The biblical position on church officers (1)
As we are in the midst of an officer election cycle, we often hear questions about why we do not have female church officers at First Presbyterian Church. Sometimes these questions are asked critically by friends at other churches who do ordain women to office. Sometimes, these questions are raised inquisitively by congregation members who simply want to know whether our practice is based on principle and Scripture, or simply on human tradition. I addressed this issue in a sermon on Romans 16:1-2, several weeks ago. But I revisit the matter again here.
Why do we have only qualified male church officers at First Presbyterian Church? The simple answer is: "because that is what the Bible teaches." The New Testament consistently teaches that the ministry of the word and rule in the church is to be exercised only by qualified male leadership (see, for example, 1 Timothy 2:8-15, 3:1-2, 12; 1 Corinthians 14:34-35; Acts 6:3).
Paul says in 1 Timothy 2:11-14 "A woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve. And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression." Paul makes two things crystal clear here: (1) Women are to receive instruction in a submissive manner in the public assembly (11) He says: "A woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness." That means that the headship of men, and the authority of the elders is never to be tested or challenged by Christian women in the public assembly, instead they are to receive teaching submissively, rather than give it (as will be made clear by the next verse). (2) Women are not to teach or exercise authority over men in the public assembly (12-15). He makes it unmistakably clear: "I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man... " That is, according to Paul, women are neither to teach men in the public assembly or to hold authority over men in the church. Thus, Paul explicitly restricts the teaching and ruling ministry of the church to qualified and called men. Note that Paul's proscription is functional, not official (that is, a matter of status or title)! That is, they are denied the function, not merely the title or office. Here is his rationale [13-15]: (1) Adam's priority in creation , (2) The deception of woman in the fall: the results of the role reversal in the original sin , and (3) the well-being of women . Paul establishes here that there are to be role distinctions in the ministry activity of the Christian church.
In 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, he says "The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says. 35 If they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church." Note Paul's reiteration of his main principle, even in a context in which women were exercising prophetic gifts! Note also that Paul says this is an OT, that is, biblical principle ("just as the Law says") and it is binding on the churches. Paul's language "keep silent" and "improper to speak" is not a universal gag order, rather it is a restriction against women engaging in authoritative didactic speech in the assembly of the Lord's people. Women are not to preach/teach. Paul reiterates here that there are to be role distinctions in the ministry activity of the Christian church.
Those who argue against this interpretation of Paul say one of three things: (1) Paul does not mean what he seems to say here. He's not giving a generally applicable rule but rather speaking to a specific situation in Ephesus that doesn't apply anywhere else. But the whole context of 1 Timothy is apostolic rule for church life everywhere and in particular in 1 Timothy 3:15, Paul makes it clear this these directives are for the whole church! (2) Some will argue that Paul's overall ethic is egalitarian, and that he contradicts himself in 1 Timothy and 1 Corinthians. But once we start interpreting Scripture by pitting Scripture versus Scripture or Paul versus Paul, we are left utterly to our own subjective opinions. (3) Some, boldly declare that Paul is just wrong on this issue. He was culturally bound and theologically confused, they say. But such a view is fundamentally incompatible with the inerrancy, inspiration and authority of Scripture. I’ll make some concluding remarks about this next week
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