Elders position on women in ministry
Oakwood Presbyterian Church Statement on Women in the Church
By the Session of Oakwood Presbyterian Church
Published July 11, 2018, last updated on May 2021
The Session at Oakwood Presbyterian Church has written this positional statement on the role of women in the church to encourage women at Oakwood to exercise their spiritual gifts in the service of God’s Church. The culture of the present age focuses on the interchangeability of men and women in both the workplace and in the home. There are few roles in our culture which are exclusively reserved for men or women. Confronted by the cultural pressures of our age, the visible church is divided in defining the roles of men and women.
The Session at Oakwood believes that the roles of men and women in the Church are not interchangeable. In His creativity and for His purposes, God created man as male and female in His image and after His likeness (Genesis 1:26). As image-bearers, humanity has the great privilege and high honor to glorify God by ruling over creation, being fruitful, filling the earth, and cultivating its potential (WSC Q/A 1; Genesis 1:28). Although sin has marred the image of God in man (Genesis 5:3), the Lord continues to uphold the dual gendered roles that He marvelously made: male and female. This creation order enables humanity to employ its complimentary gifts that could not be obeyed by a single gender (Genesis 2:18).
While the fall has touched and twisted all of creation, God has never revoked His blessings on men and women working together to glorify Him with their obedience, creativity, productivity, and union. In fact, as part of His redemption, God has poured out His Spirit on “both men and women” (Joel 2:28 and Acts 2:17) and has given gifts meant for the flourishing of the body of Christ and the spread of the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
While gifts must always be used appropriately within the roles to which women have been called, it is the Session’s hope that the church would actively seek ways to identify and use all the gifts that the Holy Spirit has given within its midst.
Biblical Foundation for Roles of Women in the Church
The Session of Oakwood Presbyterian Church affirms that the Bible requires women's gifts to be fully employed within biblical parameters. Anything to the contrary has only wounded the body of Christ, robbed it of many of God’s gifts, and caused outsiders to question the church’s devotion to the Scripture as the only rule of faith and practice. Moving forward, the Session desires to see Oakwood Presbyterian Church utilize women’s gifts and abilities so that it may, as Westminster Shorter Catechism question 1 says, "Glorify God and enjoy him forever."
While no woman wrote a book of the Bible whose author is stated, the Bible records the words of women and regards them as inspired truth. Since several women served God faithfully as prophetesses, God’s people would expect women’s words, such as Miriam's song (Exodus 15:20-21) and Huldah's word of judgment (2 Kings 22:14-20), to be recorded in Scripture. The words of women became Scripture on other occasions, too. These include the outstanding prayer of Hannah (1 Samuel 2:1-10) and the great speech of Abigail to David in 1 Samuel 25:23-31.
Priscilla's ministry is somewhat like Abigail's. Priscilla and Aquila were a husband-wife team who labored with Paul occasionally for years (Acts 18:2-19; Romans 16:3-5). They hosted a house church in Rome and Corinth (Romans 16:5; 1 Corinthians 16:19). These faithful Christians received Apollos, a gifted expositor, but they noted the deficiencies in his preaching. After hearing him, "Priscilla and Aquila invited him into their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately." (Acts 18:26).
Paul also honored other women in Romans 16, which offers glimpses of the contributions women made in the early church. Paul had never visited the church in Rome when he wrote them a letter to prepare for an impending journey to Rome and beyond, but he knew many Christians there and greeted them in chapter 16. The greetings show women functioning as leaders in the church. In Romans 16:3, Paul calls Priscilla and Aquila his co-workers. In Romans 16:6, he commended a certain Mary who “worked very hard.” In Romans 16:12, Paul mentioned three women, Tryphaena, Tryphosa, and Persis, who also “worked hard” in the Lord. Paul further mentioned Andronicus and Junias. They were probably married, since Andronicus is a man’s name and Junias is a woman’s.
