How do women “usurp authority” in the church?

What happens when women take away the authority that God gave to the men of the church? If you are reading this post, you might want to read my post, What does “be in silence” mean for women in church? here, or you can scroll down and read the previous one before this post.

Let me tell you a true story. A young woman attended a church. When any man would say something—on any subject—she would interrupt and correct him. “No,” she would say, “It’s like this.” And she proceeded to give her opinion. She did this during the church services and before and after church.

(Now, there’s nothing wrong with having an opinion, and there’s usually nothing wrong with giving one’s personal opinion, even if it differs from others.)

Most of the men in the church showed great patience with this young woman. But, some of them argued with her, and others got very quiet.

After a while, several of the men voiced their concerns to the pastor. (We’ll call the woman Susie, not her real name.) “Susie always tells me I am wrong.” “Susie is hard to get along with, so I don’t know how to talk to her. I just let her talk, and I try to bite my tongue.”

What Susie didn’t understand was that she was undermining the authority of the men in her church. Instead of arguing with her, the majority of the men grew quiet.

The same thing often happens in the home. In order to avoid conflict, a man whose wife contradicts him will become quiet, even cold and evasive.

God knows that most men deal with conflict in one of two ways: they get mad, or they withdraw. Can you see why it’s a great idea for a woman to keep quiet in a mixed meeting at church? There will be less cause for anger and less motivation for the men of the church to withdraw. When the men of the church step back, they do not rise to the occasion and serve as leaders in the church. To avoid confrontation, they simply let the women lead.

We know that all the biblical church leadership roles in the congregation are for men. Two of the requisites are “the husband of one wife” and being an effective head of his household. A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife…. (1 Timothy 3:2) Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well (1 Timothy 3:12). Ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee: If any be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly (Titus 1:5b-6).

What happens in many churches, though, is a few women step up and take the lead. This is what the Bible is talking about when it uses the term usurping authority in 1 Timothy 2:12.

The truth is that many women are very capable. Some are great organizers. Others are good teachers. Lots of women are able to do many things in Christian work. And, most of our pastors, evangelists, and deacons could not do what they do without their wives.

There are lots of things women can do in the church—indeed, are supposed to do. Mentoring, teaching women and children, leading women, helping in practical ways, hospitality, organization, secretarial work, interpreting, music ministry, visitation, witnessing, etc. The list goes on and on.

The one thing she is not to do is take away the leadership from the men of the church by speaking out in a mixed meeting in church.

Does this mean a woman cannot share a testimony?

Can she pray?

May she sing or provide music?

Let’s take these three questions one at a time.

A testimony is telling others what God did for you. It is sharing your story. Does this take authority from the men of the church? Let’s suppose the woman is a missionary, and she is going to Country X. The pastor asks her to give her personal testimony of salvation. The woman tells how she came to know Christ and then sits down. Did she take away the pastor’s authority? No. Not at all.

Maybe a woman—I have personally heard this—turns her testimony into a mini message and challenges all in the congregation. She actually preaches to the group before her. In doing so, she has taken away the authority from the pastor and, if married, also her husband. This is not right.

Can she pray? It is perfectly fine for a woman to pray silently in church. Some churches practice that all the people pray aloud simultaneously. Of course, women can pray aloud along with the body of believers. If men and women divide into prayer groups, of course a woman can lead other women in prayer.

Should a woman lead the congregation in prayer? No, I don’t think so. Why not? Simply because there are men present who can pray. Women are not to take leadership away from the men.

Let’s say several couples are together in a home setting—not a church congregation, but a social setting. They have a session of prayer together, going around the circle with each person praying. Can a woman participate? Yes, I think so. She is not taking away anyone’s authority, and this is not a church service.

May a woman sing or provide special music? It is hard to tell exactly what they did in the early New Testament churches. We know they sang hymns and used music in worship. Is a woman taking away the pastor’s authority when she sings? No. May she play an instrument or sing in the choir? Yes, of course.

A woman should not, though, exhibit herself. God values a meek (strength under control) and quiet (peaceful) spirit (1 Peter 3:4). I am afraid that many of the women in praise teams are both leading men and exalting themselves. (By the way, I’m sure that some have no clue and are perfectly sincere.)

