Monday, 12 January 2015

Women in the Church

Here is a summary of my message in NBC on Sunday 11/1/15 to explain our elders position on this important subject.

An important decision for churches to make is to ascertain the exact role that women play in congregational life? So what can we say about the Bile says?

Genesis 5 vv1,2 “When God created mankind he made THEM in the likeness of God.  He created THEM male and female and blessed them.

So right at the very start God affirmed the identity of women.  He blessed both male and female.  Yet Judaism didn’t always value or recognise the dignity of women as it ought to have done. Jewish men used to pray “I thank you God that you have not made me a Gentile a slave or a woman!”.  Yet God reminds us through scripture of the value, role and identity of women in the world. He used Moses sister and Naaman’s servant girl; Deborah served as judge, Esther was used to save her own people and Rahab and Ruth were brought into the Saviour’s line by grace.  In the New Testament we see the inner circle of Christ included women. It was women who were the first witnesses of the resurrection and in the early church women like Dorcas (Acts 9) Lydia (Acts 16) Priscilla (Acts 18) were to the fore.

In essence with regard to male and female the Bible teaches

  • Equality of Worth – all are valuable in his sight 
  • Diversity of role – we are naturally made different.  He created THEM.  He blessed THEM

The complementarian position teaches that men and women are to complement each other.  There is equality in marriage but also diversity, highlighted in Ephesians 5 teaching regarding the roles of husband and wife. 

Jewish men might have prayed that prayer but the truth is that the gospel of grace brings all of us to the foot of the cross and at the cross we find forgiveness in Christ and we are equal sinners and find equal grace to save.  Hence Paul says in Galatians 3 vv26,28  “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus....there is neither Jew nor Greek (Gentile) slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus”.
So with regard to the church specifically.... (and here we are talking about the local church, the local expression of the universal church, the church which meets somewhere and which has people gathered together for purposes of worship, discipleship, evangelism, mission and pastoral care, the 5 purposes of our church – we must be careful to distinguish AUTHORITY and FUNCTION.  It is when we confuse these two that problems and confusion arises.

  1. AUTHORITY – final human authority in the local church lies with the elders. It is they who have ultimate responsibility for spiritual oversight and the teaching and the general witness of the church in the community. Eldership has its roots in the Jewish tribal system, where there would be heads of families and of tribes. They would bear serious responsibility for the conduct and business of the tribe. Likewise synagogues would be ruled by respected men. Christ too only chose men to be his apostles, charged with the responsibility for carrying the gospel message to a needy world. Early Christianity grew out of Judaism and so early spiritual leadership was male as it had been in Jewish heads  of tribe and synagogues. The very early believers had originally thought that the gospel message w as only for Judaism . Remember how Peter’s thinking had to be challenged by a vision in Acts 10 and he later had to defend his ministry to the Gentiles before the early Jewish believers.  Spiritual leadership is entrusted to males and for that reason NBC concludes that our elders should be male. 
  2. FUNCTION – this however is entirely different . Paul teaches us in 1 Cor 12 that ministry is for the whole body and is on the basis of GIFTING not GENDER .  All have a role to play in the body of Christ – as noses or feet or ears or hands. This actually is one of the most powerful witnesses of the local church in the community and demonstrates the power of the gospel to transform lives and to see them unified under the cross and in service of the Master.  So both men and women can perform many functions in the body of Christ.  Naturally, physically and socially men are different from each other and whilst more men than women might want to wield kango hammers to knock down walls, and more women than men might want to serve in the creche, actually there is nothing to stop either performing those roles if that is their gifting.  Men and women can teach Sunday school or lead youth or help prepare bulletins or operate sound and visuals. Likewise both men and women can perform the simple task of passing offering bags along rows or passing our pieces of bread and wine to help believers remember the Lord’s death.

With regard to the functioning of the body “Deacons” are important.  Many see the origin of this role in Acts 6 (though the word ‘diakonos’ or ‘deacon’ is not mentioned).  The early leaders turned over practical caring work to godly men as they were in danger of being overwhelmed by the needs of the church.  So the original function was caring. The role of deacon has often been misunderstood, so much so that it almost differs from church to church and from culture to culture.  It has also been affected by prevailing cultural understandings of men/women.  Neither male chauvinism nor liberal feminism should be allowed to dictate the church’s position.  It should be BIBLICALLY REASONED not CULTURALLY DETERMINED.

As the Bible is progressive revelation its in the pastoral epistles that Paul outlines some significant qualities for those in certain positions.  This climaxes in 1 Tim 3, where writing to the young pastor of the church in Ephesus, Paul outlines the qualities of elders in vv 1-17, and the qualities of the ‘diakonoi’ (deacons) in vv 8-10 So far so good but v11 is problematical “In the same way, the women (Gk = Gyne) are to be worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything” Who are these women here?

There are 2 possible interpretations .....

They could be wives of the deacons OR they could be ladies who are raised up to special service as deacons of the church in assistance of the work of the elders. In NBC we lean towards the latter. So do many other very conservative Christian leaders.  Others do legitimately differ.  But we favour the understanding of lady deacons here for the following reasons

  1.  The use of the word “hosautos” in v11 as in v 8 Translated  ‘in the same way’ or ‘likewise’. It points to the same idea, the same concept 
  2. In vv 1-7 women are not mentioned re eldership. This makes sense if, as we have seen elders are to be male. If those referred to here in v 11 are wives of deacons, it would seem strange that Paul would not make any reference to elders wives, - surely at least an equal responsibility 
  3. Phoebe is referred to as a ‘diakonos’ in Romans 16 v2 (the word is neither masculine nor feminine) 
  4. We have to interpret scripture by itself. Since deacons do not have authoritative roles in the same way as elders, but functional roles , it seems to fit with the general tenor of scriptural teaching about service being open for all

For these reasons we take the position that both men and women may serve as deacons on the local church.

Whatever any church’s position on this, it is important that every church honours God in the conduct of its affairs.  That is the overriding principle.

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