An Open Letter on the Role of Women in Ministry and Government
by Pastor Cary Gordon
As the pastor of a Neo-Pentecostal/Charismatic church in the year 2011, having friends who are members of many different brands of the Christian faith, there is often a “white elephant” in the room concerning the proper role of women in the New Testament church program, (particularly when my friends realize, for the first time, that we have ordained women into ministry and refer to two associate pastors on our staff as “Pastor Eileen” and “Pastor Donna.”
Politically and socially, we Americans have seen great distortions in the proper role of the sexes, over the last fifty years, and unfortunately, in response to our culture’s overt feminization of men and symbiotic masculinization of women, it seems we have (to borrow a line from Jesus) leaped from one ditch to another. When I was approached by a long-time member of my church last year, who was asking how to explain this issue to a newer member of our fold (from a Baptist background), I decided I would go ahead and share our doctrinal position on the subject with those who may have wondered about our stand and perhaps felt awkward asking about it. Personally, as you’ll see below, this much work deserves a larger audience than one person (chuckling) so you have been “copied-in.”
My thoughts are, as you might expect, very settled. I hope that you would consider their merit, if you have the time. Should you decide to read on, I do ask one thing of you: if, while reading, you find yourself tempted to get offended, please remind yourself that I didn’t write this explanation to you, personally; I wrote it to a lady named Karen who is a member of my church.
Naturally, I believe our position on this subject, and the methods we use to interpret the scripture, as well as the way we conduct ordinations, is acceptable and pleasing to the Lord, but the purpose of sharing this correspondence is for none other than sharing “why we do what we do at Cornerstone Church.” I would hope to accomplish two things through this:
1) Present a differing view that we believe is correct, with the hope that some who read this might make an adjustment to their own former view.
2) Demonstrate the truth that while some churches may be cavalier with the formation of their doctrines, we are not.
You are, of course, free to pass this along to whomever you wish. The information is not private – as I have changed the names in the correspondence to protect the innocent.
Pastor Cary Gordon
From: Karen XXXXXXXXX
Sent: Tuesday, January 12, 2010 9:49 PM
To: Pastor Cary Gordon
XXXXXXX’s friend (An XXXX XXXXXX) that has been coming to church regularly, comes from a Baptist background, including “once saved, always saved” and “women can’t be preachers.” He has asked us for help to study out these two issues. The “once saved, always saved” was pretty straight forward, and Tim and I both had a fair amount of notes for that.
However, the “women preaching issue” is something we have not done much studying on ourselves, and I hate to have him wait for us to study it out before giving an answer. We know there were female judges and prophets, and figured 1 Corinthians 14 was written in a different culture. We’d feel way more comfortable with your explanation than confusing him with our muddled thoughts. I think he’s considering the Victorious Faith classes, but I couldn’t remember what all was covered there.
Thank you in advance!
From: Pastor Cary Gordon [mailto:CaryG@cornerstoneworld.org]
Sent: Friday, January 15, 2010 2:42 PM
Subject: Women Pastors?
No problem. Please pass this along to whoever will benefit from its reading. Here’s the issue explained – shooting from the hip:
Government was God’s idea, whether civil, family, or church. The model of government and the principles carry-through on all three levels. I think the easiest way to explain proper church government (with regard to sex) is by using the model of the natural family. The husband is the “head of the woman” in the sense of having the final say in a disagreement in the home (1 Corinthians 11:3). The Bible is not saying that men, in general, are the head of all women, in general. It is saying the individual man is the head of one woman in particular – his wife. He is NOT the head of every other woman on earth.
If Mom and Dad can’t agree on which school to send their child, there has to be a “tie-breaker,” and the final word goes to the man. He would be foolish to dismiss the thoughts of his wife without consideration, but she is capable of being wrong, and he must follow his conscience and send the child to school. Without a tie-breaking vote, the child might have to sit-out school the rest of their lives (depending on the couple). Other than having the tie-breaking “vote,” the husband and wife are partners together before the Lord, and the husband and wife team is the BEST scenario for raising a family. There are times when something imperfect occurs, the husband dies, or divorce occurs, etc. In these cases, the wife must assume the total responsibility for the children on her own. This is NOT ideal. It is NOT the best, but many women in these situations do a stellar job with the Lord as their “husband.” Being a single Christian mother in this imperfect world is a challenging and admirable task. Neither the Bible, the church, nor reasonable doctrine would oppose the right and calling of a mother, in this situation, to be the “head of her home” in the absence of the male partner.
