Project Wittenberg

Women in the Church
Scriptural Principles and Ecclesial Practice

Part II

A Report of the
Commission on Theology and Church Relations
of the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod

September 1985

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The foregoing overview of women in the Bible has shown the New Testament is replete with affirmations of the personhood of women and of their valuable contributions to the work of the church. Women and men are equally members of the priesthood of believers by faith in Jesus Christ. They are both called to "declare the wonderful deeds of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light." (1 Peter 2:9)

Mindful of these positive declarations, we must now take in account specific directives in the Scriptures concerning the status women in the church, as well as their theological foundation. The theological foundation-which dare not be distorted or ignored attitude or action- is that both men and women have been created in the image of God (Genesis 1-2). The specific Scriptural directives regarding the service of women issue from the three texts most prominent in the contemporary discussions of women in the church: 1 Cor. 11:2-16, which speaks of the covering of the head; 1 Cor. 14:34-35, where silence on the part of women in the church enjoined; and 1 Tim. 2:8-15, which restricts teaching and the exercise of authority by women in the church. These passages, in turn, entail four broader principles fundamental for providing counsel regard what women may and may not do in the church today: 1) the proper appreciation of humankind as male and female equally created in image of God; 2) the proper relationship between man and woman which God established at creation and how that relationship is specifically maintained in the church; 3) the proper understanding "headship" and "submitting oneself' for defining male-female relationships in the church; and 4) the proper relationship between distinctive functions of the pastoral office and the exercise of authority in the church.

A. Male and Female

The book of Genesis teaches that woman is a special creation of God (Gen. 1:26-27; 2:18-24). Like Adam, so Eve, "the mother living" (Gen. 3:20), was created in the image and likeness of the Creator. Although in Genesis 1 and 2 there are two accounts of the creation of humankind, they both express this truth.

B. Creation and Redemption

The concept of creation-God's work and will as revealed in the creation of humankind-is critical for dealing Scripturally with the issue of male-female identities. Also of great importance is the concept of "new" creation-God's work and will as revealed in redemption. Two more formal terms have come into general theological usage to indicate these realities:

These two terms, "Order of Creation" and "Order of Redemption," were popularized by Emil Brunner in his work The Divine Imperative. [21] However, the concepts which these terms denote are of long-standing importance in the Lutheran theological tradition. Luther, for example, spoke of the social relationships (such as marriage and family, people, state, and economy) in which everyone finds himself, including the Christian, and in which he is subject to the commandments which God gave as Creator to all people. Husband and wife, parents and children have their own respective positions in relation to each other. The obligatory character of these orders of things derives from the Creator Himself. Luther employed such terms as Stand ("station") and Beruf ("calling") to refer to the relationships in the order of creation. [22] Francis Pieper employs the term Schoepferordnung ("order of creation") in his Christian Dogmatics. [23] The modern theologian Werner Elert uses this same term, together with the expression Seins-Gefuege ("structure of being"). [24]

How do these two orders relate to each other when applied to male- female identities? According to the order of creation, God assigned individual identities to each sex. He "from the beginning, made them male and female" (Matt. 19:4). The identities and functions of each are not interchangeable; they must remain distinct. This is the burden of the Pauline use of the opening chapter Genesis in those passages concerned with women in the church.

C. Headship and Subordination

The idea that God desires man to be the head of woman and .woman to be subordinate to man is rooted deeply in the Old and New Testaments. While this Biblical truth may offend the sensibilities of some because it is so easily subject to misunderstanding and abuse, (even within the church itself), it is the Creator's intention that we gratefully recognize and receive the ordered relationship of headship/subordination as an arrangement whereby the welfare of others may be served. [40] We have not properly understood the interrelated concepts of headship (1 Cor. 11:3) and subordination (1 Cor. 14:34) if we take them to be equivalent to superiority or domination. [41]

D. The Exercise of Authority

The three previous Scriptural principles concerning women in the church converge in St. Paul's specific directives regarding their speaking and teaching in the congregation at worship. (1 Cor. 14:33b- 35; 1 Tim. 2:11-15)

E. Summary

Although only four major principles regarding women in the church have been discussed above, it may be helpful to summarize more extensively several key points made in this treatment of the pertinent Biblical texts.


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Rev. Robert E. Smith
Walther Library
Concordia Theological Seminary.

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