Revised and Updated: Should Women Be Pastors?

21/03/2017 — 11 Comments
shepherd1_2885291b

credit: telegraph.co.uk

We have all passed through that stage. We didn’t understand why our parents wouldn’t let us sleep over at a friend’s house, or why we had to brush our teeth, or eat our vegetables and make our beds. All our confused and pained “whys” were quickly silenced by mum’s firm “Because I said so”. Of course, now that we are older and we understand about neighborhood feuds, cavities, good diet and grooming, we can appreciate these formerly oppressive commands. Hindsight is always 20-20.

In retrospect, we can see that our parents had nothing but our good in mind. Even though we were too young to understand the “whys”, our parents were old enough, and that was enough for the time being. No, we did not enjoy the pain and darkness surrounding those commands. Deep down in our hearts, we were convinced that our parents were just plain mean, sometimes.

While a similar case can be made for why God gives us certain commands and instructions, the parallels do not always fit. Analogies are helpful, but analogies can only go so far. Even so, there is something to be said about some seemingly “pointless”, “oppressive” and “irrelevant” commands in the Bible.

OFFICIAL CAPACITY

I would like to zoom in on what I can only describe (for lack of a better description) as official commands in the Bible. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the adjective official as “of or relating to an office, position, or trust.” To say that someone is official is to say that he or she is to be recognized and treated in reference to the authority or office they claim to represent.

Whether that person has the intrinsic talents and abilities to carry out that official role is irrelevant to the fact that they already have that role. This is why Christians are commanded to submit to all earthly authorities (Romans 13), even those that are oppressive and definitely fail to qualify for that office. We are not commanded to submit only to good leaders or qualified leaders, only to people in leadership, their CVs and character notwithstanding.

At the risk of belabouring this point, consider two friends working in the same office. One friend is the supervisor or manager of the other. If one day the subordinate friend came to work late, the supervisor friend may have to deal with her in her “official capacity” and dish out the required discipline. This is fairly easy to understand in our various “official” interactions with friends and family in life. However, we are not so quick to recognize similar rules when it comes to the Bible and the different “Biblical offices.”

Consider this controversial passage:

“I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. [1 Tim 2:12-14]

THE PASTOR’S OFFICE

I say that this verse is controversial beforehand because it speaks to an issue that is quite divisive and hotly contested in the church today — the issue of women as pastors and elders in the church.

Some of the arguments raised against having women as pastors include the claim that Paul was speaking to a specific cultural problem and context, and that the command is not universally applicable to today’s society. This is probably right, but there are passages in other parts of the Bible that make it difficult to use this line of argument as the conclusive proof that the issue of women in church leadership was only a cultural one. Even so,

I will not be dealing with that argument today. What I am concerned about is a different line of thought. A line of thought that may actually render the whole “this was a cultural issue” debate irrelevant to the bigger picture. As already revealed in the beginning of this post, I am here dealing with the argument of “equal worth” and “equal capacity/giftedness” in men and women. This is what is commonly referred to as egalitarianism.

Basically, the argument states that “since women are equally capable and equally gifted to teach and lead, then there is no reason why they should not be pastors.” Here is my contention. Are women able to teach? Yes. Are women able to lead? Yes, of course! Are women, more often than not, better teachers than men? Definitely! Are women arguably more intuitive and better able to multitask than men? Yes. So, should they be pastors and teach the church congregation on an official capacity based on their abilities? No. Why? Because God says so, or as Paul says in 1 Corinthians, because the LAW says so:

“The women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says.” [1 Corinthians 14:34]

As a child, I was perfectly able to go over to my friend’s and spend the night. I was perfectly able to skip eating my veggies and brushing my teeth. But my parents knew better. They had reasons that my childish reasoning capacity could comprehend, let alone accept. So I obeyed them. Yet, this is also where my analogy fails.

As an adult, I am now able to perceive the direct evil consequences that could have resulted from disobeying my parents’ instructions. A visit to the dentist is one very effective way of driving home the message. However, it is still more difficult to think of any good reason why a woman being a pastor would lead negative consequences. This is probably because many of us are wired to be consequentialists: We only categorise some actions as bad when we can clearly see the negative consequences of doing them.

