Revive Our Hearts Podcast

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Men and Women in the Church

Leslie Basham: Imagine a talented, energetic woman in a church. Dr. Bruce Ware says, “If she wants to live out biblical roles, she may find herself . . .”

Dr. Bruce Ware: Sitting under the teaching of a man knowing she could be doing a better job but in the process having this great confidence of heart and knowing that she is following God’s ways in this.

Leslie Basham: You’re listening to Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, co-author of True Woman 101, for Tuesday, April 17, 2018.

God created men and women to be equal in value, but He gave them different roles in the church. That’s what the True Woman Manifesto describes. You can read that important document at But of course what’s far more important is what the Bible says. Our guest today has studied this topic thoroughly. Nancy’s here to introduce him.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: Well, I’d like to welcome back to Revive Our Hearts a long time friend Dr. Bruce Ware who’s a professor at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. He and his wife Jodi have been long time friends and cheerleaders of Revive Our Hearts, encouragers of my life and this ministry. And Jodi is with us behind the glass there in the engineer’s room in the studio today smiling and praying and encouraging.

Dr. Ware, thank you so much for going where angels fear to tread in this series on biblical womanhood. I’m so grateful for your input and instruction on that.

Dr. Ware: Thank you Nancy. It’s really a delight to be with you. And these are important matters, so it’s a pleasure to be able to talk them through with you.

Nancy: We’re living in a day where there’s a lot of confusion, a lot of biblical error as it relates to the roles of women and men. Over the last couple of programs we’ve talked about God’s vision for manhood and womanhood particularly in the home. But I want to shift gears today and talk about what that looks like in the church.

Now there are a lot of different opinions on this, and we see in the religious news today, some whole denominations that are wholesale throwing out the authority of Scripture and saying, “That’s not what the Bible says,” or “That’s not what God means.” Yet we see even within the evangelical world today a lot of confusion in our churches about what is appropriate in the roles for men and for women.

Dr. Ware would you just help us to get started here? Lay a foundation if you would. Simply state what God’s Word teaches about His perspective, His design, for men and women as to their different roles and function in the context of the local church. What does that look like?

Dr. Ware: We have here Nancy, as we have in the home, a big difference of understanding among Christian people. Really, there are only two possible positions out there, and they’re generally given these names: egalitarian and complementarian. When it relates to the role of women in the church, you can distinguish them by an answer to this question: This person that you’re looking at who you’re considering to be pastor of a church, is the fact of her gender in itself a factor that would disqualify her from being pastor?

If you answer that "yes," then you hold a complementarian position. That is, you believe women by virtue of their being women regardless of their gifting, regardless of their training, their character, all of those things put together, would not qualify her to pastor a church simply because she is a woman. Now that doesn’t mean that any man can pastor a church, but it means his gender doesn’t exclude him.

A lot of people look at that and they say, “Well, how unfair. We should just shed this notion and treat women equally.” And of course our culture, everything in our culture, pushes us in that direction.

So we realize here as biblical Christians, we hold the position we do for the simple reason that this is what the Bible says. Because of that, we believe it is wise and good and best, even though it clearly is contrary to the cultural opinion.

Nancy: I’ve heard people say, “Well, some of the best Bible teachers in the country are women. Why should they be excluded from being pastors or elders in their churches? And you’re saying, “Simply because the Scripture precludes that.” Can you take us to the Scripture and show us the biblical basis for that thinking?

Dr. Ware: Yes. Let’s take a look first at 1 Timothy 2.

Nancy: As Dr. Ware opens this passage, let me encourage you if you have your Bible and you’re in a place where you can stop to just stop, to open to the text, 1 Timothy 2, so you can follow along as he helps us understand this text.

Dr. Ware: Of course, in this chapter Paul is giving a number of instructions to men and women. When he comes to the instruction to women beginning in verse 9, he talks about how they would dress appropriately and so on.

But then in verse 11 it’s very clear that he’s concerned about the issue of their role in relation to men in the church. So at verse 11 we read, “A woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet” (vv. 11–12, NASB). 

And of course, that “quiet” is not in an absolute sense. We know that because in 1 Corinthians 11 Paul encourages women there who pray and prophesy in the church to have their head covered. But nonetheless, in the church they’re involved in praying. So it’s not an absolute (see v. 5).

