Men & women in the church
1. Disruptions in the (current Anglican) church
In 1994 the Church of England in the UK first allowed women to be ordained as priests. In July this year they voted to allow women bishops. New Zealand, America and Canada already have women bishops.
In the Anglican Church in Australia women were first ordained as deacons in 1986, and as priests in 1992. Out of the 23 Australian Dioceses, only 4 - Ballarat, North West Australia, Sydney and The Murray - do not ordain women as priests.
In September 2007 our highest court, the Appellate Tribunal, ruled there was no constitutional bar to women being bishops. So in April this year Perth Diocese appointed Archdeacon Kay Goldsworthy as Australia’s first female bishop. In May Barbara Darling was consecrated as Victoria’s first female bishop. And in June Brisbane Diocese changed their laws to clear the way for women bishops there.
Who is right? I don’t mean legally, or culturally, but biblically? What practice is consistent with Scripture? One of the key passages in the debate is part of the one we are looking at today – 1 Tim 2 – and it is probably today one of the most controversial texts in Scripture. Yet for the first 1900+ years after it was written it was almost always understood in a certain way. It has only changed since the late 1960’s. Why? Have we discovered something new about this letter, or about the situation at Ephesus where Timothy ministered? No. But the spirit of our age has changed. Secular culture has changed, especially since the ‘60’s, and especially in its views on women and their roles, and this has swept to the church as well. So let’s pray that God will help me to speak his word faithfully, and for us to hear his word clearly, and have open hearts to believe it.
2. Disruptions in the Ephesian church
In order to understand what Paul says we need to look at this passage in context, as always, and especially as v8 starts with ‘therefore’.
Earlier Paul has reminded young Timothy that the message of Jesus Christ is the essence of church life. The gospel changed him, Paul, totally and completely, and God’s desire is that all people be saved, and so the gospel needs to go out.
And the local church gathering needs to reflect this – so the things people say and do will impact the cause of the gospel. So the letter is written so that – 3:15 – ‘Timothy will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God.’
But some people weren’t conducting themselves in a godly way at Ephesus. And these verses address this disruption to public worship, which is adversely impacting the cause of the gospel.
As we look at this letter we know that God’s desire is still for people to be saved, and we are still the household of God. Paul’s words here will help us work out what is the best way for the gospel to go out into the world in our times together, so that people may be saved and God will be honoured.
Some people say – well, just do what society wants and more people will come to church, and hear the gospel and be saved. They don’t and they won’t. Why would I want to come to church to hear the same message everyone else is telling me, which is getting them nowhere? No – we need to tell and show what God says.
a) by the men (in their prayers)- 1 Tim 2:8
Therefore, v8 – ‘I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger or disputing.’ ‘Everywhere’ means every public assembly, our church services, and not just in Ephesus. The church is the household of God in every place, and so these instructions are appropriate for every church setting. Just because part of Scripture is addressed to a particular place, doesn’t mean that it’s teaching is confined to that place.
Men are to show their faith in the attitude they have when they pray. They are to pray with holy hands – in Judaism men would pray standing up, with arms raised and palms upturned – but here Paul is not interested in posture but attitude. Holy hands - not that the rest of their bodies are unholy - are symbolic of clean hearts and peace with God and other people, a peace which has no place for anger and quarreling. Our attitude to others affects our approach to God, and our witness to the world. Male aggression is not to hinder prayer, men cannot have that attitude as they pray.
b) by the women (in their attire)- 1 Tim 2:9-10
What about the attitude of women in public worship? Paul goes on to that in v9, which reads literally - "Likewise, I want women to dress modestly..." Likewise refers back to v8 and the context of our conduct in public worship. The whole chapter is about this. Some of the women seem to have been dressing immodestly or ostentatiously, and thereby causing disruption in the church, and being a bad witness to the world.
The antidote? Be adorned instead with good deeds. Don’t try to be a supermodel, but a supermodeller – of Christ and godliness. Don’t focus on ostentatious displays of hairdo, gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but be adorned with good deeds, for women who profess to worship Christ.
