26 January 2013

Women Elders: the World vs. the Word

photo credit: TechSavi via photopin cc
From its fashion to its technology to its leadership, the seeker-driven movement is known for modeling the church after the culture so that the lost will not feel out of place when there. The idea of "doing church for the unchurched" necessarily leads to pragmatism and even compromise as a group of professing Christians seeks to entice the unsaved with ear-tickling relevance. As the seeker-friendly movement gained momentum, it redefined "church" by ignoring God's purposes for the same.

This was an ideal setup for the father of lies, however, as he now had ample opportunity to undermine the clear Word of God with his distorted version of the truth. And so, as pragmatism and worldly influence came to define the gathering known as "church," so too did liberalism sneak into the pew. As with other worldly trends, the church was a few years behind the culture, but still did the sinful, upside-down ideals of feminism creep into the church where they have been nurtured and thus continue to flourish today.

Preaching in 1986, Dr. John MacArthur would say:
The dialogue and debate and even conflict that goes on over the issue of the role of women in the church has reached massive proportions. It is amazing to me that it all began with a sort of self-justifying effort on the part of a group of lesbians who wanted to have their day in the sun and gave birth to the modern feminist movement. Feminism rises out of sinful perversion and yet in spite of its origin it has found its way into the culture of our society in almost every area and even lately into the church. And the church for years committed to certain standards of behavior for men and women is systematically and rather progressively throwing aside all of its former doctrines in favor of newer ones. I am amazed at how many evangelical churches, schools and even seminaries are fast jettisoning things that they have for all their life long held to be biblical truths.
Books are coming out written by people who have for all their ministry been known as evangelicals now denying the things they've always believed and affirming new truth regarding the role of women. They're going back to passages in the Scripture and saying they have to be reinterpreted. Some are saying they have to be ignored, they reflect only Paul's anti-female bias. Others are saying they were added later by editors and they do not reflect the intent of the biblical writer or even his own verbiage. One or another kind of approach is used to do away with what has been the traditional interpretation of the Word of God. In fact, interpreting passages which are so patently obvious that even a rather brief reading of the passage, as I have just done, leaves you in little doubt as to the intent of its meaning.
But nonetheless, the church which is to be the last bastion of the truth of God is falling fast to the march of the feminist army. 1
Photo: Wikimedia
And so it continues. No longer reserved for the liberal-leaning denominations, women in positions of authority and leadership slowly is becoming commonplace and accepted among so-called evangelical Christians, churches and organizations. As one example, popular SBC Bible teacher Beth Moore willingly filled the pulpit of Passion City Church when pastor Louie Giglio was away speaking at a Hillsong conference. It seems to be expected that, at some point throughout the year, the wives of pastors like Steven Furtick will take to the stage for a Sunday service or two. Kay Warren, wife of "America's pastor," SBC pastor Rick Warren, has not only preached weekend services at her own Saddleback Church, but at other churches as well. The darling of Hillsong, Christine Caine, has no apparent concerns about presiding over weekend services at various churches throughout the world.

These are not pastors and leaders who sit on the fringes of Christianity, rather these are the celebrities of the evangelical world. These are those who are setting a precedent for the 'ordinary' and unknown Christian woman. Throughout the visible church, women are usurping the roles of men and forsaking their own God-given roles within the Body of Christ. This is not simply happening in one-off occurrences when a pastor is away and invites a guest speaker to preach. This is not simply a matter of women preaching to mixed audiences at conferences. This is not even only about the role of the primary preaching elder in the church. Everyday women (meaning, not celebrities like Beth Moore or Christine Caine), have usurped the leadership roles of men even within the local church. Why? Because the culture fosters feminism, and thus so does the pragmatic church as it seeks to appeal to the world rather than desiring to obey the clear Word of God.

When asked his thoughts about women usurping roles of leadership and authority within the church, Executive Director of Grace to You, Phil Johnson, had this to say:
What’s most unbiblical is easily boiled down to this: women are not supposed to have authority over men in the church....
The biblical issue is the question of authority. It’s not to say that men are smarter than women; it’s not to say that men inherently are better teachers than women, none of that is the case. It’s just the order God established for authority and it’s an issue of authority and the leadership duty in the church.
It’s for the women’s benefit as well, that men, their husbands and fathers and the men in the church, should take leadership because you can see in our culture what happens when this is reversed....
It doesn’t boil down to something as simple as, “Should women literally keep silent and never say anything?” The issue is authority and if you take all of those texts in context, you can see that. Paul is saying men should lead the church. Qualified men should lead the church. It’s just as bad for unqualified men to lead the church as it is for women to lead the church. So it’s not a sexist thing, it’s just that this is the way that God has established order in the church. Christ is the head and He has under-shepherds who are qualified men. Both disqualified men and women who take that office have intruded into a role that God hasn’t assigned to them and that’s disobedience. 2
Disobedience. This seems clear enough and even a cursory glance at the Scriptures addressing the topic lends itself to an understanding of God's clearly established and commanded order of the church. But man is rebellious and so he seeks to bend the Word to his own purposes rather than submitting himself to the Word clearly provided to him by God.