But what he means obviously is to be quiet in the context of not teaching, not teaching men in the church, which is not a prohibition by the way of women teaching women. In fact, there’s strong encouragement in the book of Titus for older women teaching younger women. The role that you have, Nancy. Complementarians believe is not only appropriate but is of enormous importance and benefit to the church as you strengthen women through your ministry.

Nancy: This is really a pattern that is born out in both the Old and New Testaments as you see God giving the primary responsibility for the leadership of His community of faith to men.

Dr. Ware: Yes indeed.

  • You see in the Old Testament with the calling of the twelve tribes of Israel as the sons of Jacob.
  • You have the role of the priests are all male without any exception, and the prophets dominantly male.

Now there are occasional prophetesses, and they do have a role as there are women prophets in the New Testament. But those prophetic roles in both Old and New Testaments were ones in which they state explicitly what God said, which is very different from teaching, where you take the Word of the Lord and you restate it.

As you said the Old Testament and then in the New Testament:

  • Jesus picked His twelve disciples who became the apostles of the church.
  • Then through their ministry they teach other men who will teach others to train others also.
  • All of the elders that are picked in the New Testament churches are qualified men.

So it’s a very clear picture, one that many in our culture don’t like. But nonetheless, it’s a very clear picture of male leadership in the New Testament church.

Nancy: Do you ever wonder why God designed it that way? We don’t have to know why. It’s enough that God says it. But do you have sense of why God may have designed it that way?

Dr. Ware: Well I do have a thought in terms of the general structure that He intended some to be in charge over others or have authority. It really relates in my understanding to the nature of God Himself; God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Within the very triune nature of the Persons of the Godhead there is authority and submission.

Nancy: Though they are co-equal, co-eternal.

Dr. Ware: Yes. So we realize in a very literal sense, when He created men and women as equal in essence but distinct in roles, this among other things, was to be a reflection of the Trinity—Father, Son and Spirit who are equal in essence but they differ in their roles. So the Son always, always does the will of His Father.

This include eternity past. He came down from heaven, Jesus says in John 6, to do the will of His Father. And in eternity future after all things are put in subjection to the Son, then the Son Himself in 1 Corinthians 15 will put Himself in subjection to the Father, that God the Father may be all in all.

So you have in the very triune structure of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit both authority and submission. One of the beautiful lessons that comes from that is that it is as God-like to submit with joy and gladness to rightful authority as it is God-like to exert rightful, careful authority.

So all of us—wives of course, men and women in a church who are under the eldership of others, all of us where we are in a position under the authority of employers—we all find ourselves in a position where we are under someone’s authority. We can demonstrate the very character of God as Christian people by submitting as we ought in those situations. Not only when we have positions of authority but also when we submit.

Nancy: As you see Christ the Son submitting to the authority of His Father, you realize there’s nothing demeaning about coming under God-ordained authority. It becomes for us a means of reflecting to the world what God is like.

Dr. Ware: Yes indeed. If we really could do it like Christ, what a wonderful thing it would be because we realize that Christ found His greatest joy in doing just that. For example, in the brief comment He makes after His discussion with the woman at the well, “It is my food to do the will of my Father” (John 4:34). 

Nancy, wouldn’t that be wonderful if you and I had that attitude of heart every moment of our days? Of course, because of sin, we don’t. We so often want our own ways. But this is how God intends life to be lived, to embrace and not chafe against the call that He gives to us to yield to rightful authority.

Nancy: Now, some would take this passage you started us out on, 1 Timothy 2 there, and say that passages like that were written by Paul in a patriarchal culture. That’s just the way the culture was, and Paul was making a concession to the culture and therefore that’s not relevant in our culture which is not set up that way.

Dr. Ware: Yes, very good point. In fact, many have argued just exactly as you have said Nancy and say, “Well yes, Paul did say that, but it applies only to that church in that particular time. Perhaps there were women in that church who were teaching false doctrine. Perhaps their attitudes weren’t right. So just in that setting he says to that church, ‘I don’t allow these women to teach or exercise authority.’”

The problem with that understanding Nancy is that the basis Paul then gives for why this is the case takes us right back to Genesis chapters 1 and 2. So after he says in verse 12 of 1 Timothy 2, “I don’t allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man,” he follows that up then with three arguments in the verses that follow.

