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Women and Church Leadership by E.Margaret Howe. Contents page

Women and Church Leadership

by E.Margaret Howe, a Zondervan Publication, 1982.
Republished on our website with the necessary permissions.


  Introduction 9
1 Inconsistencies 15
Scriptural Principles  
  Cultural Influences  
2 Problems of Translation and Interpetation 29
  Hazards Along the Way  
  Romans 16:1  
  Romans 16:7  
  1 Timothy 3: 11  
  Elusive Historical Data  
3 Biblical Exegesis 45
  Genesis 1-3 and 1 Timothy 2:11-13   
  Ephesians 5:21-33 and 1 Peter 3:1-7
  1 Corinthians 11:3-16 and 1 Corinthians 14:33-36  
4 The Church Leader: Title and Function 67
  Apostle Prophet, Teacher  
5 The Church Leader: A Priest? 83
  Historical Background  
  New Testament Documents  
  Early Church History  
  The Issue in the Roman Catholic Church Today  
  Women and Priesthood  
6 Celibacy and Ministry 105
  New Testament Background  
  Patristic Literature  
  Church Councils  
  Twentieth-Century Attitudes  
  Roman Catholic  
  Roman Catholic  
7 The Ordination of Women: Present-day Attitudes 129
  The Orthodox Churches  
  The Roman Catholic Church  
  The Protestant Churches  
  Assemblies of God, General Council  
  The American Baptist Convention  
  The Southern Baptist Convention  
  Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)  
  The American Lutheran Church; the Lutheran Church in America; and the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod  
  The United Methodist Church  
  The United Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. and the Presbyterian Church, U.S.  
8 Women in Seminary 161
  Call to Ministry  
  Seminary Experience  
  Advice to Women Considering Seminary Training  
9 Women in Ministry 185
  Support and Placement  
  Problem Areas  
  Personal Issues  
  Concepts of Church Leadership  
10 Money and Ministry 213
  Biblical Guidelines  
  Present-Day Applications  
11 Reflections 227
  The Servant Model  
  Diversity in Ministry  
  Spiritual Gifts and Seminary Training  
  Conclusion 239
  Appendix A 241
  Appendix B 243
  Indexes 247


ACW Ancient Christian Writers: The Works of the Fathers in Translation
(Quasten and Plumpe)
ANF The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Roberts and Donaldson)
CD Cairo Damascus Document
FC The Fathers of the Church
JES Journal of Ecumenical Studies
NCE New Catholic Encyclopedia
NPNF Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers (Schaff)
TDNT Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Kittel and Bromiley)


"What is it you women want?" a friend inquired recently. He had heard of my involvement in the discussion concerning the role of women in the church. "The church is a community" he said, "and women are already a part of that community." And as if to settle in advance any further issues which might arise, he hastened to add, "Our calling is to live the Christian life and thus present Christ to the world—no one is holding you women back from doing that."

Significant words. But I was bewildered. Could it be that the demands Christian women are making are so unreasonable, so fantastic, that they cannot be understood by the average member of a church congregation? Are the issues so obscure that they seem trifling and irrelevant? Is the question concerning the role of women in the church simply an irritating conundrum which unnecessarily impedes the effective functioning of the body of Christ?

Certainly it is true that the church is a community of which women form a sizable part. And no one can deny that the reason this community exists is to represent Christ in the midst of the turmoil and complexity of everyday life. Women are not denied this privilege. But there are issues which run much deeper and which demand a sincere and genuine response. It is disconcerting to be forced to reexamine presuppositions which have been held to tenaciously for generations. It is profoundly disturbing to face the possibility that over a long period of time the church may have been denying to women the place assigned to them by God. But there is no growth without pain and struggle, and in this area, as in others, the church must come to maturity.

This present volume represents some small involvement in that pain and struggle. Consideration is given to sensitive issues— issues which concern changing patterns of church leadership and changing attitudes toward women. It cannot be said that the matter has been settled because there are now churches which ordain women as ministers. This situation simply presents a continuing challenge. On the one hand, there is a need to examine the reasons why some Christian communities, including the Roman Catholic church, cannot as yet reconcile themselves to ordaining women. On the other hand, within those churches which do ordain women to ministry, there is an even greater need for congregations to understand what it means for a woman to fulfill a role which has for many centuries been assigned exclusively to men. It is possible that a decision made at the council table of a leading denomination may not be fully understood by the men and women who share membership in that community. Some of those people may have misgivings. Some may not be aware of the underlying principles which have brought about new attitudes and procedures.

Too often in the past lay people have been deprived of the opportunity to consider the process of reasoning that led to certain decisions within the church. There was a time, for example, when the Bible was circulated only in Latin. English-speaking Christians were totally dependent on the clergy for the communication of its message. It was the dream of Erasmus, a great biblical scholar of the sixteenth century c.e., that this state of affairs should be remedied. "Christ desires his mysteries to be published abroad as widely as possible," Erasmus wrote in the preface to his Greek New Testament. "I could wish that even all women should read the Gospel and St. Paul's epistles. ... I wish that the farm worker might sing parts of them at the plough . . . and that the traveler might beguile lthe weariness of the way by reciting them."1 William Tyndale sought to make that dream come true by translating the Bible into English. For his efforts he was put to death, and copies of his English translation of the Bible were seized and destroyed. Church dignitaries feared that lay people might be led astray if allowed such direct access to the holy writings.

Fortunately such times are past. Today lay people of our churches are encouraged to pursue an honest and individual search for truth. The facts are openly available to all and may be considered and assessed. In such a healthy environment of inquiry it is possible to arrive at a balanced understanding of the direction in which the present-day church is being called to move. This volume, Women and Church Leadership, brings together careful biblical exegesis of the pertinent texts (chapters 1-3), a study of the writings and practices of the early church (chapters 4-6), and investigation of current policies among various Christian denominations (chapters 7-11). Academic inquiry thus goes hand in hand with exposure to real-life situations in the churches of today.

The preparation of this manuscript was facilitated by the fact that Western Kentucky University granted me a sabbatical leave for the duration of the academic year 1979-1980. I appreciate this very much. I am grateful also to the Institute for Advanced Christian Studies which awarded me a generous grant, enabling me to study for one semester at the Ecumenical Institute for Theological Studies in Jerusalem, Israel. My appreciation extends also to Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, California, for the use of its library facilities and to Dr. Andree Emery who welcomed me into the fellowship of a Roman Catholic Secular Institute in East Hollywood, where I was able to find much of the material I needed relating to the Roman Catholic tradition.

In addition, my thanks go out warmly to the many women seminarians and women ministers who responded to my questionnaire. Considering their heavy work loads and the discursive nature of the questions, it was almost too much to hope that they would respond. Not only did they do so with enthusiasm, but many of them wrote me letters of encouragement and support which renewed my own interest and commitment. This personal contact was very satisfying to me and made me keenly aware of the living reality of the present debate. My editor, Judith Markham, has sustained the project since its inception. Her constructive ideas and constant cheerfulness have enabled me to ride the rough places and have finally brought the procect to its completion. Invaluable also has been the help and support of my typisy, Cheryl Takayama.

The reader will find in these pages ideas new and old. It is impossible to write on this subject without being influenced by the writings of others, and I hope that credit has been given where it is due. Perhaps the new levels of inquiry in this present work will serve in turn as a platform from which further significant issues may be addressed.


1. Erasmus, "Preface to the Greek New Testament," 1526. See F.F.Bruce, The History of the Bible in English (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1978), p.29.

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