Difficult Discussion on a Sensitive issue: Major Team Conflict
The team of foreigners we worked with in this church plant was very diverse. There were three different organizations plus independents, six nationalities, multiple languages and theological views and along with various church planting ideas. It was amazing we worked so well together.
One issue that had been bubbling beneath the surface was the role of women in ministry. As usual, this was brought out into the open over a person, not a principle.
The most educated member of the fellowship was a young woman who had been there from the beginning. In addition to her university education in English, she had had a year of Bible school in England, and was now married to a doctor. She had been asked to speak a couple of times in the fellowship and did a good job. Now some were pushing to have regular women speakers with the possibility of them being pastors and elders.
I was conflicted on this issue. On one side I did not see it as fitting in with a biblical worldview. On the other side, I was not comfortable with my position that women should not be pastors or elders or teachers of men, for this view was considered old fashioned, outdated and intolerant. So I did a through study on it, both a “macro” overview of Scripture and then a “micro” exegesis of specific passages. I studied with an open mind, not pre-committing myself to either position, ready to have Scripture guide me to the answer.
To get the macro view, I asked four questions. First, are there any examples in the Old and New Testaments of women having leading positions, such as pastor or elder? The answer is “yes.” For example,
–Adam allowed Eve to take the lead (this was actually the orginal sin!) in the discussion with Satan, and then followed her lead in eating the fruit.
–Abraham, instead of believing God, followed Sarah’s lead in trying to have a family through her maid, resulting in Ishmael and the many ensuing problems that continue down to the present.
–Deborah was selected by God as a judge and prophet. The context makes it clear that He did this because the men were afraid to lead, as Barak demonstrated when he refused to go to war without having Deborah accompany him. This example gives the possibility of a woman leading when no man is available or willing.
–Then there was Queen Jezebel who ran her husband’s life, leading him into many evil practices, including killing the prophets of the Lord.
–And there was Queen Athalia, daughter of Jezebel, who took over the kingdom after her son the king died; she solidified her power by killing all her grandsons.
In the New Testament, there is no example of a woman having such a position, positive or negative.
The second question was, “Is there any passage that commands women to have such a position?” I could not find one.
The third question was, “Is there any passage that encourages women to have a position pastor, teacher of men or elder?” Again, none to be found.
The fourth question was, “Is there any passage that commands women not to have such a position?” And the answer is “Yes, there are several such passages.”
Basically in the whole sweep of Scripture, in principle, practice and precept, men are the leaders of mixed-gender groups, including family and church.
In the micro study, the strongest single statement is found in 1 Tim 2:12-14:
“I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. 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.”
In examining these verses, it was important to see it in the larger context I’d already looked at. In this setting, these verses confirmed all that I’d already seen. Male leadership is announced in creation before the fall, is confirmed in the fall and commanded in the New Testament, tying all aspects of the Bible together.
After doing the study, I was disappointed in one sense in the outcome, for now I was “stuck” with an unpopular and much maligned position. However, I decided that it was wrong to be ashamed of a clearly biblical stance. I should not let the pressure of culture push me away from what God has given. This was another step God was taking in setting me free from the fear of man.
In order to bring this disagreement in our team over leadership in the fellowship to a conclusion, it was suggested that we have a debate, or presentation , and and then let the young budding local leaders decide what should be done.
I gave the presentation for the male leadership principle, using the four questions above. Then the other position was presented. The opening argument was: “God created man first, then woman. That means that women are more sophisticated than men.” This is actually an Islamic argument (their founder is better because he came after Christ), that newer is always better and the locals immediately noted and rejected it.
In the end the young leaders made a clear decision: “no” to women speakers, pastors or elders. But as a concession to those with the other point of view, they said it would be acceptable for a woman to lead a Bible study under the direction of an elder. As everyone had the integrity to abide by the agreed on process, we all accepted the outcome. These decisions kept us working together and prepared the fellowship for launching off on its own.
Sunday School class of workers’ children being taught by Josh when he was about 12