The Question of Women as Elders in the Church

This is the topic currently being debated in my church and this Sunday the members of my church will vote on whether or not women should be allowed to be nominated as elders.  The vote requires a 2/3 majority in order to be carried through.
lens

Preface – my own lens through which I see things.

Firstly – As referred to in the title of this blog, and as Paul says to the Corinthians, we cannot fully know who God is while we are on this earth. Our view is an imperfect and mysterious reflection. This is my own interpretation and I am open to correction.

Secondly – I believe 100% that the Bible is the inspired and inerrant Word of God and that it has living power through the Holy Spirit. I believe that God is the same yesterday, today and forever regardless of culture. I therefore do not look at this as a cultural issue. I believe the church needs to be different and stand for the truth and be a light in a dark world. Sin is sin and it doesn’t change.

Thirdly – as I’ve matured in both years and spiritually and spent time in God’s Word, of which I am passionate about, the more I feel strongly about knowing the context around not just a verse, and not even a passage but God’s plan as a whole for the human race. I cannot over-emphasize the importance of context when reviewing scripture.

Lastly – regardless of the outcome of the vote, this is my church family and this is where I will stay.
Order

Let’s begin with Adam and Eve. I believe that God created Adam first and therefore made Adam accountable.  But the first time God called Adam to account for his and Eve’s actions, he completely failed. He blamed Eve and he blamed God. And Eve blamed the serpent. Humans having been playing the blame game for a VERY long time people!

God didn’t make him accountable because Adam was deserving of the role or any more deserving than Eve because obviously he failed miserably. So what does the verse 1 Timothy 2:14 mean?

and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.

Let’s go back to Genesis 3 which says the following –

 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.

Eve was deceived by the serpent who told her things about the fruit.  But Adam was with her and he ate the fruit also.  Notice that it does not say that Adam tried to stop Eve or even try convince her not to eat the fruit. They both sinned.

So when God came to them in the garden, who did He call out? – But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?”

Adam replied. 12 The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.”

When I read this passage – I used to think – wow, the husband has been blaming the wife since literally the beginning of time.  After studying Paul’s referral to the woman being deceived first, I see that it is equally true that the wife has been deceiving the husband since the beginning of time!  The woman being deceived by the serpent happened first and was the first event to kick off the original sin.

When God called Adam and Eve in the garden,

  1. He first called the man to account for what happened.
  2. Then he cursed the serpent to slither on the ground and be hated by women.
  3. Then he named the 2 consequences that the woman faced – pain in childbirth and being ruled over by men. To the woman he said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” Genesis 3:16
  4. Then God named the consequences for the man which were mortality and hard labour.

cursed is the ground because of you;
    in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
    and you shall eat the plants of the field.
19 By the sweat of your face
    you shall eat bread,
till you return to the ground,
    for out of it you were taken;
for you are dust,
    and to dust you shall return.”
Genesis 3:17-19

And finally, he kicked them all out of the Garden of Eden, where everything had been taken care of for them.

We are living out the consequences of the original sin. Men ruling over women is a consequence of our sin. This was not God’s design or intention. God did not create the woman to be ruled over by the man. He created her to keep the man company. Adam did not need help at that point because everything was taken care of for them.

18 Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.”  Genesis 2:18

The term helper does not imply sub-servience, at this point it was in terms of a mate.

My conclusion is that yes, God ordained an order in the man-wife relationship but I don’t believe that that necessarily precludes the option for a women to be an elder in the church.

Created in the image of God

women as elders

Male and female both were created in the image of God. – this means that God embodies all male and female characteristics.

He is both and He is neither.

He created us different but complementary.

Likewise, in terms of the church, Christ is the head of the church. While Jesus was on the earth, he lived in the form of a human male. This is again, a God-ordained order that states that men and women in the body of believers are under the headship of Christ.  This is because Jesus was the only perfect human. However I don’t think this implies that the character of the Head of the church embodies only male characteristics. If we know that our Heavenly Father embodies both male and female characteristics, what does this mean about Jesus? One of the things that I think women bring to the table is a protective, mothering, compassionate view towards people. I think the metaphor of Jesus as a shepherd also exemplifies these characteristics. In fact, Peter uses the model of a shepherd when instructing how an elder should behave:

1 Peter 5 English Standard Version (ESV) Shepherd the Flock of God

So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

Women make excellent shepherds – in fact Rachel was a shepherdess. – Genesis 29 – While he was still speaking with them, Rachel came with her father’s sheep, for she was a shepherdess.

Under Jesus Christ, who is the head of the church (the body of believers), we are all members of the body of Christ. There is nothing in the Bible about the various parts of the body having a higher status. The men are not closer to the head than the women. Nor should the women have higher status than men. Some members have leadership giftings, some have evangelical giftings, healing, administration, care-giving etc. but no matter what position or role you play, you need to be accountable to others and you need to be accountable to God.

Jesus gave women a Voice

Martha and Mary – We know the story of Martha and Mary, poor Martha was doing all the work to serve everyone while Mary was sitting at Her master’s feet so she could be taught and learn from what Jesus was saying.

38 Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. 39 And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. 40 But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” 41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, 42 but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:38-42

Jesus wanted Mary to be taught the things He had to say. He wasn’t teaching her so she could go away and be silent and I don’t believe he was teaching her so she could go back and just teach the other women and children. He was teaching her and giving her a voice.

