The Role of Women in the Church

bigstock-Praying-woman-28344392There are few issues of doctrine that are more polorizing in the modern church than the question, “What is the role of a woman in the church?” Though the reality is that there are many roles that women can fill in the church, I often think the issue is not what roles women can have in the church, but the roles that they cannot have. Now before we go off on a tangent, I think it is of utmost importance that we always look to scripture before making a solid foundational stance on any issue. I want us to first look at two major offices that are found in the church: the office of a deacon and the office of an elder/pastor. I hope that by pulling from the biblical text itself this will help bring clarity to any of you who are struggling with understanding this issue.

Deacons were first created in the New Testament church, the name deriving from the greek diakonoi meaning “servant.” Paul lays out the requirements for the office of a deacon in 1 Timothy 3:8-16; some of these requirements include being reverent, not double tongued, not a drunk, or a greedy person (v.8). They are to be a moral and upright individual willing to serve the church. This does not mean, however, that they are necessarily teachers rather, that they are great stewards of the church. The qualifications found in 1 Tim 3:11 could clearly refer to women in the roles of a deaconess, they are to be reverent, not slanderers, temperate and faithful in all things. The office of a deaconess was clearly recognized in the early church as we see the example of Phoebe in Romans 16:1. It is also important to note that the office of a deacon/deaconess is that of an upright steward of the church and not an authoritative overseer of it.

131412_0The next office we will discuss is the office of elders. Elders, also known as presbyters, hold a position of authority. Elders, overseers or pastors are names that could all be used interchangeably when describing this group. Elderships consist of men of dignity, wisdom and maturity. The qualifications of an elder are found in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9; they include being temperate, sober-minded, well behaved, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunk, not violent, not greedy, gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous, the husband of one wife and one who rules his house well. In 1 Timothy 5:17 we see that elders two main responsibilities are to lead and teach with authority over the entire church.

In 1 Timothy 2:12 we come across the passage where Paul makes a very direct statement dealing with women in the church and how they are not to teach as elders/pastors/overseers in a church. He states, “And I do not permit a woman to teach or have authority over a man, but to be in silence” (NKJV). He is clearly showing that women are not to perform the duties of an elder which are to hold doctrinal authority and to teach over the church. Notice that this is not saying that women cannot teach period. The Bible clearly speaks of examples of women who God has used. They are just not to teach with authority over the body of the church. In the area of being silent, Paul is stating that women should willingly listen to the biblical instruction of the elders. This is the same context that Paul echoes in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, which is not a way of silencing women from exercising their spiritual gifts, rather it is just precluding women as being the doctrinal authorities of the church. I, however, want to add to this in that men and women alike should come to church listening quietly and reverently to the biblical instruction of the authority that is placed within their home church.

There are many objections to this view. One is made by Phoebe Palmer, who uses verses like Galatians 3:28 and Acts 10:34 to say that because it claims that Christ does not look upon race or gender that this idea of male authority in the church is obviously a prejudice of Paul (Kroeger, 2001). This view is an improper exegesis of both passages. When clearly looked at in the context of the surrounding passages, these verses deal with salvation without distinction and how the path to it is equal for all who believe in Christ. Secondly, to say that Paul’s words were his own, not inspired by the Holy Spirit, is to question the infallibility of Scripture, and is contradictory to say Paul was prejudiced and yet use a verse from Galatians which was written by Paul as well.

BibleThough there are some limitations to women within their respective roles in the church, this by no means applies to all other spheres of life. This is also not a matter of an inferiority or superiority of one gender over another. Rather it is being submissive to the complementary roles of biblical manhood and womanhood. A woman in the workplace is subject to all the success and rights of her male associates, but in the home and in the church she is to lovingly submit to the authoritative cover God has made to protect her, her husband and the elders. (1 Corinthians 11:10).

Though there are some limitations, women have incredible roles in the church. Women should lead in various positions under the authority of elder leadership. They are to instruct the young women (Titus 2:3), they are to teach and instruct the children in the ways of the Lord (2 Timothy 1:5), and they should assist their husbands in the growth of the church as Priscilla did with her husband Aquila (Acts 18:26).

Blake Hart
Disclaimer: The thoughts and views published on the Veterans to Christ blog are those of Blake Hart and in no way are meant to represent the United States Army or the Armed Forces.

Blake Hart is currently serving in the army as a unit supply specialist in Ft. Richardson, AK where he is stationed with his wife Rae and their 7 month old son Colt. Blake has served in the military for 5 years and has been deployed once to Afghanistan for a total of 12 months. He is currently transitioning into the civilian arena in the area of full time ministry. He is finishing up his Bachelor’s degree in Christian Ministry from Liberty University, and has applied to start Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary in the fall of this year to begin the process of earning his Master’s of Divinity in Homiletics.