“Got Questions about the Role of Women in the Church?”

Pt. 4 of the Series; “Got Questions”

February 3, 2019

 

1 Timothy 2:1, 8-14

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people… Therefore I want the men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing. I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, 10 but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God. 11 A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve. 14 And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner.

 

1 Corinthians 14:34-35

Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. 35 If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.

 

1 Corinthians 11:3-15

But I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head. But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is the same as having her head shaved. For if a woman does not cover her head, she might as well have her hair cut off; but if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should cover her head. A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. 10 It is for this reason that a woman ought to have authority over her own head, because of the angels. 11 Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. 12 For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God. 13 Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? 14 Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, 15 but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering.

 

Galatians 3:28

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

 

Women’s role in the church.  It is with fear and trepidation that I launch into this topic.  Football players will be wearing helmets for the Super Bowl today.  I am thinking I will need a helmet to shield me from the bows and arrows that might be coming my way with this one.  On Super Bowl Sunday, whatever possessed me to think I could tackle this topic?  I should have passed on it.  You ladies might call an illegal procedure on me and I might have to run for a safety.  Maybe I just should have punted

 

But, alas, the purpose of this series has been to see what the Bible says about some of the hot topics we are dealing with in our world.  So, we dealt with shame and guilt, and “Do All Religions Lead to God?” and last week, “The Sacredness of Life” and today may be the hottest topic of all, women’s role in the church.  This one is hotly debated with differing practices among the various denominations.  Some denominations have a very liberal view of the role of women.  They ordain women and have women in high levels of leadership, like bishops.  Others take a very narrow view and don’t allow women to even sit with men in the church service, they can’t vote and they must wear very conservative clothes.  Then, there is our own church body, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod which does not ordain women but has women in other positions in the church usually holding that women should not teach men or be in spiritual authority over men.  And, then there is our practice at Risen Christ which I will get to at the end.  There are many differing views of women’s role in the church.  But, which is right?  I will be quick to tell you that this one is a very difficult issue.  Now, before I really dig in, let me lay out some

 

  1.  Principles to Guide Us

 

  1. This issue should not be decided based on feelings

 

I’ve shared with some of you that I used to have this discussion with my mother.  My mom would say that she did not want to have a woman pastor and she did not want to have a woman doctor.  Then, one day, her cat—yes, my mother had a cat—her cat bit her on the ankle and she developed cellulitis.  This was a long time ago and it landed her in the hospital for a month.  Throughout that entire time her doctor was—you guessed it—a woman.  I always chuckle at that.  My mom had negative feelings about having a woman pastor.  Some people may have negative feelings about having a male pastor.  And, to have those feelings are fine, except to have those feelings for this pastor.  But, feelings are fickle.  They can change even based upon a whim, and feelings should not be the determining factor regarding a woman’s role in the church.  Also,       

 

  1. This issue should not be decided by culture

 

Our culture might say that women should be able to do whatever a man does and should get equal pay for doing that equal work.  Can I hear an Amen! If you think women should be able to do whatever a man does and should get equal pay for doing that equal work.  I heard a lot of female voices on that one.  Can I hear a No! if you don’t think women should get equal pay for equal work.  I know you men out there and you aren’t stupid.  You know better than to reply on that one.  But, listen, our culture says that women should be able to be CEO’s and senators and presidential candidates and heads of state of other countries.  Our culture says that women should be in all kinds of positions that men are in.  They should have every opportunity that a man has.  However, to decide the issue of a woman’s role in the church purely based on a cultural argument is a very slippery slope.  Culture changes with the wind.  What was the culture 50 years ago is very different than the culture of today and not all of the changes have been good.  Let me give you an outlandish example.  Our culture might come to the point of saying that you should be able to marry your dog.  You might be repulsed at that idea but there are those who believe that today.  With the direction of our culture, I wonder if that will be the next big civil rights issue.  So, what if the culture says we should be able to marry our dog and the governor and the state legislature passes laws to that effect, which given our current governor and what the state legislature just passed, that is not so far-fetched.  What if it is put to a vote and it is voted on as the law of the land.  And what if the Supreme Court passes judgments in agreement with that?  Does all of that make it right?  Just because culture espouses something doesn’t make it right, and to decide this issue or any issue purely based on culture could mean that anything goes.          

