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Women in Church Leadership
Based on Scripture, a denomination undertakes the challenging task of determining whether they should ordain women as pastors and elders in their churches.

Part One

An introduction
by Joseph Tkach

In 2003, the Worldwide Church of God (WCG) announced we would be formally considering the role of women in the church. We invited members and pastors around the world to send us their research. As we expected on this controversial issue, we received a variety of responses. Some were well thought out; others gave opinions without any particular support.

The question is sometimes phrased as "women in ministry," but we should note that we have always had women in ministry.

Members of our doctrinal team read these papers and discussed the issue for several months—and several more months of discussion are scheduled. In this article, we are publishing an introduction to the topic. This article is a committee product, and although not every member of the doctrinal team sees this issue in exactly the same light, we present here some introductory matters that we agree on.
The question is sometimes phrased as "women in ministry," but we should note that we have always had women in ministry. That is, we have always had women who served in the church in a variety of roles, and we've had women who were leaders of groups within the church (although their role as leader was not always acknowledged with a specific title).
The question before us is whether women can be ordained as elders. A related question would be whether women can serve in leadership offices that are generally reserved for elders, such as senior pastor, district superintendent, etc.
This is not simply an academic question. In some of our smaller congregations, women are already serving in roles of spiritual leadership. As the Worldwide Church of God has learned more about spiritual gifts and lay ministries, we have also observed that gifts in areas of spiritual service, such as worship, biblical studies, public speaking and pastoral care, are not limited to men.
In some cases, women are currently serving on congregational leadership teams, not because of any push for feminine representation, but because the congregation believed, and the district superintendent agreed, that these particular women had spiritual maturity and belonged on the pastoral leadership team.
Before we entered this study, some members of our doctrinal team felt that these women could be ordained as elders; other members believed that the Scriptures forbid the ordination of women as elders, and some were undecided. Our goal is to understand what the Bible says to us about this subject. We are in agreement on the introductory issues, as the article below presents them.
We plan to publish more articles as we continue to work through the questions in a systematic way. Our next paper will be on the subject of ordination: just what does it mean to ordain a person to a role in the church? Future articles will examine the major relevant Scriptures to see what they do and do not teach.
We believe it is just as important for members to see how we reach our decision, as it is to read the final decision. It is my prayer that we will all learn from the process, and be filled "with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that [we] may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God" (Colossians 1:9-10).

The Worldwide Church of God Statement of Beliefs does not say anything about women in church leadership. However, it does say that the Bible is "fully authoritative for all matters of faith and practice." Our question then is, What does the Bible says about women's role in the church? Our starting point, and the final authority, is Scripture.

How do we decide what God's will is?

Our Statement of Beliefs also says that we are willing to grow in knowledge, willing to respond to God's guidance. We recognize that we do not always understand Scripture perfectly. Some parts of Scripture are difficult to understand. Others parts are easy to understand but difficult to apply.

Scripture often calls on us to resist trends within society; at other times it encourages us to follow cultural customs. For example, Scripture includes the following command: "Greet one another with a holy kiss" (Romans 16:16; 1 Peter 5:14). Although Christians in some cultures have no problems with this command, people in America generally do, and in the WCG we have long considered this command to be based in culture and not a timeless truth. We encourage members to implement the principle of the command, without obeying it literally, even though Paul probably never thought the day would come when a kiss would be offensive rather than friendly.

When Peter and Paul wrote their commands for a holy kiss, they were influenced by their culture. When Paul told slaves to obey their masters (see Ephesians 6:1), he was accommodating himself to culture. He was not advocating slavery itself. There is no question that some of his commands apply only to his culture. Others just as clearly are timeless, and there are a few in the middle that are debatable.

So, the question is, how do we tell when a biblical command is based on culture and in need of modification for the different cultures we live in today? How do we tell when a command is timeless? When Paul writes that he does not permit a woman to teach or have authority over men (see 1 Timothy 2:12), is he just expressing his own opinion (after all, he states it as what he does, and not as a command), or should we treat his policy as a permanent rule for the Church?

How do we decide what God's will is? It is a question not just of what Scripture says, but what it means for us today. Should we apply it literally? Or should we (as with Romans 16:16) analyze what principle lay behind Paul's words, and follow that? Let us look at an example of a conflict between Scripture and culture. Although this example is not an exact prototype for the issue of women in the church, it does help illustrate the question.

