Should women teach in church? Has God assigned roles to men and women? What does the Bible say Pastor Sandy Adams addresses these issues in “How We Role.”
1 TIMOTHY 3:1
This is a faithful saying: If a man desires the position of a bishop, he desires a good work.
Church leaders go by different titles: reverend, parson, priest, padre, cleric, vicar… to name a few. The NT has more fitting titles: shepherd, servant, slave, steward, fellow-soldier, laborer, elder, brother… Here in 1 Timothy 3:1 Paul suggests two titles for church leaders… The first is “bishop” – the Greek word is “episkope.” It’s a combination of “epi” which means “over, or on top.” And “skope” which means “to see.” Think of the English word, “scope” or “to scope it out.” Put them together and “episkope” or “bishop” means “to oversee or see from the top.” Leaders need to see the big picture of what’s going on in and with a church.
Usually, a head football coach roams the sidelines. He’s close to the action so he can encourage his players, and call the plays, and argue with referees. But his view is limited from the sidelines. Too much happens on a football field. Every play 22 men break the huddle, and position themselves, and shift into motion – and then explode into multiple collisions. Successful plays leverage the angles. And there’s no way a coach at ground level has a broad enough perspective to see the spacing that’s occurring all over the field. That’s why strategy comes from “on top.” A bevy of assistants sit in the press box and radio instructions to the sideline. They see the big picture.
This is the type of leadership needed in the church! Someone on top – in the heavenlies, so to speak – in touch with God – who is able to communicate God’s perspective to the players and coaches on the field.
This is the job of the “bishop” or “overseer…” But in 1 Timothy 3:1 there’s another name given to this leader on top. The second title the bishop goes by is “Mister.” For Paul is clear, “If a man desires the position of a bishop.” And with that concise use of language Paul cuts the prospect pool of potential pastors and elders in half. He limits the position of overseer to males. He reiterates the language in the very next verse when he says a bishop must be “the husband of one wife.” It literally reads, “a one woman man.” But again that narrows the field. Implied is that a pastor can’t be a Miss, or a Mrs., or a Ms. A pastor is a Mister – a man.
But I can hear some of you say, “O Sandy, don’t be a stick in the mud. Times are a’changing, what’s so wrong with a woman having a place of authority in the church?” Over the last few years even the male-dominated, traditional, unchanging bastion of Southern culture, Augusta National Golf Club, have admitted women into their membership ranks. And people ask, “If Augusta National can do it, why can’t Calvary Chapel pastors? Why do we always have to lag behind the times?” Well, here’s my assertion, what is important at the Masters isn’t necessarily par for the course in the church. Our Master has laid down a pattern. From the beginning, in the home and in the church, the Creator has ordained for men to lead and for women to follow.
Understand, in Genesis 1-2 God’s creation was accomplished by separating and creating distinctions. Genesis begins when God “divides the light from the darkness.” The first strike of creation is to separate… Next, God divides the waters from under the atmosphere, with the waters above the atmosphere… Afterwards, He gathers seas, and separates them from dry land.. God then creates a world of vegetation, and in keeping with His structure of creation each plant multiplies after its own kind… On Day Four, God separates again. This time the day from the night…
Realize, God Himself is an example of unity, as well as diversity. God is one God, but the one God exists in three persons – Father, Son, and Spirit. Each member of the Godhead has a specific role that He assumes… The Father sits on the throne in heaven, as sovereign over creation… The Son comes to earth and becomes a man to redeem and save… The Spirit takes up where Jesus leaves off. He points people to the Son. He lives in believing hearts to impart His power. All three members of the Godhead are equal in importance – but they are distinct in the role they play. The fact the Son submits to the Father, and the Spirit promotes the Son, doesn’t make the Son inferior to the Father, or the Spirit less divine than the Son. All three members of the Triune Godhead – Father, Son, and Spirit – are equal in nature, but distinct in their roles.
And there’s no competition or friction in this divine arrangement. The Son doesn’t complain,“Oh, the Father is worshipped, while I suffer on a cross…” The Spirit doesn’t buck for more attention – “Why do I have to lead people to Jesus? Can’t I grab a few headlines of My own?” You never see the members of the Trinity question or complain about their role. God exists and functions in diversity, yet harmony.
In Genesis 1-2 God reaches the apex of His creation, it’s cap and crown… He creates man, but again His work comes with a significant distinction… Genesis 1:27 tells us, “So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” God splits the human race into two specific genders – male and female. And in Genesis 2 He explains exactly how this was done… He created the man first. And then from the man He fashioned the woman. From the very beginning an order emerges, and roles are assigned to gender.
