Why We Do What We Do at Lake Avenue Church

Male and Female Serving the Lord at LAC

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Audio Recording of Townhall Meeting on August 7, 2018

Audio Recording of Townhall Meeting on July 31, 2018

Audio Recording of Townhall Meeting on July 24, 2018

Among the most frequent questions asked of me by newcomers to LAC is our position on whether one’s gender affects opportunities for service. On one side, people observe that our founder was a woman, that we have women pastors and that our ministerial credentialing process includes both women and men. On the other side, there seem to be some roles women are not filling in the life of our church. After a question about this was brought up during a 2015 congregational meeting, our Ministry Council (MC) members asked me to lead them through a biblically and theologically based review of the issue. This has led to quite a three-year-long journey for us as a Ministry Council.

Before beginning our discussions on the MC level, I put together a small group of church members holding varying viewpoints to help discern the issues important to our church family related to the relationship of gender to service in a local church. My goal in that step was to enable me to bring the kind of input to the MC that might help us identify the central issues we should address in our discussions. In 2017, the MC began to have more formal discussions about what the Bible teaches on how gender is to affect opportunities for serving at LAC. Our discussions were intentionally biblical and theological rather than cultural or ideological. We read books and articles from varying viewpoints about the matter (see the suggested readings at the end of this document) and prayerfully began to talk about it together.

I would be remiss if I did not say that our discussions were straightforward and sometimes agonizing. We felt (and feel) the weight of being faithful to God’s Word as we seek to lead the congregation. I must also say upfront that the Ministry Council members were not and are not in full agreement about all the questions we have discussed. And, I am becoming increasingly aware of the fact that this is true throughout our church as a whole. Indeed, I have been discovering that, when some in our church family learned that we have been discussing the matter, this fact alone seemed to lead to a whole host of expectations, hopes, concerns, anxiety, etc., etc. In spite of this, the MC and I have accepted that, even without complete unanimity, it is our calling as elected leaders at LAC to do the best we can to explain why we do what we do as a church and to offer biblical grounds for our practice.

In this paper, I hope to provide an introduction to the topic based on our discussions in anticipation of some Town Hall meetings we are offering to this topic at LAC. The paper is longer than you might want. Still, I ask you to read through it carefully and with much prayer as we prepare for our meetings. I am praying that the gatherings will provide a God-glorifying opportunity for us to talk about some of the questions congregations like ours ask about the issue at hand. I am also praying we’ll be able to engage the matter in an open and, with God’s help, respect-filled forum. Knowing that many people will not be able to wade through the whole of this paper, I want you to know immediately of a few of the points important to me as your Sr. Pastor:

  1. That though I am quite sure that, on this matter, we at LAC will not agree fully on all points, I also pray everyone will recognize that we are seeking as a church to apply God’s Word to our setting as faithfully as we know how;That though I am quite sure that, on this matter, we at LAC will not agree fully on all points, I also pray everyone will recognize that we are seeking as a church to apply God’s Word to our setting as faithfully as we know how;

  2. That one of the most significant motivators in all our discussions and prayers has been the clear teaching of the New Testament that it is the Spirit of God who gives spiritual gifts to the Body of Christ. God alone determines to whom spiritual gifts are given and what those gifts will be. The responsibility God entrusts to those in spiritual leadership is to identify the people to whom God’s Spirit has given gifts, to develop those gifts and to set them free for service.

  3. That we are committed to operating in keeping with our bylaws, i.e., that the congregation ultimately determines who serves where in the life of the church. Regarding all elected leadership at LAC, individuals are elected as the congregation votes about the recommendations made through the Nominating Committee and Ministry Council processes described in the bylaws.

  4. That we seek to operate in ways consistent with our denomination’s position. LAC is a part of the Conservative Congregational Christian Conference (Four C’s). Here is the position as stated at this site: https://www.ccccusa.com/about-us/position-papers/statement-regarding-ministerial-standing-of-women/

    It appears evident to us that Christians, equally committed to the authority of Holy Scripture, may disagree on whether or not the Scriptures allow for the ordination of women… We affirm that persons who are firmly committed to the authority of God’s Word, though they differ in their interpretations of the Word on this subject, are welcome to hold their convictions with clear conscience within our fellowship… We urge, in this issue as in others, that members of the Conference relate to one another in a spirit of love and unity. Members are not asked to compromise their own convictions, but are asked to respect the right of others, who are also devoted to the Head of the Church and to His Word, to hold their own convictions as well.”

