Report of the Committee to Prepare an Alternate Understanding of ‘The Biblical View of the Role of Women in the Church’ [1980]

Report of the Committee to Prepare an Alternate Understanding of ‘The Biblical View of the Role of Women in the Church’ [1980]

EDITOR’S NOTE: This Committee proposed an Alternate to the 1977 Study which had been adopted as the position paper of the denomination at the 1977 Annual Conference. Contrasted to the previous study, the findings of this report were introduced to the 1980 Annual Conference. The minutes record “The report was accepted.” No changes in position or legislative changes to the Faith and Order were made as a result of this paper.

It is the intention of this committee to demonstrate the controversial nature of the subject of women as deacons.

We agree with much of the paper presented to the Ninety-Fourth Annual Conference. We are in agreement that

…if we are to take seriously our position as a Church that the Holy Scriptures are ‘the supreme and final authority of faith and practice,’ we must respond to pressure from within the Word and not to pressure from without from society. We must be concerned to be ‘biblical’ and not merely ‘contemporary’. Our methodology must I be exegetical and not pragmatic. We are to seek to interpret Scripture with Scripture and more clear passages. More clear passages. [1]

The committee believes with the writer of the 1977 paper the I Corinthian 11 passage teaches “the subordination of women that is taught in the passage is seen as a universal and abiding principle”. [2]

We also agree with the writer of the paper that Paul in I Timothy 2:9-l5 is restating a

…basic biblical precept of subordination of women to men. This concept is taught consistently throughout the Scriptures and is not based on local or cultural considerations, but on (1) the order of creation (v. 13) ‘Far Adam was first formed, then Eve,’ (cf. I Corinthians 11) and (2) the nature of the fall (v. l4) ‘And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being de3was in the transgression.’ (cf. Genesis 3:16).[3]

There is no conclusive Biblical evidence that it ever was the norm for a woman to hold an official office among the people of God.

In the New Testament there were women who had the prophetic gift, but there is no conclusive proof that they held the official office of prophet. Having a spiritual gift and holding an official office are two different matters. All believers have spiritual gifts but all do not hold official office. (Rom. 12; I Cor. 12, 14; Eph. 4). Many believers have the gift of teaching but not all of those who teach are elders. A woman who has the gift of teaching may teach and be an excellent teacher, but she can not be an elder nor should she teach men (1 Tim. 2:11-15). She must use her gift in the sphere of her calling.

The function of doing something for the Lord should not be thwarted because one does not have a “position”, but one should be encouraged to use the gifts from God in the sphere of influence in God’s order.

The primary area of a woman’s calling is clear from the stated purpose for which she was created.   Genesis 2:1B specifies that the designed purpose of the woman was to be a helper to the man (1 Cor. 11:810, 7: 34).

How can the woman do this? She always has a spiritual head (1 Cor. 7; Eph. 5; 1 Cor. 11). For a woman to hold an office in the Church in many cases will place her in a position of equal authority with those which God in His order has placed over her. To encourage this by legislation is to encourage a reversal of the Biblical principle seen in the creation of woman (1 Cor. 11:7-10; Gen. 1:26, 2:20-23).

The area of tension regarding the role of women in the Church revolves around giving them a role which violates the teaching of subordination. It does no good to attempt to explain the office of deacon as non-ruling. If a woman is elevated to any official office where her position parallels that of a male officer – then at this point the principle of subordination becomes impractical and meaningless.

· In our study of the verb DIAKONEO, of the noun DIAKONOS which is used in the context of 1 Timothy 3: 8-13, this word means “to wait on someone at table, to serve, to care fqr, help, support someone, to serve as a deacon”.[4]  In the New Testament, this function is carried out by men, women, angels and Jesus. This function is removing sandals, preparing meals, ministering to the hungry, thirsty, strangers, the naked, the sick, prisoners, contributing of your means, serving meals, serving widows, edifying Christians, and hospitality.

Women are not clearly called deacons officially anywhere in Scripture. Even where the word which can be translated “woman/wife” in 1 Timothy 3:8-13; there is no indication that a woman is a deacon, because the qualifications of a deacon are that he is to be a “one woman/wife man” and is to be “manager” of his children and household. The “one woman/wife man” qualification is impossible for a woman to meet and so she can not be a deacon. She may be something else that would carry out the same function, but she can not be a deacon.

