Gender in Church Leadership and Worship

                Consideration of the question of female church leadership and the place of women in the communal worship of Christian assemblies is of increasing importance in Western churches and religious bodies.  As women have gained prominence and assumed positions of authority in secular institutions so have they advanced to leadership in religious organizations, albeit slowly and with more opposition.  Some denominations have endorsed and encouraged women to go into the “ministry”, while others have not permitted this at all.  Still others have concluded to allow a combination of husband-wife “pastor teams” or boards with both genders fully represented.  I have been asked before why the church doesn’t allow women to be ordained to office or to lead the congregation in its worship of God.  The simplest answer, which I still give, is, “the Bible doesn’t permit the ordination of women.”  Let us review a few passages and I will throw in my two cents on this important discussion.

                We will start with an examination of the creation account in Genesis 1 and 2, because this conversation almost always includes Galatians 3:28 in which the Apostle Paul famously writes, “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.”  This passage really has become the passage whenever this matter is discussed and it has been understood in many ways.  One writer commented that this passage overturned the order of creation.  The writer believed that woman had been made subject to man, but the new way in Christ reversed this order.  Another commentator wrote that Galatians 3:28 reinstated the order of creation.  He believed that when they had been created God had intended human marriage and society to be egalitarian and Paul was, therefore, restoring the natural order.

                So what was the natural order anyway?  In six days of creation God declared that only one thing was not good—that man was alone.  In Genesis 2:20 we are told that there was not found a “helper comparable to him”; so God created woman for man (cf. I Corinthians 11:9).  The Hebrew phrase in Genesis 2 means aid-counterpart.  It is clear that the woman was put in subjection to the man.  If you went to your boss and requested that an aid be hired for you would it be understood by any that you were asking for a new supervisor?  In Genesis 3 God cursed Adam, in part, because he had “heeded the voice of [his] wife”; he had obeyed or consented to his wife.  The natural order is that wives are subordinate to their husbands and many New Testament passages agree (I Corinthians 11:3, Ephesians 5:22, Colossians 3:18, Titus 2:5, I Peter 3:1-6).

                So what are we to make of Paul’s assertion in Galatians 3?  Paul was simply stating that all Christians are unified and have the same inheritance, regardless of their present ethnicity, gender or social status.  Christ can save all of us equally.  The statement in Galatians 3:28 is about access, communion and fellowship.  However, God still expects us to operate and function within society.  Paul is neither restoring nor overturning anything in this passage regarding the order of creation.  The passages listed at the end of the previous paragraph all make it abundantly clear that wives are to submit to their husbands.  Consider that there is “neither slave nor free.”  Several New Testament passages tell slaves to obey their masters—even the harsh ones (Ephesians 6:5, Colossians 3:22, I Timothy 6:1-2, I Peter 2:18).  Galatians 3:28 is no Emancipation Proclamation.  Paul is not saying that women are no longer under men anymore than he is saying slaves may now boss their masters around.

                It is a matter of headship.  The husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church (Ephesians 5:23; cf. Colossians 1:18).  As Christ rules and directs the church so does the husband rule and direct his wife.  If the first is true than so must the latter be true.  If the wife is not to submit to her husband than we must assume that the church is not to submit to Christ.  Is this ever debated?  No.  It’s absurd.  Galatians 3:28 is no boon to those arguing that women may lead the church and conduct its worship.

                There is also a belief that women were ordained and led the church worship and that the Bible bears witness of this.  I Timothy 2: 11-12 teaches us that women are to learn quietly and submissively and not to teach or dominate a man.  To teach is to have authority over the taught.  If a woman were to teach a man (such as delivering a sermon) then she would have authority over him.  Paul did not permit this and neither was the evangelist Timothy to allow it.  We can only conclude that we must not permit it either.  Interestingly, Paul cites the order of creation as evidence in support of his conclusion. 

                Much is made of the fact that there were female prophets among the NT church.  This cannot be denied.  After all, Philip had four virgin daughters that prophesied (Acts 21:9).  Not to mention the Day of Pentecost when prophecy was fulfilled and “manservants and maidservants” would prophesy.   So there can be little doubt that there were female prophets.  But where did they prophesy and what was their role in the church?

                There is not one single command or example of a woman teaching in the assembly or exercising authority over a church.  It’s not even inferred that this was the case.  The same holds true of the prophets.  There is no case or inference of a woman using her prophetic gift in the assembly.  Consider I Corinthians 14: 33-34 which says, “Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak…for it is shameful for women to speak in church.”  The word speak is used of teaching or uttering instruction.  This passage parallels what is taught in I Timothy 2.  It is shameful for women to teach and instruct, even if they were prophets.  This passage actually infers that the prophets speaking in the assembly were, in fact, men.