  5. That our Nominating Committee needs to know what the criteria are for those who will serve in elected leadership here at LAC. When I first became Senior Pastor at LAC, I put together a worksheet commenting on the various qualifications for spiritual leadership in local churches as found in 1 Tim 3:1-3; 4:13-16 and Titus 1:5-9. The worksheet has been used by all our Nominating Committees to vet candidates for over 10 years. However, that worksheet did not address the question of whether one’s gender affects ministry opportunities. As the pastor of a church that says our final authority for what we believe and how we live is the Bible, I have felt a burden to search the Scriptures and be guided by it in this matter as well all other matters.

Important Considerations

  1. The Two Main Views

    Since the 16th C, when various reformation movements led to the establishment of a number of Protestant church denominations, non-Catholic local churches have operated in keeping with one of two differing positions, i.e., complementarianism and egalitarianism. Complementarians hold that there are certain positions of service in the local church from which women are restricted while egalitarians hold that there are no areas of service that should be restricted solely on the basis of gender. Churches that identify themselves as complementarian differ significantly about the specific areas of service that should be restricted.

  2. LAC and the Two Views

    Both men and women have played critically important leadership roles throughout LAC’s history. We identify a young woman, Haidee Bryant, as the church’s main founder. For over 125 years, women have served in significant leadership roles both here in Pasadena as well as among our global missionary force. We have had and still have women pastors, Ministry Council members and Division chairs. It seems that the people of LAC have long held a breadth of perspectives about gender and service. However, LAC has operated throughout its history without women serving in roles such as that of the Sr. Pastor, the church chair and vice-chair. This became somewhat more established as church practice in 1997 via a position paper entitled “Men and Women in Leadership.” In it, the Senior Pastor presented his view of the matter, a paper that was affirmed by the MC – though not by the congregation. In our discussions, we determined that the restrictions on service found in that 1997 position paper have never been mandated by LAC’s bylaws.

    It may be important to note here that the LAC bylaws describe the Senior Pastor by using a masculine pronoun. The same is not the case with any other role or place of service in the church. Here is the statement:

    Senior Pastor. The Senior Pastor is the overall spiritual shepherd of the Congregation. He is the church’s chief theologian and spiritual advisor. He determines who will preside and preach at the regular worship services and other spiritual meetings of the church. All pastors and the entire church staff report to him either directly or indirectly through a staff structure.

    It is clear that the framers of our bylaws intended to have the church’s main teaching authority vested in the Senior Pastor. The Ministry Council has discussed whether the use of masculine pronouns in reference to the Sr. Pastor in our bylaws was originally intended to be “gender inclusive” or whether it constituted a mandate requiring the Sr. Pastor at LAC to be male. We were not unanimous in our opinion. However, all Senior Pastors in our 125+ year history have been men.

  3. Our Authority

    LAC is a local church committed to the Bible being the final authority for determining decisions about these kinds of issues. This is rooted in the 2nd article of our Statement of Faith (SOF):

    “...As the inspired Word of God, (the Bible) is without error in the original writings, the complete revelation of His will for salvation, and the ultimate authority for what we believe and for how we live…”

    Consistent with that article of faith, we seek to submit our practice in this matter of gender and service, as in all matters, to our understanding of Scriptural teaching. By that, we mean that we intend to obey Scripture regardless of what the waves of current culture might push toward or what the practices of tradition might hold back. In other words, we have determined that, as we seek to make decisions, our final authority for those decisions will neither be culture nor tradition. We are people of the Word.

  4. “Disputable Matters”

    From the earliest days of my contact with LAC, people have celebrated that we have tremendous breadth and diversity about almost everything in our church, i.e., everything except the core issues of the Gospel and our mission to make disciples of all nations. My wife Chris and I were told again and again, “This is who we are. If you don’t like that kind of breadth and variety, you won’t like us.” It’s as Dr. Barry Corey has written in his book, Love Kindness: we pride ourselves in being hard at the core (i.e., the issues related to the gospel of Jesus) and soft on the edges (welcoming a lot of viewpoints and differences).

