the weblog of Alan Knox

Women Serving in Context

Posted by on May 12, 2010 in elders, office, spiritual gifts | 53 comments

So, I’ve published two posts in the last two days about “women in ministry,” that is, about women serving others. (see “Spiritual Gifts and Women” and “Spiritually Gifted Women“) In those two posts, I suggested that 1) the NT authors did not limit the spiritual gifts that God gives women, and 2) it is proper to use titles such as apostle, prophet, evangelist, teacher, shepherd, leader, etc. to refer to women.

Also, in both posts, I pointed out that God gives spiritual gifts so that the one gifted can serve others. So, it would appear that God does intend for such spiritually gifted women to serve others.

In general, these are not the hotly debated issues when it comes to “women in ministry.” Instead, the heated debates surround questions such as:

Should a woman be an elder (pastor/preacher)?

Should a woman be a Bible study teacher?

Should a woman teach men?

Should a woman be a deacon?

Since the modern church tends to view “pastor” and “preacher” as synonymous with “elder,” I’m combined those into one question. In Scripture, though, a “pastor” is one who shepherds, and I’ve already suggested that it is appropriate to refer to a woman who exercises the spiritual gift of shepherding with that title… if a title has to be used. Similarly, a “preacher” in Scripture is one who proclaims the gospel of Jesus Christ to unbelievers. Since we are all called to proclaim the gospel (including women), I see no problem with calling a woman a “preacher.”

Once again, though, the problem is the way that the modern church uses those terms, not with the biblical usage of the terms. Thus, in today’s church, when someone says “preacher,” that person is probably referring to an elder who regularly teaches the church. That person is probably not using the term “preacher” to refer to someone who regularly proclaims the gospel to unbelievers. Thus, we have problems due to our use of words, not due to commands or prohibitions in Scripture.

Once we get past those differences in word usage (that is, the difference between the way we generally use words today and the way the words are used in Scripture), we still must deal with certain passages of Scripture that deal with the context of women serving others. Primarily, those passages are 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:11-12. Others would include 1 Timothy 3:1-13 and Titus 1:5-9.

I am not going to exegete those passages at this time. That’s not the purpose of this post or this series. Instead, I would like to point out that differences of interpretation in these passages… and, in fact, those different interpretation are not new. Followers of Jesus Christ has disagreed about the meaning of those passages for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.

So, I do not intend to present another interpretation – my interpretation is already out there among the myriad of other interpretation. One of them is correct… perhaps.

But, how do we deal with instances where people disagree over the interpretations of these passages and others like them? What do we do when someone limits the role of women more than we think is correct, or when someone gives more freedom to the service of women than we think is correct?

In my denomination, the rule has been to separate from churches who decide that women can serve in more contexts than the denomination allows. In other denominations, it has been the role to allow any interpretation.

So, what do we do? How do we handle these differences when we meet together with other believers?


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 5-12-2010

    So NOT fair! I’ve been following along waiting to see this post in the series. I wanted to see if you thought women could or couldn’t serve as elders. Then, I can move on, knowing whether I agreed or not.

    But NO. You put the onus back on us. And, not really even on the topic of the role of women, but in how we deal with (emotionally charged) differences of interpretation.

    I’ve found a way out in many cases. If I’m in “their” house, I follow their rules (or, on a very few issues related to the gospel, I leave).

    But, I’ve since come to understand there is no “their house.” So, now I have to face this issue. (God does this all the time–pushes me into a corner to face things…).

    I honestly don’t know. I’m not even sure I know the slightest extent of the implications. (Does this mean I set an example in accepting/rejecting and thereby fostering certain interpretations and practices? How does this affect those I presently associate with as friends, those in my history, how does this affect where I am even allowed to be, even if my service is kept “on the sidelines and out of view” among various saints?)


  2. 5-12-2010


    Yeah, I know. It’s not fair. But, hey, it’s my blog. 🙂

    By the way, in practice, I’ve seen many, many more men (as church leaders) acting in unscriptural ways than I’ve seen women (as church leaders) acting in unscriptural ways.


  3. 5-12-2010

    I also thought you were going to give a definitive answer allowing people to choose sides. I like the turn in direction. How do we deal with differences in Interpretation?

    I often refer myself back to Augustine’s quote “In the Essentials Unity, In the Non-Essentials Liberty, In All Things Charity” focusing the greater part of my efforts on the love part.

    Whenever I reflect on this particular issue, not intending to minimize it, I picture scholars debating over how many angels can fit on the head of a pin. The adversary likes to cause division within the body. How do we focus on the important rather than constantly being distracted by the urgent, non-urgent or unimportant?

  4. 5-12-2010

    Sorry, no easy answers. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind (Romans 14:5). This isn’t the same thing as joining a man-made club (denomination) that comes with required default positions or feeling justified because brother so-and-so agrees with me.

    I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. For if your brother is grieved by what you eat (insert divisive religious position), you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died. It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble.

    Romans 14

    Art, I share your approach and find that I must be very careful about what is a legitimate “deal-breaker” for fellowship vs. my personal likes/dislikes. One other point….are you the same person and hold the same beliefs/practices you did 10 years ago? I know I am not. What if we formed our “denomination” and “settled” our theology of what was clean and unclean back then? All of us are being refined. We aren’t all at the same point in refinement. That doesn’t mean I am “ahead” – it means I am not done yet.

  5. 5-12-2010


    I’m glad you liked my decision. I did not want this series to turn into an argument over interpretation, but a discussion that leads to unity and fellowship among brothers and sisters.


    Thanks for bringing up Romans 14-15. That’s a powerful passage of Scripture that we usually want to apply to other doctrines, but not to doctrines that we hold dear.


  6. 5-12-2010

    Eric – Yep, changed & expect to change, and yes, that adds a perspective of patience and charity towards other views, and a bit of humility on how strongly I am “right” right now. But I’m still responsible for what I believe right now, right?

    So, “how do we deal with … interpretations… when someone limits the role of women … or when someone gives more freedom to the service of women than we think is correct?”

    To add flesh to my post (pun intended), I see women in the churches as recognized prophets but not as recognized pastors (rather male-ish qualifications).

    So, if a woman was serving as a pastor, if a congregation was practicing this, how should I react? (Have I ever mentioned that in fourth grade I actually thought of myself as the sheriff of the playground?) Well, get outta Dodge. This would be a deal breaker for me.

