Before we proceed with our study of our topic this morning, let us lay down again the foundational principles we learned from our study of the Biblical Overseers. I will list down several statements which I believe is crucial in order for us to understand the role of women in the ministry of the church.
First, the Bible alone is the final authority of faith and practice and not what society dictates to be true. We pay lip service to the Bible as the Word of God when we approve only of things it says we think is right and yet ignore the things we find offensive and critically opposed to our own held beliefs and practices. Putting it in another way, we say, “I want to be a follower of Christ” but then also say, “I want it done on my own terms”. This practically means we are the final authority and not God and His Word. Well, this cannot be. Many sincere Christians who claim to be “biblically-oriented” and yet treats the serious study of God’s Word as optional. Many so-called “Bible-based” church who claims to put Christ at the center of their faith and yet neglects the Christ of Scripture in their worship and ministry practices. Again, God and not man has the final Word in every matter.
Second, the ministry of the church is far greater than her public ministry. There is a special calling of ministry for able and faithful men but at the same time, there is a general calling of ministry to all the saints of the church. Paul explained this extensively in Ephesians chapter 4 where he wrote, “to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up (verse 12)”. Let us not imagine that the works of service mentioned here only pertains to the public ministry or the special offices in our public worship and church gatherings. We are also called to serve the world in our godly vocations, the society when we engage them with the gospel, and the nations with our missions.
Third, there are restrictions on women in ministry which we all need to submit to and live by. Based on the apostolic authority of Paul, he clearly laid down the prohibition of women in the authoritative teaching in the public and special office of the church. There are two passages which plainly states such restrictions, one is from 1 Corinthians 14 which was in the context of the ordering of worship and the other is from 1 Timothy 2 which also pertains to the instructions on worship.
“Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak but must be in submission, as the law says. 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 (verses 34-35).”
“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. (verses 11-12)”
Now, if we receive the Bible as God’s Word and recognize the apostolic authority of Paul, we should see these passages as God’s will in the church in every place and in every generation. What was the basis of such imperative? Paul mentioned two reasons. The first was in the order of creation, “For Adam was formed first, then Eve (verse 13)”. The second was in the order of redemption: “And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love, and holiness with propriety (verses 14-15). And lastly from another epistle in Ephesians 5, Paul explained in the order of the new creation that under God’s rule, Christ heads the church, his bride, in the same way, the husband shall have authority over his wife. (verses 22-24).
Fourth, we should resist the influence of radical feminism of our day and uphold the biblical view of womanhood. In Roman 12:2 it says, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” We should not allow the patterns of this world mold our thinking, mindset, and behaviors. Instead, we should allow Scripture to renew our minds in order to test and approve God’s will.
While women, by God’s common grace in the society, benefited greatly by such gender-inspired movements, as Christians, we should never dare to imagine we can usurp God’s good, pleasing and perfect will. At yet it should be equally true as well, that we should not go beyond what was clearly prescribed by Scripture in order to bind women in thinking that there is nothing they can contribute in the ministry of the church. In our sincerest desire to protect God’s design for the role of men and women in the church and society, we may put further restrictions that God himself did not place. Positively stated, there are several roles that Scripture calls women to perform and we should examine them and encourage its practice in our church.
Finally, the basic motivation to apply these God-given roles is the gospel of Jesus Christ who accomplished our salvation and at the same time applied his saving work to his people through the power of the Holy Spirit. This promise offers great comfort to any Christian pilgrims of this world. And I pray that every woman in our church will take hold of it in faith.
Women plays an active role in the ministry of the church. While restricted to the office of the elders, women are called to study and learn the whole counsel of God, to speak God’s truth of Scripture, and to pray with the community of faith.
This was adopted from the lecture series of Pastor Robert Fisher of the Reformed Baptists Church of Louisville. If you want to hear from him directly, please visit their mp3 repository at sermonaudio.com. While I drew heavily from his outline, the exposition of the text, the illustration and application came from yours truly.
Pastor Robert listed eight positive things women should or ought to do in the church. I decided to discuss only six. This morning, I will focus on the general activity women should do in the church. I will expose several verses from Scripture which demonstrates such practices, namely, the studying the learning of the whole counsel of God, the speaking of God’s truth of Scripture, and finally, the praying with the community of faith.
In Part 2, I will focus on the diaconial and service type activities where woman are called to actively participate in but for now, let us focus on the three things I have previously listed, to study and learn, to speak the truth and to pray.
To study and learn the whole counsel of God
The people of God in the Old Testament were publicly gathered as an assembly in order to learn the laws and the precepts of God. In Deuteronomy 31, Moses wrote this passage that clearly demonstrates such reality.
