A woman was just elected as an elder at our church. Should I stay at my church or leave?
First Issue – Tares in The Church
When women are elders in a church, believers wonder if they should leave. We see increasingly that the church is departing from a commitment to biblical truth. on this subject. Is this reason for believers to leave the church where this is allowed? Like a tidal wave spiritual indifference and ignorance of the Word of God is sweeping, over the church. Individuals within the church increasingly do not care what God has written. They are like the Israelites to whom Isaiah wrote,
Who say to the seers, “You must not see visions”; and to the prophets, “You must not prophesy to us what is right, speak to us pleasant words, prophesy illusions. Get out of the way, turn side from the path, let us hear no more about the Holy One of Israel.” Therefore thus says the Holy One of Israel, “Since you have rejected this word and have put your trust in oppression and guile, and have relied on them, therefore this antiquity will be to you like a breach about to fall, a bulge in a high wall, whose collapse comes suddenly in an instant, whose collapse is like the smashing of a potter’s jar, so ruthlessly shattered that a sherd will not be found among its pieces to take fire from a hearth or to scoop water from a cistern.” Isaiah 30:10-14 (NASB)
The Israelites looked for the positive and rejected God’s rebukes. They wanted “pleasant words” and not words of rebuke. If one reads the major and minor prophets carefully, one discovers that most of the Israelites were not followers of God. God repeatedly called them to seek Him and be godly.
Today, the church is suffering from the same root problem. We have tares in the church and they do not care about pleasing God. In Matthew 13:36-43 Jesus warned us that tares would exist in the church. Tares are plants that look like wheat. In Jesus’ parable tares symbolized false Christians and wheat symbolized real Christians. Jesus explained that tares are sown by the devil (Matthew 13:38-39). This means that there could be tares in every church. Why would the devil place tares in a church? The answer is that tares will look like real Christians and, consequently, can cause destruction from within the church. They may even rise into leadership and some may be pastors. They mimic the behavior of Christians. Jesus said that we cannot know if they are real until the judgment. That is, they will deceive everyone in the church. But they have adopted their own moral standards and only care about their own desires. The prophets reveal that the ultimate test of these individuals is do they reject God’s Word, the Bible, or do they have a high commitment to obey Him?
Second Issue – Infant Christians
While the first reason for the tidal wave of spiritual indifference and ignorance of the Word of God that is sweeping the church contains tares in the pew and in leadership, the second reason is many Christians are spiritually immature. Their actions and lack of biblical knowledge reveal their spiritual condition. 1 Corinthians 3:1-3; Hebrews 5:11-14 and 1 John 2:12-14 reveal that mature Christians will be godly and know their Bible. When men and women are godly and have a solid grasp of scripture, they are spiritual fathers of the faith.
I have written to you, children, because you know the Father. I have written to you, fathers, because you know Him who has been from the beginning. I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one. 1 John 2:13b-14 (NASB)
Many Christians are spiritually immature. As a result, they do not know the Bible and cannot know the Bible. They cannot know scripture because Jesus said that if we do not obey Him, He will not reveal Himself to us (John 14:21). Because they are biblically ignorant, they struggle interpreting scripture correctly and then the culture influences their view of scripture. Subsequently, they cause division in the church. The apostle Paul warned against individuals who cause dissension and hinderances contrary to the Word of God. They have flattering and smooth speech.
Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them. For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting. Romans 16:17-18 (NASB)
The result of tares in the church and spiritual immaturity is an inability to understand scripture and an unwillingness to obey it. Ultimately, it is a rejection of God in favor of one’s desires or pleasure.
Women in Leadership – God’s Will
When we consider the issue of women elders, women pastors or women teaching men, it is important to determine what is God’s will on the subject and not the desire of the culture or our personal wishes. Our desires must be in submission to God. For example, in Matthew 6:10 Jesus taught the disciples to pray, “Your kingdom come. Your will be done. On earth as it is in heaven.” That is, our desire should be that God’s will be done on earth. Therefore, let’s examine a few passages and determine what is God’s will. The first passage is 1 Timothy 3:2.
An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife . . . 1 Timothy 3:2 (NASB)
There are two points to note in this passage. The first is that the Greek word that is translated as “overseer” is episkopos and it is in the masculine gender. The second point is that the phrase “husband of one wife” literally means “one woman man.” This phrase refers to a man who is committed to his wife. That reveals that the elder or overseer is a male and he is committed to his wife. This verse reveals that an elder is to be a male and not a female.
Then two verses later in 1 Timothy 3:4-5, we read that the overseer or elder must be able to manage his household well. Note that the masculine gender is used throughout these two verses, revealing that the church leader is to be a male.
He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?) . . . 1 Timothy 3:4-5 (NASB)
The same message is taught by the Holy Spirit in Titus 1:6-7. In fact, throughout both 1 Timothy 2:11–12; 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9 the male gender is used in the Greek. That is, male church leaders are in view.
