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The Role of Women in the Church

Published August 6, 2017



Michael V Wilson
By Michael V. Wilson

The presence of the Church in America (across all denominations) has become anemic to the point of invisibility and the source of the problem can be traced to a falling away from God, due in part to the introduction of progressive values into the Church. Instead of the Church influencing the culture and the country, the Left-wing culture of the country, and particularly the media, has infiltrated and influenced the Church.

A prime example of this is The West Wing, a political television drama about a Democratic President and his White House staff, that ran from 1999 to 2006, and assumed a priori that progressive values were the only ones that mattered, the only ones that were moral or righteous. Any values running counter to them were presented as extremist, immoral, illogical, benighted, and in several episodes, as down-right evil. The secular world has become so comfortable with this position, and so certain the Church won't fight back in any kind of meaningful way they no longer bother trying to hide or disguise their true feelings.

The Church won't fight back because the Church is no longer sure of itself or what it stands for. We see denominations breaking apart over all sorts of things; homosexuals, transsexuals, abortion, racism, divorce, doctrinal issues, progressivism, social justice, Islam, seeker friendly services (another way of saying progressive), modern “praise and worship” music that is more secular and self-centered than holy and God-centered, internal discipline problems, leadership shortcomings, and the role of women. If the Church can't stand four-square for it's own morals and values inside it's doors, how can it possibly stand up for them outside it's doors in the world at large?

The-pastors-wifeOne of the most interesting – and frustrating – of these issues revolves around the role of a pastor's wife. These days the pastor's wife is expected to help out around the church and even assume a semi-, or not so semi-, leadership role in church affairs.

Why?

An engineer's wife isn't expected to help out around his office or crunch the numbers on the engineering specs; a doctor's wife (unless she's a trained nurse) isn't expected to help out by taking your temperature or blood pressure or giving you a flu shot; a carpenter's wife isn't expected to haul lumber around the job site or sling a nail gun; so why does everyone automatically assume a pastor's wife is supposed to help out with his job?

It is a job by the way. Yes, the pastor needs to praise and worship God, learn more about Him, read His Word, pray without ceasing, live according to His ways, and all the other things every Christian needs to do; but preaching, in and of itself, even though it's a calling first and foremost, is a job the same as being an engineer or doctor or carpenter; it's work. It's not very easy work either; there's a lot of stress in it, long hours, constant criticism from all sides, and the pay – quite frankly – for the most part isn't what it should be. Larger churches can often afford to pay their pastors better money, but larger churches also create more stress and criticism so it's a bit of a wash.

In any event it's a job, so why do Christians assume his wife is supposed to help him with it? Should she help him with his job? Listen to him and provide a sounding board when he comes home at the end of the day, certainly; wives have been doing that since time immemorial no matter what job their husband has, but help him with it? Actually take part in the performance of his job duties when she wasn't hired for it? That's a horse of a different color.

Ephesians 4:11 says,

And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers
  • The word translated “some” is the Greek word “μέν” which is a primary particle; properly, indicative of affirmation or concession (in fact), and it refers to the descriptive words that immediately follow it.
  • The word translated as “apostles” is the Greek word “ἀπόστολος”, a masculine noun meaning a delegate or messenger.
  • The word translated as “prophets” is the Greek word “προφήτης”, a masculine noun meaning an interpreter of oracles or of other hidden things.
  • The word translated as “evangelists” is the Greek word “εὐαγγελιστής”, a masculine noun, which means a bringer of good tidings.
  • The word translated as “pastors” is the Greek word “ποιμήν”, a masculine noun meaning a herdsman, esp. a shepherd.
  • Finally the word translated as “teachers” is the Greek word “διδάσκαλος”, a masculine noun meaning one who is fitted to teach.

In all these words, the one commonality is they are masculine in nature. For that reason I tend to cringe when I see a pastor's wife introduced as a co-pastor. She's a woman; how can she be a co-anything that is specifically male? I understand the limitations of human languages wherein there are often only male pronouns available such as, “When a citizen votes he performs a civic duty,” where the word “he” is used to refer to both men and women, but the titles listed in Ephesians 4:11 are distinctly and explicitly male.

Women In The Bible

I also understand the Bible mentions some very notable women doing great things.

The Book of Ruth is the story of Ruth the Moabitess, descended from Lot and his oldest daughter (Genesis 19:37), who through her devotion to her mother-in-law Naomi, married Boaz and became the great-grandmother of King David (Matthew 1:5-6). Yet Ruth is not pictured performing men's work. Instead she is recorded doing those things expected of women such as gleaning in the fields to provide for herself and Naomi, and presenting herself as a virtuous woman worthy of honorable attention from Boaz.

