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By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at Life BPC 8am Service, 2000-02-27

Text: 1 Timothy 2:11-14

'Is it biblical to have women pastors?' This is a question that has been asked, and will probably be asked again and again, especially since more local churches are now having pastors who are women. In Singapore alone there are at least 67 women pastors from various church denominations (mostly Pentecostal), out of these 24 of them are ordained and hence called 'Reverend'. 

I. Roles Reserved for Men Alone 

Our church takes the position that women can serve the Lord in many ways - as deaconesses, missionaries, preachers, especially in ministries to women and children, and also in exceptional cases where there are no men to take the lead. But we do not ordain women pastors or elders, as these are roles that are biblically reserved for men alone. The epistles of 1 Timothy and Titus (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9) make it quite clear that both elders and pastors are to be men of good report, spiritually and morally qualified for leadership in the church. But it must be emphasised that this exclusion does not at all mean that the Scriptures regard women as being inferior to men, or less qualified than men.

II. The Roles of Women in God's Kingdom 

A. In the Bible 

The Bible teaches us 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.' In fact the Bible has a very high view of women - higher than most other cultures in Bible times. It is therefore sinful for anyone to discriminate against women. Instead of doing that we are enjoined by God's Word to plead the cause of those who are treated unfairly, downtrodden or oppressed.

Do you know that women have played an important role in Bible history? - E.g. Miriam (Exodus 15:20), Deborah (Judges 4;4), Huldah (2 Kings 22:14ff; 2 Chronicles 34:22ff), Noadiah (Nehemiah 6:14), Mary (Luke 1:26-56); Anna (Luke 2:36-38), Philip's four daughters (Acts 21:9); Priscilla (Acts 18:24ff - three times her name is placed before Aquila) Phoebe (Romans 16:1) and many other women (1 Corinthians 11:5; Acts 2:17). 

The last 22 verses of the book of Proverbs give us a very glowing tribute to the virtuous woman. The famous chapter of faith in Hebrews 11 names two women (Sarah and Rahab vv.11,31). The genealogy of Christ in Matthew's gospel names four women - Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba and Mary (Matthew 1:5,6,16). In the life of Christ, there were women who followed together with His disciples (Matthew 27:55,56). They served him by making provision for His journeys, by giving hospitality, by their deeds of love, by noting His tomb so that they could perform the last rites for Him, and by becoming eyewitnesses of His resurrection. 

Christ never discriminated against any woman. E.g. Jesus included women in His parables (e.g. Matthew 13:33; Luke 15:8-10), making it clear that His message is as much for them as for the men. He praised the widow who gave two mites as her offering to God (Mark 12:42,43), He commended the woman who washed His feet with her tears (Luke 7:37-48), He had such great compassion for the widow of Nain that He raised her son back to life (Luke 7:13), and He praised the Syro-Phoenecian woman for her faith in Him (Matthew 15:28). 

B. In the History of the Church and Missions 

Women of faith have been used mightily by God in the history of the church. Before John Sung began his great revival ministry, revival had come to China through Miss Dora Yu, whose preaching brought crowds to tearful repentance and salvation. The valuable contribution to God's kingdom have been recognised and commended by many godly men. E.g. John Wesley appointed women as leaders of the Bristol classes. Dwight L Moody encouraged Frances Willard to preach the Gospel. Single women have been the finest missionaries in the world - Gladys Alyward in China, Amy Carmichael in India, Johanna Veenstra and Helen Roseveare in Africa. It is interesting to note that those missions that work in the more primitive fields where both life and work are hard usually have a higher than average ratio of women to men. Three out of the seven missionaries that our church supports are women - Jess Lim-Tamee, Roska Choi, and Ho HS. 

And thus we must disagree with those who want to minimize the role of women in God's Kingdom. Some have claimed that women should not speak at all in church, but just sit passively, keep silent and just let men do all the leading and teaching, even to groups of women and children. In our own Bible College, our women students are given equal opportunity to practise and develop their preaching and teaching skills, and many of them can do these things very well. 

III. Overstepping The Defined Roles 

Now the question is, if the valuable service and capabilities of godly women are always to be recognised in the church, why then can they not be made pastors of churches? Why deny women the privilege of shepherding the flock, of baptising new believers, of conducting the Lord's Supper, of officiating church marriages and ordaining new ministers? 

A. The Influence of Feminism on Society and the Church 

Now this is where we need to be careful not to overstep certain roles that have been defined in the Scriptures concerning the ministry of women. That role is overstepped when churches begin to ordain women as pastors or elders, and many churches today are doing that. This seems to be a trend that will become prominent in the near future. What has caused this trend? It is partly due to the strong influence of the feminist movement, the movement that has fought, for women's rights in every sphere of life, even militantly at times. 

