Skirts in the Pulpit: Women in Ministry

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The idea of women in ministry has been, and will continue to be, a hot-button topic in the Christian church. There is no unified, monolithic Christian voice deciding on the issue. People even leave churches over disputes regarding the ordination of women. Some believe that it is the God-given right of “the call” for women to be involved in ministry and receive ordination. Many denominations still see the issue contrary to God’s creative work.

I know the mere topic will send some readers into a rage. I know that one blog among millions will really not convince people out of their deeply held convictions. Still, I wanted to explain why I think the church should recognize the spiritual authority of women in ministry.

God’s original intent was that male and female are partners in life and purpose. In the creation narrative, Eve is created to be the one thing that can fulfill what Adam is missing. She is separate, yet not created lower. The Old Testament creation narrative does not place any importance on primacy of creation. Genesis 1:27 reads:

“So God created man in His own image; He created him in the image of God; He created them male and female.”

The second creation narrative similarly places NO hierarchical value on created order (Genesis 2:18-24).

The created order has no significance on primacy. Adam’s solitary nature is the only “not good” in the Creation narrative. Woman is created equally with man as a companion. It is only after the fall that hierarchical structures enter the scene in Genesis 3:16:

“He said to the woman…‘your desire will be for your husband, yet he will dominate you.”

At the fall, the connection that man and woman had prior to eating of the tree of knowledge of good and evil is severed. While they were created in equality, now the relationship takes on a hierarchical nature. This is a complete reversal from the created nature of male/female relationships, where man is incomplete without woman.

In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul uses the creative order to support his argument that men should have their heads uncovered and women should have their heads covered. In 1 Timothy 2:13, Paul uses the creative order to support his argument that women should learn in quiet submission and not be allowed to teach or have authority over men. In the former passage, Paul finishes his argument by stating that nature itself teaches that long hair is disgraceful on men but glorious on women and that church customs do not support any other position. Paul is using the creation story to combat specific people and specific circumstances – he is not teaching any universal doctrine. His sole purpose is to control the behavior of Christian men and women and prevent them from acting shamefully.

Logically, it stands to reason that Paul uses the creative order in a similar manner in the Timothy passage. That is to say, the argument is not “gospel truth” but is a typical rabbinical method of using Scripture to support cultural positions. If one is to say that Paul is simply reflecting his culture regarding hair coverings, one is compelled to say the same regarding his silencing of women. Ann Miller notes that, if created order was significant for hierarchical standing, every created thing would be above humanity. It seems clear that Paul is not making theological statements but rather is trying to prevent Christians from embarrassing the church with “inappropriate behavior”. As culture changes and notions of appropriate behavior change, Paul’s arguments no longer become binding. The higher principle is still at work: do not act shamefully and thus bring scorn on the faith and on Christ. How that works out practically changes from culture to culture and from age to age.

Admittedly, 1 Timothy 2 gives people pause when discussing women in ministry when Paul commands women to learn in silence and submission. The entire context of the epistles to Timothy and Titus show that Paul’s commands are given in an attempt to combat false and destructive teaching in the church. The false teaching leads Christians astray and the “wild women” bring shame upon the church that struggles for social acceptance. Thus, the command is not a general order for all women for all eternity.

Another passage frequently used to support a hierarchical perspective of gender is Ephesians 5:22-32, wherein Paul calls for submission from the wives to their husbands. But the passage does not stand alone – it contextually fits into a broader passage in which Paul is discussing what it means to live out a Christian life. Paul calls people to walk wisely, “submitting to one another in the fear of Christ.” Paul then goes on to illustrate submission from three perspectives: 1) wife to husband, 2) children to parents, and 3) slaves to masters. Each one of the perspectives represents a socially inferior to a socially superior point of view. Women, children, and slaves were all viewed as inferior to their respective counterparts. Paul is giving practical advice on how to behave, even if one is in a socially inferior position. His directives are not theological arguments supporting social hierarchy. If they were, then one would be compelled to say that Paul advocates slavery, a concept that is radically foreign to Christian faith. Rather, Paul is trying to work within the social structure as it exists.

bibleThe New Testament does reaffirm the idea of gender equality. Matthew 23:8-10, Acts 10:34, and James 2:1 all highlight humanity’s equal standing before God. Additionally, Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians highlights the fact that every Christian is called to be a minister. Each role in Paul’s list in Ephesians 4 carries a similar function to the other roles – they all involve some aspect of speaking on God’s behalf with the purpose of preparing the church for service and to build up the body. Admittedly, though Paul’s epistle does differentiate between different ministry roles, i.e. pastors, apostles, evangelists, etc., Paul nowhere mentions that any of these roles have gender prerequisites.