Scripture shows that women instructed men, but often in limited and private settings. They advised and rebuked men, great and small. Women counseled men, who listened and adopted their ideas. They taught and prophesied, giving messages with theological content. Nonetheless, scripture has no example of a woman preaching (cf. 2 Tim. 4:2). Women led beside men in Israel and the church, but no woman held the rank of Abraham, Moses, David, Elijah, Isaiah, Peter, or Paul as a principal leader. In fact, when Miriam aspired to equality with Moses, God rebuked her. When Barak tried to avoid leadership, Deborah urged him to accept it.
Roles of Women during the Apostolic Era
Priscilla was a theologically astute disciple. Together with her husband, Aquila, she observed the doctrinal inaccuracy of Apollos’ teaching, took him aside, and “explained to him the way of God more accurately.” (Acts 18:26). Priscilla’s gifts were also utilized alongside and under the authority of the apostle Paul. In fact, she and her husband traveled with Paul during one of his missionary journeys (Acts 18:18-19). Further, Priscilla is among the many faithful and gifted women whom Paul praised for their dedicated work in Romans 16.
Since women are called to be disciples who faithfully utilize their gifts, how does that affect their service as church members? How can women utilize their gifts to glorify God in the worship and ministry of the church? Can women become church officers (1 Timothy 3:1-13; cf. 27 Acts 6:1-7)? Should they be involved in the liturgy of Sunday service? The following section addresses key passages in the Pauline Epistles concerning women’s roles in the church: 1 Corinthians 14, 1 Timothy 2:8-15, Acts 6, and 1 Timothy 3:8-11.
1 Corinthians 14:26-40
Christ has ascended and has poured out the Holy Spirit on both men and women, in fulfillment of Joel 2:28-29. God’s people are utilizing the good gifts He has given, which extended to corporate worship gatherings. The apostle Paul, in writing to the church at Corinth, encouraged believers to employ their gifts, and to ensure the church is edified, the gifts must operate decently and in order (1 Corinthians 14:40). Part of proper order is that women must remain silent, at least for a time (1 Corinthians 14:34). Specifically, when Paul says women must remain silent, he means either silent by not preaching (espoused by Calvin, and other older interpreters) or he means silent during the testing of prophecy (espoused by Carson, Grudem, and other more recent interpreters). The testing of prophecy is the theme of Corinthians 14:29-35. Paul wanted women to use their gifts, but he also wanted all teaching to be tested. That task belonged to Elders (or overseers). Close analysis of 1 Corinthians 14 supports the view that women may prophesy (1 Corinthians 11:5) but must remain silent when prophecy is tested (1 Corinthians 14:34). The point here is not that the gift of prophecy is practiced today, but the content of that teaching is under the oversight of the Elders of the church.
1 Timothy 2:8-15
The apostle Paul stated his purpose in writing Timothy in 1 Timothy 3:14-15: “I am writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth.” One may examine Paul’s thesis under several categories: pure doctrine and good conduct (1 Timothy 1:4-5, 18; 1 Timothy 2:8, 11-15), proper gender relations in the church (1 Timothy 2:9-15; 1 Timothy 5:1-16), and proper leadership in the church (1 Timothy 3:1-13). There are reasons to believe 1 Timothy 2:9-15 especially guides believers who gather for worship. Hence, the church faces threats of heresy by standing firm in the gospel, maintaining good conduct, retaining proper gender roles, and following qualified leaders, especially in worship.
“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.” 1 Timothy 2:11-12
This passage both liberates and restrains. First-century Greek and Jewish cultures generally considered women mentally inferior. They judged women's education a waste of time at best and a cause of temptation at worst. The Mishnah advised men not to talk with women frequently, lest they bring evil on themselves, neglect the law, and inherit damnation. However, Paul rightly understood that women—image-bearers of God—should learn and be taught.
Since no one can learn if noisy and insubordinate, it is sensible that Paul would request women to learn quietly, which is an indication of their submission. To learn quietly is meant to portray a woman learning in a quiet manner. It does not mean absolute silence. Submission means that women should accept the doctrine taught by the church leaders (1 Timothy 3:2). Quiet and submissive dispositions demonstrate that women respect their teachers and accept biblical doctrine. Paul's counsel is clear: women may learn, but may not teach or exercise authority over men.
