1. Is the apparent prohibition of an woman being an elder evidenced in 1 Timothy and Titus, as well as early church history, a temporary cultural matter only or an eternal ordinance of God?
2. Are the qualifications described in 1 Timothy and Titus intended as laws or as merely indicative of to whom God has given the gift of leadership?
An affirmative answer to either question would permit many women gifted to lead to serve as elders.
1. Is the apparent prohibition of a woman being an elder evidenced in 1 Timothy and Titus, as well as early church history, a temporary cultural matter only or an eternal ordinance of God?
We have covered the ground surrounding culture versus an eternal command at length. The case has already been made, and there is no reason to go through the motions of restating it. Certainly, for the same reasons that women were not allowed to teach men in Ephesus, no women were going to be appointed elder by Timothy or Titus. The possibility is eliminated by the commands in 1 Timothy 2.
But we have shown that 1 Timothy 2:11-15 is culturally limited (just like most of the rest of the chapter). It is certainly reasonable to conclude that the qualifications listed in the Pastoral Letters are also limited based on cultural conditions insofar as they relate to the gender of the elders.
This cannot be proved or disproved by reference to the qualifications themselves. Rather, with the justification for the discrimination against women no longer applicable today, we must look to God’s eternal principles as they apply to men and women and husbands and wives. When in doubt, go with the larger, eternal principles. In the absence of the qualification lists in 1 Timothy and Titus, what principle would deny a congregation the right to appoint as elder a woman with the talent to serve as elder?
Some would argue that allowing a woman to serve as elder would prevent her from being submissive to her husband, if her husband were a member of the congregation — as he surely would be. But this argument represents a worldly view of the eldership that is all too common. Jesus explains things very differently:
(Mark 10:33-10:45) They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest. Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.”
Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.”
“What do you want me to do for you?” he asked.
They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.”
“You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?”
“We can,” they answered.
Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.”
When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Men, if we are called to leadership, then we are plainly taught that we may not “lord it over” the women and must instead become their “slaves.” Women elders would also become the slaves of all members, men and women alike. (The word translated “slave” really means slave, not servant.) An elder follows the example of Christ by becoming slave to all.
This is much the same lesson that Paul taught husbands in Ephesians 5. And when women ask to serve in any office, any office at all, they are not asking for power to exercise authority. They are asking for the opportunity to serve, using the gifts God gave them. They are asking to be suitable complements.
This is the spiritual understanding of being an elder or deacon. We must learn to think in spiritual terms — that is, in terms of service and gifts, not authority and laws.