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Article 83 - Woman's Role In The Church

Woman's Role in the Church
Jon Gary Williams

women in a public role in religion is not new. Traces of this are found scattered through church history, with some groups placing women in various leadership roles, including preaching. But it was not until the early 1900s, with the rise of Pentecostal groups, that this practice became more widespread. Today, almost all Pentecostal (Holiness) churches use women in public roles.

For years this practice was confined to Pentecostal churches, but now it is seen in some mainline denominations, and has become a religious issue. And, what makes this a cause of concern for the Lord's church is that over the past few decades some within Lord's church have been promoting a greater public role of women.  

I. What has contributed to the rise in this view?

First, there is the spread of the charismatic movement. What was earlier called "Pentecostalism" is now seen on a larger scale as the charismatic movement, or neo-Pentecostalism. Actually, it is just a modification of old Pentecostalism. The old beliefs are still held. The only difference is that it has been dressed up and made more acceptable. 

Second, is the overall liberal trend in much of today's religion, seen in a disregard for Biblical authority, a spinoff of which is a watered-down gospel. This type of so-called Christianity has opened the door for many false teachings including using women in a greater public role. 

Third, is the women's liberation movement. Though not directly related to religion, it has played a major role and has had a tremendous impact on religious thinking.

With the influence of a liberal theology and the women's liberation, the charismatic movement has been infiltrating the churches and has pushed for female preachers and priests. As a result, a tremendous controversy has arisen, causing some churches to split. 

II. How is this affecting the Lord's church?

To my knowledge, only a few have advocated women in the pulpit or eldership, but, there are probably others. However, some congregations are allowing women to teach classes made up of both men and women. Also, some have allowed women to lead public prayers. And, it is not uncommon to hear of girls leading in chain prayers with boys at youth gatherings, this being their first exposure to a greater public role for women. All these are steps in wrong direction. Some have been heard to say that if you deny women or girls, the right to lead in public prayer, you are just a traditionalist.

One preacher, in promoting the use of women leading in public prayer, said, "I know my position is contrary to strong, deep-seated tradition in the church." He went on to say, "The fact that our custom has generally forbidden women to be active in praying publically, does not mean God has forbidden her to do so." 

Another preacher said, "Then what is the problem? I think we make our judgments based on our own experiences, what others approve or disapprove, or tradition. Why are you uncomfortable with women praying in a devotional group? I think I can tell you why. It's because this has not been our experience. You're not used to it. That's why."

Such statements reveal what has begun to creep into some congregations.
III. Is New Testament teaching on the woman's role only "tradition?"
If what we have taught about this is merely tradition, then we err in teaching it. However, if this is a matter of scripture, then those who advocate a greater public role for women are in error. What does the Bible have to say? Here are some fundamental scriptural references:

I Corinthians 14:34,35 "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 any thing, let them ask their husbands at home; for it is a shame for women to speak in the church."

Note: Some believe that I Corinthians 14:34,35 pertains only to women who possessed the gift of prophesying. Hence, it is contended that it should not be used today to limit the role of all women in public worship. Those holding such a view should consider the following. 

1) While this passage may include women who had the gift of prophesying, it is mere assumption to say that it excludes all other women, that is, all women not possessing this gift.

2) In the King James translation verse 34 begins with, "Let women keep silence . . ." However, knowing that the Greek New Testament was not divided into chapters and verses, there is ample evidence that the last part of verse 33 should be joined with verse 34, which would read, "As in all the churches of the saints, let women keep silence in the churches. . ." These verses (33 and 34) are joined in other versions such as the ASV, NIV, ESV, NCV, NEB, RSV, TEV. It is crucial to respect the integrity of the text, searching to know what it teaches before making unfounded applications. With this in mind, how could it be concluded that Paul's restriction was only for women possessing the gift of prophesying? Surely the Holy Spirit through Paul intended the restriction to extend to all women. 

3) As suggested in no. 2, to end verse 33 with "as in all the churches of the saints" is an arbitrary rendering, and to suddenly start verse 34 with, "Let women keep silence . . ." is too abrupt a beginning.    

What was happening at Corinth? In addition to problems dealing with speaking in foreign tongues and prophesying, there was the problem of women speaking out of place, failing to recognize their role of submission. Specifically, Paul was dealing with what was taking place in the assembled church. Apparently, some women were causing confusion, to the degree that Paul felt it necessary to call them out. His words were strong: ". . . keep silent . . . not permitted to speak . . . be submissive . . . it is shameful . . ." 

A lot can be said about how this could apply to today's church assembly. The backdrop is clear, women are not to engage in speaking (or anything else) that would demonstrate a lack of submission and distract from a spiritually profitable assembly. If a congregation today had women who insisted on a greater role in the assembled worship, thus creating confusion, their actions should be called down, just as Paul did in the first century church. 

To limit this text only to women who abused a gift of prophesying is obviously a false rendering, doing injustice to the scriptures. 

I Timothy 2:11,12 "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." 

In these passages we have all we need on how to regulate any worship where men and women are together. Here is the clear mandate of the apostle Paul. Throughout the scriptures men are assigned the lead role. In the Old Testament there were no women priests and in the New Testament there were no women apostles, elders, deacons or preachers. 

Since the scriptures are so clear on this why is it that some fail to see it? Simply put, it is because they disregard what the scriptures plainly teach. One woman gave this arrogant defense of her liberal view. "Troubling passages in letters by Paul, surely our thorn in the flesh, were a result of his inability to incorporate immediately into his life the full meanings of Jesus' teachings and to completely rid himself of his bigoted Pharisaic background." Such a statement betrays how bold some are in their defense of this view and is a cause of great concern. 

Attempts to justify a greater public role for women
To find support for advancing the public role of women in the church, brethren have misused the following passages of scripture.
I Timothy 2:8  "I will therefore that men pray everywhere..."
It is claimed that the Greek word aner (translated "men") can mean both men and women. It is true that in some instances this word has such a meaning. An example of this is found in Paul's remark to the Athenians in Acts 17:30. " commands all men everywhere to repent." Here, the word "men" (aner) obviously refers to both men and women, being inclusive of all mankind. But to give such a meaning to the word "men" in I Timothy 2:8, is a futile effort to defend a greater public role for women.
Verse 9 clearly shows the distinction between the role of men and women. "In like manner also, that women..." The word "women" (v. 9) shows the contrast with the word "men" (v. 8).
Luke 2:38 "And she coming in that instant gave thanks likewise unto the Lord..." It is argued from this that Anna prayed before men, concluding that women may lead in prayer.
However, the text does not say that Anna prayed audibly. This is only assumed. (We recall that in I Samuel 1:13, Hanna prayed in silence.) Anna may have prayed audibly and may have been heard by men, but this is no grounds on which to build a case for women leading men.
The basic flaw in this reasoning is the assumption that Anna was praying for others - - that she was leading others. Notice that this was not a solicited service; it was not a gathering for worship.
Acts 1:14  "These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brethren."
From this it is assumed that women were leading prayer. However, this was merely describing a prayer setting, not unlike a common worship service. Though men are leading in prayer, it can be said that all (both men and women) prayed, yet without women taking the lead.
It is contended that a woman does not usurp authority over man if man gives her permission to pray or preach. Some have been misled by this reasoning. An important question to ask is simply, "Who gave man the authority to give women this right?" For a certainty, God has not given man the authority to give the woman permission to take his place! This authority belongs only to God, and he has given us His divine arrangement.

Every attempt to justify women taking public lead in worship is without scriptural foundation.