When asked why he encouraged women preachers, John Wesley responded, “Because God owns them in the conversion of sinners, and who am I that I should withstand God” (Zechariah Taft. Peterborough: Methodist Publishing House, 1992). The question of ordaining women as pastors, evangelists, and deacons is more a question of biblical scholarship methods than of whether women are ordained. Churches in the John Wesley tradition approach the Word of God with a balanced view that considers all scriptures on all topics. No matter the subject, we don’t isolate one or two key scriptures to prove a limited stance that is created by ignoring any verse(s) that refutes that stance. Scholars call this method of scholarship “proof texting,” and it is an erroneous method of biblical interpretation that creates unbalanced theology and concepts. (Slave owners used the same method of scholarship to prove owning and abusing slaves was God-approved and biblical since the New Testament tells slaves to submit to their masters.) Therefore, when the topic of the ordination of women is approached, we consult all verses that deal with women in ministry and then come to the most logical and balanced conclusions based upon the full body of information found in the Bible—not just one or two verses. Due to this balanced approach to scripture, many Wesleyan-tradition churches have ordained women since their inception. For instance, the Church of the Nazarene has been ordaining women for over 100 years. The first group of Nazarene pastors and evangelists who were ordained in 1908 was one-third women.
Paul made a few direct statements against women participating in church life, but he also affirmed women who prophesied and women in church leadership. “A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent” (1 Tim. 2:11-12). “As in all congregations of the saints, women should remain silent in churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. When they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in church” (1 Cor. 14:33b-35). However, Paul also supported women who weren’t silent in the church and who were prophets (preachers) and teachers. In 1 Cor. 11:5, Paul references women praying and prophesying (preaching) in church. This scripture occurs three chapters before he tells women to be silent. Also, in Romans 16, Paul affirms many women in ministry, including Phoebe, a deacon (v. 1) and Junias (v. 7), a female apostle—the highest office of the First Century church. Given the wide body of biblical evidence in favor of women in ministry, the historic stance of Wesleyan-tradition churches is that either Paul contradicted himself and much of the Bible when he told women not to teach/preach and to be silent, or there was a specific problem in each of these cases that he was dealing with concerning women who were inappropriately out of hand. There are differing theories on the problems Paul was addressing. However, many Wesleyan-tradition scholars believe that Paul was dealing with women who were either disrupting the service in 1 Corinthians and/or being domineering in 1 Timothy and that he was not refuting his other statements or other Scriptures that support women in ministry. For a look at passages that do support women as preachers/prophetesses and/or spiritual leaders see: Exodus 15-20; Judges 4; 2 Kings 22:14; Micah 6:4; Joel 2:28-29; Luke 2:26-38; Acts 2:16-21; Acts 18; Acts 21:9.
No denomination that I am aware of fully applies a literal interpretation of what Paul said about women remaining fully silent in church. In denominations around the world, women are not silent. They may be teaching and/or preaching, singing in the choir, serving on boards,
playing instruments, testifying, laughing, talking, and participating in church life. By and large, denominations do not apply a strict, literal interpretation of Paul’s telling women to be silent because the church world would suffer greatly and perhaps fail if all women went silent. Likewise, the spreading of the Gospel is significantly hindered when women are told they are not to publicly proclaim the Good News. Furthermore, the most balanced biblical scholarship method on any subject is solidified when we start with the teachings of Jesus Christ and don’t interpret any scripture in a way that violates what Jesus said. Jesus Christ was the sinless son of God, and His words must be the underlying force and influencer in all biblical interpretation. Whatever Paul wrote must be interpreted in the context of his own teachings as well as in the context of Jesus Christ’s teachings. Any concept on any subject that is created by ignoring the teachings of Christ can be out of balance. Using scripture as a tool to subordinate or limit anyone due to age, race, economic status or whether they are male or female is a direct violation of what Jesus said and most of what Paul himself said. According to Paul, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). Jesus Christ stated, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you” (Matthew 7:12). This Golden Rule applies to everything, including how we view and treat both men and women.