    For some (uh, well, to some degree I see it this way too), this practice upsets the whole of God’s order of things; it is a major affront to God, angels, family, future generations–discipleship is destroyed at the roots–and it represents a cursed conformity to the present world’s PC/equality/tolerance view issues.

    And, just in case I’m wrong, and fearing to hinder God’s people serving Him, I have been a help to more than one female pastor over the years, encouraging them, thinking through issues and problems with them, praying with them. (I don’t imagine I need to say how often women have been a blessing to my growth and learning.)

    No doubt my view of women as functioning prophets in the church (while seemingly clearly practiced in the NT scriptures) would likewise be a stumbling block to others.

  7. 5-12-2010


    I don’t think we can use the Romans 14 Scripture in connection with the subject at hand. The context of Romans 14 is referring to matters where God has given us free choice (v 1). The ‘doubtful things’ refers to areas where God doesn’t mind which side we take – because the Bible hasn’t identified the matter as right or wrong. It doesn’t matter if we have vanilla ice cream or chocolate ice cream. It isn’t sinful which choice we make. Similarly, there are things in life where God gives us free choice and we aren’t to judge others on these matters because it doesn’t matter either way.

    In connection with keeping the Word in context, we can’t make any Bible passage mean anything other than what the author first intended. Therefore Paul is talking about the free choice God gives us in matters of eating meat or only veg, drinking alcohol or not, keeping one day as special for the Lord or not, and other things where the Bible doesn’t place any prohibitions. The context of ‘nothing being unclean of itself’ is also a reference to just that (as far as I understand) – a thing – objects. E.g. a piece of meat sacrificed to an idol isn’t unclean, it’s just meat … but some Christians don’t understand that, and being weak in faith/understanding they think it’s wrong to eat meat if it’s been sacrificed by someone else to an idol – as indeed I did in the early days of my Christian faith. My point is that Paul isn’t talking about the teachings of the church … and we can’t therefore say ‘each to his own, it’s not unclean’, because biblical teachings don’t come as optional. The ones which don’t originate with God will be burnt at the judgement (1 Corin 3) as I’m sure you know.

    Moreover, the Bible identifies a ‘divisive person’ as one who departs from the teachings of the Bible, and as such Paul says they should be put out of fellowship after two or three admonitions. Thus, it doesn’t mean we don’t love a brother or sister if we put them out of fellowship for teaching heresy or for living in continuous wilful sin. To the contrary, it’s because we love them that we break fellowship in order to help bring them to their senses (just as Paul told the Corinthians to put the man who committed incest out of fellowship for the destruction of his flesh).

    The point is that when we disagree with others we aren’t being divisive if we are upholding the truth. Instead, it is the people who promote the error who are being divisive because they are the ones who are dividing from the truth.

    We all agree that the Bible is given to us to shed light on our path – it’s therefore there to be understood. Given the different rates at which we all grow in understanding it seems to me that we’ll always have different interpretations of certain passages until we grow in understanding and recognise our previous shortfalls.

    Is this subject an essential, one of the areas which the Bible identifies as heretical and where people should be put out of fellowship if they depart from the Lord’s teaching? Well, it’s not an essential in the sense that it affects anyone’s salvation. It doesn’t have any bearing on the message of the cross. So to that end I think we should endeavour to maintain unity with brothers and sisters who see things differently than ourselves. But after saying that, it’s mighty difficult to enjoy weekly fellowship with people when they continually bring up things which you know are wrong! 🙂 of course they could say the same about me and find fellowship with me difficult. Only God has the answer. No doubt it’s up to each individual to seek God for grace to bear with the people we think ‘have it wrong’. Or maybe we’re wrong, and we need to seek God to shed more light on our understanding? And if it turns out that we’re right, maybe God will use us to bring those truths to those who teach otherwise. And if people don’t like what we say, maybe they’ll kick us out of the fellowship anyway and then we won’t have a problem concerning whether we ought to keep fellowshipping with them or not! 🙂 No doubt God has the answer and we have to seek Him for wisdom in how to tread the minefield as and when the problems arise.


  8. 5-12-2010

    I am not sure how applicable Romans 14:5 is here. I can’t see that Paul spent lots of time talking about lots of doctrines but that he leaves it up to personal preference to decide to enforce it or not.

    The bigger issue is consistency of interpretation. If we look at 1 Cor 14 : 1-32 and say that this is something that is both accurate and normative regarding how the church should meet but then ignore or explain away 1 Cor 14: 33-35, that seems inconsistent.

    As for application, would I reject fellowship from a group that allows women to teach men? No. Would I sit under the teaching of a woman in that assembly? Also no. In the same way, I would not reject fellowship from a paedobaptist but I also wouldn’t allow them to baptize my infant child.

  9. 5-12-2010


    Actually, Paul’s says that eating meat is fine. There is nothing wrong with it, because the idols (that the meat was offered to) are nothing.

    By the way, you said, “No doubt it’s up to each individual to seek God for grace to bear with the people we think ‘have it wrong’.” I think that’s exactly Paul’s point in Romans 14-15. If God has accepted someone, then we should accept them as well.


    It’s not an issue of “enforcing” a doctrine. Yes, I think Paul knew exactly what he was writing, and I think his recipients understood. Are we willing to let each person be “convinced in his own mind,” still accept one another as brothers/sisters, and still help one another grow in maturity – since all parties involved need help?


  10. 5-12-2010


    Yes, I agree that it’s OK to eat meat – and that an idol is nothing. If I gave the impression that I thought it was wrong to eat meat, I didn’t explain myself properly.

    Regarding your response to my comment on Romans 14 – what can I say? I’ve just spent 15 minutes typing up why I think I’m right, but I’ve had to delete it all because my reasoning fell apart at about the 10th hurdle. Mmm, you could be right about that one! I’ll take another look. Sorry Eric, if I’m wrong on that one …


  11. 5-12-2010

    Marisa and Arthur,

    I think we are in agreement. See, I take an inconsistency in interpretation (or holding to part of scripture to the exclusion of others) as being an untruth or at least a half-truth that needs correction. We should not fear the scriptures, but be willing to reason these apparent contradictions together. If you believe the women shouldn’t speak in the church, maybe I ask that we reason through Joel 2:28 or when Paul mentions “all prophesy” or “every one of you bring a doctrine” in 1 Cor. 14, is he only talking to the men, etc. I don’t separate because we cannot resolve this today, right now. But if we follow the whole of scripture, then this unresolved issue will not be used by either party to cause the other to stumble. I.e., I should not intentionally invite Art to go with me to a meeting where a woman is the “pastor” (singular). I should prefer him in honor – even if I am convinced in my own mind that this is permitted. Even the meat does matter. Paul said in Rom. 14:22-23 that whoever doubts is condemned when he eats because the eating is not from faith.

