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Women’s Roles in the Church

Recently John MacArthur was seen in a video talking about women should never preach in church because that is what the Bible teaches. This produced no small rebuttal from many people on social media. As I read many of those comments and listened to MacArthur’s belief, I realized that both sides weren’t necessarily dealing with the Scriptures in full. What I mean is that both arguments can be seen from the Word of God.

Let’s begin with the Traditionalist side. The most compelling Scripture is 1 Timothy 2:11-14, which reads “Women should listen and learn quietly and submissively. I do not let women teach men or have authority over them. Let them listen quietly. For God made Adam first and afterward he made Eve. And it was the woman, not Adam, who was deceived by Satan, and sin was the result.”

This scripture talks very clearly to not have women teach or have authority over men for two reasons. One is Adam was made first and secondly Eve was the first one deceived. Many theologians believe that any teaching or information prior to The Fall is relevant for New Testament Christians, so that supposedly is Paul’s understanding as well.

Another verse for the Traditionalist side is 1 Corinthians 11:3 and following. Verse 3 states, “But there is one thing I want you to know: A man is responsible to Christ, a woman is responsible to her husband, and Christ is responsible to God.” I know there is much controversy on a key Greek word in this passage, but the following 13 verses seem to reinforce the idea of male leadership.

Later in 1 Corinthians 14 we have two verses that talk again about women being silent in the church. Add to this the criteria for elders in 1 Timothy and Titus, that being a man who is the husband of one wife, this adds up to a fairly strong argument about God’s order of men being in charge and the main teachers, and women supporting that role.

Ah, but just like a trial where the other lawyer gets to present a different view, I now give you the egalitarian (everyone is equal in all things) side. For openers you have Galatians 3:28, which says “There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female. For you are all Christians – you are one in Christ Jesus.” This passage indicating that in Christ there are no distinctions, therefore women have the same potential giftings as men.

You certainly see women in leadership with Deborah in the Old Testament being one of the judges in Israel. In the New Testament in Romans 16:7 there is Junia, which the text suggest might be an apostle. Also in Romans 16:1-2, Paul begins the chapter referencing Phoebe, a deacon, being received as one “who is worthy of high honor”, which strongly talks about her leadership. In the very next verse, he talks about Priscilla and Aquila, co-workers that have a church in their home. What is significant here is Priscilla’s name is mentioned first. Almost always that is an indicator of who is in charge.

The first convert in Europe is Lydia, a merchant in expensive purple cloth. She is a business woman and even though there is no mention of her leading a ministry, she definitely has leadership as a part of her being.

We see in Acts 21:9 that Philip the Evangelist has four unmarried daughters who have the gift of prophecy. Any prophetic person was by calling one that had authority, so these women would be in the place of authoritative pronouncement.

On and on it goes. Jesus picks only men to be a part of his ministry team, yet women it seems were the only ones supporting the ministry financially (see Luke 8:3). So which position is the Biblical one? If we take the traditionalist position, how do we explain the egalitarian scriptures, and vice versa? I have books in my library that take one position, say egalitarian, and are not able to accurately explain the opposite sides’ scriptures. So what is a believer to conclude?

I myself still struggle with this issue because the Biblical evidence seems to argue both sides of the issue. So, here is where I have currently arrived. I take the egalitarian position on women preaching and teaching in church, and leading ministries, and even being a pastor on a church staff. I am a traditionalist when it comes to the lead pastor. I believe that person should be a man. Am I right? I don’t know, but I am open to changing my position to either more traditional or egalitarian.

What I want to be is like the Berean Christians who were noble minded because they searched the Scriptures daily to make sure they understood if Paul was teaching proper doctrine. My pastoral counsel is to be like the Bereans and take a step back from being emotional in our reaction and to really study and pray for the truth to be revealed. Whatever you conclude, may you grant grace to the other position, knowing that this is not a clear cut issue. Granting grace is a position I definitely know is always the right one.

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