The problem with discussing whether or not woman are allowed to be ministers is that it is a very sensitive issue and people are quick to press the 'sexism' button and ignore the discussion entirely. So I venture into this area with several caveats: first, please do read my previous blog post on the biblical roles of men and women (equal in worth, different in role), it provides a necessary backdrop to this discussion. Second, the discussion that will follow runs against the culture we live in; this makes it challenging for everyone comes to the table with a lot of reactions engrained in them. Thirdly, while some might levy the charge of sexism against me I hold that the biblical view of gender is not only true but beautiful.
So without further ado, I'll begin the discussion with the relevant bible passage:
"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."
1 Timothy 4 v 11 - 14
Missing the Obvious
It is easy to miss the huge controversy here, Paul wrote this in the 1st century and the idea that women could learn would have been very challenging to his male readers. For in Paul's time then women and education were rarely introduced to each other. Thus do we immediately see the biblical view of men and women working itself out in an extremely positive manner with Paul not just suggesting but commanding women to learn.
The Side Debate
The side debate to this issue is what exactly 'teach or have authority' means. Most commentators are in agreement that it is referring to spiritual teaching and authority. For it makes no sense to refer to 'earthly' teaching and authority for there are many women who held positions of 'earthly' authority in the Bible and were never rebuked for it. In particular most commentators focus on two specific out workings of spiritual teaching and authority: preaching and eldership. I would agree with those that extend it to include all spiritual teaching and/or authority such as any talk involving bible exposition even in non-church situations e.g. CU, convention, etc
The Central Debate
The central debate over whether woman should be ministers centres on whether the above verses are still applicable today. It is not about what exactly Paul was saying for unless words have lost all meaning it is crystal clear what Paul commands here. Neither does the debate focus on whether Paul's command was binding at the time because as an Apostle, inspired by the Holy Spirit, the command of Paul was backed by the authority of God, or to put it a better way: Paul's commands were God's commands. There may be some who question the authority of Paul but then to quote Spurgeon, "that is like the chaff questioning the fire". If Paul has no authority the Bible has no authority and God is false.
Additionally, as a command, if it still holds today, then it is the duty of every Christian to obey it. For as Jesus says: if we love him we will obey his commandments. No matter what the world says, they rarely get anything right anyway, the call to the Christian is to submit to God's will in all things.
So the debate over this is whether Paul addresses his command to the specific cultural and church situation he was writing to or whether he was addressing all churches in all times, cultures and places.
For then or for all time?
The argument on one side is that we see in the New Testament a gradual implementation of a new attitude to men and women that has now flowered to where it is at today: men and women are equal in worth and role and women can do anything that they want to. Paul is only addressing the specific church he was writing to and his command carries no weight in our now enlightened age.
The problem with this view is that it ignores the context of the passage as the rest of chapter 4 is clearly addressed to all Christians in all times. It also fails to account for the reasoning behind Paul's command. For he does not just chuck this command out without rooting it in a reason. He roots his command in Creation, not the culture of his time or the specific church situation he was writing to, no, instead Paul goes all the way back to Creation and says: it's back here that gives me the reason to give the command.
As he references, Adam was made first before woman, now this isn't an issue of superiority or skill. Paul does not say: a woman cannot preach because she lacks the ability too. No! Instead, the church is called to reflect how God created things to be. And God created man to have a position of headship and woman to have a role of submission. By rooting it in Creation Paul makes it clear that the command stands for all the time the Created Order still stands and today, it still stands.
This, and I want to make this very clear, is not an issue of equality! For men and women are created equal of worth but different in role as I have mentioned elsewhere. Many quibble at the word submission but in reality we are all submissive to authority be that the authority of our parents, the government, our work, the church or God. It should be read, not as a submission of slavery, but a wilful submission. And as well, the role women have in submitting is found in two areas: primarily in the marriage relationship and in this area of spiritual authority and teaching.
Therefore, it is the privilege of the church to display this order of things to the watching world. It is for the church to reflect the created order and only have men in positions of spiritual teaching and authority. This is a beautiful thing, to model out the fact that God made man and woman equal but also in his wisdom: different! We should rejoice in our Creator God who has so ordered things.
One objection is that: some women are better preachers than men. To which I say true, but this is not a question of ability but rather celebrating the difference between men and women and the separate roles to which we are called too.
Another objection is one of sexism. To which I reply that it is sexism to ask a woman to be a preacher for what greater slight can one do to a woman than to ask her to fulfil the role of man? And it is how God wants things to be and nothing can be discriminatory about that!
Another objection is that this view is old fashioned but has human nature changed? Are men and women still different? Has the order of Creation changed? I think not. So God's ordering of things should win out.
Why is it so hard to accept?
When sin entered the world it corrupted everything including the relationship between men and women. So what was good, perfect and pleasing as now been twisted out of shape. Thus, men want to dominate or be submissive rather than modelling Christ-like headship and women want to dominate or be subservient rather than modelling Christ-like submission.
That is why it is so important that the church models God's design for men and women in how it goes about ministry. We should be a shining beacon for truth in an age that so often seems to demand that men be women and women be men.
I've only touched on this issue and given a brief summary of all the debates that have ranged around this. So let me recommend the following book (which you can get for free online!): "Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood" edited by John Piper and Wayne Grudem. That will tell you all you could ever want to know and a lot more besides about the debate.