    I will confess that my current understanding of these scriptures is very close to Marisa. The assembly I meet with has very little speaking done by the ladies – and none of the teaching. However, they are encouraged to teach one another (Titus 2) and their children and to reason the scriptures with others outside that context. There obviously is teaching/prophecy given to ladies, but also explicitly they are not permitted to speak “in the churches”.

  12. 5-12-2010


    I was once asked to mediate a dispute, in another church, about this issue:

    An loving, gentle, elderly lady, was exercising a really effective ministry amongst the members of an evangelical church. Some heard the gospel and became Christians (some were men), others had difficult problems solved by her wise Biblical counsel.

    Some members recognized the value of what she was doing and wanted to have her officially recognized by the church, allowing her to stand for election as a deacon.

    Others were appalled at the suggestion that she was “teaching” men, and could be recognized for such a blatant “sin”, and receive an appellation such as “deacon”.

    No one queried her effectiveness! The end result was that the naysayers were happy for her to be called a “servant” of the church and to continue in what she was doing.

    Who was it said,”It’s all in the name”?

    Actually, she was exactly the elder/deacon I had looked for for fifty years. I’d have loved to have her ministering where I was.

  13. 5-12-2010

    Are we willing to let each person be “convinced in his own mind,” still accept one another as brothers/sisters, and still help one another grow in maturity – since all parties involved need help?

    some yes, others no, still others it depends on how loyal they are to their doctrines and need to be right. In the situation where I am, my wife and I function as co-pastors – but sadly this choice severely limits fellowship with our Baptist counterparts.

    Their drawing the line in the sand on the issue of women pastors severely hinders their being “willing to let each person be “convinced in his own mind,” still accept one another as brothers/sisters, and still help one another grow in maturity..”

    To bad really.

  14. 5-12-2010


    Yes, that was Paul’s position, but he said that others believed differently. This was a theological issue, and this was one of the issues that Paul said his readers should accept one another, even though some were wrong.


    It sounds like my position is very close to yours as well. How would you interact with a brother or sister who believed and practiced differently?

    Aussie John,

    We see examples in Scripture of women teaching and leading. Was this God’s intention? Whether it was or not, he used these women. I agree that the church needs servants like this, with or without the title… and I prefer those who don’t care about titles.


    You said, ‘Their drawing the line in the sand on the issue of women pastors severely hinders their being “willing to let each person be “convinced in his own mind,” still accept one another as brothers/sisters, and still help one another grow in maturity..”’ Would you say that would be true of the line that you’ve drawn as well? (And, by the way, I agree with your position.)


  15. 5-12-2010


    Hello, Sorry for jumping the gun earlier and challenging your use of Romans 14 before thinking it through properly. My current view – although I’m open to correction if someone can show me how to properly exegete the Scriptures in question – is that it’s OK for Christian women to instruct men in the Word if she has something valuable to contribute. I base this view on the fact that Priscilla was involved with her husband in instructing Apollos (Acts 18), and on the fact that women are allowed to prophesy (Acts 2) and when people prophesy there will inevitably be an element of instruction in it (1 Corinthians 14: 31). In fact if prophecies don’t educate others in some measure about the ways of the Lord, what is their use anyway? I also think that it’s possible for individuals in the church to be gifted as teachers (Romans 12), yet not necessarily function as leaders/elders, because leading and teaching are listed as separate gifts in Romans 12. However, I believe it’s impossible to serve in leadership unless the leader is also gifted to teach (1 Tim 3:2). So, while I believe God gifts women to teach, I don’t currently think He gifts women to lead because Paul says in 1 Tim 2:12 that he doesn’t permit women to teach or to have authority over men. Spiros Zodhiates (a Greek-Hebrew scholar), incidentally, points out that the Greek word used by Paul in 1 Tim 2:12 for ‘teach’ is in the continuous tense, which means that Paul doesn’t allow women to teach men ‘continuously’. So, he doesn’t have a problem with women teaching men, but he does have a problem with women teaching men continuously, because that service is reserved for male leadership.

    Also Paul tells us that men are the head of women, which means he is the direction setter and overseer of her spiritual welfare (I’ve explained this in more detail in a different comment, on the page about women and gifts), so if a woman served as a leader in the church, that would make her the head of her husband, which is not according to the Lord’s pattern of oversight, cf, Eph 5 and 1 Corin 11).

    In connection with 1 Timothy 2:12 “I do not permit a woman to teach or have authority over a man”, I’m assuming that Paul doesn’t mean a woman can’t do two things – namely she can’t teach and she can’t have authority over a man – because we know from other Scriptures that it’s OK for women to be involved in teaching men. I’m therefore assuming that Paul’s phrase refers to women not functioning in the role of ‘authoritative teacher’ so to speak. In other words Paul allows women to teach, but not to function as leaders because that would give her responsibility for overseeing right doctrine in the body, which is a responsibility Paul appears to say belongs to men alone …

    Regarding fellowshipping with those who disagree with my view. I do, in fact, have some close friends and we differ on the issue of women teaching men in church. They believe it’s wrong, while I believe it’s OK (as long as she isn’t in leadership functioning with oversight over men). It’s strange, though, because even though they say it’s wrong for women to teach men, they don’t have a problem with women sharing something the Lord has shown them from the Word … and in my view, sharing something from the Word will educate (ie, teach) their fellow listeners. Anyway, all is well with my friends as long as this subject doesn’t come up! However, in all honesty, I find it really difficult to continue biting my tongue to avoid offending others, so I’m now trying to do a study in the hope of sharing it with them, for us to get at the truth and put an end to this gag on women.

