With the advent of the feminist movement, the role of women in all parts of society has come under increasing scrutiny. One area of recent controversy is the role of women in the Christian Church. Some churches whose traditions and practices are less rigidly tied to Biblical doctrines have begun placing women in leadership positions such as pastor or teacher. Other churches which interpret the Bible more literally have been slow to adopt such changes. Much of the confusion is based on attempts to interpret scriptures pertaining to women. In this essay, we will use the Bible to understand the role of women in the church of the first century and apply that understanding to the church of the twentieth century.
Many people would dispute the Bible's relevance to contemporary thought in general, and in particular to the role of women in worship. If the Bible were not written under divine inspiration, a person or practice is not bound by its teachings. He or she can therefor pick and choose whatever corresponds to his/her point of view. However, if the Bible is of divine inspiration, then a cautious consideration of passages relevant to a particular issue must be undertaken. Traditions and customs that have arisen after the Bible was written may thus be carefully scrutinized. Such practices may or may not prove sound after comparison with scripture.
Before we discuss specific issues concerning women in worship, we should consider principles derived from the relationship of Adam and Eve as described in Genesis chapter one. The Apostle Paul frequently uses this passage as a guideline when discussing women and women's issues. Genesis 1 verse 27 states: "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them." Most Commentators agree that man and woman are both equally a reflection of God's image; the word "man" here is used as a synonym for humanity. Adam and Eve were also given joint dominion over creation. But the fact that Adam was created before Eve has significance to Paul and other Old Testament scholars; it signifies role distinction between the two sexes. The role of the man is leadership, while the role of woman is as a source of strength and support. In the letter to the Ephesians, Paul states: "For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church. . ." (Eph. 5:23) This is an important analogy. If a person wants to understand the Christian authority of a man over his wife, he must consider how Christ demonstrated his leadership as head over the Church. Primarily, he gave his life for his church, not using force or coercion for her submission. When considering mens and woman's ministry in the church, it is important to keep in mind this role distinction.
Lets examine the public ministry of women in the Church. Two major passages give specific instructions regarding women during worship in the letters of the Apostle Paul. These two passages are used frequently when denying women a public role in church life. The first is in I Corinthians chapter 14 verses 33 - 35, this passage commands women to be silent during worship service. Similarly but with more details, I Timothy 2 verses 8 - 15 not only contains a command to be silent but also instruction on authority along with a reference to the fall of Adam and Eve for further explanation. Here is the passage in its entirety using the NIV (New International Version) Bible translation:
I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger or disputing. I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God. A women should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one...