Most feminists believe that the only distinction between men and women is biological, and so all other distinctions are purely man-made. They claim that there should be no distinction between the roles of men and women at all, even in the home and in the church. And now that this movement has already scored great victories in removing discrimination against women in the fields of education, in sports, in the work environment, and in politics, its sights are now set on religion. The feminist movement today sees religion and especially Christianity as the greatest barrier to feminine liberation. Their efforts have brought about debates in many churches. These debates have especially intensified in the last decade. 

Some feminists have taken an assertive stance against the church for denying what they claim to be their 'rights'. This has given rise to something known as 'feminist theology' (which was defined in a book written by Ann Loades in 1990). A feminist scholar, Elisabeth Fiorenza, recently stated that feminists in the Roman Catholic Church should strive to become cardinals or even the Pope and then tear down the existing hierarchical structures and rebuild a new Catholic church which will be free of hierarchy. 

Intense pressure from them has already led some church denominations to ordain women as pastors, priests, and bishops. E.g. In 1976 the Episcopal Church in the US regularised the ordination of women to the priesthood. The Anglican Church began to ordain women priests in 1992 and there are now more than a thousand women priests. The Methodist and Lutheran church have followed suit. A year ago, 18 women were ordained as pastors in the Lutheran church in India. The RC church is still against it and the Pope has issued a papal epistle stating the official stand against the ordination of women. However a breakaway faction, the Catholic Apostolic Church in North America, began ordaining women in 1998 and many are lobbying for it in view of the shortage of priests in the RC church. 

B. The Faulty Interpretation of Scripture 

One may ask, how did they convince churches to ordain women when there is nothing in the Scriptures about the ordination of women, and there were no women pastors in the NT church? Their answer to this is that this situation prevailed only because men were culturally dominant at that time. The social customs of Bible times did not allow women to speak out or exercise their rights in society. And thus the church had to accept and adopt the same social discrimination against women. 

In order to substantiate this idea, feminist theologians take slavery as a test case. They argue that slavery was likewise tolerated by the church, for the same reason - it was the norm at that time, although God's plan was that slavery would one day be eliminated. Since society has now been delivered from slavery, the church is now able to take its proper against it. And since society has also been delivered from discrimination against women, the church must now take its proper stand against that as well, and allow women to be ordained as pastors. 

In other words they interpret all the passages in Scripture that restrict the ministry of women in the church as passages that are meant strictly for the church at that time, and not for the church today. It was merely a temporary accommodation to the cultural situation of the times. Listen to what they say in an article: 

'Standard codes of conduct are vastly different today. Today the gospel will have freer course - when women in the church are treated with equal honour by being given the same opportunities for service that are accorded men. The church's two main missionary fronts are its young people and the churched community. Given the importance that young people and society at large attach to equal treatment of men and women, we create a stumbling block other than the stumbling block of the cross if we continue to bar women from entering the public ministry.' 

IV. The Basis of the Roles: Origins 

This argument sounds quite convincing, until one studies the passages themselves. Let us look at 1 Timothy 2:11-14 '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. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.' Let us not misunderstand this passage when it says that women should be in silence. It is only against authoritative speaking, teaching and ruling by women in church. We have already cited other parts of the Bible that show that Christian women like Philip's daughters, Phoebe and Priscilla were actively involved in the ministry of God's Word. 

What we need to note of in this passage however, is what the injunction is based on. It is based on two things: the order of creation, and the fall of man. The basis for reserving church authority for the men is not cultural at all, as the feminists claim. The basis is historical, and that means that it is a permanent precept. It cannot change, even when society changes. 

A. Male Headship is based on the Order of Creation 

The Bible tells us in Genesis 2 that God made the man first. Adam found himself alone and in need of a helpmeet. The Lord therefore put him to sleep, took out one of his ribs, and then made the first woman out of it. When Adam awoke and saw Eve, he named her 'Woman' and the Lord married them. Hence the headship of the man is based on origins. 

If the Lord had meant it to be otherwise, He would have done things differently. He would have created woman at exactly the same time and in exactly the same way as He created man - from the ground. But since man was created before woman, and since woman was created out of man, and since man also had the privilege to give woman her name, the headship of the man is permanently established, and it must stand permanently. And this is to be reflected for all time in the family, as well as in the church. 