The Bible incontrovertibly mentions prophetesses in the Old and New Testaments, e.g. Deborah and Philip’s daughters. Romans 16:6-8 indicates that Paul considered Junia and possibly Mary among the apostles, a role that contained a teaching and proclamation aspect. Aquila was a teacher of Apollos. Paul knew of and approved of women who ran (pastored?) house churches. He refers to female leaders of the early churches as deacons and apostles, titles normally reserved for men, and titles that imply both service and proclamation of the gospel message.

In 1 Corinthians 12:28 Paul lists roles and offices within the church. Paul never advocates one role above or below another. They all function towards the same purpose – glorifying God and building up the body. There is no restriction on who may fill what role. Biblical evidence seems to stack up in favor of women in all ministry positions, even pastoring and teaching.

There is no indication of a technical ordination in the New Testament or by the early church fathers. What does exist is a list of qualifications for people who are to be appointed elders over the local churches. For lack of a better phrase, this list provides the biblical requirements for ordination. Between the epistles to Timothy and Titus, Paul’s qualifications are: the elders must 1) be the husbands of one wife, 2) rule well their own houses, 3) not be novices, 4) have a good report from those outside the church, 5) practice good behavior, 6) be given to hospitality, 7) be apt to teach, 8) not be given to wine or strong drink, 9) not be brawlers, 10) not be greedy, 11) be lovers of good men, 12) give good advice, 13) be holy, and 14) be temperate.

Of these qualifications, only the first directly addresses gender issues, where the elder must be the husband of one wife. If one were to take Paul’s words absolutely at face value, then no single men, whether men who have never married, men who are divorced, or men who are widowed could ever be elders. Paul’s comment seems not to be referring to the fact that elders must be men, but that the elders must not be involved in multiple marriage relationships. It is not gender exclusive. It could be reworded in a contemporary setting to say that married elders must be part of a monogamous marriage. With this common misunderstanding cleared up, all of the other requirements could equally apply to women in ministry.

Though a select few passages in the Bible have an issue with particular women involved in a preaching/teaching ministry, the Old and New Testaments seem to have no problems with women being the mouthpieces of God.

From the time of the early, post-New Testament church, men have taken the biggest role in church leadership. This has typically been based on society’s view of gender roles, which downplays the role and value of women. These views were then read into Scripture, with biblical scholars eisegeting texts like 1 Timothy 2 rather than working a proper exegesis. In the post-Constantinian era, male dominance became the norm within the church.

Yet as early as the 1800’s, Freewill Baptists and American Baptists were ordaining female preachers. Charismatic denominations like the Assemblies of God or the Foursquare Church allow and ordain female clergy. Yet, even though female ordination occurs, one is hard-pressed to find many female pastors leading churches. There is a verbal endorsement of ordination but a functional disapproval – it simply doesn’t happen very much.

Personal experience is not the standard for coming to any conclusion regarding faith. God’s Word is the standard by which our actions, thoughts, and faith are judged. It is nice, though, when Scripture supports opinions gained from personal experience. In my case, three women in my life illustrate that God calls women to preach the gospel as much as He calls any man.

First, my wife is an incredible minister in her own right. She has participated in numerous mission trips around the world, engaging in street preaching and evangelism. Her heart and calling for ministry are evident to all. Who am I to tell her that she cannot share the Gospel with others in public simply because she is a woman?

Second, my mother is ordained to preach with the Assemblies of God. She is a Ph.D. and a college professor. Her ability to preach the Word to an audience is far better than many men I have heard in the pulpit. As a child, my parents were pastors. When my father was away for any reason, my mother would fill the pulpit for him. Her sermons edify the body and teach truth – Paul’s requirements for biblical elders.

Third, and finally, one of my Bible college professors was one of the best preachers I have ever heard. She is clearly inspired and called to preach, and that calling is evident and her sermons are proof of the calling.

When all is said and done, Scripture, church history, and personal experience lead me to believe that God may call men and women to the task of preaching the Word and being involved in ministry. The Church sometimes loses sight of Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Contextually, Paul here speaks about salvation. Salvation is not limited to anyone. By extension, however, one could say that the God whose grace that extends freely to all is the God who extends the call to ministry to all. When the church truly lives according to Scripture, the church will see that God chooses whom He will.

God is sovereign, not people. If God wants to speak to Balaam through a donkey, it’s His prerogative. If God wants to speak to the Gentile world through a Christian-persecuting Pharisee like Paul, it’s His call to make. If God wants to speak to His Church through women, so be it.