Women desire positions of authority and control, of that there is little doubt. As part of the curse of the Fall, the God-ordained roles of men and women were distorted:
To the woman he said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” (Genesis 3:16)
In the book, Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, in a chapter entitled, "Male-Female Equality and Male Headship," Ray Ortlund makes a very important distinction between male headship and male domination. The concept of male headship is gleaned from the model that Christ is the Head of the Church and, likewise, the husband is the head of the wife (1 Cor. 11:3; Eph. 5:23). Male domination, says Ortlund, is the antithesis of this, as the man asserts his will over the woman's will with no regard for her spiritual equality, rights or value.It is crucial that one understand the difference, as well as understand that even the Christian who holds to complementarian thought would denounce male domination.

Ortlund then explains the error made by evangelical feminism:
Evangelical feminism argues that God created man and woman as equals in a sense that excludes male headship. Male headship/domination (feminism acknowledges no distinction) was imposed upon Eve as a penalty for her part in the fall. It follows, in this view, that a woman’s redemption in Christ releases her from the punishment of male headship.4
This, then, sets the stage for the erroneous reasoning behind evangelical feminism. The concept of male headship, however, is not rooted in the Fall. It did not first appear in Genesis 3:16. Rather, it is rooted in the creation order before the Fall ever took place.
God created male headship as one aspect of our pre-fall perfection. Therefore, while many women today need release from male domination, the liberating alternative is not female rivalry or autonomy but male headship wedded to female help. Christian redemption does not redefine creation; it restores creation, so that wives learn godly submission and husbands learn godly headship.5
Yet the curse of the Fall is demonstrated throughout history as mankind perpetuates this distortion of roles both outside and inside of the church. The language Paul uses in his first letter to Timothy indicates that women at the church in Ephesus already were appropriating for themselves the roles reserved for men. Hence, Paul had to clearly restate God's intended order:
Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control. (1 Timothy 2:11–15)
It seems astonishing, then, that any church claiming submission and fidelity to Scripture would blatantly disobey such commands. Yet it happens and it happens frequently.

With the success of his Willow Creek Community Church in the Chicagoland area, Bill Hybels quickly became one of the founders of the seeker-driven movement, thus popularizing the lure of liberalism into the visible church as it is known today. The most recently released "Willow Weekly" newsletter includes a brief article about elders and what is required for those desiring to be in this position of leadership at the megachurch.

From the "Willow Weekly":
Note that Willow Creek seeks "men and women who fit the biblical qualifications of an Elder..." Immediately there is a problem: women are not qualified to be elders. The very Scripture cited by Willow Creek confirms this.

Of those passages listed above (Titus 1:9, Acts 20:28, 1 Peter 5:1–4, 1 Tim. 3:2–7), the two that speak most clearly of the character qualifications of those in leadership are those found in the Pastoral Epistles, namely 1 Timothy 3:2–7 and not merely only Titus 1:9, but Titus 1:5–9.
Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God's church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil. (1 Timothy 3:2–7)
This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you—if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. For an overseer, as God's steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it. (Titus 1:5–9)
A full discussion of these passages would take more space than ought to be granted to this one post. Though there are many similarities between these two passages (thus demonstrating that the qualifications for elders set forth by God are an unchanging standard), take careful note of this phrase: "the husband of one wife." At the risk of over-simplifying the issue, how is it that a woman can be the husband of one wife? Does this not immediately disqualify women from holding such a post?

Photo: Wikimedia
Of course, there are those who will argue that Paul simply is here referring to the sexual morality and marital fidelity of the elder. But if this is so, why is it phrased in this way? Surely Paul was not unable to state his meaning in more gender-neutral terms if he so desired. No, the elders of a church are to be men, just as Christ is the Head of the Church and man is head of the woman. This is God's design. Why should man (or woman), in his (or her) fallenness, question His sovereign plan?

