THE ROLE OF WOMEN IN THE CHURCH #12
by the late Dr.Samuele Bacchiocchi
The preceding chapters have surveyed the religious role of women
in the Old and New Testaments. We shall now review some of the
major conclusions reached and then consider their implications
for the role of women in the church today. Thus, the chapter
divides into two parts: retrospect and prospect.
The underlying assumption of much of the literature surveyed
seems to be that the only way a woman can realistically minister
within the church is by being officially ordained as elder or
pastor. This mistaken, unbiblical assumption must be regarded as
the bitter fruit of the medieval clericalization of the church,
which has traditionally limited the ministry within the church
almost exclusively to ordained priests.
To correct this reprehensible situation, it is necessary to
recover the Biblical vision of the church as the "body of
Christ," consisting of different members, each fulfilling
different but essential ministries!: (1 Cor 12:12-31; Eph
4:11-16). Our investigation has shown that while Scripture
precludes the ordination of women to serve as priests in the Old
Testament and as elders/pastors in the New Testament, it does
provide ample support for their participation in the prophetic.
liturgical, and social ministries of the church.
1. The Ministry of Women
We observed in chapter 1 that women played a vital
role in the private and public religious life of ancient Israel.
As full members of the covenant community, women participated in
the study and teaching of the law to their children, in offering
prayers and vows to God, in ministering at the entrance of the
sanctuary, in singing, and in the prophetic ministry of
exhortation and guidance. The roles of Miriam, Deborah, and
Huldah exemplify the important ministry that women fulfilled
within the religious life of ancient Israel.
The religious roles of women, however, were different from
those of men, since women were excluded from the priesthood. The
reason for this exclusion was not, as is widely held, their
frequent ritual impurity caused by their monthly menstrual flow.
We have seen that the emission of semen defiled men with more
frequency and with less predictability than the menstrual flow in
Instead, the reason is to be found in the recognition of the
headship role which man, as the "first-born" of the human family,
was appointed by God to fulfill in the home and in public
worship. This principle is implied in the creation story of
Genesis 2 and is upheld in both the Old and New Testaments.
We noted in chapter 2 that the apostolic church
stands in marked contrast to the restrictions imposed on women by
Jewish culture. Contrary to prevailing prejudices against them,
Jesus admitted women into His fellowship and taught them the
truths of God's kingdom. On their part, women responded
positively to Christ. A group of them ministered to Christ's
physical needs, and followed Him during much of His travels even
to the very place of His crucifixion. Their devotion to Christ
was rewarded by the risen Lord who first appeared to them and
commissioned them to break the news of His resurrection to the
In spite of His revolutionary treatment of women, Jesus did
not choose women as apostles nor did He commission them to preach
the gospel. We have shown that the reason for this omission was
not a concession on the part of Christ to the social conventions
of His time, but rather compliance with the role distinctions for
men and women established at creation.
(Well though overall true, today with the Internet women can have
the freedom to teach and preach the Gospel of Christ, and such a
tool is NOT in any way being ordained as functioning as one of
the leaders of a local or grouping congregational churches -
The apostolic church followed the pattern established by
Christ by including women as integral members in the life and
expanding mission of the church. Women served with distinction
within the church by organizing charitable service for the needy,
by sharing their faith with others, by working as
"fellow-workers" alongside the apostles and by sharing in the
prophetic ministry of edification, encouragement and consolation.
In spite of the various vital ministries women performed in the
church, there are no indications in the New Testament that they
were ever ordained to serve as elders/overseers/pastors.
2. The Ordination of Women
Why were women able to participate equally with men in
various religious ministries and yet were excluded from the
appointive roles of priests in the Old Testament and of
elders/bishops/pastors in the New Testament? Our investigation
has shown that the reasons were not sociocultural but rather
theological. For the sake of clarity we shall briefly summarize
seven major reasons that have emerged in the course of our study
for the exclusion of women from the priesthood or pastoral
Order of Creation.
A first and fundamental reason is suggested by the order and
manner of the creation of Adam and Eve which in Scripture are
seen as typifying the distinctive, but complementary roles God
assigned to men and women. We observed in chapter 3 that though
man and woman are equally created in the image of God (Gen 1:27),
they are sexually different: male and female. The equality and
difference is clarified in Genesis 2 in terms of sameness and
subordination. Man and woman are essentially the same because
they share the same human flesh and complement one another. Yet
woman is functionally subordinated to man as indicated by the
typological significance of the priority of Adam's formation, the
woman's creation from and for man, the bearing by man of the name
of mankind, and the naming by man of the animals and of the woman
The headship role of man in the creation account of Genesis
2 is in no way intended to support a chauvinistic view of male
superiority. Its intent is rather to explain that there is a
basic difference between male and female which derives from the
very order of creation. This difference is not merely sexual, but
extends to the differing, though complementary, roles men and
women are called to fulfill in the family and in the church. Thus
the difference is functional, not ontological; that is, it is a
matter of different roles and not of inferiority or superiority.
We have seen that Paul attaches fundamental importance to the
order and manner of the creation of Adam and Eve to defend the
functional submission of woman to the leadership of man both in
the home and in the church (1 Tim 2:13; 1 Cor 11:8-9). He bases
his instructions concerning the role of women in the church, not
on the consequences of the Fall described in Genesis 3, but on
the pre-Fall order of creation presented in Genesis 1 and 2.
Order of Redemption.