Comparison with slavery

In 1 Timothy 6:1-2, Paul tells Christian slaves to respect their Christian masters, and he never commands the masters to free their slaves. Is Paul therefore supporting slavery, as many 19th-century Americans argued? Or was he simply going along with culture, so the Gospel would not be seen as an enemy of society—"so that God's name and our teaching may not be slandered"?

Slavery had a few positive functions in ancient society, but Paul could have challenged slavery itself as demeaning, as contrary to the love that should characterize God's people, and as a violation of the created order. But he did not; neither did he challenge the political system of Rome, the frequent brutality of the army, or unfair methods by which taxes were collected.

Nevertheless, the Gospel challenges culture. It challenges us to treat poor people with respect, not to favour the rich (see James 2:1-7). The Gospel challenged Jews to treat Gentiles as equals; it challenged Philemon to treat his slave Onesimus "as a dear brother" (see Philemon 16). If masters treated their slaves as family members, then slavery would soon disappear—and in this way the Gospel challenged the attitudes that allowed slavery to exist. The Gospel sowed the seeds that undermined the injustice of slavery—but the Bible does not attack slavery directly.

Some people today say that the Gospel sows the seeds that undermine gender restrictions, too. Galatians 3:28 says, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." This verse is about equality in salvation, but does it sow the seeds for leadership equality within the Church, too? Is it not possible for people to have equal importance within the Church without having the same roles? However, the Church no longer treats Jews and Gentiles differently; we denounce as unjust the existence of slavery; should we also stop differentiating between men and women when it comes to leadership in the Church?

In other words, when Paul said that women should be silent in the churches, was he simply going along with his culture, just as he went along with slavery, knowing that the Gospel would eventually correct the problem? Did he expect his comments in Galatians 3:28 to eventually counteract his comments in 1Timothy 2:12? Or was he so close to his culture that he never really thought about it, just as he probably assumed that a holy kiss would always be fitting and appropriate? Or was Paul giving a policy that provides permanent guidance for the Church?

History

The Church has not always been on the right side of cultural questions. When it came to slavery, some Christian churches were in the forefront of the move for emancipation. But in the 20th century, many churches resisted the cultural move for social equality for the descendants of those slaves. Sometimes culture is right, sometimes it is not.

Culture sometimes asks ethical questions, but for Christians, culture cannot answer them.

Culture sometimes asks ethical questions, but for Christians, culture cannot answer them. Rather, we look to Scripture as the foundation for what we do. Even if some cultures in the 1930s said that we should treat Jews as subhuman annoyances, the Gospel says that Christians should have resisted the cultural trend, even though some church bodies went along with it. But when it comes to the authority of women in the church, it seems that the church is responding to culture rather than being an initiating force.

Nevertheless, we believe that the scriptural record as it pertains to women in roles of leadership requires careful study and a detailed response to the question of the ordination of women as elders.

Dealing with differences

The issue does require careful study. When it comes to a holy kiss, we can't just say, "The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it." That approach may sound humble, but it is simplistic and arrogant, because it assumes that "I" have the only accurate understanding of what Scripture teaches.

The truth is that we all come to Scripture with some assumptions from our own culture. Some of us come from a culture where women are expected to submit to men in particularly restrictive ways; others of us come from a culture that encourages women to think for themselves and to take leadership roles.

Some cultures today are similar to ancient culture in their attitudes about women; others are quite different. Some people are afraid that any change in gender roles will cause more social chaos; others feel that changes are necessary. Each of us needs to be aware of the bias we bring to the Bible and, through discussion with one another, see how our particular bias might be influencing our understanding. In that way we let the Bible speak to our biases.

Prayer is an indispensable part of the process—we want to discern God's will, rather than assuming that we have already got it right. We want to understand why some sincere Christians come to different conclusions on this issue, and then we want to decide which explanation seems more likely to be what God intended when He inspired the Scriptures. We want the Holy Spirit to guide us into all truth (see John 16:13)—and that means that we don't have it all yet. No one does.

Since no one group has a perfect understanding of all the issues, there are some differences of opinion on biblical interpretation, even when there is agreement on the most basic doctrines of the faith. Some Christians think that the Bible instructs women to be completely silent in church; others do not, even when those holding each view have an equal belief in the authority and accuracy of the Bible.

