An issue which sharply distinguishes us as Protestant Reformed young people from an increasingly greater number of churches and people, is the issue of women holding places of authority in the institutional life of the Church. The most recent example of this is the “Women in Office” controversy in the Christian Reformed Churches, where many are seeking, and seem to have succeeded in having the offices of elder and minister opened to women. This is an attack against the Reformed position which holds to the submission of the woman to the man, in all areas of life. This is an attack against true believing women who desire to obey God’s will for them. This is also an attack against God Himself and His revealed Word. There have been many, many false views raised against this position of the New Testament Church, and advocates of women in office appeal to them all to defend their stand. These have been refuted long ago, yet they are important to know, so we will try to briefly summarize some of them.
The first appeal is to the Old Testament passages of scripture which speak of Debra, who judged Israel (Judges 4), and of Hulda, the prophetess (II Chronicles 34:20-28).
Our objection to the appeal to these passages, first of all is that they are isolated incidents and not at all the general rule in the O.T. Also it has been pointed out that the spiritual condition of God’s people at the time of these women was very low. There were no men to lead, to their shame, so God through special revelation raised up women. John Calvin stated the Churches position clearly,
“If any one bring forward, by way of objection, Deborah( Judges 4:4) and others of the same class of whom we read that they were at one time appointed by the command of God to govern the people, the answer is easy. Extra ordinary acts done by God do not overturn the ordinary rules of government, by which He intended that we should be bound. Accordingly, if women at one time held the office of prophets and teachers, and that too when they were supernaturally called to it by the Spirit of God, He who is above all law might do this; but being a peculiar case, this is not opposed to the constant and ordinary system of government.”1
As can be seen too, by this rather lengthy quote, this issue of women’s authority is nothing new, but something the Church has always battled.
The second appeal is to point to the New Testament passages that seem to allow for women deacons or deaconesses. Though there are others, the passage in Romans 16 which speaks of Phebe, is one of the passages pointed to.
“I commend unto you Phebe our sister, which is a SERVANT of the church which is at Cenchrea: That ye receive her in the Lord, as becometh saints, and that ye assist her in whatsoever business she hath need of you…”
The word “servant” in this passage can properly be translated deaconess, therefore, it is assumed that women deacons might have been common in Paul’s day. At the very least, it is maintained by many, that the Bible is not clear about this. This argumentation is typical of those who spread false views. One passage is found which seems to support their contention and they run with it, regardless that other passages in scripture clearly show their assumption to be incorrect.
The Reformed position on this passage holds the word “servant” to be translated correctly. Only two other times in the Bible is this word translated “deacon”, and then it refers to men only, whereas many many times this word is translated “servant.” Other parts of God’s Word clearly forbid women to have places of authority, and when taken together, this passage in Romans could never be taken to allow women as deacons.2
A third appeal is to Galatians 3:28,
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.”
Those who use this passage will argue that God sees all believers as being the same, “neither male nor female.” The separate distinctions are now gone with the coming of Christ. Therefore, the Church may not continue to deny women their rightful place.
We as Prot. Ref. youth have been taught the correct interpretation of this passage. God is not setting aside earthly differences here, but instead is showing us that, as regards our justification He sees no differences in us. Whether we are rich or poor, whether we are male or female, we are all His children and have received salvation the same way. And now too, salvation does not make us the same. Now that we are His children, there are still wealthy believers and poor believers; there are still males and females. Just as the human body, so Christ’s body has many different parts, yet, “ye are all one in Christ Jesus.”
These appeals to the Bible by advocates of women in office have been soundly rejected as false by the Church for many years. Yet there is another means of attack upon the Church. When the position for women in office cannot be justified with scripture, it is admitted that passages such as I Timothy 2:11, 12 and 1 Corinthiansl4:34, 35 do in fact prohibit women from holding places of authority in the Church. Yet, though this is admitted, it is maintained that such passages no longer apply to the church of today, Paul was influenced by the culture in which he lived. This is a blatant attack on the clarity of the Bible and the unchangableness of God.
When taken together, all these arguments, for the position of women in office in the church, seem to have the same basis. They are rooted in the false view that the woman was never supposed to be in submission to the man, but actually, was to be the same as man in all areas of life. The Church, then, for centuries, has sinned against God in refusing women their rightful place. The Church has sinned, in prohibiting women from using their God given gifts. The men of Israel in the O.T. did not allow women to have authority, yet, according to this view, this was surely not God’s will, for God willed from the very start that women would be equal with men. God even showed this, it could be said, when He raised up a prophetess in Israel and a woman to judge in Judah. God certainly had no problem with women in places of authority! Paul in the N.T. taught that it was a “shame” for a woman to speak authoritatively in the Church, yet this was, without question, not God’s will; God’s will is that there be “neither male nor female.” Now, when in today’s church world, the offices of the Church are finally being opened to women, it is proudly announced that the Church is finally doing what God intended all along, to have men and women be the same.
to be continued… ❖
1 Calvin’s Commentaries vol. 21, p.67
2 For those interested in more than a summary of this translating of the word “servant,” read Far Above Rubies, Chap.7 pp87-91, Chap.9 pp 127-138, and Chap. 10 pp 144-145.
Jeff is a member of Hope Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan.