Recently a young man approached me with a dilemma. He discovered that the young lady he has been courting attends a church that allows women into the pastoral ministry. He had attended church with her on several occasions but the topic did not come up until a recent visit in which a woman preached in the pastor’s absence. It took him by surprise, and he wondered how he should handle the situation in discussing the issue both graciously and biblically. His conviction is that the Bible affirms only men are called to the pastoral and thus preaching ministry. When mentioning his concern the young lady wondered why he believed that, and if it was a big deal.
This dilemma is quite prevalent. The church today has more female preachers and pastors than it has had in its history. More and more single Christians are having to discuss this issue as they discern God’s will in dating, marriage, and church attendance. Consequently, it is helpful to know how to speak graciously and truthfully on this issue and hopefully convince a dear sister or brother of the biblical position. In doing so, I would counsel the conversation in three ways.
First, assure your friend that the issue belongs in the category of the bene esse and not the esse of the church. In other words, there are issues and beliefs that we understand to belong to the esse, the being or essential nature of church. Without these the church ceases to be the church and the Christian a Christian. For example, the existence of God, the atonement of Christ, Bible as the Word of God, salvation by grace through faith in Christ alone, the resurrection of Christ, etc. Without these core convictions and others, the church and Christianity has no meaning. These are the non-negotiables of the faith.
While the issue of woman preachers does not rise to the level of essential, however, it does belong to the bene esse, the well-being or good of the church. In other words, we don’t assert that a person is lost and outside the faith simply because they believe in woman preachers. Belief in woman preachers does not nullify the work of Christ in salvation or make void faith in the death and resurrection of Christ unto eternal life. Still understanding rightly what the Bible says about leadership in the church (and the home for that matter) is critical for the church to be faithful in unfaithful times, to be strong in times of moral and theological weakness.
Secondly, encourage them that male leadership in the Bible is not based upon worth, as is often the case in the world. Rather, it is based in God’s designed for an ordered world. God created Adam and placed him in the Garden of Eden to rule it (Gen. 2:15). When he created Eve, God did not create her lesser or inferior to Adam (in fact I could argue the her creation surpassed that of Adam, if possible). He made her equal in essence, beauty, and goodness. Yet, God established order in creation for the good of creation — including the order of Adam and Eve themselves. And while sin would corrupt this order and the inherit good in it (Gen. 3:16), the beauty and the blessedness of this creation order is redeemed and re-established in Christ, in the church.
It is not surprising, therefore, when establishing leadership among the redeemed people of God, God grounds that leadership in the order of his creation (1 Tim. 2:13), namely that Adam was created first. God intended for man to lovingly lead before the fall, and he intends for men to lovingly lead in the redeemed community as well.
Lastly, remind them that biblically speaking, male leadership in the church is but an extension of male leadership in the home. It is not surprising that one of the qualifications for elder or pastor is that, “He must manage his own household well…” In fact, so obvious is this qualification that the logical and necessary implication is stated as well: “…for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of God’s church?” (1 Tim. 3:4-5). Leadership in the church is to be reflective of God ordained leadership in the home. It should be obvious that what God ordained in the home should not and must not be contradicted or subverted in the church.
Anyone who knows me knows of my love for women in the church. I have written in this space previously about the importance of women in the life and ministry of our Lord (here). Women proved indispensable to ministry of our Lord on this earth, and they continue to be so. Their roles and responsibilities are varied and significant. And simply because God has ordered his house in such a way as to ordain the pastorate for men only, does not any way diminish his ordained roles for women in that house. When we submit to God’s word and follow his will we find our homes and our churches are the better for it.
I often counsel young people who are courting and intending to marry to make sure you pursue someone who is teachable, willing to submit to you and more importantly to Christ (Eph. 5:21). I pray that they will see that agreeing on issues like the roles of men and women in church may not be the esse of their relationship, but it is for the bene esse of their life together.