This is the background behind Paul’s controversial instructions in 1 Timothy 2:11, “Let a woman learn in silence with all submission. And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence.” And here’s the reason, “For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression.” Before I tackle Paul’s rules in the church and in the home, first note their rationale. There’re two reasons why leadership is ascribed to the man… “Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression.” One reason was there from the beginning. The second reason resulted from sin entering the world.
You’ll remember from Genesis, the body of Adam was formed from the dust of the ground. God then breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. Eve came later. She was the result of the first surgery. God put Adam into a deep sleep, opened up his side, and pulled out “something curved.” That’s how the Hebrew renders it – we’re not sure if it was a rib, or some cartilage, or perhaps an extra organ – we don’t know – but whatever it was God turned it into a woman. Someone described Eve’s creation as “The first splitting of an Adam and it unleashed a force into the world that has never been contained.” Paul’s main point is this, “Adam was formed first, then Eve.”
Please note, in the Bible special prerogatives and responsibilities are always given to the firstborn. This is why Rebekah’s twin boys, Esau and Jacob, wrestled in the womb. They were jockeying to be the firstborn. Apparently, Esau won the initial struggle, but the wrestling match had just begun. For the title of “firstborn” means a lot more than “born first.”
That’s proven later in the story. When Esau comes home famished, his sneaky brother, Jacob, dangles a bowl of Hearty Campbell’s Soup under his nose. Esau is governed by his appetites rather than his convictions. He trades his spiritual birthright – the title of firstborn – to Jacob for some warmed-over chili. Jacob was born second, but he ended up “firstborn.”
And likewise, generation after generation of humans were born before that first Christmas, when a virgin conceived and brought forth her firstborn Son. Mary laid Him in a manger, and called His name, “Jesus.” Jesus was born first only in Mary’s family, but God awarded Him with firstborn status. In Colossians 1:15 Jesus is called “the firstborn over all creation.” Our Lord is now head and authority over all the universe.
And so it was originally with Adam. God made a choice. “Adam was formed first.” God bestowed on the man the title, and duties, and benefits of the “firstborn.” Eve was as loved by God – and as gifted by God – as was Adam. But God gave the man authority over both his immediate family and the human family. It was a privilege! But as is often the case, with that privilege came an obligation – a heavy responsibility.
The weightiness of the man’s role appeared later, when sin entered the world. It was Eve that sinned first, not Adam. Yet God held the man responsible. In fact, sin passed down to all men through Adam – not Eve. Eve bit the fruit, but Adam got the bigger bite of the responsibility. Theologians have a name for this concept. They call it federal headship. One man takes authority over a family or a race. One man acts on behalf of all men. Later, the Bible teaches that since all men are condemned in Adam, we all can be saved in Christ. Again one acts in proxy for a group. As David and Goliath fought it out for their respective sides, all men fight for their tribe. The man is head. He’s a representative, and acts on behalf of his family.
Don’t misunderstand God holds Eve, and every other sinner, personally accountable for his or her own sin. In this sense, Eve’s sin had nothing to do with Adam. In fact, 1 Timothy 2:14 let’s Adam off the hook morally. “Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression.” Eve was to blame, but since Adam was head he was responsible. Likewise, Jesus had nothing to do with our sin – our failures are not His fault – yet as our head, our firstborn, Jesus took responsibility for our folly and rebellion. Our Lord carried our sin to the cross, and died in our place. Biblical headship means taking responsibility for what’s not my fault! So when a man becomes a husband and a father – or assumes leadership in the church – he takes on this concept of biblical headship. He takes up grave, serious, weighty responsibilities. He agrees to cover his wife and kids. He stands in the gap for others. He doesn’t grumble about problems he didn’t cause – nor duck issues other folks create. A husband at home and a leader at church – takes responsibility for what’s not his fault. Though he may not be responsible for the problem, he’s committed to being part of the solution. He’s willing to become accountable for the people under his care.
And this is the responsibility God has given to the man, not the woman. “Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression.” The mistakes made by the first man and woman were so monumental, God wanted them remembered and immortalized in the relationships between all men and women – at least in marriage and in the church. Both the creation of mankind and our fall gave God reasons to order gender accordingly. In marriage and the church, men are to lead, and women are to follow.
