Can Women Have Leadership Positions In Church Worship?
by Ullas Nair
When the Bible stated in Heb. 13:5 “that Jesus Christ is the same
yesterday, today and forever”, it spoke of the eternal and unchanging word of
the Bible. But as we see the year 2000 approaching, human wisdom seeks to
update and distort the word of God to fit man’s own designs and wishes, not
respecting God as the author of the inspired Bible.
Such is the case advanced in arguing for greater roles for women in the
church in this “modern” era that we live in. Lately we have seen the
ordination of women as priests in the Anglican churches. Even in the churches
of Christ we hear strange murmurings calling for greater participation for
women in leadership roles.
Today’s modern world urges women to fight for equal rights, equal pay,
equal everything, but in the realm of religion, there can be no equality for
men and women in leadership roles. That is just not God’s plan.
The Fervent Call Of Feminism
The feminist movement calls for freedom for women to take charge of their
lives in a “male chauvinistic environment”. Feminism is the theory that
embraces political, economic and social equality on behalf of women’s
interests and rights. This includes urging women to sin against God’s plan by
usurping authority over men in the religious sphere. It is in this area that
we must oppose them. Their ideology can be summarised as follows:
a. Man is the enemy, the cause of all the problems.
b. Total equality in all areas as a goal.
c. Marriage must be eliminated, it degrades women (what is the alternative
- Defactos, lesbianism?).
d. Babies lead to bondage (support abortion on demand).
In their enthusiasm to fight for women’s rights, they have made man the
enemy. This movement is very active in the States, in Australia and also
spreading to every corner of this world. Today’s talk shows such as Oprah
Winfrey and her like continue to espouse these doctrines to who every is
willing to listen, that women should stand up for their rights, confusing and
leading many astray. The feminist lobby is so strong that churches are being
rocked by their stand and weak men are beginning to give in for the sake of
unity and peace.
Worship To Please God
Let us always remember that our worship is always to please God. It is not
intended for man to do what he wants to please himself. It is not a matter of
what we want or feel or think, but what has God said about the matter. God’s
ways and thoughts are always higher and better than man’s, Isa. 55:8,9. We
need to approach God in the way that he has directed in the Bible. God has
given the leadership role, the headship in the home and in the church to man.
Man must lead in the worship arena; that’s God’s plan.
From the very beginning God has set in motion his ideal home environment,
where man is the head of the household. In 1 Tim. 2:14, the apostle Paul gave
two reasons why he forbids women to teach (have authority) over man. Firstly,
Adam was created before Eve. Secondly, Eve’s actions led to Adam’s downfall,
she was deceived and had fallen into sin. Also, Eve was to be the help mate of
Adam, (Gen. 2:8). Animals being created before man is not important since man
is not the help mate of animals. Man has dominion over animals.
When Eve sinned and caused the fall of man, God in addressing Eve decreed
that in Gen. 3:16, “And thy desire shall be unto they husband and he shall
rule over thee.” The woman was to respect the authority of the man, the man
was to respect and love his helpmate.
Looking back at Gen. 3:9, when God appeared at the scene of the fall of
man, he spoke and addressed Adam first, the head of the household, not Eve.
When he spoke to Adam he affirmed that Adam, as the head of the household, had
failed to exercise his authority over Eve. When God spoke to Eve, he confirms
that she should not take the lead in spiritual matters.
In 1 Cor. 11:3, Paul clearly states that “the head of man is Christ and the
head of every woman is the man and the head of Christ is God.” There can be no
situation or occasion or circumstance where this order can be any different or
altered. There is just no way for man to be over Christ or Christ to be over
God or woman to be over man.
Let’s see the similar connection at stated in Eph. 5:23. “For the husband
is the head of the house as also Christ is the head of the church and He is
the saviour of the body”.
The feminists and their cronies have misconstrued this passage to tailor
their own agenda. To them “head” in Eph. 5:23, is not the head we assume
literally, to them it means origin or source. Thus Christ becomes the source
of the church and the husband the source of the wife! This just does not gel.