    But going back to Romans 14, my hubby pointed out that the context is to do with weak Christians – which refers to Christians who are weak in their understanding of a certain matter because, for example, they think they can’t drink alcohol or eat meat, but they can. So, we indeed receive weak Christians whose view differs from ours – and who believe certain things even though we know they’re not right; but what do we do when those same people insist on teaching or trying to get us to believe something we know isn’t true? The very fact that these Christians are ‘weak’ means (I think) that they are weak in their understanding on certain matters, i.e. they don’t understand the truth.

    For example, what if they start teaching we should eat only vegetables? And what if they start teaching among the body that it’s a sin to eat meat? And if it is indeed a sin, then people who live in wilful unrepentent sin need to be put out of fellowship on the second or third admonition if they won’t repent – which means that if we receive without dispute what the weak Christains are teaching, the whole church ought to become vegatarians, while we put all unrepentant meat eaters out of fellowship! And yet Paul in Colossians told us not to let any one judge us with respect to food (chapter 2:16), so should we receive someone whose understanding of the truth is weak, if they additionally try to put their man-made law on us? Obviously not, we only receive them if they don’t know any better and if they would stumble away from Jesus if they saw us doing something legitimate but which they didn’t understand and thought was illegitimate. I think it was Chuck Swindoll in his message on grace who pointed out the need to distinguish between young converts who didn’t know any better (the weak Christians) – whom we are to accept without disputing their (albeit misguided) convictions – and people who had been saved for many years, but whose views were legalistic. Let no man judge you, Paul says. So, it gets a bit more complicated than first meets the eye, but I’m sure there’s a simple answer.

    – Arthur, I don’t understand your interpretation of 1 Corin 14:34-35. Paul isn’t prohibiting women from speaking in church, after all, in the same letter he told them they could prophesy – which requires oral proclamation (1 Corin 11: 5). I was always led to believe that Paul’s exhortation in the verses you mention refer to unlearned women who are disrupting the meetings by calling out questions. The inference is that these women are doing so with an attitude of rebellion in them, which is why Paul requires them to be ‘submissive’ and why he exhorts them to ask the questions of their husbands at home, and not when the church is meeting (v 35), because the meetings are supposed to edify people, not bring discord. Maybe I misread or misunderstood what you were saying. If so, please ignore what I’ve just said.

    It’s 11.15 pm here in the UK. I’m signing off for the night. Hope to catch up on comments tomorrow.


  16. 5-12-2010


    I appreciate the discussion, and perhaps I should have given everyone a forum to discuss the various views. As far as I can tell, there are plenty of place to study and discuss the differences in interpretation in these passages.

    However, I would encourage you to think about and comment on this post. Yes, people interpret these passages differently. People who have good motives and are spiritually mature. Are we willing to fellowship with people who disagree with us on this point? Why or why not?


  17. 5-12-2010

    Since I am a woman, ordained as a minister of the gospel, there really is no issue in me. Also, the question about what I do with those who differ with me is answered for me too. I have always only taught or preached where and when invited. If I am not invited – I do not go.

    A sweet, non-offensive and non-offended spirit is at times hard to maintain as I long to see a church which will use 100% of its army instead of cutting off a good portion because of sex, but the sweet spirit is my part. The other part is my Lord’s.

    Nice discussion.

  18. 5-12-2010

    Eric and Marisa,

    Is Joel speaking of women prophesying in “church”? It doesn’t seem to be anywhere in the context of what Joel is speaking of. Can a woman only prophesy in context of a church gathering? Also, Paul speaks of women prophesying in 1 Cor 11 but he says it is shameful for them to prophesy or pray with their heads uncovered. I hear lots of people arguing that women prophesying should equate to women teaching in church but I don’t see many women covering their heads.

  19. 5-12-2010

    I know Alan is not looking to turn this into a forum on women teaching, so if you are interested I posted on this subject last year here:

  20. 5-13-2010

    Alan, you aksed if I was drawing the line in the sand – no. I do not say I cannot fellowship with someone who disagrees with me on this issue.

    If someone doesn’t agree with women as pastors – that is fine, there is still plenty of other things we agree on and lots of room for fellowship – I am not going to get up and walk out of a service or stop being someone’s friend if they disagree with me – they are free to their opinion.

    Yet, maybe I do, I am not going to change necessarily to make them happy. I know where I stand but I am not going to force anyone’s hand.

    Usually, “it’s been my experience” that it is often those who disagree with women as pastors who will cut me off or have much difficulty relating to me or with me (or even being in the same room with me) – why? because of the oft association of shepherding with authority and power, which they can’t handle a women having any of (but they can?) though none of us should be wielding anyways and that too many treat as though it were a salvific issue.

    Hope that makes sense.

  21. 5-13-2010


    If I get time I’ll take a look at your blogspot and maybe contribute.


    You ask: “Are we willing to fellowship with people who disagree with us on this point? Why or why not?” I think lots of us may be willing, but whether it’s possible or not is a different story. From a woman’s point of view, there’s nothing edifying about meeting with other Christians who gag you and who refuse to let you contribute during meetings (e.g. by sharing something from the Word, and explaining what the Lord’s been showing you in it).

    Such kind of meetings feel like ‘death by slow and excruciating boredom’. Surely God never intended Christians to gather where everyone, apart from a select few, are merely passive observers. The whole point of meeting up with fellow Christians is so that everyone who chooses to can minister to and edify one another. So, even though a woman may desire to fellowship with those who gag her, the ‘fellowship’ she’s experiencing does nothing to edify her faith in the Lord. It’s a stifling and frustrating experience, which I’m sure you men can empathisise with if the shoes were on the other foot.

    Are we willing to fellowship with Christians who prohibit women from saying anything during meetings? Yes. Are we able to fellowship? Not always because the fellowship isn’t real fellowship at all, it’s one-sided and doesn’t meet the needs of ladies.


  22. 5-13-2010


    Thanks. The discussion about the different passages is important and interesting, but I’d rather keep this post about dealing with our differences.

    Iris, Brian, and Melissa,

    Thanks for the feedback.

    Why do you all think this topic is often a “fellowship-breaker”?


  23. 5-13-2010

    “Are we willing to fellowship with people who disagree with us on this point? Why or why not?”

    Alan, a specific question to you: Would you fellowship for very long in a congregation where you are silenced?

    Marissa, I know a little of what you share. For most of the church, the silencing of the saints isn’t just a female issue.