This is why the reasons Paul often gives for why women should not teach seem strange, offensive even, to many of us. However, if our understanding of sin and morality is guided by the Bible, then we should be able to acknowledge that sin is not bad primarily because it hurts people, sin is bad because it is against God’s order and commands. In other words, sin hurts people because it is bad (and even when we cannot see how it hurts people, it is still bad because God said so). This is why some actions like my parents not letting me sleep at a friend’s house on a school night is good, even though it hurts me at the time.

Pain is a poor determinant of right and wrong.

So, when Paul, in 1 Timothy, says a woman should not assume authority over a man because “Adam was formed first, then Eve“, we are tempted to find another special reason for this command. It just doesn’t sit well with us. It just doesn’t seem like a strong enough justification for forbidding women to lead a congregation since “we can see all of the benefits and none of the losses” if they did.

EGALITARIANISM AND THE TRINITY

In conclusion, let us briefly look at the offices that men are commanded to hold and how qualified they are to do it. Consider this verse:

“I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.” [1 Corinthians 11:3]

Keeping in mind the case laid out above, is there anything in the man that makes him intrinsically more capable and more fit to be the head of the house or the head of the woman? No. Then why don’t we oppose this passage using the same argument of consequentialism? Perhaps this argument  sounds less offensive because it appeals to the headship of God over Christ, and the headship of Christ over man.

Please, do not misunderstand me. I have sat under many a female “pastor” and gained truths about God that many male pastors could probably not have taught me better. I have listened to many sermons by women “pastors” that were solid and biblical and I gleaned treasures worth an eternal spot in my heart. Many of these women pastors are good friends of mine. Women indeed do make excellent teachers.

Yet, consider this: Can Christ do what God (the Father) can do? Yes. Does Christ know what God knows? Yes. Does Christ have all the attributes that God, the Father, has? Yes. So, should Christ play the role or serve in the office of the Father? No. Why? Because God says so. Because God has ordered (arranged) and ordered (commanded) it so!

May we learn to rest in God’s sovereign wisdom, even when we don’t get it.

Advertisements

11 responses to Revised and Updated: Should Women Be Pastors?

  1. 

    Very nicely written. I do not find the argument convincing, but, even if it were, you have not addressed the more convincing counter-argument you mentioned,

    “Some of the arguments raised against having women as pastors include the claim that Paul was speaking to a specific cultural problem and context, and that the command is not universally applicable to today’s society.”

    I think this is more to the point.

    • 

      Hey Tim,

      Yes, this is the easy part 🙂 But I had to get this one out of the way first because it is often used as a crutch and a convincer in order to make the other exegetical argument more forceful.

      That’s why, as you may have noticed, I introduced the “women pastor” subject tangentially. I brought it into the post as an example, an illustration, rather than the central point of the post. We’ll keep talking though.

      God bless you!

  2. 

    The challenge is that, in order for these passages to hold merit as an argument against women leaders, they have to be read in isolation. The passage in 1 Corinthians, for example, calls women to be silent despite Paul’s expectation a few chapters earlier that women should be allowed to prophesy in church. Either Paul is contradicting himself, or there is something more going on here.

    We are also forced to overlook the women in scripture… women like Deborah, for example, who were appointed by God to lead the entire nation of Israel as a judge. Or Miriam, who is not only a prophetess, but whose song is recorded in Scripture. Churches that have issues with women reading scripture aloud face an odd challenge when reading aloud scripture written by women…

    Then there’s Huldah, the prophetess that Josiah turns to despite the availability of male prophets such as Jeremiah, Zephaniah, Nahum, and Habakkuk. We also see the Samaritan woman at the well, or the women at the empty tomb – all called to be among the first evangelists.

    Then we have Junia – a woman whom Paul the Apostle lists among the Apostles, and gives special honor to in Romans 16:7, calling her “great among the apostles”. And don’t forget Phoebe, a woman that Paul lists as a leader in the early church, or Priscilla, who was a noted teacher alongside her husband Aquila, or Lydia, who pastored an early church in Acts.

    The question becomes whether we read passages like those in 1 Timothy and 1 Corinthians in light of the entire spread of scripture, aware that there were cultural happenings Paul was dealing with that we are not privy to, or whether we read the entire spread of the rest of scripture in light of these two passages.