The lexicon definition for the Greek word in the NT for “head” does not
indicate its use in the text to mean “source” or “origin”.
The wife is to submit to her husband because he is the head, the obvious
meaning for the word “head” is one in authority, or leader.
Is it therefore any surprise that when a woman marries she drops her maiden
surname and adopts her husband’s name? Society in general realises that a
married woman, in respect and subjection to her husband, takes on his name.
The man does not take on the wife’s name. Emily Paul marries Ullas Nair and
becomes Mrs Nair or Emily Nair.
ALL ARE PRIESTS - BOTH MEN AND WOMEN
1 Pet. 2:9 - This Scripture states that every Christian is a priest, and
the church is called a royal priesthood. Every individual is a priest, but
women were not permitted by the Lord to lead in worship. This does not make
the women folk any more inferior. There is equality for both men and women,
but being equal does not mean being the same. God created them for different
roles and functions in the family, in society and in the church.
In a soccer team, all players are equally important but they all have
different roles. The strikers to score goals, the defenders to defend, the
goal keeper to prevent the opposition from scoring. They all gel into a
balanced and efficient team. God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy
Spirit are equal, but they do not have the same function and roles, Phil. 2:6.
The apostle Paul clearly stated the prohibitions placed on women in
leadership roles. They are:
1 Tim. 2:1-8 - The priority of male leadership is restated, “men pray
everywhere...” That women were not to lead in prayers. The context of this
verse relates to prayer and teaching, in this gathering for public worship.
God gave men the role to lead. The word used is “aner” in Greek that means the
male gender, not “anthropos”, the generic term for mankind.
1 Tim. 2:9-12 - Paul spoke of the conduct of women during worship. Women
were to adorn themselves in modest apparel, not to teach or usurp authority
over men. Can the language be any clearer and plain than this? She was not
forbidden to teach completely, she could teach women and children (1 Tim 5:14;
Tit. 2:4), but not over man.
1 Tim. 2:11-12 - While still on the subject of conduct in assemblies, women
are to learn in quietness and in subjection. Women can and should teach other
women and children. Titus 2:3 is referred.
1 Cor. 14:34-35 - Not to speak in public worship assembly, as God’s law
places women under the leadership of man.
1 Tim. 3:1-12 - She cannot be an elder or deacon as one of the criteria is
that they must be the husband of one wife. “If a man desires the office of a
bishop, he desires a good work..., Husband of one wife.” “Man”, “he” and
“husband” does not apply to women, there can be no other explanation.
Perhaps it is time for us to reflect if this is a big issue in the Lord’s
church, this clamour for leadership roles.
Yes, it is becoming a big issue. For my research for this article, I
gathered some data from the situation in the churches of Christ in the States.
a. In a survey done in Tulsa USA in 1992, in one church of Christ, 46% said
that women should be given a more active role.
b. 50% said “yes” to the question “should a woman be given responsibility
to lead in singing?”.
c. 26% said “yes” to women serving the Lord’s supper.
d. 46% said “yes” to women reading the Scriptures in public.
So there is a serious problem developing. Let us first realise that the
church is not a democracy where we vote our opinions on doctrinal issues. The
church is a Monarchy, and the Lord rules always by his written word and all is
At the 1989 Nashville Jubilee, women were permitted to teach mixed classes,
just another change creeping in.
In 1988, the elders of a church of Christ in Houston, Texas, announced
their intention to “encourage the expression of women’s gifts.” Now in 1992,
women were leading in prayers, reading Scriptures and waiting on the Lord’s
In Jan. 1990, the elders of a church of Christ in Birmingham, USA announced
their decision to gradually include women in leadership roles. Female deacons
have since been appointed.
When weak men don’t stand up and be counted, the truth will suffer and all
kinds of apostasy creep in. A victory for the feminists, who say that we are a
product of a male dominated society. They say that men in leadership roles is
a church of Christ tradition. Women’s equal rights have permeated all strata
of society, surely they will not leave the church unmolested.
