There are a number of activities that have traditionally been limited to men. However, I find no scriptural warrant for not including women in them:
- Baptism: this is traditionally done by the pastor. When baptism is delayed so that it can be performed by a special person, it slows the growth of any disciple making movement. In some countries, like India, women are not allowed to be touched by a man unless they are a family member. Although there are no Scriptural examples that specifically describe a woman baptizing, the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) indicates that the person who leads someone to the Lord should be the one to baptize them.
- Teaching: First Timothy 2:11-12 is often used to stop women teaching. (See my posts (beginning here) on a different interpretation of this passage.) But there are plenty of indications to the contrary. For example, Priscilla (mentioned first) and Aquila taught Apollos. First Corinthians 14:26 encourages everyone to take part in the meetings including teaching (no mention here of this being a “men only” activity). Other lists such as 1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4 that list teaching include activities we know were open to women. We are to teach and admonish one another (Colossians 3:16).
- Giving communion: Our traditional practice of communion with a wafer and sip of wine is probably unscriptural. Communion was more like a meal (otherwise why does 1 Corinthians 11:21 talk about some going hungry and others getting drunk). While there is nothing to say that women are allowed to “give communion” there’s nothing to say that men are either.
- Leadership: Leading is one of the gifts given to the body of Christ. In Romans 12: 6-8, it is included in a list of things that God gives to us. Included in that list are gifts that we know women can use–for example, prophecy (Acts 2:17-18) If women were to be prohibited from leading, that might have been a good time to mention it!
- “Government”: There are examples of women in government. For example, Deborah led and judged the nation of Israel. We see Junia as an apostle, Philip’s daughters prophesied, Phoebe was a deacon (Jesus used the same word in the context of leadership.) I find nothing that says that women cannot be elders. (There are no examples of women elders, but I can think of no named examples of Gentile ones either.)
What similar activities can you think of?
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Is 1 Timothy 2:12 an absolute prohibition on women teaching men? People sometimes go to ludicrous lengths to accommodate this verse.
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Renowned Chinese teacher, Watchman Nee, benefited greatly from the teaching of two Chinese missionaries/leaders. So when they visited him one day, he wanted his church to hear them. But there was a problem. They were women, and therefore could not teach the men. In order to “fulfill the letter of the law,” he strung a curtain along the middle of the meeting room. The two Chinese missionaries taught the ladies on one side of the curtain while the men sat and listened on the other side!
Consider the following:
- 1 Timothy 2:12 is the only verse in the Bible that apparently explicitly states that women cannot teach men.
- Paul and Timothy had traveled together for some time, and Timothy would have known if Paul forbade women to teach (I Corinthians 4;17). It would have therefore been surprising if Timothy and Paul hadn’t made that clear right from the start in Ephesus, and even more surprising that Timothy was allowing women to teach and the practice needed to stop.
- Paul acknowledged the very real role that women had in teaching Timothy (his mother and grandmother).
- Priscilla (named first) and her husband, Aquila, taught Apollos a “more accurate way.” (Acts 18:26)
- 1 Corinthians 14:26 gives a list of things that everyone is expected to participate in. “When you come together, each one has…” The Greek word for each one, hekastos, is a word that encompasses both genders. This list includes teaching. Several times in chapter 14, the word “all” is used. Verses 24 and 31 both say that all may prophesy, and we know from Paul’s teaching in chapter 11 that this includes women. If Paul really forbade women to teach, why didn’t he mention it ?
- A number of gifts to the church, including teachers, are listed in 1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4. For some of these gifts there are female examples in the Scriptures (Junia was an apostle, Philip’s daughters prophesied), but there’s no qualification here that women aren’t allowed to teach. Paul asks, “Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers?” While the obvious answer to this question is “no” there is no implication that some of these gifts are gender specific.
- Colossians 3:16 exhorts us to teach and admonish one another.
- In Revelation 2, the church in Thyatira is chastised for allowing “Jezebel” to lead people astray. It’s what she teaches that is the problem, not the fact that she’s a woman teaching.
- 2 Timothy 2:2 is the classic passage on discipleship. It is often rendered “The things you have heard me say… entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. The word “men” in the Greek is anthropos, a generic term for humans rather than gender specific.
This verse, then, appears to contradict what Paul says in other places. So is there another explanation for what Paul says in this verse?
Follow the next few posts…
A few posts ago, I alluded to the fact that some good friends of ours in India, who see many tens of thousands of new believers in their network each year, have illiterate women who are able to teach others, including Bible references. Several people have asked me to expand on this.
The fact that someone is an oral learner doens't make them ignorant or incapable of understanding. They just have a different way of learning. Much as today, in our culture, many young people learn by watching rather than by reading.
Each of the 50 or so topics that our friends expect their leaders to be able to teach on to others is divided down into 9 or 10 main points. Training is given several times per year. There are different levels at which a person is able to understand and impart any given topic. So a house church leader will have a very basic understanding. He/she may know several strategic points about any given topic. A local area trainer will have more understanding, probably with some references. By the time you have a master trainer who is responsible for training on a regional or national basis, they will know the topic fully, including all relevent references.
This happens because of the way a topic is taught. The trainer may speak on the topic, but by using questions and answers and making others repeat what is taught, people remember the subject matter. They are also expected to apply it or put it into practice. When they in turn pass it on to others, it becomes even more firmly fixed in their minds.
Here are a few of the topics that are taught:
The Great Commission
What is church?
God's will and purposes
Tenfold functions of the church
The role of women
Prayer walking: ten steps
If people in our churches had the same grasp of these subjects at a practical as well as a theoretical level as some of these illiterate village women, we would be far more effective within the Kingdom. Now obviously, we are able to read the Bible–there is no shortage of Bibles in the West. But there is a difference between learning with the purpose of extending the Kingdom and studying for personal blessing. Maybe we should reconsider strategic training.
One of the problems with the "Honey, I shrunk the church!" approach is that it is too complex to be reproducible, especially by new believers. Since most people's greatest fear is of public speaking, that makes giving a talk a huge hurdle for people to attempt, even with a smaller audience. What if there is not a skilled guitarist in the group? Or no one is used to leading a meeting?
If we are to see rapidly multiplying churches, then the one thing that makes our times together reproducible is simplicity!
Let's apply that principle to what might happen in our times together.
Meals: if we produce a gourmet home-cooked meal when we get together, then what it says to others is that they could only consider hosting something if they can produce something similar. Anyone can arrange a simple potluck when everyone contributes.
Praying: if someone prays 5 minute sermon prayers, this will inhibit anyone but the most experienced Christian from praying. Brief sentence prayers are much wiser–everybody gets a turn, or even multiple turns.
Teaching: this is an idol in many Western churches today. Many pastors spend hours preparing a sermon–but according to research conducted by the Barna group, the typical attender cannot remember the topic 2 hours later. No, the important thing is that people learn and apply Biblical truths, and they are far more likely to do that if they participate themselves. People remember 20% of what they hear, 50% of what they see and hear and 70% of what they say themselves. A participatory study of the Bible is far more effective than a talk or sermon, and there is no preparation required.
If simple patterns are introduced right from the start, then anyone can facilitate a simple/house/organic church. We've even had believers who are only a few weeks old in the Lord lead simple church gatherings once a simple pattern has been demonstrated.