Then Moses wrote this law and gave it to the priests, the sons of Levi, who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord, and to all the elders of Israel. And Moses commanded them, “At the end of every seven years, at the set time in the year of release, at the Feast of Booths, when all Israel comes to appear before the Lord your God at the place that he will choose, you shall read this law before all Israel in their hearing. Assemble the people, men, women, and little ones, and the sojourner within your towns, that they may hear and learn to fear the Lord your God, and be careful to do all the words of this law, and that their children, who have not known it, may hear and learn to fear the Lord your God, as long as you live in the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess.” (verses 9-13)
Yet in spite of such plain imperative, the leaders of this nation placed an unnecessary emphasis on men learning instead of the women. Traditions of men from the Jewish and Roman society consider studying and learning as something only men and not women should engage in. As a result, women during these times only focused on household work and since such work does not demand any further education, learning was never an option for women.
Actually, women were considered less compared to men in the society. Reflected in the daily prayers of Jewish men of their day, women were considered comparable to a Gentile or a slave.
Blessed art thou, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who has given to the cock (rooster) intelligence to distinguish between day and night.Blessed art thou, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who has not made me a heathen.Blessed art thou, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who has not made me a bondman.Blessed art thou, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who has not made me a woman.
A woman received unequal treatment in the society and yet in spite of such prejudices, Jesus considered women as equal to the task of studying and learning from the whole of counsel of God. He called everyone, men including women, to hear the Word of God and considered learning it as their part of their calling. His treatment of women in relation to learning was demonstrated clearly in the story of John chapter 4 where Jesus intentionally met with the Samaritan woman. Everything about this meeting was wrong. No self-respecting teacher or rabbi would spend so much time to meet and explain the mystery of the revelation of God to a woman and yet Jesus has done so with this Samaritan woman. Jesus revealed himself as the Messiah when he said: “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he (verses 24-26).” And judging from the reaction of Jesus’ disciples who found Jesus talking to the woman, “Just then his disciples came back. They marveled that he was talking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you seek?” or, “Why are you talking with her? (verse 27).”, we can clearly see that Jesus broke custom by reaching out to this woman. Another place where Jesus commended a woman studying and learning the Word of God can be found in Luke 10. This was the story where Martha was so busy taking care of the food preparations as what anyone would expect from a woman in his or her society and yet when she asks Jesus to discipline Mary, her sister, for not being helpful in the kitchen instead she was learning under Jesus’ feet, She was rebuked by Jesus when He said: “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her. (verses 41-42)”.
Women also studied and learned Scripture from the apostles even since the beginning of the church. In Acts 2:42 where Luke wrote: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” The “they” (plural) was referring to the three thousand people who were added to the church (verse 41). It includes both men and women. So in context, the women were also devoting themselves to the teaching of the apostle. In the same way, Lydia in Acts 16 was converted by Paul’s teaching. The apostle was gathered with the women on a Sabbath day when Lydia heard the gospel teaching of Paul. “On the Sabbath, we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message (verse 13-14).” And even more so, Paul taught the prominent men and women in Thessalonica and Berea. In Acts 17, Luke wrote: “Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and quite a few prominent women (verse 4).” And also from verses 10-12, it was written: “As soon as it was night, the believers sent Paul and Silas away to Berea. On arriving there, they went to the Jewish synagogue. Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. As a result, many of them believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men.” These men including women studied Scripture in order to check whether Paul’s teaching was in accordance to God’s Word.
Paul instructed women to study and learn Scripture even in public worship. The restriction on authoritative teaching does not cover any prohibition to personally study and learn the Word of God. In Corinthians 14, while there was a restriction for women to interpret the tongues as an extraordinary gifting of the church during this ear, the imperative to learn from the revelation of these prophecies were commanded to everyone including women. “For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged, and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets. For God is not a God of confusion but of peace (verses 31-32).” At the same time, the prohibition of 1 Timothy 2 clearly stated that women should not have any teaching authority over men (verse 12). However, this does not eclipse the fact that women are commanded to learn. In verse 11, Paul wrote: “Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness.” Again, women just like men are called to study and learn the Bible.
Let us apply what we have learned from our study so far. I have noticed that there is an unwritten rule that seems to be gaining acceptance with regard to women actively participating in the study and learning of the whole counsel of God. Perhaps because men are expected to take the leading role in the ministry of the Word and in part in the ministry of order, women have been delegating the task of studying and learning only to those who are part or will be part of the special office in the ministry of the church. When the serious study of the Word of God is involved, most of us immediately surrender to the idea that since I will not be the one leading and even more so, teaching in the future, what is the use for me to seriously spending time learning these things from the Bible. Not being called to the ministry of teaching and leading cannot be an excuse to be ignorant. Women should be actively pursuing God’s call for her to study and learn. She should be educated in the things of God.