Complementarianism suggests Paul's prohibition is permanent but partial. Thus, women may teach privately, informally, and occasionally, as Priscilla and others did, but they should not present the doctrines of the faith as authoritative church leaders in the assembly of the saints. This task (e.g., guarding the gospel) occupied Paul's letters to Timothy and was given to Elders or overseers who are male and “the husband of one wife” (1 Timothy 3:2; 1 Timothy 6:20; 2 Timothy 1:12-14).
Three factors indicate that Paul forbids only authoritative instruction in doctrine. First, the Bible indicates that women taught. The Scriptures do not, however, describe women preaching or teaching the assembly of Christians. Second, the context of 1 Timothy is worship in the church. During the corporate gathering, church officers teach bindingly and have been given the task to do so (1 Timothy 3:2). Third and finally, Paul's language suggests that he forbids women to teach doctrine and to exercise ruling authority in the church.
Timothy 2:13 – Reasons for Male Leadership
God implemented male leadership in the Garden of Eden, prior to the fall. By highlighting God’s creative acts in the beginning of time, Paul appeals to first principles. Likewise, Jesus reasoned from creation when he was questioned concerning marriage and divorce (Matthew 19:3-9; cf. Genesis 1:27; Genesis 2:24). Further, Paul cited Genesis to explain male-female roles in 1 Corinthians 11. Men and women are equal in value and in purpose; nevertheless, equality in Christ does not eradicate the different roles men and women maintain.
1 Timothy 2:13-15 – Roles of Women
“For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing - if they continue in faith, love and holiness with self-control.”
Paul’s argument in 1 Timothy 2:13-15 explains the basis of his command in 1 Timothy 2:11-12 and warns of the consequences when it is disobeyed. Paul is calling attention to the fact that abandonment of God’s order inevitably creates disorder and error, while embracing that order is attendant with blessings (1 Timothy 2:15).
Incidentally, Paul both affirms women in their roles of service in the home and family, as well as beyond them. Lydia, the businesswoman (Acts 16:14-15), and Phoebe, the patron (Romans 16:1-2) are highly regarded by Paul. There is no hint of rebuke or impropriety regarding their professional vocation or standing, just as Proverbs 31:16-24 celebrates a woman who manages an estate. Furthermore, Paul has a high view of Christian singleness (see 1 Corinthians 7:32).
Conclusions for Male-Female Partnership
1 Timothy 2 occupies a central place in all discussions of women and ministry. Women should learn the faith, and share their knowledge in some settings (Titus 2:4). They should not become the principal instructors and defenders of the faith in the institutional church. This has been God's plan and order from the beginning, one in which women thrive as they live out their faith.
Understanding Ordination in Light of the Roles of Men and Women in the Church
The Book of Church Order defines ordination as “the authoritative admission of one duly called to an office in the Church of God, accompanied with prayer and the laying on of hands, to which it is proper to add the giving of the right hand of fellowship” (BCO 17-2).
BCO 7-2 lays out the traditional Reformed view of ordination to the Eldership that involves a personal sense of divine calling to service, evidence of providential enablement and spiritual gifts, and the approbation of the church as necessary pre-requisites for ordination. It recognizes two ordinary and perpetual offices in the church, Elders and Deacons.
The Session at Oakwood Presbyterian Church believes that ordination is the formal setting aside of a called, sent, and qualified man from the fellowship of an ecclesiastical assembly consisting of God’s covenant people to a specific office, with vows affirming the responsibilities, power, and authority necessary for the fulfillment of the specified, ecclesiastical office.
Complementarian Practices at Oakwood Presbyterian Church
The Session at Oakwood Presbyterian Church seeks to apply biblical fidelity and to encourage the women at Oakwood to use their gifts to God’s glory and for the church’s edification. Examples of some practices currently done by women in the teaching ministries, through diaconal work, and in public worship at Oakwood are described below.