    So, one of the unifying parts of a church as diverse as LAC is that we share a commitment to the central teachings of our faith, teaching found in the ten articles of our LAC Statement of Faith. While we share the convictions established in those articles, we also disagree about many other matters, matters like those the Apostle Paul called “disputable matters” in Romans 14:1-19. Specifically, LAC has long been a church in which both complementarians and egalitarians have worshiped together and served alongside one another. It still is.

    Be assured of this: The Ministry Council members are unanimous in our belief that genuine Christians can disagree about matters related to gender and service with those adhering to both sides of the debate being people fully committed to the truthfulness and authority of Scripture. As we have prayerfully studied the topic over the past few years, we have discovered that a credible biblical and theological case can be made to support both the complementarian and egalitarian positions. We are not thereby saying that we believe that contradictory views can both be equally true. But, we believe both views can be well-defended.

    In light of that, the issue of gender and service is neither addressed directly in our Statement of Faith nor our bylaws. It is, therefore, not a subject central to our unity and our fellowship together. We believe complementarians and egalitarians should be able to be pastors, Ministry Council members, Division Chairs, etc. and to expect that their respective views will be heard and respected in the life of our church. We also believe we can disagree about questions related to the topic and still live in unity in one church family. At least, we know we should be able to do so.

  5. The Necessity of Decision

    Even though we believe this is a “disputable matter”, we also believe that, different from some other “disputable matters”, each local church must make decisions about where its people may and may not serve. Even if we might choose to leave this as an open issue for ongoing Bible study and discussion, we still know that not to make a decision about it ends up being a decision. In order to have our church ministries function at all, people need to know where the church allows them to serve and where it does not. Over the past few years, we who have been elected to be a part of the Ministry Council have discerned that we need to establish biblically consistent criteria to guide our church family about gender and service. While we are fully aware that not all will agree with the position we take on the matter, we are sure we must make clear the biblical understanding that undergirds our practice.

  6. The Challenge of Our Polity

    One of the central concerns of this entire discussion has to do with the issue of authority. The main question we have discussed is whether God’s Word gives clear directives about whether both men and women may serve in roles that have certain kinds of authority – whether spiritual, teaching, preaching, etc. However, LAC is a congregationalist church. The kind of congregationalism embedded in our bylaws (for there are several kinds) is one in which the ultimate human authority for decision-making is the congregation. This reality has been foundational for our MC considerations. By that, I mean that, if we choose as a congregationalist church to operate in keeping with a complementarian position, we must also honestly acknowledge that the ultimate human authority in our church is the congregation – and its membership is comprised both of men and women. Because of that, our particular kind of congregationalist polity, at the very least, points toward egalitarianism. Many believe it demands egalitarian practice in order to be consistent. In other words, in our polity, it will be both men and women church members who have the decision-making authority to determine who should be able to assume any other kind of authority in the church. The Senior Pastor and the Ministry Council both serve under the authority of our congregation’s members.

  7. What Is at Stake

    When we say that “gender and service” is a disputable matter, we are not saying it is insignificant. Far from it. Over these three years of considering the issue, I have been learning that people in our church family, who hold views on both sides of this issue, hold them with deep earnestness and biblical conviction.

    I have also learned over these three years that this topic is a very, very personal matter. This is surely the case for many of our women who are sensing the prompting of God’s Spirit to ministry of all kinds. It is true of many parents and grandparents of girls and young women who want the gifts of their children to be utilized without restriction. But, it is also true of those who hold a more complementarian view of how Scripture should be applied in their church and are concerned that their much-loved church will bow to winds of culture instead of adhering to Scripture. That is to say: I’ve discovered that, in general, all LAC people deeply long for our church to be faithful to God’s Word and to the leading of God’s Spirit in all things.

    Moreover, in the days of the New Testament church, to have appointed a woman to some leadership roles may have harmed Christian witness because a woman in leadership was sometimes an offense to people in the broader culture, particularly to those who came from a Jewish heritage. This seems to be part of what the Apostle Paul writes about in 1 Timothy 2:1-15. (See my comments on this passage below.). In our current culture, the opposite may be the case.