Why do we consider studying and learning as something for those people who have a special interest on them or only for those who plan to pursue a future in either teaching and leading a church? Contrary to our assumptions, God’s Word is clear. As demonstrated by all these passages we have examined, men including women are called to seriously study and learn the Word of God. Let us not consider that attending reformed conferences which may very well be theological in theme be expected to men in office and not for women who may be interested to learn the deep things of God. Let us not consider studying theological books, even learning systematic theology or reading from the Puritans as something no women can dare do. Studying and learning are not intended for the few and elite men. It is not only for those special men who are called for the special purpose of teaching and leading, in fact, all Christians, including women, are called to the task of study and learning.
To speak God’s truth of Scripture
The next role in which a woman is expected to participate in is in the area of “teaching”. Yes, we heard it right – teaching. You might ask this question: “Pastor, I thought it is forbidden for a woman to teach.” No, a woman is not forbidden to all kinds of teaching without qualifications. Just like money is not the root of all evil but the love it, a woman is not forbidden to all kinds of teaching but the kind that carries with it authority in the public ministry of the church. The word used by Paul to describe this in 1 Timothy 2:11b was “authentein”. The wooden translation of this verse can be: “To teach, however, not I do allow nor to use authority over a man. The word ordering here lay emphasis on the verb “didaskein” which means “to Teach” with a big “T”. Also, the negation is emphatic with the use of the word “ouk”. The same force can be applied to the next verb “authentein” when used with the modifier word “oude”. Therefore, the parallel set between teaching and authority form the singular emphasis on the authoritative kind of teaching. The command to stay silent during the public worship in the church was not to be taken in a literal sense where a woman cannot speak at all. However, she is called to submit to the teaching authority of the office bearers in the church. Are only the women exclusively place under such authority? No, for most men who are not called to the office of an overseer also submit to the teaching and authority of the church.
Stated positively women are called to speak God’s truth. She is called, in a sense, especially those who are gifted in teaching, provide instruction to women and children. She is also called, in some sense to speak the truth to all people including men. What are the examples set by Scripture?
In Acts 2, Luke recorded the fulfillment of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit to all people as promised by the prophet Joel. Here we can understand that the gift of prophecy was given both to men and women. Now, a prophet simply means to become a mouth-piece of God. While there is a sense where the Prophets with a big “P” were called to proclaim God’s Word, as part of the special revelation from God and later on became inscripturated, there is also a ministry of prophecy with a small “p” where men, including women, were called to speak God’s truth with each other.
‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy (verse 17)…even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy (verse 18).”
This not the same as the authoritative teaching of the apostle’s that the elders of the church should establish in the churches. Rather, to prophesy, in this sense, means to herald and to praise God’s word and work. Just like Anna the prophetess in Luke chapter 2, all women are encouraged to do the same.
“There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. 38 Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem (verses 36-38)”
Not only women are called to prophesy in this sense but they were also called to provide instruction in some sense just like Priscilla, together with Aquilla, has done. In Acts 18, it was recorded in Scripture that Aquilla and Priscilla explained to Apollo the whole counsel of God.
Meanwhile, a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria came to Ephesus. He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately. (verses 24-26)
At the same time, women aside from prophesying and explaining God’s word to others, are also called to the specific task of teaching other women about biblical womanhood and in the same way, provide biblical instruction to the covenant children of the church. In Proverbs 1:8, Scripture says, “Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching.” This is not to diminish the role of men to provide spiritual leadership in the household, not does this intend to marginalize the special role of the overseer’s task of leading the church in the teaching of God’s Word. Rather, apart from these roles given to men, woman are also called to provide spiritual instruction to women and children. In Titus 2, Paul gave this specific instruction to older women, “Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can urge the younger women to love their husbands and children (verses 3-4).” Women are called to participate in the training of future men and women who will also serve in the ministry of the church. In 2 Timothy 1, Paul reminded Timothy of the role of the women in his life, “I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well (verse 5).” These women had a positive role in the life of Timothy and Paul commended the instruction they gave to Timothy when he wrote in chapter 3 of the same letter, “But as for you continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings (verses 14-15)”. Women, as well as men, are called to speak the truth in love, according to Paul in Ephesians 4:15. All women should participate and play an active role in the training of young men and women.