The Book of Esther is even more fascinating. Although the book is named for her and recounts her activities, the main protagonist is her uncle, Mordecai. He instructs her to conceal her heritage when she's taken to the palace. When he learns of a plot against the king he passes it on to her to give to the king; when Haman schemes to annihilate the Jews, it's Mordecai who devises a plan to reverse the decree and gets Esther to go along with it. She is certainly brave enough to risk her life in the process, but her uncle is the driving force behind her actions.

In the Book of Judges (chapters 4-5), Deborah, is described as “a prophetess and the wife of Lapidoth, was judging Israel at that time.” She sat under a palm tree in the mountains of Ephraim and the children of Israel came to her for judgment. When the time came for war against Israel's enemies, Barak the son of Abinoam refuses to go unless she accompanies him. Deborah agrees but warns him there'll be no glory for him if she does because then the Lord will “sell Sisera into the hand of a woman.” [emphasis added] Just as there are several people in the Bible who are resurrected from the dead, proving the rule that most people die and aren't resurrected, the exception here also proves the rule; that men and women have different roles, and when those roles are reversed it upsets the natural order of things, along with attendant consequences.

In the Book of Acts 9:36-42, we see the story of Tabitha, a woman full of good works and charitable deeds who made tunics and garments for widows and others. When she died Peter went down and prayed for her so she was resurrected. Here is a woman doing those things God has ordained for women (Proverbs 31:10-31) and being so revered for it she became one of the few people in the Bible raised from the dead.

These cases, far from making the point that women can take the same roles as men, illustrate exactly the opposite. Except for Deborah, these women were honored for the diligence they exercised in their feminine roles. Deborah on the other hand was held up as an example of what happens when there are no courageous or honorable men available fulfill their manly duties. Far from bolstering the case for wives helping their pastor husbands do their jobs, these examples detract from that argument.

Even when pastor's wives are standing on stage or behind the pulpit simply reading Scripture to the congregation, they're doing the right thing for the wrong reason. In Acts 16:16-18 there was the example of a demon-possessed slave girl following Paul around crying out that he was a servant of the Most High who proclaims the way to salvation. What she said was true, but when a demon uses Scripture they're doing it for ungodly reasons, for the wrong reasons, to pervert it and/or draw people to themselves instead of God. Paul finally became so fed up with her he banished the demon. Reading Scripture to others is a good thing, but it can be done in a way that defies Scripture, thus it becomes doing the right thing for the wrong reason.

1st Corinthians 14:34-35 (NKJV) says,

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.

When it comes to homosexuals, transsexuals, marriage, abortion, etc., Christians rush to uphold Scripture in every detail, but on the issue of women's roles in the Church, especially pastor's wives, they quibble and split hairs, arguing about this interpretation or that, or claim Paul was talking about women in synagogues instead of churches, etc.; when you hear those type of statements it's a sure sign something fishy is going on. If you hear the phrase “culturally relevant”-anything, run, don't walk, run to the nearest exit and get out of there as fast as you can. Cultural relevance doesn't square homosexuals with the Bible, why should it do it with women's roles in church or pastor's wives?

Scripture Not Men

One of the first rules of hermeneutics – the study of how to study the Bible – is to know the audience; that is, who the writer was addressing. When Paul wrote his letters to the church at Corinth, he wasn't talking to a classroom full of educated bible scholars; he was talking to a gaggle of recently converted heathens who were making a mess of things. Therefore he had to write as plainly and simply as possible so they'd be able to follow his instructions to bring order to the chaos they were experiencing.

That's the way we should interpret what he wrote; plainly and simply. (One of my main problems with “bible scholars” is they put plain and simple in the rear view mirror then hit the gas.) I would rather follow Scripture, not men.

Many of their arguments start with 1st Corinthians 11:5,

But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, for that is one and the same as if her head were shaved.

They claim this verse shows Paul mentioning situations where women are allowed to pray and prophesy in the assembled congregation, but if you go back and read all of chapter 11, the chapter they were discussing, you'll find something interesting, something they ignore. Paul writes in verse 5 about women praying and prophesying, as I noted above, but it isn't until verse 18 that he says,

For first of all, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you, and in part I believe it. [emphasis added]

He writes about women praying and prophesying before he starts talking about coming together as a church (and he's specifically talking about churches not synagogues). It seems to me that men and women can pray and prophesy at home, outside in the church parking lot, or on a picnic, driving to work, when they're at the hair dresser or grocery store, when they're working out at the gym (Lord help me lift this weight without dropping it on my foot!), or eating dinner; just about any place really. You do pray before you eat don't you? We're not restricted to praying and prophesying only when we “come together as a church.”

