Today we take another step in our series “Paul, Women, and Wives” as we look at arguments for and against women in ministry. Last week I introduced the central argument and we listened to a few of the players. Here’s a brief recap:
The central argument: are women to serve in ministry roles within the Church?
This is a highly controversial issue. Many didn’t know the role of women was a point of contention within God’s church. Some of us didn’t understand how deep the divide went. It is so deep that there are leaders who would go so far as to say you’re not a real Christian—or you’re “committing the most obvious rebellion against God’s word”—if you believe or allow women to preach or minister in an official capacity. Meanwhile, the other side would say that if you believe in the resurrection’s importance, then you must necessarily allow women to preach because it was women who were the first to declare that Jesus was alive. Of course, neither side is making good arguments here. This doesn’t mean there aren’t more robust arguments for either side (there are and we will be looking at them in-depth), it just means these particular arguments (appeals to fear or appeals to irrelevant authority) are weak and unsound.
The players: Complementarians vs. Egalitarians. Complementarians believe that all people are created equal in value but are designed specifically for different roles within the church and society. Egalitarians believe that all people are created equal in both value and roles within the church and society.
Value vs. Function. An essential point to remember is that value is not the issue being debated (at least not in modern times). The debate today is solely about function. People often see their function as their value—not understanding that value must come first leaving function as a derivative of one’s value. If you get the cart before the horse here, you will always be working for your place or position in life—this is true of one’s salvation, and it’s true of one’s earthly relationships as well.
Preserving Unity. The spirit that should govern each of us in this debate—Ephesians 4:1-6 with a highlight on verses 2 and 3.
“…with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” – Ephesians 4:2-3 NASB1995
Today we’re going to walk through some of the arguments made for and against women in ministry. As we do this, I get to touch on one of my favorite topics—debate. And, as I promised, we will address what makes for good or sound arguments and what makes for bad or unsound arguments.
Let’s begin by defining the word minister/ministry. One popular website, GotQuestions.org, does a fairly good job of capturing the secular and sacred concepts of the term.
“A minister is, literally, a “servant,” but the word has taken on a broader meaning in religious circles. Today, a Christian minister is seen as someone authorized to conduct religious services. A person who leads worship services, administrates a church, or conducts weddings and funerals is considered a Christian minister. Synonyms of minister are clergy and pastor.”
“In the Bible, the role of minister is not linked to licensing or being an “official” wielding some kind of authority. In Romans 15:16, Paul says that he was called to be “a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles. [God] gave me the priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God, so that the Gentiles might become an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.” Following in Paul’s footsteps, any person who desires to serve God by “proclaiming the gospel so that . . . others might become sanctified by the Holy Spirit” is a Christian minister. Broadly speaking, being a servant of Christ makes one a Christian minister.”
It’s not even broadly speaking. It’s Biblically speaking to say that being a servant of Christ makes one a Christian minister.
But here’s where the discussion often goes off the rails, and where GotQuestions.org shows itself to be unhelpful in answering questions. What you are about to hear contradicts what was just said. Remember, being a minister is “not linked to licensing or being an “official” wielding some kind of authority,” and yet GotQuestions goes on to say,
Really? Sounds like a license to me. Sounds entirely subjective. And the truth is much of this debate boils down to subjective gobbledygook.
In this week’s Pastor’s Podcast, I shared that calling comes from God and is then observed by men. Calling is not a thing given by men which God must observe. Trust me when I say this is a crucial problem in this debate. I don’t care who you are or what gender you are, calling is not something you choose—it’s something God chooses and your life, giftings, and others affirm this to be true.
GotQuestions goes further to say,
“Although Scripture indicates that the spiritual authority of a local body should be a man (1 Timothy 2:12), other ministering roles are available to both men and women. In most non-Catholic churches, a senior minister is responsible for the majority of the preaching and for overseeing church government. In the New Testament, such men are referred to as “overseers,” “elders,” or “shepherds” (Acts 20:28; Titus 1:7; 1 Timothy 3:1–2). These terms are referencing “ministers” in an official capacity—those having been called by God to lead a church.”
Notice what just happened here: In most non-Catholic (i.e. Protestant churches) a senior minister preaches and governs. Where is that in the Bible? I assure you it’s not there. But remember what came next. In the NT these men are overseers, elders, or shepherds. Therefore, ministers in an official capacity? Where does the Bible connect elder, overseer, shepherd with the responsibility of preaching and teaching the majority of the time?
So where does minister or ministry in an “official capacity” come from? Who sets the definition? We’re not going to find it in the scripture. What we will find instead is talk about all people ministering—all people serving. And what we’ll see in church circles is a debate about elders and deacons and what their gender is.
I am not suggesting that this is not a topic of discussion. I am saying that this is irrelevant to who can minister.
So if a minister is simply a servant, what does the Bible say about women’s involvement in various forms of ministry? According to Paul we will see that any person who desires to serve God by “proclaiming the gospel so that . . . others might become sanctified by the Holy Spirit” is a Christian minister.
Prophet(ess) and Priest
A prophet or prophetess is a ministry frequently described in the Bible. And it promotes women’s direct involvement. As we saw in the definition of minister above, most people think first of pastors when they hear the word, but in the OT, the most common form of ministry concerning declaring God’s word was that of the prophet.