Some Bible-believing Christians believe that women must wear a covering on their head when in church; others do not. The question we have is not whether to believe the Bible; it is how to understand what the Bible is teaching. Are the biblical restrictions on women cultural, like the holy kiss, or are they permanent, like the prohibition on adultery?

Since conservative Christians are divided on this issue, we would be naïve to think that we will achieve unanimous agreement. No matter what conclusion we come to, some will think we have not weighed the evidence fairly. Our unity, however, depends on Christ, not on complete agreement on every point of doctrine.

There are many doctrines that are essential to Christian faith—for example, the Church must teach that there is only one God, and that we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Yet there are many other doctrines that are not essential to our faith, but are practical guidelines or policies for our physical life, and these may differ from culture to culture, or from one time in history to another. We want to get them right, but we must also understand they are not essential to what it means to be a Christian. We believe that eldership of women is one of those doctrines—a policy matter, not part of a church's statement of beliefs.

No matter who a congregation's elders are, they are not perfect, and we have to respect them anyway. We have to weigh what they say, accept the true and overlook minor mistakes. That would be the case whether an elder is or is not a woman. We might like to be part of a church with all the guaranteed correct answers, but such a church does not exist. Spiritual growth does not depend on being in a perfect church. Rather, we must learn to do the best we can in the circumstances we are in, trusting in Christ to cover us with His righteousness.

Some members would be disappointed if a church permitted women to be elders; others would be equally disappointed if a church did not. We invite you to study the issue prayerfully along with us. We can all learn, and as we share the strengths and weaknesses of various arguments, we may agree on the results.



Part Two

Introduction
by Joseph Tkach


Many people can probably agree with Thomas Schreiner when he writes, "The role of women in the church is probably the most emotionally charged issue in American evangelicalism today." *1) It is being debated among Roman Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox as well as among Evangelical Protestants. It is a difficult subject, sometimes filled with bitter accusations, sometimes with claims about the Bible that are not biblically substantiated or justified, and sometimes with fears about what might happen if a change is made, or fears about what might happen if one isn't.

We did not want to ignore any evidence, nor any important question.

Over the past nearly three years, our doctrinal team, with international input, has been studying this issue cautiously, with prayer, with a desire to understand what the Bible teaches us to do. At each stage of our work, we shared the preliminary results with pastoral supervisors and then pastors, seeking comments and feedback. After revising the study papers based on their input, we published them in print or on our website. We did not want to ignore any evidence, nor any important question. Sometimes we had to acknowledge that there is not sufficient information available to be completely certain about a few issues, but this does not, in the final analysis, prevent a conclusion about the overall question.
In this final paper, the team summarizes what we have found, and then tackles some questions about how we will apply these findings in the church today. It is my prayer that we all approach this subject with the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control of God's Spirit.

Biblical teaching and modern application

We have surveyed the teaching of Scripture as it pertains to women in leadership in ten studies. Here is a summary of each paper:

Paper 1:"Women in Church Leadership: An Introduction" (May 2004). The question is complex, and scholars with equal allegiance to the Scriptures come to different conclusions on the matter. It is not a question over which Christians should condemn one another, nor a question about which we need to break fellowship with people who come to different conclusions.

Paper 2: "The Nature of Leadership in the Church" (July 2004). Leadership in the church entails service—it is not a right, nor a personal privilege. People should not be seeking positions of leadership (or defending them) in order to get respect or any other personal benefit. People do not have to become leaders in order to be fully human, fully Christian, or equal to others. People can have leadership gifts without necessarily being leaders in the church.

A leader in the church must set a good example, have a good reputation, and be able to teach. The effectiveness of a person's leadership in the church is largely dependent on whether members actually look to that person for spiritual leadership. With authority comes responsibility, and authority must be used to serve others.

Paper 3:"Men and Women in Genesis 1–3" (September 2004). In the beginning, God created male and female in the image of God, as persons who could be equal heirs of eternal life as His children. God gave both male and female authority over Earth and its creatures (see Genesis 1:26-27). Genesis 2 tells us that God created the man before the woman, but it does not draw any conclusion about authority from this. The point being emphasized in Genesis 2 is that it is not good for a man to be alone.