A second reason for viewing the ordination of women as
unbiblical is the implications of the order of redemption
examined in chapter 4. We observed that Christ's coming has
greatly affected the social relationship of men and women, but
has not changed or eliminated role differences between them.
Jesus' teachings and attitude toward women brought about a
significant change in their social status. This change made it
possible for women to be treated with the same "brotherly love"
as men and to participate actively in the life and mission of the
church. There is no indication, however, that Jesus' elevation of
the human dignity and worth of women was ever intended to pave
the way for their ordination as pastors of the flock. Christ's
exclusive choice of men as apostles indicates His respect for the
role differences between men and women established at creation.
Like Christ, Paul was revolutionary in proclaiming the oneness
and equality in Christ of all believers (Gal 3:28; Col 3:9-11; 1
Cor 12:1213). Yet, like Christ, Paul did not eliminate the role
distinctions of men and women established at creation. Our study
of Galatians 3:28 has shown that Paul envisions all believers as
being one in Christ in whom all racial, social and gender
distinctions no longer have any validity.
However, being one in Christ does not change a Jew into a
Gentile or a man into a woman; rather it changes the way each of
these relate to each other. Equality and oneness in Christ do not
imply role-interchangeability, but rather mutual respect and
support for the distinctive but complementary roles God has
assigned to men and women. These roles are not nullified but
clarified by Christ's redemption and thus they should be
reflected in the church. The order of redemption does not
nullify, but sanctify the order of creation.
Headship and Subordination.
A third reason for excluding women from serving as
elders/pastors is the principle of headship and subordination
which we examined in chapter 5. Ephesians 5:21-33
and 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 show that the principle of male
headship in the home and in the church derives, not from
illegitimate male efforts to dominate women, but from a
legitimate order established by God. We have reached this
conclusion first by ascertaining the meaning of "head," and then
by examining Paul's application of the principle of male headship
in marriage (Eph 5:21-33) and in the church (1 Cor 11:216).
We have seen that Paul uses the term "head" with the meaning of
"authority, head over" and not of "source, origin." In Ephesians
5:21-33 Paul affirms the headship of man in marriage by appealing
not to cultural customs, but to the Christological model of the
relationship between Christ and the church. By utilizing this
model, Paul effectively clarifies the meaning of the husband's
headship as loving and sacrificial leadership and the meaning of
the wife's submission as willing response to a caring husband.
For Paul, headship and subordination do not connote superiority
or inferiority, but order-in-service. The authority to which a
woman subordinates herself is not so much that of her husband as
that of the divine order to which both are subject.
In 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 Paul grounds the headship of man
and the subordination of woman in the church on the creational
distinctions between men and women, distinctions which must be
respected within the church. These distinctions were being
challenged by emancipated Corinthian women who had concluded that
their new position in Christ (1 Cor 4:8-10) granted them freedom
to stop wearing a sign of submission to their husbands (head
covering), especially at times of prayer and charismatic
expression in the church service. Paul counteracts this trend by
emphasizing the importance of respecting a custom which in his
time helped to maintain the creational role distinctions.
The headship between man and woman is correlated by Paul in
1 Corinthians 11 to the headship between God and Christ: "The
head of every man is Christ, the head of a woman is her husband,
and the head of Christ is God" (1 Cor 11:3). The latter refutes
the charge that submission means inferiority because in the
Trinity there is a headship among equals. Christ's submission to
the authority and headship of His Father did not stifle His
personality, but was the secret of His wisdom, power, and
success. Similarly, a woman who accepts the leadership of a
mature and caring man in the family or in the church will not
feel unfulfilled, but rather will find the needed protection and
support to exercise her God-given ministries.
The Role of Women in the Church.
A fourth reason why women should not be appointed to serve
as elders/pastors is the clear Pauline instruction on the matter
found in 1 Timothy 2:9-15 and 1 Corinthians 14:33b-36. Our
examination of these two passages in chapter 6 has shown that the
application of the headship-subordination principle in the church
requires that women not be appointed "to teach" (1 Tim 2:12) or
"to speak" (1 Cor 14:34) authoritatively as the leader of the
congregation. We have found that this Pauline instruction
derives, not from the cultural conventions of his time which
restricted the participation of women in public gathering, but
rather from Paul's understanding of the creational order of male
headship and female subordination.
For Paul this creational order requires that women not be
appointed to serve as representative shepherds of the flock. His
reasons are not the women's relative lack of education or their
disorderly conduct, but rather the need to respect the
distinctive roles for men and women established by God at
creation. The theological nature of Paul's arguments leaves no
room to make his instructions of only local and time-bound
The exclusion of women from teaching or speaking as the
leader of the church in 1 Timothy 2:11-15 and 1 Corinthians
14:33b-36 must not be construed to mean that Paul prohibited
women from actively participating in the public worship and
mission of the church. On the contrary, we have seen in chapter 2
that Paul commends a significant number of women for their
outstanding ministry in and for the church. For Paul (and for the
rest of Scripture) the question is not, Should women be appointed
to minister in the church?, but rather, To which ministry should
women be appointed?
The answer given by Paul and the rest of Scripture is: women
should be appointed to any and all ministries which do not
violate the creational role distinctions for men and women.
(Let me add once more: within the church setting of an official
church service, which is about and only 2 hours a week for most
churches; women outside a church service and as "pastor" have
open range to teach the Gospel of Christ, and my female co-
workers in the Lord like the late Jesse and Tara Chapman, have
and are doing just that - Keith Hunt)
The Symbolic Role of the Pastor.
