My life is devoted to knowing God and being a disciple of Jesus; and my life is invested in learning and understanding the Scriptures. I do not think that my knowledge and experience of God is generally inferior to that of many of my brothers in Christ just because I am a woman. It bothers me, however, that many Christians have an understanding of “gender roles” which sends the message that, simply because I am a woman, my views on God and the Bible are not worthy of hearing. Or worse, that my views are suspect because of my gender.
The church has largely taught that women are to be silent in meetings; and the thought of a woman expositing Scripture from the pulpit or to a room full of men is objectionable and offensive to some. Why is that?
The idea that women should be silent and not speak in church is based primarily on two passages of Scripture: 1 Corinthians 14:33b-35 and 1 Timothy 2:11-15. Yet we know from several other verses that some women were influential and were not silent in New Testament churches. These other verses have been overlooked and even ignored in the past, while 1 Corinthians 14:33b-35 and 1 Timothy 2:12 have been highlighted and given prominence. Some Christians even seem fixated on 1 Timothy 2:12; and this single verse has become the sticking point on the issue of women in ministry.
After centuries of silencing women, some Christians are now trying to determine the true scriptural parameters concerning women speaking in church, or whether, in fact, God does not want any limitations on speaking ministries based solely on gender.
In some churches women are now permitted the privilege of some speaking ministries; but in other churches, even evangelical churches, women are not even allowed to read from the Bible aloud or pray aloud. This exclusion of women from these ministries is unjust and it sends a hurtful message to women about their worth and status. The message is that there is something about being a woman that makes them unfit to speak about God or read his Word to a mixed audience.
As a Christian woman, God is just as much my God as he is the God of my brothers. The Bible is just as much God’s Word to me as it is God’s Word to my brothers. God hears my prayers just as much as he hears the prayers of many of my brothers. Why then is the ministry of women seen in a different, lesser light, and appreciated differently to the ministry of men?
Some will say that I may only share my theological knowledge and experience with women and children, but not men. This is a common, widely-held assumption among Christians, but this view is not based on Scripture. The Bible never actually states that a woman may teach Christian theology, etc, to women or children. (Note that Paul’s instructions to Titus about older women teaching the younger had nothing to do with teaching theology or Christian spirituality. It seems that the young women in Crete were bad wives and lousy mothers and needed to be taught the basics of domestic life. More on Titus 2:3-5 here.)
I am not saying that a woman cannot teach women and children, however it is much easier to show from the Bible that godly women can teach, advise, and lead men – even powerful men such as kings, an army general and a preacher with an apostolic ministry – than it is to show that women can teach other women and children.
Women’s voices are not silenced in the Bible. We can read the theological thoughts and insights of Deborah (Judges 5:1ff), Hannah (1 Sam 2:1ff), Mary (Luke 1:46ff) and several other women in the Bible; but in some churches women cannot comment on even these passages.
I believe that the culture of male primacy and privilege in ministry – a culture that has been pervasive for centuries – is wrong. It is wrong for the church to be effectively “owned and operated” by men only. It is wrong that the Bible, God’s Word to humanity, is effectively interpreted and taught by men only. Having only men as leaders, teachers and speakers in the church goes beyond any valid understanding of what the Scripture says about women speaking in the New Covenant community of the Body of Christ.
 Many evangelicals believe that only an ordained, priest-like man can “preach a sermon” (i.e. speak) from the “hallowed” pulpit. This sacramental view – and the traditions and jargon that goes with it – hinders many people from seeing the possibility that women can speak, teach and preach in congregational settings. (There were no “pulpits” in New Testament house churches.) More on this here.
 Let me add that 1 Timothy 2:12 does not represent a Scriptural consensus on what the Bible says about women speaking and teaching in the church. Moreover, this verse is open to a wide variety of interpretations and applications. And 1 Corinthians 14:33b-35 is believed by most scholars today to be censuring a particular form of speech. 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 may be about silencing nuisance, ignorant questions from women who wanted to learn something. (More on 1 Cor. 14:34-35 and its applications here.)
 Some Christians who hold to complementarian views believe that women may speak but that they cannot be the ones who determine the church’s position on doctrinal issues. Moreover, they think only men should judge prophecy and preaching (which is evaluated in respect to their church’s doctrines.) These complementarians base this belief on a faulty interpretation of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and a misunderstanding of how the word “authentein” is used in 1 Timothy 2:12. (I discuss authentein here.)
Other complementarians, however, see things differently. I was talking to a very kind young man on Thursday, who also happens to be a complementarian and a Sydney Anglican. My new friend said that he always asks his wife for her opinion on the content of the preaching of every sermon that he gives, and of every sermon that he and his wife hears. He values his wife’s opinion and respects her ability to discern between good and bad theology. I’m unsure where he draws the line on what a woman can or cannot do in the church.
 Tim Challies has said that “The Bible is the very Word of the living God, breathed out by God and given to us to train us in all that is necessary for life and godliness . . . Because of the importance of the Word of God, [reading the Bible aloud] . . . is a ministry reserved for men.” (Source) I agree with Tim about the inspiration and importance of the Bible, but he seems to think that only men, and not women, are important enough to read the Bible aloud in church. Similarly, John Piper does not allow women to read the Bible or pray aloud from the pulpit of his church. (Source) The stance of Tim Challies, John Piper, and many others, limits (and discourages) Christian women in ways that cannot be supported by Scripture. Women did pray aloud in church meetings in New Testament times (1 Cor 11:5 cf 1 Cor 14:26 NIV). Women could recite Scripture, including the Psalms, in church meetings (Eph 5:18-19). Moreover, women functioned as house church leaders in New Testament times. (More on this here.)
© 12th of January, 2012, Margaret Mowczko
Photo credit: “Great Info!” © Amanda Rohde (iStock)
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