MUST WE FIRE MARY OR THROW AWAY THE BIBLE
By Vic Reasoner, D.Min
Mary Lambert, who taught Sunday School at Watertown’s First Baptist Church for 54 years, recently received a letter from church leaders telling her she can no longer teach at the church, because she’s a woman. The verse cited by the pastor was from 1 timothy 2:12, “but I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.”
As this story broke in the media, a false dilemma was created. On the one hand, those who believe the Bible is our final authority for faith and practice were portrayed as bigoted and unfair. The popular attitude expressed was that the Bible was written for another time, another culture, and another circumstance. Thus, the words of Paul have no authority for us today.
But before I accept this explanation I have a more basic question. The same Apostle Paul wrote, “for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” and then offered the good news that through faith we can be justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” Was that passage only for another time, another place, and another people? Frankly I do not have the time nor the desire to read a document that has no relevance for me.
How then do we decide which part of God’s Word is for us and which part is not for us? Those who are labeled “fundamentalists” tend to take God’s word at face value. Then there are those who reject the Bible totally and view it as a work of fiction. Liberalism, a third position, stands in judgment over God’s Word, extracting from it those statements which it accepts.
Are those of us who accept the Bible as God’s Word, and therefore are labeled as “fundamentalists,” then forced to fire all women Sunday School teachers? It would seem so if we merely read 1 Timothy 2:12 by itself. But before you fire Sister Mary from teaching the primary class, let’s make sure this is really what God intended.
Paul was inspired by the Holy Spirit as he claimed in 2 Timothy 3:16. Therefore, God was somehow writing the words of God and God is the source of all truth. Therefore, God’s Word cannot contradict itself and we must consider all relevant passages in formulation a correct position.
At issue is not male superiority or female inferiority. Both man and woman are created in God’s image and are given dominion (Genesis 1:26-28). Here “man” is the generic term for “mankind.”
But in 1 Corinthians 11:3 Paul taught that Christ is head of the church and that the husband is head of the home. Paul taught that the head of woman is man in the same sense that God the Father is head over God the Son. Two lessons should be drawn. First, husband and wife are of equal value to God in the same way that Father and Son are Both God. Second, just as the Son willingly submitted to the Father’s will, so the wife is to voluntarily submit to her husband.
This truth must be balanced, however, by the principle that no husband has unlimited authority. He is not God. Abigail is a role model because of her disobedience. Sapphira was judged by God because she did not disobey her husband. Acts 5:29 teaches that no person can take the authority of God. Since there is only one Sovereign we believe in limited human government and limited human authority.
This real issue under discussion is authority. While both partners are to be considerate and thoughtful, no institution can function without a system of authority. Someone has to take responsibility. Both cannot come under each other. A committee of two with no chairperson will not work! Therefore, the husband is charged with the primary responsibility of protecting and providing for his family.
The Bible carries the doctrine of headship a step beyond the home. In the Old Testament only men were priests and in the New Testament only men are to be pastors and deacons. Both pastors and deacons are required to be “the husband of one wife” (1 Timothy 3:2, 12).
It would be a confusing situation if the husband was over the wife at home, but she was his leader at church. That is why Paul stated, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man” (1 Timothy 2:12). In Bible times a teacher exercised great authority. Students were required to submit to the teacher who was an elder or community leader. This is not necessarily the same as teaching class on Sunday. Certainly Priscilla and Aquila both instructed Apollos privately (Acts 18:26). Older women are to train younger women (Titus 2:3-4). What Paul forbade was the kind of teaching by women which involves exercising authority over men, such as the office of pastor/teacher.
In light of Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 11:5 which instructs a woman who will pray or prophesy in public worship, the statement in 1 Corinthians 11:5 which instructs a woman who will pray or prophesy in public worship, the statement in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 that women are not allowed to speak must not be taken in an absolute sense. Paul has just required the church leaders to evaluate the prophecies given. Women may participate in the giving of a prophecy, but not in passing judgment in the assessment of these prophecies. The Bible is consistent that women may participate in worship and utilize their spirituals gifts. However, they are not to be put in a position of authority over a man.
This does not mean that a woman cannot or should not have a ministry. Neither is there any inference that certain spiritual gifts are not available to women. However, certain church offices are not available to women. Leadership is transferred to faithful men (2 Timothy 2:2) and here the context specifies the male gender.
As I understand the situation at Watertown First Baptist Church, the Bible did not require the church leadership to fire Sister Mary. But I also understand all too well the agenda of our secular media to discredit the Word of God. Properly understood and applied, it is the final authority of faith and practice for all times, all peoples, and all cultures.