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Why Churches that Exclude Women from Leadership are Unfaithful to the Bible

The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) recently disfellowshipped five congregations from its community because they had women leaders.

Of course, the SBC can do whatever it wants when it comes to running its organization. But the SBC claims that it is only being faithful to the Bible by excluding women from church leadership roles.

Is the SBC correct? Does the Bible prohibit women from leading churches?

This was the question I explored in length in an episode of my podcast, One Question with Pastor Adam. I go into much more depth in the podcast, but I want to give you just one of the many examples of women teaching, preaching, and leading in early churches that I explore in that episode. 

What might be most surprising is that Paul encouraged women to lead churches.

Paul is usually thought of as the main roadblock to women in church leadership, but actually, Paul helps us remove the roadblocks for women in ministry.

In this conversation, it’s important to recognize how Paul treated women and what he wrote about specific women. Because when we take into account not just what Paul said about women, but how Paul treated women, we can recognize that the SBC is not being faithful to the Bible. 

In fact, by excluding women from leadership roles, the SBC is actually being unfaithful to the Bible. 

We know this because of the many women throughout the Bible who teach, preach, and lead the people of God. But I want to tell you about one woman in particular named Phoebe, who was a leader of the early church. 

Romans 16 is an important example where Paul talks about women. The first person he mentions in this chapter is a woman named Phoebe. Paul calls Phoebe “a deacon of the church at Cenchreae.”  

My study Bible says that the word “deacon” could just as easily be translated as “minister.” In early Christianity, a deacon or a minister was a leader of a church.

Phoebe was a leader of the church at Cenchreae and Paul affirmed her leadership role.

Scot McKnight, an evangelical New Testament scholar, says that Phoebe “was not a ‘deaconess,’ which in my youth referred to women who gathered communion wafers and small plastic cups of cheap grape juice and washed them out so the men would have them for the next time our church had communion. No, Phoebe was a deacon, which meant she was a church leader” (Junia Is Not Alone, Kindle, loc 115).

Not only was Phoebe a minister of the early church, but Paul wrote at the beginning of Romans 16, “I commend to you our sister Phoebe…” In the ancient Roman world, to “commend” someone in a letter likely meant that you were sending the letter with the person you commended.

Phoebe was more than a minister at the church of Cenchreae. Paul trusted her to carry his Letter to the Romans to the church in Rome. 

But Phoebe didn’t just carry the letter to Rome. Another New Testament Scholar, Reta Finger, states in her book, Roman House Churches for Today, that as the letter carrier, Phoebe would probably have read Romans out loud to the church in Rome. This means she would have answered any question that the church in Rome had concerning Paul’s letter. And so, Rita Finger claims, the first person to teach and interpret Paul’s Letter to the Romans was a woman. And she taught it to men and women.

Other women in teaching, preaching, and leadership roles abound throughout the Bible. They include women like Deborah, Huldah, Priscilla, Mary of Nazareth, Mary Magdalene, the Samaritan woman at the well, Junia, and Phoebe. 

The fact is that the SBC is not being faithful to the Bible. In excluding women from leadership roles, the SBC is being unfaithful to the Bible. 

For more on these women, check out my podcast episode “Should Women Lead in the Church” or the books mentioned above in this article.

Adam Ericksen

Adam Ericksen

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