Tuesday, October 31, 2000

What Is Our Role?

[Note: Not sure exactly when this was written, but my file says the last update was Oct. 31, 2000, so I'll go with that.]

I’ve often wondered, what is my role as a woman in the Seventh Day Baptist church? What is my role in my local congregation, and in the denomination as a whole? What role does God want women to play in their churches?

The controversy over the ordination of woman is one that has touched most every Christian denomination, Catholic and Protestant alike. Ours is no exception.

Some people argue that since the Bible says "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:28), that therefore women can be ordained and hold any position in the church that they so choose or that they feel God is calling them to.
Other people say that since the Bible says "But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet" (1 Timothy 2:12), that women should not be pastors or teachers, unless they are teaching other woman, or children.

How do we reconcile these seemingly contradictory verses to discover God’s will for us women?

First, let me say that there are many fine people on both sides of this issue, even right here in this denomination. I would not presume on any person’s salvation for not agreeing with my views because we are not saved by theology, but by faith. I do not wish to impugn or disparage those in our denomination who are woman pastors. I offer this article in Christian love, to give another perspective than that often espoused.

Certainly there are many times when woman have great privileges in the church. In the Old Testament Deborah was a prophetess and judge. She spoke for God to Israel, and showed great leadership qualities when it came to saving Israel from her oppressing Canaanite neighbors. Moses’ sister Miriam was a prophetess.

We also find prophetesses mentioned in the New Testament. In Acts 21:9 we find a Philip with "four virgin daughters who were prophetesses." And in Acts 2:36, as Jesus is being presented at the temple when He was eight days old, we find the prophetess Anna recognizing Him as the Messiah and proclaiming that in the temple. So woman obviously do have a role. The question exactly is, "What role?"

Let’s begin with Galatians 3:28. I contend that the meaning of this verse is not that woman can hold any office they want, but simply that all people can be forgiven in Christ, that there are no people that have more privileges than others before God. God does not play favorites.

The basic thrust is unity (1), that the Gospel is for all and all are saved on the same basis for the same purpose of service. We are one in Christ. The verse before this talks about how we are all baptized into Christ, and the verse after talks about how if we belong to Christ, we are Abraham’s descendants. It has nothing to do with women being pastors or teachers. To use this verse to prove that is nothing more than reading into the text what isn’t there.

Let’s move onto 1 Timothy 2:12. For the record it states, "But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet." First, this verse cannot mean that a woman is never to speak in church for 1 Corinthians 11:5 states that "every woman who has her head uncovered while praying or prophesying disgraces her head, for she is one and the same as the woman whose head is shaved." We can see from this verse that woman were allowed to pray and prophecy in the churches, which certainly involved public speaking!

First Timothy 2:12 states very clearly, in language that cannot be mistaken, that women cannot be pastors and teachers in the church, since she is not to exercise authority over a man and any woman preaching to the congregation is de facto head over every man there. Moreover, vv. 13-14 gives the reasons she should not teach or preach: Adam was created first and then Eve. If Paul had meant his admonition to only be applicable to a certain city or a certain time, he would not have traced his reason back to creation.

So there is a division of roles between the sexes in the church. Some positions are better held my men, and some by woman. As we saw in Galatians, no person is more important than any other person, and no role is more important than any other role. God has set the boundaries of what roles can be played by who, and we should abide by those if we call ourselves Christians. This raises the question, "If women cannot be pastors or teachers, what roles can they play?"

First, while a woman cannot be head over a man, she can certainly teach Sabbath School to the children (as indeed a mother would do with her children, instilling the love of God in them from a young age).

Secondly, there are many acts of service that she can do for the church. Perhaps she can set up the church for the services, or help out with the potluck or clean up after the service and fellowship are over. Maybe the church bulletin needs to be made and photocopied each week. Perhaps she can collect used clothes for poorer members of the congregation (see Acts 9:39 for another idea along these lines). There are any number of jobs around the church that she can help out with.

Third, and more pertinent to the more active role that many women wish to play in the church today, she can be a deaconess. Scholar Samuele Bacchiocchi has this to say about deaconesses. "Female deacons were needed in the early centuries when the sexes could not mingle freely. According to the Didascalia they performed a great variety of services in the care of women, including assistance at the baptism and burial of women, the catechizing of women and caring for sick women at home. They never functioned, however, as heads of the community, but served in a role auxiliary to that of the pastors, elders and bishops." (2)

Fourth and last, they can exercise a prophetic ministry, if God has given them that spiritual gift. This has nothing to do with showy sign-gifts and everything to do with "edification, encouragement, counseling and consolation. The chapter most descriptive of the prophetic ministry is found in 1 Corinthians 14. Here Paul explains that the person ‘who prophesies speaks to men for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. . . . He who prophesies edifies the church’ (1 Cor 14:3-4; cf. Acts 15:21)." (3)

So while it might be hard sometimes for us women to grapple with the question of our role in the body of Christ, the Bible gives us everything we need to know about what God says our role should be. I know I am only beginning to explore this subject, and only beginning to define the role I should play. But that’s okay. As a popular bumper sticker proclaims, "God ain’t finished with me yet!"

We should all pray, asking God to show us where He wants us and what we should do. We should all speak with love toward one another, not criticizing others for their differing views, but discussing with them. Above all, we should remember that we are all brothers and sisters in Christ, regardless of our feelings on this matter.

1 Text note on Gal. 3:28, New American Standard Study Bible (Grand Rapids, Michigan), pg. 1711.
2 Samuele Bacchiocchi, Woman in the Church (Chap. 2)
3 Ibid., Chap. 2