The apostle Paul uses Genesis in a selective way. He notes that men are made in the image of God without mentioning that women also are (see 1 Corinthians 11:7); he notes that men were created first when he argues that women should wear head coverings when they prophesy in church (see vv. 8-10). Paul is not commenting on the meaning of Genesis itself, and the fact that he uses Scripture in his argument does not automatically mean that his conclusions about head coverings apply in all cultures.

The first biblical mention of the rule of men over women comes in Genesis 3:16, in which God describes the consequences of sin. The verse indicates a change in the relationship between men and women—that man's rule over woman is a result of sin. This suggests (but does not prove) that when men and women are in the Lord, authority is not based on gender.

Paper 4: "Men and Women in the Books of Moses" (October 2004). Old Testament laws sometimes mentioned women specifically, but they were normally written as if only men were involved. Both in custom and in law, men had advantages over women. As Jesus noted, the laws of Moses did not prescribe an ideal society, but those laws were often concessions to an imperfect society (see Matthew 19:8). The fact that only men were priests (only from one tribe, we should note), therefore, carries no weight in the question we have regarding leadership in the church. It was a rule for a different culture and a different covenant.

Paper 5:"Women in Ancient Israel, From the Conquest to the Exile" (March 2005). Although Israelite culture gave advantages to men, there are examples of women who had important roles. God chose Deborah to be a prophetess and a judge; the people "came to her to have their disputes decided" (see Judges 4:5). She was a civil leader, and as a prophetess, she gave orders from God to the male leader of Israel's army. God gave this woman authority over men—an authority that was both religious and civil.

God used Huldah the prophetess to give authoritative words to Hilkiah the priest and other men (see 2 Kings 22:14-20). She had spiritual authority. Later, God gave Esther civil authority over Jews in the Persian Empire. These examples show that, even in a patriarchal society, God permitted certain women to have significant civil and/or spiritual authority.

Paper 6:"Women in the Ministry and Teachings of Jesus" (April 2005). Jesus treated women with more respect than was common in that culture, and women had important roles in His ministry, traveling with Him and providing for Him. Jesus did not try to correct every social wrong. It would have been nearly impossible for women to function as apostles in that society, and the fact that all 12 apostles were men may also be due to the fact that they corresponded to the 12 sons of Jacob. Further, the 12 did not set a pattern for future church leaders—not in ethnicity, not in number, and therefore possibly not in gender.

Paper 7:"Women in the Early Church" (June 2005). Women had important roles in the early church—influential enough that when Saul persecuted the church, he imprisoned women as well as men. After Saul's conversion, women were some of his most-praised co-workers. Paul mentioned women who worked "at my side in the cause of the Gospel" (Philippians 4:3). This indicates that women had a significant role in evangelism. Galatians 3:28 mentions three prominent social divisions in the first-century world, and proclaims that these disparate social groups become one in Christ. This equality should affect relationships among believers, although it may not require identical roles.

Paper 8:"Women Who Pray or Prophesy: 1 Corinthians 11:3-16" (November 2005). In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul argues that women who pray or prophesy in the church should wear a head covering. Although we cannot be sure what this covering was, or its role in Greco-Roman society, we conclude that Paul was telling the believers to conform to certain cultural customs. He uses several supporting arguments, some of which do not apply in our culture, and others that are not clear today because he was arguing for a custom of his own culture.

Although the custom was based in culture, Paul uses Genesis as one of his supporting arguments (see 1 Corinthians 11:7-12), showing that an argument from Scripture does not necessarily indicate a normative or permanent conclusion. Paul's instructions were appropriate for his society, but the specific details are not necessary today. However, this passage clearly shows that women may prophesy in church, and Paul later describes this type of speaking as something that strengthens, encourages, comforts and edifies the Church (see 1 Corinthians 14:3-4).

Paper 9:"'Women Should Remain Silent': 1 Corinthians 14:34-35" (December 2005). In 1 Corinthians 14, Paul calls for orderliness in the worship service. He says that people should speak in turn, and then be quiet. He says that women were not allowed to talk, but should be quiet and ask their questions later. In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul has already acknowledged that women were speaking in church; he does not mean here that they cannot speak at all. Since we assume that chapter 14 does not contradict chapter 11, we conclude that Paul prohibits some other form of talking. He calls for women to be quiet not as a universal rule, but apparently because they were causing problems with disruptive questions in Corinth.