 

  1. The Bible is the source and norm of faith and practice

 

Women’s role in the church needs to be guided by what the Bible says.  If our feelings and our culture are different from what the Bible says, then we can’t throw the Bible out.  Instead, we throw out our feelings and the culture.  The Bible becomes our source and norm.  Now, there may be varying interpretations of the Bible.  One person or denomination can grapple with what the Bible says on a given issue and may arrive at one conclusion, while another person or denomination can address that same issue and arrive at a different conclusion.  What must be done then is to look at other passages of the Bible to determine the best Biblical interpretation possible.  What can’t be done is to say that what the Bible says is not rational and therefore must be disregarded.  There are those who do just that and this issue cannot be decided upon that way.  The Bible is the source and norm of faith and practice.  So, what I am going to do for the remainder of this sermon is to look at what the Bible says about this issue, arrive at some conclusions and then see how the Bible impacts our practice.  

 

  1.  What the Bible says about Women’s Role in the Church

 

There are 5 main passages we will comment on.  What I am presenting may seem confusing.  I am trying to present what these passages say but also some varying Biblical interpretations of them.  And, let me say it again; these varying interpretations do not in the least question the validity of God’s Word.  The first three all have to do with orderliness in worship.    

 

  1. 1 Timothy 2:1, 8-14

 

We read this earlier.  Paul addresses men lifting up their hands in prayer, women dressing modestly, not wearing braided hair, gold, pearls or expensive clothes, women learning in quietness and full submission, not teaching and not having authority over men.  Regarding women, Paul cites what has been called the Order of Creation, that, “Adam was formed first, then Eve.” and “Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner.”  I knew it was Eve’s fault.  The argument is that since Paul appealed all the way back to the time of creation, that these practices are binding for all ages.  At first glance, this seems quite clear.  So, some maintain that women are to dress properly and are to remain silent in the church.

 

Yet, there are others who have raised questions about this passage.  First, is Paul advocating that men have to lift up their hands to pray?  Can they not fold their hands?  Then, what about women wearing braids or gold or pearls or expensive clothes.  I am thinking that would be a good passage to quote to Nancy with Valentine’s Day coming.  “I’m sorry, Nancy, I can’t get you any gold or pearls because Paul said so.”  And, according to Paul, you can’t be looking like Rebecca of Sunny Brook Farm with braids and all.  If being silent in the churches is for all time because of the Order of Creation, what about these other things like gold and pearls?  Was Paul just addressing one circumstance, the lack of orderliness in worship in the Ephesian church?  There are other places in Scripture where direction is given for a specific circumstance.  For example, the people of Israel had a whole slew of laws concerning blood atonement.  Sacrifices were made to atone for sins in the Old Testament.  No Jew does that today and, since Jesus died for our sins, no Christian either.  Those laws were given for one time and one people.  But, if we might argue that the rules concerning women are not binding for our culture today, why does Paul appeal to the Order of Creation?  This is not an easy answer.   

 

Here’s another question; Paul says that women are not to have authority over men.  What was the  authority Paul was referring to?  This is the only place in the Bible where this word is used so we can’t compare other uses to it.  Did this include political authority?  Yet, in the Old Testament, Deborah was a judge and exercised political authority.  She also exercised spiritual authority, too.  And, if Paul is referring to spiritual authority, what does that include?  Does it include preaching, teaching, voting, being president of a congregation?  These are all good questions.  Who is coming up with these questions?  Oh, that would be I.  Let’s move on to another passage;

 

  1. 1 Corinthians 14:33b-35

 

Paul again argues for silence in the church for women.  His argument here is rather interesting.  He argues from custom.  He says that all of the congregations don’t allow women to speak in church, therefore the Corinthians should not either.  He also appeals to the Law.  Which Law is he referring to?  Is he referring to the Jewish law?  It is true that the Jewish law takes a very low stance toward women, that women are nothing more than property.  They were not allowed to learn the Old Testament Bible and were relegated to a different court at the temple.  There was a court for the men and a court for the women.  Again, was Paul referring to a practice that holds for all time or just in this situation?  Was he merely trying to make a case for orderly worship?  If he was addressing people who had converted from Judaism to Christianity, they would have been accustomed to women being silent in the service.  If, all of a sudden, with the advent of the Christian church, women began standing up in the assembly and teaching, that would have been highly disruptive.  Was Paul just trying to keep order?  Let’s now move to

 

  1. 1 Corinthians 11:3-15

 

Here, Paul argues the case of headship.  He says, “the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.”  What does that headship consist of?  He says that God is the head of Christ.  Is Christ inferior to the Father?  No.  Headship here is functional.  As Christ is different from the Father with different roles and different functions, so woman is different from man, with different roles, different functions.  But, Christ is not inferior to the Father nor is woman inferior to man. 

