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.