Paper 10:"Questions About 1 Timothy 2:11-15" (May 2006). When Paul wrote 1 Timothy 2:12, he again wrote that women should be quiet; he did not permit them to teach or to have authority over men. The reasons he gave for this policy are less than clear, since it is not self-evident that males should have exclusive authority in church simply because the man was created before the woman.*2) The obscurity of vv. 14-15 suggests that Paul was addressing erroneous ideas that were being taught in Ephesus at the time.

Paul clearly permitted women to speak edifying messages in the Corinthian church; his prohibition here should be seen not as revoking that permission, but as a policy needed for the situation that Timothy faced.*3) We believe it is not a universal rule that must govern all churches for all time. It was, just as Paul stated, a policy, not a permanent restriction based on gender.

Just as Paul counseled slaves to be obedient without endorsing slavery itself, he counseled women to be submissive in Ephesus without intending to make that social situation permanent. Just as we accept his policies about widows (see 1 Timothy 5:3-16) as temporary, so we accept his policies about women in church leadership as temporary.

An elder must be a husband?

We will add here a further comment on 1 Timothy 3:2—"The overseer must be … the husband of but one wife." There are a number of questions about this verse, but we will focus on one: Does this mean that elders must be husbands, and therefore male? No. There are five responses.

If the elder is a husband, he should be a good one. It does not address all other possible situations.

1. Paul wrote to the situation that Timothy was in, and that situation did not then allow female elders, so Paul did not cover possibilities that were not viable options at the time, just as he did not discuss what pastors should do with widows after social situations had changed.

2. We do not believe that elders must be married only once. Single men, and widowers who remarry, may also be elders. The focus of the passage is that if the elder is a husband, he should be faithful to his wife. The verse covers the most common situation, and Paul assumed that Timothy could figure out the other situations.

3. Paul did not intend his list to be interpreted in a legalistic way—his recommendation that new Christians not be appointed as elders (see 1 Timothy 3:6) would not apply in new churches (and consequently Paul does not include this requirement in Titus 1:6-9).

4. Biblical laws are often phrased in the masculine even when they apply to women as well. (Paul's frequent use of "brothers" includes female believers, too.) Throughout 1 Timothy 3, Paul stresses that an elder should be a good example; v. 2 simply gives details about what this means for a husband: If the elder is a husband, he should be a good one. It does not address all other possible situations.

5. Even though Paul told Timothy that "a deacon must be the husband of but one wife" (v. 12), it is still possible to have a woman deacon (see v. 11; Romans 16:1)—this rule was written in the masculine even though it also applied to women. In the same way, verse 2 may apply to women even though it is written in the masculine.

Difficulties in application

In our detailed examination of the Bible, we did not find any Scripture that forbids women from being recognized as spiritual leaders in the church; there is no verse that makes a permanent restriction on women. Our understanding is that the question of whether women may serve as elders and pastors is a cultural question on which the Bible doesn't set forth a permanent restriction. The Scriptures concerning this question are cultural and social in character, concerning the leadership of the church in the first century. In most parts of the world, today's cultural context is not the same as it was in the first century. For example, in the first century the Church allowed slavery, something we would not allow today. And the role of women in the public sphere was different in the first century than it is today.

Selection of elders and pastors should be based on seeking out the best person to fill the responsibility, according to the principles in the Scriptures, the needs of the congregation, how the congregation sees these issues, the cultural environment, and whom God can be seen using, without regard to whether the candidate is male or female.

Just as we consider the holy kiss, foot-washing, the widows' roster, and head coverings to be rooted in culture and not required today, we conclude that Paul's restrictions on women in leadership were rooted in culture or based on specific circumstances in his churches, and it is not necessary for the church to consider that restriction permanent. Since the WCG does not want to forbid something that the Bible does not forbid, we will no longer forbid women from being ordained as elders and appointed as pastors. We want churches to be led by the best personnel available, without making unnecessary restrictions on who that might be.

However, we recognize that there are a number of practical considerations involved in applying this change in policy.

