Archive for August 9th, 2017

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Blog: Should Women Be Appointed as Elders and Pastors in Local Churches?

This blog is posted for students in my courses. If you are not a student of mine you are welcome to read, but just be aware that if it sounds as if I am writing for a specific audience, it is because I am.

There may be no more divisive issue facing Evangelical churches today than the question as to whether women should be appointed as elders/pastors in local churches (hereafter: simply “pastor”). I specified “Evangelical churches” simply because I assume them to be “biblically grounded.” There are far more serious issues facing many traditional mainline denominations that have abandoned the belief that the scriptures are the foundational guide of our faith and its proper practice—thus, this important qualification. There is no doubt that the Evangelical Church in America is heading in the wrong direction on this issue. I know of a mega-church in Rockford Illinois that claims to be a “mainline” church, but their elder board was comprised of 5 “elders,” two of which were women, and none of which were the “lead teaching pastor.” Now I’m not sure how a church can claim to be mainline if you don’t even understand what it means to be a “pastor” or “elder.”  Regrettably, some New Testament introductory textbooks are somewhat vague and/or evasive on this topic; consequently, I feel compelled to address it in a blog. Undoubtedly, doing so will make me a less popular prof for some; but so be it.

This blog will defend the traditional position concerning the office of pastor, which is that the scriptures mandate that the office of elder/pastor be reserved for qualified men that are of sufficient spiritual maturity and giftedness.  There are several common contrarian arguments to this position that are grounded upon faulty presuppositions and poor arguments, and I have had several students articulate them as the basis for their positions in their assignments. This blog, therefore, will attempt to address this topic by engaging several of these common arguments; thus, it may appear somewhat fractured and not as fluid as some of my other blogs.   Furthermore, and for obvious reasons, this blog cannot be exhaustive—no one likes book length blogs.  Consequently, approach this blog in the same manner as you would Paul’s first epistle to the church at Corinth (only not inspired—lol).  In other words, I will be addressing this issue from several different objections and angles, and although they are somewhat different, in the main they are all still related to the same basic subject.  If you find this blog frustrating, please be patient, a second related blog will follow tomorrow, and it is my sincere hope that it will satisfy some of your unanswered questions generated by this blog. Nonetheless, this is the best I can do for now, and with that, please read below.

First, a common argument for women being allowed to serve as elders in local churches is that Paul’s instructions prohibiting women from functioning as pastors were only his “opinions.” They were not doctrines that were inspired by Holy Spirit.  This is a poor argument since Paul did not present his letters as providing a collection of his preferred “best practices” that were the product of his own personal opinions; and in the very few occasions when he did provide his “opinion,” even then he claimed that he did so by the direction of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 7.40).  There is a catastrophic danger for the church and the gospel if we start identifying parts of Paul’s writings as only his “opinions.” It will basically become open season on everything Paul wrote.  Moreover, we would no longer have a functional doctrine of inspiration since anybody, armed with nothing more than their own personal opinions and preferences, could start rejecting specific parts of the Bible that they viewed as undesirable or unspiritual.

Secondly, some assert that since Paul was not a “prophet” then he did not speak with prophetic authority.  It may be true that Paul never identified himself as a prophet.  Nevertheless, he was an apostle commissioned by the risen Lord to spread the gospel and build churches, and as he did so the Holy Spirit inspired him to provide the foundation instructions for what it meant to live for Christ and how to build New Testament churches.  Moreover, in 2 Timothy 1.11 Paul specifically stated that the Lord had appointed him as a “teacher”; consequently, his Spirit inspired instructions to the church should be viewed as authoritative. Additionally, especially with respect to women functioning as pastors in local churches, he instructed that any prophet present should recognize that what he wrote was by the Lord’s command for the building up of churches everywhere and in all ages; thus his instructions were to be universally received, obeyed, and enforced (1 Cor 14.37-38; 11.16). Furthermore, anyone, whether a prophet or a layperson, who did not accept Paul’s instructions as coming directly from the Lord was no longer to be recognized as qualified to speak in the church.

Thirdly, some assert that the prohibitions that Paul wrote concerning women not functioning as pastors were because of some crises in specific churches instead of universal principles and mandates for all churches everywhere.  This is simply not the case.  Moreover, it is an extremely poorly defended argument to assert, for example, that when Paul wrote to Timothy, Titus, or the church at Corinth with respect to prohibiting women from leading or teaching as pastors that he was attempting to avoid a particular crisis that we learn about in his epistle to Philippians.  While Paul was writing his letters to different pastors and churches there was no such thing as a New Testament, or even a Pauline corpus.  In other words, the church at Corinth or Ephesus could not open their Bibles and turn to Paul’s epistle to the Philippians in order to understand what he was trying to teach them, or about a potential crisis that he was attempting to avoid.  Consequently, we should not marginalize what God instructed by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit throughout the New Testament because we are of the opinion that the Lord was trying to protect other churches from a particular conflict at a specific church (e.g., Philippi), but now because that specific problem no longer exists we are free to ignore what Paul wrote.

