By WILLIAM P HEATH
Published by Things to Come Mission, Inc. Philippines
Copyrighted by William P Heath 1985 – All rights reserved
We live in a day when “women’s rights,” in the United States especially, is an important and emotionally charged issue. It seems the “Women’s Lib” movement has influenced the thinking of nearly everyone. The rebellion against what is seen as a man oriented and male dominated society is so extreme that some would remove the letters m-a-n from the word “woman” if they could.
With this feminist campaign marching around us it is difficult to get our eyes off the contemporary scene and focus attentively on the word of God as our supreme source of direction. But this we must do.
FALSE ISSUES BECLOUD THE TOPIC
First, the false idea that by literally following Scripture women are placed in a position of inferiority to men has gained some acceptance.
Difference in function does not mean greater or lesser importance or honor. Equality does not demand uniformity! Women are neither inferior nor superior to men because they are the ones to bear children. Paul points this our in First Corinthians 11:11, 12 (NASB), “... in the Lord neither is woman independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as the woman originates from the man, so also the man has his birth through the woman; and all things originate from God.” Yet, in this same context, Paul is arguing for the headship of the man.
If difference in ministry means one is inferior to another, then Paul’s figure of the human body as picturing the Body of Christ is meaningless. Paul’s very point in First Corinthians 12:12 – 27 is that, while there is great diversity of function, there is no lack of honor to any member. The member which seems weak is necessary (v. 22) and the one which seems less honorable receives a “more abundant” honor of its own for its particular place in the body (vs. 23, 24).
Unity is sustained, not by giving every member the same task, but by each recognizing the importance and honor of the function of the others. Division comes when one member seeks to take over the God-given responsibilities of another.
In verse 16 of First Corinthians 12 the ear is saying, “If I am not an eye, I am not important, I am not a part of the body.” In verse 21 the eye is saying, “I can do what no other part of this body can do. The hand is different—therefore it is inferior. I don’t need the hand.”
The unity and normal healthy operation of the body does not depend on uniformity of function, but rather upon acceptance of its diversity. It is not a healthier situation when the hand takes over the task of the eye, and a man reads by feeling raised dots on a page – it indicates the man is blind!
Nevertheless Don Williams maintains, “The barring of women from the pulpit, the seminary lecture hall, and the pastor’s office, only weakens the church, denying the full use of the spiritual gifts of half of its members. This must stop!”1 He goes on to say, “The strength, growth, and life of the church in our generation is dependent upon our openness to welcome women fully into Christian ministry.”2
It seems too bad Paul, writing about our generation and our weaknesses (in Second Timothy) did not realize the great cure-all for our spiritual ills is the ordination of women preachers!
Secondly, presenting women’s ministry on an “all or nothing” basis obscures the issue.
In his conclusion, Williams asks, “What then does Paul teach about the role of women in the church? Is God’s work in the world a ‘male show’? Do women tag along behind while men lead, speak, and battle for the faith? Are women to find their identity in dishes and diapers?”3
The real point is not whether or not women shall minister, but how and where they shall minister. Williams is really saying, in effect, “If the hand cannot see, it is not a functioning part of the body. If we do not allow the hand to do half of the seeing, we are despising the hand.”
It seems both men and women underestimate the extent and importance of the true ministry of women.
The men fail to fully utilize and appreciate the importance of their contribution to the growth of the Body. Howard Hendricks, a professor at Dallas Theological Seminary and author of several books on subjects related to our theme, says, “It is moronic for elders not to review with respect and appreciation the contribution offered by women who are under their leadership. We’re not consulting enough with women to get their input before we make decisions.” He goes on to say, “But ultimately, the authority of the church has to rest with the elders. They may not always be right, but they are responsible.”4
The women, failing to busy themselves with their true responsibilities, fight for a share in authorities delegated to men. They also fail to see the high value of what they have been called to do for the Lord.
THE REAL ISSUE
Our vital concern must be “What saith the Scripture?” Whether our views are popular, with women or men, matters little. We must “speak the truth in love,” but truth it must be! The principles we follow must rest firmly upon the correctly interpreted word of God.
Charles Ryrie has made a scholarly appraisal of women in various cultures of biblical times and their role in the early church. This is valuable background. It demonstrates the “inferior” place occupied by women in the early church and in some churches today is vastly superior to that of women in earlier cultures, including Judaism.
