Women in Church Leadership: Not a Secondary Issue

Paula Fether


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This week we’re featuring the remaining posts from the runners-up in our fall Guest Blog Contest, with the exception of one post¬†we’re saving for the Easter season.¬†

How do we determine which issues or principles are part of the core of the Christian faith, and which are secondary and disputable?

Certainly all would agree that the Gospel itself is vital, for without such agreement the faith itself is compromised. But can other matters be just as essential as the Gospel itself? Are there beliefs beyond the Gospel which necessarily follow it, such that failure to hold to those beliefs calls one’s very salvation into question?

James, the brother of Jesus, wrote bluntly that certain behaviors and actions do indeed flow naturally and necessarily from the Christian faith.

One who claims to follow Christ yet turns a blind eye to the suffering of others, or who fawns over the rich while insulting the poor, is not only exhibiting a carnal witness to the world, but also calling into question his or her claim to have been spiritually reborn. If nothing else, our faith is one stemming from gratitude for the finished work of Christ and our subsequent adoption as the very children of God, citizens of a Kingdom where only righteousness dwells. And as Paul put it, we have died to sin and to the world, so we must not live as though we are still alive to both.

If we are to live consistently with our professed faith, we must treat as at least a very serious issue any behavior, belief, or attitude which brings disrepute upon the name of Jesus.

Failure to give the honor due our Creator is not something to be taken lightly. And we know that Jesus had much more to say than simply to put our faith in him. Most of his quoted words had to do with behavior, whether good or bad, and his scathing denunciation of the proud religious leaders with cold hearts cannot be ignored. Everything Jesus did and said was a striking call to compassion, honesty, truth, and peace. If such principles are undisputed essentials, they cannot be overturned by any other passages of scripture.

Jesus’ rebuke of His disciples’ lust for power, which can be summarized as “Not so among you,” left no loopholes and included no fine print.

His own example in washing the feet of the disciples provided a most powerful object lesson in what it means to be a Christian leader: humility and example. Throughout the New Testament we are shown example after example of this principle. If Jesus could lay aside his rights as God (Phil. 2:5-11), how could anyone claiming to follow him fail to do the same? Paul said in 1 Cor. 9:12, 15-18 that he did not use his rights. He followed the example of Jesus in laying down whatever privileges he had, in spite of many opportunities to use them.

This is the mark of the Christian leader: example rather than fiat, service rather than “lording over”, humility rather than reputation, and compassion rather than control.

When Paul detailed the requirements of elders, he wrote of character and spiritual maturity (e.g., Titus 1:7-9). And such character necessarily includes all the qualities of love Paul enumerated in 1 Cor. 13. In light of all that, how could any Christian treat half the Body of Christ as intrinsically flawed, tainted, or lacking the gifting of the Holy Spirit to lead, simply on the basis of the flesh?

If love and humility flow necessarily from the Gospel and the teachings of Jesus and the apostles, so also does violation of those principles flow from bias against women.¬†Either we treat others as better than ourselves or we do not; either we gauge character and gifting by spirit or we gauge it by the flesh; either we follow the Spirit’s lead or we usurp the Spirit and seek control over others. This is why women in church leadership is not a secondary issue; there is no room for hierarchy in the Body of Christ.

The humble Christian cannot say or believe that “God made me the boss of you”.

We can only say that the sphere of women in Christianity is limited if we can also say that the sphere of Gentiles or slaves is limited (Gal. 3:28). And if the church has, after many centuries, finally admitted that no proof-text can overturn the core principles of Christianity regarding slavery, then the church must also admit that no proof-text can overturn those principles regarding women. Yet the same arguments once made in support of slavery in the United States are still being used in support of female subjection to male by some branches of the church. The church should be as ashamed of this as they are about slavery.

If we have not learned the lesson that no amount of exegesis can nullify “Not so among you”, then we must seriously question our grasp of the Gospel.


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Paula Fether

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  • Thank you for the reminder of one of the most ignored verses in the Bible: “Not so among you,” We are all brothers and sisters and we shouldn’t ignore Jesus’ words about not “lording it over” each other. Instead all believers, but especially leaders, should all be equal at the cross, consider others better than self, and strive to serve one another.

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