The other qualification given in 1 Timothy 3:12 is, to be the “manager” of his children and household. The word used here is POISTAMI and means “to be at the head of, rule, direct” (1 Tim. 3: 4, 12; 1 Thess. 5: 12; Rom. 12:8; 1 Tim. 5:17), and “to be concerned about, care for, give aid” (1 Thess. S:12, 13; Rom. 12:8; Tit. 3:8, 14.).[5] In the common language of the time of the writing of the New Testament, this word meant “to put before, set over, preside, rule, govern.” It was used of superintendents, heads of certain guilds, estate-agents, headman of a village, landlord, chief, and later as head of a monastery.[6]

William Hendriksen commenting on 1 Timothy 3:8-13 presents a view which we should examine:

…these women are here viewed as rendering special service in the Church, as do the elders. and the deacons. They are a group by themselves, not just the wives of the deacons nor all the women who belong to the Church.

On the other hand, the fact that no special and separate paragraph is used in describing . their necessary qualifications, but that these are simply wedged in between the stipulated requirements for deacons, with equal clarity indicates that these women are not to be regarded as constituting a third office in the Church, the office of “deaconesses,” on a par with and endowed with authority equal to that of deacons.

…but it is contrary to the spirit of Paul’s remark concerning women and their place in the Church…and contrary also to the significance of the manner in which the apostle here in I Tim. 3:11 parenthesizes the requirements for women-helpers, to regard their task as a third office, to be co-ordinated with that of the overseers and with that of the deacons.

The simplest explanation of the manner in which Paul, not yet finished with the requirements for the office of the deacon, interjects a few remarks about woman, is that he regards these women as the deacon’s assistants in helping the poor and needy, etc. These are women who render auxiliary service, performing ministries for which women are better adapted.[7]

There is no New Testament evidence that men and women served on the same board together as deacons. Un-married women such as widows who planned not to I re-marry served in a deacon-servant capacity but not on an elected deacon board with men (1 Tim. 5: 9-11).

Some Observations

1.       The office of deacon is a position of authority. A deacon is usually considered above one who is not by virtue of qualifications.

2.       We speak of a board of deacons. Can there be a board without it having authority?

3.       The paper printed in the 1977 Yearbook of the Bible Fellowship Church pages 157-173 presents a view of the role of women in the Church but does not establish that view as the definitive Scriptural position.

4.       All believers need not be restricted in the use of a gift/gifts given to them by God because they do not have an official position, but should use these God-given gifts within Godls designed order.

5.       Our understanding is that the office of deacon is determined by a recognition of qualifications and not by the function of gifts. The Bible Fellowship Church makes this distinction in regard to the holding of the official position of elder. Elders are office holders and they teach, but not all teachers are elders. The Bible teaches that any believer can have the gift of teaching but not all teachers are permitted to teach just any group (1 Timothy 2: 12; Titus 2:3-5).

6.       There is no conclusive proof on either side of this argument. There are three major views supported by gifted expositors.

7.       The possibility of women holding the office of deacon in the Church will cause difficulty to some pastors in accepting a call to that particular Church.


1.       Since there is no clear Biblical evidence for women holding the office of a deacon, the committee recommends that the denomination maintain its present position of male deacons.

2.       Since there is much Biblical evidence of both men and women doing the work of a deacon in the authority structure of God’s designed order of creation, the committee recommends that each Christian be encouraged to use his or her gifts within the limits the Bible places upon them.

Harvey J. Fritz, Jr., Chairman; James R. Batchler, Jr., Secretary; William A. Heffner, William Graybill II, Hugh C. Coulbourn, Jr., Alva C. Cassel, Terry N. Tareila, COMMITTEE.

[1] Bible Fellowship, Yearbook 1977, p. 158

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid., p. 167

[4] Bauer, Arndt, and Gingrich A Greek and English Lexicon of the New Testament (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1957), p. 183.

[5] Ibid. pp. 713-714

[6] Moulton and Milligan, Vocabulary of the Greek New Testament (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdman Publishing Co. 1930), p. 541.

[7] William Hendricks, New Testament Commentary: Exposition of the Pastoral Epistles(Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1957) pp. 13-133. (also refer to “The ‘Women’ of 1 Timothy 3:11” by Robert M. Lewis Bibliothica Sacra Vol. 136 no. 522 April-June 1979).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *