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Not in my backyard…
Q. I like my church. But, each year the elders promise to deal with the issue of women deaconesses in our church. But, either they don't discuss the issue or they consistently vote it down. I am at my wits end. This isn't right. Many of our women are "champions" of the faith and deserve to have at least a little acknowledgement for their work. Furthermore, the title of "deaconess" might help in organizing groups of women to accomplish certain tasks. The male deacons just can't get the whole job done on their own. They could use official female help. Any thoughts on this?
Good grief! You must have a few "dunderheads" at church (said affectionately)! I've heard of churches fighting over whether or not women should be pastors. But, even Pastor John MacArthur - who is not popularly thought of as "user friendly" to church women - allows female deaconesses in his church! On his website he says, "We see, then, three distinct church offices described in 1 Timothy 3: elders, deacons, and deaconesses. This is what Paul had to say about deaconesses: they must be 'dignified, not malicious gossips, but temperate, faithful in all things'" (v. 11). www.gty.org. Answering the Key Questions About Deacons.
This isn't even an issue for most churches.
Having said that, you should know that I belong to a church that doesn't allow female deaconesses, either. We live out in the country and at my age it isn't worth it to me to fight over issues like these. Our church is a top-notch group filled with good people. We even have a new pastor and wife who are the "cream of the crop" with excellent training. You couldn't even "pay me" to throw that away!
Vote with your Feet
In your case, if it is so important to you and your family, you can always vote with your feet and leave. There are lots of evangelical, fundamentalist churches who allow and encourage women to serve as deaconesses and welcome the help of all parishioners who wish to serve in an official capacity.
Most churches need the help - including the help of women. Consider all the essential activity of female believers among the persecuted churches throughout Islamic countries, for example. If Christian leaders among them fought over such trivial issues they would be hindered in spreading the gospel and might lack places to meet - including the homes of female believers.
Meet with Senior Pastor
If the problem is with your elders and not with the senior pastor you might want to schedule a meeting with the pastor to learn how he wants to deal with this issue.
Downside of Presbyterian Govternment
You should be aware, however, that some churches limit the control of a pastor over his congregation. They believe in a strong Presbyterian form of government where the elders exert a dominant representative voice exceeding that of the pastor. In some cases elders are incapable of learning from an educated minister. They prefer to stick to unbiblical traditions and prejudices. Rest assured that they will be held accountable to the Lord for their negative, self-serving attitudes (2 Corinthians 5:10).
It is with this type of government that you may wish to leave the church for a more accepting body of believers who welcome all the help Christian servants can give.
Scriptures to Consider
Let's look at just a few Scripture passages that address both men and women:
- Women traveled with Jesus as disciples (Luke 8:1-3, Matthew 27:55). This was unheard of in first-century Jewish culture. Even today we frown upon women traveling with groups of unrelated men.
- In Acts 9:36 Paul refers to a woman as a Christian disciple (named Tabitha - Aramaic, Dorcas - Greek, or Gazelle - English).
- Acts 18:24-26 describes a couple, Priscilla and Aquila, teaching Apollos from Alexandria because although he knew the baptism of John he was unschooled in the gospel of Christ.
- Paul references Phoebe as a deacon (diakonos) of the church at Cenchrea in Romans 16:1.
- In Romans 16:3 Paul calls Priscilla another of his "fellow workers in Christ Jesus" (ESV).
- Paul refers to a male apostle, Andronicus and a female apostle, Junia, as "outstanding among the apostles" (Romans 16:7). (The addition of "s" to Junia making this a male name, occurred in the middle ages).
- In Philemon verse 2 Paul writes this letter to "Apphia, our sister" and two men as the leaders of a house church.
I could go on and on. But, instead may I suggest a few books to add to your library:
Grudem, Wayne. 2004. Evangelical Feminism&Biblical Truth. Colorado Springs: Multnomah.
Kroeger, Richard&Catherine. 1992. I Suffer Not a Woman Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
Witherington, Ben. 1990. Women and the Genesis of Christianity. NY: Cambridge University Press.
Although I am not a practicing "biblical feminist" (I like to live in peace), these will give you a good overview of the history of women in early church history from several reasonably conservative viewpoints.
Author Valorie Mays Emilio holds an MA in History from UCLA focusing upon early church history, and a V.O.M. Certificate in Persecuted Church Ministries from Oklahoma Wesleyan University. She teaches classes and writes articles for the Gospel Rescue Mission in Grants Pass, Oregon, where her husband, Ken, serves as Director.
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