Part Two: Women elders in a Baptist Church?
If you missed my post from yesterday, you probably should go back and review what was stated there as this will make absolutely zero sense unless you have the background of where I am coming from and the restructure that my church is currently instituting.
When we left off yesterday, I was just beginning to probe the difference between practical and spiritual leadership within the body of the church. Both of these functions are fundamental to the responsibilities of the elder body, however, many times, deacons are responsible for the day-to-day service opportunities within the church while elders are mainly focused on the spiritual leadership and teaching the Word within the body.
Through the course of my study, I have also stumbled upon several elder led churches utilizing female deacons, but this seems suspect based upon the same qualification to be the husband of one wife that is set forth in 1 Tim 3:12 for the deacon body. However, in 1 Tim 3:11 the word “wives” can be, instead, interpreted as “women.” Therefore, this may lead the reader to believe that there are two separate sets of requirements for male and female deacons. Some scholarly debate centers around the question of whether or not women can operate as deacons in a different capacity apart from male deacons. I can speculate that perhaps the qualifications in verse 11 were related to the serious issues plaguing women at that time within the culture, but I honestly do not know with any certainty that this is the case.
It would seem, if there is no clear divide in verse 11 to apply those qualifications to specifically to women serving in a deacon role, then the passage is meant for the wives of deacons and not for female deacons. This leads my thinking process in two starkly different directions.
The first direction is that women cannot serve in traditional deacon or elder offices. This is strangely refuted when Phoebe is called a deacon, but it may be that she was a servant to the body as a deacon would be, not necessarily serving in the actual office role of a deacon. Basically this means that she would fulfill the same role as a male deacon but not holding the actual title of deacon.
In my discussion this week with a good friend, she stated that seemed to be pretty unfair to be able to do all the work, but not hold the title. I tend to agree with her, but I also know that God is not fair. Rather, He is just. I also know that our eternal reward is not based upon what titles that we attain in life, so I think that this argument is fairly meaningless when applying an eternal focus on our lives and service. When we begin to base our ministry on titles, we become more and more like the Pharisee sporting our wide phylacteries and reveling in our conceited positions of power at the head of the banquet table. We cannot forget the simple purpose for which we are placed on Earth. To glorify God, and to encourage and support others. Period. When we lose sight of that, we turn our backs from the true heart of God.
The second direction that my brain takes me is one that lends itself to the establishment of women elders. If women can serve as deacons in the traditional role with the qualification of “being the husband of one wife,” then it would seem that they could serve in an elder role as well. There is a biblical precedence for a woman to be a deacon, and if that is in the traditional capacity, disregarding a possible split at 1 Tim 3:11 between the male and female qualifications to be a deacon, then it would seem that there would be nothing to hold them back from being elders. I just don’t know how the requirement to be “the husband of one wife” is ignored in that case.
Another argument that was brought forward was that the reader must consider the audience. It was stated that the letters of Timothy were possibly directed at a group of men; therefore, there needed to be no consideration for women. If what I garner from the first verse of the book, Timothy was written specifically to Timothy with instructions on how to run the church. It was not directed at a group of men. It was directed at one man with the qualifications that Paul himself used to choose elders within different congregations. I believe that Paul was attempting to teach Timothy on the proper way to choose elders from the body. I believe that he was attempting to accomplish the same goal in Titus, as Titus had taken over the leadership for a Cretian congregation.
I believe Jesus was a champion for women. I know that He respected their time, talent, and treasure. Some of the most amazing examples of biblical worship come from women. Some of Jesus’ closest companions were women. Jesus came to champion the plight of the socially downtrodden, and women were seen as second-class citizens during that time. He came and obliterated many social and cultural stigmas within the Jewish culture. However, when Christ chose the twelve who were set apart, He only chose men. I do not know what significance that this has, but I do believe that there is some significance attached to the reason behind who he chose. He picked several other socially outcast persons to become members of the twelve. Why didn’t he choose a woman? Was it a cultural stigma or was he setting forth a specific model to be followed?
I wholly believe that women can teach, but I am having a hard time with their placement in a position of spiritual authority over a man. I want to fully endorse women eldership with all my heart because some of the most amazing and valuable people who have guided my spiritual development have been women, but I have to be able to support myself with the Word, not personal experience. The Word seems to lend itself to male leadership.
The final argument that I was presented with centers around the cultural consideration of the Jews at the time. That if women cannot be in authority, then they may not wear jewelry or braid their hair as Paul forbids these. The heart of this passage of scripture, however, calls women to live modestly as all Christians are called to be of good moral fiber and to be good stewards of the resources that God has given to each of us. There is another passage stating that women should be silent. As far as this is concerned, a more accurate translation of the word silence would be settled, which seems to reassert Paul’s call for women to be submissive (not as a slave).
I have also thought through the cultural considerations, but I think that changing our doctrine just for the sake of being different or culturally relevant can start us down a dangerous path. The Church needs to be relevant, but I think that we must be truly careful about change that is based on culture and that cannot be fully endorsed by the word of God.
This is all a big mess in my head at the moment, but clarity is slowly coming as I hash this out with my friend the doctor and my spiritual wise counsel. As I stated previously, I actually lean more in the direction of allowing women to take part in the eldership of the church, but I must have the Word to stand on.
I appreciate you reading. If you have any discussion that you would like to add, feel free to light up the comments. Plan to see some follow-up on this in the very near future as I work this out in my head and come to a definite conclusion of where I stand regarding this issue.
All for His glory.