MONTGOMERY, Ala. (BNc) by Cecil May Jr. — “Naomi Walters Named Minister in Residence at Stamford Church.” A widely circulated e-mail attachment has that headline. (I received four copies of it from four different sources.) It was preceded by the phrase, “Good News.” For many of us, however, it is the opposite of good news.
The writer of the piece is Dale Pauls, Stamford preacher. Naomi Walters is a graduate of Rochester College in Bible and Counseling and of Abilene Christian University with an M.Div. She is currently enrolled in David Lipscomb University in their D.Min. degree program. She sounds like a very capable lady and an engaging, informative speaker on biblical topics.
Why should she not be a preaching minister at a congregation of God’s people?
My answer is, “Because God in Scripture said a woman should not fill that role.”
Brother Pauls response to those of us who believe that is:
I do not doubt that many people who resist change on this are acting in good faith. But they are not studying the Bible. They are not doing their homework. They do not seek the original intent of Scripture nor do they seek to understand Scripture in its historical context. So they do not understand that those passages that restrict women’s participation in public worship—1 Corinthians 14:33-35 and 1 Timothy 2:9-15—address specific circumstances in the particular cultural context of their original first century audiences. They do not understand that Paul is calling his readers to live gracefully as disciples of Christ within the strongly patriarchal patterns of their day. They do not understand that he is guiding Christians in the setting in which they live; he is not advocating their patriarchal, even misogynistic, setting for all time. So they do not distinguish between what the New Testament says about the new life in Christ and the degree to which it was possible to implement this in first century culture. As a result, although they would no longer use the teaching, “Slaves, obey your earthly masters” (Ephesians 6:5-9; Colossians 3:22—4:1; Titus 2:9-10) to defend slavery in our time, they will still use 1 Corinthians 14:33-35 and 1 Timothy 2:9-15 to silence women’s voices in our public assemblies in our time.
What Brother Pauls is overlooking is the fact that the apostle Paul does not base his restrictions on woman as preachers and leaders in public worship assemblies on local cultural considerations. He roots them in the order of creation and in the first sin. “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor” (1 Timothy 2:12-14 ESV). These admonitions were not given just to the Corinthian church and to the church in Ephesus through Timothy. Paul says they are the same “in all the churches of the saints” (1 Corinthians 14:33).
We rightly treat the Scriptures on slavery as culturally conditioned, applying them to the employer/employee relationship in our time, but Scripture does not base that commandment on creation. In Philemon the apostle lays the foundation for the end of slavery, telling Philemon he should receive his former slave, now a Christian “no longer as a slave but more than a slave, as a beloved brother—especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord” (Philemon 16). The limitations on women speaking and leading in pubic worship assemblies are because of the order of creation.
Brother Pauls notes correctly that continuing to follow these gender restrictions is contrary to the tide of culture and history. It is equally true that, in accepting Scripture’s assessment of homosexual relations as sinful (Romans 1:26-27 and 1 Corinthians 6:9-11), we are running contrary to culture and to the sweep of public opinion. Christianity has always been counter-cultural and we should never ignore Scripture to follow popular opinion.
I appreciate that Brother Pauls does not do as some theological liberals do, deny that Scripture is God-breathed and authoritative. He attempts to establish his case while maintaining Scripture’s inspiration and authority. Unfortunately for his case, however, Paul appeals to creation rather than culture or local situations as the reason for his restrictions on women.
Assigning leadership roles to men and submissive roles to women, as Scripture does both in public worship and in the home, does not degrade women. Submission does not imply inferiority. God the Father and Jesus Christ the Son are equal in power, glory and Deity, but the Son voluntarily submits to the Father. Throughout Scripture Jesus says such things as, “I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me” (John 5:30). When wives submit to their husbands, when congregations submit to their elders, when women submit to men’s leadership in worship, indeed, when we submit to one another, we follow the path that Jesus says leads to the only true greatness.
Men are not smarter than women; they are not more dedicated as Christians than women. Christians do not deny women leadership roles based on human reasoning, gender bias or misogyny. It is done because we believe God who made us also knows what is best for us and how we best function, and He requires, “As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says” (1 Corinthians 14:33-34) and “Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor” (1 Timothy 2:8-14).
We must obey God rather than the sweep of culture.
Bro May is Dean Emeritus of Faulkner University.