 

Then, Paul takes up the topic of praying or prophesying.  He argues that a man needs to pray with his head uncovered but a woman should have her head covered.  This is a change from Judaism where a man covered his head to pray.  This is not practiced in most churches today.  And, notice that Paul says that women did pray and prophecy which brings up the stupid question- How silent is silent?  In 1 Corinthians 14, Paul argues for silence and yet in 1 Corinthians 11, he says that women weren’t silent, that they prayed and prophesied.  How silent is silent?  Then, in verse 14, Paul argues from custom.  He says, “Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, 15 but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory?  Our principles tell us that we cannot decide this issue purely based on culture and yet Paul is still under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

 

So, can a woman have short hair?  When I was a wee little tyke, my grandfather required that my grandmother refrained from cutting her hair.  She had to keep her hair up in a bun.  When my grandfather died, do you know what my grandmother did?  She cut her hair and got rid of the bun.  Based upon what Paul is saying, should women today leave their hair grow long or can they cut it?  Even a document from our Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod says, “it is clear that the use of headcoverings in worship was a cultural expression which had a particular meaning within the original context.” [1]  How is this contextual but being silent is not?  What else can we point to from Scripture that will give us direction for this topic?    

 

  1. Galatians 3:28

 

The Galatians passage speaks of the equality of men and women under Christ.  Some have called Paul a chauvinist.  I think he was the greatest feminist of all time.  When you consider the Jewish culture I spoke of earlier that he came out of and the role of women in the ancient world, this statement was incredible.  Paul said that in God’s eyes women are equal to men.  Some have called this the Order of Redemption.  This seems to say that woman should have stronger roles in the church.  Yet, the Order of Redemption does not negate the Order of Creation. 

 

  1. Romans 16

 

I didn’t print that off because of length but Paul lists a number of women in this chapter and calls them “my fellow workers in Christ Jesus.”  This seems to give credence to an expanded role of women in the early church.

 

  1. Other passages

 

The Old and New Testament had a deep respect for women.  Even with the low view of women among the Jews, still there were women who played instrumental roles.  Miriam, Moses’ sister, was considered a prophetess.  Deborah was a prophetess and a judge.  Jesus had women in his entourage.  He spoke to women which no self-respecting Jew would do.  He engaged in a conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well.  She recognized who Jesus was, came to faith, and then went to the town and told them about Jesus.  Would this not be teaching?  On Pentecost, Peter quoted the prophet, Joel as saying,

 

“‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people.  Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. 18 Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.”  Acts 2:17-18

 

Women were not left out of this incredible outpouring of the Holy Spirit.  They were used by God for the proclamation of the Gospel.  Further along in the book of Acts, Acts 18, a woman named Priscilla, along with her husband, witnessed to a man named Apollos.   This seemed to involve teaching a man.  Along with that, the early church had women who prayed and were considered prophets and who did charitable works.  When Peter said, “You are a chosen race a royal priesthood…” that included women.  Martin Luther would say, “But we are all priests before God if we are Christians…For priests, the baptized, and Christians are all one and the same.” [2]  Again, the priesthood includes women.  Women played a hugely significant role in the early church, yet Paul still taught about women being silent and not exercising authority over men.  So, how can we synthesize all of this?  How can we distill all of this down?

 

  1. What is a Summary of the Scriptural Teachings

 

  1. Some believe there is a God-ordained order that must be adhered to

 

This would be the Order of Creation.  They would say that the creation account makes the restrictions on women that Paul lists as permanent.  Adam was formed first, Eve was deceived, therefore women should keep silent.  Women should submit in the home and at church, they would say, regardless of what the culture says.  Yet, we have already listed some of the questions that arise from that view such as, what about braided hair and gold, and how silent is silent when one passage says to be silent and yet another says that women prayed and prophesied.

 

  1. Others say that Paul’s chief concern here is for order in worship and that as culture changes so will the role of women

 

So, these people might maintain that Paul is saying is that if, in a certain culture like Corinth, it would be disruptive for women to speak up in church, then they shouldn’t.  But, if it would not be disruptive in another culture, then women should be free to speak and to teach.  The difficulty with that approach is Paul’s appeal to the Order of Creation.  If he is arguing for order in one place like the church in Corinth but is not prescribing this practice in other cities, in other churches, then why appeal to the Order of Creation? 

