In most churches, a woman's role is in no way distinct from man's. If a man can preach, so can a woman. If a man can be a deacon, so can a woman. If a man can teach a class (including men), so can a woman. If a man can lead and make decisions for the church, so can a woman. To so many religious people, it would be sexist and primitive to argue otherwise.
And yet the New Testament scriptures do clearly limit the role of women in church.
"Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says. And if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is shameful for women to speak in church" (1 Cor. 14:34-35).
"Let a woman learn in silence with all submission. And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence" (1 Tim. 2:11-12).
"This is a faithful saying: If a man desires the position of a bishop, he desires a good work. A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife..." (1 Tim. 3:1-2).
"Likewise deacons...their wives must be reverent...Let deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well" (1 Tim. 3:8, 11-12).
There is no doubt that these four passages limit the role of women in church. Women are not to speak out during the worship assembly (which would forbid women preachers). They are not to teach over a man, which would prevent them from teaching/leading Bible classes that include men. Even as students, women are instructed to maintain a quiet and submissive spirit. Moreover, regarding the only two authorized offices in the church - elders and deacons - the qualifications forbid women from serving in either capacity. For a woman to be a preacher, a Bible class teacher, an elder (a.k.a. bishop, pastor), or a deacon, they must abandon the authority of the scriptures.
Let me be very clear: this has nothing to do with a woman's worth or value, but rather with her role. To illustrate what I mean, Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11:3, "But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God." If a woman's value is under assault because she is in submission to man, then by necessity, Christ's value is under assault since He is in submission to the Father. Such is NOT the case! Christ and the Father are equally divine, and are of equal value and worth, just as women and men are equally human and of equal value. Again, what all of this illustrates is the principle of role distinction. The fact that women cannot serve as preachers, elders, or deacons doesn't mean that she is of less value to the church, or that her worth is demeaned; it simply means that she has a role that is different than man's role.
Having clarified that, I'd like to get to the main point of this article...
Even though a woman's role is limited in the local church, women are extremely important to the overall function and work of the church. Consider the following points:
- In Romans 12, as Paul describes the church as the body of Christ, He lists some of the functions in the church: "Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching; he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness" (vs. 6-8). How many of these roles can only be fulfilled "in the pulpit" (by the preacher) or by the elders and deacons of the church? I would say that each and every one of these functions can be fulfilled by any Christian. While there are not prophets today (1 Cor. 13:8-11), there were prophets then, and some of those prophets were women (Ac. 21:9). A woman can minister, or attend to the needs of others, even spiritual needs, without speaking out in the worship assembly or assuming a role of leadership. Woman can encourage, or exhort, others. Women can give liberally (of their time, their resources, their wisdom, etc). Women can lead among women - both directly and by example. And not only can women show mercy, some might argue that they are especially equipped by God to show mercy. These same principles are found in 1 Corinthians 12. Yes, there are certain parts of the body that get more attention, but every member is vital to the overall function of the body (vs. 14-25). To put it another way, every single member of the church, man or woman, has a purpose to fulfill, not only the preachers, elders and deacons. In fact, it's often the ones working quietly behind the scenes that are really keeping the church strong!
- While women cannot teach over a man (1 Tim. 2:11-12), women can assist in teaching men. In Acts 18:26, in response to the misguided preaching of Apollos, both Aquila and Priscilla "too him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately." This wasn't done in the church, and yes, I would assume that Aquila took the lead in approaching and correcting Apollos, but we know that Priscilla contributed to the conversation because the Holy Spirit says that "they" did this, not just Aquila.
- As far as teaching is concerned, Titus 2:3-4 says that "the older women likewise...be reverent in behavior, not slanderers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things - that they admonish the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, homemakers, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be blasphemed." Women are actually instructed to teach and admonish other women. Many churches have ladies' classes, and I would say that such is not only authorized, but important to the spiritual health of the women in the church.
- Finally, in Romans 16, Paul lists many men as well as women who played a vital role in the early churches. "I commend to you Phoebe our sister, who is a servant of the church in Cenchrea, that you may receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints, and assist her in whatever business she has need of you; for indeed she has been a helper of man and of myself also" (vs. 1-2). Pheobe was not a deaconness as many today claim, for as we noticed in 1 Timothy 3, only men are authorized to be appointed as deacons (an office). However, she was a servant, as all Christians, men and women, ought to be. But she wasn't merely working quietly behind the scenes unnoticed; the impression I get is that she was very active, and her work was easily seen by the churches. Paul goes on to speak of Priscilla, Mary and many other women who had helped him over the years, and who were all assets to the local churches of which they were part. Again, there are so many duties in the local church that a woman can and should fulfill.
Men, encourage the women in the church to be more active.
And women, if you're not contributing much to the church now, get to work. There is much for you to do!