a Church elder
The letters of Paul to Timothy and
Titus give instruction as to how the Christian Church and ministry were
to be patterned as the Church moves out of the apostolic era. Paul
is giving guidance to these two men and in particular instructing them about
how others should be appointed to Christian leadership.
1Tim. 3:1-7 This is a faithful
saying: If a man desires the position of an overseer, he desires a good work.
An overseer then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate,
sober-minded, of good behaviour, hospitable, able to teach;
not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle,
not quarrelsome, not covetous; one who rules his own house well,
having his children in submission with all reverence (for if a man
does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church
of God?); not a novice, lest being puffed up with pride he fall into
the same condemnation as the devil. Moreover he must have a good
testimony among those who are outside, lest he fall into reproach and the snare
of the devil.
Overseers, Bishops, Presbyters, Elders
The title 'overseer',
is the Greek word 'episcopos' which is sometimes translated
in English as Bishop. However, it is widely recognised that
there is no distinction in Scripture between this role and that
of the presbuteros (presybter) or elders who are referred
to in 1 Tim 5.17 and
1 Tim 4.14 as
well as frequently in Acts and elsewhere.
The English word priest
derives from the Greek word presbuteros. Hence
the word priest is used in the Church of England's Book of Common
Prayer. This causes confusion however because in English
there is no separate word for the Israelite Priests or for the
Priests of the pagan temples who are described by a different
word (hiereus) in the New Testament
What can be seen from
1 Tim 3 is that there are certain standards expected of those
called to this Christian ministry. Mostly these have to
do with the personal conduct of the person, but also to their
ability to teach.
However, it can also
be seen that it is assumed and stated that the overseers are
A similar list can
be found in Titus:
For this reason I left you in Crete, that you should set in order
the things that are lacking, and appoint elders in every city
as I commanded you; if a man is blameless, the husband of one
wife, having faithful children not accused of dissipation or insubordination.
For an overseer must be blameless, as a steward of God,
not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not given to wine, not violent,
not greedy for money, but hospitable, a lover of what is good,
sober-minded, just, holy, self-controlled, holding fast the faithful
word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine,
both to exhort and convict those who contradict.
Here can be seen quite
clearly the equation of elder (presbyter) and overseer (episcopos)
and again the explicit expectation that the minister be a man.
practice and teaching in the early Church is entirely consistent
with the example of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Jesus appointed leaders in the new community he chose men. He
does not appear to have been bound in other areas by the social
conventions of the day. Indeed, there were a number of women
amongst Jesus' disciples including some who were very close to
Him and who have been an inspiration and an example ever since.
Nevertheless, Jesus did not appoint the women as leaders. This
pattern was continued in the post-pentecost church and indeed
has continued from then on until the last few decades. As
the Church spread from Israel to the graeco-roman world it encountered
a culture that was male dominated but which had no shortage of
priestesses, goddesses and families run by matriarchs. But
the Church did not attempt to compromise on the pattern which
Jesus had established.
Whist the practice
of the Church through the ages does not carry any binding authority
for Christians we note that from the beginning until the last
few decades, almost without exception, the Christian Church has
accepted and practiced what the Bible taught that its presbyters
(priests) should be men.
Men and women are different.
The reason for all
this goes back to creation, in that God has made men and
women different. In recent decades many have tried to play down
gender differences but this trend shows signs of beginning
to be reversed in western culture as people emphasise more the
differences between men and women.
women complement one another, God has made us differently for
good reason. Therefore in the marriage relationship men and
women have different roles which makes the marriage a strong,
if sometimes bewildering, relationship.
Headship in the Christian
are also upheld in the Christian household in that the man was
to provide leadership, even to the extent of being called the
head (cf. Eph 5.23). Much ink has been spilt over the meaning
of this word head but it properly refers to the lump above your
shoulders (cephalus in Greek).
For most people this
is the place from which the body is governed, hence the meaning
of the word head as chief, ruler etc, as in 'head teacher'.
Some evangelicals in
particular, in an attempt to justify their ideas about women's
ministry, have argued that 'head' in Greek can mean source and
hence origin, being a reference back to creation.
However, where head
is used of source it echoes the fact that the head is at the top
of the body (like the head of a pint) - so the head of the
river, is it's top most point. The use of the word in this
way was very rare in the Greek of New Testament times and it would
be foolish to build an argument on such a dubious interpretation
when plain meaning of Scripture is so straightforward.
What is more difficult,
however, is what does the idea of being the head mean in practice?
Here again we must fall back on our primary model, headship must
be modelled on Christ, it is not a matter of rights or privilege,
but of duty, service and love.