    For many years I fellowshipped in churches where I could not speak. For a time, I fellowshipped in churches where only I could speak. I visit these hushed churches regularly, and honor their practice that only the designated ordained Pastor may speak. Most men still “fellowship” in these sorts of highly restrictive meeting styles.

    I can bear with this arrangement for a short period–a few weeks, a few months. Yes, it is suffocating, both personally, and especially
    for the body. The body was designed to function as every saint functioned in the assembled-together time, as well as in all the rest of the opportunities to be together and work together.

    If I were a woman, and believed that God expected me to contribute in the assembly through teaching and sharing alongside all the other saints, this silencing would be difficult to endure. I wouldn’t choose to fellowship in such a place for long, and I don’t as a man, either.

    Alan, my answer to fellowshipping with people who silence me is no thank you (in terms of week in and week out assembly meetings). I think that is also what Iris says with, “If I am not invited – I do not go.” Iris?

    It isn’t just that I am silenced, but that so many are silenced and that I know God’s design is to speak through all, each with their own piece, and so I know it is Him that is largely silenced among us. Sort of the image of Jesus outside the church of Laodicea, knocking to get it again.

    Outside of the assembled meeting, I can’t imagine how or why women should be silenced. I don’t want a woman Pastor dominating a meeting any more than I want a male Pastor dominating a meeting, but I have no problem sitting around with some other saints and having the sharing/teaching/exhorting wide open. In that setting, I can fellowship with anyone on either side of the issue, unless they are the one demanding that only they are allowed to speak. It just stops becoming “fellowship” for me after a few weeks.

  24. 5-13-2010


    You asked me: “Would you fellowship for very long in a congregation where you are silenced?” I would not break fellowship with a person or group who would not allow me to speak on Sunday morning. However, we would never be able to have true fellowship if that is our only interaction. So, I would expect there to be times (times that are just as important in my estimation) in which there was more interaction. In that case, the “Sunday morning” thing would not be very important in our relationship. Of course, the other person may see it as supremely important, and that person may be offended by my reaction. While I would try my best not to offend – probably by “attending” – I know that my life would probably end up being offensive. So, I would not break fellowship, but I would not be surprised if the other person broke fellowship with me.


  25. 5-13-2010

    Good discussion.

  26. 5-13-2010

    Our lines of “fellowship” will most generally uncover our understand of “righteousness.” If I believe I am righteous only because of the work of Christ, then I am open to many who obviously do differ with me in my overall doctrine about many things. However, if one believes they are somehow right with God because they “believe right,” then many such things will break fellowship.

    The more legalistic one is about their own right standing with the Lord, the more narrow the circle they must draw.

    Another factor is how other people view us. When we believe that the way others perceive us will make or break our ministerial standing (and all of us get caught here), then we may draw lines of fellowship where favor is gathered.

    Back to that sweet spirit—. This is inner work with the Spirit of God in and through the truth of His wonderful, perfect law of liberty — not so much a matter of study, but one of interior application — submission to His heart regarding others and their convictions.

  27. 5-13-2010


    I like Paul’s “lines of fellowship”:

    Therefore, accept one another as Christ has accepted you for the glory of God. (Romans 15:7)

    I may not agree with someone, but if he is my brother or she is my sister, then I MUST accept them into fellowship.


  28. 5-13-2010


    You asked “How would you interact with a brother or sister who believed and practiced differently?”

    I guess I could give a couple of examples.

    #1 I have some acquaintances that see all divorced-and-remarried relationships as adultery. No exceptions. Some will not come into your home before this is verified. They would not eat with one of these folks (1 Cor. 5:11). Thus, they would not attend one of our meetings (though they did on occasion until learning one of the men was previously married) or be able to fellowship in the meal following. I still maintain a relationship with these folks, but it has to be outside the regular meetings of our assembly. I no longer invite them when I know that divorced people will be present. It is not nearly as close a relationship as those I meet with regularly, but we have discussed the passages in question regarding divorce.

    #2 We own some wooded property that we like to camp on. It happens to be located within a predominately Mennonite community (Our background is Southern Baptist and Methodist) about 90 miles from home. There is an assembly in that community that meet together, but not under the mennonite name, though that is their background/heritage. We have befriended our neighbors there and are welcome to attend their meeting. We make a point of trying to camp on the fourth weekend of the month when we can because they bring food and have a fellowship meal after meeting on the fourth Sunday. This has allowed us more opportunity to meet others in their fellowship (although they do have a multiple elder-led meeting with some participation from the pews). Our assembly has been able to help with medical expenses for a young couple related to members from this assembly (we have never met the couple). All of our assembly visited one Sunday with them about that same time. They moved their fellowship meal to the weekend we came just so they could visit with all of us. This relationship is still ongoing despite some of our differences in dress and practice. Both parties have left some of their traditions behind.

  29. 5-13-2010

    Marisa, you asked “For example, what if they start teaching we should eat only vegetables?”

    I believe this is where the instruction in 1 Cor. 14 is important. Two or three speak and the others judge. If something comes to another, the first one speaking yields. The spirit of the prophets is subject to the prophets. If an untruth is openly taught in the meeting, I believe it is the duty of the overseers (in the Hebrews 12:15 sense) to correct this. It may be done initially in private, but I think the assembly is the brother offended and should be responded to. I.e., if I present an incorrect doctrine, I should come back before that group and ask forgiveness. I may get rebuked immediately in the meeting or aside afterward – but when it is brothers that love one another and are not seeking the pre-eminence, that isn’t going to be a knock-down event.

  30. 5-13-2010


    I agree with what you say. The things you point out also show that God doesn’t expect the church to receive everyone whatever they believe. Well, yes, we receive the people but, as you point out, we have to address any false teachings they may bring in order to contend for the faith. And if someone continues wilfully to promote error … well, I read this morning Romans 16:17: “Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, ccontrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them …”. So it would seem that we are required to receive our brothers and sisters into fellowship with us, even if they believe things which we know to be wrong (assuming it’s not the foundational stuff, like the trinity and the Godhead of Jesus etc), but if they start trying to impose their false teaching on others, that’s when the church has to address the issue.

    I like what Paul said in 1 Corin 11:18-19 “… I hear there are divisions among you, and in part I believe it. For there must also be factions among you, that those who are approved may be recognized among you”. In other words if we all agreed to keep our mouth shut, despite error being promoted in the church, how will anyone recognise and be able to approve of the truth. Therefore, there has to be factions among the church so that those who speak truth may be recognised. Keeping unity at all costs wasn’t a notion promoted by Paul.