The Teaching Ministries
Oakwood provides qualified women teaching opportunities only to women and/or children and under the Session’s authority. Women are not allowed to teach men in a formal role of teacher in the ministries of the local church, such as adult Sunday school and small group Bible studies, but there are isolated and informal circumstances in which women may share biblical truths with men that will edify the body (e.g., Aquila and Priscilla informally teaching Apollos in Acts 18:26).
The Diaconal Work
Oakwood permits ordained men to perform diaconal work in the church in a formal way. Women are encouraged to come alongside Deacons while ministering to single women, mercy ministries, et cetera. Currently, the Deacon’s assistant role is being developed for both men and women to serve under the diaconate.
Oakwood opens some roles in its public worship service to laity, both men and women, including leading the congregation in singing, taking up offerings, reading Scripture, and making announcements.
Oakwood Goals with Respect to Women in the Church
Given our position on the roles of women in the church described in this document, the Session of Oakwood Presbyterian Church seeks to accomplish the four goals stated below.
1. That the Session strives to develop, recognize, and utilize the gifts, skills, knowledge, and wisdom of godly women in the church, and allow qualified women to serve on appropriate committees and agencies within the church
Rationale: The Scriptures teach that the Holy Spirit has given gifts to the church for the glory of God and the edification of the church (Romans 12:3-8; 1 Corinthians 12:1-11; Ephesians 4:11-38 16). Oakwood should strive to identify, develop, recognize, and utilize the gifts, skills, knowledge, and wisdom of all its members.
2. That the Session considers how to include non-ordained men and women in the worship of the church so as to maintain faithfulness to Scripture, as well as utilizing the gifts God has poured out to His entire church.
Rationale: Within a complementarian framework, there is substantial, non-controversial opportunity for non-ordained men and women to participate in the leadership of a worship service, in the spirit of 1 Corinthians 14:26.
3. BCO 9-7 says: “It is often expedient that the Session of a church should select and appoint godly men and women of the congregation to assist the Deacons in caring for the sick, the widows, the orphans, the prisoners, and others who may be in any distress or need. These assistants to the Deacons are not officers of the church (BCO 7-2) and, as such, are not subjects for ordination (BCO 17).” Thus, the Session shall select and appoint godly women of the congregation to assist the ordained leadership.
Rationale: BCO 9-7 presently provides for Sessions to recognize the unordained women laboring in Diaconal work alongside ordained Deacons. These women have been given a variety of job titles, job descriptions, and roles (within the parameters of Scripture and the confession).
4. That the Session will publically appoint an unordained position of women’s ministry coordinator and help develop an organizational structure and process to train and equip women leaders to exercise their gifting in Christ.
5. Conditions exist for the appointment of the Women’s Ministry Team (WMT) Coordinator
a. At such times as determined by the Session, communicant members of the congregation may submit names to the Session, keeping in mind that each prospective coordinator should be an active member who meets the description of a mature Christian woman set forth in Titus 2:3-5. After the close of the nomination period, nominees for WMT Coordinator shall receive instruction in the qualifications and work of the Women’s Ministry. The instruction shall include:
i. Meeting(s) with the senior pastor regarding the expectations of the position from the church leadership
ii. Attending at least two leadership meetings as a guest of the Session
iii. Training as determined by Women’s Ministry Team policies
b. Following the completion of instructions, each nominee shall then be interviewed about:
i. Her Christian experience, especially her personal character and family management (based on the qualifications set out in Proverbs 31)
ii. Her knowledge of Biblical content
iii. Her knowledge of the system of doctrine, government, and discipline of the Presbyterian Church in America
iv. The duties of the ministry to which she has been nominated
Rationale: Presbyterianism in America has, in the past, recognized the need to set apart qualified women and men for service in the church outside of licensure and ordination.
Study Committee on the Role of Women in the Ministry of the Church. (2017). Report of the Ad Interim Committee on Women Serving in the Ministry of the Church to the 45th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America. Retrieved from http://www.pcaac.org/ad-interim-committee-women-in-ministry/