Every once in a while the question comes up about the practice of ordaining women in leadership, especially in light of some scriptures which seem to prohibit it. Some have wondered if the practice is contrary to scripture. I do not believe it is.
Interestingly, at our recent district assembly, the report of the Christian Action committee focused on women. The introductory paragraph states, "As a Christian, holiness, missional church we value our theological roots which, from the beginning, have recognized the significance of women in ministry. This is not a recent liberal shift, but a long historical acknowledgement that God calls both men and women to equal roles of leadership in Christ’s Church."
I am not in any way an official spokesman for the Church of the Nazarene, but as a pastor, I do have a response to the objections that are commonly raised.
First objection: Only men were the priests in the Old Testament
It is true, that in the Old Testament, only men were permitted to serve as priests. Only certain men would be qualified to offer sacrifices. It wasn't for all men, and it certainly wasn't for women. The argument, therefore goes, that only men should take on the role of priests in the New Testament.
The difficulty with this argument is that the apostles, prophets, teachers, evangelists, elders, and deacons in the New Testament are not taking the role of the Old Testament priests.
We like things neat and tidy. If we can make a new testament equivalent to everything in the old testament, it looks neat, even symbolic. So the church becomes the new testament version of the temple. The Lord's Supper becomes the new testament version of sacrifices. The Lord's Day becomes the new Sabbath. And the ministers become the new testament version of priests.
It sounds nice, but it's not accurate. We can't simply duplicate the old testament by making a new testament version of it. The ministers in the early church were not priests.
In the new testament, Peter said, "You [referring to the whole church] also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ." (1 Pet. 2:5). According to Hebrews 4:14-16, all believers have the right to go directly to God through Jesus Christ (this was something that only the priests did in the old testament).
Peter continued, "But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light..." (1 Pet. 2:9). And if that wasn't clear enough, Revelation 1:5-6 says "To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and has made us kings and priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever."
Throughout the new testament, we find that all the believers, together, are priests, men and women. Even though, in the old testament, it was only certain men who could serve as priests, in the new testament, the ministers are not priests; instead all the believers are priests - both men and women.
Second objection: women can not be "head" over men
This is a common complaint about Paul's writings - that he puts women down; that he tells wives to submit to their husbands and emphasizes that the man is the head of the household.
Some people have very wrongly used these types of statements to figuratively (and sometimes even physically) beat on women. That is a blatant misuse of scripture. Paul does not condone that at all. In fact, when we understand the context in which Paul wrote, we find that he is actually helping women.
The challenge we have is that we are looking at Paul's writing in the context of the 21st century. Women today may read Paul's writing and think to themselves, "I'm sure glad I'm not his wife - I mean, he is quite a scandalous writer!" Yes, Paul was scandalous - but not for the reasons that it would appear.
Paul was writing in a culture where women were nothing more than property. They had very few rights (if any) and little protection from the law. In this context, rather than putting women down, Paul was in fact lifting women up. He was placing limits on the men. And more than that, he was telling the men what it means to love their wives, even to the point of sacrificing their lives for the wives.
This was scandalous! Why, a man would probably rather give his life to save his camel before he saved his wife. That's the kind of culture they were in. And what does Paul do? He is teaching men to value their wives. He is lifting up women, children, and even slaves as persons created in God's image (instead of property).
We see this clearly in Philemon, when Paul urges Philemon to accept Onesimus on the basis of the fact that he is "no longer a slave, but rather a brother in Christ”.
It's important for us to understand that Paul's attitude toward women if we are to understand what he had to say about women speaking in church.
Third objection: the New Testament explicitly prohibits women in ministry
On the surface 1 Corinthians 14.33b-35 seems pretty clear. "As in all the congregations of the saints, women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in church.”
Corinthians was a problem church for Paul; in fact, his whole letter was essentially a problem solving letter! And in this particular church, where the congregation was mostly gentile (non-Jewish), the new believers would have brought into the church the customs and practices that they had previously engaged in; namely, that they would go to a prophet to ask personal questions; questions like, "should I marry this person?" or "should I buy this land?"
Now, as part of the church, these same people, in this case some wives, brought into the church this practice of interrupting the worship to ask their personal questions. And, what I believe Paul is saying here is that the worship time is not the time to ask your personal questions. If they have a question, they should ask their husbands at home. It's not that women can never be the speaker or leader, but as the listener, they shouldn't be interrupting the service.
What about 1 Tim. 2:12? "I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent." Again, it doesn't sound very positive but Paul is dealing with a situation, probably in Ephesus, where some high-society women, new to the faith, figure that because they were wealthy, had fancy clothes and fancy hairstyles; after all, they were important women; therefore they should be able to speak and teach.
And what Paul is saying is "no". The verb tense in verse 12 is most accurately translated "I am not presently permitting a woman to teach..." The point is that these women are new to the faith. Just as Eve was deceived because she didn't have all the information; so also these women don't have all the information. They need to learn first.
Paul isn't saying that women can never teach; but that at this point, these particular women are not to teach because they need to learn themselves.
Throughout the New Testament we see women in leadership. In Paul's letters, we find examples of women teachers, evangelists, prophets, deacons and apostles. Paul makes it clear Galatians 3:28; that in Christ "there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus."
More than gender; what determines (or should determine) the leadership of the church is the gifts and graces of the Holy Spirit, which He gives to each one within the body of Christ, both men and women.