Women Preaching

Q – Here is a question that is constantly swimming around in the churches and theological seminaries. I imagine you have answered this repeatedly as well and I would love to hear your answer.

Question: What’s the deal with women teaching? Can they? Should they? Why do they? What scriptures do you walk them through?

Jim – Yes, you’ve dug up a question with plenty of controversy swirling around it. It seems that churches have begun thinking for themselves on this topic, even ordaining women and putting them in pastorates. I disagree with that practice, but only because of Paul’s clear language on the subject. Nonetheless, Paul does speak highly of women who served in the Church and his ministry was certainly enriched by the aid and comfort of many different women.

But, let’s start at the start. Scripture provides a very interesting balance to this question. No doubt, it lays down some hard and fast rules, but it also leaves room for women to share their gifts. I’ll start with the rules and we’ll move toward the balance.

Perhaps the most familiar verses on the subject are in 1 Cor. 14. Paul is dealing with the abuse of the spiritual gifts – the charisma – in the Corinthian Church. There was too much tongue-talking, prophesying, everybody had a psalm, or a doctrine, or a revelation, or an interpretation that they wanted to promote. It had turned into chaos. Unbelievers visiting the church would have thought they were mad.

So, Paul was desperately trying to set things in order, for the edifying of the whole body. After all, he argued, “God is not (the author) of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.” (1Cor. 14:33) [The words “the author” are not in the original text. The Greek text reads, “God is not of confusion.”]

Now, history tells us that Corinth, due to its enormous size and being a major trade route, was a hodgepodge of Roman, Greek, Jewish and countless heathen cultures. It abounded in degradation, immorality and heathen customs. In their heathen temples, as in the Temple of Diana at Ephesus, women became objects of worship and priestesses of wicked rituals. And, these women were infamous for infiltrating other churches in order to bring confusion and draw men away by their sexual enticements. Standard practices for these priestesses were altered states of consciousness and ecstatic utterances….sort of like you can still witness on TBN. 😉

That much is true, and preachers who promote women into positions of authority use that history as jumping off point to support their agenda. They say that as the church at Corinth began manifesting and abusing their “spiritual gifts,” it became increasingly difficult to differentiate the genuine article from the spiritually deviant. So, Paul attempted to control the influence of these heathen priestesses by shutting them down completely –

“Let your women keep silence in the churches; for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. And if they will learn anything, let them ask their husbands at home; for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.” (1Cor. 14:34-35)

The errant preachers conclude that Paul never told all women everywhere, every woman in every church, to be silent. He was specifically taking the women in Corinth. Any church located anywhere other than Corinth would be exempt from Paul’s rule.

Now, if that were all Paul had to say on the subject, I’d be willing to join the preachers who say that Paul was simply telling the women in Corinth to be silent, as opposed to all women in all churches. But, that’s not the end of his doctrine on the subject. At the end of his ministry, writing from a Roman jail, Paul gave Timothy last instructions for the care and nurture of the churches. He wrote –

“Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression. Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety.” (1 Tim 2:11-15)

This time Paul was clearly writing a rule for all Christian churches. And, the basis of his argument was not heathen temples, priestesses, or deviant rituals. He reached back to the beginning of the book of Genesis and said that women (Peter’s “weaker vessel”) owed their silent status in the church to Eve’s succumbing to temptation and committing the first transgression against God. And, even though she is blessed in childbearing – a blessing men cannot participate in – Paul would never allow a woman to teach in the church, or usurp the authority that was given to men. They are to be quiet.

So, that leads me to believe that Paul’s admonition to the Corinthians was based on his convictions about the church at large, all churches everywhere, and not just a segregated instance. Paul’s summarized instruction, then, was –

1) Women are welcome in church but are to learn silently.

2) They are to recognize the headship of the men of the church and put themselves in subjection to that authority.

3) If a woman has a question or desires to learn more, she should ask her husband at home, and he has the obligation to teach his wife.

4) It is a shame for a woman to speak in the church.

5) For a woman to teach is a usurpation of the God ordained order of things.

6) These ordinances are in accordance with the law.

Naturally, these are not particularly popular doctrines among the women of most churches. And, as is so often the case, if enough people in a church disagree with God’s order of things, they simply vote God down and do it their way. But, that sort of activity does not change God’s word or Paul’s clear instruction.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit – and there are lots of tapes floating around out there to prove it – that I don’t hold to these rules steadfastly. The women in our church are free to speak and participate in the discussion. But, I’m confident in saying that they all understand the structure and nature of our body. Men officers lead GCA, and that’s as it should be.

So, why am I lenient in that matter? Well, because the Bible has more to say on the subject than Paul’s particular admonitions to the church. Women have played a very significant role in the spread of the gospel. In fact, the first people to ever preach, “He is risen,” – at the command of the Lord, no less! – were women.

“In the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre. And, behold, there was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it. His countenance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow: And for fear of him the keepers did shake, and became as dead men. And the angel answered and said unto the women, Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified. He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. And go quickly, and tell his disciples that he is risen from the dead; and, behold, he goeth before you into Galilee; there shall ye see him: lo, I have told you. And they departed quickly from the sepulchre with fear and great joy; and did run to bring his disciples word.” (Matt 28:1-8)

“Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turned herself, and saith unto him, Rabboni; which is to say, Master. Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God. Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that he had spoken these things unto her.” (John 20:16-18)

That’s really something, when you think about it. The apostles – all guys – were slow to believe the story of His resurrection, particularly Thomas. But, Jesus used women to preach the astounding story of His resurrection and ascension to His Father. That’s just wonderful.

So, there’s certainly a place for women telling the glorious gospel. And, there’s equally a place for women recognizing God’s ordained order within the Church. And, that’s really the balance that we find throughout Scripture.

I don’t agree with women like the seemingly ubiquitous Joyce Myers, or the phenomenally dense Marylin Hickey. Besides disagreeing with their distinctly Pentecostal/Arminian theology, they are women who have tried to circumvent the Biblical model by only teaching women. But, I still see men in their audiences. They call their activities “ministries” – named after themselves, naturally – and they are clearly attempting to preach. I have very little tolerance for it.

On the other hand, I’m not at all adverse to the notion of women’s study groups. I think it’s great whenever a group of people gather around the Word and glean from its riches. I especially like such groups if they are under the auspices and headship of a male pastor/elder. I think that can be a healthy part of body life. It does not usurp any authority and it’s usually done in homes, not church, per se.

So, that’s pretty much my answer on the subject. It’s not the popular view, but I’m used to that. Most of the theology I preach is unpopular with the majority of the church. I’m willing to let them continue down the liberal path, doing those things that please men, and I’ll obstinately cling to the clear and obvious teaching of Scripture.

There I go again – short question, long answer.

Your friend in Christ,
Jim Mc.