The Role of Women in the Church


With the advent of the feminist movement, the role of women in all parts of
society has come under increasing scrutiny. One area of recent controversy is
the role of women in the Christian Church. Some churches whose traditions and
practices are less rigidly tied to Biblical doctrines have begun placing women
in leadership positions such as pastor or teacher. Other churches which
interpret the Bible more literally have been slow to adopt such changes. Much of
the confusion is based on attempts to interpret scriptures pertaining to women.
In this essay, we will use the Bible to understand the role of women in the
church of the first century and apply that understanding to the church of the
twentieth century.

Many people would dispute the Bible\'s relevance to contemporary thought in
general, and in particular to the role of women in worship. If the Bible were
not written under divine inspiration, a person or practice is not bound by its
teachings. He or she can therefor pick and choose whatever corresponds to
his/her point of view. However, if the Bible is of divine inspiration, then a
cautious consideration of passages relevant to a particular issue must be
undertaken. Traditions and customs that have arisen after the Bible was written
may thus be carefully scrutinized. Such practices may or may not prove sound
after comparison with scripture.

Before we discuss specific issues concerning women in worship, we should
consider principles derived from the relationship of Adam and Eve as described
in Genesis chapter one. The Apostle Paul frequently uses this passage as a
guideline when discussing women and women\'s issues. Genesis 1 verse 27 states:
"So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male
and female he created them." Most Commentators agree that man and woman are both
equally a reflection of God\'s image; the word "man" here is used as a synonym
for humanity. Adam and Eve were also given joint dominion over creation. But the
fact that Adam was created before Eve has significance to Paul and other Old
Testament scholars; it signifies role distinction between the two sexes. The
role of the man is leadership, while the role of woman is as a source of
strength and support. In the letter to the Ephesians, Paul states: "For the
husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church. . ." (Eph.
5:23) This is an important analogy. If a person wants to understand the
Christian authority of a man over his wife, he must consider how Christ
demonstrated his leadership as head over the Church. Primarily, he gave his life
for his church, not using force or coercion for her submission. When considering
mens and woman\'s ministry in the church, it is important to keep in mind this
role distinction.

Lets examine the public ministry of women in the Church. Two major passages give
specific instructions regarding women during worship in the letters of the
Apostle Paul. These two passages are used frequently when denying women a public
role in church life. The first is in I Corinthians chapter 14 verses 33 - 35,
this passage commands women to be silent during worship service. Similarly but
with more details, I Timothy 2 verses 8 - 15 not only contains a command to be
silent but also instruction on authority along with a reference to the fall of
Adam and Eve for further explanation. Here is the passage in its entirety using
the NIV (New International Version) Bible translation:

I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger or
disputing. I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not
with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds,
appropriate for women who profess to worship God. A women should learn in
quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have
authority over a man; she must be silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve.
And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became
a sinner. But women will be kept safe through childbirth, if they continue in
faith, love and holiness with propriety.

A woman raised in the U.S. in this day and age, reading the letter for the first
time, may be quite taken aback by its apparent chauvinism. However, there are
some specific historical and cultural references that must be taken into account
when considering the meaning and intent of this passage. First