I don’t know of many more controversial issues in the church than issues regarding women in ministry. It is not controversial whether or not women can do ministry or be effective in ministry, but whether or not they can teach and preside in positions of authority over men. The most controversial issue aspect of this issue, of course, is whether or not women can hold the position of head pastor or elder in a local church.
There are two primary positions in this debate; those who believe that women can teach men and hold positions of authority over men in the church and those that do not. Those that do, normally go by the name “Egalitarians.” Those that do not, go by the name “Complementarians.” I am a complementarian but I understand and appreciate the egalitarian position. In fact, the church I serve at most often is an egalitarian church. (However, I don’t want you to think that my complementarianism is not important to me. There is much more to complementarianism than whether or not a woman can preach!)
There are a lot of passages of Scripture which contribute to the debate, but one stands out more than all the others. 1 Tim. 2:11-15:
“A woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. 12 But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. 13 For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve. 14 And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression. 15 But women will be preserved through the bearing of children if they continue in faith and love and sanctity with self-restraint.”
I don’t want to debate whether or not this passage teaches either position. I am simply going to assume the complementarian position and attempt to deal with the sting of “I don’t allow a woman to teach.” It does have quite a bit of sting.
I like to make the Scripture pragmatically understandable. In other words, I want to not only understand what it says, but to rationally understand why it says what it says. Why does God give this instruction or that? What practical rationale might be behind the instruction of God? I know that we cannot always find it and our obligation to obey transcends our understanding but, in my experience, more often than not, our understanding of the command can accompany our obedience so that we are not so blind.
“I do not allow a woman to teach.” We think of this as coming from God. God says, “I do not allow a woman to teach.” Teaching is something that requires _________ therefore, women are not qualified. You fill in the blank:
While I think the sting of this passage assumes that Paul is speaking about one of these, I don’t choose any of them. I think Paul (and God) has something different in mind.
The other night, at 3am there was a sound in our living room. Kristie woke up, but I did not. She was looking out there and saw the lights go on. She got scared.
Pop quiz: What did she do next?
a. Got a bat and quietly tip toed out there to see who it was.
b. Got a gun and peeked around the corner.
c. Woke me up and had me go out there.
Those of you who choose “c” are both right and wise. You are right because that is what happened. (It was my 2 year old Zach who decided it was time to get up.) You are wise because that is what normally happens and is typically, for those of you who have a man in the house, the best move. Why? Because men are better equipped to deal with these sort of situations. There is an aggression that men have, both physical and mental, that is more able to handle situations that might become combative. That is the way we are made.
Now, let me give my short and sweet answer as to why Paul did not allow women to teach:
Paul did not let women teach due to the often aggressive and combative nature that teaching must entail concerning the confrontation of false doctrine. Men must be the teachers when combating false teaching. However, because the role of a teacher in the church is so often to combat false doctrine, and because false doctrine is always a problem, generally speaking, the principles are always applicable. The “exercising of authority” is inherently tied to teaching and its necessary condemnation of false doctrine.
The combative nature of teaching is particularly relevant to a broader understanding of the characteristics of men and women.
The best illustration in the real world that I could use to help you understand what I am saying is that of a military commander in charge of leading troops into battle. Of course there might be an exception here and there, but do a study and you will find that no matter what the time or culture, men are always leading here. Why? Because men are simply better equipped and more followed. There are certian areas where men and women have a unique stature. I believe, like in military, the position of head pastor is the same. Not only are they better equipped for the issues that will arise, but they are followed more readily.
Let me give you another example: Two years ago, my wife was confronted by another couple who did not believe that she was doing what was right. She used to do princess parties where she would dress up as a princess (Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty) and go to little girls’ homes and entertain them for an hour or so. She was really good at this. After we moved from Frisco to Oklahoma, she still had one party on the schedule. She called her boss and let her know that she could not do it since we had already moved. Her boss became very angry and began to threaten her. She also said that she was going to bring in her husband (who was a lawyer) and sue Kristie. Kristie became very scared and did not know how to handle this situation, especially since her boss was now using her husband as part of the threat. She told me about this and I told her not to speak to her boss anymore, but to let me handle it. I did. I stepped in and confronted both her boss and her husband’s threats concerning the issue. In the end, they backed off.
I felt that it was my duty and obligation to step in and be strong on behalf of my wife as the situation became confrontational. Kristie is both tender, gentle, and, in those situations, frightened. She was going to give in and travel back to Texas to perform this last party even though she would lose money in the gas it took to go there and back. Her boss refused to pay her mileage.
My point is that men are conditioned to handle confrontation better than women. It is not that Kristie could not have done the same thing as me, it is just that this was not her bent. Women, generally speaking, are not bent to deal with confrontation the same way as men. Teaching in the church involves, more often than not, confronting false understanding.
Can women teach? Absolutely! Can women understand and think as well as men? Most certainly. But the bent of a man is better able to handle the type of teaching that is always necessary in the church.
Would I let a woman teach from the pulpit from time to time? Yes. Paul is not restricting women teachers over men in the absolute sense. The infinitive here, “to teach” is in the present tense which suggests the perpetual role of teaching which exercises authority (confrontation).
The role of head pastor, I believe requires confrontation. That is not all there is, but it is there and it is very important. It is because of this, I believe, Paul said that women cannot teach or exercise authority over men.
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