Why Not Women Leaders In The Church
Mr. G. Fred Hamilton, formerly of England, is a teaching elder at the Valley Bible Chapel, Westwood, N.J. Over the years it has been the editor’s pleasure to periodically renew fellowship with our esteemed brother when ministering at his home assembly.
Concerning his timely and needed article, which will appear in two parts, Mr. Hamilton states:
“This paper is prompted by widespread resurgence, on both sides of the Atlantic, of a number of related questions regarding the role of women in the work of the God. Unhappily, many reactionary views are being disseminated among evangelical circles, including some ‘assemblies,’ and while it is not possible within the scope of a short paper to deal with all the questions on this subject, it is hoped that the material here presented will be of some help.”
A Changing World
In our modern world, attitudes to long-established views about the role of women have changed greatly. Many of the reactions against the subservient place traditionally assigned to women in society are good, and we cannot but be glad about them. it is hard to believe that a little over fifty years ago the doors of many medical colleges of the advanced countries of the world were closed to women. During the past generation, however, women have shown, in many walks of life, that they can fulfill functions once thought to be only possible for men. With the widespread reactions has come an increasing upsurge of desire, not to say determination, on the part of the gentler sex, to throw over all obstacles to full equality with men. Hence the “Women’s Liberation” movement, and many similar pressures, which have affected most callings, and have brought about general recognition in social, political and even religious circles that there is a place for women which they may, or may not, be denied.
Not all of these reactions, however, are sound or beneficial, either to women, their families, or to society in general. Some of the most distressing effects are seen in breaking up of the home life, and in the insistence by many wives and mothers, who had pledged themselves to lifelong marital relationships, that they have every right to repudiate these ties and to seek independent lives, whether in promiscuity or in parallel, care-free behavior with many men of the world, whose example has often been anything but helpful. Others seek, quite objectively, to follow careers and places of influence in business, academics, and other spheres, including sometimes church activities, where they hope to replace men, or at least to compete with them in performing the multitudious tasks facing the world today.
The problem raised by the drastic change of attitude are not simple, but where Christians are concerned, the guidance needed to show what God expects, and directs, for those who wish to honor and obey Him, is not far too seek. He has given, in His inspired Word, a full revelation of His truth, and if we are willing to obey Him, He promises that through that Word, He will instruct us and guide us in the way we should go. Unhappily, many people cling to preconceived notions and ideas acquired from many other sources than the bible, or than direct reading of God’s Word. Many also are influenced by popular talk and modern trends. It is often difficult to set aside these misconceptions and allow God to shine into our minds the pure light of His truth. Every born-again soul, however, possesses a new life which responds to the illuminating teaching of the Holy Spirit in the ‘Scriptures, and where there is an honest purpose to learn the will of God, He will reveal it (Luke 8:15; John 7:17; 1 Cor. 1:9-15; 2 Tim. 3:15-17; Psalms 119:105) .
We purpose in this paper to look at a few of the statements in the New Testament affecting the place God gives to women in the Church. We select four Scripture passages which complement each other, and on which there appears to be much misunderstanding among Christian groups today. The passages provide specific guidance by the Holy Spirit concerning women in the local church, in the home, and in a general way in the world.
I. Women in the Local Church
The subject forms part of the teaching developed in 1 Timothy 2:1-3:16, in the context of the concern of the Apostle Paul expressed in verses 14 and 15 of chapter 3: “If I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.” These words are, of course, the reflection of the continuing concern of the Lord Himself, and the words could be taken literally as His own, spoken to His people today, and throughout the period of His absence.
While the directions for “behavior” continue throughout the epistle, it is clear that the matters treated in chapters 2 and 3 relate to the activities of the local church, as it stands for God in a world where it is His will that all should be saved and come to the knowledge of His truth, because He has provided a sufficient ransom. In this setting, men and women who know Him are to witness a good confession to that truth, and be occupied in prayer, godliness, good works and the teaching of those things which, as was exemplified in the apostle’s own life, emphasize faith in the revelation in Christ of the true God. Verse 8 of 1 Timothy 2 introduces the specific directions of the inspired writer which are to apply “in every place” — an evident link with 1 Corinthians 1:2, where also the things written are for local churches, and are applicable to those that call upon the Lord in similar situations. Those who in the present day seek to apply New Testament principles in church fellowship cannot but draw particular help from such Scriptures. It is significant that in 1 Timothy 3, the instructions move on to set forth the qualifications and character of “bishops” (who in New Testament times were consistently appointed in plurality in each church in every city — Titus 1:5), who were responsible to “take care of the church of God” (1 Tim. 3:5), as well as of those who undertake a place of public service in the church (i.e. do “deacon” work) and whose personal testimony therefore must be exemplary.
