Barry is the founder and Professor of the M.Div. program for Mindanao Grace Seminary, Philippines.
Women and Missions
The starting place for every discussion regarding ministry is the Scripture. If we accept Sola Scriptura, then that settles everything else. The majority of Christians will affirm the Bible as their authority. Some will even go so far as to mouth the phrase “scripture alone.” And yet, when it comes to how they function we see that these are empty words.
To further complicate the matter, we live in an age of hyper-political correctness. Everyone is equal and by equal, they do not mean equal they mean the same. The fact is that God did not make everyone the same. He delights in variety in His creation. And as Creator, He alone determines what is right and appropriate for individuals as well as for sexes. The word “sexes” is being used very consciously here. There are no “genders.” Genders apply to words, not to people. God created males and females. Both are made in His image. He determines their roles.
As we approach this topic, as with any topic regarding the church, the only issue for the born-again believer is “What does the Bible say?”
Women in Ministry
It is not my intent to give a discourse on the doctrine of man in regards to the two sexes. Rather, I will limit our discussion to the issue at hand. Namely, can women be missionaries? Please note, I am not asking this question for us to consider if women have been sent as missionaries. We know that they have in the past and they continue to be sent out by Churches, missionary societies, and denominational associations. While history is important to consider, it is secondary to Scripture. Church tradition that is not based on the Bible is merely man’s tradition.
What We Know
We know that all of the Disciples of Jesus were men. We know that all those working with Paul in his missionary journeys were men. We also know that there are occasions in the New Testament where women are used by the Church. And we further have a clear text that restricts the operation of women.
"A woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. But I do not allow a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve. And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a wrongdoer." 2 Timothy 2:12-14
In previous articles, I have defined missions as “the preaching of the Gospel, across cultural lines to make disciples.” A disciple is a follower of Christ. Disciples are made when we follow the example of our Lord by “teaching them to follow all that I commanded you.” If making disciples involves teaching, and if women are forbidden to teach men then it would be a clear violation of Scripture for women to be making disciples of men.
Women in the Bible
"On the next day we left and came to Caesarea, and we entered the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, and stayed with him. Now this man had four virgin daughters who were prophetesses." Acts 21:8-9
"And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years and had lived with her husband for seven years after her marriage." Luke 2:36
These verses are used to defend women in leadership, preaching, and teaching positions in Church. First, we should note that these verses are descriptive and not prescriptive. Second, these verses occur in the transition period between Jewish synagogue worship and the solidification of the New Testament Church. Third, these verses appear in historical narrative and not in didactic discourse. And finally, neither of these verses occurs in a Church setting. We should also mention that these women are under the authority of men. The virgins were under the authority of their father and Anna was under the authority of her husband. When we move to instructions for the New Testament Church, the teaching of women over men is forbidden.
Women Missionaries to Women and Children
Sending a woman to the mission field to gather women and children is a common practice. This seems to be within the bounds of Scripture. However, this poses a very serious problem. If the goal of missions is Church planting (which is where discipleship takes place), then it would be impossible for a woman to complete the Great Commission without violating the Biblical restrictions.
While it may be within the bounds to send a woman to teach and evangelize children and other women, the ministry could never move to the Biblical standard where men are leading without the women teaching them. And for her to do so, would violate Scripture.
Women are not forbidden to minister. There are other options. Women could be used in supportive roles in mission work. In the same way, Paul sends Phoebe to perform a task, women could fill such roles. Women could be used under the authority of elders to minister to other women and children. But they should not be alone and using their ministry as the sole means to constitute a Church. They should be part of a larger team that includes men capable of acting and training Elders. Also, women could play major roles in benevolence work without any violation of the Scriptures.