Currently, in the United States of America, women account for 51% of the population and for approximately 50% of the total world population. The Church has before them a significant question that will impact the lives and ministries of half of God’s creation: Can a woman lead?
There are two simple views on this debate: the idea that women can, and should, lead in ministry and the idea that women are restricted from spiritual leadership. Both sides claim to have the clear picture of Biblical justification on their side. The belief that women can lead is supported by the idea that God created all of humanity and sent His Son to redeem and fully set free everyone, male and female alike. The opposing view, that women’s roles are restricted to “submissive” positions, is backed up by the idea that men and women were created equally in God’s image; however, their roles are designed solely to complement each other and they are not allowed to occupy the same spiritual position.
I personally believe that women, like men, are called to leadership positions within the Church, and are not restricted based on biological sex. Pre-fall, men and women, according to Scripture, lived and ruled equally. In fact, Genesis 1:27b reads, “In the image of God He created them; male and female he created them.” Then in verse 28, it says, “Then God blessed them and said, ‘be fruitful and multiply’ (Gen. 1:28).” Genesis 1 gives women and men equal dominion over the earth. Christ was sent to earth with a mission to restore the Church to its pre-fall condition. Knowing that it is impossible for the Church to perfect His plan in our sinful nature, Christ died on the cross for our sins, washing us in His blood. At that moment, the law that Paul refers to in 1 Corinthians 14:34 was fulfilled and God’s faithful were released from that bondage.
Acts 2:17 says, “I will pour out my Spirit on all humanity; then your sons and your daughters will prophesy … I will pour out my Spirit on my male and female slaves.’ This Scripture is important for a couple of reasons. First, God directly states that He will bless His children, women and men, with spiritual prophecy, which brings great authority. The very nature of prophecy demands that it be shared. Moreover, in order to spread prophecy, a leadership platform is required. Second, if God was willing to grant prophetic gifts and spiritual leadership to the lowliest of people (slaves), would He not grant that and more to His willing and devoted female disciples? God’s Word even gives us an example of women pouring out their insight into someone in a discipleship-style manner with Apollos in Acts 18:26, “They took him aside, and explained the way of God even more accurately.” Another great example of female leadership, among men and women, is Scripture itself. In Exodus 15:21, the God-breathed words came through the vessel of a woman, Miriam. A similar occurrence takes place in Luke 1:45-55, “And Mary said… (Luke 1:46)” Had the idea of women in leadership been against God’s mandates, there would not be such a wealth of counterexamples present in His Word.
Christ’s discernment of gifts, as Paul declared in 1 Corinthians, solely relies on the gifts and not the gift receiver at all. “Now there are different gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different ministries, but the same Lord. And there are different activities, but the same God activates each gift in each person (1 Cor. 12:4, 6).” The biological sex of the individual plays no role in the giving of spiritual gifts. God, in His infinite power, is not bound by time or space, nor does male or female bind him. God, by His very nature, operates in stark opposition to the world; while the world continues to divide and classify individuals based on class, color, nationality and sex, God has unleashed the gifts of the Spirit for all people that seek after Him.
Often the Church falls into an archaic ideology, a set of beliefs that were in place before their fulfillment. This idolization of past laws and pre-sanctified thinking is a shame to Christ’s work on Calvary. The 21st century Church restricting women from leadership and pinning men only to certain roles is parallel to ancient times when Scripture was used to justify inhumane slavery, racism and abuse. To say that women are “not allowed” in God’s sight to hold positions of leadership indirectly tells them they are incapable and unworthy of the highest level of accountability in their spiritual walk with Christ. Clearly, there is no physical or mental issue that prevents women from leadership roles. Certain roles and rules are not innate to either sex, male or female. Both sexes are capable and worthy of seeking and holding the same positions of authority, obtaining and practicing the same spiritual gifts and ministering in the same capacities, as we are told in 1 Corinthians 12.
Upon hearing this argument, many are still skeptical because of Paul’s writing in 1 Timothy. It is important that believers take into account the fact that there are several clues that lead theologians to believe this writing was culturally bound. Much of the writing in 1Timothy 2, such as, “I want women to be modest in appearance. They should not draw attention to themselves by wearing gold or pearls (1 Tim. 2:9),” was written with old ritual and cultural traditions in mind. Therefore, it is logical to deduce that much of the writing throughout chapter two may have cultural leanings. I am in no way detracting from the message and meaning of these Scriptures; the principles still very much apply, however, the way in which these principles are shared, through the law of the land at the time, is out-dated.
1 Timothy 3, which points to a time when Timothy is pastoring a church, gives further credence to cultural implications. At the time of the church plant, women were in leadership roles; however, they were operating within a prominent religious cult. The center of this cult was the Temple of Diana, which was a host to much debauchery and sexual immorality; the women in leadership often practiced prostitution in the name of religion. Thus, upon the founding of Timothy’s new church, there were few to no godly women capable of strong spiritual leadership and to appoint a woman in that time could have lead to the destruction of the church and a tainted Gospel message. Accordingly, due to the cultural makeup of the time, women were prohibited from leading. Again, the principles still very much apply, but the laws have been fulfilled and no longer are the authority.
Galatians 3:2 reads, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” 51% of American population is female and 50% of world population is female. Would God limit half of His people from effecting change in society? Upon Christ’s death on the cross, His Kingdom, the Church, was granted the freedom and power, through Christ’s strength, to strive to achieve the pre-fallen image of perfection. Will the 21st century Church hide behind the law, or rise to the occasion of grace?