“I write to you so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God.” – I Timothy 3:15
My last blog post was on a very important issue that seems to have become somewhat of a hot topic. The recent controversy in the Southern Baptist Convention over women filling pulpits and being ordained as pastors and elders prompted me to write about the biblical prohibition on women teaching men and holding positions of authority in the Church. I briefly explained the complementarian view on gender roles. This position teaches that while God created men and women completely equal in value and dignity, He also created them with complementary differences. He uniquely equipped them to perform distinct tasks. There is a widespread movement aimed at erasing all gender distinctives, so it is imperative that we as Christian women understand the gender specific roles the Lord has designed for us to fill in the home and church. And there is an abundance of ministry opportunities available for females.
I Timothy 2:12 states, “…I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man…” Immediately following this passage, in I Timothy 3, we are given the requirements for elders; and it is clear the office is reserved for men. In the fifteenth verse of this chapter, the Apostle Paul, under divine inspiration, wrote, “…I write to you so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God.” The instruction given is that women are not allowed to teach men nor exercise governing authority over the Church. This doesn’t mean that women can’t teach men math, or a foreign language, or how to play a musical instrument. We are just not permitted to teach men the Bible in the church. This, of course, also means that women are not to hold the position of pastor or elder in a local church.
BUT, there is so much more that women can and should do!
It seems we always want to focus on what we can’t have or can’t do. This truth becomes obvious when I am watching my grandchildren. They can have ten toys right in front of them, but they invariably want the one the other child has. What the other person has inevitably looks more appealing than what they have in their hands. We’re really not so different from young children, are we? When I’m dieting my mind keeps wandering to the things I’m being deprived of…ice cream, donuts, pasta, fried chicken, french fries, etc. I just don’t naturally focus on all the delicious things I can still enjoy like melon, fresh pineapple, salmon, veggies from the garden, and of course, coffee. In the same way that I can get preoccupied with my dietary limitations, we can get so hung up on the few restrictions on the role of women in the church that we overlook all the wonderful opportunities there are for ladies to serve.
There were a number of women who played a significant role in the ministry of Christ, and females have continued to make a great impact on the world throughout history. We can read stories of many courageous ladies who have carried the gospel to other lands. I read one such account about Joanne Shetler, a missionary with Wycliffe Bible Translators who served in the Philippines. She tells of her interaction with a man in the village who had adopted her into his family, and who was reading pages of the New Testament as she produced them. She writes, “I continued translating in Timothy with my ‘daddy’. And we came to a verse where Paul says to Timothy, ‘I don’t allow women to teach men.’ My daddy didn’t even bat an eyelash. But that afternoon after we’d finished work he said to me, ‘Now what is that we’re going to study on Sunday?’ I thought he was just curious. I didn’t know what was on his mind since fathers don’t report to their children. So, I told him. Sunday morning came, and before I could stand up to start, he stood up and said, ‘My daughter here knows more about this than I do, but we found in the Bible that women aren’t supposed to teach men. So I guess I have to be the one!’ And that was the end of my career and the beginning of their teaching.”
I love that true story, because it is a beautiful picture of the proper response of both the man and the woman as they saw this truth from Scripture. Joanne’s “daddy” didn’t make excuses for his inadequacy, nor did she demand that she be allowed to continue to teach simply because she was more learned. They both individually bowed to the authority of the Scripture, and it was a key turning point in the establishing of a congregation with male leadership naturally taking place.
I’m sure most of my readers are familiar with Jim and Elisabeth Elliot, missionaries to Ecuador. After Jim and four of his colleagues were martyred in 1956, Elisabeth realized she was the only missionary left who could speak the language of the Auca Indians. But rather than violate God’s word, she shared the sermon each week with one of the Auca men, and he preached it to the church. She did this until there were male leaders in the church. Mrs. Elliot said she recognized that she could teach better than any of the native men, but that was not her role to fill. Just because a woman is an extraordinary public speaker does not mean she is qualified to pastor a church.
Frustration with men not fulfilling their leadership responsibilities can tempt women to go beyond their biblical sphere. But God has established proper gender defined roles in His church, and when a woman assumes a man’s role the problem is simply compounded. Need doesn’t constitute the will of God, and it is never right for us to disobey the explicit teachings of Scripture merely because we see a need.
