Thursday, June 30, 2005

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Is it biblical for women to be pastors or to teach men?

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Is it biblical for women to be pastors or to teach men?


It may be surprising to those new to Christianity, in a day and age where there is more openness and freedom than ever...including living a day when there are laws to protect gender discrimination, that the above question is even an issue. But it is. It is a question that raises controversy in church circles right across the theological spectrum.

In churches where the doctrinal position is that women are not to be in pastoral ministry or to teach men, the controversy flows out of a position that says: "How could any one not see that pastoral and teaching roles are reserved for men? The Scriptures clearly teach that women aren't to teach men."

In churches where the doctrinal position is that women are restricted in no sense from any role in ministry, the controvery flows out of a position that says, "How could anyone not see that women are equal before God, not just in spiritual standing, which we all agree on, but also in giftedness. If God gifts a woman to teach, and he does, then what difference does it make where she teaches?"

And then there are churches in the middle who haven't come to a clear conclusion yet. In those churches the controversy often is, "I'm not sure what the right answer is, but I think we should be sensitive to those who believe a woman shouldn't be a pastor and shouldn't teach men. We don't want to offend anyone."

(Second person) "I disagree with that. I think we should be more sensitive to women for heaven's sake. We are going to injure women whom God has gifted, if we don't move forward with a more progressive position that fits the day we were in. Besides, we are the losers if we don't allow women to be pastors or to teach men. We'll miss out on their gifting." (No end to the discussion....)

Of course the three positions above are over simplified to make the point, but you get the idea.

In an attempt to offer one biblical and practical solution to this question, I am going to paste in a copy of a document I wrote for a church where I pastored that was working through this issue themselves.

I don't claim that this is the end all-be all of solutions, and am certainly open to be taught on this important issue for women and church. But I thought this policy paper that was adopted by our church at the time, was a helpful step in the right direction.

It contains some comments/thoughts that will no doubt cause you to think. No doubt there will be disagreement from both ends of the theological spectrum. That will be normal. But the last paragraph of the document, if applied, will be a helpful guide for all concerned on this issue and any number of others frankly.

If we follow that paragraph it will help the Christian community at large in handling any number of issues about which there is lack of clarity or disagreement.

I'll be interested in what you think.

Here's the policy paper. If you think it is biblically sound and helpful, feel free to use it at your church, tweaking it within a biblical framework to fit your local situation.


Women in Ministry Policy Statement for _________Church

Pastor and Elder Roles

The role of women in ministry is an important and developing issue in the Church at large, within the _________Church as a denomination, and within __________ Church a matter about which clarification has been peacefully requested. After serious study of the Scriptures, prayer, consultation, discussion and input from numerous sources, the Elders submit that it should be the policy of __________Church that Pastoral and Elder Roles as described in the Bible, are roles which are to be filled by men.

Such a policy will require defining. What constitutes the role of Elder is clear and not in debate or question. However what constitutes a pastoral role is less clear. For example, is a full time paid staff member overseeing the Christian Education ministry, which may include organizing and training male leaders, exercising a pastoral role, given that the nature of Christian Education is to teach the Word of God? What about Children’s Ministries? Or Discipleship Ministries? Where does the Bible draw the line on what is or is not a pastoral role when it comes to the restriction?

Given the fact that the lines are not crystal clear for any number of pastoral or quasi-pastoral positions, the Elders suggest that it should be the policy of the church that the Elders determine in each case, after consultation with the Scriptures and with formal or informal input from the congregation and/or other sources as deemed necessary by the Elders, which roles are open to women. Congregational input on the subject is always welcomed by the Elders.

It is understood that the goal of such a process is not to restrict women in ministry, but simply to follow the Scriptures where ever they lead, and particularly where the Scriptures are not clear, to lean toward more freedom for women in ministry, not less, to avoid putting restrictions where the Bible does not put them.

Teaching Roles

What is even less clear in the Scriptures is whether or not there are other restrictions on women regarding teaching the Word of God. It is apparent that the restrictions on women being teachers are few. Such restrictions may already be covered in or pertain to the restriction of the roles of Pastor or Elder to men, in that the primary areas of uncertainty center around, a.) Paul’s word to Timothy about not allowing women to “teach or exercise authority over men,” [which may simply refer to the role of pastor/elder]; and b.) his word to the Corinthian church, that women are to learn in silence or ask their husbands at home, [which may simply have been a correction to either noisy women who were inappropriately exercising their new found freedom in the fellowship, or to a cultural stigma that forbade women engaging in conversations with men who were not their husbands.].

There is no question that women can teach and are equipped to teach in the legitimate Biblical sense. What isn’t crystal clear is whether or not a woman ought to, for example, be the teacher in a class that includes men. It is clear that women prophesied, in that Paul gives instructions in 1 Corinthians 11 on how they were/are to go about doing so. It is also clear that a woman taught a man how to more accurately teach the Word of God, as in the case of Priscilla and her husband Aquila, teaching Apollos. There is no correcting statement in the Bible suggesting that she had violated any principle in doing so. Women are regarded as fellow heirs of Christ and are called by Paul, “fellow workers.” So what did Paul mean when he said he allowed no woman to teach or have authority over men?

It is a fair interpretation, given the last paragraph, to say that since women did and are all of the above, that he was merely talking about the roles of pastor and elder, and was not suggesting that women are not to be teachers of men in a blanket sense of that phrase.

What clearly is modeled and taught in the Old Testament, the New Testament, in Jesus’ selection of 12 male apostles, in the early church and with some exceptions throughout Church history, however, is the principle of male leadership. This has been the pattern and teaching both for the home and for the Church in the areas discussed above, that of the roles of pastor and elder.

Given these facts, combined with the lack of clarity from the Scriptures regarding the role of teacher, it is suggested by the Elders that qualified male leadership in teaching is to be sought after first, but that since there is no clear restriction against women teaching (due to opposite and Biblically reasonable interpretations of the Timothy and 1 Corinthian passages), broadly speaking women should not be restricted from teaching men, whether in a Sunday School class or an Adult Bible Study Fellowship (Home Bible Study).

There may be times, however, when in the judgment of the Elders, it is better for a man to teach a certain class or better for a woman to teach a certain class, and that being a specific gender will be required to fill a teaching role. Such requirement will placed as a practical matter, not a theological one.

In all circumstances, grace and an openness to opposing opinions is to be the posture both of the Congregation and the Elders. The goal however, is to follow the Scriptures wherever they lead us, but to do so admitting our own fallibility in understanding them correctly. Patience and kindness will help us all as we seek to do the Lord’s will.


At 12:08 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 4:13 AM, Anonymous DM-Nairobi said...

Hi Pastor,

Despite your blog slogan of endeavoring to tackle the hard biblical questions, you've clearly looked for the nearest fence on this subject and smugly sat on it!

How can you claim there's no clear scriptural direction regarding the issue when Paul has spoken so clearly on the subject under 1 Cor 14:33-38 and in 1 Tim 2:8-15?

At 4:37 AM, Blogger Gordon Magee said...

DM-Nairobi, My point was and is that these passages aren't as clear as people think they are. There's no "fence sitting" on my part, but rather an unwavering desire to teach exactly what the Bible teaches, not adding to it nor taking away from anything it says.


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