The Samaritan woman at the well – again, Jesus went against the grain and taught a woman and a Samaritan woman at that! Was she to go back to her village and just tell the other women what she learned? No, she had a message for everyone!

39 Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, – John 4:39

Paul’s instruction for leaders in the church

Paul’s instruction regarding a man with one wife from Titus 1

 This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you— if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.

My interpretation of this passage is that Paul did not say, the elder must be a man AND he must have one wife. He was coming from a culture in which only a man would have been an elder. So that man must be of godly character and have just one wife.

Does this imply that single men can’t be elders?

What if a widower remarries – can he be an elder?

What about a godly, wise man, happily married to one wife but has a teenage son who got his girlfriend pregnant?

What about a godly, wise woman with a masters in theology who has one husband and children who are serving the Lord?

In my opinion, Paul is talking about moral character and sexual purity.

1 tim 2 study Bible notes

 

Paul’s instruction in 1 Timothy for a woman to learn quietly

11 Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.  1 Timothy 2:11-12

Once again, context is important here. Paul is going against the grain of culture and saying that the women should learn. I believe that the point he is making is that if the woman learns quietly and does not contradict or dishonour her husband, then there is no reason why she shouldn’t also take part in the learning.  But his wording is strong which suggests a warning against women taking their freedom beyond what God intended within the ordained order of the marital relationship.  The Greek word from which we get the word submissiveness means – to place in proper order.  To me, the point that Paul is making is that the wife is to learn alongside the husband, and not to question his teaching in public. We also know that there were women who were false teachers in Ephesus and Paul was warning Timothy against this.

I think our North American evangelical church culture has arbitrarily made rules to try and abide by Paul’s direction. We have women who are children’s pastors and we have women teaching Sunday school classes, and we have women ministry leaders.  Why do we draw the line specifically at having a women on the board of elders?

Does the presence of a women on the board of elders imply that the men of the church are under her direct authority? Or that the male lead pastor is under her authority?

I don’t see it that way at all. The lead pastor is accountable to the board of elders. The board of elders should provide ruling in sound doctrine and the members should be above reproach. The board as a whole has spiritual authority over the lead pastor and the body of believers, but one single elder does not.

I think a mature, godly, wise woman, who is knowledgeable in God’s word can add spiritual depth and wisdom to a board of elders.

Jesus’ example and Jesus’ teaching
If you read through the gospels, particularly Matthew, there is a definite recurring theme of Jesus preaching against legalism. We tend to think of the Pharisees and Saducees as mean old hypocrites. But they were men who studied the Old Testament and obeyed the law given to them through Moses (at least in front of the public eye). Their intentions were good. This is a group of people who hadn’t heard from God through any prophet for over 400 years. They were lost and trying harder and harder to please God by obeying every letter of the law. But God saw their hearts. Jesus knew their hearts and warned them over and over again. His main message was very clear – love God and love people. I really think we miss the parallels between the Pharisees and our modern day church, but that’s a topic for another day.

In example after example, Jesus went to the poorest and the most hated. He wanted to see them lifted up and not down-trodden. When Jesus sees His church suppress the voice of women in the church, what do you think He is thinking?

In Matthew 23 Jesus gives seven warnings to the scribes and Pharisees.  Here is one of them – 23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.

To me, these warnings apply to us and warn us not to get caught up in legalistic matters in the church.  The church needs to be showing faithfulness, justice and mercy to those around it. In my own humble opinion, we need to not get caught up in this issue of women as elders, and focus on doing what the church has been created to do – show justice, mercy and faithfulness.

 

Tying together Jesus’ teaching with Paul’s instructions

I think Galations 3:23-29  says it well:

23 Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. 24 So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave, nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.

Although Paul is speaking in terms of the gospel here, in stating that we are all heirs to the gospel, male and female, I do think it also makes the point that as equal heirs to the kingdom, we can share in the responsibility of ‘shepherding’ the local church.

My concluding thoughts.

  • Order – God has ordained an order for men and women to live by.  We know for sure this applies to the context of the husband and wife.  The question is whether Paul’s teaching that a woman should not be in authority over a man was meant in the husband-wife relationship – which is in-line with both the old testament and Jesus’ teaching or in the context of church leadership which is what the passage is referring to.
  • Experiencing the spiritual gifting of all members of the body – if women are not allowed to teach men, or preach or serve as an elder, then our men do not have the opportunity to experience the spiritual gifting of the women in our church and the enemy’s work is half done.
  • Unity in Christ – when godly men and godly women are working together to spiritually lead a local church, I believe the church can more truly exemplify the character and love of God to the people around it.
  • At war – we are living in a time where where the spiritual battle for souls on earth is being kicked up a notch. Like the early church in Acts, in the places where we thought we were safe, we are being persecuted. Where we aren’t going to reach others with the gospel, God is bringing them to us. God needs a fully equipped army, and I believe that the women are needed in this battle as much as them men.
  • A high-calling – the role of elder is one of high calling.  Whether the local church includes women in this definition, it is not a role to be taken lightly.  See above passage from Titus.

 

*edited – I think there are about 30 revisions to this post since I started writing it. I hit Publish on Nov 5th and woke up on Nov 6th with this issue still taking up lots of space on my brain. I have therefore edited out parts that were superfluous to the point and clarified (hopefully) other points.
women as elders 2

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