Thus we have seen that male headship already existed before the Fall took place and Adam demonstrated it by naming his wife 'woman' after himself, 'man'. This brings us to the other thing which is mentioned in 1 Timothy 2. Let us look at v.14 - 'And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression. Among other things, the fall of man teaches us what can happen when the principle of male headship is violated. It was Eve who led Adam into sin. This is why, after the Fall, God told the woman that her husband shall rule over her (Genesis 3:16b). The Lord was telling her to submit to her husband's headship as she should have done when she was tempted. 

B. Male Headship is not Based on the Curse of Sin 

Feminist theologians make a mistake of interpretation of this verse, Genesis 3:16. The statement 'he shall rule over thee' comes directly after God pronounced the curse of sin affecting the woman. The whole verse reads: 'Unto the woman He said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.' Thus they claim that male headship is part of the curse of Sin, and since Christ has now delivered us from the curse of sin, male headship must be dispensed with. 

But if male headship is based on the curse of sin, then we may ask, Why does 1 Timothy 2 not refer to this as the basis of male headship? Why does it say in v.13 'For Adam was first formed, then Eve' instead of saying, 'For Eve was cursed with submission to Adam'? 

Hence we have seen the faulty interpretation of Scripture that is being used to convince churches today to do away with male headship and allow women to serve as pastors. We have also seen why it is necessary for us to continue to take a stand against ordaining women as pastors.

And this is the stand that we must continue to take even though it may go against the prevailing social opinion, and even though it may invite much criticism from the public and from other churches. We would probably be charged with violating the equality of men and women before God. Let me state once again that we fully uphold and teach the equality of men and women, because it is plainly taught 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.' 

What this verse means is that men and women are equally bearers of the image of God. Both are equally sinners, equally deserving of judgment, and equally redeemable. But this verse cannot be extended to mean that all role distinctions are eliminated for Christians. God has made men and women to fulfil different roles in the home and in the church. Man is given the role of headship while women are given the role of submission. These roles must be maintained and not overstepped, for the proper function of both of these divine institutions. 

V. What the Role of Submission Means 

One reason why many may find this hard to accept is that they have an negative view of this role of submission, perceiving it as being an unpleasant role, always on the receiving end. Wives are commanded by God to submit to their husbands (Ephesians 5:22) and women in the church are commanded to submit to the church leadership (1 Corinthians 14:34). But let us understand that submission does not turn a woman into a doormat, but rather a willing partner to her husband in the home, and a faithful follower of Christ in the church. In this, a woman follows the example of Christ who willingly submitted Himself in the obedience of perfect love to the perfectly loving will of the Father.

Furthermore, the submission that is required of women must always be 'in the Lord.' (Colossians 3:18) Hence, if husbands or the church leadership should ever go astray from God and require them to disobey the Lord, then they must not submit to such a requirement. Christian women must not submit blindly, but be spiritually discerning, understanding what God's will for them is.

VI. What the Role of Submission Allows

Another reason why some may find the role of submission in the church difficult to accept, is that they think that it restricts them in their service to God. Some may think so much about what they cannot do because the ordained ministry is closed to them, that they forget the many things they can do. Let us look at a list of things against which there is no prohibition in the scriptures for women in the church: 

A. Women may teach non-doctrinal subjects in church meetings that do not involve worship, like languages, music, or teaching methods (Ephesians 4:11,12). E.g. in our Bible College - we have two lecturers who are women in our faculty. 

B. Women may freely teach or lead other women, e.g. in a Ladies Fellowship (Titus 2:3,4). 

C. Women may teach or lead children in Sunday School or VBS. E.g. Eunice and Lois taught Timothy (2 Timothy 1:5; 3:15).

D. Where there are no spiritually qualified men who can teach doctrine and lead the church, spiritually qualified women can fill in the gap and do these things. God raised up Deborah at a time when there were no spiritually qualified men to lead Israel (Judges 4:4-8). This is however, only a temporary measure, until spiritually qualified men are present to take the role. 

E. Help to give personal spiritual advice or correction to a fellow brother in Christ (e.g. Aquila and Priscilla in Acts 18:26). 

F. Share a personal testimony or answered prayer with fellow believers during a church prayer meeting. (e.g. Hannah in 1 Samuel 1:26-2:10)

So let me take this opportunity to encourage all our beloved sisters in Christ to look at the tremendous opportunities for you to serve the Lord in Life Church and beyond. And if the Lord should call you into fulltime service, please do not think that you will have little to do since you cannot be ordained as a pastor. You will find yourself with your hands full, as there are so many things to do in the Lord's work.

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

October 15 & 22 - The Cost of Discipleship

For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. Matthew 16:25