The subject of ordaining women into positions of church authority is one of varied opinions and deep emotions. Many women see the traditional model of male leaders as one that has contributed greatly to the oppression they have experienced. In order to eliminate much of that they are striving hard to promote the concept of gender equality into many areas of leadership structure. The force of this endeavor is now putting great pressure on the Church to adjust its traditional understanding of church government.
When debates on women in church government occur, the final word for many people rests on a few key passages in the New Testament. These passages, viewed by themselves outside their literary and historical context, appear to offer a clear-cut argument that women can not hold authoritative positions within the Church. It is on these passages that the traditional male lead model has rested. Many, however, are beginning to challenge the methods of biblical interpretation that have fueled these models, seeing them as incorrect and in need of reconstruction.
The three most used sections of scripture used to restrict women from positions of leadership are 1Cor 11:3-13, 1Cor 14:33-36, and 1Tim 2:11-14. As was stated earlier however, most of the time these passages are used they are quoted without a consideration of their historical or literary contexts. When they are studied in light of the time, geography, and culture in which they were written they do take on a different emphasis.
In reading through the whole book of 1Corinthians, it is obvious that Paul is laying out directives that will help the church of that city function the way it was supposed to. He makes some clear points. First, every member of the Body of Christ is to contribute what God has given them for the benefit of the other members of the church. Second, God pours out various gifting on people according to His will. And finally, everything done with these gifts is to have the intended goal of edifying all the other members of the assembly. Paul never limits gifting to males alone, but gives permission for women to pray and prophecy as long as it is done in an edifying way.
1Timothy also addresses situations that were present in the environment of the Ephesian Church. False teachings, marital conflicts, and competitiveness were all part of that city’s characteristics. The new believers coming into the church already had these in their lifestyle and thinking. As a result, the atmosphere within the church was affected by what they brought with them. Paul has to address these issues in order to help maintain a peaceful, orderly quality within the church gatherings.
Both the passages in 1Corinthians and 1Timothy appear to be addressing specific problems that had arisen in the Christian assemblies of two great cities. The directives that Paul gives in these passages also appears to be addressing specific problems in these two cities and not just general statements meant to be enforced in every congregational setting. A statement that Paul would make to a particular local problem in one geographical setting can only be applied to a church in another location if the same particular problem existed in that congregation also.
My conclusion is this. Paul’s restrictions of women functioning in authoritative roles within a church congregation are directed at the specific ways the gifts were being used in specific local congregations. Once women ceased to function in a manner that would lead to conflict or confusion, they were free to function in a way that would edify the church. The prohibitions in these passages are not against women functioning, but against women functioning improperly.
To read Mannahouse Church’s full doctrinal position paper on this issue, please click here.