Christian women, Complementarianism, Mailbag

The Mailbag: Is it biblical for women to carry out The Great Commission?

 

Last week, I received some questions from a Facebook follower regarding my article Basic Training: The Great Commission. I thought they were very insightful and that other readers might have the same questions, so I’m sharing and expanding on my answers to her here. (I’ve edited/condensed the reader’s questions and comments {in bold type} for the sake of brevity.)

Given my understanding of what Jesus is commanding, and comparing it with other examples in the New Testament, it’s not for women to do the Great Commission. Our role is not to make disciples, teach, or baptize, but to keep the home, edify other women believers, etc. The Great Commission is for men, not women, to do because…

1. The Great Commission requires teaching and baptizing.

2. Jesus was speaking the Great Commission to His disciples, who were all male.

3. We don’t see any specific New Testament examples of women sharing the gospel with the lost through their own witness or example.

4. Because we don’t see any specific New Testament examples of women sharing the gospel or any explicit commands for women to share the gospel, it violates the regulative principle for women to share the gospel with the lost.

This reader’s questions really got me thinking and digging. I love questions that make me think hard and dig into Scripture and theology for answers!

First, let me briefly address the points of this issue that are not in dispute. As I understand her, the reader is in full agreement with Titus 2:3-5 and the example of Lois and Eunice. She agrees with the biblical principles of women training their own children in the gospel and discipling Christian women (already saved) inside the church. Her questions have mainly to do with sharing the gospel with the lost outside the church – evangelism.

Next, before we dive into the reader’s questions themselves, it is very important to distinguish between two types of Scripture:

Broadly speaking, there are two main types of Scripture: descriptive and prescriptive. Descriptive passages describe something that happened: Noah built an ark. Esther became queen. Paul got shipwrecked. These passages simply tell us what happened to somebody. Prescriptive passages are commands or statements to obey. Don’t lie. Share the gospel. Forgive others.

If we wanted to know how to have a godly marriage, for example, we would look at passages like Ephesians 5:22-33, 1 Corinthians 7, and Exodus 20:14,17. These are all passages that clearly tell us what to do and what not to do in order to have a godly marriage.

What we would not do is look at David’s and Solomon’s lives and conclude that polygamy is God’s design for marriage. We would not read about Hosea and assume that God wants Christian men to marry prostitutes. We would not read the story of the woman at the well and think that being married five times and then shacking up with number six is OK with Jesus.

Descriptive passages may support, but never trump, the clear instruction of prescriptive passages.¹

Now, let’s see if we can come to some biblical conclusions on her questions:

1. The Great Commission requires teaching and baptizing.

Teaching:
Often, when we’re looking at women’s roles in the church and being obedient to 1 Timothy 2:12, people conflate evangelism with teaching. Teaching Scripture to saved people inside the church gathering is not the same thing as sharing the gospel with lost people outside the church gathering. They are two separate, distinct things. First Timothy 2:12 (and other prohibitive passages) only prohibits the former, not the latter. The Great Commission, and the New Testament overall, commands the latter.

As Christian women we want to be sure we keep these two things straight and carry out The Great Commission in the way God has prescribed for women to carry it out. May we share the gospel with a lost man or woman “as we are going”? Yes. If that person is a man, once he is saved is it biblically appropriate for a woman to teach and disciple him? No. If he is saved, he is supposed to be joined to a local church. Once inside the church body, he is to be taught Scripture and discipled by men.

Here are some resources which may be of further help:

Rock Your Role: Jill in the Pulpit

Rock Your Role FAQs (see #11 for using wisdom on sharing the gospel with men)

Basic Training: 7 Reasons Church is Not Optional and Non-Negotiable for Christians

Baptism:
When it comes to teaching inside the church, we have clear, prescriptive passages that specifically tell us what women are not to do. With evangelism, we also have clear commands in The Great Commission, and elsewhere, that disciples of Christ are to share the gospel.

But when it comes to baptism, we don’t have a clear “this or that person should or should not perform baptisms” passage, so we need to look at the principles and precedents surrounding baptism.

The people specifically named as personally performing baptisms in the New Testament were John the Baptist (who baptized Jesus), the twelve apostles, Philip the Evangelist, Paul and/or Silas, and Paul. All of these were men, and all held pastoral or pastoral/elder-type formal leadership positions in the embryonic or infancy stages of the church. All of them were commissioned, ordained, or set apart to their positions by God, Jesus, or the church. We do not see any New Testament instances of random church members – male or female – performing baptisms, only those in positions of church leadership.