The broader context of these passages, especially that of 1 Timothy 3:2–7, draws a distinct line between the roles of men and women in worship. Men are to lead prayer in worship (1 Tim. 2:8), while women are commanded to be present in the worship service so that they, too, may learn (1 Tim. 2:11). While women today may bristle at the idea that a woman is to "learn quietly with all submissiveness," the cultural realities must also be acknowledged. At the time of Paul's writing, in both Jewish and Greek society, women often were not encouraged to attend public worship. Their presence there was unimportant.6 The fact that Paul commands them to be present and affirms their right to learn must have been a great joy to the women of that day. And why must women be present to learn and be instructed in the Word of God? Because they too have grand ministry opportunities to raise godly children (1 Tim. 2:15) and to instruct fellow women in the faith.
I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well. (2 Timothy 1:5)
Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. (Titus 2:3–5)
"That the word of God may not be reviled." In the church, when women usurp the authority granted to men, or when men abdicate their role, thus opening the door for women to take their place, the Word of God is reviled. It is disobeyed, defied and denigrated. The roles of men and women within the Body of Christ are clearly defined by God Himself. The distinction between these roles does not nullify the glorious reality of spiritual equality in Christ (Rom. 3:22; Gal. 3:28; 1 Cor. 12:13), but it does demonstrate the importance of submission—by both men and women—to the Head of the Church, Jesus Christ.

When Willow Creek elder Missy Rasmussen states that "to be an Elder, you should feel God is leading you. It's a calling," one can know for certain that it is not God who is "calling" her to this role. Rather, it is a deception by the Great Deceiver himself, whose great goal is to confuse and destroy God's ordained plan and corrupt His perfect design. It is Satan who successfully tempts women to be discontent with their God-created roles in the church, family and society.7

Shame on the church, then, for allowing such corruption within its walls. Ironically, it is a failure of leadership that has led to the allowance of this role-reversal. When the leadership capitulates to the liberalism of the land, welcoming it into the God-designed structure known as the church, it is only a matter of time before the rest of Scripture is seen by that church as merely a helpful guide, and not the pure and holy Word of God. Like God Himself, the Word of the Almighty does not change. How sad it is that those who have been entrusted to teach this Word are the very ones willing to transgress it.

1. John MacArthur, "The Call to Lead the Church—Elders, Part 1," preached 6 April 1986.
2. "An Interview with Phil Johnson, Part 2," Christian Research Network, 31 July 2012.
3. Ray Ortlund, "Male-Female Equality and Male Headship," in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism, (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1991), 86.
4. Ray Ortlund, "Male-Female Equality and Male Headship," in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism, (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1991), 86.
5. Ray Ortlund, "Male-Female Equality and Male Headship," in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism, (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1991), 95.
6. John MacArthur, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: 1 Timothy, (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 1995), 83.
7. John MacArthur, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: 1 Timothy, (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 1995), 78.

Further Reading
As Interest in Spiritual Directors Grows, Christians Must Be Wary and Armed with Truth
Thank You, Lord. Reader Is Led "to the Truth I Tried to Reject"
Replacing the 'Violent' Cross


  1. I have always wondered about women speakers at mixed conferences for Christians. How are we to think about that?

    1. *Coincidentally,* I asked that same question to Phil Johnson last summer. Here is his response, and I agree:

      Q: What if a woman is teaching mixed audiences outside of the context of the local church, such as at conferences or on a television show?

      A: Teaching inherently entails the exercise of authority. If you are teaching, you are exercising authority. If you’re teaching biblical material, it doesn’t matter if you’re in the context of the local church or not, you are exercising the authority of Scripture. If you’re teaching biblical material to fellow Christians, whether it is a home Bible study or a conference somewhere, that’s still what Paul meant by “in the church.”

  2. Thank, Erin, for the excellent article. I do have a disagreement with Phil Johnson's claim.

    The context of Paul's teaching is the assembly of the believers; they didn't have anything like, for example, an apologetics conference. There is nothing wrong with women teachers - the only "authority" the teacher has is that they are an "authority" over what they teach. It isn't like a public school, where a teaching is also the authority.

    I have been at apologetics conferences where a woman who is an authority of the occult and new age, having left that lifestyle and turned to Christ, was the teacher of the class for that subject. She was sharing her knowledge on the topic and how to reach those who are trapped in the beliefs system.

    To say that a woman can't teach "biblical material" to fellow Christians is well beyond what Paul was saying. After all, did not Timothy learn from his grandmother? How many children learn "biblical material" from their mothers? Even as teens (who are indeed adults, so you have a woman teaching "biblical material" to fellow Christians, including young men in her own house!

    I think it very much matters what the topic of a convention is about; if it is teaching about cults, e.g., to eliminate a teacher well qualified except that she's a woman, and then have no one to teach on that subject, is a very legalistic application of what Paul was teaching.

