Women in Church Leadership:
Questions of Culture, Context

By Neil Earle

For the past two years the WCG doctrinal team has been discussing with the field ministry the result of its studies into the question of the ordination of women. The church now believes that this is not something prohibited by the whole testimony of Scripture. Whenever this subject is addressed, however, there are two “problem texts” that have seemed to block this conclusion. They are, in essence:

The church has recently stated: “We conclude that Paul’s restrictions…were rooted in culture or based on specific circumstances in his churches and it is not necessary for the church to consider that restriction permanent.” See wcg.org/lit/church/ministry/#women

Why have we ruled this way in the light of the two seemingly clear and unambiguous texts? The answer gets back to what should now be familiar issues for WCG members – how to rightly read the Bible in the light of differences between the 21st century world and that of Paul’s time. PLUS there is the very important analogy with other doctrinal questions. Consider Jesus’ reply to the Pharisees on divorce in Matthew 19:1-10. Yet in 1974 the WCG saw that such Scriptures must be understood in light of explanations given elsewhere (1 Corinthians 7:15).

Other points need to be taken into account as well:

  1. The spiritual equality of men and women from Creation (Genesis 1:26-27).

  2. In O.T. Law men had certain advantages over women but Jesus noted that these rulings were often concessions to an imperfect society (Matthew 19:8). The O.T. itself shows this (Ezekiel 20:25). Even in comprising rules for an agricultural, slave-holding society, Yahweh’s exceptions regarding women were often striking indeed (Numbers 27:8).

  3. In fact, women such as Deborah (Judges 4:5), Huldah (2 Kings 22:14-20), and Esther held prominent roles in both civil and spiritual arenas.

  4. In Galatians 3:28 the N.T. confirms its radical advance on the spiritual status of women – as first witnesses to the resurrection and conveyors of spiritual truth (John 20:17), as teachers of men as well as other women (Acts 18:26; Titus 2:3), deaconesses (Romans 16:1) and prophetesses (Acts 21:8).

  5. Church history also shows women in prominent roles from earliest times – later with the Reformation some of the “free churches” (Quakers, Anabaptist sects, etc.) began to permit women preachers long before modern feminism began to emerge.

The church understands that not all will agree with this decision since leading theologians and established denominations have different views on this matter. For WCG it is now a matter of seeking the best leadership for the local situation – knowing that there are even situations, as in Ephesus, where it would be counterproductive to have women preachers. As Paul elsewhere stated, this is a permission not a requirement and one depending very much on practical congregational needs.