First, not all WCG members will agree with our conclusion. Reasonable, well-trained scholars sometimes come to a different conclusion—perhaps by concluding that 1 Timothy 2:12 is the "clear" Scripture and 1 Corinthians 11 is the unclear one.*4) The WCG leadership respects honest differences of opinion, and does not want to impose leaders on congregations in which most of the members will resist their leadership.*5)

Second, not all women are suited for leadership, just as not all men are. Only people who have the spiritual gifts needed for leadership should be appointed as leaders. We expect that if spiritual gifts are present and the need exists within the congregation, they will be recognized by the congregation.

Ordination of elders emerges out of the local congregational situation where a person's recognized spiritual gifts and heart for ministry, regardless of gender, determine aptness for ordination.

Third, there are local situations (just as there were in Ephesus) in which it would be counterproductive to have female leaders. Some cultures and subcultures around the world view female leadership as offensive. Although cultures sometimes surprise us in allowing exceptions to tradition, it is still necessary to assess which leaders will have "a good reputation with outsiders" (1 Timothy 3:7).

In short, our denominational position is that women may be ordained as elders and appointed as pastors.*6) This is a permission, not a requirement. We do not plan to seek female candidates for the office of elder or pastor merely on the basis of their being female, but elders and pastors may from henceforth be chosen from among males and females alike. Elders and pastors, whether male or female, should be ordained and/or appointed based on

1) whether the person has the appropriate leadership gifts,
2) whether members of the congregation affirm these gifts by looking to that person for spiritual leadership, and
3) whether the congregation needs another elder or a pastor.

Questions and concerns

What happens when a woman ordained as an elder in a given congregation moves to a different congregation? When a WCG elder, male or female, moves to a different congregation, the ordination continues to be valid, but the person is not automatically licensed as an elder in the new congregation.*7) Leadership in our congregations depends on congregational need and the approval of denominational supervisors. A candidate for ordination, male or female, is thus affirmed through recognition of that person's ministry and leadership capabilities. If the person has leadership gifts, those gifts will presumably be apparent as they are used in other roles, although it may take some time.*8)

… we can have differing opinions …

Functional titles for ordained personnel vary locally. Some elders function as ministry leaders, some as assistant pastors, etc. Some pastoral spouses may function informally in a sort of "co-pastor" role; others may not, according to their own spiritual gifts. Elders should under no circumstances initiate the ordination of their own spouses, nor be on the committees that make such recommendations. A pastor's spouse who wishes to be a candidate for ordination as an elder will be subject to the same selection process as any other potential candidate.

Some WCG members, even if they have a male pastor in their own congregation, may be troubled that a WCG congregation in some other part of the world happens to have a female pastor. If they are troubled by this, we believe that they are looking for conformity in the wrong place. Just as we can have differing opinions about what the Bible says about soul-sleep, the millennium, or the rapture, we can also have different opinions about what the Bible says about women in leadership.

Often the matter boils down to how a person prefers to resolve Paul's statements: in one place Paul permits women to speak, and in another he prohibits it. Which policy is more likely to be the permanent one? Is the prohibition temporary in the same way as his policy on widows is?*9) We believe that there is room in the WCG for people of either viewpoint regarding female ordination, and that this is not a matter on which people should accuse, condemn, or break fellowship.

Some people are worried that if churches allow women as well as men to be leaders in church, then they are unwittingly contributing to the gender confusion found in Western society. This is a "fear of the consequences" argument that touches deep emotional concerns, but is not logically or biblically valid.*10) The fact that God called women to leadership roles in ancient Israel is evidence against the validity of this argument. People could just as easily claim that female civil leaders create gender confusion, but we have to acknowledge that God raised up a female civil leader for ancient Israel.*11)

We believe that Scripture allows society to have females as schoolteachers, doctors, and political leaders without causing gender confusion; the church can also have female leaders without causing confusion.*12) The church teaches that we are all made in God's image and are equal heirs of salvation. The gender confusion found in society today is regrettable, but it cannot be solved by the church making restrictions that are not supported by Scripture.

The WCG has dedicated several years to an in-depth study of the role of women in church leadership—specifically focusing on the question of the ordination of women as elders and the related topic of women serving as church pastors. All along the way, input has been sought, received and carefully considered from our members, our pastors, our pastoral supervisors, our doctrinal review team and other church staff. We based our study on the Bible, not contemporary culture or experience.