Ryrie closes his book with a question and an answer based on the Scriptures. “What is the ideal of woman? What could we call the complete development and full blossoming of woman’s life? ... Those who share this author’s view of inspiration will answer it by saying that in the inspired writings we have the mind of God concerning the full development of women. And this will mean subordination and honor in the home, silence and helpfulness in the church, according to the teaching and pattern of the New Testament. At least this ought to be the answer of all who believe in the divine inspiration and authority of the Scriptures, for if these teachings concerning women are not authoritative, then what teachings in the New Testament are?”5
AREAS OF MINISTRY OPEN TO WOMEN
For too long attention has been centered on preaching, pastoring, and the holding of church offices when women’s ministry is under discussion. Howard Hendricks comments, “Unfortunately, we often equate ministry with the church only. Most lay men and women think of the church as their ministry, and what they do during the week as a sort of penalty. They can hardly wait to get to church—to their ministry. But that’s not primarily where Christians—men or women—have ministry. That’s where they are equipped for ministry.”6
The question of what ministries may or may not be denied to women should be secondary to a study of those that are readily available to them.
Their ministry in the home
It seems significant that in present day USA, the very place where domestic responsibility is most looked down upon and put into contrast with a “ministry,” there is a tragic breakdown in the home. Divorce rates are soaring today even in Christian households. Child abuse, teen-age drug addiction and crime, and other ills have invaded Christian families to an alarming degree. One wonders how much difference there would be if believing wives would seriously take their work in the home as a ministry for the Lord!
When Solomon described the virtuous woman who excelled all others, he did not speak of Miriam leading the host of Israel in their praises (Ex. 15:20, 21) and seeking “equality” with Moses (Num. 12:1, 2). Nor did he mention Deborah acting as mother to a whole nation (judges 5:7) and advising and encouraging its leaders. Important as these women were he wrote, instead, of an unnamed wife and mother busy in her home (Prov. 31:10 – 31).
Time does not hang heavy on her hands. She finds a very full and challenging life without wishing she were a man and trying to do a man’s work. She relieves her husband of concerns about household affairs so he is free to work for the support of the family and can take a place of leadership (“sitting in the gate” – Prov. 31:23) in his city (v. 11). She is loyal to him, comforting and encouraging him (v. 12).7 She cares for her family and extends her loving concern to the poor around her (vs. 20, 21). Best of all “She opens her mouth with skillful and godly wisdom, and in her tongue is the law of kindness—giving counsel and instruction” (v. 26 – Amplified Bible). She is, as Paul says wives today should be, “diligent at home” (Titus 2:5 – Scofield Bible margin). “She looks well to how things go in her household, and the bread of idleness (gossip, discontent and self-pity) she will not eat” (v. 27 –Amplified Bible). She is not sitting in the gate alongside the men of the city, but those men who do sit there praise her! (v. 31).
The first responsibility of a wife, after her own relationship to Christ, is to her husband. There is to be a submission of husband and wife to one another (Eph. 5:21) based on mutual respect as fellow members of the Body of Christ (where there is neither male nor female – Gal. 3:28). However, there is a subjection of the wife to her husband that is in addition to this mutual submission (Eph. 5:22). It is based on the headship of the husband, and compared to that submission we are to render to Christ as the Head of the Body.
This is not merely a “subjection to the love [agape] given to them by their husbands.”8 If this were so, there would be no subjection until the husband first gave his wife that love, and it would last only as long as the love continued to be demonstrated. It is not a case of the wife saying, “I will submit to you IF you first love me, and only when you act in love toward me.” This conditional compliance would destroy the relationship. If the husband is waiting for the wife to defer to his headship so he can love her, and she is waiting for his love, nothing will happen.
That this submission it to be rendered even if the husband fails to measure up to the scriptural standard is made very clear in First Peter 3:1. “Ye wives be in subjection to your own husbands that, if any obey not the word, they also may, without the word, be won by the behavior of the wives.” In this situation a woman, married to an unsaved man, is told to be in subjection to her husband. He has heard the word of God, probably from his wife, but is disobedient to it. How can she win this stubborn and unbelieving husband? By leaving her place of subjection and continually “preaching” to him? No, he has already heard the word and rejected it. Perhaps he may be won “without a word” (from the wife) by her behavior. Her loving submission to him in the name of the Lord may soften his heart and lead to his conversion. The Amplified Bible translates the last part of this verse in First Peter, “- they may be won over, not by discussion ... but by the (godly) lives of their wives.”
Submission is not the only responsibility of the wife to her husband. She is also to love him. In Titus 2:4 the older women are told to teach the younger ones to love their husbands (with what Kenneth S., Wuest calls, “the love of emotion”). Cold, calculated, legalistic submission, offered only grudgingly in obedience to a command, can create a “cold war” in a home. But what a warm and blessed relationship can develop between a man and wife when her submission springs joyously from a tender and selfless affection for the man God has given her!
