The New Testament Christian in a Postmodern World

Among other things that many denominations have in common is women pastors and/or preach­ers. Is this practice something that is ordained by God and taught in the Holy Bible, or is this a modem practice that is forbidden by God?

There are two passages of scripture that address this situation, and we need to have an under­standing of what they are teaching, so that we can have a clear understanding of the will of God. We will consider the passage in I Timothy first.

"But I permit not a woman to teach, nor to have dominion over a man, but to be in quietness. For Adam was first formed, then Eve; and Adam was not beguiled, but the woman being beguiled hath fallen into transgression: but she shall be saved through her childbearing, if they continue in faith and love and sanctification with sobriety" (I Timothy 2: 12-15).

The language is quite clear about forbidding a woman to occupy such a position as a preacher, at least when men are present. That is, she is not to have an authoritative position. There are various arguments that are made to counteract this teaching, such as (1) Paul is just a male chauvinist; (2) this was just an expression of the culture of that time, and times have changed; (3) it was the women who told the other disciples of Jesus' resurrection (Matt. 28:8), therefore it is acceptable for women to preach; and (4) the Bible teaches that men and women are equal in God's sight. Let us examine these arguments to see if they are acceptable.

(1) With respect to the idea that Paul is a male chauvinist, or even a woman-hater, we have but to look at Paul's teaching concerning women, and the respect that is due them. In his letters, he ele­vated women to places of honor, and commanded that husbands love their wives, even as they loved their own bodies, and as Christ loved the church (Eph. 5:25-29). Then in the letter to Co­lossae he told husbands to "love your wives, and be not bitter against them" (3: 19).

Peter likewise gives the command to husbands to "dwell with your wives according to knowl­edge, giving honor unto the woman, as unto the weaker vessel, as being also joint-heirs of the grace of life; to the end that your prayers be not hindered" (I Peter 3:7). Thus the Bible makes it clear that God is serious about husbands respecting their wives. The Bible elevated women far above the norm in the culture of that time.

(2) With respect to the claim that the prohibition against women having an authoritative position over a man in this spiritual setting is just a reflection of the culture of that time, the context re­veals otherwise. Notice that what Paul wrote, by inspiration, goes all the way back to the begin­ning, to creation, to find a foundation for his injunction: "For Adam was first formed, then Eve; and Adam was not beguiled, but the woman being beguiled hath fallen into transgression." This was not some new idea Paul invented.

Paul first gives the injunction, then explains it. Men and women are different (as you may have discovered); think differently, and have different emotions. Women are especially tempered for the role of caring for children. They have the patience and the tenderness of heart that makes them eminently qualified for this demanding task. This is not to say that fathers do not have a part to play in this realm, but the woman is without equal. But that more tender heart can also be a liability in other matters. Notice that Paul said Eve was deceived, but Adam was not deceived.

So, what does this have to do with anything? Since women are by nature more trusting and moti­vated by emotional feeling, God wants men to direct the spiritual affairs of the church. Men are more analytical in their thinking, and if some false teacher comes along with a smooth line, men are going to be more critical in examining his teaching, whereas a woman may be more influ­enced by her emotions. That's just the way God made us different.

(3) It is obvious that it was the women who first came to tell the men about the resurrection of Christ. But it is quite a stretch to maintain that this authorizes women to stand before a congrega­tion and proclaim the gospel. For a woman to teach a man in a private setting is quite acceptable. We have such an example in Acts 18:24-26 when Priscilla and Aquila (wife and husband) took a preacher aside and corrected some false information he had. If there is authority for Priscilla to preach publicly, if someone would show it to me from the Scriptures, I'll gladly accept it.

(4) Yes, men and women are equal in God's sight. Galatians 3:28 confirms that. But this does not mean that they have equal responsibilities. Obviously God has given different roles. "Wives, be in subjection unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, and Christ also is the head of the church, being himself the saviour of the body" (Eph. 5:22-23). Feminists may not like that, but that is God's order for the home and family. As was pointed out before, men are to have great respect for their wives, but they are given the leadership in the home. God has ordained the same relationship in the church. Some may not like that, but God's will is not subject to a popular vote by the people. The kingdom of God is not a democracy.

The statement that a woman shall be saved through her childbearing certainly does not mean that a woman who has no children cannot be saved. This is a general statement concerning woman's special role in the home and family. To the woman is entrusted the high honor of molding the character of a child's soul—a soul that will live forever. The tone of this message is encouraging women to accept the role that God has given them.

