To Engender a Gendered Pulpit? That Is the Question.
A question recently came my way regarding the issue of a woman teaching in a setting with men, following a message given on Mother’s Day by a spiritually mature lady from our church. Digging into the passages requires more writing than I can do in this format, but I found it helpful to dig in a little bit and reconstitute my position on the issue.
Less Simple Than It May Seem
The passages of 1 Timothy 2:8-15, 1 Corinthians 14:26-40 and 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 are all applicable. When we look at these passages together, respecting the two different audiences to whom Paul wrote, we find many questions generated such as:
- If women are not permitted to speak in 1 Corinthians 14, why does he give instructions for how women should speak in chapter 11? That seems contradictory: is it?
- What is prophesying and how does it relate to teaching and to preaching?
- Are there differences between listening in person vs. a recording vs. reading a book?
- What kind of authority is described and when/where is it to be exercised? Does that authority apply to every man in every situation? For example, the word used for authority 1 Timothy 2:12 appears nowhere else in the New Testament: what does that mean?
- What about single adult men and women? Or widows?
- The Greek word for woman and wife is actually the same word, and translation choice is determined by context: how does that impact our understanding of these passages?
- How does this apply to different settings such as one-on-one, small group, or a corporate gathering?
- How much of this is Paul’s wisdom (truth applied to a specific situation) vs. principles based on God’s created order (principles of truth in every situation)?
- If we should take the gender instructions at face value, must we also follow the instructions regarding clothing, jewelry, hair length, and head coverings? Why or why not?
- Eve was certainly deceived, but Adam also abdicated: How does that factor in?
- What does it mean to be saved through childbearing?
Three Basic Convictions
It’s a lot to consider and Christians have different views on this, so it’s considered to be more on the periphery and requiring both liberty and charity toward each other (a matter of perspective). Three basic views have emerged and all three are well represented within orthodox evangelical Christianity (I have different friends in ministry with different convictions):
- An egalitarian view sees no difference (thus equal) in roles for men and women in the church, home or society along with corresponding functions. This view usually cites Galatians 3:28 and believes most if not all of what Paul wrote in the other passages we’ve cited is wisdom in context due to the culture of the time it was written.
- A complementarian view sees different (but complementary) roles for men and women, though they are equals in every way. Certain boundaries must be maintained (although they often differ from church to church) for the home, church, and society to function as God designed. This view regards the passages we’ve cited above to contain both biblical principles based on God’s created order and wisdom applied in context. There is a fair amount of variety within this conviction, too.
- A patriarchal views sees leadership roles as only available to men in home, church, and often in society (although that may differ from church to church) along with corresponding functions.
Over my years as a pastor, we have had people in our church holding all three convictions and I believe we still do. It is significant that we have learned to navigate this issue by keeping it in proper perspective. Not everyone agrees with my view, but that’s OK because it’s a more peripheral matter.
My Mind On The Matter
I have a complementarian view, so my basic views and the current practice of my church are:
- Only men should serve as elders. Both men and women may serve as deacons in submission to the elders. This reflects the design of the home and God’s created order. (Different churches use a deacon title in different ways, so this can get confusing. We have been using deacon titles for the most responsible ministry leadership roles.)
- Elders (including pastors) are not the only ones permitted to speak on a Sunday morning. There is value to having different presentations by different people as part of an overall, balanced truth diet in the life of a church. Of course, all of this must be done in an orderly fashion and in submission to church leadership.
- Teaching/preaching and authority are like strands twisted together: they often but do not always go together. The ultimate authority is God’s Word. Even when I preach as one with authority, I submit to the elders of the church and they to me. We all submit to Jesus, the Living Word.
- It is inappropriate for a woman to lead/teach a small group of all men, for lots of reasons. A man leading/teaching a small group of all women may be appropriate.
- It is inappropriate for a woman to teach a man in a one-on-one setting, for lots of reasons. But it is often if not always inappropriate for a man to teach a woman (other than his wife) in a one-on-one setting as well, for lots of reasons.
- Ministry to children is not a problem. Ministry to teens requires wisdom on this issue.
With a complementarian view, I believe there is value for the entire church to hear one of our mature ladies speak on an occasional Sunday, so long as lines of authority/submission are maintained to both the leadership of the church and to her husband. In other words, she has no authority to enforce what she is teaching in the life of the church: the elders and I do. (To be fair, this occasion has only so far happened 2 or 3 times in my 13 years so it’s rare. The last time was about 5 or 6 years ago. I am in the pulpit 85-90% of the time.) I encourage everyone to receive that message according to their conviction:
- For those with an egalitarian view, this is not an issue. They would welcome more.
- For one with a complementarian view, certain boundaries must be maintained as I have described.
- For those with a more patriarchal view, I encourage them to hear the message as appropriate to their conviction. This might mean someone regards the message as only valid for women and young people present. I think that is fine: there are plenty of times when a message or part of one applies to only part of the congregation. Yet we all benefit from listening.
What matters most of all is that we maintain unity about essential beliefs (Ephesians 4:4-6), exercise liberty regarding non-essential beliefs (Romans 14), and display charity toward those with whom we disagree (Philippians 1:15-18). All of this is founded in love (1 Corinthians 13:2).