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1. Does the Bible Support Ordaining Women As Elders or Pastors?--Part 3 PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Does the Bible Support Ordaining Women As Elders or Pastors?--Part 3
Samuel Koranteng-Pipim, Ph.D.
Director, Public Campus Ministries, Michigan Conference

  In parts 1 and 2 of this article, we looked at how proponents of women's ordination keep changing their arguments and, in view of these evolving arguments, we identified some crucial theological issues at stake in the ongoing debate. One of the key issues concerns whether or not the Bible prescribes gender roles and when such roles, if any, were instituted. This question concerns the "headship principle," the view that God calls upon men to exercise spiritual leadership roles in their homes and churches and holds them accountable if they default in their responsibility. This present article will address this important question.

Role Differentiation Between Men and Women

    Proponents of women’s ordination fail to realize the importance the Bible attaches to the headship principle as a necessary condition for spiritual oversight functions in both the home and the church. Consequently, today they are pushing for “women elders” and “women pastors,” “women clergy,” and “women in spiritual leadership.”

    And yet in the Bible, headship is a representative and spiritual leadership role that was assigned to males only. Thus, in the Old Testament headship was first assigned to firstborn males in the home. The home was the earliest church, and spiritual leadership for the home church was assigned to firstborn males. Later, as God constituted the nation Israel as His “church in the wilderness” (Acts 7:38), this headship role was given to males of the tribe of Levi who alone could serve as priests. During the New Testament times, the spiritual leadership role was given to apostles and elders of the church.  

    The headship principle, which originated at Creation, assigns different roles to men and women. This principle is the biblically consistent explanation for the absence of biblical precedent for ordaining women, not only as priests in the Old Testament but also as apostles and elders/pastors in the New Testament. The headship principle, not an accommodation to culture, is also the basis for the specific prohibitions against women having "authority over men" (1 Tim 2:11ff.; 3:2; Titus 1:6; 1 Cor 14:34-35).

    Instituted at Creation. The Bible teaches that the male headship/leadership role and the female supporting/cooperative role were instituted at creation. As part of God's arrangement before the fall of Adam and Eve, this creation ordinance describes the relationship for which men and women were fitted by nature. Male headship/leadership, in contrast to male domination, suggests that in the relationship of the man and woman, two spiritually-equal human beings, it is the man who exercises primary responsibility for leading the family in a God-glorifying direction (cf. 1 Cor 11:3; Eph 5:21-33). This divine arrangement resulted in complete harmony between our first parents before the entrance of sin.

    Four biblical evidences establish this headship principle at creation.

    First, God expressed His intended arrangement for the family relationship by creating Adam first, then Eve. Therefore, Paul writes, "I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve" (1 Tim 2:12-13 NIV). As the wider context of the book of Genesis suggests, the divine priority of having Adam "formed first, then Eve" had an important theological significance. The sequence established Adam as the "firstborn" in the human family, a position that gave him the special responsibility of leadership in the family--whether home or church.

“If God indeed fashioned Eve later than Adam, for a purpose for which another male human being was not suited, then it is not difficult to argue that, in principle, there are things for which the woman may be suited for which the man is not, and vice versa. This observation appears to provide some substantiation for the kinds of functional distinctions between men and women in the Creator’s purpose that have traditionally been held.”

    Second, God gave to Adam the directions for the first pair regarding custody of the garden and the dangers of the forbidden tree (Gen 2:16-17). This charge to Adam called him to spiritual leadership. When Satan addressed Eve rather than Adam regarding the forbidden tree, the tempter's object was to undermine the divine arrangement by deceiving Eve into assuming primary headship responsibility (see 1 Tim 2:14). Had Eve been created first and then Adam, and had she been charged with the responsibility of leadership, Satan might well have attacked the headship principle by approaching Adam.