Many on church platforms aren’t careful to be modestly dressed, and some actually lead the congregation in the worship part of the service. I cannot see that kind of a role for women anywhere in Scripture. If a woman is on the platform, she needs to allow the pastor or male music minister lead the service. She should also dress to please the Lord.

Have you thought of other questions? My post is already long, but please feel free to ask. I want to write one more blog post on this concept of women in the church. I think you’ll find it interesting.

What does “be in silence” mean for women in church?

Ephesians 5:22-32 is perhaps one of the most misunderstood, debated, and ignored passages in the Bible. Let’s read it first and then point out some important concepts.

  • 22. Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.
  • 23. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body.
  • 24. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing.
  • 25. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it;
  • 26. That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word,
  • 27. That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.
  • 28. So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself.
  • 29. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church:
  • 30. For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones.
  • 31. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh.
  • 32. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.
  • 33. Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband.

There are two parallel concepts here:

  1. Jesus Christ and the church
  2. Husband and wife

There is an order in the church: Christ is its head, and the church is its body. The church is subject (in lesser rank, as in the military) to Christ.

The order in marriage is exactly the same: the husband is the head, and the woman is the body. The wife is subject to (ranks herself willingly under) her husband.

Just as Christ doesn’t abuse His headship over the church, neither should the husband over the wife. (See my post, I Will Make You Submit, here.)

Let’s look at another passage that addresses a woman’s  behavior in the church. Keep in mind, this is talking about a church gathering of men and women together, not a ladies’ class or children’s Sunday school. This is a mixed congregation of the church.

Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church (1 Corinthians 14:34-35).

This passage says women aren’t supposed to say anything. Silence. It’s a shame for her to speak in church. She needs to ask her husband. 

Seriously?

God wrote the Bible. Here you see the husband-wife relationship as it works in a mixed church service setting. The woman defers to her husband’s authority. You will notice in other passages that the authority in the church is always for men: pastors, teachers, evangelists, deacons. Christ is the Head of the church, and the church responds to Him. The husband is the head of his home, and the wife asks him her questions and doesn’t interrupt the church meeting.

Another passage on this subject gives clarity to what a woman should do. It’s 1 Timothy 2:7-13. The Apostle Paul is writing a letter to Pastor Timothy.

  • 7. Whereunto I am ordained a preacher, and an apostle, (I speak the truth in Christ, and lie not;) a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and verity.
  • 8. I will therefore that men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting.
  • 9. In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array;
  • 10. But (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works.
  • 11. Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection.
  • 12. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.
  • 13. For Adam was first formed, then Eve.

Before you label the Apostle Paul a machista, read the context of the whole passage. It’s talking about men praying in faith and women adorning themselves in modesty, with good works. Then, we have the instruction for women at church to learn in silence with subjection—just as we saw in 1 Corinthians 14. But this goes further: a woman is not to teach or usurp—interesting word—authority over the man, but to be in silence. Why? Simply order. Adam came before Eve.

We could go into so many ideas, here, but let’s instead define usurp. In the context of usurping authority, it means teaching the men and thus taking away their authority in the church. For a married woman, this means she is stepping out of her rank. Again, for a mixed church gathering, teachers are to be men.

Women are supposed to teach other women and children, of course. (See Titus 2:3-5.) By the way, women and children make up 80% of the world’s population. God doesn’t limit women except when it comes to church and home leadership. In the church and in the home, it’s for men.

Why? Order.

Too many bosses creates confusion. God straightens out that confusion by making it a simple matter of order. Even Jesus—equal with God the Father—responds willingly to His Father (1 Corinthians 11:3—God is the Head of Christ).

The only other passage I know of that speaks about women’s conduct in church is the controversial one in 1 Corinthians 11:3-15 about hair and head coverings for both men and women. I am not going into that in this post.

Soon, though, we’ll delve into what happens when women “usurp authority” and teach men in the church. We’ll also discuss giving testimonies, prayer requests, and other speaking in church. So, stay tuned. I think you’ll find it interesting.