“My daughter doesn’t want to be a preacher, so it doesn’t affect me.”
Actual words spoken by an actual human being on the topic of whether churches should empower women in ministry. Maybe it’s just me (I’ve been a little passionate about this topic lately), but I had to pick my jaw up off the floor after this one. It’s akin to hearing someone say “I don’t work outside the home so the issue of equal pay for women doesn’t affect me.” (Uh…what about the rest of society?)
Now before you close your browser thinking, “oh no, she’s going to preach at me or try to get me to change my mind,” please don’t. Stick with me. My goal isn’t to make you think what I think, but simply to encourage everyone to give the issue of women in ministry the thought it deserves (as it affects 50% of the population and all). So join me while I attempt to get your wheels spinning by taking you through a couple of points you may have never considered. And if you totally disagree with me in the end? That’s ok!
Here’s the thing—whether you’re a Complementarian (one who believes the Bible prohibits women from teaching and preaching) or an Egalitarian (one who believes the Bible empowers women to teach and preach), hopefully we all claim to hold our beliefs for the glory of God and the purpose of obeying his instructions.
Romans 14:5 is a great verse that addresses disagreements in the church that are non-essential (they’re not “make or break” for your salvation). Let’s take a quick look:
One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind.
In light of this verse, as long as you attempt to make informed, biblical decisions, I can respect you even if I disagree, and I hope you can do the same. None of us want to be “those people” who try to make the Bible say what they want it to say or blow off certain passages because it doesn’t line up with what they want. I believe scripture is the inspired voice of God and we should treat it accordingly.
One concept that is new to more people than you might think is the importance of reading scripture in context. Who was the letter originally written to and for what purpose? What was going on in society at the time that may have influenced certain writings? This stuff makes a difference!
We also must read scripture holistically. If, for example, one verse commands women to be silent and one commands them to pray and prophesy, we clearly can’t just choose our favorite at the exclusion of the others; we have to understand them in light of the overall message of the Bible. Not doing this is precisely how people defended their “right” to own slaves for centuries, and it’s simply irresponsible.
The reason there’s so much controversy about this particular topic is because the Bible appears to speak out of both sides of its hypothetical mouth, which only means the topic requires thought, study, and guidance from the Spirit.
Here I’m going to pause briefly and ask you to read 1 Timothy 2:8-15. (It’ll be quick, I promise!)
*pausing, pausing, hum da dum dum dummm.*
Okay, are you back? Great. After reading that passage, you might ask how anyone can believe that women should be empowered to be pastors when Paul clearly says in 1 Timothy 2:12:
I do not permit a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. (ESV)
Sounds clear as day, yes? But is it really? This is where I want to challenge you to think outside the box.
Let me point out that verse twelve says “I (as in, Paul) do not permit…” If this was a verse to be applied to all people for all time, it seems to me a big enough command (as it applies to 50% of the population for all time) that he would have wanted to point out that it was God’s command, and not simply his own.
Could it be that Paul was writing this letter to a certain church that he oversaw, and because of the patriarchal society they lived in, the spread of the gospel message (Paul’s ultimate goal) would have been hindered coming from women?
Could it be that in our modern, women-and-men-should-have-equal-opportunities society, the spread of the gospel is most effective coming from men AND women, and therefore this verse is not a rule to be followed for all time, but simply a glimpse into the beginnings of the church?
I’m not claiming to have all the answers. While of course I would love for everyone to equally empower men and women, I’m honestly just trying to get your thoughts churning on the topic and open your mind to the complexity of the matter.
Let’s look at two other points in 1 Timothy 2. In verse eight Paul says (according to most translations), “I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarrelling…” (ESV)
Imagine this verse taken literally and tell me you didn’t laugh! If we are applying every verse exactly as written, why don’t we see Christian men at Walmart or Lowes or EVERYwhere, praying and lifting holy hands as they shop and do life? Is there something less special about this verse that makes people take it less literally?
And in verse fifteen Paul says, “Yet she (woman) will be saved through childbearing…” (ESV)
Who among us truly believes that women are saved through childbearing? Can anyone honestly claim that this verse alone rules out salvation for women who never give birth? Looking at the New Testament holistically (as we should always do), it’s clear that we are saved through grace by faith alone, and not through the physical experience of childbirth. So yet again, we’ve found another verse in this passage that’s not to be taken literally for all time. Why is it so easy to ignore certain verses in favor of others?
Now let’s say your reasoning leads you to believe that while not all of these passages are meant to be taken literally, the one prohibiting women from teaching and having authority over men is, in fact, meant to be taken literally.
Let’s follow that path real quick.
Many churches translate this verse into not allowing women pastors. But that’s not what the Bible says, is it? Nowhere that I’ve found does the Bible limit this exclusion to pastoring, nor does it limit it to the church environment. So to take this to its logical conclusion, it seems that if you believe there shouldn’t be women pastors, you must also believe there shouldn’t be any women professors (for at what age does a male student become a man?), nor should there be any women CEOs or bosses of any kind.
Finally, consider this: when you read through the “gifts” passages of the Bible (such as Romans 12:6-8, 1 Corinthians 12:8-11, 28), which talk about the various gifts people receive from God (teaching, prophesy, wisdom, etc.) gender is not once mentioned or alluded to. What is made clear is that God imparts these gifts as he chooses.
So whether your daughter wants to be a pastor or not is beside the point. Someone else’s daughter (my ten-year-old, currently) does. And before you tell her she’s not allowed, I beg you to give this topic the prayer and research it deserves.
I won’t pretend to have it all figured out. There are several people in my life whom I love and respect very much that simply disagree with me here. But as long as we’re convinced the other is basing their beliefs on the Bible and the instruction of the Holy Spirit, we can each continue to serve the Kingdom of God the best ways we know how with a clear conscience. And surely that’s all God asks of us.
(To be clear, this post only scratches the surface of this topic, which spans the whole Bible and New Testament in particular, not just 1 Timothy. If you want to reach out for further discussion, please go to my “contact” page where you can email me directly.)
Thanks for reading! I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below, and if you haven’t yet subscribed to receive these posts directly to your email, now is a great time to do so! Stay tuned for my next post in a couple weeks where I’ll tell you a little more about my middle grade fiction book, Power Up, which will be released in a couple months! So exciting! Have a blessed week!