Women Preachers

By Mike Willis

The distinctive roles for men and women are God ordained. That does not mean that either man or woman is superior to the other. Rather, it recognizes God’s order for society. Peace and harmony result when that order is recognized and accepted; disorder and chaos occur when God’s order for society is rejected.

God’s order in the home is that man is the head of the house (Eph. 5:23). Woman is to be subject to the husband. This does not mean that she can never make any decisions. She is to “guide the house” (1 Tim. 5:14). The word oikodespoteo means “to rule a household, manage family affairs” (Thayer, p. 439). My wife does not need my approval for every dress, pair of shoes, box of cereal, etc. that she buys. She has sense enough and biblical auth rit to “,guide the house.” She must, however, submit to the authority of her husband.

The virtuous woman of Proverbs 31 engaged in several business activities. “She considereth a field, and buyeth it: with the fruit of her hands she planteth a vineyard” (31:16). “She maketh fine linen, and selleth it; and delivereth girdles unto the merchant” (31:24). She was engaged in business activities and, therefore, not totally confined to work at home. Some of us have preached that it was sinful for a woman to work outside the home, a conclusion which cannot be supported from God’s word, a conclusion with which we have not followed through (we made no effort to discipline those women who committed this “sin”), a conclusion which was inconsistently applied (“it is alright to work outside the home [to sin] under some circumstances”) and a conclusion which publicly embarrassed many Godfearing and conscientious women who worked outside the home and managed their homes as well. We might advise someone regarding the judgment of whether or not to work outside the home, but we should not bind our judgments as divine law.

The sphere of woman’s public activity in the church has been limited by God’s divine revelation. Paul revealed God’s will when he wrote, “Let the women 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). This passage prohibits woman from holding a role which places her over a man. She has no God-given authority to fill positions of leadership over men in the church. She cannot teach a class of men, preach to a mixed assembly of men and women, or otherwise teach or usurp authority over a man.

Trouble Among The Denominations

For many years, modernist denominations have denied the inspiration of the Bible. They have not hesitated to challenge Paul’s inspired words by saying that he was a male Chauvinist. The leaders of some women’s liberation movements have not hesitated to criticize and, condemn God’s holy word in its teaching regarding the role of women.

The consequence has been that women preachers have become rather commonplace in denominations. However, “you ain’t seen nothing yet.” According to statistics, there will be more women preachers in the future.

Speculation aside, the startling facts speak for themselves:

– In 1972, seminaries enrolled 3,358 women, 10.2 percent of their students. In 1983, the number jumped to 13,451, or 24.4 percent.

– In the United Church of Christ, about 50 percent of seminary graduates are women. At United Methodist, Presbyterian and Episcopal schools, the figure is about 30 percent. (Women constituted 85 percent of the entering class at Episcopal Divinity School at Cambridge, Mass.)

– Enrollment of women is extraordinarily high at the prestigious interdenominational seminaries or divinity schools. At Union Theological Seminary in New York, half the students studying for the master of divinity degree (leading to ordination) are women. At Harvard Divinity School, 44 percent of the 416 students in all degree programs are women. Yale Divinity School has an enrollment of 411, including 190 women. And at the University of Chicago Divinity School, the student body of 271 includes 94 women (Mobile Press, 5 March 1984, p. 15-A).

In his article “Battle of the Sexes MoAng To The Clergy,” Roy Larson quoted one who observed, “The ministry may be going through a sex-change operation.”

Even traditionally conservative denominations have been hit. The Illinois Baptist State Association, a group of the Southern Baptists, seated a church in its association with a woman pastor despite objections from pastors in the denomination. “Approximately 25 women have been ordained and are serving as associate pastors or in other staff ministry positions in South Carolina, but none serve as senior ministers according to the Baptist Courier, news journal of the South Carolina Baptist Convention” (Sword of the Lord, 10 February 1984, p. 2).

Pentecostal churches have had women preachers for many years. The Christian Scientist have always been open to women in leading roles in the church ever since it was founded by Mary Baker Eddy.

Trouble Brewing Among The Liberal Brethren?

Knowing the current thinking among denominationalism with reference to the role of women in the church, I do not think that I am over reacting to reach the conclusion that some of our liberal brethren are laying the ground work for women preachers among them. Mission Journal, an extremely liberal publication among the brethren who believe in church support of human institutions, church sponsored recreation, and the sponsoring church form of church organization, has had a woman to serve as its editor for several months. Robert M. Randolph, president of the board of Mission, wrote an article entitled “What Is Ahead For Mission?” in which he paved the way for more active roles for women in the church. He wrote,

Finally, the future church will be one where men and women, share more in the formal life of the body. In truth women have always played a significant role in the life of the church. The biblical record is clear and our own history is replete with stories of churches held together by faithful strong women who were willing to step back and allow men to exercise formal leadership, honoring in so doing the mores of contemporary society and a time-hallowed understanding of the role of men and women in the church. But society is in the midst of a major convulsion in the realm of relationships between the sexes. The church will both reflect and shape this revolution; it must. Women who work side by side with men in the major corporations of our nation, making decisions, and shaping policy, as well as women who stay home to make their families their carters for a time will find it understandably difficult to step backward on Sunday. At the same time the world is changing, so is our understanding of the biblical view of male and female. The message of Scripture does not change, but the glasses through which we view Scriptures do change; and as we look anew at the Word, we win learn, grow and change.

Urban churches will be the first to feel the effects of the new possibilities open to women. This really will renew a potential for division in our fellowship along socio-economic lines, not unlike the tension produced in other days by other issues (February 1984, p. 4).

This quotation displays several things about the convictions of brother Randolph. (1) He believes that the conviction that women should not be in leadership roles in the formal activity of the church is based on society’s mores, not divine revelation. (2) He believes that this will change. (3) He believes the change has the potential of dividing the church. He seems prepared to accept the change in the role of women in the church.


The writers of Mission Journal reflect the far left among our liberal brethren and should not be understood as representing the mainstream of thought among them. Nevertheless, we would be naive not to recognize the influence which the women’s liberation movement has had in our country and in denominational churches. It is also a potential threat to the body of Christ.

God-fearing women will respect the divine restrictions God has imposed upon her, recognizing that she cannot serve as an elder or deacon (both offices are limited to men who are the “husband of one wife”). She cannot teach in a position that is “over a man.”

That is not to imply that women should sit back and do nothing. There are many areas of service in which they can and should be involved and active. Those women who have served the Lord in the sphere which God regulated should be honored and praised for their service to God.

Guardian of Truth XXVIII: 9, pp. 258, 275
May 3, 1984