“Women Leading in the Church”Categories: Sermons
The other day, an article from Harding University’s student newspaper wandered across my news feed. It described the decision by the Downtown Church of Christ in Searcy, AR, to begin allowing women to take leadership roles in the church. Henceforth, among other things, they will be allowed to teach mixed adult Bible classes and to read Scripture from the pulpit.
In many ways, this is no longer surprising. Self- described churches of Christ all over the country are restudying the issue of female leadership in the church. Unlike our brethren for hundreds of years before us, they are coming to the conclusion that this is Scripturally acceptable.
This is what is being done, but what does the Bible actually say? This morning, let’s consider women leading in the church.
As will come as a surprise to no one, I do not believe that women should become religious leaders, and I see three main problems with the practice. The first of these is that IT BREAKS WITH THE BIBLE. Look with me at 1 Timothy 2:11-14. This is a simple passage. It explains what should not be—women teaching or exercising authority, and then it explains why it should not be—Adam was created first, and Eve sinned first. As Paul notes in the next chapter, all of this is part of his instructions for right conduct in the church. Thus, no women leaders in the church. It has nothing to do with women being inferior or anything like that, and everything to do with events that happened thousands of years ago.
This is a strong prohibition, and it’s based on an equally strong argument from creation. Because of the events of Genesis 1-3, we never should see women leading men in religious matters, not in the Old Testament, not in the New Testament. Indeed, this is exactly what we see. In both Old and New Testaments, those in religious authority, from priests to preachers, are always male. Some people try to locate female apostles in Romans 16:7, but there, as with many other places, what can be asserted from the text and what can be proven with the text are two different things.
It is true that in both Old and New Testaments, there were prophetesses, for instance, Huldah the prophetess, who shows up in 2 Chronicles 34. However, nowhere in the Bible do we see prophetesses taking leadership roles religious gatherings. Whatever the prophetesses of 1 Corinthians 11 are doing, Paul, the same man who condemned women teaching men in 1 Timothy 2, thinks it’s OK.
To sum up, 1 Timothy 2 makes a strong claim that women shouldn’t be leaders, and nowhere in the Bible do we see evidence to the contrary. Those who want to exalt women to leadership roles, then, are not breaking with “Church of Christ tradition”. They are breaking with the practice of the early church. Indeed, they are breaking with the way God’s people have done things since the beginning.
Second, turning to women for religious leadership FOLLOWS THE WORLD. We see how big a problem this is when we consider Romans 12:1-2. As Christians, we are to be transformed by Christ, not conformed to the world.
Here, I think it’s illuminating to consider an excerpt from the statement that the eldership of the Downtown church issued. They said, “We live in the midst of both great and rapid socio-cultural change. These changes tear at the fabric of our culture, polarizing and fragmenting community. How does the community of the church respond to this rending of unity? Is it even possible to maintain a body with a transcendent unity in the midst of divergent opinions? This was the question that the elders at the Downtown Church of Christ faced when they began to grapple with issues surrounding the role of women within the body of Christ.”
Basically, the eldership is saying that due to influence from the world, there were lots of people in their congregation who believed that women should be religious leaders, and it was to keep those people from splitting off that they decided to restudy the issue of women in religious authority.
With all due respect to them, that’s exactly wrong. No congregation should determine its convictions according to socio-cultural change. Instead, we must determine them according to the word of God, which does not change. Similarly, we must never seek to please Christians who have been influenced by the world. Instead, we must seek to please God and allow Him to be our only influence.
If we follow this path, the answer to questions about women as religious leaders, along with many other answers, becomes clear. However, if we stray from it, that is when doubt and confusion arise.
This is what happened to the Downtown church. The article says they restudied this issue for four months. That makes me awfully suspicious. Women in religious authority is not a particularly rich topic. There are only a few passages that address it. I could polish those texts off in a Bible class or two, much less four months!
I think, then, that what probably happened is that they brought in a whole bunch of authorities from outside the word, and those authorities muddied the water enough that they could reach the conclusion that would allow for peace in the congregation. The problem is that peace with the world and peace with God are mutually exclusive.
The final difficulty I want us to examine this morning is that having women as religious leaders UNDERMINES CHRIST’S AUTHORITY. Let’s read together from Ephesians 1:22-23. As this text makes clear, Christ’s authority over the church is supposed to be absolute. We do what He tells us to, and whether it seems like a good idea to us is irrelevant. However, once we start rejecting Christ’s authority in one area, we will find that He has no authority in any area.
Let’s start with some low-hanging fruit. According to the article, despite these changes, the Downtown church has decided that they won’t have a female preacher, nor will women be allowed to serve as elders. Frankly, I think this is a distinction without a difference. As long as a woman is teaching and exercising authority over men, does it really matter whether she’s standing behind a lectern or a pulpit?
Indeed, I predict that over time, the distinction will prove meaningless. In a few years, the Downtown church will have a female preacher. In a few more, it will have female elders. The momentum of the position they have taken is irresistible.
Nor do I think the momentum will stop there. Consider, for instance, the Biblical case against the practice of homosexuality. It looks an awful lot like the Biblical case against women as religious leaders. In both cases, you’ve got a few clear passages that have come under severe criticism from the world.
Once you have decided that you’re going to tolerate female church leaders, how do you say that you’re not going to tolerate practicing homosexuals in the church, or even practicing homosexual leaders? The arguments for and against are exactly the same. If you’re going to bend with the cultural wind in the one area, you will in the other too.
Once culture becomes king in the church, Christ cannot be. You may be going through with the charade that you’re loving Jesus and serving Jesus, but really, each man and woman are doing what is right in their own eyes.