Discussions of how women should be involved in ministry and the church in particular have been happening for many years. Many young women who feel called to ministry have grown up in churches that take one position or the other on the concern of women in ministry. These young women, then, may not be aware that different positions from the ones they have been taught exist in Baptist life.
One position on women in ministry in Baptist churches is that women are restricted from certain leadership roles in the church. Some say only the office of pastor is limited to men while others argue that women should not lead or teach men in any office, role or circumstance. Such a view posits that women and men have equal worth before God as both are created in God’s image, but different/complementary roles are assigned to men and women. This position’s interpretation of Scripture considers the designation made between men and women after the fall in Genesis 3 to be prescriptive for how women should live under the authority of men. Passages in the New Testament which restrict the participation of women/wives in worship (1 Cor. 14:34-35; 1 Tim. 2:8-15) and which encourage the submission of wives to their husbands (Col. 3:18; Eph. 5:22; Tit. 2:5; 1 Pet. 3:1-6) are also interpreted as rules which apply to women today.
Another position on women’s roles in the church exists among some Baptist congregations. This position asserts that women and men are created to be equal and can function equally within the home and in the church. Women can serve in any role in the church in which men serve. In this position’s interpretation of Scripture, the subjugation of women after the fall in Genesis 3 is understood not as a prescription for how life should be, but as a description of what happened as a consequence of sin. The grace Christ provided through His sacrifice on the cross gave a release from the consequences of sin. God’s desire for creation is one where the results of sin do not rule, but in which there is mutuality among men and women (Gen. 1:27). This position also points to women leaders present in the Old Testament (Miriam – Exod. 15:20; Deborah – Judg. 4:4; Huldah – 2 Kings 22:14; and Esther among others) and in the New Testament church (Lydia – Acts 16:14-15; Priscilla – Acts 18:26, Rom. 16:3, 1 Cor. 16:19; and Phillip’s four prophesying daughters – Acts 21:9 among others). When considering the specific prohibitions against women’s leadership in the New Testament, this position understands those passages (as mentioned above) to be written for a particular cultural context and situation, rather than serving as universal prohibitions for people of all contexts. They also point out that contradictory passages exist in the New Testament in which mutuality and equality among men and women is emphasized (Gal. 3:28; 1 Cor. 7:3-4, 11:11-12; Eph. 5:21) and in which instructions are given as to how women should pray and prophesy in churches (1 Cor. 11:2-16).
People with both views exist in Baptist life, as do those at all points between the two extremes. In some Baptist churches women serve as senior pastors, and in other churches women cannot teach a Sunday School class in which men are present. Since Baptists hold a high authority of Scripture, the Bible has been the primary source of debate on the subject. But Baptists also hold the distinctive of considering all believers to be priests who have equal access to God and who are responsible for their own behavior, beliefs and scriptural interpretations. Therefore, any Baptist woman who feels called to ministry should feel a responsibility to study the Scripture for herself so that she might determine how the Spirit is leading her to a faithful biblical interpretation and a faithful expression of her calling.
A few resources which may prove helpful in considering women’s roles in the church include:
- Sheri Adams, What the Bible Really Says About Women (Macon, GA: Smyth and Helwys, 1994).
- Bonnidell Clouse and Robert G. Clouse, eds. Women in Ministry: Four Views (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1989).
- Loren Cunningham and David Joel Hamilton, Why Not Women?: A Fresh Look at Scripture on Women in Missions, Ministry, and Leadership (Seattle, WA: YWAM Publishing, 2000).
- Pamela and Keith Durso, eds. Courage and Hope: The Stories of Ten Baptist Women Ministers (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 2005).
- Alan F. Johnson, ed. How I Changed My Mind About Women in Leadership (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010).
- Todd Still, “Practical Questions About and Biblical Support for Women in the Church’s Ministry.”
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