Women in Church

Our congregation is led by the men of the church, although women play an important role in the church, different than the role of the men.  This topic is sometimes fiercely debated in churches.  We aim to stay as close as possible to biblical teaching on this issue, as with any other issue.

Women have the same sort of personal relationship with God as men and are equal members of the church (Gal. 3:28; Joel 2:28-29).  They can pray directly to God (Gen. 25:22; I Sam. 1:10-11, 27; 2:1; Acts 1:14), and they can (and should) read and understand the Bible for themselves.

Women are not teachers in the congregation

Paul discusses women in church a good bit, and he makes a distinction between the roles of men and women. Men and women are different, obviously, and they were created different on purpose by God for some important reasons. Men and women and different characteristics, with different strengths and weaknesses, that make them ideally suited for different roles — which is a good thing.

In the family, the husband needs the wife, with her unique characteristics, to be a help to him (Gen. 2:18; Prov. 19:14) — God decided that this was an essential element of the relationship between the husband and the wife. Further, God placed the husband as the head in that relationship (I Cor. 11:3; Eph. 5:23), giving the wife the duty to submit to that authority (Eph. 5:22, 24; I Peter 3:5-6) as it is exercised under the ultimate authority (which is God — Rom. 13:1; Col. 3:18). Likewise, of course, the husband has an equally important duty to love, nourish, and cherish the wife (Eph. 5:25-29; Col. 3:19; I Peter 3:7) and to provide leadership for the family. There are other distinctions as well, such as the man having the primary responsibility for providing for the physical needs of the family (I Tim. 5:8; Ex. 21:10), while the women bear children and manage the household (I Tim. 2:15; 5:14; Prov. 14:1), and God makes special provision for widows, who no longer have their husbands to provide for them (I Tim. 5:3-4, 9, 16; Deut. 14:28-29; 24:17-22).

With that context in mind, Paul applies this principle to how people interact in church. Because men and women are created with different characteristics and roles, they are given different instructions for behavior in church as well.

When it comes to the general assembly of the congregation, women are not permitted to teach, but to be in silence (I Tim. 2:11-12; I Cor. 14:34).  A major reason for this is that women teaching in church usurps authority over the men (I Tim. 2:12-13).  Recall that the husband has authority granted by God over the wife, and this distinction is carried over in the church setting.

Indeed, women are not even to ask questions during the assembly (I Cor. 14:35).  Instead, they are to ask their husbands at home. This preserves the headship of the husband to his own wife, rather than the wife asking some other man — nor the husband providing direct authority over some other woman.

Another reason that women are not permitted to teach may be that women might be more prone to be deceived with false doctrine, like Eve was (I Tim. 2:14). This is the result of the good, different God-given characteristics that differentiate men and women. We can speculate about the exact characteristics that tend towards this result — perhaps women, being more emotional, are more easily swayed by a clever false teacher, whereas the man might be more likely to think more logically and see through the error — or perhaps there’s another reason. In any case, God said it.

This also indicates that the roles of men and women in the church apply to all men and women, regardless of marital status, since all women have womanly characteristics. Therefore, the prohibition on women teaching the congregation applies also to women who have lost their male authority figure, including, for example, women whose husbands or fathers have died.

As a side note, the distinctions between men and women in the church continue to other applications, such as hair. Paul says that women’s heads should be covered (I Cor. 11:4-10) – although there are differences of opinion about whether the covering is referring to a woman’s long hair or some other covering placed on the women’s head, and whether the covering is to be in use all the time or particularly during mixed church meetings. In contrast, men’s heads are not to be covered.

We should note that these concepts are not merely based on the first century culture, since part of the basis of Paul’s teaching on these subjects is from nature and creation, which transcend cultures (I Tim. 2:13; I Cor. 11:9, 14).

Women, therefore, are not permitted to do any of the teaching in the general assembly.

Women can teach in other settings

However, women do have a calling to be teachers, as much as men do.  It just need to be in the proper setting.  Older women are specifically commanded to teach younger women on a variety of issues (Titus 2:3-5).  Women also have a special role in teaching their children (Prov. 1:8; 6:20; 31:1).  That being the case, women can teach women or children if the church decides to have special meetings for just women or just children, such as a Sunday School program.

In addition, and more importantly, women should be teaching younger women and children at other times and in other settings.  The spiritual gifts don’t stop at the weekly general assembly meeting, and women that have the gift of teaching or prophesying (Luke 2:36; Acts 2:17; 21:9) can exercise that gift all the rest of the week in the appropriate way.

Women also should be a good example to the children (I Tim. 2:15) as well as to unbelieving husbands (I Peter 3:1-4).

Women influence the church through their husbands

Women also indirectly influence the church through their husbands.  They are created to be a fitting help for them (Gen. 2:18), and indeed having a wife is a requirement for some church leadership positions (I Tim. 3:2, 12; Titus 1:6).  The behavior of the wife is essential to the success of the man trying to serve the church (I Tim. 3:11).  Women can also ask good questions (I Cor. 14:35) and give good advice to their husbands (Gen. 21:10-12).  As God calls men to minister to the congregation, he simultaneously calls their wives to be a help to them.

Women can help their husbands by praying for them, loving them (Titus 2:4), keeping their house in good order and helping to reduce problems that could cause scandal that would hinder the ministry (Titus 2:5; I Tim. 5:14), enabling up the husband to have a more effective influence (Prov. 31:23).

Women exercising other spiritual gifts

Women can be active in the church in other ways besides teaching, by serving (I Tim. 5:10) and exercising other spiritual gifts.  God has given each believer a gift, both men and women (Rom. 12:3-6; Gal. 3:28), in order to edify the rest of the body of Christ.  While some people have gifts that are more visible such as teaching and prophesy, the other gifts are no less important, such as serving, giving, and showing mercy (Rom. 12:7-8).  Women using these gifts are certainly a blessing to the congregation.

Women’s participation in the church meetings

Church meetings aren’t just for men.  Women can participate in the following ways:

  • Listening to the teaching (listening is an underrated but very important form of participation)
  • Participating in congregational Scripture reading
  • Singing hymns with the congregation
  • Praying to God following along as others pray out loud
  • Giving prayer requests and testimonies of praise to God for answered prayer
  • Partaking in the Lord’s supper
  • Engaging in fellowship during the meal, after the formal meeting adjourns, etc.
  • Fellowship meal preparation
  • Talk with her family in preparation for the meeting
  • Following up after the meeting with questions for her husband regarding things from the meeting that she wants to learn more about
  • Encouraging fellow church members and others
  • Meeting physical needs of the church or the members
  • Giving financial and other resources to meet needs
  • Other ways

The church meeting is more than just teaching and preaching.  It’s about each person being actively involved in being a blessing to the other members in the ways that God has called them to exercise the gifts given to them by the Holy Spirit.