Perhaps you’ve heard of the little girl who saw her mother putting on face cream. "What's that you're putting on, Mum?" "Moisturiser," her mum said. "They said it would make me beautiful." With a child’s honesty she said "Mum, I don't think it's working."
There's nothing wrong with looking good, but there's much more to you than your clothes and your hairstyle. In fact our clothes, our outward appearance, say something about what we are like inside.
Women were to dress with modesty and decency in the public assembly, and to adorn themselves with good works. Ladies be pro-active in doing good – what God wants people to notice about you is not how you look, but how you live – as women who profess to worship God. Show the effect of the gospel, show what God’s grace and mercy mean to you, by the way you live, and therefore also in your outward appearance. That is to be their attitude in public worship.
c) in leadership – 1 Tim 2:11-15
Having talked about women’s deportment in the public meeting, Paul moves on to talk more broadly about learning, teaching and authority in the church, and the attitude of the women in particular to such teaching and authority. And it is these 2 verses – vv11-12 – which cause such friction in our church scene. Let’s try to unpack vv11-12 so we can see what Paul is saying.
The main point in v11a is this – a woman should learn in quietness. The verb ‘learn’ is an imperative – this is Paul’s command to them. Learn. Learning is a good thing for women, then and now. And the way to learn is in quietness. Which is the same word at the end of v12, despite the NIV translating it differently, which gives it emphasis, rounds off the two verses, and packages the thought together.
What does it mean to learn in quietness? I don’t think it means total silence. Back in v2 Paul talks about living quiet lives – he’s not talking about all of us taking a vow of silence for the rest of our lives. Likewise in 1 Cor Paul talks about women praying and prophesying in the assembly. It can’t mean total silence, but as I say, a quiet demeanour. Paul’s emphasis is again on attitude.
The second half of v11 helps us – how do I learn in quietness – with all submission. It’s that same idea we have seen all term – in the relationship between a teacher and a learner, the teacher has authority and the learner is to submit to it.
What then will such submission look like? 2 things in v12 – firstly not teaching. And secondly not having authority over a man.
The principle is actually the second one. Paul says in public assembly women should not have authority over men. One of the specific ways that works out is that woman are not to teach men. There may be other ways as well, and we’ll think about those soon, but for now let’s keep unpacking these verses.
What then is ‘teaching’? In the NT it is the careful and authoritative public transmission of God’s truth – what we call preaching, or the sermon. Women are not to take on this authoritative role as ‘teacher’ in church. (Prophecy – has to be evaluated if it is to be accepted; teaching carries authority).
Why? Because I take it such teaching carries authority. So how do we teach, how do we show this spiritual authority authority in the local church, in a way which is consistent with God’s order? It is by men preaching. Not every man – but those called and equipped by God and recognized by the church as having authority in matters of doctrine. So Paul will go on to talk about their qualifications in ch 3.
Paul isn’t saying every man in church has authority over every woman in church. But the teacher does. It’s not about men being superior or women inferior. It’s not saying men are always more suited to leadership. But the male teacher is to take responsibility, that’s what authority gives him, he is to take responsibility for teaching God’s truth, and women are to respond to that authority by learning from him in quietness and submission.
Paul’s principle here is that a woman is not to exercise authority over a man in the public meeting, and one way that is expressed is through the teaching office.
Paul isn’t saying women can’t teach at all. Timothy was taught by his mother and grandmother. Apollos was taught the truth about Jesus by Priscilla and Aquila, in their home. Women do have an incredibly important teaching ministry, in the right contexts. Emma talked about that last week in her ministry to Calvin, and to other women.
Women have a great part to play in ministry; and in our church life here at St Mark’s – we would be much impoverished if women did not teach our children on a Sunday, if women did not teach Scripture, if women did not teach their children at home or through GFS or Playgroups, if women did not teach our high school girls at Lift or E3, if older women did not teach younger women as Paul tells them to, or if we had no womens’ Bible Study groups, or KYB or MU. And so on.
But women are not to seek roles in the public assembly which will give them authority over men.