Few women fully realize how powerful an influence they have over their husbands, for good or evil. As Paul says in First Corinthians 7:33, “He that is married careth for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife.”
An outstanding example of this wifely influence for evil is found in First Kings 21:25. “But there was none like unto Ahab, which did sell himself to work wickedness in the sight of the Lord, whom Jezebel his wife stirred up.”
Esther, on the other hand, influenced her husband for good, and was instrumental in saving her entire nation from extinction (though the leadership in carrying out the rescue was given to a man—Mordecai).
A godly man greatly needs a godly wife to encourage him, challenge him to do his best, believe in him, comfort him when he fails, listen to his problems, share in his dreams, stand up for him before others and, above all, pray for him. I know personally of the efficacy of a woman’s prayers. I would never have become a missionary to the Philippines if it were not for the loving encouragement and the faithful intercession of my wife. She never preached a sermon, but through her spiritual support in the home every sermon I preach is part of her ministry.
A woman’s influence, however, is not authority. Consider John 2:3 – 5 and First Kings 2:13 – 23 with this thought in mind.
Next to her responsibility toward her husband comes the equally challenging care for her children. Does she expect her children to be believers when they grow up? Then she must win them to Christ today. What the children are today, the world (and the church) will be tomorrow.
The character her offspring will express through the rest of their lives is largely formed during the first four or five years of their childhood! What they will basically be as adults depends not primarily on the schools (not even the Sunday Schools), or other influences encountered later on, but upon their training in the home.
Hannah had Samuel under her influence for only the first three or four years of his life at most. However she had molded his character so effectively that he was able to be under the daily influence of Eli (who had utterly failed to raise his own sons for the glory of God) and come forth untainted with Eli’s sins.
Behind the wonderful qualities of Timothy lay the home ministry of a godly mother and grandmother. There is no record that either one of them ever preached a sermon or even held a church office, but they taught Timothy the word of God. (2 Tim. 1:5; 3:15)
Years ago John and Charles Wesley were used to head up a mighty work for God. Their effectiveness as men began under the training of their mother, Susannah Wesley, when they were but children. She “spent one hour each day praying for her seventeen children. In addition, she took each child aside for a full hour each week to discuss spiritual matters. No wonder two of her sons, Charles and John, were used of God to bring blessing to all of England and much of America.”9
If a woman fails in her home responsibilities, no success in some other Christian activity can compensate for it!
Their ministry in the community
Women can be very effective in community evangelism. It seems women, equally with men, are expected to take their places as witnesses and ambassadors for Christ (2 Cor. 5:18 – 20). We are all co-laborers (2 Cor. 6:1), all a part of the team. There are differences at times in where and how we serve, but not in why or Whom we serve, and no difference in our message.
— Ministry to adults
Woman can have at least a limited testimony to men.
The woman at the well of Samaria “saith to the men, ‘Come see a man who told me all things that ever I did. Is not this the Christ?’” (John 4:29). While it is usually not good for women to witness to men (or visa versa) because of the possibility of romantic entanglements, she had no such fear. She was already entangled. They were the ones who had shared in her sin. Now she wants them to share in her salvation. She had actually been encouraged to do this very thing when Christ said to her, “Go, call thy husband” (John 4:16). Many of these men believed (John 4:39).
A woman was healed when she touched the hem of Christ’s garment (Luke 8:43 – 48). He urged her to come forward and identify herself. In response to His invitation “She declared unto Him before all the people [including the men] for what cause she had touched Him” (v. 47). She was not rebuked for this public testimony.
Women were the first to herald the resurrection, though they were not believed (Luke 24:10, 11, 22, 13). They were told to bear this news to the eleven men Christ had chosen as His apostles (Matt. 28:7).
In our culture women have contact with men in business, schools, recreation and many other areas of daily living. In all of these contacts they can be witnesses by their daily godly lives, and also (being careful to avoid romantic entanglements) by word. The women, as well as the men, should be ready to give an answer to every man that asketh them a reason of the hope that is in them (1 Pet. 3:15).
Women are completely free to witness to other women. Usually they can do it more effectively than the men.
Their testimony to neighboring women can take many forms, from a “redemptive friendship” (a real friendship established with the purpose of witnessing) to formal women’s Bible classes. A heart burdened for the salvation of other women will, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, find many ways to have a very effective and fruitful ministry.