Finally, I reiterate that one responsibility of those in spiritual leadership in a church is to identify and develop the gifts the Holy Spirit gives to the church and then to set them free for service. I believe that if we sense the Spirit of God has given gifts, we had better have unassailable biblical grounds if we restrict their use within the body.

So, as a final acknowledgement in these preliminary considerations, I want to re-state some weighty concerns that many in our congregation have expressed to me: For some at LAC, to open all areas of service both to men and women might be interpreted as us giving up Scriptural authority and giving in to cultural pressure. For others, to restrict women from areas of service might be interpreted as us being guided not so much by Scripture as much as by tradition. I have heard those concerns frequently and take them very, very seriously. They have sent me to a place of prayer again and again.

These are the way the concerns are often expressed in my discussions:

  1. “You’re just giving in the modern culture and are ignoring the Bible.”
  2. “You’re just bound by tradition and are ignoring the Bible.”

I want to assure you that, as a Ministry Council, we have consciously, intentionally and prayerfully resisted the temptation to do either of those. Instead, we have surrendered our consciences and our decisions to the Word of God. Our posture as your Ministry Council is the one that Anselm called us to almost a thousand years ago, i.e., that with humility, faith must seek understanding. In these three years, we have constantly seen that we need to keep seeking understanding of how God’s Word is to be applied to this issue in a church like ours in the 21st C San Gabriel Valley.


I state again that the most important thing about this issue in our church is how we interpret and apply the Bible’s teaching. There are many Bible texts that have some bearing upon the issue at hand. Those who write books on either side of the question often take us through the sweep of the Bible’s teaching on what it means to be and live as male and female. And, the size of the books that explicate the Bible’s teaching related to the topic is – well, many of those books are huge. The classic books used to defend complementarianism and egalitarianism each are well over 500 pages long. In a paper that should not be 500 pages long, I have chosen simply to walk through in summarizing form those Bible passages we have found to be of greatest importance to our considerations.

The “Beginnings” -- Genesis 1-3

Genesis 1-3 is the beginning of the “book of beginnings” and provides the ground for our understanding of almost every foundational issue related to human existence. And, in describing what it means to be human, it provides this seminal teaching:

God created mankind (Hebrew is “adam”) in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them

Even after the people sinned in Gen 3, God’s Word, in Gen 5:1-2, reinforces this foundational identity of human beings being made in God’s image:

When God created mankind, he made them in the likeness of God. He created them male and female and blessed them. And he named them “Adam” (same word as 1:27) when they were created.

At the very least, these passages are declaring that both men and women bear God’s image. But, it also seems to be saying that when men and women come together, as in a marriage, they become one and their plurality reflects something of the image of a God who is one and yet more than one. Interestingly, in Gen 5:2, the two people together were named “adam”. There is something about a man and woman in relationship together that reflects God’s image.

This remarkable human identity was surely affected though not eradicated when sin entered the world in Genesis 3. We will consider how that plays out in this topic later when we look at the Apostle Paul’s reference to the creation and fall as it relates to men and women serving in church in 1 Timothy 2:9-15.

The Difference Jesus and the Holy Spirit Make: Acts 2:17-18; Galatians 3 and Romans 12:3-8

Acts 2:17-18

Centuries before Jesus was born, the prophet Joel proclaimed this message from God, “It will come about that I will pour out my Spirit on all mankind…(Joel 2:28)” Then, throughout his ministry, Jesus promised that, although he would leave the world physically at some point after his work was complete, he was the one who would send the Holy Spirit to all his followers (cf, Jn 7:39; 14:15-31; 15:26; 16:7-15; Lk 24:49; Acts 1:4-8).” After Jesus’s life, death, resurrection and ascension, the promised outpouring of God’s Spirit was fulfilled on the day of Pentecost described in Acts 2. On that day, the Apostle Peter stood up before a large crowd gathered in Jerusalem and explained the coming of God’s Spirit by quoting Joel’s prophecy:

In the last days, God says,
“I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your young men will see visions,
your old men will dream dreams.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days,"
and they will prophesy
(Acts 2:17-18, NIV).”