The second Scripture that has a bearing on the matter is I Corinthians 14:33-35: "for God is not a God of confusion, but of peace. As in all the churches of the saints, let the women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but let them be in subjection, as also saith the law. And if they would learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home: for it is shameful for a woman to speak in the church."

The context of this chapter tells us that there was much confusion in the church in Corinth. Paul is giving instructions about keeping things orderly, and included in those instructions is this admo­nition to women. It is likely that these women were wives of men who were exercising some of the spiritual gifts that were in use in that time. We are not told just how they were causing confu­sion, but we are told how to avoid the confusion—let the wives of these men not speak out pub­licly in the assemblies. And this was not just a command to the church at Corinth, but Paul said it was for "all the churches of the saints." Obviously this does not mean that a woman cannot utter a sound, for she is to sing praise, but in keeping with the teaching in I Timothy 2, it means that she is not to assume an authoritative role, but to have a quiet spirit.

There is yet another problem with women preachers. The designation usually given to them is "pastor." This is the normal denominational title given to those who preach. In the Bible, the pas­tor is a different function than that of a preacher. In Ephesians 4:11, the gifts God has given to the church are "apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers." These are separate functions. The work of apostles and prophets was a miraculous work, and even though there are no living apostles and prophets today, their work continues through the inspired Word that has been left for us. (I Corinthians 13:8ff, along with other passages, tells of the cessation of prophecies when the Word was completed). "Preacher" and "evangelist" refer to the same work. "Preacher" tells what the         person does—proclaims, while "evangelist" refers to what he proclaims—the good news.

The term "pastor" refers to another work in the church, and in fact is used with other words that describe this office. "Pastor" and "shepherd" come from the same Greek word, "poimen," and describe the work that is done—pasturing, shepherding or feeding the flock. "Elder" and "presby­ter" are from the Greek "presbuteros," and this word refers to the fact those who occupy this posi­tion are older and mature in years. The third set of words, "overseer" and "bishop" come from the Greek "episkope," which has to do with rule or oversight, thus those who are described are those who lead the church. All of these terms (six English and three Greek) refer to the same people.

In Acts 20, Paul called for the elders (presbyters) of the church, and gave them a charge: "Take heed unto yourselves, and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit hath made you bishops, to feed the church of the Lord which he purchased with his own blood." You will note that these elders are called bishops (overseers), and told to feed (the verb form of pastor or shepherd) the church. In Titus I (and I Tim. 3), the qualifications are given for one to occupy this place of re­sponsibility, as Paul tells Titus to "appoint elders in every city, as I gave thee charge; if any man is blameless, the husband of one wife, having children that believe, who are not accused of riot or unruly. For the bishop must be blameless, as God's steward; not self-willed, not soon angry, no brawler, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre" (vv. 5-7).

There are two things of significance to note here. (1) "Elders" are also called "bishops," showing that the terms are used interchangeably. Then in v. 9, Paul says these are to hold "to the faithful word which is according to the teaching, that he may be able both to exhort in the sound doctrine, and to convict the gainsayers." Thus this elder/bishop is to feed the flock the Word of God, which is the work of a spiritual shepherd.

The second point to consider is the fact that the qualifications include these words: "appoint eld­ers in every city, as I gave thee charge; if any man is blameless, the husband of one wife" (vv. 5, 6). What's the point? It is simply this, in every case where pastors/elders/bishops are mentioned, they are men, and God says they must be married. These are the ones God has charged with being spiritual leaders in the church. Whether we agree with what the Bible says or not, or whether we like it or not, it is the clear teaching of the Word of God. We don't even have to understand eve­rything God commands. It is our responsibility to obey in faith if we believe God knows what he is doing.

The conclusion is that women are forbidden to be pastors or preachers. Those who choose to ig­nore this plain command of God will have to answer to him on the Day of Judgment, and those churches that permit women pastors are obviously not churches that follow the teaching of God.

The Lord's message to the church of Ephesus warned that church that if they did not follow his word, there would be serious consequences. "Remember therefore whence thou art fallen, and repent and do the first works; or else I come to thee, and will move thy candlestick out of its place, except thou repent." If the Lord removes the candlestick, or the light, out of its place, I be­lieve that means that God will no longer recognize that church as belonging to him.

Are you a part of such a church? If so, please give serious study to the matter.