Women Elders in a Baptist Church?
Let me begin this post by stating a few of my beliefs outright. I am not sexist. I believe that women are empowered by the Holy Spirit to do amazing things just as men are. I love women and believe that they have much to offer the church. The church has been missing out on women’s amazing gifting by misrepresenting the idea of submission within the body of Christ and reducing their ministry to that of solely children’s ministry regardless of the woman’s particular gifting.
My wife is one of the most amazing spirit-filled people who I have had the pleasure of knowing. It has been an amazing joy to minister with her and several other amazing women that I have been privileged to serve with in the past. So, I do have a strong background of taking part in ministry with women; however, this post is directed at exploring women in a position of spiritual leadership over a church.
I do not know exactly how I feel about all of this. I am just presenting the facts that I possess and what I believe scripture says. I am currently corresponding with a man who has his doctorate in the early church and working through this issue in my own head as well. Now for a bit of background.
My church is currently undergoing a restructure of the way that we conduct the general business. This encompasses our spiritual leadership and our practical leadership. What we have gleaned thus far from scripture is that there is no necessarily wrong or right way to do church government.
I do attend a Southern Baptist church (although we are the most non-Baptist, Baptists that you will ever meet) and the traditional governing body within a Southern Baptist church is the congregation. Business is conducted through business meetings (YUCK!) and congregational vote. This style of government is not scriptural. It is not necessarily wrong, but it is definitely abiblical.
Through our study, we have determined that an elder body is the scriptural model for government that Paul initiates during his travels and later gives specific instructions to Timothy and Titus regarding the selection and function of elders. As the restructuring process has continued, we have called several key Baptist beliefs into question that we are looking into the scripture behind these long-lived traditions. We are not necessarily looking to destroy tradition for the sake of destroying tradition, but we do want to our governmental structure and our core beliefs to line up solely with scripture and not worn out, unnecessary tradition.
That being said, we are looking into installing women as elders. This concept is not accepted within the Baptist denomination, but I have never been a huge fan of denomination anyway. As my study of the scripture in the original language continues, I have one main issue that I cannot seem to get over. Where is the scriptural justification for women filling the elder role within the body of Christ?
The thing that I can’t seem to get passed is the passage of scripture where the requirement is set forth to be the husband of one wife. Even in the Greek, this means a “man of one woman” or a “one woman man.” Perhaps there some language syntax that I am missing, or there an alternate translation, or a cultural consideration that I am unaware of that would allow a woman to step into an elder role. However, if this scripture is taken literally, this would totally disqualify women from eldership as they cannot be “one woman men.”
I know that Phoebe and her patronage in Corinth is often discussed as a key marker for this issue, but I don’t know if what is stated within Romans 16 conclusively proves that she was a governing elder within the church as her scope of ministry is not discussed in detail. The research that I have seen regarding Greek patronage in the time period where Phoebe would have been active leads me to believe that, while we can rest assured that she did act as the patron for a church in Corinth using her social and political power to further the body, it is possible that she held no official office within the church. This specifically came from a parallel of Junia Theodora.
This is not the Junia found in Romans 16. She was a patron for the Lycian immigrants coming into Corinth at the same time that Phoebe was acting as patron for one of the house churches in Corinth. Phoebe and Junia probably knew each other, or at the very least, knew of each other. Evidence of her patronage was unearthed in the 1950s during an archeological dig. While she undoubtedly wielded her political and social power for the betterment of the Lycian immigrants, there is no evidence that supports her holding a specific office, civic or otherwise.
It is almost assured that Phoebe applied practical leadership within the church, as they were most likely meeting in her home, but the question is, did she give spiritual leadership? I know that elders, traditionally, are in place to apply practical and spiritual leadership, but the most important function of the elder body is to set the spiritual vision for the church and then make sure that the congregation is in line with and pursuing the vision that God has given to the body. Did Phoebe assist in this? Did she help to direct the practical day-to-day business of the church? If so, does this make her an elder in spiritual leadership or does it specifically make her a deacon, as stated in Romans 16, serving the body?
This is just one of the concerns of scripture that I have been dealing with regarding this issue. There are several more, but I will tackle those tomorrow as this post has really taken on a life of its own. If you can’t tell, I have a really hard time telling any story or academic musing with a truly concise presentation. I like to hear all sides of every issue, so I present as many sides as I possibly can to you.
I hope that you enjoyed the read and will tune in tomorrow for more follow-up on this issue that has been dividing brothers and sisters for many years. Tomorrow, I will present several of the other arguments that have surfaced during the course of my study and what I believe scripture says regarding these issues. Feel free to comment if you have anything to add to this discussion. I am seeking clarity for this issue within my own brain as well. Thanks for your time!
All for His glory.