— Witnessing to young people and children
To agree that a woman can and should minister to her own young people and children, and then forbid her to extend this ministry to their friends, is hardly sensible, and seems to have no scriptural foundations. It would mean subjecting her children to the heathen influences of their companions and their mothers with no effort to offset it by her own testimony. This outreach should begin by exposing any youth visiting her home to all the Christian principles there, and can be followed up with personal testimony, Bible classes, Bible clubs, released time Bible classes in the schools, etc. Many entire families have been reached for Christ through a child or teen-ager that had been won to Christ in such a way.
A woman’s ministry to those around her is not restricted to “giving them the gospel,” though this is always in view.
Her own personal life is under constant observation by those around her. Her kindness, gentleness, forgiving spirit, and other indications of true godliness, will create a desire in those who behold to know the secret of her life. It will open the hearts of many to want to hear of Christ and his saving grace.
She can be a source of comfort, encouragement, and advice to other women. At times she can even help them in their physical needs. She can rejoice with them that rejoice and weep with them that weep (Rom. 12:15). She can do good unto all men, specially them who are of the household of faith (Gal. 6:10). She can lodge strangers, relieve the afflicted and follow diligently every good work (1 Tim. 5:10). If she is an older woman she can continue in supplications and prayers night and day (1 Tim. 5:5). If she is a young wife she can rule her own home (not her husband or the church — 1 Tim. 5:14). She can, like the servants addressed in Titus 2:10, “adorn the doctrine of God, our Savior, in all things.”
A woman’s godly influence may reach out far beyond her own locality. Deborah is an outstanding Old Testament example of this. It has been said, “The hand that rocks the cradle rocks the world.” Abraham Lincoln, perhaps the greatest president the United States has ever had, said, “All that I am or ever hope to be I owe to my sainted mother.” Lincoln’s mother was probably little known outside her own small town during her lifetime. She may not have been president of anything, but she trained the man who became President of the United States, and who saved his country from a tragic division and put an end to the evil of slavery in his land. Godly women may not be permitted to preach, pastor churches, and take high offices, but they can mightily influence the men who do
— Women’s ministry in the church
There are many parts of the work in the local assembly that may be carried on by godly women. The Sunday School (with the possible exception of the adult class), the youth work, the women’s meetings, and the musical ministry are all open to female leadership and participation.
When we were in the Philippines in the 1980s many of the Sunday Schools were very weak indeed. Untrained teachers sometimes did little more than teach the students a song of two (or review the ones they already knew) and tell a simple Bible story with a very short “memory verse” that they could repeat, phrase by phrase, after the teacher. Children ran around unsupervised and untaught during the church service. There was little for them through the week. No released time classes, boy’s or girl’s clubs, and often not even a vacation Bible school. Happily, much has been done there in the years since to alleviate this problem.
If the “Bible Women” and other spiritual women in the church would do what desperately needs to be done in this area, they would have little, if any, time to be longing for the ministries belonging to the men. Conducting teacher-training classes, producing visual aid materials, organizing the Sunday School’s curriculum and monitoring its operation and effectiveness, are time consuming, but very important activities too often neglected.
The Sunday School is not only a place where believers can be taught the word of God, but also the most fruitful field for evangelism. Over a period of time godly female leadership in the Sunday School might easily produce more conversions than the evangelistic outreach of the men.
In many churches there is the need for a well-organized spiritual work among women. One of the most specific ministries mentioned for the older women is to teach the younger ones (Titus 2:3 – 5). Men could not teach many of the things they are called upon to teach. Surely it is not intended that the good things these older mothers and grandmothers are to teach are limited to those items specifically mentioned in this passage. If Eunice and Lois taught a young boy the Scriptures, and were commended for it, surely they would be expected to teach the word of God to the young women and girls also (2 Tim. 1:5; 3:15). How much better is this than for these senior citizens to be busy giving out “profane and old wive’s fables” (1 Tim. 4:7) or helping Satan in his work of accusing the brethren (Titus 2:310 and Rev. 12:10). As the word of Christ dwells in either the elder or younger women, they will surely be teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom as well as singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with grace in their hearts to the Lord (Col. 3:16). This is the very spiritual background which makes it possible for the wives to gladly submit to their own husbands as is fitting in the Lord (Col. 3:18).
There are many possibilities in this area of opportunity. Women’s prayer meetings (Acts 16:13), gatherings to do things of a practical nature for the needy (Acts 9:36,39), sharing with one another in times of crisis or blessing, as Mary and Elizabeth did (Luke 1:39 - 56), are among them. They can also provide an inspiration for other women to follow, as Mary of Bethany did, six days before the Passover (John 12:1, 3), for another unnamed woman in Bethany who followed her example four days later (Mark 14:1, 3). These are only a beginning of the possibilities.
