Can A Woman Serve As An Elder Or Deacon

By H. E. Phillips

Forty years ago there was no serious thought of women being appointed to be elders and deacons in the Lord’s church. With the birth of the Feminist Movement, conceived in the “civil rights” legislation under the influence of radical humanism among political activists, came the demand for women’s “equal rights” and power in every area of life. It was inevitable that this movement would invade the home, school and church, with painful social, economic and political punishment for any opposition. The militant voice of the National Organization of Women is demanding that women be elevated to equal rank with men in every area of life, including the church. Out of this influence comes the demand for leadership roles for women in churches of Christ.

This feminist movement is riding the high wave of liberal political influence and crying for the abolition of “the yoke of male domination” in religion and allow women to claim their rightful role of authority in churches. This organization promotes and supports abortion; it also supports lesbian and homosexual activity and has ridiculed traditional family relationships and the role of mother-hood.

The innovations in denominationalism will eventually be embraced in some form by some churches of church, and some of these have included women preachers and church leaders for several years. Now some churches of Christ are trying to imitate the practice. They reject those passages that speak of the woman being in subjection to man as the prejudice of Jewish religious leaders against women, such as the apostle Paul.

The news media and religious journals report the growing conflict in various religious denominations over women taking positions of authority in their churches. When the Scriptures are abandoned as the complete and only standard of authority, it is expected, among other things, that the women “rights” in the oversight of the church will be zealously promoted.

Promotion of Women Into The Oversight of the Church

Some women have demanded and received permission to attend the “business meetings” of the men in the absence of elders. They first wanted to attend to listen and be informed. Then they began to participate by asking and answering questions and to present their points of view. They soon occupied roles of leadership in these “business meetings” of making decisions. The women who participate in business meetings violate the woman’s role given in 1 Timothy 2:12 just as if she participated in an elders meeting. It is a short step from this to demand “election” to the eldership and deaconship. These women do not understand their place in the church or they have no regard for the word of Christ, and the men who permit this commit sin.

However, some women are as’ tie for a voice in the decision making of the church. In scene churches women already are attending the business meetings. The New Testament does not authorize any woman to occupy any post of authority in the local church, nor is she permitted to do anything “over” the man, whether there are elders of not. This prohibits any role of oversight.

Several years ago some elders reported their intention to revise the traditional roles of women in the church. This change had to be gradual to avoid division in these churches, because most people know that the Bible does not authorize a leading role for women in the church. The gradual introduction of women into the public activity in the church was to use them for making announcements before beginning worship; this opened the door for further public leading roles. That is what I have read from reports from some elders. Then if women can make announcements, they can also be used as ushers, to lead public prayers, to read Scriptures, to lead singing and to serve the Lord’s supper.

These women will not be content with this public service, they will want to preach publicly, and to be appointed elders and deacons with equal authority of oversight with men.

What the Bible Teaches About the Role of Women in the Church

The word of God is explicit regarding the role of women in society, the home and the church. “Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. And if they will learn anything, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church” (1 Cor. 14:34-35). “Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence” (1 Tim. 2:11-12).

There is not a woman on earth who can attain the qualifications listed in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9 for one to be a bishop. “This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work. A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife” (I Tim. 3:1-2). She could never be the “husband of one wife.” She could never “rule well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity.” She is to be in subjection to her husband in every thing (Eph. 5:24).

If we abandon the Scriptures regarding woman’s place in the church, it really does not matter what we do after that. To go beyond the word of God is to sin and leave God (2 John 9).

A woman is required to do everything that a man does in becoming a Christian (hear, believe, repent, confess Christ, be baptized). She must do everything a man does in worship to God (pray, sing, study the word, take Lord’s supper, give of her prosperity on first day). She can scripturally do anything a man can do as a Christian, except she may not do so “over the man”; to take the authority of a man. She is to be in subjection (I Tim. 2:11). The head of woman is man (1 Cor. 11:3); the head of the wife is the husband, and she is to be in subjection to him in all things (Eph. 5:22-24; 1 Pet. 3:1-7). Men and women are equal in Christ Jesus (Gal. 3:28), but they are not equal in their role assignments. Man did not create this arrangement. God did! Man and woman cannot change it without incurring the wrath of God.

The Bible reason is: (1) God commanded that the women keep silence in the churches (1 Cor. 14:23-35); and (2) women are to learn in silence with all subjection (1 Tim. 2:11). The reason she is to be in subjection is: “For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression” (1 Tim. 2:13,14). As long as the world stands those words will be there with the same force as when delivered by the Holy Spirit (1 Pet. 1:23, 25; Matt. 24:35).

Christ did not select a woman to be among the apostles, elders or evangelists in the New Testament church. Women are not permitted to do the work of an evangelist.

Godly women in New Testament days had an important role in the work of the Lord, but it was never “over the man” or in the role of oversight. Dorcas assisted the needy (Acts 9:36). Priscilla and her husband taught a young preacher more perfectly the right way (Acts 18:18). Phebe and Mary were commended for their assistance to Paul in the gospel (Rom. 16:1,6). Paul said, “Help those women who labored with me in the gospel” (Phil. 4:3).

I have been greatly blessed by godly women through my life as a preacher, from my grandmother, mother, wife, daughters, granddaughters and many other faithful women of great influence. They have taught me and encouraged me in many ways. These valuable saints are indispensable to the strength and growth of the local church. But the truth remains, the Lord did not put them in places of leadership. Women were not to occupy roles of leadership and over-sight in the church.

Guardian of Truth XXXIX: 3 p. 14-15
February 2, 1995