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The Role of Women in the Church

Central Church of Christ Position Paper

April 2013

 

The goal of the Central Church of Christ is to base our position on women’s role in the church – and all doctrinal matters – on our understanding of the Bible rather than popular opinion or contemporary culture. Therefore based on extensive study, consultation and prayer, the elders of Central Church of Christ have determined that the role of elder, preacher and other roles that could be construed as holding spiritual authority over both men and women, should be filled by qualified spiritual men and are not open to women. We have also determined that the role of deacon is to be filled by qualified men. Because our position is somewhat counter‐cultural and can be controversial, we will seek to explain our position in greater detail and articulate the reasons for these conclusions.

Women have always played a valuable role in the church. The Bible says that the prophetess Anna identified Jesus as the Messiah and spoke about Him to all who would listen (Luke 2:36‐ 38). Christ’s ministry was financed in part by His female followers (Luke 8:2‐3). Jesus often elevated the status of women treating them with dignity and respect when the surrounding culture treated them as property. In the early church, women prayed, prophesied, instructed future leaders (Acts 18:26) and hosted church services in their homes. The Bible says that men and women are equally important and loved by God. Each gender was created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), and there is no distinction as to worth or access to a relationship to God in Christ (Galatians 3:28).

Nevertheless, among professing Christians who consider the Bible to be God’s Word and the standard for doctrines and practices, opinions vary widely as to what the Bible actually dictates regarding the eligibility of women for positions of responsibility in the church. Most of the controversy arises from efforts to determine when a biblical directive applies to all cultures and when it applies only to the culture for which it was originally written.

For example, when the Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 11 that a woman should not pray or prophesy with her head uncovered, did he intend that to be a command for all women of all cultures to follow, or did it only apply to the women of his day? In many churches around the world, even to this day, women wear some kind of head covering in worship, out of respect for this passage.

Determining when something is a permanent principle and when it is only a temporary cultural application to a larger principle is not always an easy assignment. A good maxim to follow is, “a permanent principle if possible, a temporary cultural application if obvious.” For example, in the instance noted above, in Paul’s day a woman who prayed with her head uncovered was considered both immodest and unsubmissive to her husband’s authority. Such is not the case in our culture today. If Paul had been addressing a culture where it was considered immodest for a woman to cover her head, he surely would have commanded the women not to cover their heads while praying or prophesying. The principle of modesty and purity is greater and more important than the specific adherence to this individual command. What is considered immodest will vary from culture to culture, so the principle of modesty should be applied wisely in every circumstance. Based on this, women in our church are not required to cover their heads during the worship services, but they are encouraged to dress modestly as are our men.

A more difficult Scripture to interpret is Paul’s directive in 1 Timothy 2:12, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent.” Was that a temporary command because of the cultural understanding about women of the day, or was there a timeless principle involved? And if there is a timeless principle, what exactly is it? Does this mean that no woman should ever have any authority of any type over a man in any area of life Must they never speak in a man’s presence? That strict application doesn’t seem likely to be God’s intention in light of Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians where women are praying and prophesying, and other New Testament Scriptures where women are serving, hosting churches in their homes, and even offering instruction (Acts 16:15; 18:26; 21:9; 1 Corinthians 11:5; Romans 16:1).

However, Paul’s explanation in 1 Timothy 2:13 and following goes beyond culture to the very makeup of males and females, and Paul hints that the marital relationship is a factor in his directive. So, there seems to be more than just culture at stake. There is an overriding principle – primarily male headship in the home – that is driving Paul’s specific directives.

Therefore, it is the stance of Central Church of Christ that there is a principle in the New Testament that men are to be the ruling spiritual authorities of the church. The role of elder or pastor is described as being a male role, and there is no example of a female pastor in Scripture. Though we may not fully understand why the Bible directs the leaders to be male, we can speculate: Imagine the confusion that could arise if a husband is called by Scripture to be the spiritual leader in his home (Ephesians 5:22; Colossians 3:18), but his wife is also his pastor. The lines of authority would be muddied and disorder could result.

So, the leaders of Central Church of Christ have concluded the Bible mandates that the office of elder and other “pastoral” roles in the church - primarily the preaching staff, the teachers of our adult Bible classes and the leaders of our life groups - will be filled by adult males who have the spiritual qualifications necessary to lead in those capacities in the church. This is because those leaders play a significant pastoral and spiritual leadership role in our church.

Women in our church are permitted to hold leadership roles when they are not in a position of spiritual authority over adult males. Roles such as treasurer, office administrator, golden age ministry leader, director of children’s ministries and many others are open to qualified men and women. In our worship services, women are permitted and encouraged to sing, confess Jesus as Lord prior to their baptism and to encourage others during times of greeting. While there is no biblical mandate for ushers and servers at the worship assembly to be male or female, it is our practice to allow men the privilege of that serving role. It is our conviction that the overriding principle of 1 Timothy 2:12, one of male headship in positions of spiritual authority, is not violated by women serving in roles of responsibility in these other areas of ministry in the church. 

It must be noted that both Christian men and women are commanded to share their faith with non-believers of either gender (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16; 1 Timothy 3:15). Of equal importance is that both Christian women and men are instructed to confront Christians of either gender when they sin and to seek to restore them when they fall (Matthew 18:15-20; Galatians 6:1-2).

For reasons we may not fully comprehend, reasons that according to Scripture are rooted in our very “maleness” and “femaleness,” the Bible commands wives to submit to their husbands, and therefore, directs that the elders be men. Men are similarly commanded to love their wives just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her. But, it should be noted that the Bible does not command women to be submissive to men in general, nor prohibit them from holding government office or otherwise being in positions of authority. Asking wives to submit to their husbands should not insinuate that wives are less valued than their husbands nor less capable of responsibility. Jesus, who submitted Himself to God (Philippians 2:6‐8), is not less important or less valued than the Father. In fact, we respect Him all the more because of His willingness to submit for a time, to take on a role of a servant, out of love for us.

Because of the interpretive challenges inherent in this issue, we do not require our members to agree with the elders’ conclusions regarding women’s role in the church. However, we do ask that our members follow the elders’ directives and submit to their conclusions without being divisive, recognizing that these are difficult decisions to make. We will continue to seek God’s guidance and grow in our understanding of God’s Word in this and all doctrinal matters.