  31. 5-13-2010

    Arthur, you asked:

    “Is Joel speaking of women prophesying in “church”?” Certainly isn’t specific is it? It only says that they will prophesy.

    “Can a woman only prophesy in context of a church gathering?”

    That is not my belief. That is how I resolve Joel 2:28 and 1 Cor. 14:34. Are Iris and Marisa prophesying on this blog? I am learning from them. Am I under their authority because I am learning from them? Since they are typing and not speaking, aren’t they really being silent? Since they have to hit that “Submit!” button with their mouse to post a comment, aren’t they in submission? (Just kidding)

    Paul in that same chapter of 1 Cor. says the woman’s hair is given her for a covering. Young’s literal translation says: “if she have long hair, a glory it is to her, because the hair instead of a covering hath been given to her; “.

    Should the ladies who are persuaded they should wear head coverings be removing them when they are not praying or prophesying (I have met one woman who did this, by the way)? I have heard the argument that they wear them continually because we should be praying without ceasing. However that would be a great argument for believing men to never wear hats…

  32. 5-14-2010


    I like what you say above. When I think about prophecies (be it men or women who are prophesying), I think of it in terms of anything spoken orally which edifies, exhorts and comforts fellow Christians, because this is how Paul defines it in 1 Corinthians 14:3. Yes, on ocassions it may include a predictive element, as with Agabus in Acts, but this isn’t always the case. I suggest also that in 1 Corin 14:26 when Paul says ‘how is it brethren, one has a psalm, one has a teaching … etc” that these things are all prophecies. So if someone reads a psalm and/or maybe expounds on it, they are prophesying, because Paul says all these things – these verbal contributions – edify other Christians. And we know from verse 3 that prophecies are meant to edify.

    Also, it seems to me that prophecies are meant for the church in order to build up our fellow Christians – but if a non-Christian walks into the building and they hear the prophecies (the things being proclaimed/shared from God’s written Word) they’ll be convicted of their sin: the secrets of their heart (vv 24-25). Are New Testament prophecies meant for unbelievers? Not really (v 22) because prophecies are God’s Word to His people to encourage them (v3). God’s Word to non-Christians will always call them to turn to Jesus. Thus the message of the cross is for unbelievers, whereas prophecies are for Christians. But women can do both, they can preach salvation in Jesus alone to non Christians and they can speak from God’s Word to edify God’s people. This in no way means they are functioning as elders (1 Tim 3)with oversight responsibility for the flock, it just means they’re prophesying.

    Oh yes, regarding head coverings, Ray Stedman points out that Paul says that women ought to cover up ‘if’ it’s a shame to have short hair (1 Corin 11: 6). Notice the word IF. Thus, if it isn’t a shame for women to wear short hair, there is no shame in not wearing some kind of cloth head covering.

    Aside from that, the matter in hand is a CUSTOM. I highlight the word ‘custom’ because the church is not sinning against God if it departs from customs, individuals only sin against God if we break His law. There is a difference between customs and commands. It’s OK to break with custom. If we think it isn’t OK to break with custom, then the custom had become a law to us. But if it isn’t a law enforced by God, then it’s a man made law – a tradition of men which Jesus spoke against.

    Since the head covering custom of the early church has faded in meaning over the centuries so that it no longer, at least in the Western church, represents what it used to mean – i.e. a sign of cooperation with the male headship principle, then there’s no need to wear one. I understand it was a Greco-Roman cultural symbol, not just a symbol in the church, though I could be wrong. However, if we visited a country where going without a head covering was seen as a symbol of rebellion against men, then of course the Christian ladies ought to cover up so as not to offend. But if it isn’t a custom which means anything anymore, either in society or in the church, then it doesn’t make sense to cover up.

    Another important point for me to remember is that we must never base a doctrine on an isolated text. God’s teachings – the things which the church is meant to uphold – are always found in more than one place so that the Holy Spirit can teach us by comparing spiritual truths with spiritual truths to get the full picture. The Holy Spirit will never teach us something unless there is something else in the Word to compare it with (1 Corin 2:13). Thus, because there is no where else in the Bible where women are required to wear head coverings in the church, we can rest assured that it isn’t a law or a teaching to be enforced.


  33. 4-11-2011

    wow Alan your response to Art really caught me off guard. I’m pursuing different blog entries on ‘women in the church’ again… and came across this one. it’s a great discussion on here!

    “While I would try my best not to offend – probably by “attending” – I know that my life would probably end up being offensive. So, I would not break fellowship, but I would not be surprised if the other person broke fellowship with me.”

    I am not sure why but it surprised me that you would still “attend” – just to try your best not to offend.

    Don’t know – have to think more 🙂

  34. 4-12-2011


    I like your point on the misuse of, the mis-definition of and misapplication of certain biblical terms turning them into something other than the meaning and practice contained in the biblical text. The terms pastor, elder and deacon are terms that historically have been badly misused, mis-defined and misapplied. So, when someone learns of my position on women (BTW, I used to be Patriarchy then Patriarch-lite/Complimentarian for many years while serving within the Institution) they immediately envision a scene where a woman is standing behind a pulpit on a raised stage acting as the sole mouthpiece and decision maker for a gathering of saints-or-a small group of women recognized as leaders who make decision for a local assembly. Not having a proper understanding or practice themselves regarding the terms mentioned above they approach the issue with a wrong premise and structure right from the beginning. While the truth is that both a man or a woman standing behind a pulpit on a raised stage acting as the sole mouthpiece and decision maker for a gathering of saints –or- a small group of women, a small group of men, or even a small mixed group of men and women recognized as leaders who make decision for a local assembly is a concept foreign and unknown to the new covenant scriptures. So I have concluded that most of the time in this discussion we are almost always talking past each other and not about the real issues in context.

  35. 4-12-2011

    So, what do we do? How do we handle these differences when we meet together with other believers?

    I accept and fellowship with all my brothers and sisters based on the person (who He is) and work (what He did) of the LORD Jesus Christ = the gospel.

  36. 4-12-2011


    Yes. We submit to one another, consider others as more important than ourselves – even when (especially when) we disagree with them.