Fourthly, some argue that since Paul used the same vocabulary to describe important women as he did himself (e.g., Romans 16), then women must have or can function as pastors and teaching elders in local churches. The problem with this argument is that the term “fellow worker” can mean any number of possibilities and/or responsibilities. Given Paul’s recognition that women are equal heirs in the Kingdom of God, it is not surprising in the least that he would refer to them in such a generic manner. That does not mandate, however, that they had to be elders or pastors of local churches. Moreover, Paul never referred to any women mentioned in his epistles as an “elder” or “pastor” or “teacher” in a church, even though there were congregations that actually met in their homes. The closest Paul came to referring to women as acting in an official “leadership” role is Romans 16.1 &7.  In Romans 16.1, Phoebe is referred to as a “servant,” or “deacon” in the Greek.  Paul wrote in 1 Timothy that deacons did not possess any official teaching responsibility in local churches. That does not mandate that some did not, but only that teaching was not their primary function in local congregations. As to the reference to Andronicus (masculine name) and Junias (feminine name) and their reputation with respect to the “apostles,” arguing that this means that Junias was an “apostle” is very suspect.  The grammar does not mandate that these two (presumably a husband and wife ministry team) were both individuals that were respected “as” apostles (i.e., a member within the group of apostles), but well respected by the apostles (i.e., not a member of the apostles, but respected by them nonetheless). But this is all rather academic since it shows a preference for non-explicit vocabulary (e.g., “servant,” “worker”) to countermand explicit vocabulary (e.g., “elder,” “bishop,” “pastor”) and objective didactic instructions concerning the qualifications that must be met before ministering in the pastoral offices within local churches. It is certainly possible that one can partner with Paul, or be respected by other leaders of the early church and not function as a pastor in a local church.

Fifth, Paul’s instruction prohibiting women from functioning as pastors was exclusively for a specific congregation for a limited period of time, they were never intended to be universally applied to all churches. This is objectively not the case, Paul prohibited women from functioning as congregational leaders and preachers in the churches at Corinth, and he instructed both Timothy (at Ephesus) and Titus (at Crete) to reserve the office of teaching pastor to only qualified men, and lastly he specifically instructed Timothy to prohibit women from functioning in roles where they would be teaching or exercising authority over men.  In other words, we observed Paul’s instructions on this matter in 3 completely different ministry contexts, and he provided them for entire church networks throughout those regions, and he gave no indication that there would be cultures or times when they should be relaxed.  Consequently, the prohibition against women preaching and holding the office of pastor in local churches were not prohibitions that arose because of an unusual but temporal problem at specific church or because of cultural biases. They are foundational instructions of the New Testament’s theology concerning the leadership of local churches. Furthermore, Paul presented them as universal qualifications and instructions; consequently, they should be received and respected as such.

Lastly, some assert that Paul’s prohibition against women functioning as pastors is a relic of a “patriarchal culture.” This is an argument that is inherently flawed while also undermining the doctrine of inspiration. It is extremely problematic to assert that because Paul’s wrote while ministering within a patriarchal society that we no longer need to obey his instructions prohibiting women from acting as pastors. Such an assertion is also a functional rejection of the doctrines of inspiration and inerrancy, regardless if one claims to affirm these doctrines. Paul also wrote to polytheistic, sexually immoral, socially segregated, politically corrupt, dishonest, and vengeful cultures. Are we going to assert that the Holy Spirit could inspire the writers of the New Testament to command believers and churches to reject all of those cultural sins, but was somehow constrained by the patriarchal oppression of that time?  Of course not.  Furthermore, the prohibitions against women holding the office of elders and teaching men in local churches was not based upon some misguided attempt to protect a cultural sin, but is ultimately based upon God’s design for creation as revealed in scripture (1 Tim. 2.13; Gen. 1 and 2).  Some assert that the woman’s submission to the husband in the family was a result of the fall; consequently, the church’s main purpose is to “reverse the curse,” which means reversing all of the consequences of the fall.  Such a focus for any church is misguided, but that is a topic for another time.  Paul wrote that male leadership in the home was the design of God at the beginning of creation rather than the consequence of the fall; thus, he based the doctrine of qualified male leadership in local churches upon God’s revealed design at the beginning of a good and pristine creation.  Moreover, regardless of the period of history or what may be the acceptable cultural norms of any specific society, the instructions that the office of pastor be reserved for qualified men are to be universally affirmed by all churches everywhere and at all times. These biblical instructions are not relics of a cultural bias or the result of patriarchal opinions from which the Lord and the Holy Spirit were powerless to protect future churches located in enlighten and egalitarian cultures. They are directly from the Lord and were documented in writing by the power, inspiration, and guidance of the Holy Spirit; thus they are to be obeyed in spirit and practice in local churches everywhere.

In conclusion, there is such a thing as a “biblical church culture.”  Consequently, it is the calling of all churches in every culture to conform to that specific biblical model, rather than attempt to conform their congregational practices and leadership to the cultural norms of their fallen societies.


Copyright, © by Monte Shanks, 2015



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