Women and church offices

These days many modern evangelical churches ordain women as elders and deacons. However, this was not the case until the 20th century, and those Christians who continue to oppose the ordination of women are increasingly being accused of sexism. Yet male supremacy is definitely not our motivation; rather, we see that complementarianism (separate domains for men and women) as something which is divinely ordained, beautiful, and truly honouring to God, men, and women. The Bible, which is God-breathed, and not our culture, is the supreme authority in all matters of faith and practice:

Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. (1 Timothy 2:11-12)

Evangelical churches which ordain women will claim to take these verses seriously, but they will point to the cultural context in which they were written. They might present the argument that this prohibition is limited to Paul’s immediate time because women in the 1st century Roman Empire were likely not educated to the same standard as men and would be more prone to false teachings for this reason; or perhaps because the ordination of women would cause too much social upset in such a patriarchal world. Nevertheless, similar cultural arguments have been used to relax laws on homosexuality; indeed, the denominations which led the way in ordaining women are now leading the way in ordaining practising homosexuals and conducting same-sex “weddings”. Furthermore, this cultural argument becomes difficult to defend when we consider Paul’s reasoning:

For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression. (1 Timothy 2:13-14)

It is clear now that Paul did not forbid women to teach because of his immediate context, but on a theological basis. Paul is appealing to God’s created order. Notably, in Genesis we see this created order being turned upside down: the man is created first, then the woman as his helper, and they are given dominion over creation, including all the animals. Subsequently, the lowly serpent goes specifically to Eve, who is deceived, and it is she who invites Adam to eat the forbidden fruit. Step by step the order has been established and then overturned one by one. In Genesis 3:16 God reinforces the ordinance that the husband is to rule over his wife. On the same premise, according to 1 Timothy 2:11-12, it is men whom God calls to have authority, and therefore to teach, in the church. Women cannot be called to be elders of churches (whose role is to rule and teach) if this is forbidden in God’s word: the Holy Spirit isn’t a mystical voice which tells us to do things contrary to what He has revealed in the Holy Scriptures. The matter of deacons is less clear cut, though I would argue that either office (elder or deacon) is a position of authority and therefore exclusive to men. Phoebe is called diakonos in Romans 16:1, a word which can mean both servant and deacon, but since there is no evidence of her ordination and no protocol for ordaining women as deacons, the former is probable. What we can draw from this is that Christian women, in addition to men, are certainly called to serve the Church. A position of teaching and authority is not required to do this (and women are not forbidden to teach other women and children, areas in which they can have a very valuable ministry). Outside of public worship, women are also called to share the gospel in their everyday lives – modelled by Priscilla, who worked alongside her husband.

So is complementarianism misogynistic? No! Church officers are not of higher worth, or more Christian, than their congregations. Therefore, in the same way that men who are not officers are by no means degraded, neither are women degraded. Complementarians acknowledge that women are as equally part of God’s Kingdom as are men, and that the role of women is no less important than the role of men, but simply different.  We say with Paul in Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” Acknowledging a difference between the role of men and women is not something evil (though our modern society would say it is because it wrongly equates value with sameness), but something glorious. God has made us different, and given us different attributes and roles, so that together, as the Body of Christ, men and women might complement each other. If we want to be in a proper relationship with God, we should be conformed to his Word rather than to worldly values. If we want to heal brokenness in our world, we will do this by giving God’s created order its rightful place of honour. This is what the true gospel looks like.

On the topic of complementarianism, I recommend this article by Matthew Roberts, Minister of Trinity Church York (International Presbyterian Church).

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  1. Pingback: Against the example of Deborah as an argument for ordaining women | The Sola Scripturist

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