    1. We're talking here about when a woman specifically preaches/teaches on Scripture in a position of authority (i.e, conference speaker). To speak about specific topics (apologetics, cults, etc.) is a different matter. The context of this question was when women stand before mixed audiences to preach Scripture just as they might do in a church on Sunday morning. For example, Beth Moore preaching at Passion 2013 was not speaking about cults (just using your example), but was preaching from the biblical text as would any pastor.

      Further, obviously women teaching the children within her own home or within the church is affirmed. That is, after all, in the text I cite above. I think I can safely speak for Phil here when I say that he would heartily agree with that, and that you've read a bit too much into this brief quote.

    2. I am the asker of the question above and this very much matters to me so I appreciate both your replies. So would it be correct to say that when someone like Joni Eareckson Tada takes the stage at a mixed conference and talks about her faith with regard to her disability, gives reference to Scripture but doesn't actually exegete the Scripture that would be ok? But a Beth Moore who actually teaches the Scripture (meaning, interpretation, etc.) to a mixed conference, that would not be ok? Another example would be when Susan Hunt takes the stage at a mixed conference to talk about women's ministry but is not teaching Scripture, that would be ok?

      Have I got this right?

      Thanks so much.

    3. Anonymous,
      I'd say you've got it right.

      Just to make a point though, Beth Moore shouldn't be teaching anyone because she has no clue about proper hermeneutics!

    4. Yes, I'd agree that this is the best way to draw that line, Anonymous.

      I also agree with Glenn - Beth Moore shouldn't be teaching at all because her distortion of Scripture does more harm than good.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. Well, I'm not sure how you can control who reads your blog, lyn. But when a woman makes a willful decision to stand and preach before men, or when a church allows women in the position of elder, then they are blatantly disobeying the Word.

    2. I agree, we cannot control who reads are blog, but do you think we should consider brothers in Christ may read what we post? If that would be the case, shouldn't we be careful not to teach the Scripture for the sake of the possibility brothers in Christ may/do visit our blogs?

      I also agree, to willfully stand in and preach before men is sin, the sin of rebellion.

    3. I'm curious about something lyn. I remember a couple years ago when you argued that a blog was different from a pulpit. It seems your opinion has changed and I am quite curious about why. I remember you felt very strongly that a woman speaking Scriptural things to a mixed audience was not prohibited.

      It appears you have changed your view. What caused your change in view?

    4. I see nothing at all unbiblical about a good woman teacher instructing about the Word on a blog. I would venture that blogs by women have a higher female audience. They are not teaching in any assembled groups of saints, nor is it any different than writing a book. One cannot control who their readership is, and should not be penalized just because men MIGHT read. It is a real stretch to fit this into what is taught in the N.T.

    5. This comment has been removed by the author.

    6. I agree with Glenn here. If we take this to its logical conclusion, lyn, then there would be no books or bible studies written by women at all for fear that one man might come along and read it. While there are many women authors who would do more service to the church by ceasing to write, this nevertheless is a ridiculous notion. We are talking about taking a position of teaching and authority in the assembling of the saints. By your reasoning, we probably shouldn't even be having this discussion about biblical commands in a public comment string. I fear you're taking on a very legalistic view of the matter.

    7. I am very curious about what lyn had to say about this. For whatever reason, it was removed, but can someone state the position? I am curious about the justification of her stance.

    8. Hi 072591,

      lyn removed her comments because she no longer wanted to be engaged in the discussion.

  4. Well the question was about "conferences" with no caveat as to type. The St. Louis Conference on Biblical Discernment, held every two years, is a "conference." So my comment had to do with the blanket statement about "conferences", and then a blanket statement about women teaching "biblical material." So the response by Phil did NOT limit location or type of conference. That is why I think it should be clarified.

    1. Yes, the excerpt I provided was vague. The broader context of the interview makes it clear what we're discussing, but it seemed overkill to post the entire thing in the comment string of this post. :)

  5. this is always a touchy subject. I don't have a problem with bending my knee and submitting to Scripture-The perspicuity of Scripture states that women should never be Pastors or to teach men. 1 Timothy 3:2-7. Obviously the passage is referring to a man and never a woman or else it'd be mighty strange to be a woman and speak of her as the "husband of one woman"

    We wouldn't be in the mess we're in with people like Beth Moore if they were obedient to God's Word. Women have a proclivity to rely on their emotions and feelings way more than men. God wired women like this. That's a serious problem when teaching the word of God amongst a group of men.

    1. It's amazing to me just how touchy this subject is, Linda. Scripture doesn't stutter or stammer. People's resistance to this just seems to demonstrate how rebellious we are to the authority and sovereignty of God.