As Craig Keener points out in the book Two Views on Women in Ministry,
“In the OT, prophetesses included Miriam (Exod. 15:20), Deborah (Judg. 4:4), Huldah (2 Kgs 22:14; 2 Chr. 34:22), and apparently Isaiah’s wife (Isa. 8:3). In the NT, they included Anna (Luke 2:36) and Philip’s four virgin daughters (Acts 21:9).”
Paul addressed prophetesses directly in the early church as he affirms women both praying and prophesying publicly, with an obscure command that their heads be covered (1 Cor. 11:4–5). We will look at this topic too during this series.
In Acts 2:17-18, we read Peter’s inspired interpretation of Joel 2:28–29: That when God pours out his Spirit, it will enable another generation, both men and women, sons and daughters, to prophesy. This, by the way, is a companion to what is taking place in Galatians 3:28. Something of the new creation breaking in—something of the fall being corrected and mankind being taken back to its intended state.
Here’s what Luke records in Acts 2,
“‘And it shall be in the last days,’ God says, ‘That I will pour forth of My Spirit on all mankind; And your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; even on My bondslaves, both men and women, I will in those days pour forth of My Spirit, and they shall prophesy.” – Acts 2:17-18 NASB1995
Remember this is Peter explaining to the onlookers on the day of Pentecost what they are observing. This was not something to come but something that was happening at that moment. Women were clearly prophesying, and Peter was led to explain it.
At this point some will contend that the majority of prophetic voices were male. But this doesn’t prove anything.
Although this is true there’s only one office that was exclusively male—the priestly office… BUT!
This brings up a tangential point regarding priests. The priestly office does provide us with some important lessons for ministry but not necessarily the conclusion that ministers must be male. As Protestants, we apply the priestly analogy to all believers (1 Pet. 2:5, 9; Rev. 1:6; 5:10; 20:6).
“5 you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God (Romans 12:1) through Jesus Christ. 9 …you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; (Matthew 28:18-20)” – 1 Peter 2:5, 9 NASB1995
What did we say a Christian minister was? Any person who desires to serve God by “proclaiming the gospel so that . . . others might become sanctified by the Holy Spirit” is a Christian minister.
Let’s look back to Romans 15:16. Paul says that he was called,
“to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles, ministering as a priest the gospel of God, so that my offering of the Gentiles may become acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.” – Romans 15:16 NASB1995
Notice Paul says that he was to minister as a priest. Peter says we are a royal priesthood (neuter). What is the ministry of the priest as per Paul? Preaching the Gospel in an effort to persuade people to believe, thus becoming acceptable and sanctified by the Holy Spirit. The question is then, can women do this? The evidence seems to point to a BIG OLE YES!
Craig Keener points out that “Prophets delivered God’s message. So to voice the objection that women are allowed to deliver God’s message in prophecy but not by teaching Scripture is essential to claim they can minister as long as they do it without using Scripture!”
In the entire era of the judges, only one woman was a judge, and the book of Judges makes a point of showing this was noteworthy. The Hebrew is emphatic:
Craig Keener also points out that,
“while its rareness made it remarkable, the text offers no note of condemnation.”
However, here is something worthy of note for all the Egalitarians, Deborah does not grasp for power but shares it willingly with Barak. And she even points out that her role in all of this is rare.
The term judge in the OT (shafaat) means not only to judge but to govern. Whether she shared this role with Barak to make it acceptable, she exercised some authority over Israel. She even shared Barak’s military leadership, though this was because Barak refused to accept his commission alone (Judg. 4:6–10).
“Now she sent and summoned Barak the son of Abinoam from Kedesh-Naphtali, and said to him, “Behold, the Lord, the God of Israel, has commanded, ‘Go and march to Mount Tabor, and take with you ten thousand men from the sons of Naphtali and from the sons of Zebulun. I will draw out to you Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his many troops to the river Kishon, and I will give him into your hand.’ ” Then Barak said to her, “If you will go with me, then I will go; but if you will not go with me, I will not go.” She said, “I will surely go with you; nevertheless, the honor shall not be yours on the journey that you are about to take, for the Lord will sell Sisera into the hands of a woman.” Then Deborah arose and went with Barak to Kedesh. Barak called Zebulun and Naphtali together to Kedesh, and ten thousand men went up with him; Deborah also went up with him.” – Judges 4:6-10 NASB1995
Some object that God appoints women only when men are not getting the job done. In fact, this very text is what they cite. But even if one were to grant this premise, it would hardly provide an argument against women’s ministry today. But it’s been happening for eons of time.
While refuting objections that point to women who served as prophetesses and teachers and what he called “assistants to the apostles,” John Calvin invokes his theological principle that,
First question: says who? And just to be sure, this is not an argument either. Or instead, this is a logical fallacy called an argument from silence. It’s a no-go. Second question: How does one know when God is interrupting the natural order of male government? Answer: No one knows, or it only happened in the Bible and can’t happen now.
So now we have the term minister defined as a servant of God to live unto Him and proclaim the Gospel. We also see that women can and should do this. We know that women were prophetesses and now are a part of the royal priesthood. And as we just discovered, we have one who judged or governed Israel in some capacity.
“So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.” – Colossians 3:12-17 NASB