    Third, God instructed that in marriage it is the man who must act, leaving dependence on father and mother to be united with his wife (Gen 2:24; Matt 19:4, 5), and that in the marriage relationship the woman's role is to complement the man in his duties (Gen 2:18, 23-24). In this instruction, God charged the man with the responsibility of lovingly providing for and protecting the woman (cf. Eph 5:25, 28-31; 1 Pet 3:7; 1 Tim 3:4; Titus 1:6).

    Fourth, events after the fall (but before God pronounced judgment) confirm that Adam's headship was already in place. Although Eve first disobeyed, it was only after Adam had joined in the rebellion that the eyes of both of them were opened (Gen 3:4-7). More significantly, after the fall God first addressed Adam, holding him accountable for eating the forbidden fruit: "Where art thou? . . . Hast thou eaten of the tree . . . ?" (Gen 3:9-12; cf. 3:17: "Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree. . ."). It appears inexplicable for God, who in His omniscience already knew what had happened, to act in this way if Adam had not been given headship in the Eden relationship.

    Consequently, despite the fact that the woman initiated the rebellion, it is Adam (not Eve, nor even both of them) who is blamed for our fall (Rom 5:12-21; 1 Cor 15:21-22), which suggests that as the spiritual head in the partnership of their equal relationship, Adam was the representative of the family.

    These facts indicate that even before the fall, God had established the principle of male headship/leadership. He instituted this principle not as an indication of superiority of Adam over Eve, nor was it for dominance or oppression, but for God-glorifying responsibility.  

    Thus when Paul writes that "the head of every man is Christ, the head of a woman is her husband, and the head of Christ is God" (1 Cor 11:3 RSV), and that women should not "have authority over men" because "Adam was formed first" (1 Tim 2:12ff. RSV), he is not concocting an arbitrary "proof text" to justify his alleged concession to Hellenistic or Jewish cultural prejudices against women. As an inspired writer, the apostle Paul fully understood the theological truth of the headship principle as a divine arrangement instituted before the fall and which remains permanently valid for the Christian.

    Headship: For the Home and the Church. The pro-ordination book Women in Ministry argues that while the headship principle (erroneously believed to have originated at the Fall) is relevant today, the principle is only valid for the home situation and not for the church family. There are at least three major reasons against this view.

    First, the Bible teaches that the church is not just another social institution; it is a worshiping community—a group of people who relate to God through a faith relationship in Christ. Thus the church, in both Old and New Testaments, exists whenever and wherever “two or three have gathered in my [Christ’s] name” (Matt 18:20). Rightly understood, the worshiping household is a miniature model of the church. Even before Jesus Christ established the New Testament church (Matt 16:18, 19), the church was already in existence in Old Testament times. Israel, with its priests and ceremonial system of worship, was “the church in the wilderness” (Acts 7:38). But long before the Exodus brought Israel the opportunity to be “a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation” (Ex 19:6), the church existed in the homes, wherever “two or three . . . gathered in my name.”

    The numerous Bible references to the church as the family of God  suggest that the relationship of male and female in the church—“the household of God” (1 Tim 3:15 RSV)—is to be modeled after the home family, of which the Eden home was the prototype (Eph 5:22, 23; Col 3:18; 1 Pet 3:1-7; 1 Cor 11:3, 7-9; 14:34, 35; 1 Tim 2:11-3:5). The frequent correspondence between home and church found in Scripture (e.g., Acts 2:46; 5:42; 1 Cor 14:34, 35; cf. Phil 4:22) finds an echo in John Chrysostom’s statement that “a household is a little church” and “a church is a large household.”

    Second, the Bible makes the success of male headship in the home a necessary qualification for one to be elder or overseer in the church. Thus, since only males can legitimately be heads of their homes (as husbands and fthers), according to Scripture, they alone can serve in the headship office of the church (as elders or overseers). For example, the pastoral epistles of Paul to Timothy and Titus, the very books which describe the qualities of an elder-pastor, view the church as the family of God, thus establishing the family structure as the model for church structure: “If a man does not know how to manage his own household, how can he care for God’s church?” (1 Tim 3:4, 5 RSV; cf. Titus 1:6). This is why the Bible teaches that the elder or overseer must be “the husband of one wife” (1 Tim 3:2; Titus 1:6).

