A year ago, I wrote the first episode of this installment that dealt with the what of elders. Now I will deal strictly with the who of elders. Before you read this, you should make up in your mind, no matter what side of the fence you stand on, the Holy Spirit and the truth of God’s word will be the guide, not cultural preferences and prejudices. Besides the question of justification by faith alone in Jesus Chris, the question of whether women should be ordained as elders in the church has brought much controversy, debate, frustration, and confusion. Since this involves the church, the answer should be found only in God’s word – the Bible. With that being said, it is my position that God called men only as elders in the local church.
In case you’re wondering why I use the term elder and not preacher, the answer is simple. The New Testament mentions only two offices. The first is that of an elder (presbuteros). This word is often times interchanged with the word bishop (episkopos), or overseer (epi – “over”, skopos – “to see”). Paul used these words to described the leaders of the church at Ephesus in Acts 20:17, 28. The other office is that of a deacon (diakonos). Many argue that deacon is neither masculine nor feminine in the Greek language. I agree. Phoebe in Romans 16:1 was a deaconess. But there is no office of preacher in the church. Paul does use the term preacher (kerusso) in Romans 10:14. But that term has a different meaning in the Greek than our American culture. It refers to a herald – one who goes in the public square and pronounces the king’s news. The context of that passage is evangelism. Hence, every believer is called to be a preacher by the practice of evangelism. The question remains, is there any text that supports only men can be a bishop or an elder?
The Apostle Paul in 1 Timothy 3 outlined the qualifications for bishops or elders. Since the question on the floor deals with gender, I will deal only with gender specific qualifications. In verse 1, Paul said, “If any man aspires to the office of overseer…” The word “man” refers not to the Greek word anthropos (mankind), but aner (the masculine part of mankind) i.e., the male. In verse 2, he is to be the husband of one wife, literally a “one woman man.” Others suggest this disqualifies divorcees. In any event, it teaches a male because a woman cannot have a wife. Our society is in the process of changing some of its rules, but the passage was written under God’s rules, and homosexuality was not an option then or today. Even if you doubt the word man in verse 1 means male, the context of verse 2 allows no other choice. Furthermore, Paul uses the personal pronouns he/him not she/her down to verse 7.
Is there more proof text that supports God call men and to women to be bishops and elders? Look at 1 Timothy 2:12, “But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man.” Whoa Nellie! Does that mean a woman cannot pray or sing in church? No. Notice the verse begins with a connective word. “But” connects the thought in verse 11 with verse 12. The woman is to receive instruction but is not allowed to teach the man. Why? The teaching in the church (that’s the context here) is to be done by the elders (1 Timothy 5:17) and according to chapter 3 the elders are men.
Even the elders and priests of the Old Testament were men.
I believe that what I have shown is biblical proof that God required men to be the overseers of the church.
These are some of the common objections I run across.
1. You’re boxing in God to your persuasion. What I said was not based on my opinion. It is based clearly on the Scriptures. As far as God being boxed in, to some degree he is, but only by himself. For example, if God says trust in Jesus and you’ll be saved, God is obligated to save you. Not because of you, but because of his word.
2. How do you know God has not changed his mind on this subject? Again, I don’t fully know the mind of our infinite God. I can tell you that if God changes his mind, he lets us know. He told Israel in the Old Testament to refrain from eating certain foods, yet we know in the New Testament, Jesus declared all food clean. This is not a contradiction but change. One God revealed to us in the Scriptures. If God now allows for a woman to be bishop or elder, then his word would have reflected this change. There is no new revelation today. If you think so read Revelation 22:18. Where are the new verses that declare a woman can now be an elder?
3. How do you explain the success of some women pastors? First, if the term pastor means to shepherd (nurture, lead, and care) then a woman can fill that role most notably with other woman and children (Titus 2:3 – 4). Christians act as pastors to one another. Many may have the gift of pastor but not all are called to the pastorate. As far as success is concerned, if success is a big sanctuary, a huge following or plenty of money, then they’re successful. On the other hand, if success is defined by what gives God glory, they are not. Why? God will not bring glory to himself by validating anything that is contrary to his word. Caveat: There are instances where woman missionaries have planted churches were they are forced to lead in the initial stages. But in those circumstances, as soon as enough males are up to speed, those women relinquish their control and submit to the authority and leadership of those men.
4. But I feel God wants me to do this. Remember, Christians are people of faith, not feelings. We are saved from God’s wrath because we trust in Jesus, not a feeling. When your faith is based on feelings instead of your feelings based on faith, you are headed for trouble.
5. What about Joel 2:28? Joel was prophesizing what would happen on Pentecost. Peter echoed this in Acts 2. After the Holy Spirit was given, all (men and women) would have the ability to prophesy, the most superior of the gifts (1 Corinthians 14). Prophecy is not foretelling but forth telling. We demonstrate this every time we carry out the Great Commission (Mathew 28:19 – 20). However prophesy is not the same as being an elder.
6. What about Galatians 3:28? Paul wrote this book to warn Gentile believers against the Judaizers who were attempting to distort the message of Christ by having all follow the Law to secure salvation. Verse 28 was penned to show that despite our origin or position, once we are in Christ, we are all in the new world race started by Jesus. Paul’s use of the word “one” has to do with essence not function (see John 10:30). Paul did not have church leadership in mind here.
7. What about John 20:17? After all, Anne Graham Lotz used this text to support her right to preach. Again, I’m noting there is a difference between preaching and serving as an elder. If you take a closer look at that text, Jesus told her to do two things. It was not go and position yourself for the elder board. She was to (1) go to his boys; and (2) tell them in a short while he’s leaving. She did so and, well, as we know by the furtherance of the church, her obedience was a huge success.
I hold to my position because the Bible is clear on this matter. There are those who disagree and will continue to do so. I do not recommend that either side turn their noses up at the other and discontinue fellowship. I do not recommend that any disrespect any females in the church, elders or not. I have friends who belong to churches with women elders/overseers and some who don’t but who disagree with me. I hope that after they read this (even though they know my position), we will continue to be friends. Regardless of your position, we are still commanded to love one another (1 John 4:11).