Women in ministry is not a “problem” or an “issue.” Women expressing their gifts in the church is not heretical. Women correcting men and helping them to grow in their faith should never be anathematized (Acts 18:26). Woman appropriately confronting men on their sin is not sin (unless you believe the “brother” of Matt 18:15 is always masculine, and then women should never confront anyone who has sinned against them). However, I do believe the way they are treated (or assumptions made about the way they are treated) is a problem and an issue—and should be addressed by God’s people.
Topics like today (1 Tim 2:8-15) are difficult to preach well (at least for me). We all want clarity, but sometimes it evades us. (Also, I wasn’t as helpful in 1 Tim 2:15 as I wanted to be; check out this resource for the many interpretations.) Try as we might, we all make jumps—some small, some large—to work out what the passage means. . .
Cards on the table: Coming into this sermon I believed that God made men and women unique and they have different functions in the home and in the church. In preparing the sermon I believe God corrected some things in me regarding my own view of women and how to care for them better as a pastor, but I still hold to the conviction I had coming in.
I believe that the local church authority rests in the elders (that statement alone will be disagreed with by congregationalists), and that elders are men. I have yet to see otherwise from the Scriptures. I am willing to be wrong in this—and some would tell me so—but that’s still what I’m seeing. It seems that 1 Timothy 2:8-15 is most helpfully understood in that light (notice the interpretive jump I made there? You should.) All that being said, here’s some of what I did learn and what the Lord is changing in me.
WE MISAPPLY THE PASSAGE TO OUR OWN DETRIMENT
Churches take this passage to mean women can’t ever lead, can’t contribute well, are more prone to temptation, and a curse to men. We may not say that, but we act like it. Misogyny exists in churches just like it does in society. Throughout history you will mainly see the contributions of men. Some church history folks have taken it so far as to say that it is a woman’s fault we are where we are. That simply isn’t the case and if you hear it being propagated anywhere I’d encourage you to shut it down.
However, because we misapply the passage, we lose out. We lose out on the gifts of women and their ability to minister. I gotta be honest, I’m not sure how “teach or have authority” always applies. Only on Sunday mornings? Not in a community group? What about someone who teaches a Sunday school class with men in it? When does “interacting” become “having authority” or “teaching”? I don’t know. As best I can say is it is the elders of the church who set the authority in a church (as they pour over the Scriptures and shepherd the flock) and, thus, people are put into proper leadership roles accordingly. Also, since the worship gathering is the main outlet for the body to join together and hear from the Lord, my assumption of men being elders leads me to think that the main teaching from the day should come from men; but, again, I made some jumps. (If I said “only people with the microphone speak,” Paul would say. “A what?”)
WE PRETEND IT IS CLEAR-CUT
I love the vitriol that the fringes of this issue have for one another. If some think women should be in senior leadership roles then others thing they are below Satan. I read part of a book by a man who did extensive research on the subject (for years) and came to a conclusion that women should have any role a men do; and a nice, budding theologian essentially told him he needs to repent of his terrible view. Really? Because that’s Christlike? It’s not as clear-cut as we want it to be. That’s OK. You can say “This is what I’m seeing and am living accordingly” and still say “And I could be wrong.” We’re not talking about issues of salvation. We’re talking about important issues, but they aren’t saving issues.
Those who view all roles in the church and home as equal for men and women often condemn those who have a different view for not dealing with reality or for being too rigid. This is, in part, true. Those who see distinction often accuse the other for hating the Bible and all that is good in the world. Truth is: there are people who love Jesus and his word who disagree here—and those people will worship him together in the life that is to come. (If they’re lucky, they might even do it in the same sanctuary before then!)
WHERE WE GO FROM HERE
I cannot speak for everyone. I can speak for myself. I want to commit to live out what I see in the Scriptures, and what I see is more than what I pretend to see. I need to give appropriate leadership to women. I want to be a part of a church that doesn’t siphon them off or disregard them. I believe The Chapel wants that. I want to help the spiritual gifts of my flock be fully realized. I believe I can say that and still say “men are the elders of the church.” If those two views are impossible to hold together (and I don’t think they are), then I’ve got a bit of a conundrum on my hands. 🙂
RESOURCES FROM SUNDAY
This topic, because of the weight of it, got more of my time. As you work things out, there are some resources that may be able to help you out (they certainly helped me).
- Men and Women in the Church, Sarah Sumner—Dr. Sumner has written a very helpful book on the topic. She believes all roles belong to both men and women, but she approaches it with grace and not vitriol. If you would like to dig deeper in an opposing viewpoint, you may want to start here. I don’t follow all of her argumentation, but she does a good job showing the leaps we all make on the topic. She really helped me reconsider my view of Matthew 18.
- Man and Woman, One in Christ, Paul Payne—This book requires a good amount of Greek knowledge to fully get, but anyone should be able to be benefited by it. Dr. Payne has spent a chunk of his life studying this topic, has a high view of Scripture, and believes, like Dr. Sumner, that there should be no distinction in role. It’s a bear to get through (I only read his treatment of the 1 Timothy passage), but helpful.
- Jesus, Justice & Gender Roles, Kathy Keller—This book is short (about 50 pages), written by Kathy Keller, one of the founders of Redeemer Presbyterian in New York. As one who views men and women in ministry as having unique roles, she helped me. I was helped out most when she pointed out that, as a minister of a church in educated, progressive New York City, she has a lot to lose in differentiating roles. She talks about how she looks at the passages and lives them out at Redeemer.
- This and This Sermon by John Piper—John Piper is one of the poster children of gender distinctions. Because he puts all his sermons (and there are a lot) online, I sometimes check them out to see how he teaches his people. I did appreciate his handing of 1 Tim 2:14.
- Domestic Violence—I used this stat at the beginning of the sermon.
- Rules of Modesty—Michael Hyatt made these for his daughters, I shared them in the service. Modesty is an interesting subject, because it’s fluid. However, these are helpful (especially if you’re a dad with daughters).
- Lots of journal articles—Now that I’m back in school, I get access to academic journals. I read through a chunk of them, but I’m not allowed to distribute them, so you just have to believe me. 🙂
- Great conversations—Numerous women from The Chapel helped me out as I worked on this. We met, emailed, discussed, disagreed, agreed, and kept at it. They continue to help me and, I pray, continue all-the-more as we move forward.
Let us remember that it is the grace of Jesus that saves us (Eph 2:8-10), and not a “proper understanding of gender roles in the church.” Main things must always remain main things. Jesus is good. He died for all, desires to give life to all, and redeems all who have put faith in him—all means all.