Do women have the “right” to lead in the church? – (Women in church leadership – Part 4)

There are a couple of typical arguments made in order to support a woman’s “right” to share in the spiritual leadership of the church.  Let’s look at a couple…

“Fellow heirs” and “all one in Christ”

One of the arguments made by those who support women in the leadership of the church is based on an appeal to the scriptural principle of equality and equal inheritance for all, in Christ.  Passages such as these are often quoted…

Galatians 3: 26-28You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

1 Peter 3:7 – Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.

This is once again, an example of an argument that sounds good on the surface, but upon closer examination does not hold up to the test of “context.”

 NEVER, NEVER, NEVER forget that the greater context of a passage is KEY to understanding what it is saying.  In both of the passages mentioned above (You can check out the contexts here and here) context informs us as to what is meant and what is NOT meant.  Let’s look at each one to see why context shows that they are NOT talking about women and men having equal roles within the church…

Galatians 3 

The first, Galatians chapter 3 is addressing the issue of Law VS Grace.  Paul has clearly made the case in this chapter that we come INTO the family of God through faith in Christ.  It’s important that we understand THAT fact and carry it into our reading of the verses to come.  When he gets to the verse in question, he’s showing that it doesn’t matter who you are (Jew, Greek, slave, free, male, female), your FAITH enables you to be a PART OF CHIRST, and to be unifed with others of all different races, genders, etc. in that new identity!  He’s said NOTHING and will say NOTHING about roles within the church in this passage!

This passage no more supports women having an “equal right” to leadership roles within the church than an athlete has an “equal right” to be quarterback just because he’s on the the football team!  That would be an issue of ROLES, while this passage is speaking on the issue of INCLUSION on the team in the first place!  This passage is saying that ANYONE has the ability to be on the team (in God’s family) through faith in Christ.  There is no difference, no other requirement (not nationality, gender, nothing…)!

1 Peter 3

Amazingly, the context of this passage is primarily about one of the “dirty-words” to those who believe women should be able to be in positions of primary authority within the church.  What’s the word?  Shhhh ….  “Submission.”  Peter has been speaking at length in this chapter about the responsibility of a woman to be submissive to her husband’s role of leadership in the family.  When we get to verse 7 (the one in question), Paul tells the husband to live with his wife in an understanding way and to show her honor BECAUSE she is a “fellow heir” of the grace of life.  Those who desire to secure the right of primary church leadership for women typically point to this passage and exclaim, “See! see!!  Women are ‘fellow heirs’ with men!  They’re equal!  Peter was telling men to view women that way!”

Again, please consider the greater context!  There are two things I want you to notice that the context makes very clear…

  1. Peter has already established that women are to be submissive to their husband’s leadership in this very passage!  Think it through… how can they be submissive to the leadership of their husbands if they are then allowed to be leaders of their husbands in the church?  It’s contradictory!
  2. This passage, like the one in  Galatians 3, says NOTHING about roles within the church (for men or for women).  The phrase “fellow heirs” again speaks of our POSITION in Christ, our equal standing as members of His family.  It’s on that basis that Peter urges men to consider their wives and treat them well.  To stretch this text into saying that equal standing as members of Jesus’ family naturally equates into equal opportunity and “right” to all roles within the church is ridiculous!  The passage simply does not say that!

Scriptural examples of women teaching and speaking authoritatively

I have no desire to deny that there are instances in scripture where certain women (Miriam, Deborah, Huldah, Anna, Priscilla, Andronicus, Junia, etc.) functioned in certain roles of spiritual authority.  That’s clearly true.  But my response is very simple… just because it happened “once upon a time” doesn’t mean we should feel justified in ignorning the VERY CLEAR GUIDELINES set out in the New Testament on this issue.  There are always exceptions – even in God’s way of doing things.  For example…

Morally, we’d all agree that scripture would generally not condone a man spending time with a prostitute or woman of bad morals.  Yet, God had Hosea, a prophet of God, MARRY a woman just like that!  God had a purpose in doing so and we have to allow room for that.  So, in our situation I’d allow for God to do something out of the ordinary regarding women in spiritual leadership in the church… HE has that right.  But WE do NOT have the right to routinely overstep the clear guidelines that He’s given us on this issue.  He would have to make an exceptional circumstance very apparant and clear so that we could be sure it was indeed what HE wanted.  But otherwise we should adhere to the standards He’s already set forth.

Again, my motivation is not at all to subjugate or mistreat women, Peter makes it clear in the passage we’ve considered that masculine attitudes of that kind are unacceptable.  My desire is to understand, without making excuses or justifications, what the scriptures say on this important issue!  We’ve got to learn to stand on what God says, without injecting our own human “reasoning” into the equation…


9 thoughts on “Do women have the “right” to lead in the church? – (Women in church leadership – Part 4)

  1. Carey,
    Paul had many women leading in his church (Romans 16). And he did that in a day when women really were considered property of men. If Paul did that then, doesn’t it make sense that we should do it now. It’s unbiblical and silly to limit leadership in the church to “men only.”