Suggested Reading

– Author unknown. “Women’s Ordination in Baptist Churches.” Christian Century 123 (2006).
– Aleaz, Bonita. “Empowered by God: Women Breaking Boundaries.” Asia Journal of Theology 22 (2008).
– Behr-Sigel, Elisabeth. “The Ordination of Women: A Point of Contention in Ecumenical Dialogue.” St Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly 48 (2004).
Bilezikian, Gilbert. Beyond Sex Roles.
– Blevins, Carolyn DeArmond. “Diverse Baptist Attitudes Toward Women in Ministry.” Baptist History and Heritage 37 (2002).
– Ferrara, Jennifer and Sarah Hinlicky Wilson. “Ordaining Women: Two Views.” First Things 132 (2003).
– Grenz, Stanley J. “Anticipating God’s New Community: Theological Foundations for Women in Ministry.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 38 (1995).
– Grudem, Wayne A. “The Meaning of Kephale (“head”): An Evaluation of New Evidence, Real and Alleged.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 44 (2001).
– Grudem, Wayne A. “Prophecy – Yes, But Teaching – No: Paul’s Consistent Advocacy of Women’s Participation Without Governing Authority.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 30 (1987).
– Heidebrecht, Doug. “Reading 1 Timothy 2:9-15 in its Literary Context.” Direction 33 (2004).
– Johnson, Charles F. “God’s Women.” Review & Expositor 103 (2006).
– Liefield, Walter L. “The Nature of Authority in the New Testament.” pages 255-271 in Discovering Biblical Equality: Complimentarity Without Hierarchy. Edited by Ronald W. Pierce and Rebecca Merrill Groothuis, Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2005.
– Lind, Christopher. “What Makes Good Ministry God? Women in Ministry.” Theology & Sexuality 11 (2005).
– McDougall, Joy Ann. “Weaving Garments of Grace: En-gendering a Theology of the Call to Ordained Ministry for Women Today.” Theological Education 39 (2003).
– Merkle, Benjamin L. “Paul’s Arguments From Creation in 1 Corinthians 11:8-9 and 1 Timothy 2:13-14: An Apparent Inconsistency Answered.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 49 (2006).
– Miller, Ann. “The Ordination of Women Among Texas Baptists.” Perspectives in Religious Studies 29 (2002).
– Moon, Hellena. “Womenpriests: Radical Change or More of the Same?” Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion 24 (2008).
– Mow, Anna B. “Gee! Women in the Ministry!” Brethren Life and Thought 50 (2005).
– Romarate-Knipel, Carla Gay A. « Angelina B. Buensucesco: Harbinger of Baptist Ordination of Women in the Philippines.” Baptist History and Heritage 41 (2006).
– Schmitt, Frank J. A Practical Introduction to Church Administration. Lynchburg: Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary, 1991.
– Zagano, Phyllis. “The Question of Governance and Ministry for Women.” Theological Studies 68 (2007).

26 Replies to “Skirts in the Pulpit: Women in Ministry”

  1. Hear, hear! Thanks for this–I used to have a more “conservative” slant on this issue which was kind of Holy-Spirited out of me by surprise about ten years ago, but I haven’t had to really sit down and systematically unpack this Scripturally for anyone for the most part . . . and am about to have to for my final seminary class. I now work for a more theologically “liberal” church and our current pastor is a woman, but the defense for the position here is more cultural than Scriptural. This post (and your super-helpful bibliography!) will make a good reference point and help me keep clarifying my thoughts.

    Okay if I get in touch sometime in the next few months and hash out a few more questions/details, just for the feedback/interaction/perspective?

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  2. I agree that Paul’s admonition a are specific and, alternatively, culturally based. I see no outright prohibition against women in ministry and am all for it. However, I do give pause at the idea that women everywhere ought to be in leadership. There are still cultural barriers to female leadership in various cultures and subcultures. Additionally, if a woman in leadership caused someone to stumble, I can see how that may be an issue.

    Two separate issues I here bring up: one, simply the cultural realities that still persist in some places, and two, the non-gender-related issue of how and whether to liberate and free fellow Christians from that which unnecessarily causes them to stumble. I would be curious to see a blog entry entirely focused on this latter topic, the first topic was merely provided as the exception to women appropriately and ordainedy leading churches, as pastor or otherwise.

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  3. It is so sad to see people twisting Scripture, ripping it out of context, practicing bad hermeneutics, & claiming “that was a different culture” in order to defeminize & rip women from their beautiful, honorable, God-ordained roles. As a woman, I find it incredibly offensive not only to me but to women in general to suggest that the role God has designed us for & placed us in is just “not enough.”