While we have read and weighed the writings of many authors on this topic, we have done so with the purpose of gaining a clearer understanding of the Scriptures, surrendered to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Not wanting to forbid what the Bible does not forbid, and desiring to allow all our members to use their God-given gifts to their fullest potential for the benefit of the church, our denominational position is that, based on local circumstances and an individual's characteristics, women may be ordained as elders and appointed as pastors.

God did not assemble that body [the church] and give gifts to its members so that we may quarrel or pass our time contemplating who shall be greatest in the kingdom. He has done these things so that both men and women, joint heirs of the gracious gift of life, may use all their talents and gifts in his service to spread his kingdom and to call humans of all sorts from death to new life in Jesus Christ (James Hurley, Man and Woman in Biblical Perspective. Zondervan, 1981. 253).

Endnotes

1) Thomas Schreiner, "An Interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:9-15," in Women in the Church (2nd ed.; edited by Andreas Köstenberger and Thomas Schreiner; Baker, 2005), 85.

2) Scripture allows women to have authority over men in civil government, and it is not self-evident why this would be allowed in civil matters but not in religious matters. It is not self-evident that temporal priority should be connected to authority in one sphere but not the other.

3) In the Old Testament, the office of prophet was open to women as well as men. It had more spiritual authority than the office of priest, which was restricted to men. Priests had authority only to carry out rituals and teach previous laws, but prophets could give new information and new directives with divine authority. In the New Testament, too, prophecy can involve information newly revealed by God; teaching requires that old material be repeated accurately. This again suggests that prophecy requires a greater authority than teaching does, and since women can have the authority to prophesy, they can also have the lesser authority, to teach; the prohibition in 1 Timothy 2 is best seen as a temporary prohibition.

4) They may be influenced by their culture, or their fears of cultural change, in ways they do not realize, just as we may be influenced by our culture in ways we do not realize. Despite the inability of anyone to achieve complete objectivity, we all have to make conclusions as best we can, without condemning those who come to different conclusions. Evangelical churches began ordaining women in the 19th century, long before the modern push for women's rights.

5) Conservative Thomas Schreiner writes, "Some women unquestionably have the spiritual gift of teaching. Men should be open to receiving biblical and doctrinal instruction from women … . Moreover, women should be encouraged to share what they have learned from the Scriptures when the church gathers. The mutual teaching recommended in Colossians 3:16 and 1 Corinthians 14:26 is not limited to men" (Women in Ministry, in Beck and Blomberg, Two Views on Women in Ministry [Zondervan, 2001], 191).

6) Some people might call this an "egalitarian" position, but we do not accept that label as an adequate description of our position; we have seen numerous exegetical excesses as egalitarian scholars have attempted to push their agenda into the Scriptures, and we do not approve of such excesses. Similarly, we do not accept the label "feminist," for that label is often associated with agendas we do not endorse.

7) Church Administration Manual, section 5.2.6, posted at www.wcg.org/lit/church/manual. In the same way, someone who leads worship in one congregation should not assume that the same ministry position should be available in another congregation.

8) Since the style of leadership can differ considerably from one culture to another, subtle in one and blunt in another, it is possible that the spiritual gifts that helped a person lead in one congregation are simply not useful in the other.

9) As another example of a temporary policy, Paul tolerated slavery, even though it was less than ideal, due to its prevalence in the first century.

10) A few people have expressed concern that the principles used in reaching our conclusions about the ordination of women might also lead us to revise our teaching about the ordination of practicing homosexuals. In our view, arguments in favour of the ordination of homosexuals, while perhaps overlapping in certain ways with arguments about ordaining women, are nonetheless in the final analysis substantially different from the arguments about ordaining women, and it is our position that the former cannot be argued to from the latter.

11) Some say that God raised up Deborah only because of exceptional circumstances. We could also note that there are exceptional circumstances in some of our churches today.

12) The presence of female leaders does not—and cannot—do away with the obvious biological and reproductive differences between males and females. Our study has not addressed the question of the role of men and women in families.

Dr. Joseph Tkach is Pastor General of the Worldwide Church of God.

Related article

The Truth about Women in Public Ministry

Originally published in Northern Light Magazine, November/December 2006.

 

 
 
 
 

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