Question of Admission of Women to Church Offices


(From Disputed Doctrines [Burlington, Iowa: Lutheran Literary Board, 1933], pp. 69-72.)

This subject cannot be spoken of as a doctrine, since the Church in all the ages of its existence has not spoken on this matter, and until very recent times has had no reason for discussing it. But it is at the present hour a very contentious question, and one on which the Church will soon have to take a definite stand.

The reason is that we are living in an age which has witnessed the “emancipation” of woman, with special emphasis on the “man” in this word. The ideal for the woman is no longer to be the queen of the home, the mistress of the fireside, and “the joyful mother of children”; but to shine in the great world and to place herself side by side with man in all the occupations and callings of life.

The secular world having now been fairly conquered, it is gradually being sought to carry out this ideal also in the Church. A few years ago demand was made that women be granted voting power in the Church. This was generally acceded to without serious questioning. Then, here and there, women were elected and sent as delegates to synods or conferences. Another step that followed was the seeking of positions on Church Councils of the congregations, which may already have taken place in a few instances. The next and final stage will be the admission of women into the pastorate. Happily for the present the Church still stands firm on this question, but how long it will do so no one can tell.

Since we have no confessional declaration on this subject, how is the matter to be decided? Manifestly, only by the teaching of God’s Word. Here are two passages that are very explicit. The first of these is 1 Cor. 14:34, “Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but let them be in subjection, as also saith the law.” And in the next verse it is said, “for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.” In this passage, and in general throughout the chapter, St. Paul is giving counsel for decency and orderliness in the public worship of the congregation where both men and women are assembled for common public worship. He is careful to explain what he means by their “keeping silence” in the churches. It is that they are not to be allowed to speak or address the congregation, or preach a sermon. It carries with it no restraint from engaging in the general worship, or hymns, or songs of praise rendered to God.

An easy way of getting around this prohibition is to say that it is counsel or advice no longer applicable to our enlightened age, or to aver that it pertains only to the local conditions at Corinth. But there is no evidence of this, and it is a dangerous resort, according to which one may easily rid himself of any obligation that appears to him disagreeable or unreasonable.

These are the words of an inspired Apostle; and they do not merely lay down a principle, but establish a definite rule governing public worship in a congregation composed of mixed sexes.

The other passage bearing upon this point is 1 Tim. 2:11-13, which reads, “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. For Adam was first formed, then Eve.” Here we have, as in the preceding passage, silence again enjoined, and that not once, but twice. Here again we have the silence explained as not suffering a woman to “teach,” and in addition to this the implication that in so doing she is exercising dominion over man -- a dominion which does not belong to her according to the order of creation: “For Adam was first formed, then Eve.”

This passage not only excludes women from the pastorate, but also from every other office in the church in which she would be “exercising dominion over the man.” This certainly excludes her from the church councils of the congregations, where such authority is exercised. It does not exclude her from doing Christian service among those of her own sex, or from teaching in the Sunday School, or from rendering a service of praise in the choir, or from becoming a deaconess and discharging the ministry of mercy and love, for which she is peculiarly fitted; neither does it exclude her from becoming a missionary, where women can so often only be reached by women. It leaves a wide sphere of activity open to women for faithful and laudable service; but not the ministry or the subordinate office of those who are the minister’s assistants and who with him bear rule in the congregation, or in the conferences or synods.

Advocates of “women’s rights” here seek to get over this by appealing to other passages of Scripture which speak of the perfect equality of believers before the Lord. (This is precisely the argument of those fanatical sects that admit women to the ministry.) Such a passage is Gal. 3:28: “There is neither Jew or Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye all are one in Christ Jesus.” Similar passages are 1 Cor. 12:13; Gal. 5:6; Col. 3:11. But to introduce these passages is only to darken the issue. These passages have to do with the spiritual relation in which the believer, whatever his outward condition, stands to his Lord as a member of His mystical body, the Church. They have nothing whatever to do with the Church in its organized form. The gifts of divine grace render all conditions of men alike before the Lord; but they do not in any way affect the order of creation by which God made them male and female and differentiated them.

Woman is still “the weaker vessel” as St. Peter declares in 1 Pet. 3:7, and as St. Paul intimates in 1 Tim. 2:14. Woman is not only different from man in physique, but also in her mental outlook. And this is saying nothing derogatory to her. It rather constitutes her attraction and charm. For a woman to be womanly and to shine in the sphere for which she was created and designed is her greatest glory. To become mannish and to go against the order of nature is to invite failure and to lose happiness.

This view may be old-fashioned and contrary to the trend of the age, the progress of which we may not be able to stem; but to be faithful to the Scriptures we must not be silent, but let the voice of our protest be heard.

Carroll Herman Little (1872-1958) was the son of a Tennessee Synod minister and a native of Hickory, North Carolina. He graduated from the General Council’s Mount Airy (Philadelphia) Seminary in 1901, received the honorary degree of Doctor of Divinity from Lenoire-Rhyne College in 1914, and in 1928 received his Doctor of Sacred Theology degree from Chicago Lutheran Seminary. Little served pastorates in Nova Scotia and Ontario, and from 1917 to 1947 was professor of theology in the Evangelical Lutheran Seminary of Canada in Waterloo, Ontario, an institution of the United Lutheran Church in America.

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