A fifth reason why only some men and no women should be
ordained to serve as elders or pastors is the dual representative
role that a pastor fulfills in the church. We have shown in
chapter 7 that the New Testament envisions the church as an
extended family of believers in which the elder/pastor represents
both church members to God and God to church members.
Women cannot legitimately serve in such dual representative
roles, not because they are any less capable than men of piety,
zeal, learning, leadership or any other qualities needed to serve
as a pastor, but simply because such roles are perceived in
Scripture as being that of a spiritual father and not of a
We have seen in chapter 7 that a pastor fulfills a unique
symbolic role in the church as representative of the heavenly
Father, Shepherd, High Priest, and Head of the Church. A woman
pastor cannot appro priately fulfill such a symbolic role because
her Scriptural role is not that of a father, shepherd, priest or
head of the church. Thus, to ordain women to serve as
elders/pastors means not only to violate a divine design, but
also to adulterate the pastor's symbolic representation of God.
Male Imagery of God.
A sixth reason for viewing the ordination of women as
unbiblical and unwise is the predominant male imagery used in
Scripture to reveal God. Obviously, God transcends human
sexual distinctions, yet He has chosen to reveal Himself in
Scripture and through Jesus Christ in predominantly and
unmistakably male terms and imagery.
We have seen in chapter 7 that contrary to the prevailing
custom, which out of reverence avoided mentioning the name of
God, Jesus taught His disciples to address God not only "Father,"
but also "Abba," an Aramaic family term equivalent to our
"daddy." The reason why God revealed Himself, especially and
consistently through Jesus Christ, as our Father and not as our
Mother, is primarily because Fatherhood preserves the Biblical
principle of headship and subordination and thus best represents
the role that God Himself sustains toward us His children,
namely, the role of an almighty, just, and caring Father. This
role functions as the foundational model for all fonns of human
fatherhood (Eph 3:14-15), whether it be that of the husband in
the home or of the pastor in the church.
Feminist theologians have long recognized the enormous
significance of the connection between the Fatherhood of God and
the male headship role in the home and in the church. For them
this connection rightly represents a formidable stumbling block
to the ordination of women. Consequently, they have been actively
engaged in revising the language of God through the introduction
of impersonal or feminine names for God. However, to worship God
as "Fire, Light. Divine Providence," or as "Mother, Daughter,
Father-Mother, Son-Daughter," means not only to destroy the
personal relationship provided by the revelation of God as our
"Father," but also to fabricate a God who is totally different
from the One of Biblical revelation.
No Principle, Precept or Example.
A seventh reason for objecting to women's ordination is the
fact that Scripture, the church's guide, provides no general
principles, no specific precepts, and no examples that can
support such a practice. All the Biblical examples of ordination
involve males. Scripture's specific instructions, as we have seen
in chapter 7, unmistakably require that the overseer, elder, or
priest be not merely a person but a man (Greek: aner--1 Tim 3:2;
cf. Titus 1:6; Ex 29:8,9). And as noted in the course of our
investigation, the Bible's general principles preclude the
ordination of women to serve as elders or pastors. Thus, the
absence of biblical examples, precepts and principles for women's
ordination, should warn the church from venturing into this
Those who favor women's ordination argue that women are just
as competent and capable as men in the ministry. Few will dispute
this assertion. But the issue, as we have seen, is not one of
abilities or training, but one of God's will as revealed in
Scripture. Sometimes a woman might fulfill certain "fatherly"
roles better than a particular man fulfills them, yet this does
not change the fact that God has called women to be mothers and
men to be fathers.
The real issue is not whether women are equally capable as
men, but whether God has called women to serve as pastors, that
is, as indicated by the meaning of the word, shepherds of a
spiritual flock. The answer of Scripture, according to our
investigation, is No, because the pastor's role is perceived in
the New Testament as being that of a spiritual father and not of
a spiritual mother. This does not mean that the church does not
need spiritual mothers. The contrary is true. As a home without a
mother lacks that tender, loving care that only mothers can give,
so a church without spiritual mothers lacks that warmth, care,
and compassion that spiritual mothers can best give. The
conclusion, then, is that men and women are equally called by God
to minister in the home and in the church, but in different and
yet complementary roles. We shall now consider some of the
ministries women are uniquely qualified to fulfill within the
1. Pastor's Headship Role
No Job Description.
How should the principles delineated in the course of this
study be applied to the concrete tasks men and women are to
perform in the church? In seeking to formulate an answer note
should be taken of the fact that the New Testament offers no
detailed listing of what constitutes appropriate "men's
work" or "women's work" within marriage or within the church.
Instead, we have found that the New Testament emphasizes the
importance of respecting the principle of male headship and
female subordination in the home and in the church. This
principle is derived from the order and manner of the creation of
man and woman which typify the distinctive and yet complementary
roles God has assigned to men and women.
We have noted that the New Testament defines the
headship/subordination principle in terms of the relationship
between Christ and the church. This model does not spell out the
specific tasks that headship and subordination entail. It only
suggests that male headship entails sacrificial, caring
leadership and female subordination willing response. The
specific tasks associated with each role in the home and in the
church will vary in different cultures. Consequently, we must be
wary of "canonizing" certain job descriptions as exclusively male
or female when Scripture does not do so. The most we can attempt
to do is to submit some general guidelines.
Exercise of Headship.
Before considering the supportive roles of women in the
church, brief attention should be given to what the headship role
of a pastor entails. We observed in chapter 5 that the biblical
understanding of headship is leadership for the sake of building
up others and not for self-advancement. Christ defines leadership
as willingness to serve others (Matt 20:27).