Transfer this scenario to the “church family” and you can understand the appropriate role of the female in church government. If a woman can be a “parent,” then a woman can also be an “associate pastor.” But it is always God’s best that the “senior pastor” or “father of the church family” be a man. The scriptural model puts the onus of leadership (headship) squarely upon the man, both in the natural family, the church family, and the civil government. That is the ideal. [For example, women are not the best option during a military conflict. They do not make ideal generals in the armed forces, but they can fulfill a helpful role within some areas of military service.] Only a man has the unique male qualities that are necessary for complete development of the children in a family unit. A female has her own unique contribution to child-development, so BOTH must be present for the BEST possible scenario.
For this reason, I am naturally uncomfortable with a female “senior pastor,” but accept the “associate pastor” position as one easily and unsurprisingly filled, at times, by women with tremendous callings to ministry. I recognize that we live in an imperfect world, and for example, I have no problem at all accepting a woman as a “senior pastor,” in the unusual event that her husband (former senior pastor) passes away, and she is capable and called upon to fulfill that role, etc. I also recognize that there are legitimate times when God couldn’t find a man willing to obey, so He calls out a woman to do the job and she takes the senior position. This is to her credit (and the discredit of the male cowards who wouldn’t obey God), and it is a theme repeated throughout Bible history. I recall the story of Deborah, in an inferior covenant, where, even though women had not yet been liberated by the doctrines of Jesus Christ, God clearly called upon her to do a man’s job:
Judges 4:4-5 (KJV) “And Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lapidoth, she judged Israel at that time.  And she dwelt under the palm tree of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in mount Ephraim: and the children of Israel came up to her for judgment.”
With that said, the error of many denominational churches is that they refuse ANY woman from ministry service and WILL NOT HONOR the women that clearly possess God-ordained ministry callings and anointing. (As you well know, in a strict homiletical sense alone, my mother likely understands and could probably teach the Bible better than most male pastors in this country, and so could Nancy Dufresne. Both women possess dynamic speaking abilities that are obviously God-given graces superior to mere natural abilities.)
1 Corinthians 14:34 is usually the single text cited to “prove” the error, but the verse is not properly handled in its context and within the confines of the culture wherein it was written.
1 Corinthians 14:34 (KJV) “Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law.”
Notice the phrase “as also saith the law.” Well the Old Testament (the law) lists no less than five female “prophetesses,” if we include the New Testament, there are a total of fourteen women called-out and used in ministry by the Holy Spirit in this way. When you consider the fact that the office of prophet is of a higher rank than merely that of an Ephesians “pastor,” there is even more to be considered. For the sake of time, I won’t digress down that path. Ultimately, there is no way to twist the title “prophetess” to mean anything less than what it means.
1) Miriam (see Exodus 15:20)
2) Deborah (see Judges 4:4)
3) Huldah (see 2 Kings 22:14; 2 Chronicles 34:22)
4) Noadiah (see Nehemiah 6:14)
5) Isaiah’s wife (see Isaiah 8:3)
Then we get into the New Testament and find:
6) Elizabeth (see Luke 1:41-45)
7) Mary, mother of Jesus (see Luke 1:46-55)
8) Anna (see Luke 2:36-38)
9-12) Phillip’s four daughters (see Acts 21:9)
13) Jezebel, (a false prophetess, according to Revelations 2:20). [One could argue that if there exists a “false” then there must also be a “genuine.”]
With that said, most every woman in this list is given the title “prophetess,” with only a few exceptions. (For example, the first woman of the Bible who prophesied was Rachel in Genesis 30:24, but she is not called “a prophetess.”