    Anytime one has to redefine a Biblical trajectory to fit with a theological stance rooted in one or two solitary verses which are, arguably, obscure in their context, that should be a red flag. As a whole, scripture is remarkably affirming of women as leaders.

    • 

      Thanks for your comprehensive response Hanna,

      However, I distinctly mentioned that this post was only dealing with a snippet of this very complex debate:

      “Some of the arguments raised against having women as pastors include the claim that Paul was speaking to a specific cultural problem and context, and that the command is not universally applicable to today’s society. I will not be dealing with that argument today. What I am concerned about is a different argument. The argument of “equal worth” and “equal capacity” in men and women. This is what is commonly referred to as egalitarianism.”

      PS: I do have responses to each of your concerns and in light of the overall biblical narrative. But that is not a conversation for today. I am deliberately trying to avoid it because it is long. But just to give you a glimpse of my emphasis. Here are summarized pointers in response to the examples you mentioned:

      1. “Either Paul is contradicting himself, or there is something more going on here.” I agree… there’s something more going on there.

      2. “We are also forced to overlook the women in scripture.” … Not really. Here is why. My contention is that the context of Paul’s words is the “church”, not “anywhere” and the office of contention is the “pastor”, not “any office”. Therefore:

      – Deborah was a judge, not a Pastor.
      – Miriam and Huldah were both prophetesses, not Pastors.
      – The Samaritan woman was an evangelist, not a Pastor over a church.
      – There’s contention regarding whether Junia was a man’s or a woman’s name, or whether “she” was Andronicus’ wife (you can do the research). Either way, man or woman, “she” was not a Pastor.
      – Lydia, Dorcas and Phoebe were deacons… and this is a grey area (see http://bible.org/article/may-women-be-deacons-prelude-dialogue), either way, they were not Pastors.
      – Priscilla was a Pastor’s wife, not a pastor.

      Why my seeming obsession with the specific office of the “Pastor”? Because this office is directly linked to authority over a congregation, not service within a congregation. The verses that you claim are “isolated” specifically appeal to “authority” language (headship) whenever they argue against women teaching and speaking. So, it is not so much an issue of teaching or speaking as it is an issue of teaching and speaking with an authority only reserved for the pastor or Bishop of a given church. This is why I insisted on defining the word “office” in my post.

      Can women teach and lead? Yes they can (they are able to).
      Do women in the Bible teach and lead? Yes they do.
      Does that mean that women can and should be pastors? No. Because to be a pastor is to have authority over a congregation (of men and women) and the Bible explicitly says that the man is the head of the woman as Christ is the head of man.

      But this is only a tip of the ice-berg. I still insist that my post was not making a comprehensive argument for/against women leadership. I was only highlighting the false reasoning in egalitarianism.

      • 

        By the way, I have no problems learning from women, reading books written by women and being guided by commentaries written by women. An author is not an office in the church. We shouldn’t now get mystical about “words” written by women as if they have an intrinsic taboo against them.

  3. 

    Reblogged this on Alien Citizens and commented:
    Originally published 2 months ago. But quite relevant now..

  4. 
    Nelly Shangari 05/07/2013 at 8:12 am

    Was asked the same question by my cousin the other day at this age and day as we are nearing the end times can we say that God is Using anyone that has surrendered their lives to Him to spread the word to the four corners of this world. Also checking if the pastor whether a lady or a gentleman bears the fruit of the Holy Spirit. Then from this one can know that the pastor is being used by God whether it is a lady or not.

  5. 

    Thanks for sharing this. I’m a woman, and I agree with you that women should not pastor. That does not make us any less – or any less gifted – than men. I wrote a post in response to this one at my blog. I’m looking forward to reading more from you on this issue – looks like this post is a precursor/introduction to a lengthier post on the same? God bless

  6. 

    so If I go to a church with female pastors does that mean I am in error

    • 

      Hi S,

      I go to a church with female pastors. Does that mean I am in error? You have to weigh the factors that will contribute to your decision to move churches. The presence of female pastors alone, despite your convictions, is too weak a reason. But that’s my judgment.

      Cornell

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s