We note here that several things will happen because of the fresh outpouring of God’s Spirit. Two are repeated so that they are emphatic and so that people will not miss them: 1) That all people will be able to receive the Holy Spirit, including both male and female. 2) That both male and female will prophesy. The word used for “prophesy” does not merely refer to foretelling the future. It has to do with delivering God’s truth, God’s messages, to the world.

Galatians 3:26-29

In Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

Egalitarians often cite this passage as being central to understanding how all people should belong to and participate in the life of a local church, including men and women. Complementarians usually respond by saying that this passage only speaks to the issue of a person’s standing before God when we receive Jesus – not at all about the issue of service within the church. Without question, this passage does declare God’s truth about the position with God that all are granted through faith in Christ. All human beings who receive Jesus as savior become children of God. However, I think that both the context and language of this passage calls us to recognize both that and more than that.

Galatians 3 was written not as a theological treatise but as a letter to a local church. I am convinced that the Apostle Paul is speaking in these verses about all peoples’ standing both before God as well as their standing in their local church. He is saying that, when we place our faith in Jesus, we become a part of the church family regardless of ethnic, social and gender differences. Through faith in Jesus, he says in Gal. 3, we all receive God’s Spirit (see 3:2,14). Therefore, in the church of Jesus Christ, we have a new kind of unity and equality. We are all children of God by faith in Jesus.

This unity and equality in the church of Jesus Christ is not one that obliterates every racial, gender or social distinction. The church is not a raceless or androgynous community. When we place our faith in Jesus, we do not cease to be male or female, black or white, of Asian or Caucasian heritage, etc. Instead, what happens is that we become brothers and sisters in Christ. As James Dunn wrote, (Our oneness in Christ) “is not a leveling of all racial, social or gender differences, but an integration of just such differences into a common participation… It is a oneness, because such differences cease to be a barrier and cause of pride or regret or embarrassment and become rather a means to display the diverse richness of God creation and grace, both in the acceptance of the ‘all’ and in the gifting of each.”

With regard to the issue of gender in the life of the church, the context of baptism that Paul reminds us of (see 3:27) is quite striking. Baptism in the church replaced the Jewish initiation rite of circumcision, one that applied only to men (obviously). But, what happens through faith in Jesus applies both to men and women.

Gal 3:26-29 teaches that this kind of oneness with diversity is to be lived out in the life of the church of Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul mentions three specific areas in which human beings were broken from one another in his world: race, social standing, and gender. We find that same division and brokenness and division in our own world. For us to glorify God, to reveal the oneness the Triune God, we must again listen to this passage of God’s Word and its call to a unity in Christ characterized by mutual respect, love and service to one another.

Even though these verses do not give instructions or directives for church leadership or ministry positions, they do set the context for how we speak of how men and women together function in the church. At the very least, the walls of disrespect that existed across gender, racial and vocational lines in the 1st C world -- and still in our own -- are obliterated by the language of Galatians 3:26-29.

At the very least, in passages like Gal 3:26-29, the New Testament undermines the strong male hierarchy that existed in the ancient world and, in its place, points toward a family image of the church, one in which all are given gifts of the Spirit and utilize those God-given gifts freely to build one another up in Christ.

Romans 12:3-8 (see also 1 Corinthians 12:7-14; Ephesians 4:11-16; 1 Peter 4:10-11)

So, the work of Jesus led to the promised gift of the Spirit to all who believe (Acts 2) and the presence of the indwelling Sprit knits all people together into the family of God (Gal 3:26-29). In passages like Romans 12:3-8, 1 Corinthians 12:7-14, Ephesians 4:11-16 and 1 Peter 4:10-11, we discover that the indwelling Spirit of God gives gifts to each believer and that each gift is important for the growth of the entire church. We have differing gifts determined by God himself. God does his work in and through local churches like ours by using those gifts he has given to us, each of which is essential to the life of the body and then telling us to use them to serve one another.

Do not miss these Bible passages:

  • To each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good… All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines… God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be (1 Cor 12:7,11,18).
  • Speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work (Eph 4:15-16).
  • Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms (1 Pet 4:10).

