What do you think about women’s conferences? Many conservative and even Reformed or Calvinistic churches seem to support the idea of having women’s conferences where pastor’s wives are usually invited to speak on subjects such as ‘biblical feminism’. Should we participate in such conferences or encourage our sisters to attend such conferences?
Before I answer this question, I feel it necessary for me to make a qualifier out of respect for ministerial friends whom I greatly respect, from whose ministries I have benefited much and who are in many ways much more gifted and qualified than I am as an exegete of the Scriptures and a minister of the Gospel. I remember how the late Dr Gerstner when expounding on the 4th Commandment would make similar remarks out of respect for his friends in the ministry who understood the 4th Commandment differently. I am making this qualification for the same reason, namely that many of my esteemed friends may differ from me on this question. But my conscience is bounded by the Scripture to speak what I believe to be the will of God rather than to please man. “For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ” (Gal 1:10).
That said, let me begin by declaring plainly that I will not support any such women’s conferences, nor will I encourage my wife and daughters or church members under my pastoral care to attend any such conference. I believe these conferences are not only contrary to biblical principles but can give rise to pernicious consequences in the life and ministries of the churches involved in them. I believe, if we look carefully, we will see how the history and development of Presbyterian and Reformed Churches, especially in America, over the last century bears testimony of what I am saying.
But a warning from history aside, what is far more important is for us to reflect on the Word of God has to instruct us on the subject. Let me as such give five biblical reasons for the position I have taken on the matter.
First, I do not see anywhere in the Scriptures that there is such an office as pastor’s wife in the church. Where in the Scriptures are we told that pastor’s wives should be involved in the formal teaching, instruction, or public speaking in the church? The wives of pastors who would take it upon themselves to teach just because they are pastor’s wives have taken upon themselves an office not sanctioned by Christ the head of the church.
Secondly, where in the Scriptures are we told that biblical instructions given by women to women are more effectual and desirable than biblical instructions given by men to women, such that it has become necessary for women to teach women when the husband of the man could well do the same teaching? Could not the pastor teach on biblical feminism rather than the pastor’s wife? If there are subjects that a sister might want to share with other sisters, which would not be convenient for a man to share, those subjects should probably not be discussed in an open conference. I don’t think the subject of ‘biblical feminism’ cannot be addressed by a man. If the women in attendance would not take it from a man, it goes to show that the conference is simply encouraging anti-biblical feminism. In fact, the woman speaker (I say not preacher) would, by her example of public speaking in such a context, be ironically, promoting anti-biblical feminism!
Thirdly, the apostle Paul says:
“Ah,” says the organizers and supporters of women’s conferences, “Paul is only forbidding women from teaching if they usurp the authority over the man!” But no! Paul does not say: “I suffer not a woman to teach men” nor does he say, “I suffer not a woman to teach for she may usurp authority over the man.” No, no, the conjunction he uses is the word ‘nor’ (oujdev, oude). He is saying: (1) “I suffer not a woman to teach”; and (2) “I suffer not a woman to usurp authority over the man.” Paul is, of course, referring to ‘church instruction’ (cf. 1 Cor 14:34-35) or instructions pertaining to Christian doctrine and practice. It appears to me that ‘biblical feminism’ would fall under Paul’s prohibition.
Fourthly, it is true that the apostle Paul did instruct Titus to teach “aged women” to “teach young women” (Tit 2:3-4). But we must be careful not to misunderstand the apostle Paul or to make him contradict himself. Indeed, Paul is very careful in his choice of words so that he does not contradict himself! For when he says “teach young women” (v. 4), he does not use the word, ‘didavskw’ (didaskô) which would be the word he would use if he is intending to speak of instruction in a formal setting of a classroom, a conference or even a bible study. Instead, he uses the word ‘swfronivzw’ (sôphronizô). This is the only time, Paul uses this word in the New Testament. It may refer to “[bringing] someone to his senses” or to “encourage, advise, urge” (BAGD, s.v. ‘swfronivzw’). But it does not mean ‘lecture’ or ‘instruct from a pulpit’ or even ‘expound from the scripture.’ Paul, is no doubt, referring to private and personal motherly counsels of older women to younger women who are known to them!
Fifthly, Paul’s use of the word, ‘kalodidavskalo’ (kalodidaskalos) which is translated ‘teacher of good things’ (Tit 2:3) must not be used to justify conference-instructions. For in the first place, that would contradict what Paul says elsewhere (see above). In the second place, the word occurs only once in the New Testament (or for that matter, in extent Greek literature of the period), and it is perilous to use it to support a practice that appears to be condemned in other Pauline writings. In the third place, Paul explains how the aged women are to be ‘kalodidavskalo’ by using the verb ‘swfronivzw’ (v. 4) which we have already explained above. It appears to me that the furthest we can go with the word would be as Matthew Henry puts it:
What shall we do with these five reasons? I do not think we can argue them away by claiming that what Paul is saying is applicable only the culture and time of his readers. To do so, would be to open the door to the same unbiblical feminism that has plagued the church for half a century. Let us take warning from history and providence. What may seem like a good idea from a humanistic point of view may really be a bad idea from a biblical standpoint. However talented and experienced at public speaking some of our sisters (in the church visible) may be, I am convinced that it is a very bad idea to organise women’s conferences from a biblical point of view. Let us be obedient to Scriptures to do the will of God rather than to insist on our own ways or more accurately, the ways of the world. Ω