 

Another problem with this view is that means you are asserting that these verses were culturally conditioned and that as culture changes, so should a woman’s role.  But then, what else would change?  To go back to our ludicrous example, if the culture said it was okay to marry your dog, then the church would need to change and go along with that.  But, Christianity is, at its core, a counter cultural movement, not one to be fitted into any practice one feels is right.  You can’t just throw out Scripture to meet your fancies.  One thing is for sure, from a cultural perspective and a Biblical perspective, this is one tough issue.  So, what are

 

  1. Some Overarching Understandings from the Biblical Text

 

  1. Women are to be celebrated for their faith and the use of their gifts

 

We need to take it seriously that all people, women and men alike, have amazing gifts that can be used for God’s glory.  Women get to contribute to that as well as men.

 

  1. There are some functions within a congregation which are restricted to men

 

You really cannot read Paul’s words without coming to that conclusion.  Whether this was for one situation for a certain period in time or whether that was for all time is still being debated

 

  1. Whatever functions a woman—or man—undertakes should be an expression of servanthood

 

For a woman to beat the feminist drum to demand to be a pastor is what Paul argued against.  Pastors are at heart servants.  They serve their Lord and the people of their congregation.  For a woman to demand an expanded role in the church, to demand to be pastors, is not the proper motivation for service.  But, to come at any role from a stance of servanthood, that in order to serve Christ and His church, God is calling a woman to an expanded role, that is the proper attitude.  This is true of men and it is true of women.  We are to serve in whatever role God gives us.  

     

  1.  How Do these Scriptural Understandings Impact Practice?

 

  1. Our Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod does not ordain women

 

As long as this congregation remains a part of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, the next pastor of this church will not be a woman.  So, you will not find any women pastors in the LC-MS.  The Missouri Synod goes farther than that.  Our synod also warns against women reading Scripture in the church service, distributing communion, teaching a Bible Study to men or being the president of a congregation.  The synod says it might be better if a woman does not do those things but does not have a hard and fast rule about them except for not ordaining women.

 

  1. Other church bodies do ordain women

 

Some of those church bodies interpret the Scriptures around women’s role as being for just one specific time and are not applicable to today.  Others flatly state that Paul was wrong.  That is very dangerous because that brings into question anything that Paul taught.  Maybe all other things Paul taught were also wrong.

 

  1. What about Risen Christ?

 

We at Risen Christ do indeed take the Bible seriously, as God’s written and infallible Word.  We believe that we have to come to grips with what the Bible teaches and can’t just throw out the Biblical teachings willy nilly.  So, first, the Bible remains our source and norm for faith and practice.  We see the incredible gifts women bring to the table and we rejoice in those gifts, yet still recognize that God’s Word does indeed curtail some of the functions of the church.  So, here at Risen Christ, we have women in just about any role except for being a pastor.  We have had, and currently have, women presidents.  We have women elders.  We have women Lay Ministers and we have women teachers.  But, again, we don’t ordain women.  We revel in all that women in our congregation do and we encourage them and applaud them and stand in awe of them.  Yes, we stand in awe of the amazing ways women carry on the work of the church.  But, we also submit to what the Bible says, even when it is a tough teaching, even if we might disagree, but we submit to what the Bible says and let our practice reflect that.

 

So, there you have it.  We’ve examined the key passages from the Bible regarding women’s role and recognized that their interpretation is rather difficult.  We have laid out a summary of those teachings and some overarching understandings.  And, we have seen how those understandings play into our practice here at Risen Christ.  So, we revel in all of the gifts of the women of this church, their love of Jesus and their commitment to this church.  And, we hold all of that in tension as we apply the Bible to what we do. 

 

So, we finish up our little series, “God Questions?”  We have looked at 4 pretty hot topics, shame and guilt, do all religions lead to God, the sacredness of life and now, the role of women in the church.  We have just one question yet to be answered.  After all of that, after all of the teaching on these very hot topics, the final question is, do I still have a job?  I sure hope so.

 

In Jesus’ name.

 

Amen. 

 

[1] “Women and the Church” A Report of the Commission on Theology and Church Relations,” 1985.

[2] Ibid.