Thursday, December 19, 2013

Are Women Teachers Necessary in the Church?


Mrs. Jen Wilkin posted this article over at the TGC website.  It is now several months old, but I thought I would interact with it because it is a pressing issue in the American church and because TGC is large forum for conservative evangelicals. Just to be clear, in this post I am not saying women shouldn't teach publicly.  I am not against women teaching women in Bible studies or women speaking to women at conferences, etc. But Mrs. Jen Wilkin's reasoning is fuzzy at best and bad at worst and therefore she overreaches. 

The theme of the article is that women teachers are absolutely necessary to the well being of the church. Therefore pastors should encourage and promote women teachers. She is arguing that for women to be properly ministered to a public teaching ministry by women to women is "absolutely needful." It is important to keep this in mind. She is not saying women teachers are helpful and can be beneficial in certain situations. She is arguing for the necessity of a full women's ministry of some kind that supplements the ministry of the Word from the pulpit.

There are several problems with the article that I wanted to address.

First, she never defines what she means by "women teachers." Does she mean women speaking at conferences? Does she mean women teaching other women one on one? Does she mean women Bible studies or Sunday school? Does she mean all of these? None of these? Her failure to define what she means by teacher leaves her readers in the dark. As she says, "There is little disagreement among Christians that women can and should teach women." The debate is not about whether women should teach women, but in what context and with what level of authority? She means women opening up the Bible in a public (non-worship) setting in front of other women. But that is never clearly stated. It would have helped if she had defined her terms. 

Second, she moves from women teaching women to women having the "gift of teaching." Here is the whole paragraph:
There is little disagreement among Christians that women can and should teach women. But if the gift of teaching has been given to women, how might a pastor properly value, cultivate, and employ the gifting of women teachers?
Notice the assumption that slipped in between the first sentence and the second sentence. Because women should teach women then women who teach also have the gift of teaching.  Again, we have the problem of definition. What does she mean by gift? Does she mean a spiritual gift along the lines of Romans 12 or I Corinthians 12? Or does she simply mean that some women are better at teaching than others? From this comment it appears that she has at least Ephesians 4:11 in the back of her mind, which means she has the spiritual gift of teaching in mind. Ephesians 4:11 is referring to distinct offices in the church. Is she saying that women should be ordained as teachers? I don't think so. But she is unclear again.

Furthermore, the call by God to do a certain task does not automatically imply spiritual gifting in that area. All Christians teach in some way. Mothers teach children. Fathers teach children. Older men teach younger men. Older women teach younger women. Do all of those who teach automatically have the gift teaching? There are no examples in the NT of women being given the spiritual gift of teaching. We have one command for women to teach other women (Titus 2:4-5), but that does not assume the gift of teaching anymore than the call to show mercy assumes the gift of mercy.  

Women being gifted to teach lays the foundation for her next section. The "You Need Her" section begins with assuming that God has gifted certain women to teach in the church. Here is her quote:
You may be the best preacher on the planet, but God wouldn't have gifted women to teach unless their teaching were absolutely necessary to the spiritual well-being of the women in your church. (emphasis mine)
So here is the logic:
Women are called by God to teach other women publicly.
Therefore women have the gift of teaching.

God would not have gifted women to teach if he did not want them teaching publicly.
Therefore pastors should actively promote women teaching other women in public.

Third, she assumes throughout the "You Need Her" section that a woman opening up God's Word publicly in front of other women is a necessary ingredient for women to learn and grow in the church. This position is hard to defend from the Bible, but the attitude it displays is common among American Christians in general. We assume that the no one can speak to us with true authority unless they have walked in our shoes. The Bible never indicates that public teaching by women is necessary to supplement the public ministry of the Word to women by men. I am not saying women teaching other women publicly is bad, but her pitch is that it is necessary and that pastors should make sure they actively promote women teaching. 

I want to walk through her "You Need Her" section point by point to illustrate the weakness of these arguments. 

First, she states that women need to see other women opening up the Bible so they will take seriously their own abilities to open up the Bible. This is an odd argument. Why would this be the case? Does an African American need to see another African American open up God's Word so that they know they are capable of opening God's Word? Does a thirteen year old boy need another thirteen year old boy to open up God's Word so he can know that he is capable? Where is this taught in the Scriptures? 