    Third, it is logically and practically inconsistent to propose that God made the husband the spiritual head at home (a smaller family unit) and his wife the spiritual head of the church (a larger family unit). The “total egalitarian” model would create serious conflicts and confusion, yet God is not the author of confusion. Therefore, He is not the author of the idea that women should be the spiritual heads in the church.

    The description of the church as “the household of God” (1 Tim 3:15; Eph 2:19) and the patterning of church authority after the headship arrangement in the home reveal the high estimation God places on the home family. Writes Ellen White: “In the home the foundation is laid for the prosperity of the church. The influences that rule in the home life are carried into the church life; therefore, church duties should first begin in the home” (Ellen G. White, My Life Today, 284). “Every family in the home life should be a church, a beautiful symbol of the church of God in heaven” (Child Guidance, 480).

    Not only is authority in the church patterned after the home, but the home government is patterned after the church. Ellen G. White wrote,

“The rules and regulations of the home life must be in strict accordance with a ‘Thus saith the Lord.’ The rules God has given for the government of His church are the rules parents are to follow in the church in the home. It is God’s design that there shall be perfect order in the families on earth, preparatory to their union with the family in heaven. Upon the discipline and training received in the home depends the usefulness of men and women in the church and in the world” (Signs of the Times, Sept. 25, 1901).
    Is it possible that those who wish to drive a wedge between the patterns of authority in the church and in the home do not understand the true nature of male headship and the complementary female supportive role?

    One thing is undeniable. The egalitarian interpretations of the Genesis 2 creation account, positing “total role interchangeableness” or “full equality with no headship-submission” as God’s divine ideal for the family, contradict the apostle Paul’s own interpretation of the Genesis passage. Are those who propose that women should be ordained as elders or pastors better interpreters of Scripture than the inspired apostle?

    Conclusion. The authors of Women in Ministry may be well-intentioned in their desire to offer a biblical justification for women’s ordination. But their attempt to reinterpret Scripture’s doctrine of headship to allow for feminism’s full equality or “total role-interchangeableness” is woefully inadequate, if not totally baseless. The fact that different writers of the Seminary book offer conflicting and biblically questionable opinions on the subject is evidence enough to alert any serious Bible student to the risks of imposing secular ideologies on the Bible.

    One scholar who has offered a devastating critique of Women in Ministry’s view on headship and equality warns of the danger: “The biblical model of different yet complementary roles for men and women in the home and in the church may well be a scandal to liberal and evangelical feminists bent on promoting the egalitarian, partnership paradigm. Nonetheless, Christians committed to the authority and wisdom of the Scriptures cannot ignore or reject a most fundamental biblical principle. Blurring or eliminating the role distinctions God assigned to men and women in the home and in the church is not only contrary to His creational design but also accelerates the breakdown of the family, church structure, and society.”

    In this respect, the speculative and questionable interpretations in Women in Ministry is only the tip of the feminist iceberg.  As we have pointed out in an article titled “Feminism’s ‘New Light’ on Galatians 3:28,” feminism’s efforts at obliterating gender role-distinctions have opened the way for other unbiblical teachings and practices, including lesbianism.

    Even a well-known evangelical theologian inclined toward the ordination of women, acknowledges that "it cannot be denied that the women's liberation movement, for all its solid gains, has done much to blur the distinctions between the sexes and that many women who have entered the ministry appear committed to the eradication of these distinctions." This trend, as he observes, "is in no small way responsible for accelerating divorce and the breakdown of the family." He warns that "the fact that some clergywomen today in the mainline Protestant denominations are championing the cause of lesbianism (and a few are even practicing a lesbian life-style) should give the church pause in its rush to promote women's liberation."

    “Such things,” argues an Adventist scholar, “ought likewise to give us pause in the rush to promote women's ordination, one facet of the women's liberation movement.”



Endnotes will be supplied