This model of leadership as servanthood has profound
implications for the role of a pastor. It means, for example,
that a pastor best exercises his leadership authority by
delegating authority and responsibilities to men and women
willing and competent to serve in any needed area.
Pastoral headship modelled after Christ will take into
account the abilities of those who are called with the pastor to
minister to the different physical, emotional, social, and
spiritual needs of the congregation. This means that if a pastor
is fortunate enough to have on his staff women--whether employed
by the church or on a voluntary basis--able and willing to serve
as health educators, Bible instructors, family counselors,
treasurers, and directors of the various departments of the
church (choir, Sabbath school, personal ministries, youth,
community services, deaconess work, church school boards), he
will foster their full and free use of their gifts. This should
be seen not as abdication of a pastor's responsibilities but an
effective fulfillment of his headship role in the church. In the
body of Christ, the head motivates and activates all the members
of the body (Eph 4:16).
2. Application of Women's Passages
There is considerable confusion about what women can and
cannot do in the church. The confusion is largely the result of
two extreme interpretations and applications of those biblical
passages which refer to the role of women in the church
(1 Cor 11:216; 14:33-36; 1 Tim 2:11-14). On the one hand, some
churches interpret these passages in the most restrictive way,
making them forbid more than what they actually do. The result
is, as Susan Foh brings out, that some denomination have no
female directors of Christian education or choir directors; and
some individuals maintain that women cannot teach in colleges or
hold any position, ecclesiastical or secular, where men obey
their orders. Most of these churches have not compared women's
silence in the church with singing in the choir; if it is brought
to their attention, they may forbid women to sing. 1
On the other hand, there are churches, as we have observed
in the course of our study, which explain away these same
passages as culturally conditioned and time-bound, thus
appointing women to serve in any capacity within the church,
including the office of priest, elder or pastor.
What is needed is a balanced understanding and application
of the relavant passages (1 Cor 11:2-16; 14:3336; 1 Tim 2:11-14),
in the context of the overall teaching of Scripture on the role
of women in the church. Our study has shown that the intent of
these passages is not to exclude women from active participation
in the public worship and mission of the church, but only from
the representative and authoritative role of leader
(elder/overseer/pastor) of the congregation. Paul derives this
restriction, not from the cultural conventions of his time, but
from the distinctive roles for men and women established by God
at creation. This restriction must not obscure the fact that Paul
commends a considerable number of women who "labored side by side
with [him] in the gospel" (Phil 4:3; cf. Rom 16:1-2-6,12).
As in the apostolic church, so today women are called to
serve within the church in many supportive roles which do not
violate the creational role distinction. These supportive roles
are vital to the healthy growth of the church and to the
successful fulfillment of its mission. The few examples we shall
now consider should be seen as illustrative rather than
3. Women's Supportive Roles
The primary mission of the church is to communicate the
Gospel in order to bring men and women into a saving relationship
with Jesus Christ (Mark 16:15-16). From the inception of
Christianity countless women through the centuries have shared in
the mission of the church by laboring side by side with pastors
"in the gospel" (Phil 4:3; cf. Rom 16:12). Like Priscilla, they
have expounded on a personal basis the truths of the Gospel to
earnest people (Acts 18:26). Only the records of heaven will one
day tell the whole story of what a contribution dedicated women
have made to the church through their gospel ministry.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church has been especially blessed
by women who have answered God's call by devoting their lives to
impart the knowledge of Scripture to groups, families and single
persons, both at home and overseas. These women were called
"Bible workers" until 1942 and since then "Bible Instructors." 2
Much of the credit for the outstanding contribution that female
Bible workers have made in the Adventist church goes to Ellen
White, a woman who over a period of seventy years of prophetic
ministry guided the growth, administration, and mission of the
church. Her vision for the ministry of women as Bible workers was
revolutionary. Repeatedly she challenged women to dedicate
themselves to the gospel ministry, by teaching the truths of
Scripture to women and in families where the visit of men could
give the appearance of evil. She writes, for example:
There are women who should labor in the gospel ministry. In
many respects they would do more goad than the ministers who
neglect to visit the flock of God.... In many respects a
woman can impart knowledge to her sisters that a man cannot.
The cause would suffer great loss without this kind of
There are women who are especially adapted for the work of
giving Bible readings, and they are very successful in
presenting the Word of God in its simplicity to others....
Women also should be chosen who can present the truth in a
clear, intelligent, straightforward manners
Right to Be Paid.
Ellen White not only inspired women to serve as Bible
workers, but also championed their right to be paid out of
the tithe like ministers: "The tithe should go to those who labor
in word and doctrine, be they men or women.... This question is
not for men to settle. The Lord has settled it." 6
Apparently this question was not easily settled in the mind
of church administrators, since Ellen White renewed her plea
years later.7 When her plea was unheeded, as in the case of some
ministers' wives who received nothing for their full time service
as Bible workers, she made the following statement: "These women
give their whole time, and we are told that they receive nothing
for their labors because their husbands receive wages.... I will
feel it my duty to create a fund from my tithe money to pay these
women who are accomplishing just as essential work as the
ministers are doing." 8
The challenge, counsel and example given by Ellen White have
resulted in hundreds of women, who like Mary Walsh, Louise
Kleuser and Ellen Curran, making an outstanding contribution to
the growth of the church at home and abroad. None of these women,
including Ellen White herself, were ever ordained as pastors. In
fact, though Ellen White championed the right of women gospel
workers to be paid by the church, she never championed their
right to be ordained as pastors. 9
Urgent Need Today
In spite of the outstanding contribution that female Bible
Instructors have made to the growth of the Seventhday Adventist
church, their number has decreased in recent years. Currently,
they represent less than 10% of the ministerial personnel of most
conferences.10 Some of the causes for this decrease are examined
by Rosalie Lee in chapter 9. This trend should be of concern to
church administrators responsible for the hiring of ministerial
personnel, for three reasons. First, most pastors welcome a woman
assistant who can help them both in the visitation of church
members and in the preparation of new converts for baptism.
