Corinth (1 Corinthians 14:34-35). Everything done in the assembly of the church is to be for edification, i.e., building up by teaching (verse 26; cf. Hebrews 10:24-25). By taking a leading role in the assembly where men are present, the woman would be teaching over a man. This is the reason women must not make announcements, wait on the Lord's table, lead prayers, lead singing, or take the collection in worship assemblies where men are present.

Additionally, a woman must not be the teacher in charge of a Bible class where men are present. This would place her in the role of exercising dominion over men, in violation of 1 Timothy 2:11-12.

The New Testament teaches that elders are to be appointed in each congregation to rule the church (Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5; 1 Timothy 5:17). An elder, also called an "overseer" (Acts 20:17,27; 1 Peter 5:1-2) or a "bishop" (Titus 1:5-7), must be "the husband of one wife" (1 Timothy 3:1-2; Titus 1:5-6). If a woman can be the husband of one wife, she can lead the church.

God has placed the man in the role of leader over the woman (1 Corinthians 11:3). The Lord specifically applies this principle to the home (Ephesians 5:22-24) and to the church (1 Corinthians 14:34-35; 1 Timothy 2:11-12). This is not "politically correct", but Christians follow the will of Christ regardless of what is popular in the world (Galatians 1:10).

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