What is true of the
Christian household is in some degree true in the household of
faith (1 Cor 11.3). This appears to be why the presbyters, part
of whose function is governance and
discipline, are to be men (cf. 1 Ti 3.2f, Tit 1.5f). Again we
assert that this is the natural and obvious meaning of Scripture.
Moreover it is how earlier generations of Christians understood
the Scriptures and how they put it into practice. Therefore,
it we are to claim that this understanding is wrong, we must
be absolutely clear as the basis on which we think it is wrong
and on our own authority for acting in a different way. If our
authority for changing our practice is simply our own logic,
or the social trends of our day, then we will build the church
on shifting sand.
has been stated the Pastoral Epistles (Timothy and Titus) show
us the Biblical instructions for the ongoing Christian community. The
pattern of male presbyters is entirely consistent with the practice
of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Moreover, there do
appear to have been some issues in the intervening years not
least in the Corinthian Church. For example in 1 Corinthians
14 we see evidence that there was an issue although it is difficult
to be too certain of the circumstances. It is set
in the context of the need for order in church meetings when
it appears that in Corinth there were such things as tongues
In amidst instruction
on how to deal with these the Apostle Paul addresses an issue
to do with women, apparently married women. His instruction
is that they were to keep silent, they were to be 'submissive'
rather than asserting themselves
and thus they were to uphold the Biblical pattern of marriage.
Paul even grounds this appeal in the 'law'. (1 Cor 14.34-35).
We cannot be absolutely
certain about the circumstances but we see that the instruction
is entirely consistent with what we have already seen from Scripture.
In I Timothy 2 v12-14 Paul addresses a similar issue and again is consistent, the role of teaching and authority in the Christian congregation was to be exercised by men and Paul does not defend this on cultural grounds, but argues that this stems from how God has made us i.e. Because Adam was made first he was given authority and leadership responsibility over Eve. This is therefore God's good design for his creation as this was the order set before sin entered the world. After they had sinned, God charged the responsibility to Adam even though Eve had been deceived first (Gen 3 v9).
distinctive ministry of women
of what we have seen above should be taken as meaning that women
are inferior. Elsewhere the Apostle Paul explicitly states that in Christ
there is neither male nor female (Gal 3.28). However, what
we see is that the differences between men and women are to be
reflected in Christian living.
There are several examples
and instances of women ministering in particular ways in Scripture
all of which are models for today so long as they are not
applied in such a way as they undermine what we have arleady
The women with Jesus
provided for him out of their means (Luke 8.2-3)
Priscilla and her husband
Aquilla had a joint teaching ministry when they instructed Apollos
in their own home. (Acts 18.26) It is interesting
that Priscilla is named first, which could imply that she had
the lead role, but this may be reading too much into the text.
Timothy had known the
Scriptures from childhood (2 Tim 3.15) and it seems likely that
he had been taught them by his mother Eunice and grandmother
Lois who are both mentioned by Paul (2 Tim 1.5).
There were women prophets
in the early Church including the daughters of Philip (Acts 21.8-9)
and some women in Corinth (1 Cor 11.5). These gifts of prophecy
evidently died out pretty much by the end of the apostolic age,
presumably because once the clear apostolic teaching, now contained
in Scripture, had been passed on and made widely known, there
was no need for such gifts. But during this time God spoke
through prophets both men and women. It is not stated that
the women exercised such gifts in the public gatherings,
although this seems a reasonable assumption, and if so no-one
saw it as inconsistent with the idea that men should exercise
a teaching role. The prophetess was neither a leader nor
a teacher. God spoke through them.
Lydia was one of the
first believers in Philippi (and hence in Europe). A woman
of means, she was the head of her household and when she came
to faith her household were also baptized (Acts 16.14-15).
She accommodated Paul and friends in her house.
Lydia also draws to
mind the wife of noble character in Proverbs 31.10-31
whose management of household affairs is comprehensive and extensive
encompassing business enterprises.
These various passages
demonstrate that there is no expectation in Scripture that Christian
women take a secondary or docile role. There is much ministry
to be done and whether it be in the home or outside it the Christian
woman can and should serve God to the best of her ability. Such
faithful ministry is pleasing to God and should be honoured by
At times in Scripture and in the history of the Church it has been necessary
for women to take roles which should have been exercised by men. A
classic example of this is Deborah one of the Judges of Israel (Jdg 4-5). She
reluctantly takes the role because the men will not . Likewise in the
history of Christian mission there have been instances of godly women
who established churches and led them. When the men had grown to Christian
maturity they were willing to follow the pattern set down in Scripture of
male leadership. Though there may be times when it has to be otherwise,
in the Christian household and in the Church our desire should be to honour
and live out the distinctive roles that reflect our mutual dependence
and our desire to please God.
4 : Some common objections to the classical evangelical position.