Second, with the increasing number of divorces, women can
minister better than men in homes with women as a single parent.
Third, the recent trend in church growth through
small-groups, workshops, and a seminar-type of evangelism,
requires professionally trained women more than ever before. They
can lead out in discussion groups, in developing ideas for
personal, spiritual growth and problem solving, and in training
lay persons on how to conduct a seminar or to share Bible truths
Women who serve in this capacity, such as Bible Instructors
or Associates of Pastoral Care in the Seventh-day Adventist
church, do not violate the male headship principle delineated
above, since they serve in a supportive role and not as the
representative head, the pastor of the church.
Counseling Ministry Another vital supportive ministry which
women can legitimately and effectively fulfill within the church
may be called "counseling ministry." The increasing numbers of
divorced women, unwed mothers, abused children, drug-addicted
teenagers, and emotionally distressed persons, are challenging
the church to offer a healing ministry through competent
counselors. In some cases a woman trained in counseling skills
can offer such counseling ministry. There are cases, however,
which require specialized help. In such instances, women who have
been professionally trained both theologically and
psychologically can offer an invaluable ministry to the hurting
people within and without the church.
Already in her time, before the added social problems caused
by the sexual and drug revolution of our generation, Ellen White
deeply felt the need for trained women counselors. She wrote: "I
have so longed for women who could be educated to help our
sisters rise from their discouragement and feel that they could
do a work for the Lord." 11
Women have been especially gifted by God with a greater
sensitivity to human pain. A hurting child will more readily call
for mother than for father. Blessed is the church that can count
upon the supportive counseling ministry of a competent and mature
spiritual mother who has ears to listen and a heart to feel the
hurt of its members, and who ministers to them the healing balm
of the grace of Christ.
Teaching Ministry One of the most important supportive ministries
in which women have served and are serving with distinction in
the Seventh-day Adventist church is the teaching ministry. This
ministry assumes many forms, from teaching cradle roll Sabbath
School classes in a small local church, to teaching graduate
classes at the university. All forms of Christian teaching,
whether done in Sabbath School classes or university classes,
should be seen as part of the ministry of the church to restore
the image of God in human beings.
Though women have served and are serving with distinction in
the various phases of the teaching ministry of the Adventist
Church, there is an urgent need today for some women to enter
into a specialized teaching ministry within the church. Such
widespread problems today as stress, marital tensions, chemical
dependency, eating disorders, and neglected children, require the
special teaching ministry of qualified women who can teach how to
live a healthy, happy and balanced life by God's grace. Since
only very few large churches can hire professionally trained
Christian health educators, marriage counselors, or dietitians,
in most cases churches must rely on the voluntary service of the
It may not appear prestigious for a competent and mature
woman to visit and help a young mother who is having problems
training her children, or relating to her husband, or cooking
nutritious meals, or simply keeping her home in order. Yet this
teaching ministry by dedicated Christian women is not only
urgently needed, but is of as great a value in the sight of God
as the delivery of a sermon. Ellen White emphasizes the need for
this kind of ministry:
We greatly need consecrated women who, as messengers of
mercy, shall visit the mothers and the children in their
homes, and help them in the everyday household duties, if
need be, before beginning to talk to them regarding the
truth for this time. You will find that by this method you
will have souls as the result of your ministry. 12
4. Women in the Worship Service
Lord's Supper and Baptism.
The New Testament presents no detailed instructions
regarding the conduct of public worship. We observed that the
only information it provides is that women participated
in the worship assembly by praying and prophesying (1 Cor 11:4-5;
Acts 21:9), but were excluded from serving as the representative
head teachers and leaders of the congregation (1 Tim 2:11-14; 1
Cor 14:33-36). The headship function of the pastoral office
involves the shepherding of the flock through the proclamation of
the Word ("preach the word"--2 Tim 4:2; cf. 1 Tim 5:17) and the
administration of baptism and the Lord's Supper (Matt 28: 19-20;
Luke 22:19; 1 Cor 11:24).
Most Christian churches have acted on the principle that the
proclamation of the Word and the administration of baptism and
the Lord's Supper belong together and consequently, as a general
rule, they should be performed only by an ordained elder or
pastor. 13 The Seventh-day Adventist Church has upheld the same
view. Referring to the elders of the apostolic church, Ellen
White writes: "Having received the commission from God and having
the approbation of the church, they went forth baptizing in the
name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, and administering the
ordinances of the Lord's house." 14
The Seventh-day Adventist Church Manual clearly establishes
that both baptism and "the communion services must always be
conducted by an ordained minister or by the elder himself. Only
ordained ministers or ordained elders holding office are
qualified to do this." 15 The reason for this policy, though not
stated in the Church Manual, is that the administration of
baptism and the Lord's Supper are seen as pertaining to the
distinctive functions of the elder/pastor's office.
Women and Church Ordinances.
