The Bible’s Viewpoint
Do Women Belong in the Pulpit?
“MOST Christian laymen cannot understand why, if women can be monarchs, prime ministers, judges, surgeons, scientists, they must be prevented from celebrating Holy Communion and marriages,” writes Church of England clergyman Nicholas Stacey in The Times of London.
Although the Church of England trains women for special service, up till now it has not permitted women to serve as priests to administer its sacraments. Do you agree with the stand of the church, or do you believe that women should be in the pulpit?
Could Split Churches
The issue of women as clergy has become a wedge between members of the same religion. The Church of England could easily split into two separate institutions over the issue, warns Dr. Graham Leonard, Bishop of London, the leading cleric opposing ordination of women. Some people blame prejudice for keeping women out of the pulpit, but more is involved.
For decades, the Church of England has been trying to reconcile its differences with Rome. But in a recent letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury, the pope said that any admission of women to the priesthood would constitute “in the eyes of the Catholic Church, an increasingly serious obstacle to that progress.”
One important element, though, has been left out of this debate—the Bible. How did women serve in the early Christian congregation, and what should be their role today?
Equal but Different
At the birth of the Christian congregation in the year 33 C.E., women along with men were recipients of holy spirit. This is exactly as the prophet Joel had foretold centuries earlier, the apostle Peter explained.—Acts 1:13-15; 2:1-4, 13-18.
Later, Peter came to full realization of another important fact: “God is not partial.” (Acts 10:34) Literally, that scripture means that God is not a “taker of faces.” A “taker of faces” shows recognition and preference for another person. In ancient times, many a judge would favor the wealthy over the poor. Or verdicts would be handed down based on nationality, social rank, family, or friendship rather than on the facts. But Jehovah does the opposite. He favors only those who fear him and work righteousness. When it comes to salvation, God does not esteem a man’s ‘face’ over a woman’s ‘face.’ Both are on an equal footing with him.—Acts 10:35.
Therefore, the Scriptures afford Christian men and women an equal measure of honor as members of the congregation. The apostle Paul writes to Christians in Galatia that “there is neither slave nor freeman, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one person in union with Christ Jesus.” All have an independent spiritual standing before God; yet all are united as a body of his servants. All are alike in God’s household.—Galatians 3:26-28.
Nevertheless, there are differences between men and women in the congregation. But just as natural differences between a man and a woman are no obstacle to their complementing each other, so the different privileges that men and women enjoy within the Christian congregation should not be an obstacle to the congregation’s harmony. What are those differences?
Teachers—When and to Whom?
The differences center on teaching and authority. Women are barred from serving in an official teaching capacity in the congregation and from exercising spiritual authority over fellow congregation members. In his pastoral letter to Timothy, Paul plainly states: “I do not permit a woman to teach, or to exercise authority over a man, but to be in silence.”—1 Timothy 2:12.
Paul next points to the basis for not allowing women to be teachers—a divinely appointed relationship between man and woman. “For Adam was formed first, then Eve,” he writes. (1 Timothy 2:13) God could have created Adam and Eve at the same moment, but he did not. Adam existed for some time before Eve. Does this not reveal God’s purpose for Adam to direct, to be the head, rather than Eve? (1 Corinthians 11:3) And to teach is, in effect, to act as a master, or head, over those taught. Those taught listen and quietly learn. Thus, in the congregation only men are to be teachers and overseers.
Need the fact that women do not teach in the congregation cause frustration and resentment? No. Women are free to teach Christian doctrine and are invited to do so. In what context and under what circumstances? Older women can be “teachers of what is good” to the younger women. And just as Eunice and her mother Lois instructed Timothy, so Christian women still follow their example in training children in “The Way” of the truth.—Titus 2:3-5; Acts 9:2; 2 Timothy 1:5.
Today, Christian women also follow the examples of Euodia and Syntyche by preaching the good news publicly. (Philippians 4:2, 3) They can be teachers by conducting Bible studies with interested people. (Matthew 28:20) Hundreds of thousands of women find spiritual fulfillment in this urgent work of preaching and teaching. They point others to the establishment of a world of righteousness and peace under the reign of Jesus Christ—a hope they share equally with their Christian brothers.—Psalm 37:10, 11; 68:11.
[Blurb on page 22]
The issue of women as clergy has become a wedge between members of the same religion