A Woman Preacher

A Woman Preacher

I.  Introduction

Tonight I want to discuss a recent development not far from here that has sent shockwaves through our spiritual community. The Fourth Avenue Church of Christ in Franklin, TN, recently introduced their new preaching intern. That normally wouldn’t make big news. But a video of the introduction circulated, and it opens with these words from Patrick Mead, their preacher:

This is a special day in the life of this church. For a long time we’ve talked about the way we value women here, and the way believe scripture values women. And it wasn’t that long ago that Lipscomb called and said, “we’ve got somebody who wants to be a preaching major but needs to have an internship.” And I said, “send her. So Lauren, come on up. This is our preaching intern.”

And that very morning, Lauren King shared the stage with Patrick Mead during the sermon. The had a kind of back-and-forth, both speaking to the church. She may not be the first woman ever to preach at a church of Christ, but it’s certainly the first I’ve heard of, and the video whipped up quite a storm. In fact, it has now been deleted.

Now for most of us, the idea of a female preacher might seem way out there, but you might be surprised at the number of Christians who support it. I wouldn’t be surprised if we start to see more women preachers even closer to home, although Franklin is obviously not far away.

But I know what you’re thinking. “The Bible says women can’t do that!” So why are they? Well, I’ve been doing some reading about that, trying to understand better where these folks are coming from. I’ve exchanged some messages with Patrick Mead, and he sent me a statement explaining the position of their church on women in worship and ministry.

There’s no way to cover every single argument in this one lesson. But in general, those who support women taking on a public leadership role in the church usually argue that if you really look at the Bible, women have always been involved in leadership roles. Maybe you can think of some examples right now, but the clearest one from the Old Testament is Deborah the judge. But even in the New Testament, women were prominent in the life of Jesus, worked alongside Paul and the other evangelists, and were prophets.

Is all that true? Yes. You might be surprised at all the things women did. But does that mean they did everything the men did, and that there is no difference in our roles? No. The scriptures place restrictions on the activities women can do.

Obviously, some folks disagree that women are restricted, and we’ll look at a few of their arguments about those passages.

So our lesson tonight will be in three parts:

  • Women Workers
  • Women Restrictions
  • Some Arguments

II.  Women Workers

Sometimes when we talk about the role of women in the church, we only focus on the restrictions. Women can’t do this or that. And that might leave the impression that when it comes to the Lord’s work, women need to just sit back and let the men take care of it. And in some ways, that might have even been the view that some have had about it over the years. But that is not what we find in the New Testament.

Let’s look at some interesting examples.

A.  Anna

There were women prophets in the Old Testament like Huldah from the story of Josiah. But we don’t have to go far in the life of Christ to find one in the New Testament as well:

Luke 2:36-37  And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, 37 and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day.

Okay, so she was a prophet who spent all her time in the temple, fasting and praying. But you might be surprised by what she does next:

Luke 2:38  And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.

By inspiration, this woman prophet shared her message to everyone who would listen.

B.  Samaritan Woman

Now let’s go to an example from the ministry of Jesus. John 4 tells the story of the Samaritan woman at the well. After she realizes Jesus is the Messiah, look at what she does:

John 4:25-30  The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.” 27 Just then his disciples came back. They marveled that he was talking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you seek?” or, “Why are you talking with her?” 28 So the woman left her water jar and went away into town and said to the people, 29 “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” 30 They went out of the town and were coming to him.

This woman basically becomes an evangelist of sorts. She shares the good news about Jesus with her whole town.

John 4:39  Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman's testimony, “He told me all that I ever did.”

Very interesting.

C.  Women at the tomb

Now let’s skip to the end of the story of Jesus. After he had died and was buried, on the first day of the week some women went to his tomb. Matthew mentions Mary Magdalene and the other Mary. But when they got there, the stone had been rolled away and an angel was there. Look at what he told them:

Matt. 28:5-10  But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. 6 He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.” 8 So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 And behold, Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.”

Both the angel and Jesus himself sent these women with the best news the world has ever heard. It has often been remarked upon that Jesus chose to appear to women first of all. What an honor. But they were also given the divine command to carry that news to the brothers. An awesome honor.

D.  Daughters of prophecy

Now let’s look at some examples from the early church. First, let’s go to a well known passage, Peter’s sermon in Acts 2. Notice the Joel prophecy he quotes:

Acts 2:17-18  “‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; 18 even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.

Yes, even in the church age, women would receive spiritual gifts and prophesy. We know they did. Let’s look at an example:

Acts 21:8-9  On the next day we departed and came to Caesarea, and we entered the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, and stayed with him. 9 He had four unmarried daughters, who prophesied.

Also, Paul gives instructions to the church at Corinth related to women prophesying:

1 Cor. 11:4-5  Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, 5 but every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since it is the same as if her head were shaven.

You get the feeling that there were a lot of women prophesying.

E.  Phoebe

How about a woman deacon? In Paul’s greetings to the church at Rome, he begins with a lady named Phoebe. She was probably the one carrying the letter.

Rom. 16:1-2  I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church at Cenchreae, 2 that you may welcome her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints, and help her in whatever she may need from you, for she has been a patron of many and of myself as well.

That word “servant” in verse 1 is the same word translated “deacon” elsewhere. In fact, the NIV translates it this way:

Rom. 16:1  I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae.

Very interesting.

F.  Fellow workers

Finally, look at the list of women who were called fellow-workers with Paul:

Rom. 16:3  Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, 4 who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks but all the churches of the Gentiles give thanks as well. 5 Greet also the church in their house.