      We wouldn't be in the mess we're in with people like Beth Moore if they were obedient to God's Word. Women have a proclivity to rely on their emotions and feelings way more than men. God wired women like this. That's a serious problem when teaching the word of God amongst a group of men.


    2. Caleb Schumacher, a theologian I read frequently, (http://calebspath.blogspot.com/) produced a slide show .ppt outlining the issues in Revelation 2, the condemnation of the Church at Thyatira. One of them was that the people of that church had tolerated false teaching from a woman who called herself a prophetess, one who interprets oracles. The easiest way to justify false teaching is to say the revelations are directly from God.

      However in the latter part of the verse in 2:19, Jesus also condemns the church because they allowed this woman who 'teaches and leads'. As Schumacher wrote, this apparently was violating the biblical mandate in 1 Tim 2:12. Later in the verse, those who even had not held to her teaching or had participated in it were also going to be judged because they had allowed it.

      It is an interesting study, if anyone wants to read it themselves, it is here

      Jesus is serious about all His commands, precepts, and warnings. In my opinion the church at Thyatira is a warning against tolerating female teachers (as well as failure to address false teaching). As we see in the verse from 2 Timothy 3:6, satan sends false teachers to work on insinuating themselves in women as he first did with Eve. Clarke's Commentary says of the Timothy verse, "refers to false teachers and their insinuating manners, practising upon weak women, who, seeing in them such a semblance of piety, entertain them with great eagerness, and at last become partakers with them in their impurities." Hence the bible's mandate that women be guarded and protected and the church be wary of how far women go in teaching and having authority.

  6. PS: I'm sorry, I didn't make it clear that I am not against women teachers. There are many wonderful, spiritually gifted female bible teachers. It is when they violate the scripture in having authority beyond what the bible ordains, that I am against. The same goes for male teachers, many men today are going beyond their scriptural authority in their teachings too. Won't it be wonderful when the glorification comes and we can all follow Jesus perfectly and purely without our own sin natures weighing us down?! What a day that will be!

    1. I totally agree, Elizabeth. Women who willfully disobey and usurp these positions is just as much of a problem as unqualified men who are in leadership. And thank you for the additional insights in your comment above - I always appreciate your contributions!

      Won't it be wonderful when the glorification comes and we can all follow Jesus perfectly and purely without our own sin natures weighing us down?! What a day that will be!


  7. Barbara : Question - I have been thrown into the realization that false teachers are everywhere. I am wondering about women, in general however, teaching. Debra was a judge in the old testament and ruled over the men and women of her day. Why would God appoint her as Judge if He didn't want her as a Judge over men as well? She was know for her wisdom and courage. She was a prophetess as well. The practice of the time was to seek God in prayer before making a ruling. She was also a Warrior and went into battle with a man because he would not go with out her. Is this an example that sometimes women can teach the bible? Is the situation in 1 Timothy 3:2-7 due to some specific women at the church where the letter was sent?

    Please let me know your thoughts.

    1. That's a very good question. I know that the bible speaks clearly from 1 Timothy 3:2-7 about women. So I take into consideration that God's word cannot speak with a forked tongue.. I could have given an answer but I think that Matt Slick says it better:

      -"The woman is not to have authority over the man in the church context. But this does not extend to the political/economic world. In the Old Testament Deborah was a judge in Israel over men. Also, in the New Testament, Phoebe played an important role in the church at Cenchrea (Romans 16). There is no doubt that women supported Paul in many areas and were great helpers in the church (Acts 2:17; 18:24-26; 21:8-9). But what Paul is speaking of in 1 Tim. 2 is the relationship between men and women in the church structure, not in a social or political context."

      notice what Paul emphasizes "in Context of order- "in the Church". Outside the Church we have women who are judges and I Know that in the Old Testament the setting was in a Theocracy. I could be wrong but I believe Judges were still under the Theocracy of God.

      Also, if you look at Deborah and Barak they sang the song of victory as a team together of defeating the enemy.

      Paul doesn't go back to the book of Judges, he goes all the way back to Genesis when GOD established a certain order of Creation. Adam was made first and God gave the order directly to him not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of Good and evil". God did NOT give that order directly to the woman. Adam was responsible not Eve with the command. The order is directly what God has established. So when one deals with Order it's God's established order of Creation from the beginning. When a woman disobeys "this" order that was established by God, they are disobeying GOD.
      Certainly women are gifted and can articulate better than men in many cases- but that's not the point. And sure women can be very successful in this world as being "pastors". But being successful does not equal God's blessing for God cannot bless what is against His will and against His established order of Creation. Success apart from God's blessing is vain.


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