Verse 13: “For it was Adam who was created first, and then Eve” (NASB). In other words, God intended to make a statement by creating the man first. That statement was, “I expect you to understand that man has rightful authority over the woman who then is created next.” And of course, she’s created as we know in Genesis 2, as a helpmeet for him. Paul, by the way in 1 Corinthians 11, makes that point. He doesn’t make it here in 1 Timothy 2, but he does make that point in 1 Corinthians 11 (see v. 9).

So verse 13: “It was Adam who was created first.” Verse 14: “For it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression.” Now here it’s difficult to know for sure. Some have taken this to mean a woman shouldn’t teach. Why? Because women are more apt to be deceived. That is a possible interpretation of this but it’s not one I hold or would commend.

I rather think it means this: Verse 14: “It was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman was deceived and fell into transgression.” Notice to whom the serpent approached in Genesis 3. He came deliberately to the woman. He deceived the woman not the man. What does that tell you? Well, Satan was deliberately subverting the authority relationship that God had established. So by his approach to the woman not to the man, deceiving the woman first, it shows his disregard and his rejection of God’s authority structure, which was the man having authority over the woman.

Then verse 15: “But the woman will be preserved,” literally saved, “through the bearing of children if they continue in faith and love and sanctity with self-restraint.” The word that is used in that verse translated in the NASB as preserved really does literally mean “saved.” It’s a word that is used every time in the New Testament for ultimate salvation, salvation in the end, being in heaven.

So here it says a woman will be saved through child bearing. What in the world is this?

Nancy: I’m hoping you’re going to tell us.

Dr. Ware: Well, here’s what I think it is. Instead of a woman wanting to teach men—verse 12: “I don’t allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man.” Instead of a woman wanting to do what a man, what a qualified man is called to do, here’s the mark of a true Christian woman. She embraces her identity as a woman. She doesn’t buck at it or chafe at it or wish she could be a man. She says, “God, thank You for making me a woman.”

Now in most cases, look at how He made women. He made women to be the bearers of children. So in most cases that identity of a woman is manifest in her being wife and mother. Now obviously, we know God called Jesus to be single. Paul was single. He calls many people to be single.

So obviously, this is not a universal statement, but it is a general statement that He calls women then to embrace how God made them as women, namely for the most part to be wives and mothers. So rather than resisting what God wants you to be, embrace what God has made you to be and calls you to be.

Nancy: So help us out here where the rubber meets the road in the context of the local church. We got an email from a listener yesterday saying, “Is it okay for a woman to teach a couple’s Sunday school class in our church?” Now I don’t know what the context is; I don’t know why they were asking. But I know there are those who would say, “It may be that the best teacher, the most qualified, the most gifted, the most biblically knowledgeable person in that class who could teach it is a woman.”

Are you saying, are we saying that women are not necessarily good enough students of the Word or not capable of teaching the Word? How do we counsel in a situation like this?

Dr. Ware: Boy, that’s a very good question and very difficult. Let me share a couple thoughts that come to my mind. Number one is, I think women sometimes for all the right motivations, they want to help. They want to fill the hole that’s there. They see a need, and they want to meet it. So for what are really very commendable motivations, they actually step in and do something that God forbids them to do.

So even if it’s motivated rightly, if it is doing something God said not to do, then it isn’t the right thing to do. One practical ramification of that that can hurt the church is that often times, men then find less reason to step up to the plate and fill that same hole if they find out the women are doing it.

I think this is true often times in different ministries—Sunday school classes, ministries in the church—where it ought to be men who are taking the leadership and doing it. Women again, I’m giving the benefit of the doubt here, for the best of motives, jump in and do it, and then men don’t see the reason for doing it. And this can lead us, some social commentators have indicated, can lead to the feminization of the church where women have more leadership. There are more women than men who end up attending churches, and then men are less inclined to attend or lead. So it can have that negative implication.

But the main point is, of course, that God has said that He wants qualified men to be the teachers, and we should accept that.

My other comment on this is in 1 Timothy 2, where we just were a moment ago, where he says, "I don't allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man . . ." It has often struck me . . . Paul easily could have said instead, "I don't allow a woman to be an elder." I say that because in the next chapter he's moving right into the qualities of elders and deacons.