So, what is a woman to do in her local church? There are a number of things every believing woman is to be engaged in. Each child of God has been blessed with at least one spiritual gift, and we should be using those gifts to serve God and His people. In addition to that, we are all called to pray. We can and should be interceding for our brothers and sisters around the globe. Every one of us is responsible to read, study, memorize, and meditate on the Scriptures. We should be able to defend the truth and to instruct others. We also all share the duty, as well as, the privilege to evangelize. According to Titus chapter two all older believing women should in some form or fashion be teaching, training, discipling, and or mentoring younger women in the faith. And most of us could be investing financially in the local church and world missions. Those of us who are married must be careful not to neglect our primary responsibility to care for our husbands; and those with children in the home have another key ministry in caring for, training, and discipling them.
There are countless opportunities of ministry available, and there are many faithful women who serve on the mission field in a variety of ways while refraining from leading in the church. Women can publicly share a personal testimony of God’s working in their lives or the life of someone else. They can sing or play a musical instrument in church. Ladies can serve as church secretaries or treasurers. They can write books or Sunday school materials. Women can teach domestic skills to other women. They can show hospitality. They can counsel other ladies. Women can teach children or women or conduct Bible studies with women. They can serve as doctors or nurses in remote places that desperately need medical personnel. And I haven’t even mentioned a multitude of other mercy ministries that are such a blessing to the poor, needy, orphans, widows, unwed mothers, and I could go on and on.
Gladys Aylward, a missionary to China, along with her coworker, Jeannie Lawson, founded an inn to provide hospitality for travelers. They would share the gospel with those who lodged there. Gladys took in orphans and adopted several of them. In 1938 when the region was invaded by the Japanese, she led more than one hundred orphans to safety over the treacherous mountain terrain even though she was wounded herself. She personally cared for them and many were converted to Christianity.
Ann Hasseltine Judson, the first wife of Adoniram Judson, the first American missionary, helped translate the Bible into Burmese. She also opened a school for girls. Amy Carmichael founded an orphanage in southern India and rescued children from forced prostitution in the Hindu temples.
Pastor Conrad Mbewe’s wife, Felistas, and a group of women from their church minister to prostitutes in Lusaka, Zambia. They provide diapers, toilet articles, and other things they might need. They share the gospel and attempt to get them off the streets. They also provide sewing machines at the church building, and when one of them comes to Christ they teach her an honorable trade.
There is much kingdom work for women to do. And a good deal of it can be done better by women than men, because of the way God has designed them to be helpers and nurturers.
The ladies in the first churches didn’t pastor, but were actively involved in serving the Christian community, as well as, evangelizing the lost. Their efforts played an indispensable role in the Lord’s work through His church. They were faithful in advancing the gospel while caring for God’s people without violating His divine pattern of male leadership in the church.
Paul mentioned a number of these women in the final chapter of his letter to the saints in Rome. He commended Phoebe in Romans 16:1, calling her a servant of the church in Cenchrea. He didn’t speak specifically about her service, but there is some indication that Phoebe may have been a woman of means who used her wealth to help many Christians, including Paul. The second woman he mentioned was Priscilla, calling both she and her husband, Aquila, his fellow workers in Christ. Like Paul, they were dedicated to the spread of the gospel; and their ministry as a married couple inspires me. There were six or seven other women Paul praised because of their hard work for the sake of the gospel, but this post is already the longest I have ever written.
Suffice it to say that the principle of male headship does not in any way diminish the significance and necessity of the active role of women in the Lord’s work. Women throughout the ages have served as bold evangelists, faithful prayer warriors, compassionate ministers of mercy, loving care givers, influential teachers of women and children, and devoted lovers of Christ and worshipers of God.
I hope every believing woman reading this post realizes that you have been called to serve in your local church. You may not be asked to open an orphanage in India like Amy Carmichael, or to serve as a doctor in Africa like Helen Roseveare, or to teach in a primitive tribe in South America like Elisabeth Elliot. But, you are called to proclaim the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ first to your family, and then to all who are in your sphere of influence.
And what a glorious privilege we have been given! We don’t have to have a spectacular Saul of Tarsus conversion testimony in order to share it with others. We don’t have to be married to a Hudson Taylor in order to serve in ministry. We don’t even have to have a seminary degree to be able to teach. Like the woman at the well in John chapter four, we should simply go and tell others what great things the Lord has done for us and what He is able to do for them.
Soli Deo Gloria