  37. 4-12-2011

    It took me way too long to get to this position/place. 🙂

  38. 4-12-2011

    Alan, do you think it’s really possible to submit to someone even though we disagree with them – if we are disagreeing with them because they’re wrong? After all, if the person in question is promoting sin, for example, let’s say the elders of a fellowship start teaching the church to steal, God would never expect us to submit to them or to their teaching when we know that what they want us to submit to is sinful.

    Hence, the Bible only expects God’s people to submit to those who are living godly lives, we’d be crazy to submit to everyone, when we know that not everyone in the fellowship is preaching truth. God never told us to bow down to error.

    For example, my hubby and I are in a dilemma at the moment – hope this isn’t going off topic. The host of our house group isn’t able to host meetings any more and our home is too small to host them. We’re consequently wondering whether to start going to a nearby pentecostal church. However, my hubby went to a few meetings last year and was saddened to hear the pastor telling the people that it was wrong for Christians to listen to secular music! They’re also quite keen on going out ‘prayer walking’ and ‘claiming the land’ in some kind of belief that this ‘claiming’ will bring souls into the church. My hubby and I disagree on both points. We believe that as long as the lyrics in a song don’t glorify sin, then there’s nothing wrong with listening to secular music. Also, we believe that if the church wants to see people saved, it has to go out and preach the gospel. No amount of ‘claiming the ground’ will save souls without the message of the cross being preached.

    Hubby and I know that we’d find it extremely difficult submitting to the teachings of a leadership which we know doesn’t know how to divide God’s Word rightly on these matter, which is indicative of them not knowing how to divide God’s Word on other matters also. Would you stop listening to the radio or to your Mozart CDs or favourite band if the elders of your church told you to? If they insisted that you did, isn’t that nothing more than a man-made law which will only put a yoke on people and/or give them a false sense of holiness?

    The Bible never tells us to submit to manmade laws in the church. In contrast, Paul told us in Colossians 2:16-23 that we mustn’t let anyone cheat us of our reward from the Lord by heeding their false teachings such as don’t touch this and don’t taste that, when it’s perfectly acceptable with the Lord to touch and taste.

    So, when it comes to submitting to the truth of God’s word versus submitting to the false teachings of someone we disagree with, who are we supposed to submit to – obviously the Lord.

    Marisa 🙂

  39. 4-12-2011


    I know your question was posed to Alan so I am sorry for jumping in, but I just wanted to throw this out there: The word “submit” can have a number of different meanings depending upon the Greek word used, understanding the meaning of the word submit as used in the various scriptures dealing with the issue of submission is critical to proper interpretation and then application in our lives. I can “submit” = lovingly give consideration to, consider another better than myself, without agreeing with or accepting their teaching. I lovingly submit to/give consideration to them because we are one body/one flock, brothers or sisters in Christ.

  40. 4-12-2011


    Hutch did a good job of explaining. “Submitting” to someone is not the same as “obeying” someone. For example, if we were with a group of believers who had decided that women should not speak, then I would encourage my wife and daughter not to speak in consideration of their conscience. (However, I would also, whenever possible, try to help them understand my view of women speaking.)

    In your example, you can submit without taking part in the practices that you find objectionable.


  41. 4-12-2011

    Hello Hutch,

    I don’t mind you joining in the conversation 🙂 Looks like I spoke too soon. Yes, you’re right, I need to understand how the word ‘submit’ is used. And yes, Alan, there is a difference between the words ‘obey’ and ‘submit’. I didn’t think before posting my last comment.

    But what happens if we show respect for the views of the leadership, and gently try explaining the truth from Scripture at a later date, but they disagree and insist we tow the line with them? I suppose the issue at hand then is whether or not we choose to obey. It’s really hard to feel at ease and enjoy fellowship with a leadership which teaches a mixture of truth and error. Marisa

  42. 4-12-2011

    I certainly do not think you spoke too soon, those are excellent questions. BTW, I’ve only known what submit means as used in the new covenant scriptures for about five years after many, many years of understanding it wrong…um, I mean misunderstanding it. Lol. In fact I think a lot if not most believers do not have an accurate understanding of what that word in the NT scriptures means. Misinterpreting the word submit is one of the critical five pillars holding up the institutional/traditional super-structure. 🙂

  43. 4-12-2011

    Marisa and Hutch,

    Thanks for the great discussion. Yes, we can submit without obeying. Unfortunately, many leaders among the church do not understand their role, and think that they are supposed to tell people what to do, and that those people are supposed to obey. For people like that, seek peace, but understand that your freedom in Christ may seem like rebellion. They may choose not to fellowship with you (although they will probably put it in language that makes it your fault). There is nothing you can do about this. However, I always try to make sure that I am doing everything I can to foster a edifying relationship, even if that relationship is not reciprocated.

    I hope this makes sense.

    (BTW… one more thing… you should never do anything that you think is sin, even if a leader tells you to do it.)


  44. 4-12-2011

    Hutch, you said, “Misinterpreting the word submit is one of the critical five pillars…”

    I’m curious now, since this one makes sense. What are the other four?

  45. 4-12-2011

    Eric and Marisa, I just stopped back and realized you had replied back to me, sorry I didn’t respond last year! I still won’t because that is not the point of this post but I still would invite you to check out some of the posts I have on the subject back at my house…

    As far as the dealing with differences issue which IS the point of the post, we have over the course of the last year met with the church in all sorts of context. In some the women cover and do not teach. In others, where we are currently for example, the women don’t cover and do some of the teaching. While my wife and I are of one mind on this matter we still gladly fellowship with others of a different view even though we consider this an important issue because after all they are my brothers and sisters in Christ. What unites us trumps what doesn’t. My wife feels free to cover and likewise elects not to teach but we don’t break fellowship with those who believe otherwise.

  46. 4-12-2011


    That’s a good question. I’d be interested in knowing the other four pillars also.


    Thanks for the answer. I appreciate the example that you offered of dealing with differences also.


  47. 5-1-2012

    Excellent topic – one of which I asked you about, too. Each comment had interesting things to say.

    I do believe that some denominations and churches have taken too hard a line in restricting women’s function(s) among believers. On the other hand, there are a few who have gone to the other extreme, allowing woman to have authority which is not authorized by scripture. This would be a case of cultural dictation.

