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Should Women Be Pastors?The following is a book review of Women in the Church's Ministry, by R. T. France.
Since many women are becoming pastors in churches in our day, many Christians are discovering how important it is that they study the scriptures in order to determine what they believe is God's will concerning whether or not women should serve as pastors. In his book, Women in the Church's Ministry, A Test Case for Biblical Interpretation, R. T. France offers an argument in favor of the ordination of women as pastors.
In order to prepare the reader for his views, France offers his view of Biblical hermeneutics (interpretation) in Chapter 1. He argues that we can't assume that the New Testament epistles apply to 20th century Christians, due to the following reasons:
However, a liberal use of this method of interpretation quickly endangers the very core truths of Christianity. For example, 1 Corinthians 6:18 instructs the reader to "flee from sexual immorality." Using France's method of liberal interpretation, one could deduce that this only applied to the members of the 1st century church at Corinth, and not to us today. We all know that the Corinthian church had some major problems. The argument would then continue that Paul only meant for them to flee from sexual immorality until they resolved the other problems in their church. Once those were resolved, a little sexual immorality never hurt anybody. This doesn't apply to me because my church doesn't have a reputation for sexual immorality. To restrict me from any and all sexual immorality would be to limit my freedom in Christ. Can you see how dangerous and absurd this becomes? In fact, France uses such means to even suggest that salvation is by works, and not by faith alone, when he cites salvation for women through child-bearing (pg. 69).
France tries to justify his principles for interpretation by somehow comparing them to dispensational truths (although it's difficult to believe that he is a dispensationalist). He cites animal sacrifice (pg. 25) as an example of how we don't apply all scripture to everyone throughout time. However, he fails to mention that Christ brought us the age of grace wherein we are no longer under the law, but under grace (Romans 6:14). Christ was our ultimate sacrifice, so we no longer need to bring animal sacrifices. France tries to invent an ultra-dispensationalism where we can just pick and choose which passages apply, without scriptural support for our decisions.
In particular, relative to women as pastors, France cites two scripture passages which he believes must mean something different than their traditional interpretation, in order to justify his views.
As in all the congregations of the saints, 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. 1 Corinthians 14:33b-35
This passage indicates that in all churches, women should be silent and submissive. For a woman to assume the role of pastor would be disgraceful. France offers the following possible alternative meanings:
A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. 1 Timothy 2:11-12
This passage is probably the most adamant in unconditionally denying women the office of pastor unconditionally. Since the role of a pastor is obviously an authoritative role of teaching (Ephesians 4:11), including the responsibility of teaching men, then women cannot occupy that office. In other words, since women cannot teach men (1 Timothy 2:11-12), and pastors are teachers (Ephesians 4:11) of both men and women, then it follows logically that women cannot be pastors.
In France's view, this passage could mean:
Finally, France simply discounts these verses as "an obscure passage" (pg. 70). After all, he argues, what about some of the other imperatives for women such as the braiding of hair, the wearing of gold, pearls, and expensive clothes, and head coverings (pg. 71)? We don't see many churches adhering to these imperatives, so we must assume them to be obviously outdated. France is saying that since some churches violate these imperatives, it must be OK for us to violate the imperative against women pastors. However, this logic is the same as I used to teach my young children when they argued for certain rights based upon the behavior of their friends. "If your friend jumped off a bridge, would you do it too?" Just because Abraham slept with his housekeeper, does that mean we should sleep with ours?
France also says, "First-century society was of course strongly male-dominated, . . . but the New Testament writers nowhere state that this fact of society is either inevitable or a part of the divine purpose" (pg. 36). To attempt to illustrate his point, he compares the issue of slavery, "which is neither commended nor directly disputed, but which will in due course be undermined as Christian people are enabled to apply the wider principles of New Testament ethics in the context of a changing world-order." However, this is not a valid comparison with the issue of women serving as pastors. The comparison breaks down when we, in fact, do see explicit imperatives concerning women in ministry, as is clearly seen in the above passages.
Women in Ministry
In Chapter 4, France cites many of the various roles of women in the New Testament churches (ppg. 79-88), including the following:
Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach,... 1 Timothy 3:2
One of the main oversights by France is the fact that he fails to discuss 1 Timothy 3 where Paul is giving explicit qualifications for pastors. In order to understand the imperatives of this passage, we must first consider the people and positions whom the Bible calls pastors.