    God does not call women into a role of spiritual authority over men. Every woman I have ever heard teach or preach that held a role in spiritual authority over men had so many other things severely wrong in her theology.

    Why on earth would any woman want to be in that role? Do they not understand that in such a role they will be held accountable for everyone under them?

    The culture may have changed but God does not.

    The Biblical submission of a woman under the headship of a man is not in any way demeanining. It is liberating. As women we are free to learn under both men & women and we are not to be held as accountable as men. We should embrace the role God has seen fit to call us to & not try to “break free” from feminist in exchange for the masculine.

    I, for so long, was the “I am woman hear me roar” type. No more. I have been set free from that bondage of always having to prove women are just as good as men & even better. Now I rest in the peace knowing I do not have to prove anything.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Enjoyed the article. You made some valid points that demand more than a simple “My English King James Bible tells me so” in response. I hope that people will engage accordingly.
    We are naive to think that any one of us can come to the Bible free of biases and can arrive at a perfect understanding of truth on any issue. Even the most simple of texts we read through the lens of our culture and we need to remember that even the most simple of texts was written in a cultural context much different than our own. Those two realities alone should enable us to show grace and respect when we encounter people with interpretations that differ from ours.

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    1. Yes, Paul clearly indicates that the created order of Adam and Eve was that man was created first and the head and representative and Eve was the submissive help meet. You really need to study the Bible properly. This is basic. Stop misusing Scripture. Hermeneutics.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Unfortunately, this is full of fallacy and misuse of Scripture. Once you dismiss the importance of the created order like you did in this article, it is easy to come up with ways to circumvent other issues like Paul using that in his prohibition against women in the office of elder. You also imply that men being in leadership means women are not equal. That is not the case. God created men and women equal, but they have separate roles. In Genesis, we see Adam as the head and representative BEFORE the fall and this is supported in Romans 5, where even though Eve first ate that fruit, Adam is always treated as the head and representative of man. This in no way means woman is lower than man. We even see submission within the Trinity, yet each Member is equal. To teach these things and use anecdotal evidence after the poor treatment of Scripture shown here is disconcerting. You are in the place of influencing people to believe and practice the female usurpation of the office of elder in the church. The Bible is clear. Fear God.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Actually, in Genesis we do NOT see Adam as the head before the fall. They were created to be equal partners, one flesh. It is only AFTER the fall that man dominates woman.

      My treatment of Scripture is not poor – I use it honestly, which is more than those who refuse to allow women to fulfill the gifts and calling God has given them.

      The idea of womanly submission is wrong. Even in the New Testament the ideal is mutual submission, not single domination.

      The Bible is clear, but not in the way you think….

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Well said and I agree with you most of the way. I agree that there is no injunction against a woman speaking in church, that Paul’s prohibition was culturally conditioned. I have learned from women teachers.
    But I think there is a difference between teaching and the office of pastor. 1 Timothy 3:11, depending on your interpretation, may be opening the office of deacon to women. But there is no corresponding verse earlier in the chapter that suggests Paul thought an overseer/pastor could be a woman.
    Jesus seems to concur with this in that he did not choose a woman as 1 of the 12. The gist of the Mary sitting at Jesus’ feet story is that Jesus welcomed women into the role of disciple. Yet he still does not choose a woman in the 12. We might assume that cultural norms might have forced this, but Jesus blew up all kinds of traditions of men. Why would he stop at this one? I think it’s because this goes beyond human tradition.
    While you correctly point out that there were female prophets in the OT you forget that there were only male priests. Of course, we are all believer priests in the new covenant, but that does not eliminate God’s design for order. The whole nation of Israel were priests, yet there were those specially called to be priests among them.
    We might say it is not fair for God to just arbitrarily choose men as pastors and exclude women. But fairness has nothing to do with the call of God. Was it fair that God chose Jacob in the womb and not his twin Esau? God, in his wisdom, has established an order and we each have our place in that order.
    Having said all that, I have to also say that this issue does not rise to the level of the doctrines of the trinity or salvation. I can still have fellowship with those holding opposing views.
    I see it like this. God ordained that a family should be a father, mother, and children. But when disaster strikes through death, divorce, or disobedience does that mean God won’t bless or use the family since it is not like he wanted it? Absolutely not! Sometimes circumstances dictate that a single mother must fill the role of “father” to her children. In the same way God’s design for the church is for the man he has called to serve as pastor. Will God refuse to work through the church with a woman pastor or refuse to bless the ministry of a woman pastor? I don’t think so. If God required perfect obedience to all his commands before he would bless or work through a person, none of us could ever serve him.

    Liked by 1 person

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