    Here is another reality. Whether you admit it or not, women are already leading in your church. Leadership is servanthood. In most churches, women are the servants doing most of the work. Just because you don’t give them a “title” doesn’t mean they aren’t leading. Those who want to be the greatest, must be the servant of all. I bet the women in your church are “out-serving” the men in most cases. And if this is true, women are leading in your church, whether or not you give them the recognition.


  2. Hi again Mark,

    As in many of your previous comments, you have set up a straw man that you can easily appear to knock down, when there is no substance to your point.

    Romans 16 DOES NOT SAY that any of the women mentioned were in PRIMARY areas of leadership (Pastor and Elder). It just doesn’t. To say that it does is to stretch the text FAR BEYOND what it really says.

    Yes, many women serve in my church. In fact some are part of very important committees (finances for example – soon to be Deacons). They are leaders, no question. I never said a woman should not be allowed to lead in the church – I said a woman should not be allowed to lead in PRIMARY areas of leadership (Pastor or Elder). Why? Because those are the only positions in the modern day church that fit Paul’s criteria for a woman not to “teach or have authority over a man.”

  3. Carey,
    I am sure you know that there was no such thing as “pastor” as we know it in the early church. That is something we have created in the “modern church”. And yet we are ok with men being pastors, even though the early church had no such thing. The point is that much of the way we do church is cultural. I don’t think we were ever intended to try to replicate exactly what they did in the early church.

    I agree with you that Paul’s mention of women in Romans 16 fit more the title of deacon or servant. But my point is that he had women leading in his church in a culture that didn’t like women leading. He was allowing them a greater leadership role in the church than they had in any other part of society. This is a radical move for Paul to do. Paul is moving in the direction of equality as the gospel demands. And so should we.

    Here is how we could apply this truth:
    – Paul gave women a greater leadership role in the church than they had in his own culture.
    – We should imitate Paul in the way he treated women compared to his culture.
    – If women can lead in our culture, how much more should they be leading in the church. If women can teach in our culture, how much more should they be teaching in the church.


  4. Hi Mark,

    Yes, I agree that no role called “Pastor” existed in the local church – but what “title” we use is not the point. It can be reasonably argued that Timothy, Titus, and many others, though not Apostles or with a title of “Pastor” were functioning as what we call “Pastor” today. It’s the function that is important, not what we call it – and the function that we, today, call “Pastor” WAS indeed present in the local church of the 1st century.

    I never denied that there were women in the churches Paul oversaw who were very prominent and significant in ministry. Romans 15 could be used to illustrate that, undoubtedly.

    You’ve made the issue one of culture, but the issue is not whether he was “progressive” in comparison to his culture (which he clearly was) the point is this – What does the inspired word of God, in this case penned by Paul, say is the proper role for women and men within the church? God’s word is not subject to culture, culture is subject to God’s word. If Paul gave reason in the context for us to presume that the prohibition was cultural (which he does in some cases – i.e. headcoverings), then I’d probably agree with you. But he doesn’t in the prohibition of women being able to teach or have authority over men (though yes, I understand that some argue that he does in the greater context of his writings to Timothy. I happen to disagree with their arguments, and for good reason). That’s the fundamental point where we are having a disagreement.

    My argument is that according to God’s word, women were never the “primary” leaders – those who “teach or have authority over men.” The way the prohibition is stated to Timothy, from Paul, and the context surrounding it lead me to believe this is a prohibition that is independent of culture.


  5. I think it is easier to distinguish the woman from the men in leading by way of
    the wording of the scriptures. …. “elders’ and “deacons” are meant to be “men”
    with one wife and who have control over their families. otherwise how can they “lead” the church. It is scriptural that men be “elders” not the woman. I believe woman are only allowed to teach and preach outside the assembly of elders like Deborah judged Israel apart from the elders assembly, under her own palm tree. (See Judges 4)
    Woman are not be “elders” though they can teach (disciple others as to not “usurp authority” over the men) or preach (bear witness or evangelize) They are to remain silent or quiet in the churches that they may not put the men to shame publicly questioning them in debate or teach them. rather like it says, “question their husbands at home” She is to follow his lead, like the apostle Paul said, husband is the “head” of the wife. and Christ the “head” of the church… or the “head” of the man…. as the weaker vessel under Eve who was deceived (not the man) I gladly submit. Because I trust Christ to lead my husband. and can win him over with quiet submission; gentle respect otherwise. God commanded we follow His Lead. He commanded the husband to “love your wife even as Christ laid down His life for the Church” and the wife he commanded, “must” repect her husband. We submit ourselves one to another to honor the Lord in these commands. though it is difficult, if we submit…. God is honored and will bless our marriages…. in the same way he will bless our churches when we follow His order of things.

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