Here at ChristChurch, we hold strongly to the Biblical teaching that, as a church, we are the body of God’s people, each with differing gifts. And we are committed to encouraging one another to grow in their gifting as each person plays their part in building God’s kingdom here in Hailsham and beyond.
When it comes to preaching on a Sunday morning, the majority is done by the Elders, with the addition of a number of others in the church, who have been recognised as having (or growing in) a gift for unpacking and explaining God’s word. This also includes a number of women. Why is this, when verses such as 1 Tim 2:12 seem to prohibit women from teaching?
Firstly, it is important to say, that we hold the view that the responsibility for teaching is always carried by the Elders of the church. This means that anyone who speaks publicly at ChristChurch, (whether male or female) does so under the authority of scripture itself and in line with the direction of the elders. This is the main reason why we support women preaching on a Sunday morning, as they are not doing so with authority over men, but under the authority of the elders and therefore not in opposition to Paul’s teaching. This ties in with our view on Male Eldership. (For more on this, I would encourage you to read Anna’s blog.)
Furthermore, there are a number of verses in Scripture that encourage all believers to teach and/or speak publicly in different ways according to their gifting and as the Spirit leads.
For example, to the Colossians, Paul wrote:
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. Colossians 3:16
And to the church in Corinth, Paul taught:
When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. 1 Corinthians 14:26
Both these verses promote a variety of contributions within a church gathering, for the benefit of others and can be brought by both men and women. No restriction. Instead, Paul emphasises the importance of gifting, and using the gifts God has given us as part of the body of Christ.
Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. Romans 12:6-8
In addition to the more public contributions on Sunday mornings, there are many other ways that teaching is done across the church. At ChristChurch, we value the amazing ways that so many women in the church teach others, such as leading Bible studies or Life Groups, teaching our children and young people, and teaching through Aspire, our women’s ministry.
In Acts 18, we can read about a man named Apollos who spoke boldly in Ephesus about the Lord. But we also read how Priscilla and Aquilla explained, or taught, the way of God more accurately to Apollos. This event in scripture is an example of a woman teaching a man.
So, returning to the verse in 1 Timothy 2, I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man,” what exactly is this “teaching” that Paul does not permit a woman to do?
Firstly, it’s important to recognise that we can easily argue over words when we might be referring to different things. For example, “teaching” does not necessarily mean the same thing as “preaching” or “delivering a sermon”, even though we often use them interchangeably nowadays. It is not unusual to refer to a church’s “strong teaching” and actually mean their preaching. But on the other hand, I’m sure we can think of examples where someone has taught us a truth about scripture, without it being a sermon! Also, we can share the gospel or explain a passage of scripture outside of what we might think of as a preach.
Personally, I have found John Dickson’s book, Hearing Her Voice, extremely helpful. Dickson explains that the term “teaching” (Greek: didaskein) in 1 Timothy 2:12 is referring only to very specific kind of teaching. He defines it as, “preserving and laying down the traditions handed on by the apostles” [i] and not “as a catch-all term” [ii] referring to any type of biblical talk that happens within a church community.
In other words, this teaching that Paul does not permit for a woman, but is reserved for the elders, is the guarding of correct doctrine and protecting the church from false teaching. This teaching does not mean preaching, and therefore women are not forbidden to deliver a sermon to the whole church.
Interestingly, Andy Johnston (who formally led ChristChurch, Hailsham and now leads KCC in Southampton and the Catalyst Hub of churches in the South East) also found Dickson’s book persuasive in his own views on allowing women to preach.[iii]
At ChristChurch, guarding correct teaching begins with ensuring all teaching materials or resources align with scripture, setting out the church’s Statement of Faith,[iv] and regularly re-enforcing the true gospel – that a person can only be saved through faith in Christ. It is also done practically, through the support given to those who are preaching on Sunday mornings, who themselves have demonstrated a good understanding of scripture. If the situation were to arise, an Elder would also be responsible for addressing and correcting anything shared publicly, which is counter to Scripture.
In summary, we believe it is right to encourage gifted women (as well as gifted men) to preach on a Sunday morning to the whole church, while under the authority of the Elders, whom themselves are under the authority of scripture and responsible before God for the church staying faithful to Biblical teaching.
[i] Dickson, J. Hearing Her Voice (Michigan, Zondervan, 2014), p12
[ii] Dickson, J. Hearing Her Voice (Michigan, Zondervan, 2014), p19