Should a woman administer the ordinance of baptism and of
the Lord's Supper? Until recently the answer in the Seventh-day
Adventist church has been No, because women could not be ordained
as local elders or pastors. However, the situation has changed as
a result of the action taken in 1975 by the General Conference
Committee which allows local churches to ordain women as local
elders. This action, which authorised women ordained as local
elders to preside at the Lord's Supper celebration, has been
interpreted as supporting also the performance of baptism. In
actual fact only in a few instances have ordained women performed
About a year and a half after the first such baptisms
occurred, the North American Division Committee adopted a new
policy which specifically excludes baptizing and solemnizing
marriages from the category of "authorized ministerial functions"
for women in pastoral positions. 16 That same year (1985), the
General Conference Annual Council voted to counsel the North
American Division to await a process of study and review,
scheduled to culminate at the 1990 General Conference Session,
before introducing any significant changes in policies affecting
ministerial functions which relate to women. 17 This policy has
been respected by Seventh-day Adventist churches, with the
exception of one isolated case. 18
In the light of this investigation we must regretfully admit
that the 1975 General Conference action to allow for the
ordination of women as local elders--notwithstanding its
well-meaning intent--represents a clear violation of the Biblical
principle which permits the appointment to the eldership of a
church only to some men and to no women. We have found that this
principle is grounded not on cultural conventions but on the
creational role distinctions for men and women. No church or
Christian committed to the normative authority of Scripture has
the right to blur, or eliminate or reverse such role
distinctions. As no church has the right to ordain a woman to be
a father instead of a mother in a family, so she has no right to
ordain a woman to be an elder, that is, a spiritual father in the
extended family of believers, the household of God (1 Tim 3:15).
Reasons for Hope.
Three factors give the present writer reason to
hope that the Seventh-day Adventist church will eventually
rescind the action taken at the 1975 Spring Meeting of the
General Conference Committee, pertaining to the ordination of
women as local elders.
First, such an action was based on an inadequate
understanding of crucial Biblical passages and principles. Recent
studies produced since 1975 by such evangelical scholars as James
B. Hurley, Wayne Grudem, Susan Foh, Stephen Clark and Douglas
Moo, in addition to the present one, provide a basis for a fuller
Biblical understanding of the role of women in the church.
Second, the Biblical Research Institute, upon request of the
General Conference, has commissioned a number of Adventist
scholars to prepare papers on crucial aspects of this subject.
This new investigation promises to help the Adventist church come
to a clearer understanding of the Scriptural principles that
should determine the role of women in the church.
Third, the Seventh-day Adventist Church is deeply committed
to the normative authority of Scripture for defining beliefs and
practices. Contrary to some churches which interpret the creation
story as a mythological or allegorical expression of a creative
process which extended over millions of years, the Seventh-day
Adventist Church accepts as factual the account of the six days
of creation. The observance of the Sabbath commandment is seen as
a perpetual memorial to the perfection of God's original creation
which included the formation of man and woman as equal in being
and subordinate in function.
Since the ordination of women rests largely on the so-called
"partnership paradigm" or "role interchangeability model" which
negates the creational role distinctions of men and women, it is
hard for the present writer to imagine that the Seventh-day
Adventist Church would knowingly abandon her fundamental
commitment to the integrity of the order of creation. The action
taken in 1975 to allow local Adventist churches to ordain women
as elders was influenced more by sociological than theological
considerations, as indicated by the papers prepared for and
published by the Biblical Research Institute under the title
"Symposium on the Role of Women in the Church." Only 15 of the
190 pages of this symposium are devoted to an analysis of the
Pauline passages 19 and of the 15 only 5 pages deal summarily
with 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 and 2 Corinthians 14:33-36.20 The new
ongoing investigation promises to give greater attention to these
Scripture Reading, Praying, Singing.
While Scripture excludes women from the office of
elder/pastor which entails the responsibility for the
proclamation of the Word and the administration of church
ordinances, it does not exclude them from praying, reading, or
singing in public worship. We have seen that Paul presumes that
women participated in public worship by praying and offering
prophetic exhortations (1 Cor 11:5).
(This is again taking this passage in 1 Cor 11:5 into a context
it is not within - the context is everyday life as worshipping
and serving the Lord; it is not a context of the "church coming
together into one place" as the rest of the chapter entails.
Reading is not teaching nor is singing in a church service.
Prayer on the other hand is addressed by Paul in 1 Tim 2:8, and
as I've fully expounded in my studies on "church government" as
the Greek means "men" and never "women" and as prayer of course
is part of every Christian's life, this verse within the context
must be in connection with church services. Again the
Elders/Pastors would be functioning as the leaders of the family
of the flock of God in church services - Keith Hunt)
The reading of the Scriptures belongs to the priesthood of
every believer, men and women. If women could prophesy in public
worship, they should also have been able to read the message of
the prophets. (Dr. Sam again misunderstands the first section of
1 Cor 11, which has nothing to do with women "prophecy" in church
services; reading any part of the Scriptures in a church service
does not intrude on "teaching" - Keith Hunt)
Moreover, since believers are exhorted to "admonish one
another in all wisdom, and sing psalms and hymns and spiritual
songs" (Col 3:16), we can presume that both men and women
participated in the worship service not only by praying and
reading but also by singing. It is important to remember that
singing the psalms was a form of reading them in the apostolic
church. Since praying, reading the Scriptures and singing belongs
not to the office of the elder/pastor but to the priesthood of
every believer, women can legitimately perform these activities
in public worship. (That is "reading" and "singing" as they do
not transpose into "teaching" per se - but "prayer" in church
services I have mentioned above and dealt with in detail in my
studies on "church government" - Keith Hunt)
Addressing the Congregation.