What does this mean for us in our church? Well, to start with, Scripture is telling women to participate in the teaching ministry of the church. How? By specifically getting involved with teaching other women and the children of believers. At the same time, women are called to speak the God’s truth to others. But how can this be done without being personally getting instruction and not actively participating in the studying and the learning of Scripture? We may tolerate the mindset that since we only giving instructions to people who do not know any better, we can just simply do without any serious training and preparation. But like what we just labored in our first point, women are called to the serious study and learning of the whole counsel of God. Therefore, by implication, women are also called to train for the proper teaching of women and children and the speaking of God’s truth to others. As you have noticed since the beginning of our study, the ministry of the church takes its priority from the teaching of the Word of God. Everything flows the biblical instruction and training.
I believe that the problem with the participation of women in the ministry lies not on the fact that they were actively involved in everything that the church does. Rather, I think they were not properly participating in things that God has called them to do. Because they were busy doing things which they were not called to do, they instead are usurping the authority of God in Scripture. My wife as you all know is smarter than me. She was better in school than I and I can say that she is more successful professionally than I. Which is why growing up in the church, we were both encouraged to participate in the same way and since she is always better than me people like her leadership. However when she was old enough to become a member of the women’s group, in Tagalog, “Kababaihan”, she resented the fact that she had to become like the old women of our church. As you would imagine, older women in our church lack the biblical training and instruction that Scripture calls them to participate so I believe my wife being smarter than I sees the prospect of becoming one less attractive. She did not have any role model of biblical womanhood who is engaged positively in the deep things of God. As a result, she equated women’s ministry as a social club and not a place to be equipped in the works of service.
Again, women are called to actively participate in the studying and learning as well as the teaching and speaking of God’s Word. Scripture expects nothing less.
To pray with the community of faith
Lastly, included as part of the means of grace, women are called to engage in the spiritual exercise of praying. They are called to participate in prayer during public gatherings like Lord’s Day worship and prayer meetings. There is often an assumption that since seeing only men leading in public worship, prayer is exclusively for those called to the special office. Are we also praying when we formally pray together in worship? Well, Scripture informs us that women played an active role in praying together with the community of faith. Women were not passive in prayer. Rather, they actively participate in praying whenever the saints are gathered.
Again looking back at Anna the prophetess in Luke 2, she prayed and fasted for the coming of the Messiah. In the same way, we know that women were involved in the ministry of prayer even during the time of the apostles. In Acts 1 when the disciples when in the upper room, it was recorded, “They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.” There were women present and they prayed with the disciples. In Acts 2, the three thousand who were baptized includes women and they were also given to prayer (verse 42). In Acts 4, Luke wrote that the believers, including women, prayed together with Peter and John (verse 24). In Acts 12, the believers held a prayer meeting in the house of the mother of John Mark. They prayed for the release of Peter in the prison.
When this had dawned on him, he went to the house of Mary the mother of John, also called Mark, where many people had gathered and were praying. Peter knocked at the outer entrance, and a servant named Rhoda came to answer the door. When she recognized Peter’s voice, she was so overjoyed she ran back without opening it and exclaimed, “Peter is at the door!” (verses 12-14).
Women should gather with the church to pray. They may not be leading the prayer in public gatherings but they are called by God to be given in the ministry of prayer. We often see the weakness of prayer because we mistake as a passive activity compared the visible and more prominent gifts in the public ministry of the church. However such mindset undermines God’s sovereignty and power of His Word. God works through means and prayer is one of those God-appointed means of accomplishing his purposes.
There was a question about what we should be doing in the praying part of our liturgy. Should we pray as well together with the leader? Well, yes! God expects nothing less. We labor to list prayer items in our bulletin so that we can be made aware of what we need to pray for as a congregation. Let us not mistake this as a list of things we only surrendered to God because we don’t have anything else to put. The list reminds every one of our calling to prayer for each other. In the same way, women are called to individually engage in this ministry. We are not passive in prayer. We actively participate in the prayer ministry of the church.
Women, as well as men, are called to study and learn the whole counsel of God, to speak God’s truth to others, and to pray together with the community of faith. Let us receive God’s call in gratitude and continually seek God’s grace as we conform ourselves to the good, pleasing and perfect will of God. May the Lord continue to teach and lead us. Amen.
Rev. Lance Filio is a minister of the Word and Sacraments at Zion Cornerstone Reformed Church (Imus). He finished his Bachelor Degree in Electronics Engineering at Mapua Institute of Technology and He is currently taking his Master of Arts in Theological Studies (MATS) at MINTS. He lives in Taguig City, Philippines with his wife and three children.