As an aside, keep in mind that the Old Testament prophet bears more resemblance to the New Testament “pastor” than does the Old Testament priest. In fact, there is hardly ANY similarity between the bloody pageantry of Old Testament priestly duty and the modern pastor whatsoever. This is significantly germane to this discussion because antagonists often like to point out “there was never a female PRIEST in the Old Testament!” That is absolutely true, but remember the word “Priest” is a gender-specific noun. I might as well retort, “There was never a female KING, either!”
With regard to the role of the prophet and its modern counterpart (the pastor), in his masterful work The Laws of the Ancient Hebrews, (published in 1855) Professor E.C. Wines wrote, “The office of the prophets was much more like that of our modern clergymen, than was the office of the priests, who had, in fact, but few points of resemblance to the ministry instituted by Christ. The prophets were the preachers of the ancient church…A single fact is decisive of this, their living in cities by themselves. How could Christian pastors discharge their appropriate functions, isolated [in] towns, twenty, thirty, or fifty miles apart, instead of living as now among their respective flocks?”
With that said, and as illustrated above, it is clear that women have been called upon by God to serve as both civil magistrates and/or prophetesses (preachers) throughout the Biblical records. Now, let’s get back to our key verse, inappropriately used to dismiss ALL women from ANY level of legitimate ministry in our modern times, and put it in its context:
1 Corinthians 14:34 (KJV) “Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law.”
Women and men, 2000 years ago, didn’t sit together during church. Women sat on one side and men on the other. The eastern method of Synagogue (then and today) would be considered “rude” by modern westerners. For example, it was customary for members of an audience to interrupt the teacher, by shouting out questions or challenging what the Rabi said with a reasonable debate. It sounds terrible to us, but it was, and still is, their custom in Orthodox Jewish circles. [This happened to Jesus all the time, if you notice while reading the gospels.] In the synagogue, the women, as a general rule, were asked to “sit-out” the asking of questions during the public meeting, and instead, ask their questions of their own husbands afterward. Here are some things this text does NOT address, if we respect the context, culture, history and the rest of the bible record on women in the New Testament.
This was NOT in any way a verse to somehow suggest that “females can never be church leaders!” anymore than it was a cart-blanch rule that women should never be allowed to talk once they darken the doors of a synagogue/church. It was NOT addressing general rules of female speech or female leadership roles that concerned pre-service or post service talking. Obviously, the text only speaks to what should and should not be done DURING A PUBLIC SERMON.
Should we assume that the “women” addressed in the passage were all preachers? No.
Should we assume that the event that goaded the writing of this text was a woman preacher who annoyed Paul? No.
We are left with only one reasonable conclusion, and that conclusion is proven in verse 35 (will show that in a moment): the women being addressed in this text were SITTING IN THE AUDIENCE INTERRUPTING THE PREACHER PER EASTERN CUSTOM, and this was deemed inappropriate because it created a layer of unnecessary inefficiency. What was Paul’s solution? The chain of delegated authority could provide the answers for these church ladies after the public meeting was over. Simple: “ask your husband at home.”
In other words, Jewish MEN could interrupt the Rabbi/Pastor, with a question, or a challenge, but women were asked to refrain from public engagement as members of the AUDIENCE, and, instead, ask their questions of their husbands later. We might assume then, that the husband, during a subsequent public meeting, might later choose to ask his wife’s question publicly if he himself did not know the answer when she had previously asked him – at home.
Look at the added emphasis of this next verse:
1 Corinthians 14:35 (KJV) “And if they [female members of the audience] will LEARN anything[this is not a discussion about women “teaching” it is talking about “learning and listening”], let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak [interrupt the preacher or challenge him] in the church. [Emphasis Added]
Obviously, the women being addressed were there to “learn” as members of the audience; they were not there to challenge the teacher nor to use the interruption as an opportunity for a soap-box speech. In summary: the text DOES NOT address the qualifications of what we might call a “key-note speaker,” but instead, gives instructions to an AUDIENCE, and instructs said AUDIENCE in the appropriate rules of engagement during a public meeting. THEIR appropriate interaction with the teacher/preacher/pastor/key-note speaker provides efficient handling of a public meeting as it should take place within the Eastern Church culture.
For what it’s worth, in Western culture, we don’t generally allow either MEN or women to interrupt our sermons, and if they do, they are carted-off by ushers and thrown out of the building. Now, imagine me addressing the need for men to ask their questions AFTER a public meeting, and 2000 years later, my progeny teaching that “based upon what my forefather Gordon wrote, men should not be church leaders!” and you have a fresh paradigm on what has happened here in the modern church. Let’s take this a step further, and I’ll peel off a layer of confusion on the issue of culture. For example, 1 Corinthians 14:34 (listed earlier) must be handled with the SAME RULES OF INTERPRETATION used to explain this next verse:
1 Corinthians 11:5 (KJV) “But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven.”
First, notice that Paul says women CAN PROPHESY! This word does not necessarily mean “predict the future” as we tend to think. It is the Greek word “propheteuo” and simply means “preach and/or teach by inspiration of the Holy Spirit!” It is used to describe preaching by both sexes in the New Testament. Secondly, I haven’t seen many “die-hard anti-female-in-ministry-Baptists” that make their women wear a head-covering to church, have you? That’s because they partly apply culture and context to their interpretation of 1 Corinthians 11:5, and then, with great inconsistency, refuse to apply the same appropriate rules of interpretation to 1 Corinthians 14:34 (see above). Thirdly, they fail to explain the fact that Paul clearly stated here that women could “propheteuo.” What’s more troubling is that the anti-female doctrine within much of the denominational churches is irreconcilable with Galatians 3:28, which says the following:
Galatians 3:28 (KJV) “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.”
If you can understand why kicking all mothers out of the home and not allowing them to mother their children would be a problem for the natural family, then you can see the denominational error in refusing all women from subservient leadership (pastoral) roles within the local church. The delegitimizing of the female role in church government presents another extreme position exposed by this next question: “Is having a “single father” ideal for rearing children?” Of course not! The man does not have the same abilities given to a woman. The design of God has always been that BOTH are best for the children. We do not live in a perfect vacuum, but if we did, every local church would have a male senior pastor, and his wife would naturally assume the “associate pastor” role as a “spiritual mother” (for a lack of better terms) within the church family.
One of the most significant predictions about the change between the old and new covenants was prophesied by the Prophet Joel (see Joel 2:28), and reiterated as having taken place on the day of Pentecost, in Acts 2:16-18. Here, it was fulfilled that “in the last days” God would “pour out His Spirit” not only upon men, but significantly, and contrary to former Jewish tradition, upon “YOUR DAUGHTERS” and “UPON HANDMAIDENS” and that these FEMALES would “PROPHESY” (Greek “propheteuo” – to preach and teach by inspiration).
The man, as the general rule, is the head of the church, but the church NEEDS WOMEN leadership as much as children need mothers. (See Romans 16:1-2, Romans 16:3-4, Romans 16:12. These women are referred to as “servants,” but the original Greek word is “diakonos” which is translated “deacon” in other passages!) The Bible, reason, and experience all agree and prove that women are called upon in these last days to rear godly children in the home, the church, and even in civil government. The natural family government, the church family government, and the civil government, all need biblical balance in their views of sexuality.
The danger we face, on all three levels, is the modern liberalization of women. We do have a culture filled with gender-confusion, and it is very understandable why many church groups, out of fear and revulsion of letting our culture sully their principles, leap into an extreme anti-female position with their doctrines. Nevertheless, it is wrong for them to do so. It is possible to enable women in ministry without becoming “worldly” in a spirit of compromise.
It is sad, to me, that so many churches answer error with more error. It is a shame when a church allows a gender-confusing culture to push it into hiring and/or ordaining a “token” female preacher. It is also a mistake when a church allows a gender-confusing culture to push it (by fear) into an unscriptural and wholesale rejection of legitimate female ministry. Jesus called these two extremes “ditches.”
I’m proud of our church, on this particular issue, because we left the ditch a long time ago, and I know there are hundreds of people who are better off because of it. When you reject a ministry that God ordained, you reject the benefits that ministry was equipped to give you. That leaves you short-handed in life and missing components that would have otherwise helped you fulfill your mission on earth. Preachers and teachers are a gift from Jesus to the church. Women have been greatly used by God in this capacity, and will continue being used until the last day when the trumpet finally sounds!
I hope that helps?