A. Praying in the Church: the Women Silent
It is fitting that the opening subject of the apostle’s concern should relate to prayer — its special significance in the political and social conditions in which each local church is found, and the need for consistent lives on the part of those who call upon God in them, as His people. That it is “public prayer” and that the questions of “leading” in such prayer are described, needs little comment. The subject of individual prayer would not require these directions in this context: all Christians are exhorted elsewhere to “pray without ceasing”; to pray “always with all supplication and prayer in the spirit,” etc.
However, while all Christians can and should pray, not every Christian leads in the prayers of the local church. In 1 Timothy 2 it is stressed that the men are to undertake this role of collective and public leadership. The word used for “men” can only apply to males — the same word is used in Greek for “husbands.” In order to make it easy for them to pray, as consciously in the presence of God, and to pray publicly, as consciously surrounded by men and women who know them, they are exhorted to maintain lives of holiness, gentleness and faith. While also, every believer has personal liberty to enter into the true sanctuary of God’s presence as a priest (1 Pet. 2:5; Heb. 4:16; 10:19), it is evident that the men, in the praying of 1 Timothy 2:8, bear specific testimony to this privilege as they express to God, on behalf of all the Christian men and women present, the united desires of the heart, and the “sacrifice of praise” (Heb. 13:15) by “lifting up holy hands” in priestly and Christlike liberty (Luke 23:50).
Some commentators claim that the opening clause of 1 Timothy 2:9, “In like manner,” implies that the women — for whom a similarly restrictive word is used in Greek, applying only to females/wives — may also lead in prayer, as long as they carry out the remaining injuctions to adorn themselves modestly. This interpretation, however, is not only grammatically unsound, since it would require another verb and a conjunction with what follows, but it is in conflict with the later statements in the chapter, as well as with 1 Corinthians 14:34, 35, which state that a woman’s voice should not be heard in the public gatherings of the church. There is no problem of interpretation if the clause “In like manner” is seen as the introduction of a parallel statement for “women” indicating the apostle’s (which means for those who regard 1 Timothy as inspired, the Lord’s) will, to that made in verse 8 for men. While the men are to lead in prayer, in the public gatherings, having lives which reflect consistent godliness, the women, while remaining in silence in those gatherings, are to ensure that their outward appearance is consistent with women professing godliness. Their adornment, like their good works, should not be for the exhibition of self, but appropriate to the subjective place of women in the church of God.
Twice over, in ‘this short section, it is said that women should be “in silence.” It is interesting that the word used here by the Holy Spirit implies a voluntary silence, as is illustrated in Acts 22:2, where the same word is used. In contrast, when speaking of the Sadducees after the Lord had answered them (Matt. 22:34), or of the “silencing” of “ignorant people” (1 Pet. 2:15), a different word is used which applies to “muzzling” — as an ox (1 Tim. 5:18). The meaning is further clarified in 1 Timothy 2:11: “Let the women learn in silence.” It is’ clearly God’s wish that women should expect to receive spiritual substance through the ministry He provides in the local gatherings of the church, but that they would not be the vessels through which it is conveyed.
B. Teaching in the Local Church: the Women Silent
Underlining the force of 1 Timothy 2:11, verse 12 repeats the injunction that women are not to take the place of teachers in the public gatherings of the church. It might well happen that women could be present whose knowledge of the truth, and whose experience in the things of God, might exceed those of the men. Nevertheless, the divine injunction is that women are not to teach in that setting, nor to “usurp authority” over men. This expression is the translation of one Greek word which means literally “acting on one’s own.” It signifies taking independent action, setting aside the place of prior responsibility as “head” which God has given to the man. To teach, when men are present, would be inconsistent with that place, and with the direction from God to “learn in silence.” Verse 11 adds a further clause — “with all subjection.” This is a military term, used of a subordinate rank which is required to recognize the place of seniority given to another — in this case, the man. The woman is instructed not to assume the responsibility that God has already assigned to the man. A similar injunction appears in 1 Corinthians 14:34.