WHAT ARE THE ARGUMENTS ADVANCED FOR WOMEN’S ROLE IN CHURCH LEADERSHIP?
Some of the arguments advanced by proponents, lobbyists, activists on
behalf of women are:
a. Gifts - Some argue that women have God given talents and, therefore,
should use them. No inspired writer has ever offered this line of reasoning.
This is invalid, women can use their gifts and talents in many ways such as
teaching children and other women, supporting the activities of the church
such as evangelism, being the helper to the man, etc.
Still on the question of gifts and talents, some argue that women have come
a long way since the Bible was written. They have become Prime Ministers,
Presidents (Israel, India, Philippines, etc.), they thus have a right to
demand and lead the flock with their talents. The Anglicans have stressed this
stand, “We are in danger of not being heard if women are exercising leadership
in every area of our society except the ordained priesthood.” But that is just
not God’s way. We need to understand and accept the difference between the
ability to perform a task or work and the Authority that must accompany that
skill or talent. Authority overrides ability all the time.
b. Bias - That the Bible and man in general are bias against women. God
does not approve partiality, God commands certain things in worship that are
exclusive to men. The Christian religion does not keep its women folk in
bondage as is the case of some world religions, but treats them with love and
respect. The traditional Muslim world requires the women to cover themselves
from head to toe with a small opening for the eyes. Women in such societies
have little protection, they can be discarded by their husbands by just saying
“I divorce thee” three times. Women witnesses to crime against themselves have
also little rights and protection.
c. That we should not treat all the teachings of the Bible as binding and
exclusive. The Bible is relevant for all times, as I have said in the
introduction of this presentation. It does not need updating, it was as
binding 2000 years ago as it is today and tomorrow. Uplifting the status of
women in society as a whole should be encouraged, indeed millions of women in
the world suffer injustices because of gender discrimination. We stand with
them, we support them wholeheartedly. The fact that the Christian religion
does not discriminate against women has brought many to Christ.
d. The Deborah Question - In Judges 4:4, Deborah was a judge in Israel, her
function was not in the religious sphere, but in civil government. She did not
lead men in worship. She simply delivered a message from God. She went with
Barak to the battle ground, but it was Barak who led the troops and gained
victory. She wrote a song of deliverance; so can women today. We are all
familiar with the many songs written by Fanny Crosby that we sing today. To
use the case of Deborah to advance women’s rights is misleading and stretching
it too far.
e. Would it be alright if a man gave her permission to lead - Firstly, God
has not given her the permission, even if men do. Secondly, no man - even her
husband - has the right to ask her to do something that is contrary to God’s
will. Thirdly, no man has the right to put a woman in a situation that
exercises authority over a man. Even in a mixed group setting where men and
women are present, the women cannot take the lead. I believe that chain
prayers also fall into this category.
f. That the daughters of Philip prophesied (Acts 21:9) - This is another
attempt at grabbing at straws. Where is the proof that they prophesied in the
presence of men? Do men or women prophesy today, where is the connection? Does
God permit them to do something in one area that he forbids them to do in
another situation? Where is the consistency? The gift of prophecy is one of
the gifts that was to cease, was it not? (1 Cor. 13:8-13).
g. That Anna the prophetess prayed (Luke 2:36-38) - Can it be proven from
the text that she prayed leading men? That she prayed audibly, that her prayer
could be heard? The text says nothing of Anna praying in the presence of
Joseph (v. 33) or Simeon (v. 25).
Some have queried if a mother can teach her children who are males in the
way of the Lord. The Bible only affirms that women cannot usurp authority over
men. Children are not men. Women teaching children are noted in the Bible as
in the case of Eunice and Lois teaching Timothy. The maturity of children
differs from child to child. Baptism does not make a boy or girl a man or a
woman while they are still young and at an impressionable age.