Paul was writing in 1st Corinthians 11:5 about the proper way of doing things. Just as there's a proper way to change the oil in your car, and doing it wrong will result in a greasy mess; there's also a proper way to address God, which is what praying and prophesying entails. If we leave it at that – plain, simple, and to the point – we won't get all tangled up and trip over our own feet. I think that's where these “bible scholars” go wrong; they over-complicate things. Personally, I'm a big fan of the KISS acronym; Keep It Simple Stupid.

If we follow that basic concept, we arrive at the conclusion that Paul was giving instructions for the way women are to pray and prophesy (with her head covered or with long hair), then he gives separate instructions about the way women should conduct themselves when we “come together as a church.”

“But,” argues the skeptic, “what about women singing on stage in the choir during the praise and worship part of church services?”

What about it? Singing as part of a group, or choir, is not the same as speaking or preaching, it's not the same as having questions about learning something as Paul writes. As long as a man is leading the band or choir, why should there be any problem with women singing in the group? Women's voices are beautiful. Remember the crystal clear purity of Julie Andrews' voice in The Sound of Music? She could pierce you through and through with that voice; it was incredible. You could name any number of other female singers capable of the same soaring notes. God made their voices and we should rejoice to hear them singing praises to Him.

But they're not leading. Leading is the man's role.

Practical Application 101

Many will tell me I'm a Pharisee, that I'm being a stickler for the minutia of the Law without extending grace and forgiveness to people. New Testament believers are supposed to be beyond the standards of the Old Testament, the Mosaic Law, operating instead in grace, love and forgiveness. That's true to a certain extent. But consider this: we need grace and forgiveness because there are standards, standards we've all violated. Romans 3:10 tells us,

As it is written:

“There is none righteous, no, not one.”

None of us are righteous, all of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God [Romans 3:23]. “Sin” means “to miss the mark.” It means we aimed at God's high and perfect standards, and fell woefully short. We missed the mark, missed the target. Therefore we need God's loving grace and forgiveness, purchased for us on the cross by Jesus and His shed blood.

But just because we're forgiven doesn't mean we can now ignore those standards with impunity. It doesn't mean they no longer apply. We may be beyond the ceremonial, ritual aspects of the Mosaic Law and the sacrifices at the Temple, but the Commandments are still in force as are the differences between men and women; else why would we care about men going into women's bathrooms because they think they're a woman? If we're forgiven and all that matters is grace, then abortion, homosexual marriage, and transgenders switching bathrooms should be A-okay because God will forgive everything.

But they're not A-okay are they? – because grace is not the only thing that matters.

The Commandments still matter, God's standards still matter – New Testament ones written by Paul as well as Old Testament ones written by the prophets – and we're still bound to obey them, regardless of political correctness, cultural relevance, or the dictates of modern feminism.

We're also still bound to obey them in spite of what our wives think; and therein lies the rub.

It's difficult for a man who loves his wife to oppose her with any degree of success. Here in the South there's an old, Southern household saying, “If Mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy.” You may or may not have heard it before, but I guarantee any man who's been married a year or more understands it perfectly the first time he hears it.

If you've ever come home from work and your wife is giving you the silent treatment and you immediately felt guilty and wondered, “Uh oh, what'd I do?”; if you've ever come up with a wonderful idea, told your wife about it and she shot you down with that look; if you've ever had an argument that ended in a stalemate with tension so thick in the house you could cut it with a dull knife; if any of those things have ever happened to you, you know how difficult it is to have peace and tranquility when she's mad or upset.

Believe me when I say; telling her to be quiet in church, and not to get up and talk, will make her madder than a wet hen. The storm that'll hit you will make everything that went before look like a tempest in a teapot. Even if she eventually gives in and does what you ask, you'll never really hear the end of it. This is especially true for those who've already gotten used to being a co-pastor, or getting up to expound on God's love during times when the congregation is sharing, or reading scripture from the podium to encourage tithing, or telling the congregation about the great things happening in children's church, or whatever. The ones who are already used to being in a position of leadership will fight tooth and nail to keep those positions; it's just human nature. That they're our wives who we love and cherish beyond all others, makes it that much more challenging.

I sympathize with all my heart with those pastors who's wives are already in positions of authority and leadership in their church. I really do. Taking those things away from those women will be the hardest thing those men ever do. I don't envy them that task.

But it must be done. If we really believe the Bible is the Word of God, if we're really trying to be more like Him, to follow Him and honor Him, then we have to obey Him to the absolute best of our ability on all of it. We can't just obey Him on everything but the hard parts then say, “Well, He'll forgive me for this one so I'm going to do it anyway.” Falling short and having to ask for forgiveness is one thing; deliberate disobedience is another. The two are worlds apart.

I started this article by telling you the presence of the Church in America has become anemic to the point of invisibility because we've fallen away from God. If we want the Church to have a true, deep, and lasting impact on anything outside our walls, we have to get back to basics; we have to believe in, and stand for, what the Bible says on ALL it's pages. Nothing less will do.


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