Can Women be Pastors and Teach in Seminaries or Not?
On Monday, John Piper responded to a question at Desiring God regarding women as seminary professors. Since the Bible says that only men are permitted to serve as pastors and elders in the church (1 Timothy 2:11-12, 1 Corinthians 14:34-35), should women be teaching at theological seminaries where men, training to become pastors, would be sitting under their instruction?
Piper's answer can be summarized in this statement: "If it's unbiblical to have women as pastors, how can it be biblical to have women who function in formal teaching and mentoring capacities to train and fit pastors for the very calling from which the mentors themselves are excluded?" In fewer words, no, women should not be professors at seminaries. I agree with Piper.
Needless to say, the response has been uproarious. "Women are just as capable of being seminary professors as men!" the opposition argues. "Women can be just as gifted in teaching, leadership, and even preaching!" Sure they can. But that isn't the issue. It's not about whether a woman has the ability to teach. When it comes to having teaching authority over men, she's not permitted.
I say again: this is not a matter of ability, it's a matter of permission. Is a woman capable of being a gifted seminary teacher? Sure. But does God permit her to be a seminary teacher, holding teaching authority over those men who are training to be pastors? No.
Rebellion and bad arguments abound over this issue. The following are some of those arguments from the sphere of social media. Some of these comments were directed at me.
"These types of complementarians try to argue that they don't think women are inferior while simultaneously claiming women are fundamentally incapable of teaching men anything about faith, Scripture, and the Christian life." Rachel Held Evans, TN
Again, that is not the argument. No complementarians are arguing that women are incapable of being teachers. The issue is: in what capacity are they allowed to teach? However capable a teacher Evans believes she is, she has demonstrated over and over that she's virtually incapable of listening to and understanding a viewpoint other than her own on this matter.
Complementarianism, in case you aren't familiar with the word, is the biblical understanding that God made men and women different (duh) and designed them for different roles. Men and women are to work together complementing one another in their strengths and weaknesses. This especially applies to the way God designed marriage, but it also applies to the way God intends the church to function.
There are things God means for a man to do that a woman shouldn't do. Likewise, there are things a woman can do that a man cannot. Yes, a woman can teach. She can teach children and she can teach other women. She can even evangelize. She can encourage and admonish her brothers and sisters in the Lord. But she is not permitted to hold pastoral teaching authority over men.
It's perhaps to no one's surprise that Evans thinks a man can be a woman. Not all theological egalitarians (who believe the Bible permits women to be pastors) also believe men can be women, but it's often a revealing issue. Unless Evans repents, her theology remains fatally poisonous. Rachel Held Evans can teach. And she teaches falsely.
"If you are interested in going to Seminary, please do not give your time or your money to an institution that does not hire female faculty. For the love of God, we do not need any more people serving in the church who have only been taught by men." Melissa Moore, TX
Melissa is Beth Moore's daughter. She works for Beth's ministry, Living Proof Ministries, and has taught through the ministry. Is this Beth Moore's position, that men must be formally taught by women in order to be properly equipped for the pastorate? Does she believe no one should fund or attend a seminary that teaches otherwise? Among my concerns here, LPM continues to demonstrate they are outside the bounds of Christian orthodoxy.
Lest anyone be asking themselves, "Wait, can women attend seminary?" let me clarify with a resounding, "Yes!" This discussion is not about whether a woman can attend a seminary. She can. But she shouldn't be a teacher there. Theological seminaries are beneficial institutions of higher learning for both men and women. I compiled a short list of seminaries I recommend here.
"I will never stop arguing for the equality of women within the church. How sad it must be to search for God in a book and ignore the wisdom of a living reflection of God, created because it was not good for man to be alone." Colin, CO
No person has more wisdom about God than the Bible has, which is God's word.
"Gabe, I'm curious why you think God used women as the first people to share the gospel news of Jesus' resurrection if God doesn't want women preaching." Morgan, NY
I responded to that argument here. Again, no one is saying that women cannot share the gospel. [Edit: Watch a beautiful example of a woman publicly sharing the gospel here, cued to the spot.] They are not permitted to serve in the formal capacity of overseer, shepherding the flock of God, His church, by His word.
Unfortunately, God's word seems not to matter much to Morgan. He later tweeted, "Thinking this morning about how the arguments for the abolition of slavery in this country went beyond the Bible, and our arguments for LGBTQIA inclusion and egalitarianism should, too." I looked at Morgan's profile and he's currently battling cancer. Morgan, if you don't repent, this false teaching that you've embraced will do far more damage to your soul and the souls of others than cancer is doing to your body. I have prayed for you.
"You're misinterpreting a dodgy passage to justify your misogyny. So-called Christians did that for centuries with slavery and anti-Semitism, too. Pathetic." Anonymous
Dodgy passage? There are literally no examples of women pastors in the Bible. The subject of women in leadership is addressed in more places than 1 Timothy 2:11-12 and 1 Corinthians 14:34-35. Those are just the most hot-button passages. Isaiah 3:12 says that one of the signs God is judging a nation is when women are ruling over men.
