Women In The Church: Can They Lead?

The role that women should be allowed to have in the church is a topic that has generated ample discussion throughout the history of the Christian church. The debate over whether they should be allowed to hold key positions within it is a touchy topic where The Bible seems to shed some light.

To begin with, one must understand what an elder is and what a deacon is. Elders are prominent in the New Testament. They are associated with James in the government of the local church, in a position of authority and privilege that exhibits spiritual maturity, and their duties include pastoral oversight and purity of the flock in the approaching temptation and crisis[1]. A deacon is most commonly associated with the word “servant”[2]. Deacons are to exhibit an outstanding moral lifestyle and a firm faith[3]. The contrast is distinct and quite clear. A deacon is supposed to be a servant and perform tasks that involve labor and serving the church as Christ served[4].  An elder is clearly in the position of authority and provides direction for the church and even the pastors themselves.

It is clear that as far back as the church’s beginnings, some women had assumed the role of deacon. Paul spoke of women who were deacons as an important role in the church. His acknowledgement that women were capable of having an important role in the church paved the way for several women who were deacons. Most notably, Paul mentions Phoebe of Cenchreae by name[5] where he also uses the name “servant”. Paul also speaks of Junias whom he says was converted before he was and assets her status in the church[6]. Paul worked to show that all are equal in Christ and that there is “no male or female”[7].

However, Paul’s attitude towards women in his writings seemed to show a reflection of society at the time. There is little to no mention of women being allowed the position of elder within the church as far as Paul was concerned.  For instance, 1 Timothy 3:2 outlines specific requirements to be an elder: “Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach.” While the concept is positive as far as being righteous, the passage implies that an elder can only be a man. Such a notion is simply absurd, women are just as capable of leading as men are. 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 is used as a passage to dismiss a woman’s right to speak.  However, Paul may have forbid women from asking questions in the church because women were the primary disturbers in Corinth[8]. Still, this passage implies a submissive role for women, which is sexist in nature. Perhaps the most startling passage is 1 Timothy 2: 11-15 which states: “A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be saved through childbearing if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.” This passage reduces a woman’s role to being a servant incapable of authority and places the blame for sin on women. This is wrong as men are just as much to blame for sin as women are.

The argument over a woman’s role in the church may rage on, but one must also look at how a woman is treated in the workplace. When Jesus came into the world, He came to pay ransom for both man and woman. Through His sacrifice, man and woman are equal. The workplace is often disassociated from religion in the United States as all are guaranteed a freedom of religion or lack thereof. Women should be treated equally and given the same opportunities as men for advancement. The verses used to argue that women should be held back from leadership roles in the church are clearly subjective and not a sound basis for any determination in the workplace among a society of varying cultures.

Therefore, because all of mankind was created in God’s image[9], both man and woman are equal. A woman should be able to make contributions to her local church in any role God provides for her. God bestows gifts to all walks of life with no prejudice implications. Recall that Mary Magdalene was the first witness to both the empty tomb and the resurrected Christ[10]. Be it an elder, a deacon or even a preacher, women are capable of valuable contributions to the church community and capable of leadership that glorifies Christ.

[1] Elwell, Walter A.  Evangelical Dictionary of Theology.  2nd ed.  Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2001. p. 369

[2] Ibid. p. 320

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Romans 16:1

[6] Romans 16:7

[7] Galatians 3: 28.

[8] Elwell, p. 1284

[9] Genesis 1:27

[10] John 20: 1-18, Mark 16: 1-11


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My name is Charlie Tinsley and I blog about The Bible. I post theology and have leaned towards an emphasis on domestic violence and forgiveness. I serve as Ambassador for the state of Virginia in the National Association of Adult Survivors of Child Abuse. I hold a Masters of Divinity from Eastern Mennonite Seminary and Bachelors Degree in Science in Religion Summa Cum Laude with a Biblical Studies Minor from Liberty University. I have studied in the two “major fields” of theological thought. I am married and have been for several years and I currently reside in Virginia.

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