“I can’t believe they hired a woman to preach there. What a shame.”
My family and I were driving past the church that my dad had previously pastored. I was nine years old at the time, a firm believer in Christ, and the statement struck me as odd.
“What’s wrong with a woman preaching?” I asked.
“The Bible says women aren’t allowed to preach or pastor churches. That’s only for men.”
A terrible grief pierced my heart. Really, God? I wondered. You would save me from my sins, teach me your Word, fill me with your Spirit, cause me to love you with my whole heart, then say I can’t minister in your church because…I have a vagina?? I just couldn’t believe it.
Later, I was taught the scriptures that my family had referred to on that fateful car ride. 1 Cor. 14:34-35, which said women must remain silent in the churches. And then 1 Timothy 2:12, which said women could not teach or “have authority over” men. There it was, in black in white. The last word. God just didn’t want women in ministry–for whatever reason. I just had to accept it and chalk up my desire to preach to a pride issue.
Except that it still didn’t make sense to me. And when I say it didn’t make sense, I mean logically, in the context of both the gospel and of the Bible itself.
Let’s begin with the gospel. God created man and woman. Both man and woman sinned and required redemption. Jesus Christ came to earth and died for the sins of ALL mankind. Romans 3:23-24 states, “[F]or all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” All means all, right?
There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28)
Right. Then Jesus tells his disciples that after he ascends to heaven, he will send the Holy Spirit to them as a guide and a comforter. The purpose of the Holy Spirit would be largely two-fold:
1. To remind them of everything Jesus taught them and to instruct them further in the things of God (John 14:26)
2. To empower them to be witnesses of Christ’s life, death and resurrection to every person throughout the world (Acts 1:8)–in other words, to fulfill the Great Commission given by Jesus to his disciples in Matthew 28:19-20:
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”
Now it’s interesting to note here that not all of Christ’s disciples were male. All of the Twelve were male, but Jesus had more than 12 disciples. There was a group of Christ’s followers known simply as “the women,” and once in a while scripture lets us glimpse them at the Savior’s side (try Luke 8:3 and Mark 15:40-41). These women were in the upper room when the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost (see Acts 1:14), and, like the male disciples, they were all filled with the Spirit and spoke in tongues and prophesied. We know this because the Bible says “all of them were filled” (Acts 2:4). And they were filled in accordance with a prophecy that stated the Spirit would be poured out on both men and women, and they would both prophesy (Acts 2:18).
So here’s a question: if God did not intend for women to preach, or teach beyond children’s Sunday School, or hold ministerial positions within His church, why did He bother to empower them for such work? It’s like giving a teenager a Ferrari for his birthday, but then saying, “You can only use it in the driveway.” A powerful gift used to less than its full purpose drains energy, wastes resources and leaves a heart full of longing.
And then there’s Paul’s own writings. On the surface, 1 Cor. 14:34 looks pretty clear: women must remain silent in the church. There’s just one problem with that: It contradicts the very sentiment Paul expresses in verses 26 through 31. Take a look:
What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up.
If anyone speaks in a tongue, two—or at the most three—should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret. If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and to God.
Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said. And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop. For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged.
So Paul collectively addresses the “brothers and sisters” of the Corinthian church, acknowledges their spiritual inspiration, assures them that they can ALL prophesy in their turn under the rules he is setting up for their benefit (all means all, right?), then immediately follows that up with “Oh, by the way, I forbid women to speak at all, under any circumstances”? Apparently, Paul was schizophrenic.
Or he meant something else entirely.
I have to believe that Paul meant something else, because this is not the only time he contradicts himself when it comes to writing about women in ministry. Remember when he said in 1 Timothy 2:12 that women couldn’t teach or have authority over men? He then goes on in 1 Timothy 3:11 to outline the qualifications for female deacons–a position of spiritual leadership in the church.
And before anyone attempts to claim that Paul is referring only to the wives of male deacons here, let me point out that Paul allowed women to serve as deacons in his ministry, even admonishing the church in Rome to receive the female deacon Phoebe on his behalf “in a way worthy of [the Lord’s] people and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been the benefactor of many people, including me” (Romans 16:2). He also called Junia, another woman, “outstanding among the apostles” (Romans 16:7), and described how Priscilla, in conjunction with her husband, was instrumental in the instruction of a zealous Jewish preacher named Apollos (Acts 18:24-26)–who, by the way, had a penis.
For someone who didn’t permit women to speak in the church or teach men, Paul certainly let it happen. A lot. And then described it in favorable terms.
This is why I could never accept the idea that God wanted to exclude women from church ministry. I would sit under teachers who could harp for days on why ministry was improper for women, drawing on all kinds of references to Eve as the first sinner, women as the weaker sex, the headship authority of men, the importance of raising children, etc., etc. Then I would open up the gospels and see Mary sitting at Jesus’ feet, and Jesus saying she had chosen the better thing; the Woman at the Well becoming Christ’s first witness in Samaria; the women standing by the cross as Jesus died–then later, like Peter and Paul, crossing oceans to build the body of believers around the world…and the theological gymnastics designed to keep half the body of Christ silenced and ineffective would fall apart in my mind all over again. It just didn’t add up in the sum total of God’s stated purpose:
For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. (John 6:40)
How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” (Romans 10:14-15)
I think I’ll heed the call of God and preach.