The Apostle Paul’s words in Rom 12:3-8 are consistent with those texts:

As in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function,so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them; if prophecy, in proportion to our faith;if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching;the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness (ESV).

Paul wrote these instructions in a way that calls both individual believers in Jesus to respond as well as those in church leadership. To the individual believer, his words clearly say that each one of us should use the gifts God gives us to serve others in the church body. But, the way the Apostle Paul wrote these verses also indicates that each church body should let all church members use the gifts God has given them.

It is evident to me that those in pastoral leadership – and spiritual leadership in general – have a God-given responsibility to identify, develop, encourage and facilitate the use of the gifts God gives to our church family. The words of Scripture saying that such gifts are given by God “to each” and to “each one” are fully inclusive of all who are in the family of God through faith in Jesus, i.e., both men and women. The functioning of all the gifts is an essential part of the life of the church and to the growth of each one of us because the exercise of the gifts of the Spirit in the congregation must go on until “we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ (Eph 4:13).” We don’t really grow unless all the spiritual gifts are at work in the body.

As your Sr. Pastor, I want you to know how profoundly this calling to allow the gifts the Holy Spirit gives to be identified, developed and set from for use is to me – and how much it has shaped my prayers as I have discussed the issue of women and ministry with the Ministry Council over these past three years.

Conduct that Honors God 1 Timothy 2:8-15

The 1997 Sr Pastor Position paper on women in ministry called 1 Tim 2:11-15 the normative Bible passage “providing leadership responsibility for the male in the home and church.” By that, these five verses were deemed to be the determinative Bible text for the question of whether there are areas of ministry in local churches that women should not hold. And, I agree that it is indeed a very significant passage in this discussion. At the same time, few have disagreed about it being a very complex passage to interpret and apply. Here it is as translated in the New International Version:

I want the men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing. I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes,but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God. A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be saved through childbearing — if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.

The Context: Almost all people will agree that these verses present a lot of challenges for understanding and application. Still, some choose to pull verses 12-14 out of the context because, they say, those verses are very clear and easy to apply. If those verses in our English translations stand alone, this is what we see:

I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner.

Reading these verses in isolation from the context makes it seem to be very clear and its application indisputable. However, pulling Bible verses out of their contexts like that has always led to error and misinterpretation. I am convinced that verses 12-13 must be understood within the surrounding context. Those verses, I believe, are a very important part of a larger point that the Apostle Paul was making about how the way we live our lives affects our witness to Jesus in this world.

1 Timothy 2:1-10, the Apostle Paul wrote to young Pastor Timothy of the Church in Ephesus about how church people are to conduct themselves in such a way that unbelieving people who watch them would be drawn to faith in Jesus:

  • He wanted us all to pray for our governmental leaders instead of just criticizing them because, he said, God wants all people to be saved and that can only happen as they come to Jesus (2:1-7).
  • He wanted men’s (or husband’s) lives to be characterized by prayer rather than by anger and quarreling, perhaps thinking about how men spent a lot of their lives out in the marketplaces or city gates gathering and disputing about matters they deemed important. He wanted believers to be characterized by prayer more than by disputations (2:8).
  • He wanted women’s (or wives’) lives to be characterized by good deeds rather than by external appearance (2:9-10).

Paul’s last words leading into vv. 12-13 were that our lives should be “appropriate for those who profess to worship God.”

As I read 1 Timothy 2:1-10, I recognize an enduring principle that is as applicable to us as a local church in Southern CA as it was in Ephesus, i.e., our conduct as followers of Jesus, both individually and corporately as a church, impacts our witness to Jesus. The way we live affects the way we are perceived by those in our society who watch us. We should therefore be willing to change our lives in order to give witness to Jesus. The Apostle Peter said something very similar when he wrote, “Live such good lives among unbelievers that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us (1 Pet 2:12).”

1 Tim 2:11-15 is therefore set in that context and seems have a focus on how the interaction of men and women (or husbands and wives) within the life of the church is to further the gospel in society.