We read in 1 Timothy 1:10 that those who enslave others are behaving contrary to the sound teaching of the word of God. So those who once used the Bible to justify enslaving people and those who use the Bible to justify women pastors are both abusing Scripture.
"So you are okay with subjgating women but not having slaves. Got it. Just misogyny not racism. You're a peach." Leigh, TX
A woman sitting in church under the pastor's teaching is no more being oppressed than a man sitting in church under the pastor's teaching. Are men who aren't pastors being subjugated? Then neither are women who aren't pastors.
"Any time you think you are above others and that they don’t have the same rights and privileges as you simply because they were born female or black or with red hair or whatever—you are treating them as less-than. I don’t believe that’s what Jesus would do." Leigh, TX
"Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness." This is a great privilege. It is not oppression. A woman, especially a wife (Ephesians 5:22-24), is a picture of how the whole church is to submit to Christ. If you find no joy in this, you're saying to God, "I hate your way."
"Aw—thanks for mansplaining the Bible to me. Since I’m just a dumb girl, I couldn’t possibly read it for myself and understand. Dude—I’m a deacon and a Sunday school teacher and a graduate of Baylor. Enjoy your patriarchal church. I’ll stay at mine that values me and all people." Leigh, TX
This may come as a shock to you, but we have great women in our church who serve, teach, understand the Bible, are college graduates, some with advanced degrees, and are greatly valued as much as men. My wife has completed a higher degree of education than I have. She served on a school board before we were married, and I've boasted about that. I'm proud of her. This idea that complementarians don't value women shows your prejudice, not mine.
"Literally every Christian females worst nightmare. [WWUTT's] comments are literally everything I’m working to bring down. Your interpretation of Scripture is harmful and inaccurate and you use God’s Word to oppress women simply because of our gender -- which is not God’s idea." Sierra, PA
When I asked her to clarify how this was a Christian woman's worst nightmare, she refused to engage and insisted I was the one unwilling to reason. If teaching what the Bible says, that women are not to be pastors and seminary professors, is "literally every Christian female's worst nightmare," does she mean to suggest my wife and daughters are living in a perpetual hell? And I'm the unreasonable one?
I have pastored hundreds of men and women. I have never heard -- not one time -- a single complaint from any woman in my church that she's living a real-life nightmare because she's not being invited up to the pulpit to preach. "That's because you're oppressing her! She's afraid of speaking out!" my critics might say (I know this because I've heard them say it). Pardon me for being blunt, but you're being an idiot (Proverbs 12:1).
Do you know what I regularly hear is a Christian woman's worst nightmare? That her husband is not a Christian, that her children are not Christians, or that her parents aren't Christians, and they might die in their sin and go to hell. Then we pray and cry together. My eyes filled with tears just typing that sentence.
In the words of Paul, "Wake up from your drunken stupor, as is right, and do not go on sinning. For some have no knowledge of God. I say this to your shame" (1 Corinthians 15:34).
"Gabe, it brings me no joy to tell you you're wrong and need to repent. But I will rejoice when you do. If you can't accept disagreement on this small point, you need to examine what you think the gospel actually is. Hint: it isn't having the 'right' ecclesiology." Brent, SC
I tweeted last week that this isn't an essential doctrinal issue, nor am I making it one. A person isn't saved to heaven or condemned to hell based on whether or not they think a woman can be a pastor. While it isn't an essential issue, like I said, it's certainly a very telling one. Does God's design and intention for men and women matter or not?
In the first chapter of the Bible, we read, "So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them" (Genesis 1:27). In the second chapter, we are given details into the creation of the first man and woman: Adam was formed first, then Eve as his helper (Genesis 2:18). Adam's description of her and his union with her becomes the first song sung in Scripture (Genesis 2:23). These issues are not just important. They're beautiful!
It is a beautiful thing to behold a man and the way God created him, and to behold a woman and the way God created her. He did not create them at the same time. He created them separate and for different purposes, but He redeems them in Christ as fellow heirs of the same reward (1 Peter 3:7). To see a man or a woman as anything other than what God made them to be is to see them as less than what God made them to be.
These issues do not exist in a vacuum. We're having this debate about God's role for men and women in ministry in the midst of a culture that thinks it's criminal to say a man is mentally ill if he desires to mutilate his genitals in order to be a woman. Are we as Christians going to stand on the side of God and His word and what He has said about whom He has created in His image, or aren't we? Are we going to follow His word or the word of the culture?
Joshua said, "Now therefore fear the Lord and serve Him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. And if if is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord" (Joshua 24:14-15).
As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. As the man of my house, it's my responsibility to make that decision for my wife and for my children, and lead them according to His ways. That's in Ephesians 5:25-27 and 6:4. I can confidently conclude this blog saying, "Thus saith the Lord."