Well, why is this? What is Paul’s rationale? What are the reasons for these positions in the church? Look at vv13-15. Paul goes back to creation. It’s why this passage is not culturally conditioned – because Paul’s reasoning, and his teaching on church order, is from creation, not from culture. Some people argue Paul is prohibiting women from this kind of authoritative teaching only because of cultural issues of the day. That is not true. Paul says there are differences between men and women which stem from creation and apply here at Ephesus and indeed throughout time.
So Paul makes 2 points from creation
- Adam was made first, not Eve. Gen 2 tells us that. Eve was made from Adam, and as a helpmate for Adam. But Adam was made first. God could have made Adam and Eve at the same time, but he didn’t. For a reason.
In Scripture being first connotes authority. God created Adam first to be the head, to have the authority, to have the responsibility that authority carries. And God wants this order of creation to be reflected in the church; whether society likes it or not. This is the way things are meant to be. Women are not to try to reverse this created order by seeking authority over men. v14 shows us what happens when God’s ideal is ignored.
- secondly, from creation, Eve was deceived, and Adam wasn’t. Oh yes, Adam sinned, but in a different way, and even arguably a worse way. Adam was persuaded by his wife to go against God’s will, and abdicated his authority by allowing Eve to lead, and deliberately sinned. But Eve was deceived by the serpent, into overturning the good order God had made, so she could be like God. And after her sin she sought to exercise authority over Adam by persuading him to do the same thing.
There is an order to God’s creation, and a structure to male/female relationships which is built into the very fabric of things. Adam and Eve overturned that order…. Eve listened to the serpent, taught her husband and sought to be like God; Adam listened to his wife, heeding and following her instruction, and so putting herself under her authority. Eve was deceived into doubting, distorting and contradicting God’s word. By leaving Adam’s protection and taking on headship, she was vulnerable and fell – showing that she needed to stay under the protection and leadership of her husband. And that seems to make women, by nature, unsuited to be teachers in the public assembly. Paul sees this as an indication of a difference between man and woman, suggesting that this is not a matter of inferiority at all, rather, it is just a difference.
Paul sees that Adam and Eve’s behaviour acts as models for the roles of the men and women in the church at Ephesus. And I suggest not just for them, but for us too. So here in 1 Tim women are being warned not to upset the God ordained order of creation by seeking authority as Eve did. The pattern of relationships established in creation still applies, regardless of culture. A woman teaching a man is wrong, because she then enters into a relationship of authority over him – so turning the order of creation upside-down.
Women today are encouraged to do anything; so this word may seem hard and strange and unhelpful. But remember God is good, and knows what is best for us. And remember submission is not weakness but meekness; it is not demeaning but a wonderful response to God as our Creator. The battle for women is to be content with the opportunities and role God has given them, when our whole culture teaches otherwise.
Well, finally, v15. If the other verses seem strange, this is even stranger isn’t it? READ. What on earth is this about? And again – how does it tie in to what has gone before?
Some suggest it is saying women won’t die through the process of childbirth – that they will be saved from this, but reality tells us sadly that is not true.
Others say it is talking about the promised child of Eve, the Lord Jesus, who is promised in Gen 3, and will crush the serpent’s head. But a strange way of saying it.
I think rather that it flows on from v14. Paul has said Eve was deceived and sinned, is there a means of salvation for her, salvation from her sin, and from the curse which she was put under? The word ‘she’ in v15 is talking about Eve. Can she be saved? Yes. Saved by faith in God, which will include obediently accepting her God-given role, which includes child-bearing when and if that is possible. Childbirth is a permanent and transcultural representative and obvious example of the differences in roles which God has given men and women, and in which he calls us to be content and remain, and not seeking the roles given to others – be content with being women, and accepting the relationship patterns God has instituted for our good. Women will be saved as they continue on in their God-given created order. Childbearing becomes synonymous for ‘living as God created women to live’ – which then includes faith, holiness, and so on.
And not just for Eve – but all women. The word ‘they’ later in the sentence is, I take it, referring to all Christian women – whether back in Ephesus in the first century or in Berowra now. They all inherit Eve’s curse – but will also likewise be saved by faith, and living out this faith by accepting her role and acting in love and holiness in modesty. Which is a summary of Christian living, and brings us back to the thought of v9 – again wrapping it up in a neat unit.
3. Avoiding disruption in church today?
Well, that’s my understanding of God’s word. How do we apply it? In some senses it is fairly easy isn’t it – and in other senses it is not.
We all know Christian churches, even here in our suburb, where women are ordained as ministers, or authorized as pastors, and preach and lead and have authority over men. There are Anglican churches in Australia and around the world which do the same. The question is not - will we do as others do; but will we do as God tells us in His Word.
God’s word is meant to be a help for us and not a hindrance. It may be hard for us to accept, but we need to believe that His structure works best - it is functional and effective and good for us – and even in a fallen world it remains the way God wants us to operate. So we should want to apply it to our lives individually and our church life. We need to use it – and repent if we’ve avoided it, or if we’ve bullied people with it, and I’m sure it has been used badly in the past -and maybe even today. I want to encourage women in ministry, and I think we do, yet there are some strong applications as well.
So I believe that this passage teaches us that women ought not to be ordained as Rectors or Bishops. Not do I believe women can preach in public to a mixed audience. I hope this morning you can see why I think that.
Nor do I think a woman should be the teacher in a mixed adult Bible study group. Women can help in organizing the group, pastoral care, encouragement and support, prayer, and so on, but they ought not to have the responsibility for teaching the group.
I also don’t think that women ought to have the authority as service leaders, for there is that sense that this is a position of authority over men. It’s not a teaching role, but I think it is an authority role, and whilst Christians may not see it as such , my feeling is non-Christians would see it as a role with authority.
They’re the negatives, but let me say something much more positive. I fully affirm the ministry of women, and the importance and equality of women in God’s sight. This passage restricts the ministry of women in one limited area of church life – but there are so many other opportunities for women to minister. We have employed AJ as our Childrens’ minister, Sophie and now Georgina as our Pastoral Care Co-ordinator, Leanne as our Office Administrator – women have incredibly valuable ministries to fulfil, gifts to use, care to give. St Mark’s would be greatly impoverished without you. Please keep doing what God has called you to do. A woman who truly loves God will behave in a way that is consistent with her professed faith. That includes holding to God’s design for the role of women in the church:
William Mounce ends his commentary on these verses with these words which I think are very helpful - 'one of the foundational issues underlying most of the discussion of the role of women in the church today is the question of whether worth is determined by role? Can essential equality and functional differentiation exist side by side? Underlying much of the discussion lies an implicit assumption that a limited role necessitates a diminished personal worth. It is no wonder that the discussion of women in ministry can become so heated. Yet the equating of worth and role is a nonbiblical, secular view of reality. Nowhere in Scripture are role and ultimate worth ever equated. In fact,we constantly find the opposite. The last will be first. The Suffering Servant himself is not worth less than those he served. Paul's analogy of the church as the body of Christ teaches that role and worth are unrelated. ... Even in the Godhead there is an eternal divisions of roles, but the three members of the Godhead are co-equal, of equal essence. ...' Friends our worth is not determined by our role, or indeed anything else, apart from the one fact that God in Christ Jesus loves us and died for us. And that is worth celebrating and living out.
At the end of the day it comes down to – will I do what God is telling me to do? Even if I don’t agree with it or like it? Will I be faithful to his word? Will I trust that God is good and his word is good? Will I let his word shape me and shape the church, or will I let culture do that? And if I don’t let the Bible do it culture will. Do I want the world to see a church which joyfully submits to Christ and his word?
Sometimes that will be hard and costly, and misunderstood – sometimes we will find ourselves opposed our society and culture. We ought to expect that. But when we live out God’s word, when we live out our salvation, when we live out God’s created order – it brings great joy and satisfaction. Paul believed that if the church did this then the gospel would continue to go out with power and effectiveness, such that men and women, boys and girls were saved. And that is worth living for.