When God created mankind, He did so male and female. The man and the woman were equal in value and status. They both were made in God’s image. And as a result, both have a place in the service of God! Women can occupy many different roles in the Body of Christ… In the New Testament women followed Jesus… They prophesied and prayed in church and were moved by the Holy Spirit in spontaneous ways… In Titus 2:4 older women are instructed to teach the younger women. Obviously, Paul’s intention in 1 Timothy 2 for commanding the women to remain silent isn’t an absolute silence. It’s a voluntary quiet that flows from a submissive spirit… We’ll get to that in a moment… But women also served as deacons. A deacon named Phoebe carried the opus of our faith, Paul’s letter to the Romans, across the ocean under her robe… We also learn in 1 Timothy 5 there was a special order of women, of widows, that served the church in charitable causes.
I like J. Vernon McGee’s observation. He suggested the reason women today clamor for posts in the church that are reserved for men, is because they’ve been denied their rightful place. That could well be true. It reminds me of the Hindu lady who said to the missionary, “Surely your Bible was written by a woman.” The missionary replied, “Why do you say that?” She answered, “Because it says so many kind things about women. Our writers never refer to us but in reproach.” No religion has done more to elevate the status of women than Christianity. The Bible teaches that women are equal to men in regard to God’s favor.
But “equal” does not mean “same.” God made us with distinction, and gave diverse roles to men and women. Realize, masculinity and femininity are not just the result of the society’s nurturing, and educating, and the conditioning of the sexes. Male and female are the result of creation. Gender matters to God! Not only do the biblical roles for male and female nurture and order society, they speak vital truths about God’s very nature.
From the first page of the Bible to the last, God reveals Himself in the masculine gender. He’s never once called “God the Mother” or “God the daughter.” He’s always “God the Father” and “God the Son.” His people – OT Israel or the NT Church – are spoken of as feminine, but the Godhead is invariably portrayed as masculine. Throughout the Bible, God consistently uses gender to display His relationship with His people.
And this is why any violation of gender roles – any confusion of maleness and femaleness – doesn’t just harm the individual and families involved, it mars the picture God is painting of salvation. Marriage is a sacred snapshot. And God is serious about His pictures! Most wives treasure their wedding photographs. If their house caught on fire their wedding album would be the keepsake with the top priority! They would want to save that collection. And the same is true with God. He too values His wedding pictures. The biblical roles of male and female are God’s wedding photos.
One of the most exciting spectacles in college football is performed by the Ohio State Buckeye Band. It’s called “Script Ohio.” It’s been a tradition since 1936. Before a packed stadium of 105,000 Buckeye fans the marching band spells the word “Ohio” on the field. The climax comes when one of the sousaphone players dots the “I”. He struts to a tuft of grass marked out by the drum major – then bows to the crowd. The stadium goes nuts… well, see for yourself… If you’re watching this from the sidelines – from ground level – the band’s movements look chaotic and confusing. It’s only when you’re high in the bleachers, or in the blimp, that you see what’s being spelled out.
And this is true with gender. We’re actors in a divine drama. God has a role for women to play – and a role for men to play. By each gender’s faithfulness we spell out heavy, eternal, spiritual truths. But these roles can only be understood and appreciated from God’s vantage point. You’ve got to get above human logic. Christians need to realize God has a purpose for the sexes, and it’s embodied in the roles He’s assigned us. And far more than 105,000 fans are looking on… Our neighbors, and children, and future generations are in the bleachers. In discussing these matters with the Corinthians, Paul says even the angels learn from gender roles. The heavenly host sit in the upper deck observing the symbolism our relationships represent…
When a husband loves his wife, or a man stands up to lead His church, he illustrates Christ’s care for His own. When a wife follows her husband’s leadership, or a sister in the church falls in line behind the pastor and elders, she teaches the world our attitude toward Christ. Pastor Chuck and Kay gave us a tremendous gift that we didn’t even recognize at the time. Papa Chuck was the father many folks never had – an assertive, but loving man. Kay was the beautiful example of a strong woman who let her man lead. They were great role models of the role play God has established for men and women.
But when men won’t lead, or women refuse to let them, it distorts and dilutes the Gospel message. How can we possibly think this no big deal to the Lord who saved us? God teaches big truths through gender! This is why Paul tells Timothy “do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence” for when women exercise authority, more often than not, men let them. Men willingly take the back seat. This was the problem in the garden of Eden – not just that Eve was deceived and sinned, but that Adam didn’t step up, and protect her, and take leadership. Genesis 3:6 is a haunting verse, “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate.” Adam was standing right by her side, and the ole boy did nothing to stop her. And this is the fatal tendency in all men, to remain silent and not lead.