Some years ago a simple women’s sing, with a short Bible lesson, was held each week in one barrio (village) in the Philippines. It brought about a real turning to the Lord on the part of the women, and through the women several husbands and sons were reached. Enrolling others in Bible correspondence courses, encouraging them to memorize Scripture and to witness, teaching them how to budget their limited funds and how to train their children, simply giving them a loving and sympathetic ear when they are despondent; all these, too, are a rich ministry.
The work that the ladies can do among young people and children is better recognized than other ministries. It is a very vital task begging to be done. Men should share in this ministry also, and back up strongly the efforts of their wives and daughters.
Music can be a wonderful ministry in no way limited to men. Miriam led the women as they sang to the men in Exodus 15:20 and 21. Deborah and Barak sang a “duet” (probably written by Deborah) in Judges five (see verses one and seven).
Permit me a few observations on this important ministry.
— Music should not be merely entertainment. In Ezekiel 33:31 and 32 God compared Ezekiel’s preaching to a song that entertains but does not teach. With him it was not his preaching, but the unbelief of the listeners that was the problem. With our music, sadly, the songs themselves are sometimes to blame. The most important thing about a song is not the beauty or rhythm of the music, enjoyable as that is, but the message in the words. There should be a verbal message, and it should be an important and scriptural one.
Some of our popular choruses are either very shallow or even unscriptural in their lyrics. There are, of course, some “fun songs” that are adapted to provide a lively atmosphere in youth meetings, but should they not be held to a minimum and lead into serious and spiritual songs later?
In a past generation it was almost as much the songs of Charles Wesley as the preaching of his brother, John, that swept the whole of England into a great revival. It was nearly as much the singing of Ira D. Sankey, and the other music used in Dwight L. Moody’s meetings, as his sermons that moved another entire generation for the Lord. Would the words of our songs and choruses help bring people in tears to the Savior, lead them in genuine worship, and send them in missionary zeal to the ends of the earth? We should evaluate our music with this question in mind.
The musical part of a service should be as well planned as the sermon. It is no better to have a song leader looking through the book for a song as he or she begins the service than to have the preacher choose his message on the way up to the pulpit.
Choruses are a delight when they have a good message, but we should not neglect the great hymns, old or new, even in our youth work and children’s meetings. The deeply scriptural songs learned early by our children and youth could be a great source of strength in the dark days ahead.
There is a very significant place for women in the missionary outreach of the church. Going forth both as wives and single ladies, they have accomplished so much that no history of modern missions could be complete without a record of their faith, courage, zeal, and ability. We can only make a few observations here on such a vast subject.
At times women have been the very first ones to bring the gospel to a people. They often are engaged in pioneer work with all of its dangers and responsibilities.
Some thirty-five or forty years ago, Lorri Anderson and Doris Cox went into the jungles of Peru to translate the Bible into the language of the Shapras, a savage tribe of headhunters. Their testimony led to the conversion of the tribal chief, Tariri, and most of his tribe. Tariri himself later became a missionary to other tribes in his area. Looking back later, Tariri said, “I hated the white man and stood ready to kill any who might come to my domain.”11 But because these two missionaries were women the Shapras tolerated them, thinking them harmless. The tribe thought they were only looking for husbands. Women did there what, humanly speaking, only women could have done.
Sometimes, sadly, women went into these places only because there were no men available and willing to go. In considering ways in which women may have done work meant for men, we men should not be too self-righteous. We are largely responsible, for we have often defaulted from our responsibilities, leaving our tasks to women. Someone has jokingly suggested there should be so many men offering themselves for missionary work that the word could be changed from MISSionary to MISTERary. In many fields, however, the shortage of men is no joke.
Women are found in every phase of missionary work. Most of their activities pose no problem. They are engaged in personal testimony, women’s and children’s work, Bible translation and literacy classes, to name but a few examples.
They also play a very necessary support role for the men of missions. They manage a home for their husbands, if they are married, teach missionaries’ children, do typing and book keeping, and handle a host of other details that go along with the work of the Lord in foreign lands.
There were women in the New Testament who engaged in a supporting ministry for Christ. They “followed Him, and ministered unto Him” (Mark 15:41). “Certain women, who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities ... ministered unto Him of their substance” (Luke 8:2, 3).
Paul was also supported in his ministry by a number of godly women, including Lydia, Phoebe, and even Euodia and Syntyche. There is no record any of them preached or even taught a Bible class. They labored with Paul, but did not minister like him.
Those at home also serve in missions. How many Women’s Missionary Societies have stood behind the effort in prayer, giving, and loving care for the missionaries both on the field and on furlough.