                So when did female prophets prophesy?  I Corinthians 14: 32 states that “the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets.”  I can think of many instances when a prophecy might come in handy.  There were six other days in the week then just as now.  The only thing we can say for sure is that women were excluded from teaching and prophesying to the church during its weekly meeting.  We can say little else. 

                There is much more to consider on this topic, but I will stop here and wait for questions and comments.  The Bible is sufficient to answer all our queries and settle all disputes if we will submit to God’s Word.  I pray He blesses you all.

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11 thoughts on “Gender in Church Leadership and Worship”

  1. @ Our friend from Pakistan

    I was encouraged to see that the Bible is taught and the name of Jesus known in Pakistan. This is wonderful news indeed! I welcome you to use our site in educating more of your countrymen about The Way.

    Onetruechurch.net is a little different than some religious internet sites in that we are not sponsored, financially supported, or directed by any specific church or religious organization. It is a group effort of 10-12 like-minded individuals who desire to see God’s truth proclaimed. Though we each are members of the Lord’s body, the site itself stands apart from any church or religious organization, and we wish it to remain so. We feel this permits us to objectively preach God’s word unhindered. Thank you for the kind offer, but we will decline at this time.

    However, as I previously stated, you are welcome to use the website as a reference. We add content weekly in the form of articles and monthly in the form of short videos. Your comments and questions are always welcome.

    I pray that Pakistanis will love the truth and receive the salvation of Jesus, the Son of God and mankind’s Savior.

    Warmest Regards,

    Wade

  2. Dear Pastor,
    Greetings from NSP Church of Pakistan
    We are pleased to contact you through internet searching. We found you the right way Church committed and devoted for evangelizing and growing with the guidance of the Holy Spirit for the Kingdom of God in this universal
    Therefore, we also take privilege to introduce NSP Church of Pakistan for establishing ministry relation toward spread the God’s work in Pakistan. NSP has been serving in Pakistan since 1998 on self-help bases along with its local Pastors team in evangelism and church plantings. Therefore, we are interesting to have fellowship or affiliate with your ministry to fulfill the Great Commission in Pakistan. We do hope that you will consider this proposal for the mutual benefit of the both ministries as well as for the glory of God.

    I am looking forward to see your kind response in this regard. God bless you and your church.

    Yours in Christ,
    Pastor Alyas Bhatti

  3. Good points made here about men doing their job. I am convinced that if male leaders in the church took on a leadership role rather than a boss role, congregations would prosper and little would be said about proper roles in the church. Things would work well.

    A bossy, overbearing church leader is anti-Biblical as is a bossy, overbearing husband. There are many reasons why those in leadership roles gravitate to the overbearing traits: insecurity, incompetence, insensitivity and maybe just by error.

    Of all the problems that I’ve seen in churches over the years, almost every one can be traced back to a desire for power on a certain topic. Both male and female can have this problem. Men who are elders, deacons, experienced members, and evangelists can have these problems.

    The Bible is clear about the gender of church officers. It’s also clear about the traits of those leaders. When the Bible is followed in each of these areas the Lord’s church prospers.

  4. I wish that we could find the words that help our ladies to understand that subjection does not mean inferior. Christ was in subjection to the Father without being inferior. Women are not inferior to men, just created for a different role. Without women the church would be extinct in just one generation. Without women caring for and teaching our children the church would have dissapeared many years ago. If anything can be said, we men have failed to credit women for their contributions to the church.

  5. We teach ourselves to become products of our own deceptions. James, Jesus’ brother makes this abundantly clear in his letter. In fact he uses the word “deceived” in several forms many times over. The focus is that when we place ourselves and our own importance over that of the Lord’s, we have lied to ourselves and to one another. The obvious consequence is that once leadership disappears we can’t tell which way is up, so anything goes.

    Many in the world and many religious in the world equate a man’s role and authority to power. Power is intoxicating. But, being a leader has nothing to do with power. It has everything to do with responsibility – with getting things done how they were meant to be and how God expects them to be. It cannot be stated enough how important the need for selfless and proper leadership is in the Body. Then, now, until the Lord comes again.

  6. That’s an excellent point, Richard. If men refuse to be the men God wants us to be and lead our families in Christ’s way, what choice do we leave women who desire to serve the Lord. I was told of an instance where a congregation was comprised of 1 man and three women. The women directed the service which the man thought was wrong, but he refused to participate and direct the worship himself. Many of these problems arose because of men’s refusal to lead.@Richard

  7. I had the opportunity to speak with a denominational woman about this topic. Her observation was that at her ‘church’ women comprised the majority of those actively involved in religious activities. I think she correctly surmised part of the issue. If men fill their role and model their lives after Christ the loving shepherd it would probably be much more natural for women to find contentment in their own role.

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