A brief look at church history does not support the stand of women in
leadership roles as deaconesses, etc. Ignatius, who was concerned with church
organisation, does not mention at all the office of deaconess. Tertullian, who
wrote vastly of women in the church, also did not see it fit to mention their
leadership positions. In fact, there does not appear to be any such office
before the 3rd Century.
Although the O.T. is not our basis of authority in matters of doctrine, it
is written for our learning and understanding. What does it show us, well is
it any wonder or surprise that the Old Testament leadership began with the
Patriarchal system and not the Matriarchal? God used Abraham, Isaac, Jacob,
etc. the head of the family always. The first king appointed by God through
the prophet Samuel was a man, Saul, and that Kingship continued. In the
Levitical priesthood the same was the story where it began with Aaron and his
sons, no women priests then too.
A BRIEF LOOK AT AUSTRALIA
As this presentation is in Australia, I think it is good for me to quickly
see the trend here.
Today there are (1996) 130 ordained women deacons in the Anglican church
and 139 women priests - no bishops as yet as there are in the States and New
Zealand. -- local newspaper.
The big question is whether women clergy can bring a new kind of spiritual
leadership to an ancient institution, are going to change the church or be
changed by it. Now that women are finally admitted to the ‘men’s club’, do
they have to deny their gender and become just like the boys or will they
insist on being heard as well as seen? How astonishing are the women prepared
Today we have women’s rights, gay rights, lesbian rights, children’s rights
- what about the creator’s rights? Let us pause and take a step back. Does God
not have a right to set his standards and markers? Mankind cannot tear it down
no matter how unpleasant it may seem to them, God’s ways are not difficult to
God has appointed only men to direct and lead the home and the church.
Women have an important role to play in the home, and in the church. It does
not include taking the lead.
Perhaps at this stage it is important for us to ask ourselves the following
questions, and let the Bible answer them:
a. How many women were numbered among the 12 Apostles? When two others were
being considered in Acts 1 to replace Judas the betrayer, were either of the
The answer to both these questions is simply that no women were among the
12 Apostles or considered to be the replacement either. It was just not God’s
b. When some persons were being considered to take the lead in ministering
to the widows in Acts 6:3, how many women were shortlisted among the seven?
Once again the answer is none, “Look ye out among you seven men whom we may
appoint over this business. Again the leadership role is given in the early
church to man only.
If God had intended for woman to have leadership roles, it would have been
a simple matter to provide us a clear statement in some N.T. passages. He
would have selected one or two women as Apostles. He would have mentioned them
in giving the qualifications of Elders.
Godly Women can contribute by:
a. Teaching other women and children. Women are by nature endowed with the
qualities which fit them for teaching small children. Is it any wonder that
almost all of our kindergarten and grade/primary one teachers are women? Her
emotional nature is suited for the needs of children and more receptive to
b. Being a helpmate for her husband, act as hostess in fellowship
activities (1 Tim. 3:11).
c. Be a dedicated servant of the church, (Phoebe) a fellow worker, support
the men. (Rom. 16:1-5).
d. Assist the needy with the softness and warmth that only a woman can
give. Show hospitality - many of our gospel meetings and lectureships depend
very much on the love and hospitality of our sisters. Other areas such as
visiting the sick, and attending to those in sorrow.
e. Teaching other women to lead chaste lives (Tit. 2:4-5).
f. Women can act as soul winners. It was Priscilla who helped her husband
teach Apollos the way of the Lord more perfectly (Acts 18:26). Women can lead
others to Christ by their manner of living (1 Pet. 3:1-2).
The church needs God fearing and loving women to play their rightful parts.
The Bible is written for the common people to understand and it will leave the
unbiased reader to draw a simple conclusion on the role of women in worship
and in the home. Christianity does not keep her women in bondage, but treats
her with honour and respect that is due to her as a special and unique person.
For a woman to stand before a congregation to lead in any capacity is to
clearly go beyond the teaching of the New Testament.