Furthermore, the Bible could also be used to limit men and prohibit them from ministry. Jesus Christ repeatedly told his male disciples to not even call themselves leaders and not to think of themselves in authority over others. “Also, a dispute arose among them as to which of them was considered the greatest. Jesus said to them, ‘The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves…But I am among you as the one who serves’” (Luke 2:24-27b, NIV). “But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers…And do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ. But the greatest among you shall be your servant. And whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted (Matthew 23:8, 10-12, NASB). Note: The King James Version states, “Do not be called masters” (v.10); the New International Version states, “Do not be called teachers” (v.10). Using the proof texting method of biblical scholarship, these and numerous other sections of the Bible could easily be used to subordinate men and stop them from holding any ministry position as teachers or pastors or assuming any role as leaders. However, churches do not use scripture to limit men in the church or ministry, nor should they.
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus”.Galatians 3:28
When scholars proof text Paul’s statements about women as support for not ordaining women, but ignore Christ’s similar messages to men, such biblical interpretation lacks credence because it lacks consistent application. Churches in the Wesleyan tradition are committed to consistent application of balanced, biblical scholarship methods. Those methods include a thoughtful examination of everything the Bible says on a subject, including the ordination of women.
Below is a list of some of the denominations who ordain women as pastors and affirm women in ministry:
• Church of the Nazarene
• Mainstream Baptists
• Alliance of Baptists
• American Baptist Churches USA
Debra White Smith 3
• Church of God, Anderson
• Brethren in Christ
• The Wesleyan Church
• Presbyterian Church (USA)
• Mennonite Church USA
• Episcopal Church in the USA
• Vineyard Movement
• Evangelical Catholic Church
• Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
• Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ
• African Methodist Episcopal Church
• African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church
• Salvation Army
• The Free Methodist Church North America
• Evangelical Covenant Church of America
• International Church of the Foursquare Gospel
• International Pentecostal Holiness Church
• Christian Reformed Church in North America
• Religious Society of Friends (Quaker)
• United Church of Christ
• United Methodist Church
• Wesleyan Reform Union
Southern Baptist Church: Lottie Moon was an applauded, highly educated Southern Baptist missionary who spent her life preaching the Word of God in China during the 19th and early 20th Centuries. Even though the Southern Baptist church currently does not recognize women as pastors or missionaries, they still applaud Lottie Moon’s groundbreaking work as a missionary and take up an annual Christmas offering for missions in her memory. “In 1964 Addie Davis became the first Southern Baptist woman ordained to the ministry. By the 1970’s hundreds of women were enrolled in ministerial degree programs at Southern Baptist Church seminaries. By the early 1990’s more than 1,000 women had been ordained; more than 50 ordained SBC women served as pastors in Southern Baptist churches; and others served as professors at Southern Baptist universities and seminaries. In 2000 the Southern Baptist Church stopped recognizing the ordination of women.” However, all Southern Baptists do not agree with this decision (Prescott & McClatchy. Mainstream Oklahoma Baptists, 1999-2003.)
For more detailed information about balanced, biblical interpretation and women in ministry, please consult the following books, and websites:
• The Tie that Binds: A Marriage Revolution of Love by Debra White Smith, specifically the chapters, “Ruling and Drooling” and “Leading and Following.”
• Reclaiming Eve by Suzanne Burden, Carla Sunberg, and Jamie Wright.
• 25 Tough Questions about Women and the Church by J. Lee Grady.
• Christians for Biblical Equality: www.cbeinternational.org
• Wesleyan Holiness Women Clergy: www.whwomenclergy.org
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• Timeline of Women in Methodism: http://www.umc.org/who-we-are/timeline-of-women-in-methodism
–Debra White Smith c2008
*This article is free for unlimited copying and distribution. Please do not make any changes in the article without first gaining permission from Debra White Smith.