The most revealing passage here is Acts 20 where Paul addresses an assembly of elders from the various local churches in the city of Ephesus, just before his final departure from that city. In verse 17, these men are called "elders" (transliterated "presbuteros"), meaning "old men" or "spiritually mature men." Then in verse 28, these same men are called "bishops" ("episkopos"), meaning "overseers". Also in verse 28, we see that these men are charged to "feed" or "oversee" the "flock". The Greek word used here for "feed" is "poimaino", meaning "to shepherd", and the Greek word used for "flock" is "poimnion", meaning, those whom the shepherd oversees. Therefore, this elder / bishop is also called a pastor ("poimen"), meaning "shepherd", as in Ephesians 4:11, since it is his duty to "shepherd the flock" by teaching and explaining the Bible to them. This is also obvious from the very words themselves: the bishop is called an overseer, and what he is overseeing is called a flock, and the job description of a shepherd is to oversee the flock. This same argument applies to 1 Peter 5:2, where elders are commanded to "be shepherds" ("poimaino"), . . . "serving as overseers" ("episkopeo"). Based upon this logic, the terms elder, bishop, pastor, and overseer are synonymous.
Having shown that the term "overseer" is synonymous with the term "pastor," it cannot follow that a woman can assume the role of pastor. The Greek language in this verse, and subsequent verses, clearly indicates that the pastor is to be a man. Furthermore, he is to be the husband of one wife. In other words, the following test must be passed by the person aspiring to be a pastor: Is this person the husband of one wife? Obviously, no woman passes this test. In addition, 1 Timothy 3 is in agreement with many other supporting passages including 1 Corinthians 11:3 and Ephesians 5:23.
When 1 Timothy 2:11-12 which states that women should not teach or have authority over men, it makes this statement unconditionally. It does not specify this directive only for certain types of ministries, certain services, certain times of the day, or certain teaching techniques.
This argument can also be defended based upon a principle of protestant hermeneutics whereby scripture is used to interpret scripture (Protestant Biblical Interpretation, Bernard Ramm, page 104). Since women cannot teach men (1 Timothy 2:11-12), and pastors are teachers (Ephesians 4:11) of both men and women, then it follows logically that women cannot be pastors.
Lewis Sperry Chafer, founder of Dallas Theological Seminary, is very definitive on this point in Volume 7 of his Systematic Theology. Chafer says, "Woman, as her position has been defined by the Scriptures, is in great peril when out of her sphere which never becomes that of leadership" (ppg. 310-311).
Jerry Falwell contributes to this argument in the Liberty Bible Commentary. Referring to 1 Timothy 2:11-14, Falwell says, "The woman being deceived or beguiled by Satan indicates a fundamental tendency which shows the woman should not be the leader in the home or the church. Paul speaks later (2 Timothy 3:6) how women are susceptible to be 'led away'" (page 2499).
The Wycliffe Bible Commentary says, ". . . women are not to assume either leadership or the teaching office in the church. To illustrate the principle of masculine leadership, Paul cites the order of creation as establishing the man's natural headship (1 Corinthians 11:8,9)" (Page 1373).
Conforming to the World
One of the great dangers here is submitting to societal pressure in order to appease the world and conform to its views (Romans 12:2). Judge Robert H. Bork touches on this issue in his book Slouching Towards Gomorrah. Bork describes the radical egalitarianist who "resents any distinction among people or forms of behavior that suggests superiority in one or the other" (page 5), and insists that both sexes should be "represented proportionately in all areas of endeavor" (page 10). Bork cites the sin of envy as the root of this rebellion against authority, defining it as the dissatisfaction produced "not by what they lack but by what others have" (page 70).
Bork also refers to radical feminism whereby "feminist theory provides a doctrine of original sin: The world's evils originate in male supremacy" (page 196). Bork argues that "the contention that underneath their cultural conditioning men and women are identical is absurd to anyone not blinded by ideological fantasy" (page 198). Furthermore, Bork warns that "radical feminists have very little use for religion or churches as they are, but they do not leave the churches whose doctrines and liturgies they find objectionable. They work from within to change the churches so that the final product will bear little resemblance to Christianity. The feminists call for 're-imagining' the Christian religion, which means rejecting all traditional doctrine" (page 287).
Owen Weber 2009