Priscilla and Aquila were a powerhouse couple in the early church. You’ll recall that they pulled Apollos aside and corrected his misunderstanding of baptism. Then they show up in several of Paul’s writings. They somehow made it to Rome before Paul and had a church meeting in their home. The honor for all this goes to both of them.

Rom. 16:6  Greet Mary, who has worked hard for you.

Rom. 16:7  Greet Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners. They are well known to the apostles, and they were in Christ before me.

There are different ways of translating verse 7, and some suggest that Junia, a woman, was actually an apostle. I don’t believe that’s what it is saying, but we’ll not dive into this verse tonight. But just be aware that Junia is often mentioned in these discussions.

G.  Summary

Okay, so what have we seen so far? Have you been surprised?

Women: were prophets, shared the good news of Jesus with men and women, were fellow-workers with Paul, and were servants/deacons of the church.

So some would say: “See! They did all these things. Surely they can do anything a man can do.” Some would say they cannot be elders, that might be the only exception. But certainly, many would say they can lead a prayer, read a Scripture, and even preach.

So what is the other side of the coin?

III.  Restrictions

There are basically two verses that limit the role of women in the church. There are also passages that deal with a wife being in submission to her husband. But for the sake of time, we’ll look at the two passages that are usually brought up in a discussion of women in worship.

First a general rule:

1 Tim. 2:11-12  Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.

1 Cor. 14:34-35  the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. 35 If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.

Now many would say, “See! We can shut the book. Women can’t preach.”

That’s pretty much my understanding as well. These passages are very clear and easy to understand. What do they say? Women are restricted from three things:

“Speaking in church.”

“Teaching (over man)”

“Exercising authority over a man”

And so we could now go back and look at all the examples from the previous point. Were any of them speaking “in church”? The closes example would probably be Anna, who spoke to people in the Temple. But it certainly doesn’t indicate that she stood up before an assembly of Jews and addressed them like we think of preaching. It would be easy to understand that she spoke to everyone who came by, telling them about God.

Of those who prophesied, like Philip’s daughters, is there any indication that they did so in an assembly of the church? Were any of them put in a position of authority?

Phoebe, the deacon. What is a deacon? A servant. What do deacons do? They serve the church. Some view them as mini-elders, but that’s not what the Bible says. Can women serve the church? Yes. Is there any indication that Phoebe was put in a position of authority over a man? None.

Priscilla taught Apollos—a man. But she did so with her husband and in a private setting. We don’t know what part she played in that teaching, but we can assume she did so submissively and was not out of line.

IV. Arguments

So obviously these other folks who are advocating women preachers today are aware of these passages. So what do they say about them? For the most part, the arguments seem to be:

A.  It was a special instruction for a certain circumstance, and does not apply now.

It is true that 1 Cor 14 is in a context of dealing with problems related to spiritual gifts. Also there may have been other things unique to the Corinth area. Some argue there were. Those circumstances no longer apply.

But look at what Paul says:

1 Cor. 14:33-35  For God is not a God of confusion but of peace. As in all the churches of the saints, 34 the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. 35 If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.

Clearly these instructions apply to all the churches of the saints, not just Corinth. And he doesn’t say that there were just some special problems there, or that just some women should be quiet. He says “it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.” That’s the principle.

In 1 Tim., we’re told that the city of Ephesus, where Timothy was, had a problem with domineering, disruptive women in their religious assemblies, and maybe this spilled over into the church. Maybe so. Other say the women are simply told to learn quietly BEFORE speaking, that they were trying to teach without knowledge.

But again, let’s look at what Paul says:

1 Tim. 2:11-13  Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve; 14 and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.

This is rooted in the events of Genesis 1-3. He doesn’t say let her be quiet until she learns. He says she’s not permitted to teach or exercise authority.

Some point out that the word quiet in verse 12 is also in verse 2 applied to everyone. “Lead a peaceful and quiet life.” This doesn’t mean none of us is allowed to speak. But in the context of verse 12, he explains what he means. She is not to teach or exercise authority over a man.

Finally, some say, “well you don’t hold you hands up when you pray as in verse 8, and women wear jewelry today. So you don’t go by these other passages.”

It is the job of every Bible student to look carefully at Scripture and try to understand it in its context. The part about lifting holy hands in prayer seems to me to be more figurative than literal. Is Paul saying you have to have your hands up to pray? We could study that more, but I don’t think so. However, if that is what he’s saying, we need to start doing it, not toss out the rest.

The part about jewelry is a “not, but” verse. Not with these things but with good works. Our adornment should be internal, as Peter says. It’s not forbidding jewelry altogether, but that being someone’s adornment.

But none of these things take away from the clear meaning of verse 11 and 12.

Now the other side often says, “Yeah, but that can’t be what it means. Look at all the other things women did.” But as we have seen, there is nothing in those other examples that says those women violated these principles. Were they in a church assembly? Were they teaching over men in an authoritative way? I don’t think so.

V.  Conclusion

I haven’t touched on every argument that comes up. But I’ve tried to be fair in my description of the other side’s views. But even more importantly, I’ve tried to be fair in my handling of Scripture. Let’s never fall in to the trap of being closed-minded, or of forcing the text to agree with our position. If we need to change, we need to change. But I’ve listened, and looked, and looked again at the inspired instructions, and they are still clear to me. You study it and let me know if you think I’ve missed something.

I’m thankful that young people like this Lauren want to use their talents and gifts in the Lord’s service. As we have seen, women were very active, maybe more so than we usually think. There’s lots of work to be done, and the Lord needs male and female workers. But we can only glorify him if we do things his way.



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