A Theological Coming Out

Women Need to Stop (1)

A few weeks ago I co-taught the Bible lessons for a Vacation Bible School program at the Presbyterian church next door. I loved it. I really enjoyed making the stories come alive and thought nothing of the fact that the leaders shepherding the kids through our station were also listening. Along with my co-lead, I was able to use my gift of teaching to ad lib, provide history behind the stories, and create meaningful off-script take-aways. There were many moments where I felt the Holy Spirit at work.

I realized later that that was one of the first times I had taught in a formal setting where men were also present and became self-aware about it, afraid even. What would “people” think? Was I out of line? I knew the Presbyterian church was supportive of women teaching the Bible, but I thought about voices from my past, people that would never know I had taught with men in the room.

It’s amazing how enslaved we can become to our past fears and wounds; how the voices of people no longer in our lives can still play out in our minds to influence our experiences.

For many years, I held the position that women could teach the Bible to women and kids, but in mixed company and “important places” like the church pulpit or mixed gender Christian conferences, it should be reserved for men.

Why? That was the belief of the churches I attended during my formative years. Men were the leaders, women were the support people; it was the natural order of God—because the Bible says. Or so I thought. I had never studied the topic. I accepted the subculture of my churches as a fact of living as a Christian.

About three years ago, I started digging into the Word to see what it said about the roles of women. There were a lot of things I held as truth that weren’t there. As I read commentaries and other books, I found that Christians are hotly divided over this issue. Many people hold their positions based on interpretation of a few passages of Scripture, mainly a handful authored by the apostle Paul.

In Titus, Paul encourages older women to teach younger women the issues of practical Christian living (Titus 2:3-4), but to his protege Timothy writes, “A woman 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.” (1 Timothy 2:11-12, NIV) He goes onto to discuss Adam and Eve and a divine creation order in the same passage.

Hmm.

In Titus, Paul had encouraged women to teach, but in the Timothy passage, he apparently restricted them from authoritatively sharing knowledge with men. Isn’t it clear then from these verses that women are forbidden from teaching men? Are we supposed to stick to the ladies, ladies?

I had to know for myself, why were people so divided? so I studied the passages. Context, author, background, history, original language, key words. Read them over and over. Prayed. Observed different interpretations being played out in the Church—for several years.

And I came to a new conclusion.

The point of this post isn’t a full exegesis. The issue has been thoroughly debated for years with intelligent, God-fearing believers on both sides of the issue. No angle of the debate on either side has been left unargued (or unrebutted, if that’s a word), as a quick Google session will show. But for me, a new understanding of the historical context of the 1 Timothy passage and the verb used for authority (authentein is used ONLY in this passage in the Bible), led me to believe Paul was addressing specific circumstances in the Ephesian church. Ones where uneducated women (many of whom were probably devoted to a specific cult of that time and location) had potential to fall prey to false teachers and/or propagate cultic practices in their teaching.

I now believe he wasn’t restricting all women from teaching men for the rest of time. Additionally, there are several other passages where Paul mentions women who were in co-ministry with him, further supporting Paul’s positive view of women in church leadership. (Romans 16:1-3; Philippians 4:2-3)

I can hear some of my readers, “Ok, so you’ve flipped on women teaching men (you liberal feminist), so what?”

So what is that I’m excited. I’m coming out of a theological position that isn’t what I believe God intended for the Church. I’m excited that the New Testament Church was a place where the old way of things was turned upside down and I want to be a part of that today. I would love to see more women leaders in the church, as pastors and teachers. I would love to see the Church less afraid of the women’s voice. I would love to see a full representation of Christ as we co-labor to live out the Gospel, both created Imago Dei – in his likeness. (Genesis 1:27)

As women, we need to stop being afraid to study the Scriptures and to come to Spirit-led conclusions, to stop being afraid of the old voices in our heads because God’s power and authority is greater.

Dr. Katharine Bushnell, physician and missionary to China in the late 1800s wrote, “The church which silences women will be found to silence the Holy Ghost,” and “a sect or sex, or race which attempts a monopoly of the Spirit’s voice and power, will find that the Holy Spirit will flee far from it.

If you disagree, I respect that and I don’t think you’re crazy for arriving at your position. I can’t say that I have all the answers or know exactly how the interplay of genders manifests itself most effectively in the Church. But I don’t want to be silent anymore. The Gospel is too wonderful, the harvest too plentiful, and the workers too few to worry about who might be in the room. (Matthew 9:37)

When the Spirit moves, let’s not be silent.

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For additional reading: One of my Redbud Writer’s Guild co-members wrote a wonderful book on how to figure out what you believe about women’s roles by teaching you how to study Scripture.

 

Women, Leadership, and the Bible by Dr. Natalie Eastman

Comments

  1. Well done, Heidi. I’ve been walking this same road the past year, too. So glad to be in your company. xxx

  2. Connie Kincaide says:

    Fantastic Heidi! So thankful for your insight, care for this topic and Spirit- led writing here ♡

  3. Thanks for being brave to share how you’ve wrestled and what the Lord has taught you. It’s such a privilege to follow along with you from afar.