Some Essential Interpretive Questions

As we have read this passage, we have reflected on many questions. These three are surely among the most important of those:

  1. Does the statement, “I do not permit…” constitute counsel the Apostle Paul is giving Timothy about an issue in his church or is it a command that is to have application to all churches at all times? Paul certainly knew how to give commands. There were a number of ways to do so in the Greek language – and he utilized them all in his letters. But, in this passage, he chooses not to give a command but to say what he permits.

This question alone sets the stage for how the rest of the passage is applied. If it is viewed as a command then he bases his command on the order of creation in v.13 and the fact of Eve’s deception in v.14. As a command, it would be binding on all churches in all places at all times. But, if it is viewed as counsel given, then vv.13-14 provide Timothy with the basis for Paul’s preference and would not necessarily be universally binding on all churches.

Those who opt for the more egalitarian understanding, i.e., that this is not a command to be lived out in all churches, often point to the way the Apostle Paul speaks of the grounds for his view. He does not say “for this reason” (en aitian as Paul does in 2 Tim 1:6). Nor does he use the Greek word “dia” for “because” that he used frequently. He merely uses the word “gar”, which is usually translated “for” and which is not as declarative. Those who opt for the complementarian understanding, i.e., that this is a command to be obeyed in all churches at all times, state that the word “for”, though perhaps not as strong and definitive as other formulations, is still pointing to the basis for a decision.

  1. Is this passage speaking of all men and women in the church or of husbands and wives and how they interact in the public church meetings? The word translated “men” (aner/andras) throughout this passage is also the word for “husband” in Greek. And, the word translated “women” (gune/gunaikas) throughout this passage is also the word for “wife” in Greek. What makes this question worthy of consideration is that both words are unquestionably used twice of husbands and wives in the next chapter of Paul’s letter, i.e., 1 Tim 3:2, 12.

In another challenging passage, 1 Cor 14:34-40, most Bible scholars feel that Paul was speaking about a situation in which the husband and wife disagreed about a matter happening in their local church in Corinth and that they fought out their dispute in the public meetings of the church. In that text, Paul says that each family should speak with only one voice in such times and that the voice speaking should be the husband’s. His goal in making this point was that church congregational gatherings would be orderly and not filled with family disputes.

This understanding of these two passages, i.e., that they speak about Christian husbands and wives and how they conduct themselves in church, has led to a number of biblically committed married couples choosing to be complementarian in the home and egalitarian in the church.

  1. Why does Paul use a rare word for “authority” (authentein) instead of the usual word for God-given authority (exousia) in v.12? The only time this word is used in the New Testament is here in this verse. Because of the importance of this question to the topic of women’s service, many studies have been conducted examining the use of the word “authentein”. The only thing I will say here is that, in the rare times it occurs in 1st to 2nd C. literature outside the Bible, it is always quite negative. The word usually refers to being domineering or overbearing. Paul’s use of this word gives some support to the view that Paul was referring here to how husbands and wives should conduct themselves in more public church gatherings. In the larger context of 1 Timothy 2, i.e., that our conduct should further our witness to Jesus, it would be saying that Paul did not permit women to be overbearing and dominating in those public discussions. Of course, this should be true of all who follow Jesus, male or female (Mk 10:42-45).

Both complementarians and egalitarians have to wrestle with what the Apostle Paul was saying to young Pastor Timothy when he chose to use this rarely used word. In the context of a passage that is calling for God’s people to “live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness,” I am convinced that he is, at the very least, setting up some guidelines for how we who are committed to Jesus should handle disputes in our public meetings. Again, what he wrote was not a command. In my view, his main goal was to call God’s people to live in such a way that people can watch us and see the difference Christ makes in how we live our lives.

There is much more that I could write about our discussions about these biblical texts. There are many questions that, I’m sure, we will want to discuss in our Town Hall meetings. As I often say in my sermons, I pray that our public meetings will be the kinds to which we will want to invite our children and unbelieving friends so that they might witness the difference that our faith in Jesus makes I our lives. We still must seek diligently how to apply God’s Word to our church. We must always “speak the truth in love” as we see it – and then listen to our brothers and sisters interact with us. In doing so, I believe the Lord will lead us together in ways that honor him.