Earlier in 1 Timothy 2:11-12 God told us that it was His will that women be submissive and not exercise authority over men.
A woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. 1 Timothy 2:11-12 (NASB)
The same message is also taught in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35.
The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but bare to subject themselves, just as the Law also says. If they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church. 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 (NASB)
That is, women are to be silent in the church. Now that is impossible if she teaches men and is a church leader (1 Timothy 5:17).
We also learn an important lesson from Jesus about church leadership. He did not choose one woman to be a disciple. If women were to be included in church leadership, He would have set the example and a woman would have been included in the leadership team. But He did not do that. Then when the New Testament scriptures were written, Jesus prohibited women from being included in church leadership. It should be remembered that the scriptures are also called the “Word of Christ” (Romans 10:17; Colossians 3:16). That is, He wrote the entire Bible through the Holy Spirit.
Women in Leadership – Historical Review
The early church fathers agree with the above conclusions. For example, the early church father John Chrysostom (A.D. 349 – 407) wrote the following about women in church leadership,
The divine law indeed has excluded women from the ministry, but they endeavor to thrust themselves into it; and since they can effect nothing of themselves, they do all through the agency of others; and they have become invested with so much power that they can appoint or eject priests at their will: things in fact are turned upside down, and the proverbial saying may be seen realized— The ruled lead the rulers: and would that it were men who do this instead of women, who have not received a commission to teach. Why do I say teach? For the blessed Paul did not suffer them even to speak in the Church. But I have heard someone say that they have obtained such a large privilege of free speech, as even to rebuke the prelates of the Churches, and censure them more severely than masters do their own domestics.
Chrysostom reveals that even in the early years of the church women wanted positions of leadership and teaching.
Later Martin Luther (A.D. 1483 – 1546) agreed with many of the previous early church fathers when he wrote,
It is, however, true that the Holy Spirit has excepted women, children, and incompetent people from this function, but chooses . . . only competent males to fill this office, as one reads here and there in the epistles of St. Paul that a bishop must be pious, able to teach, and the husband of one wife – and in 1 Corinthians 14:34 he says, “The women should keep silence in the churches”; In summary, it must be a competent and chosen man. Children, women, and other persons are not qualified for this office, even though they can hear God’s word, to receive baptism, the sacrament, absolution, and are also true, holy Christians, as St. Peter says (1 Pet 3:7 – Luther’s Works, American Edition 41:154, 155).
Also, John Calvin (A.D. 1509-1564) comment that women were excluded from holding positions of leadership in the church and teaching if men would be in submission to her or taught by her. Here is his comment on 1 Corinthians 14:34,
I answer, that the office of teaching is a superiority in the Church, and is, consequently, inconsistent with subjection. For how unseemly a thing it were, that one who is under subjection to one of the members, should preside over the entire body! It is therefore an argument from things inconsistent — If the woman is under subjection, she is, consequently, prohibited from authority to teach in public. . . . Paul’s reasoning, however, is simple — that authority to teach is not suitable to the station that a woman occupies, because, if she teaches, she presides over all the men, while it becomes her to be under subjection.
Time To Leave The Church
This is a difficult topic since this is an emotional topic for many Christians. It is emotional because there are tares in the church and many Christians are spiritually immature in conduct and biblical knowledge. Consequently, Christians are abandoning the historically clear teaching of scripture that women cannot serve in a leadership role in the church where she has authority over men. They are also ignoring the teaching of the early church fathers who lived in a different era, unpolluted by our modern-day biases and the influences of our culture.
Therefore, what should one do if the church leadership has chosen one woman or women to be elders or leaders in a church? The answer is to first address the issue from a biblical perspective with the elders of the church and if unsuccessful leave the church. One must leave the church because the election of a woman as an elder is only a symptom of a much more serious problem. The root problem is that there are tares in the leadership team of the church or they are baby Christians and do not have a solid grasp of the truths of the Word of God. That is, they are not qualified to be church leaders.
Titus 1:9-10 makes it clear that one of the qualifications required of an elder is that he knows the Bible and he knows the Bible so well that he can defend it against those who would distort its teaching.
. . . holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict. For there are many rebellious men, empty talkers and deceivers . . . Titus 1:9-10 (NASB)
Therefore, what does one do when the leadership is unqualified to lead the church and such doctrinal error is committed? What should one do when God’s will is ignored and a woman is added to the leadership team? Should the church expect God’s blessing on the leadership team and the church? The correct conclusion is look for a church that teaches the Word of Christ and has male elders. To remain is to knowingly submit to error and not grow spiritually as you could. To remain is to be stunted in your spiritual growth.
1. Note that elder and overseer are used interchangeably for the same leader. See Acts 20:17, 28.
2. John Chrysostom. On The Priesthood. Book 3, 9. Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers. Hendricksen. 1995., p. 49.
3. John Calvin. Commentary on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to The Corinthians. Baker Book House. 1996. p. 468.
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