April 5, 2021

Is it Biblical for Women to Lead?

Debbie Lamm Bray

“You’re ordained? What … group … are you with?” The sound man at the church where I was officiating a wedding was curious about my background. I am fairly sure he expected to hear that I was part of a cult of some sort. When I told him I am ordained with the Assemblies of God, he looked both confused and relieved all at once. His church was a fairly large AG church, and although I was suddenly a safe person, it seemed that he had had no idea a woman could be ordained in the Assemblies.

People inside and outside our fellowship are sometimes surprised to learn that we have always ordained women and still do, allowing women to preach and teach in church and even to be lead pastors. Our position is unusual to an extent; many of our friends who also hold a high view of biblical authority disagree with us on this. Like me, you may have received questions or heard objections to this – or you may have questions yourself. These questions are worth the time and effort to study well in order to answer them.

But why does this matter? Does it matter?

In a short span of time, maybe over two months when I was a young adult, I heard, watched, and read some women who talked and wrote about current events, morals, the meaning of life, and religion. The sentiments I heard and read were summed up in what one woman (whose name I’ve long forgotten) wrote, which went something like this: “I looked for meaning in the church. There was no place for me there. So I made up my own religion.”

Women who bear the image of God and for whom Jesus died look at the body of Christ and do not see what it has to do with them. That is not my Jesus. I still physically ache at this thought, remembering that some people perceive that this is the heart of God. So, this conversation is not about being liberal, or conservative, or any other political label we put on things. It is about living in the love that God has lavished on us in Christ and demonstrating to the world His redemptive, righteous, and holy power to heal the divisions brought on by sin.

I submit that full inclusion of women in the Church’s ministry and leadership is not only gospel-centric and biblically sound but also, as many scholars believe, stems from a more consistent theological approach to scripture and a stronger hermeneutic.

The fundamental rule of hermeneutics, of course, is that Scripture interprets Scripture – or, each passage should be kept in context. Holding in our minds the overall message of the Bible as we study particular passage will help with this.

The overarching message of the Bible is redemption. The themes of creation, fall, and redemption are central to a biblical worldview. In creation, we see God’s intention. He said “it is good,” revealing that His purposes were fulfilled. But God was displeased when He saw that man was alone; He proclaimed this was “not good.” God created a “suitable helper,” which are words translated from the Hebrew ezer kenegdo. Ezer is used in the Old Testament 21 times, and is usually used of God as a helper to people; it does not imply any type of subordination. Kenegdo means “just like” or “corresponding to,” so God was making a woman who was like the man, to be a strong helper alongside him. Both the male and the female were created in the image of God, and together reflect His image more fully than in isolation. Partnership is God’s intention. Sin broke that partnership and made a mess of every relationship.

Jesus’s life and work disrupted the mess we had made, including the way men and women relate to one another. Jesus consistently elevated women above the status assigned them by their society and religion, redeeming fractured relations. For example, consider His interactions with the Samaritan woman at the well (who was the first person to whom Jesus revealed Himself as “I Am,” which identified Him as the God of Moses), the woman with a bleeding disorder, and Martha who met Him on His way to Lazarus’s tomb. The most amazing example of Jesus restoring women to full partnership is His commissioning of a woman as the first witness to His resurrection: although women were not allowed to be witnesses in that culture (they were considered unreliable), Jesus chose to entrust the most important news in human history to a woman. The work of Jesus changed everything and ushered in the Kingdom of God.

Paul helped us understand what Christ’s redeeming work means in our lives. Although Paul is often regarded as the primary figure in prohibiting women from preaching and leading, he was actually the source of some of the clearest statements and actions regarding the inclusion of women in all aspects of ministry. In Galatians 2:28-29, "he explained the meaning of the cross: 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. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise. The walls that had separated and segregated people now, because of the cross, are irrelevant. Regardless of race, status, or womanhood, we are all equal in Christ."

These theological perspectives provide the lenses through which we see the passages at the heart of the debate on women’s roles in the Church. The most-debated passages are found in 1 Corinthians 11, 1 Corinthians 14, Ephesians 5-6, and 1 Timothy 2, and I consider those passages in detail in a full article here. When one looks at each passage in light of the biblical themes of creation, fall, and redemption, and considers the entire passage along with the whole of Paul’s writings, it is easy to notice the contradictions that indicate we need further investigation to find Paul’s meaning. Careful study of original language and the cultural background of the passages reveals that he was not prohibiting women from preaching or leading in all places, for all times, but rather was addressing specific concerns in particular situations. The normative principle for all time and all places is full participation of women and men in the structure and work of the Church, according to the gifting of the Spirit.

Spiritual gifts are the proverbial cherry on top. The Holy Spirit was poured out on all flesh, and gives gifts to both males and females. Just as Paul says that, in the body, the leg should not say to the hand “we don’t need you,” so many scholars and Pentecostals believe we should not prohibit gifted members of the body from exercising those gifts solely because they are not men. The body of Christ needs all the gifts that the Spirit gives. I believe that Pentecostals’ voices should be some of the loudest to speak freedom and partnership to women and men in the community of the redeemed. This issue is not about power or elevation of some people over others; it is about the gospel reaching all the world and the Kingdom coming to bear on every aspect of our lives.

What would happen if we, God’s people, set the example for the world of what it means to live in the reality of God’s redemptive work in our relationships and partnerships between men and women?

Let’s find out!

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