Paul’s impetus for ladies being silent in the church is not to repress women, but to embolden men. Women are more verbal than men. They’re more nurturing and apt to instruct. Often they’re more perceptive. This is why it’s easy for women to take the reins of leadership. Women are more prone to be teachers than men. And here’s what a lot of ladies don’t realize, women have to show restraint if they want the man to lead. Ladies, if you’re always asserting – and doing the talking – and taking over… your man won’t fight you for the leadership, He’ll let you lead and just go fishing. Men are taught at an early age never fight with girls. I’ll never forget Becky standing on our back porch knocking on the door. She told my mom I had hit her. I don’t remember what I did, but I doubt I balled up my fist. Yet mom made me stand there with my arms behind my back, while Becky slapped me right across the face. Fifty years later it still stings. But I’ve never hit a girl since. Men learn early on, never to fight with girls. That’s why if a woman is determined to lead, a man will let her.
That’s why for men to step up in church, women need to take a step back. Competition is not what the sexes need. God has given us roles to complement each other.
And here Paul is asking the women to not teach or take authority over men – for if they do, there’s no hope of the men in the church taking the initiate themselves. Women are to be in submission, and what does that mean? It means just what it says, “sub mission.” “Sub” means “under.” Thus, women are to be “under the mission” that God has ordained for gender roles.
This is why, show me a good husband who leads his wife in respectfully, and steers his children lovingly, and I’ll show you a smart woman who’s learned to step back – at times and in ways – that help him step up. Show me a church with strong male leadership, and I won’t just show you determined men, I’ll show you strong women – probably more talented than the men – who wisely and deliberately took a backseat, so the men would be inclined to grab the wheel and steer. And show me a church where the men are absent or missing in action, and I’ll show you a church where unwise women have competed for leadership.
There’s a crisis today in Christianity. Walk into any Orthodox Jewish Synagogue, or Muslim mosque, or Hindu Temple, and you’ll find a preponderance of male worshippers… But not so in the typical church… Statistics show that 60% of church attendees today are women. Author David Murrow writes, “Of the world’s great religions, only Christianity has a consistent, nagging shortage of male practitioners.” And trust me, the way to address our male shortage is not to make it easier for females to lead. If we want men to step up, they have to be convinced their service is needed, and their initiative will be appreciated.
Whatever you do, don’t let anyone tell you the NT teaching on gender was meant only for ancient culture… Please don’t buy the liberal dribble that Paul’s world was permeated with fertility cults that stressed female dominance, and his writings were an overreaction. Paul anticipates this argument. In verse 12 he writes, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence.” Then he follows it up in the very next verse, “For Adam was formed first, then Eve.” He takes his readers all the way back to Genesis.
Whenever Paul explains gender roles he reverts back to creation. Male leadership is a creation principle, not an cultural accommodation. The biblical roles of male and female transcend all other cultural arrangements. Paul meant what he said, and makes it applicable to all Christians, in all eras. As in the home, likewise in the church, a woman is not to have authority over a man.
And this is why a woman is not to teach the Bible to men. She shouldn’t be in the pulpit while men are in the pews. The optics are wrong. And it’s all about optics: God is painting a spiritual picture by gender roles. Thus, Paul says in 1 Timothy 2:12, as to teaching in the public assembly of the church, a woman is to be silent. She can teach children and women, but not men. Christine Cane, Kay Arthur, even Anne Graham Lotz might be gifted communicators, but when a woman stands in the pulpit to expound on God’s Word, heaven shutters. Expedience has won out over Scripture. We’re revealing our ignorance of a huge, overarching issue. Perhaps the best Bible teacher I’ve ever heard was Kay Smith, but if a man ever walked in on her study, he’d be asked to leave. Men would try to attend, but they were run off. Kay understood the biblical roles.
God is teaching heavy spiritual lessons through gender roles, and the picture gets marred when women take authority over men… And if teaching on a Sunday morning from the pulpit of your church isn’t a demonstration of authority; then you have no authority. For the only real authority any of us have is the explanation and proclamation of the Scriptures. The real issue goes far beyond can a woman have the title of “pastor.” It’s her exercise of authority over men that God forbids. The title is just part of the bigger issue.