Should a woman be allowed to preach or lecture to the
congregation on a particular subject in which she is an expert?
The answer to this question, on the basis of our interpretation
of the Pauline passages, is Yes, as long as the preaching or
speaking in question does not place the woman in the office of
the pastor. We have shown that Paul does not forbid all speaking
or teaching by women, but only such teaching that would place a
woman in a position of leader-teacher of the congregation. (And I
will add, not in an official church service, as then being looked
upon as the "sermon" of the day. There are all kinds of other
hours in the whole week when women can forthgive their expert
education on whatever subject they are qualified in - Keith Hunt)
There are women in the church who through their fine
education and rich spiritual experience have much to contribute
to the upbuilding of the church. They should be encouraged on
appropriate occasions to present a message of guidance,
encouragement, and exhortation to the congregation. Care should
be taken, however, not to give the impression that a woman who
speaks on some occasions from the pulpit is functioning as the
appointive and representative pastor of the congregation. If this
should happen, then she would be assuming a role which, as we
have shown, is not in harmony with Scripture. (Such instruction
should not be from the pulpit as the sermon of the day in a
church service, as that would take over from the role of an Elder
or Pastor, who should be teaching the family of God during that
period of the church service - Keith Hunt)
Teaching Adult Sabbath School Class.
The same principle applies to the question of whether a
woman should teach a regular adult Sabbath School class which
includes men. In this case the role of the teacher, whether male
or female, should be seen not as that of an official pastor, but
rather as that of a leader or coodinator of a study group where
believers are engaged in a mutual sharing and teaching (Col
3:16). Directing and participating in a Bible study group falls
within the bounds of the priesthood of all believers. (And such
is a "Bible study" that can be done on any other day of the week
in any location, home, park, by the river etc. So the "Bible
study" on the Sabbath is not part of the official Sabbath service
- Keith Hunt)
The major difference between what the Sabbath School teacher
does and what the pastor does is the authority behind it. The
pastor stands before the congregation as the one ordained to
serve as the representative head and shepherd of the
congregation; the Sabbath School teacher stands before the class
as the one elected to lead out in the study and discussion of the
lesson. To argue that the teaching done by a Sabbath School
teacher in a class is the same as the preaching done by a pastor
from the pulpit means to fail to recognize that the pastor, as we
observed in chapter 7, speaks officially as the appointed
representative of the church and of God to the church, while the
Sabbath School teacher speaks unofficially as a believer to
believers. On account of this difference a woman can legitimately
serve as a Sabbath School teacher but not as a pastor.
(Yes, for we find in the book of Acts the principle that a woman
can participate in "teaching" men outside of the official church
service and official role as Pastor - Aquila and Priscilla of
Acts 18: 24-28 - Keith Hunt)
5. Final Recommendations
The conclusion of this investigation is that Scripture provides
ample examples and indications both for the participation of
women in the various vital ministries of the church and for their
exclusion from the appointive, representative role of
elder/pastor. The reason for this exclusion is based not on
cultural conventions but on the theological truth that at
creation God assigned distinctive and yet complementary roles to
men and women in their relation to each other. These roles are
not nullified but clarified by Christ's redemption and thus they
should be reflected in the home and in the church. In the light
of this conclusion, we wish to respectfully submit for
consideration the following seven recommendations:
(1) Moratorium on Ordination of Women Elders.
The General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists should
suspend temporarily the present policy which allows for the
ordination of women as local church elders until the 1990 General
Conference session at which time the entire issue will be
reviewed and decided upon. The longer the present policy is
allowed to remain in effect, the more difficult it will be to
(2) Training of Bible Instructors.
The Religion Departments of Seventh-day Adventist Colleges
should develop a program particularly suited for the training of
women as Bible Instructors since there is a most urgent need
today for their ministry. 21 The primary objective of such a
program should be to develop skills on how to impart the
knowledge of the Word of God to individuals or groups and how to
counsel persons with problems. Those women who wish to develop
more fully their Bible teaching and counseling skills by
attending the Theological Seminaries should be encouraged to do
so. On its part Adventist Theological Seminaries should develop a
program that can adequately meet this very objective.
(3) Hiring of Bible Instructors.
Seventh-day Adventist conference administrators should
budget each year for the hiring of a representative number of
women Bible Instructors. Their personal ministry of Bible
teaching and counseling in homes can be a key factor in the
growth and nurture of the church. If the present failure of
conferences to hire a representative number of Bible
Instructors persists, the result will be a greater push for
women's ordination as the only way for them to enter into the
professional ministry of the church.
(4) Recognition of Ministry of Women.
The church must recognize and encourage the vital ministries
which women are fulfilling in the church as Sabbath School
teachers, deaconesses, treasurers, welfare and youth leaders,
Bible Instructors, musicians, missionaires, health educators, and
counselors. All too often these and other vital ministries women
render to the church are taken for granted. The only ministry
that seems to count at times is that of the pastor. This mistaken
perception needs to be corrected by encouraging a greater
recognition of and appreciation for the various and vital
ministries of women within the church.
(5) Uphold Role Distinctions.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church should be committed to
upholding the creational role distinctions for men and women not
only in the church and in the home, but also in the social order.