Second, she states that women bring a perspective that men cannot bring. There is some truth to this. But that has no bearing on whether or not women teachers are necessary.  Of course, women see the world differently. A truth which men should grateful for. But that does not lead to the necessity of women teaching publicly. Again, where is it taught in the Scriptures that the public ministry of the Word must include everyone's perspective? This is an odd argument, which leads to many of the same questions I have about her first point. Do we need a 70 year old man to preach to the elderly so the perspective of the elderly is heard? 

Third, she says that a woman can bring an authority to other women that a man cannot. This is the weakest of the four mentioned. The argument is that only women can properly speak to the sins of women and get away with it.  However, the Bible never indicates that women are somehow uniquely qualified to minister the word to women publicly. The public preaching of God's Word is adequate to address all the sins in the congregation, including those of women. The reason is simple: there are not different kinds of sins. Sins, such as pride, lust, anger, bitterness, etc. bear different fruit in the lives of men and women, but they all come from the same root. The Scriptures say over and over again that these sins are addressed through the preached word. One could argue here that the need is not for women teachers, but for men who will preach to the sins of women with courage and grace. 

Fourth, she states that a woman teacher will see needs of women that a pastor will not. There is some truth here, but not any truth that would make women teachers necessary.  She immediately discounts the pastor's wife as a valuable tool by stating that women will present their "best selves to ministry wives, but not to female ministry leaders." Why would this be the case? But even if it is, that does not prove her point. Other people in the body of Christ will see the needs of others more clearly than the pastor. But this does not necessitate those other people being on staff and publicly ministering to the Word to people. Scripture does not teach that someone must have first hand account of all the personal needs in the body to be an effective teacher of the Word. 

Why did I write this blog post? Because Mrs. Wilkin's reasoning is the same reasoning used by egalitarians. Reading through the comments you can see that egalitarians liked this line of reasoning and wished she had taken it further. There is almost no Scriptural proof for what she is recommending. There are no examples in the New Testament of women teaching publicly. There are no passages where Paul exhorts Timothy or Titus to make sure women teach women publicly or to implement a women's ministry of any kind. Titus 2:4-5 could imply this, but certainly it is not clear. My point is not that women teaching women publicly is bad. But Mrs. Wilkin's overstates the case with her article. 

So what would I say about women teaching other women? They should do it. They can do it one on one, through Bible studies or in a public setting.  But a women's ministry with women teaching publicly is not an absolutely necessity for any church. Women have ministered to women for centuries without this and they can continue to do so in the coming centuries. Women have grown in Christ for centuries simply through through the preached word. So while women teachers might be beneficial in some scenarios they are not necessary. 

2 comments:

Tim Woody said...

Very Interesting, you raise some good points. I agree clarity is something much needed. What do you think she means by "public" and what is your usage of it? I would suppose that public teaching means something different than "Public" in the sense of corporate worship. If so then it feels a bit unnecessary to even say public. Unless you are of the camp that a woman teaching or expositing scripture should not be in a place to be heard by men but that is certainly a minority position.

From your criticisms she definitely seems to take it too far! Especially your third point, that is a very weak argument.

Also I think the word necessary brings with it matters of degrees. I could say that it is "necessary" to find discipleship and that the church should necessarily attempt to provide it. But mean it in a way less strong than saying it is necessary to believe in Jesus Christ for life.

I think you could say that women teaching other women is "necessary" in the weak sense that it is necessarily good to have woman who encourage one another constantly in the word but not mean it is a "necessary" function or extension of the church in a strong sense. Again, clarity and choice in words means everything!

Great post, I really enjoyed reading it on my lunch break!

Peter Jones said...

Thanks for the comment Tim. I know my own tendency to overreach instead of just stating the plain truth. The truth is we need women teaching women, but to say that pastors need to actively promote women teaching publicly is not sustainable biblically. I am glad you enjoyed the article. Love in Christ, Peter

Let the saints be joyful in glory, let them sing aloud on their beds, let the high praises of God be in their mouth, and a two edged sword in their hand, to execute vengeance on the nations, and punishments on the peoples; to bind the kings with chains and their nobles with fetters of iron. Psalm 149:5-8