    Too often, we allow our culture dictate how we are to live and function. In so doing, what we essentially communicate is that God’s instructions and mandates are of little authority and should be adapted to our cultural mandates and fads, our emotions or what we can “wrap our head around”.

    Regardless of culture, what we think or how we feel, the scriptures stand. This is why God had men write these things down. Of course, now we get into the area of interpretation – well, scripture interprets itself and we can also see what they meant by what they did. However, there are things that are clear in scripture…no matter how one feels, whether they think it is fair or not, if it fits in our culture or not or if (in light of these or other reasons) someone dares to re-interpret or even change scripture (now, there’s a danger zone).

    Just sayin’.

  48. 5-1-2012

    What’s the point of figuring out if women have equal place in ministry(s) if both men and women are disobedient in a more fundamental way by adhering to customs and traditions in their respective churches that cant be found or clearly and universally understood from scripture?
    Women in ministry of all sorts fill the bibles pages all thru history. There is little or no scripture on pastors, pulpits, bricks and mortar meeting places, a division between leaders and followers, head offices, para ministries, Sunday School, bible colleges, ordination, NT tithing…
    I find it humorous that God allowed the people of Israel to become a full fledged nation before He gave the law and other writings.
    Likewise, He allowed Christianity to reach the 1500 yr mark, having transformed much of the Old world, before the scriptures were widely disseminated.
    And in both cases, the Old and New Testament scriptures have served to be objects of contention, as we have collectively used them to divide from each other.
    We just dont get it, though He told us in those very scriptures that He gave the Law because His people had abandoned the law He had written in our hearts.
    Allan posted a provactive question recently (which I didnt get time to read) asking why there are so many instruction, commands and warnings in scripture.
    Their existence and our inability to agree and simply do what scripture tells us, and NOT do what it doesnt, is the answer to all of these questions that keep us from falling at His feet, and allowing Him to revive us again, and use us in our generation to turn this world right side up.
    Final comment.
    One of the gospels says that if all the works and words of Jesus were actually written down, they would fill more books than the world could contain.
    Seems our verbosity has accomplished for Him what He wouldn’t do for Himself.

  49. 5-2-2012

    John and Greg,

    Thanks for continuing this discussion. Like the original recipients of the letters and books of the New Testament, we can still learn much from them as we grow together in God’s grace.


  50. 5-2-2012

    Im feeling a bit mischievous tonight. Probably because its nearly 2 am and Im overtired, waiting for paint to dry so I can apply a new coat and go to bed. At any rate, Ive had time to ponder this question of women a bit, and am going to unleash my inner jester just enough to vent.
    First, I need to come out of the (biblical) closet.
    I’ve been disciple’d in my walk with the Lord to a far greater degree by women than men.
    And to make the point, most christian men in my life have been insensitive, ambitious, proud and/or just plain carnal.
    Most christian women in my life demonstrated one or more attributes of Jesus Christ that has drawn me to seek Him.
    And, I know many, many others who could say the same, if they dared.
    The uncomfortable truth is, that while (mostly) men are arguing long and loud about who is to disciple, who is to be disciple’d and how, when and where, women are quietly doing it.
    Not having been in a bricks and mortar meeting bldg more than a dozen times in 40 yrs, and therefore, not having been part of the conversation/dialectic that grips the western church(es),I might be perceived to be, and might actually be unorthodox.
    If I am, I hope it’s the kind of un-orthodoxy that John Baptist and Jesus practiced.
    I can imagine many of us today throwing scriptures from every theological angle at Jesus as married women left their family’s and followed Him around, providing for Him and the 12. I wonder if all of them had their husbands blessing, let alone the community?
    I wonder, given the cultural male-ness of apostate Judaism, what the disciples thought? Knowing their attitude toward children that bothered Jesus, they might have harbored some of the same uncharitable ideas toward women?
    Anyone know of any surveys, data or statistics on this question?
    Please, please spare me the sermons.
    They were all written by men.
    Wisdom is recognized by her children, and truth is revealed to the honest.
    Im quite aware of all of the scriptures about women, and probably have the best books available on the topic.
    I am not a feminist, or a male hater.
    But I will give honor where its due, and if we arent willing to publicly acknowledge that women have saved our bacon just as many times as men have saved theirs, then this conversation is a dud as far as Im concerned.
    I think we (men again) misread Genesis by the way.
    Satan was cursed, not Eve.
    Adam was told he would sweat from labor, and Eve was told she would labor in childbirth, but neither were cursed.
    Consequences aren’t curses.
    Stretching scripture like rubber bands to make it say that women are subject to men is the same smoke and mirrors logic that (men) use to convince Gods sheep to be subject to pastors/elders etc.
    Bottom line for me is this.
    I will seriously consider entertaining an alternate view of this man created cesspool of doctrinal sludge that has hurt millions of women from the first dozen male disciples that can demonstrate the love, humility, long suffering, kind, gentle, patient spirit of Christ, together.
    While 12 men like that are as rare as hen’s teeth, Ive known several groups of women that exhibit the fruit of the Christ’s Spirit, together, and over entire lifetimes.
    My final mischievous quip is to remind us that the first evangelists were two women, and their first converts were men who followed Jesus closely for years, but didn’t believe Him.
    Thanks ladies.
    We wouldn’t be here to argue and boss everybody around if it wasn’t for you.

  51. 5-2-2012


    I think I wrote a post here at one time along these lines, but the person who has discipled me the most is my wife.


  52. 5-20-2013

    I think I wrote a post here at one time along these lines, but the person who has discipled me the most is my wife.

    where’s that blog entry?? 🙂

    and I love when I search for something on your blog and find an entry that looks totally new to me and so insightful….. and then I find a comment of my own on there. Geeeesh – how does that happen!? I don’t remember reading or writing on this one at all.


    I appreciate that on your blog that you don’t focus on the “arguments” or interpretation of passages such as this one…. It is annoyingly encouraging of you and leaves me to have to take my focus off of wanting a “right & wrong” or black & white answer that I seek… and instead focus how I deal with the different interpretations in our Church and those in my life. Very powerful.

  53. 5-21-2013


    I know I said about Margaret in a post called “Marriage and Discipleship.”



  1. Comment Highlights for Week of April 10, 2011 | The Assembling of the Church - [...] asks some good questions in a comment that she left on an older post called “Women Serving in Context.”…