I understand that PCC does not allow women to teach in the church, and I understand the biblical basis for such a prohibition (1 Tim 2:11–12). My question is, if that is the case, how can a woman serve in the church?
You are right to note that PCC does not allow women to teach, though for the toddler’s class (2–3 years old), which is taken by the men in the church on a rotational basis, their wives do assist. You are also right that 1 Timothy 2:11–12 is the basis of our restriction; after all, Paul does not give us any exception. He says: “Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.” However, 1 Timothy 2:12 is frequently read with tinted eye-glasses so that Paul is made to say: “I suffer not a woman to teach older men, because she might usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence during the worship services.” I use to read it like that myself because the Christian tradition, that I was in, allows women to teach women, children and younger men—so long as it is outside the worship service. In fact, even this ‘rule’ of in or out of worship service is often not followed.
I mentioned the Christian tradition that I was in not to find fault with the previous churches that I was in, but to highlight the fact that our mindsets and concerns are often shaped by the circumstances we are used to. A couple of years ago, I was a strong advocate of fellowship groups, contact groups, special interest groups, etc. And being a leader in one such group, I had urged every member to serve “in at least one formal capacity”—be it in choir, in Sunday School or as a Bible Study leader. It took me a long time before I begin to realise that I was fostering a mentality regarding the Christian life in which one who serves (in “a formal capacity”) is regarded as having a better standing than one who does not. Together with this mentality is the dangerous notion that I am spiritually healthy so long as I am actively serving in some capacity. Few will admit that he or she has such a notion in mind, and there will, indeed, be those who are serving out of love for Christ and a burden for souls, but anyone who is serving with a wrong motive is in danger of idolatry—of replacing Christ with our own works. This, I believe is a danger that particularly attends every church that focuses heavily on activities. Acts of service and participation in fellowship groups may simply become the anaesthetic for ailing spiritual health.
Now coming back to PCC. Since we have little institutionalised avenues for service, what can a woman do? Well, first of all, let me say that I do believe that every member in a church has the responsibility of serving the Lord by serving other members in the church. The Apostle Peter makes it clear: “As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God” (1 Pet 4:10; cf. Rom 12:4–8; 1 Cor 12:7–12, 25; Eph 4:12). The question is how can a woman serve? Let me suggest seven areas, which I believe are biblical.
Firstly, we must not forget that a church is not merely a gathering of Christians on the Lord’s Day. It is the body of Christ, and so, service in the church does not necessarily involve doing something on the Lord’s Day. And since the church is made up of families, one of the most important areas of service for a woman is to support her husband in building a godly family (Tit 2:4–5; 1 Tim 5:10, 14). This may include helping her husband to catechise their children, especially in helping them to memorise the catechism (cf. 2 Tim 3:15; 1:5).
Secondly, a woman can serve the Lord by hospitality (1 Tim 5:10; 1 Pet 4:9). How does she exercise hospitality? By making visitors to the church feel welcomed. By contributing to the fellowship lunches (Lk 8:3; Jn 12:2). Or have you considered inviting someone who is new to our assembly for dinner at your home (with your husband’s agreement of course!)?
Thirdly, she may instruct—informally. Older women should teach the younger women “to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed” (Tit 2:4–5). Without usurping the authority of her husband, a wife may even support her husband when he has an opportunity to explain “the way of God more perfectly” (Acts 18:26) to someone who may be lacking in some areas of doctrine.
Fourthly, a woman may serve the Lord and the congregation by praying for others. The women in the early church were not known to teach in Sunday School. Sunday Schools did not exist until late in the 18th century! But women were known for their dedication to prayers (Acts 1:14). Have you been praying regularly for the members in the church, and for your pastor that he will preach with liberty, accuracy and power? This is an extremely important area of service often eclipsed by the more prominent areas of services—much of which have no biblical warrant.
Fifthly, experience teaches us that women play a most important role of encouraging members in the congregation by writing cards, letters or by their handiwork. Dorcas was known and loved for good works and handiworks (Acts 9:36, 39). And I personally have been much encouraged by the little notes, which the sisters have written to spur me on in the work of the Lord. This was how I began to take much notice of my wife in the first place!
Sixthly, in the modern church, there is also a place for women, with their acumen for details to provide administrative and secretarial help. This may take the form of proof-reading, grammatical editing, photo-copying, etc., etc. If you are single or do not have children yet, you may want to consider serving in such areas.
Seventhly, it must be acknowledged that women can enhance the congregation singing of the church tremendously. Congregational singing is hardly ever considered an area of service, but if your singing helps others in their worship of the Lord, would not your gift be used to edify the saints? Have you considered spending time to learn the new tunes and sitting at strategic seats during congregational worship so that those who are less musically inclined may be encouraged to sing distinctly in worship?
These are but some areas in which a sister may serve—without violating the Word of God. It is my prayer that the sisters in PCC will indeed take upon themselves to serve the brethren according to the unique gifts and talents that the Lord has given them—without feeling they must serve in a spectacular area.
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