Personally, I have been on a long journey in my study of God’s Word about this matter. As I imagine most people at LAC have noticed (and as I’ve said several times in this paper), I have a deep conviction that a part of my calling as your Senior Pastor is to help us all identify the spiritual gifts God has placed in our church body and then to set them free for service. I sense that was also the heart of the Apostle Paul.

For example, the young and timid Timothy seemed to feel incapable of being the pastor of the Church in Ephesus. But, Paul wrote to him about this in 2 Timothy and told him that his being pastor wasn’t his personal choice but it was God’s call upon him. (See 2 Timothy 1:3-8). I also want our younger leaders to know we value their gifts, will do all we can to nurture those gifts, and then to allow their use in the body.

In Galatians 3:26-29, Paul insisted that the church recognize that, in the church there is neither Jew nor Gentile and neither slave nor free. I read that and imagine that there were some in the church who were not able to use their gifts because they were Gentiles or because they were slaves. I have experienced, in my life, that those kinds of ethnic or social differences can still lead to people’s gifts not being recognized or utilized in churches all over the world.

And, unless the words in in 2 Timothy 2:9-15 truly constitute a clear command to restrict certain areas of service to women, I believe we should set them free for use in our church body. Although I deeply respect (and will continue to listen to) those who believe that this passage gives us a command that all churches at all times and in all places must obey, I am inclined to think it does not.

Bottom Line

The Ministry Council did not take a formal position on the matters we discussed. Instead, it removed the affirmation of the Senior Pastor’s position paper entitled “Men and Women in Leadership” from 1997 and returned our church’s practice to that which is directed in our bylaws. The practical outworking of that decision is that the Nominating Committee may nominate men and women for all elected offices in keeping with LAC’s bylaws. This includes Division members, Ministry Council members, church chair and church vice-chair. The Ministry Council unanimously approved the statement below to guide the Nominating Committee.

We affirm the service of all people who have been elected, called, ordained or commissioned by the Congregation to serve in leadership at Lake Avenue Church.

Also, under the authority of our Senior Pastor and in conjunction with our Ministry Council, we will continue our practice of credentialing of men and women for ministry – both for ordination and for commissioned Christian work (CCW). Our process is in keeping both with our denomination and with the requirements of the United States government for those deemed to be ministers. The credential we grant affirms an individual’s ministerial calling but must, of course, be lived out in keeping with the practices and policies of the particular church or chaplaincy to which the individual is called.

As a reminder, here is the bylaw’s statement about the Senior Pastor:

Senior Pastor. The Senior Pastor is the overall spiritual shepherd of the Congregation. He is the church’s chief theologian and spiritual advisor. He determines who will preside and preach at the regular worship services and other spiritual meetings of the church. All pastors and the entire church staff report to him either directly or indirectly through a staff structure.

Since the bylaws speak of the Senior Pastor using masculine pronouns, this issue remains open for further discussion and prayer. As your Senior Pastor, I believe it would be wise for our church to continue to seek men to fill that role until such time that the people of God at LAC sense that the Word of God should be opened again, much prayer is engaged in again, and the question of whether the use of male pronouns in our bylaws is gender-inclusive or gender-exclusive is clarified. This would mean that the teaching authority at LAC remains under male headship. My fervent prayer is that this recommendation will enable us to continue to worship and serve the Lord together in spite of the fact that our church is made up both of complementarians and egalitarians.

For Further Study

A Complementarian Perspective

John Piper and Wayne Grudem, eds. Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (Redesign): A Response to Evangelical Feminism. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1991.

Andreas and Margaret Kostenberger. God’s Design for Man and Woman. A Biblical-Theological Survey. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014


Two suggested websites:



An Egalitarian Perspective

Ronald Pierce and Rebecca Merrill Groothuis, eds. Discovering Biblical Equality. Complementarity without Hierarchy. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004.

Stanley Grenz and Denise Muir Kjesbo. Women in the Church: A Biblical Theology of Women in Ministry. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1995.

Suggested website:



Stanley Gundry and James Beck, eds. Two Views on Women in Ministry. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005.

Michelle Lee-Barnewall. Neither Complementarian nor Egalitarian. A Kingdom Corrective to the Evangelical Gender Debate. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2016.

Greg Waybright, Senior Pastor

July, 2018