September 8 th 2009
On teaching authority.
I was going to preach on this Sunday night, but we had an impromptu cookout instead. Which was actually my idea, so I'm not complaining.
Much to-do is made in the American church, especially us Baptist ones, about verses like
But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet.
1 Tim 2:12 (NASB).
This leads to all kinds of questions, like whether or not women can teach mixed Sunday School classes or preach sermons or tell their husbands what to do. I want to address this from my understanding. If you have a different understanding, bring it to the comments. Really. I want my blogging to be an extension of my ministry, which I've commonly understood to be teaching. Questions or debate are both helpful.
First of all, the verse in context is related to Paul's instructions to Timothy about church order. They are directed to Timothy while Timothy is at Ephesus, but the context shows that Paul makes a habit of this. So, we can't just dismiss this as specific to Ephesus. It's something that was his understanding and method in the church. And it's inspired by God to be here for us to read. So, what do we know about the differences between now and then? I think the key difference is that Paul and Timothy are dealing with churches that lack common access to the complete Word of God. True, some may have access to what we now call the Old Testament, but the Gospel of John hasn't even been written at this point (most likely), much less widely distributed.
So, how did the church grow? Through teachers, who taught with authority . They taught, people believed it, because there was no other way to know. This is why many of the letters in the New Testament include endorsement or rebuke of certain people as teachers. The individual teacher carried a great deal of authority.
Now, given the importance of teaching, there had to be limits on who could do it. Paul connects limiting women from the role based on Genesis 3 and the fall. It's not a matter for us to debate whether he's right or not, if we believe the Bible is complete and correct. It's for us to determine how it applies today. So, a woman was not then, and should not now, be permitted to teach with authority as was done in the churches of the day. But how does that apply today? How do we answer the questions from the beginning?
The question for today is “Where does authority to teach come from?” The answer to this question is different today, and so the question of “Who may teach?” also has a different answer. In the American church, there is no excuse why everyone should not have access to a Bible. Period. If your church lacks the resources, then there are churches that can, and should, help. Email me. We'll do what we can here. And it is this access to the Word that shows us where the authority is. The authority is in the Word of God. It's the Bible.
The Bible is our source of authority, and our sole authority. It doesn't matter how much you love your preacher, he's not allowed outside the confines of the Word. Your Sunday School class should be looking to the Word, and your teachers should be willing to listen to correction if they get away from it.
It is for this reason that I see no difficulty with a lady teaching a mixed Sunday School class. She does not teach on her authority, but she teaches the Word and the Word carries the authority. I'd even be willing to consider allowing a lady to bring a message to the whole church, providing it's based on the Word. I will note, though, that I draw a distinction between “preaching” and “pastoring” and hold that there is enough Scripture to limit “pastor” to men.
So, if the authority is in Scripture, who is responsible for what gets taught? Ultimately, I think the pastor is. The pastor's role has teaching at its center. Teaching the Word, preparing others to teach the Word. Pastors should hold accountable those that teach within their church. Can you sit in on every Sunday School class? No. But you can be available to hear from class members what's happening, and you need to respond if someone is teaching wrong things. Correct if possible, replace if necessary.
So, the next time the nominating committee needs a teacher for the youth or the young adult class, ladies, be ready. There's no reason why you can't share in a group of men and women. It's okay.
And as a side note---the word “quiet” also translates as “peace.” Perhaps as important to remember is to learn and listen in peace as to remain in silence?