Defending Female Teachers in the Church

A while back, a friend of mine came to visit from out of town.  At the end of a fun and eventful weekend, I took him to the Sunday evening service of my church.  At the end of the service, he asked an important and disturbing question.  “How can you attend a church that has a female pastor?  Don’t you believe in the Bible?”  Though I started attending my current church with some reservations on this issue, I have gradually been persuaded that women can be teachers in the church.  I thought I would review what the Bible has to say on this issue and defend the practice of allowing women to teach in the church.

The Primary Test

By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?  Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.  A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. (Matthew 7:16-18)

When considering whether or not something is from God, the primary test to be applied is the one given to us by the Lord in this verse.  If the fruit is good, the tree is good and if the fruit is bad the tree is bad.  This is, therefore,  the primary reason that I have come to believe that a woman can be called by God to be a teacher.  Having attended a church where a married couple shares the pastoral duties for a number of years, I testify that the fruit is good.  I have seen people strive for purity and holiness, get into the Word of God, pray for revival and work for the glorification of Jesus Christ.  What more could you ask for?

In the Beginning

To the woman he said, “I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.”  (Genesis 3:16)

In this verse, we see God describing the consequences of the fall of mankind to the woman.  What is one of the consequences of the fall?  That “he will rule over you”.  Before the Fall, therefore, there was no notion of men “ruling over” women.  Both were equal before God and both had a direct relationship with Him.  When Jesus came he restored all things and this is reflected in the egalitarianism of the New Testament.

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:16)

According to this principle, therefore, we would expect that males and females can be allowed to teach in the church.

One Flesh with One Mind and Unified in Spirit

As I mentioned above, the pastors of my church are married and share pastoral duties.  Both Pastor Peter and Pastor Peg will take their turn at the pulpit teaching the word of God.  On what Biblical basis could I justify paying respect to one and not the other as a teacher?  The Bible tells me that they are “one flesh”.  I know that they are agreed and of one mind on all the topics about which they teach.  I also know that they are united by the Holy Spirit.  If they are one in flesh, mind and Spirit, then how can one be allowed to teach and not the other?

The Teaching of Paul

I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.  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.  (1 Timothy 2:12)

Obviously, the primary reason that Christians believe that female pastors are forbidden are the words of Paul to Timothy in this verse.  In light of this verse, how can anyone who believes that the Bible is the Word of God attend a church that has a female teacher?  By understanding this verse in the context of the early church culture and the whole counsel of God.

To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife.

To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her (1 Corinthians 7:10-12)

In this verse we find that Paul is very careful to distinguish between a command that he has from the Lord and the advice he offers as a mature believer with the Holy Spirit.  As any Christian must admit, the command of the Lord is to be obeyed while the advice from Paul is to be considered as sound but optional.  Paul differentiates between his advice and his command through the use of the word “command”.  Paul is “commanding” with his authority as an apostle and making known the will of the Lord.  What bearing does this have on the verse above in Paul’s letter to Timothy?

Paul says that “he does not permit” women to teach or have any authority over a man because the woman was deceived in the garden.  We note first that this is not a “command” that comes from the Lord, but a statement by Paul concerning what he has personally allowed in situations where he was in authority.  Would Paul have denied the possibility of the Holy Spirit giving the gift of discernment to a woman that would allow her to not be deceived and thereby be a teacher in the church?  I do not believe that Paul could deny this possibility, “With God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26)

If the Holy Spirit can give the gift of teaching to women such that they can be teachers in the church, is there any reason why He would give such gifts today and not in the early days of church history?  The answer can be found in many of the verses of the New Testament.

I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.  (1 Corinthians 19:23)

“‘We played the pipe for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn”  (Matthew 11:17)

In these verses, we see God’s approach to evangelism.  God will approach people in different ways depending on who they are.  If you are a mourner (a person who loves the law and laments evil), then God will send John the Baptist to you as a fire-breathing preacher who “has a demon” and is beheaded because he is so zealous for the law.  If you are a dancer (a person who wants to love others and party), God will send His Son that you might see the goodness and kindness of God and repent of your carnality.  God sends different people to reach the lost depending on who they are.

By this principle, therefore, I conclude that the modern age would be far more likely to have female pastors than the early church.  In that time period and culture, nothing would have stopped the church dead in its tracks faster than radical egalitarianism between men and women.  In order to reach those people, God sent them teachers who were male because female teachers would have had a limited impact.  In our modern society, on the other hand, God sends female teachers because some people would be unreachable in any other way.

Having written all that I have written above, I must say that I do not believe that I could attend a church that had only a female pastor.  A church with married pastors sharing the pastoral duties is as “liberal and progressive” (yuck) as I can possibly be.  Why?  It may just be a matter of taste, but I find that Pastor Peter adds something that I personally find indispensable.  Pastor Peg has been a fine teacher and I have appreciated her heart for the lost and her teaching a great deal, but there is something within me that requires the pugnacious combat faith that Pastor Peter brings to the table.  Together, they make a great team.

About Robert V

Former atheist currently living in Toronto.
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