C. Why Does God Impose Silence on Women?
1 Timothy 2:13-15 explains reasons why God has set women in the position of “learners” and “submissiveness” in this context, In 1 Corinthians 11, He explains other aspects of truth affecting it. In 1 Timothy 2, we are referred to Genesis 3 and the facts of the “fall,” where Eve, beguiled by Satan’s subtilty, took it upon herself to become the interpreter of what God had said to Adam about the tree in the midst of the garden. His word and His warning had been given to Adam before Eve was created (Gen. 2:16, 17), and he, as God’s representative, should have provided the answer to the serpent’s question. Instead, Eve, in disregard of Adam’s position, acted on her own (compare 1 Tim. 2:12), and she was deceived. She thus became a trap through which Adam, in love for her, elected to disobey. He was not deceived (1 Tim. 2:14). Transgression (“overstepping”) came in through Eve’s act; Adam’s action then involved the deliberate rejection of God’s instruction, completing the immensity of the “fall.”
In this divine recapitulation in 1 Timothy 2, God deigns to give us an explanation of His solemn discipline, as it affects the woman. The place of “subjection” and “silence” in the context of public witness to His truth, both in the dispensations immediately following Eden (see 1 Cor. 14:34: “as also saith the law”), and in the present “church period” is a direct consequence of her behavior and deception in Eden. This is His appointment. He does not expect us to argue or differ with Him about it. Woman is not to be put into a position where she may again “overstep” in a representative capacity, as happened in the garden. This is, of course, in drastic conflict with modern ideas of “Women’s Lib.”
The last verse of 1 Timothy 2 indicates that under the sovereign appointment of God, following the “fall,” the woman was also given the place of primary responsibility for the bringing up of children. If, as a godly mother, she finds grace to bring them up for God, in obedience to Him, she will experience practical salvation from the subtilty of Satan. Instead of her children, like Eve’s, tasting the sorrows resulting from the disobedience and death, they will follow in the path of godly living which is delineated in the earlier verses of this chapter as God’s will for their parents, indeed, for all men and women (verses 4, 8, 10). This is salvation!
D. Public Exercise of Gifts in General in the Church: the Woman Silent
The first letter to the church at Corinth deals with many of the problems which troubled that fellowship. The Holy Spirit thus provided correction, as well as instruction, both for the Corinthian believers then and for the saints in every place, including ourselves today. Chapter 12 tells us much of the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit in the formation of the Body of Christ and the functioning of its members. It also lists many of the gifts that God set in the church. We should observe that not all these gifts are men — the members of the body include women, and while none were apostles, it is evident that some (at least in the time of Acts 21:9) were prophets, and surely many were, and still are, “helps” (1 Cor. 12:28). We cannot say, since no record is given, whether in those days, miracle and healing gifts, or ability to interpret languages, were also among women. However, it is important to recognize that while 1 Corinthians 12 is speaking of the Body of Christ in the world, 1 Corinthians 14 describes the place and exercise of various gifts given for the edification of the church.
In verse 23 of chapter 14, the church is said to be “come together into one place.” Significantly, directions are then given (verse 26) addressed to “brethren” — clearly because it is they who are responsible before God to carry them out. All the nouns and appropriate pronouns that follow through to verse 33 are masculine while the responsibility of women (again referred to in the restrictive word) reiterates what we have seen in 1 Timothy 2. The section begins with “As in all churches of the saints, let your (sic!) women keep silence in the churches, for it is not permitted unto them to speak … etc.” The women, even gifted women, are directed to remain in the place of silence. Anticipating one understandable question, it is emphasized that even when women wished to know the answers to questions, they were not to raise them by asking openly in the church — they were to reserve them for discussion at home, “for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.”
That the apostle expected opposition to these directions is evident from the verses that follow. Then, as often since, there have been many who not only dislike these restrictive injunctions for women, but who seek all kinds of arguments to avoid applying them, including the suggestion that Paul was prejudiced. Some claim that this section presents Paul’s own ideas and that the verses are not inspired or that they applied only to the local Corinthian situation where many women were notoriously objectionable, etc. But verses 36-38 leave no room for such ideas. They are indeed the words of the Lord, forming part of the inspired letter. “If anyone thinks himself a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord.” It is remarkable that this statement is addressed so as to be equally applicable to male and female — the restrictive masculine is not used, nor in verse 38. Verse 39, however, returns to addressing “brethren.”
These directions present God’s order, and if we claim to obey Him, we must respect them whether they are unpalatable to the world or not. He has His own reasons for instructing us to do things after His choice. Obedience of a literal kind is not “legalism” (as some objectors to accepting this order as “commandments” have suggested); it is putting revelation and inspiration above human ideas. It is interesting to note that thus a section of the first epistle to the Corinthian church which begins by praise for “keeping the ordinances” (1 cor. 11:2), ends with a reminder that “the commandments of the Lord” through the apostle’s writings concern the way things should be done in all the churches. Obedience to Him is surely the only way of doing things “decently and in order” (1 Cor. 14:30).