When you look at the qualifications of an elder, the two things that really stand out as distinctively elder qualifications are: teaching, he's able to teach and ruling his household. Those two areas that Paul mentions in verse 12 really are the two distinctive areas of elders.

So why didn't he just say, "I don't allow a woman to be an elder." Well, he didn't. He rather focused on the function and not the office. I think that helps us today. We think of parachurch organizations or other settings that are not formally in the church building—what we think of as the church gathered. Yet if a woman is teaching in this setting and it involves men, even if she is not an elder, she is not a pastor, then it violates 1 Timothy 2.

So in those settings, I think we need to accept what God says. And that may mean that a woman has to accept sitting under the teaching of a man knowing she could be doing a better job but in the process having this great confidence of heart and knowing that she is following God’s ways in this.

Nancy: I know that what you have just said and what we’re saying here on Revive Our Hearts will raise some hackles. We’ll get some letters from those who strenuously disagree. And what we would say is Dr. Ware is not the authority. Nancy DeMoss is not the authority. Go back to the Scripture and see the plain teaching of the Scripture.

I think you’ve touched on something, Dr. Ware, that I know many of us as women relate to and that is the inclination many of us have, and that is to want to step into a vacuum where we feel in the home or in the church that there isn’t the kind of male leadership. Now I’m blessed to be a part of a church that does have strong, godly, wise male leadership, and I’m so thankful for that. But I know that’s not the case in every situation.

What I’ve seen over and over again in churches and in homes and in parachurch ministries is that when we as women step in to fill the vacuum rather than waiting on the Lord to raise up men to be leaders is then the men do tend to step back and say, “You want to run this thing? Go ahead. Take over.”

Something I prayed years ago as I read in the Scripture for example in Acts 6 where those first deacons are appointed and God provided for the church men who were full of the Holy Spirit, full of wisdom. I began to pray years ago, “Lord, would You raise up godly men to lead and to feed the church of Jesus Christ in our ministries, in our homes?”

It’s been a real blessing to me just in my own surroundings to see the Lord answer that prayer over the years. As a result, my life has been blessed. I’ve experienced the spiritual instruction and protection and direction from godly men and I consider it a privilege.

But I think it’s something we as women need to be doing and that is praying and asking the Lord to raise up these godly men. Then when the men are there in those positions to be their cheerleaders, to lift up their hands, to support and encourage and strengthen rather than picking apart, criticizing, or pulling them down in any way.

As we do that, we have no longer the battle of the sexes, but we have men and women serving together for the glory of God and revealing to the world the character and the nature of God.

Dr. Ware: Amen.

Leslie: Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth and Bruce Ware have given us a lot to think about. We just heard Nancy invite us to study this topic deeper, so let me tell you about some valuable next steps you can take.

When you send a gift to Revive Our Hearts to keep this ministry coming your way each weekday, we’d like to send you a booklet called "A 30-Day Journey Through the True Woman Manifesto." Each day when you go through this study, you’ll read a statement from the Manifesto. You’ll then examine a number of Scripture passages that support that statement and record your observations.

We’ll also send you a pamphlet with the complete text of the Manifesto. When you call with your donation, ask for "A 30-Day Journey Through the True Woman Manifesto." The number is 1–800–569–5959, or you can visit

Tomorrow, we’ll pick this conversation back up with Dr. Bruce Ware. He’s explained that God doesn’t call women to the role of pastor or elder. But does that mean women can’t fill any role?

Dr. Ware: Sometimes I think the church has not helped in this by being overly restrictive to what women can do in the church.

Leslie: That’s tomorrow on Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth wants to help you live out the beauty of biblical femininity. It's an outreach of Life Action Ministries.


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About the Teacher

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has touched the lives of millions of women through Revive Our Hearts and the True Woman movement, calling them to heart revival and biblical womanhood. Her love for Christ and His Word is infectious, and permeates her online outreaches, conference messages, books, and two daily nationally syndicated radio programs—Revive Our Hearts and Seeking Him.

She has authored twenty-two books, including Lies Women Believe and the Truth That Sets Them Free, Seeking Him (coauthored), Adorned: Living Out the Beauty of the Gospel Together, and You Can Trust God to Write Your Story (coauthored with her husband). Her books have sold more than five million copies and are reaching the hearts of women around the world. Nancy and her husband, Robert, live in Michigan.