Underlying the issue of the ordination of women are efforts to
radically change the structure of male and female relationships
in the home, the church, and society at large. Adventists as well
as Christians in general must be aware of the greater
implications of the issue discussed. Eliminating role
distinctions in the church means to encourage a restructuring of
family life and of society according to an unbiblical, humanistic
model, since the church illuminates society with its moral
influence and principles. Stephen Clark emphasizes the wider
implications of the ordination of women:
A given rule, like that for the ordination of women, is part
of a wider pattern of interlocking elements that have to do
with how marriages are contracted, how families are formed,
how boys and girls are taught to be men and women, how
careers are pursued, and many other things. Changing one
element in the pattern, such as sex roles, affects other
elements in an adverse way because of the interlocking
relationship among the elements 22
(6) Encourage Jobs that Affirm Role Distinctions.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church should encourage its
members to look for jobs that affirm their roles as men and
women. The tendency of our technological society is to assign
jobs according to functional specifications rather than according
to gender distinctions. For example, if a woman has good physical
strength, she can be hired to load and unload baggage in airports
(a common sight in the USA) or to dump garbage containers in a
garbage truck. While circumstances may sometimes force a woman to
take a job that requires her to compete with men in physical
strength, in principle Christian women should seek occupations
that affirm their femininity and womanly roles. This does not
mean that Christians should become heavily involved in promoting
menwomen differences in the job market, but rather to encourage
in a quiet way (1 Thess 4:11) whatever appropriate role
differences can be maintained within our indiscriminating
(7) Resist Secular Pressures.
Seventh-day Adventists must retain their commitment to the
normative authority of Scripture by resisting those secular
pressures which tend to undermine and eliminate Biblical
principles and structures, such as the role relationship between
men and women. To do otherwise can only lead to a gradual erosion
of confidence in the authority of Scripture and in the unique
mission of the church.
This chapter has reviewed the findings of our study of the
Biblical teachings on the role of women in the church and has
considered the application of our conclusions to the present role
of women, especially within the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
Seven specific recommendations have been submitted for
consideration by Adventist scholars, administrators and church
members. While the applications and recommendations were
addressed to the specific concerns of the Seventh-day Adventist
Church, it is our hope that Christians of other churches may find
some of these applicable to their own communions.
The nature of the subject has required that considerable
attention be given to the principle of headship-subordination in
the man/woman relationship. This important principle should not
be seen as an end in itself, but rather as a divine plan designed
to ensure unity in diversity: "For just as the body is one and
has many members, and all the members of the body, though many,
are one body, so it is with Christ. For by one Spirit we were all
baptized into one body" (1 Cor 12:12-13). The reason why God gave
different gifts and functions to men and women is not so that we
may spend our time arguing about who is the greatest in the
kingdom. Rather, the reason is that men and women, as joint heirs
of the gift of eternal life, may use their different gifts to
build up the body of Christ and bring human beings with their
many differences into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ.
This book has been written with the fervent hope and prayer that
a clearer understanding of the Biblical teachings on the
distinctive and yet complementary roles God has assigned to men
and women will help not only Seventh-day Adventists, but all
Christians committed to the authority of the Word of God, to
become effective workers in the service of Christ who calls Jews
and Gentiles, slave and free, male and female to be one in His
NOTES ON CHAPTER VIII
1. Susan T. Foh, Women and the Word of God (Phillipsburg, New
Jersey, 1979), p.247.
2. This clarification is found in a note on page 456 of
Evangelism by Ellen G. White (Washington, D.C., 1946).
3. Ellen G. White, Manuscript 43a, 1898, (Manuscript Release
4. Ellen G. White (n.2), p. 469. 5. Ibid., p.472.
6. Ibid., pp.492-493.
7. Ibid., p.492. See also the discussions by Rosalie H. Lee and
William Fagal in chapters 9 and 10.
8. Ellen G. White, Letter 137, 1898 (Manuscript Release #959, pp.
9. For a penetrating analysis of those statements adduced by some
to argue for Ellen White's endorsement of women's ordination, see
William Fagal, "Ellen White and the Role of Women in the Church,"
in chapter 10 of this book.
10. The 1985 statistical report of the Lake Union Conference,
which includes Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin, Illinois and Lake
Region Conferences, lists only 32 Bible Instructors.
11. Ellen G. White (n. 2), p.461.
12. Ibid., (n. 2), p.459.
13. See L. Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan,
14. Ellen G. White, Early Writings (Washington, D.C., 1945), p.
15. Seventh-day Adventist Church Manual, issued by the General
Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Revised 1986, p.59.
16. 1985 Annual Meeting, Actions Pertaining to the North American
Division (Washington, D.C., October 13-17, 1985), p.72.
17. Ibid., p.26.
18. The case involves two persons bapstized on December 20, 1986
at the Loma Linda University Church by Margaret Hempe, Associate
of Pastoral Care. The report which appeared in The Sun (December
27) quotes the pastoral staff as saying that the act was not
intended to be "a radical challenge" to the policy of the
Adventist church. Whatever the intent may have been, the fact
remains that the act does represent a clear violation of an
existing policy in the Adventist church. For the report see,
Steve Cooper, "First Baptism Brings Fulfillment to Woman Pastor,"
The Sun (December 27, 1986).
19. Symposium on the Role of Women in the Church, distributed by
the Biblical Research Institute Committee, General Conference of
Seventh-day Adventists (Washington, D.C., 1984), pp.97-106 and
20. Ibid., pp.129-134.
21. The program for Bible Instructors developed and offered at
Atlantic Union College might serve as a model for other colleges.
22. Stephen B. Clark, "Social Order and Women's Ordination,"
America 134, 2 (January 17, 1976): 33.
To be continued