Of course, some people bring up the exception to try and disprove the rule. They’ll point to Deborah in the OT, or women in church history that God used to lead. And God will use women to lead when He must. The cause of Christ shouldn’t be setback just because there’s no man to step up. When courageous men are in short supply why shouldn’t God use a gifted woman! The story is told of the famous preacher, Harry Ironside. He was walking in the park where a woman was preaching. His companion said, “Isn’t it a shame that a woman is preaching in the park.” Ironside said, “It is a shame there is not some man to take her place.” When men fail in their leadership, God will use women. But in keeping with the bigger picture God wants painted, ideally men should lead and women should encourage them to do so – not take their place.
The Greek word translated “submission” or “hupotasso,” means “to rank under.” It’s a military term. And everyone who’s ever served in our armed forces has had the experience of meeting someone of a higher rank who had lesser skills and smarts than they did… but because of military order you submitted. And this is what God is asking of the females in the fellowship. Men are to lead not because they’re better, or braver, or brainier… In reality, there’s only one reason for male leadership… because God said so!
I’ll never forget a quote I read from the former mayor of Ottawa, Canada. Charlotte Whitton was advising young girls on what it takes for women to succeed in politics. She commented, “Whatever women must do they must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good.” Then she said, “Luckily, this is not difficult.” And I agree. Typically, women are smarter than men. It reminds me of the time after the fall of man when Adam and Eve got into an argument. Adam shouted at Eve, “How in the world could God have made you so beautiful and yet so dumb at the same time.” Eve answered, “God made me beautiful so you would marry me. And dumb so I would marry you.”
And it’s the superiority of women over men that cause women to struggle so with this concept of submission. Wives are tempted to take the reins from their husbands, since it’s so easy for them to do so! Usually the man is dense. A wife is quicker to figure things out and size things up. That’s why the idea of a female submission isn’t as much logical as it is biblical. And this is my point, there’s really only one reason men should lead and women should follow – it’s because God said so! This is God’s order for marriage and the Church. It’s the role-play He wants exhibited.
And this is why this subject is such a watershed issue. It tests our commitment to the Bible. Are we going to take our cues from culture or the Scripture? Listen to the conversation that occurred several years ago on “Pastor’s Perspective” – Pastor Chuck’s radio call-in show. One day, he answered a call where he dealt with this issue. Listen to the simplicity of his answer…
. Hear what Chuck said? “All we have to stand upon is the Word of God… Either it’s God’s Word or it’s not God’s Word… It’s either our guide or it’s not our guide… I don’t have to agree with it, I just need to follow it.” And I hope we will. But trust me, our conviction will be questioned, and criticized, and tested in the days ahead.
Recently, I saw some ads published by the United Nations (unwomen.org) opposing the abuse of women around the world. But notice the oppressive language… Here’s the ad, “Women should stay at home. Women should be slaves. Women should be in the kitchen. Women should not speak in church.” And another, “Women cannot drive. Women cannot be bishops. Women cannot be trusted. Women cannot speak in church.” Apparently, the United Nations equates the Bible’s instructions in 1 Timothy 2:12 with human slavery.
God, our Creator, has defined a woman’s role in the church and in the home – not in the government, or in the workplace – but in the church and in our marriage. And this world can’t leave it alone. Satan picks a fight. He hates heaven’s perspective. And most of all the devil wants to mar God’s wedding photos. He wants to deface the spiritual picture God wants portrayed through gender – of Christ’s relationship with His church. That’s why I see biblical gender roles as a hill worth dying on.
Years ago, there was a billboard near our church that advertised Virginia Slims cigarettes. A pretty woman was blocking the path of a young man. The ad’s caption read, “Who cares who wears the pants?” And every time I drove passed that billboard I would roll down the window of my car and scream as loud as I could, God does! God cares who wears the pants!
A-century-and-a-half ago Charles Spurgeon was bemoaning the sorry state of manhood in his day. He said, “There is a notion, somehow, that if you become a Christian you must sink your manliness and turn milksop.” Sadly, that’s still the belief of some men. Just because the NT calls the Church “the bride of Christ” doesn’t mean Christian men should buy a skirt! “The bride” is an idiom for the whole Church – but when Paul refers to individual males like Timothy and others, he calls them, “man of God,” or “fellow soldier.”
For the church today needs strong, dedicated godly men. Men willing to step up and take responsibility – even for stuff they didn’t do and was not their fault. And we need men who are willing to oversee – men who’ll stay in touch with God and lead from on top. There’s an elderly lady at church who once told me, “Pastor Sandy, Oh for the days, when men were men and women were proud of it.” That too is my prayer. Church leaders go by titles like “bishop” or “pastor” or “elder,” but first of all they should be called “Mister.”
— One Comment —
This is a very thorough, well written article! Thank you for writing this!
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