Jesus and Paul both gave to women honor and respect that was atypical to the culture in which they lived.  There was such a separation between men and women and their rights and privileges.  Jesus and Paul utterly shatter those paradigms of living.

But, there was a problem.  In Corinth the problem was with disruption.  Perhaps it was from their pagan background or cultural influences, but tongue-speakers, those who prophesied and women were causing disruption in the worship a gather.  A gathering I might add that was probably no more than 20 or 30, in someone’s house and a meeting of believers whose gifts were all used to edify one another.

Paul told each of those causing disruption to “be quiet” but then he told them to contribute, but just in an orderly way.  We see that specifically with tongue-speakers and those who prophesied and we can make decent inference that this is what he was saying to the women as well.  (1 Cor 14).

In Ephesus the problem was false teaching.  In such a large city with the temple of Artemis as the centerpiece, it was no wonder that false teaching abounded.  But there was a woman there who was contributing but her contribution was false teaching.  Paul tells this woman she “must learn” like everyone else, in “quietness and submission.”  She must submit herself to the leadership (which was male) and learn more.

Is this the Way it Happened?

I believe based on immediate context and greater context that this was the teaching of Paul.  Am I 100% sure?  Not at all.  Humility is the most important rule of interpretation.  This text has been studied and wrestled with for two thousand years.  I’m sure it was much more clear in the first century than it is today.

The important thing is that first and foremost,

  • God’s heart is that all people be saved (1 Tim 2:1-2).
  • In the church it is also clear that everyone is to contribute (1 Cor 14:26).
  • God gave gifts to people in order to use them to bless the great body (1 Cor 14:26ff)

I cringe when I hear the stories I’ve heard more than once on the mission field. Women formed a gathering of believer and since there were no men who were believers the women met together, encouraged each other in the Word, interceded for their families and served the broken in the community.  But someone came along and told them they had to disband as they didn’t have a man for a covering.  And a great work of God was stopped.  If we err on the side of the above in our interpretation, things like this won’t keep hitting against the replay button.

But Can Women be Preachers?

One of the biggest challenges to interpreting the text and applying the text is the issue of the structure of modern day “church” compared to first-century practice.  In the first century “church” was the people, elders were men who educated the people and protected from false doctrine, the worship gathering was 20-30 people in a house or courtyard and everyone had a contribution.  Today the church is wood and cement, the elders make decisions on building needs and programs, the worship gathering is a couple of hundred people or more and there are only 5% that get to exercise their gifts–the pastor, the worship leader (and musicians) and the children’s teachers.

This building-centric structure changes everything.  One of the most painful things in missions is when a church building is burnt by rebels or destroyed some other way, and the work of even a large church comes to a halt.  The people believe without a building they can’t “have church.”  Ugh.

How are we then to interpret the text in the current structures in which we exist?

This is a challenge.  First I would like to challenge us that we need to take a radical look at our present structures.  I do not believe that when less than 5% of the people in a congregation get to operate within their gift set and 95% are passive listeners that we have a good structure.  Structures will always look different but our current structure could not be more prohibitive to ministry.  Church needs to be the place where everyone has the ability to exercise their God-given gifts for mutual edification.

Kudos to Francis Chan for seeing this and making the change.  As a pastor of a church of several thousand, he realized he had become everything he didn’t want–the SuperChristian.  He was a published author, renowned speaker in the body of Christ, very successful in ministry and more.  So he resigned.  He realized that for all practical purposes it was mostly him out of several thousand that got to exercise their gift.  He quit and then started smaller churches of 20 and 30.  These have multiplied throughout California.  He actually says ministry is harder as it deals with personal relationships and real people.  (Read Story Here).

I think we too have to develop radical, and I mean radical structural changes.  It’s time for new wine-skins.

In the meantime, however, we exist in “churches” whose structure is not going to change overnight. And these truths still matter:

  • God’s heart is that all people be saved (1 Tim 2:1-2).
  • In the church it is also clear that everyone is to contribute (1 Cor 14:26).
  • God gave gifts to people in order to use them to bless the great body (1 Cor 14:26ff)

Where do women who have a teaching and preaching gift have a place?  For me I believe women can teach/preach.  But is she to be The Preacher in the context of a modern day church?  For this I am more uncomfortable.  The current structure that puts one person in front of the congregation on an on-going every Sunday basis sets them up as the main leader.  Biblical or not, this is the current form of church.  Again, our problem is structure that has redefined functions that are distant from Scripture.

What About You Personally?

For me how I have worked as a missionary in this arena is that I am submitted to the eldership of my local church.  I spread the Word even from the position of a teacher (and sometimes preacher) wherever I go under their authority.  And as such, I have given them the right to speak into my life and to oversee larger decisions.  (Sometime maybe I’ll write a post and tell you of a time when what I heard from the Lord was different than what they heard.)

When I am back locally in my church, they let me preach (on a Sunday morning even!) on several occasions.  Not just talking about missions but bringing an actual word from the Lord.  I also have supply preached locally on occasions when a pastor was out of town and there was no one to fill in.  Again, all under the leadership, directorship, blessing and covering of the elders that were men.

I believe the elders role is to make sure when I come with my teaching gift that I’m walking in good Biblical doctrine.  If not, then they shouldn’t let me or a man bring the Word.

For my Pentecostal friends they are saying, “Is that all?”  “You limit the work of God!” And for my Bible college friends I’m labeled “too liberal,” “gone astray,” “out there too far.”  For me it’s about this:

  • God’s heart is that all people be saved (1 Tim 2:1-2).
  • In the church it is also clear that everyone is to contribute (1 Cor 14:26).
  • God gave gifts to people in order to use them to bless the great body (1 Cor 14:26ff)

I purposely all my life have placed myself under the covering of the men elders of my church.  I believe their role is to release me in my giftings, making sure I do not stray from the foundations of the gospel.  I do not aspire to be a Preacher or elder, just someone who loves the Lord and wants to share His Word.

It’s become a challenge for the first time in my life as I’m in a place where I’m in a new church.  They are not open to women who teach except to other women.  Maybe I will get that opportunity.  In the congregation I will honor that belief.  But if I receive an opportunity to teach a seminar on a Bible subject, I will go.  Even if men are present.   Why?  Because I always want to err on the part of God’s heart that is clear:

  • God’s heart is that all people be saved (1 Tim 2:1-2).
  • In the church it is also clear that everyone is to contribute (1 Cor 14:26).
  • God gave gifts to people in order to use them to bless the great body (1 Cor 14:26ff)

The Lord my Maker is my husband (Is 54:5-6).  I am first and foremost submitted to Him.

Not that Paul is the one I’m trying to please, but I hope if I lived in that day that he could say of me as he did of Phoebe, ‘I commend this woman, receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints’ (Rom 16:1-13) or perhaps he could say like Persis, “a woman who has worked very hard in the Lord” (Rom 16:12).   Or maybe that I was noble like the Bereans who “searched the Word to see if what was taught was true.”

But more important than all I want to hear the words of Jesus,

“Well done, good and faithful servant” (Mt 25:21).

Hopefully my “talents” will have multiplied.