Additionally, baptism is a formal, official, consecrated ordinance of the church, not a casual, personal, relational activity between individuals, friends, or loved ones. It should no more be administered by any church member who wants to do it than the Lord’s Supper should be. Both ordinances should be administered by an ordained pastor or elder of the church. That leaves out women as well as most men. Does the responsibility of pastors to baptize mean that men who aren’t pastors shouldn’t carry out the Great Commission? Of course not. We – men and women – share the gospel with someone, and if that person gets saved, part of our responsibility is to do what we can to get him plugged in to a local church where a pastor can baptize him. We don’t have to baptize him ourselves in order to be fulfilling The Great Commission.

Basic Training: Baptism

2. Jesus was speaking the Great Commission to His disciples, who were all male.
Yes, they were all male. They were all apostles, too. But first and foremost, they were all disciples – followers of Christ – just as Christians are today. Our identity in Christ – who we are, spiritually – trumps what we are, physically (male or female), and what we do (different roles and behaviors) as a result of who and what we are. Galatians 3:28 tells us:

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

In Christ, there is only one type of being: Christian. There is only one kind of spiritual DNA. There’s no XX and XY. There’s just X. Ontologically, Christians are all the same kind of spiritual being.

The Great Commission is based on who the disciples, and we, are – followers of Christ – just as many of the other things that Jesus taught His disciples were. For example, when the disciples said, “Lord, teach us to pray,” and Jesus responded with the Lord’s Prayer, did Jesus mean that only the Twelve, or only men should use it as their model in prayer? When Jesus washed the disciples’ feet, did He mean that only the disciples or only men should serve one another in humility? When Peter asked Jesus how many times he had to forgive, did “seventy times seven” apply only to Peter, only to the disciples, or only to men? Of course not. Christ’s instructions to His followers apply to all who follow Him. It is in the way in which we carry these instructions out that Christ differentiates and delegates divergent and discrete responsibilities to men, women, and church leadership.

As disciples, we are to carry out The Great Commission. As Christian women, we carry it out in a different way from men and pastors.

3. We don’t see any specific New Testament examples of women sharing the gospel with the lost through their own witness or example.
We don’t see any specific verses that say something along the lines of “Miriam shared the gospel with Simon, and he got saved,” that’s true. But how about these…

✢The woman at the well in John 4: “So the woman left her water jar and went away into town and said to the people, ‘Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?’ They went out of the town and were coming to him.” (28-30)

✢The widow (and townswomen) of Nain in Luke 7: “Fear seized them all, and they glorified God, saying, ‘A great prophet has arisen among us!’ and ‘God has visited his people!’ And this report about him spread through the whole of Judea and all the surrounding country.” (16-17)

✢The friends of Tabitha in Acts 9: ” And he gave her his hand and raised her up. Then, calling the saints and widows, he presented her alive. And it became known throughout all Joppa, and many believed in the Lord.” (41-42)

✢Lydia in Acts 16: “The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. And after she was baptized, and her household as well…” (14-15)

1 Corinthians 7:12-16: “If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife…For how do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband?”

1 Peter 3:1-6: “Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives.”

The first four examples imply that various women, to one degree or another, were pointing people to Jesus. But, again, these are descriptive passages. They lend a bit of support to the idea of women sharing the gospel with others, but we build doctrine on prescriptive passages like The Great Commission. The last two examples are prescriptive passages instructing women in sharing the gospel with their lost husbands. These passages are supportive of women sharing the gospel.

Evangelism at Theology Gals

4. Because we don’t see any specific New Testament examples of women sharing the gospel or any explicit commands for women to share the gospel, it violates the regulative principle for women to share the gospel with the lost.
Well, as I mentioned above, we do see descriptive passages that at least hint at women sharing the gospel, and we also see prescriptive passages that explicitly instruct women in sharing the gospel with their lost husbands. But The Great Commission and other passages that are general commands to all followers of Christ to share the gospel are the strong and emphatic passages we draw doctrine from, not the more tangential passages. So even if the regulative principle did apply to evangelism, it would be supported by Scripture.

But the regulative principle doesn’t apply to evangelism as the full terminology – the regulative principle of worship – helps us to understand. The regulative principle applies to the corporate worship service, not evangelism, not marriage, not finances, not employment, not parenting, nor any other biblical issue. Just corporate worship.

 

Are women to carry out The Great Commission? Yes. We are to carry it out in the way Christ has prescribed for godly Christian women.


¹Rock Your Role: Oh No She Di-int! Priscilla Didn’t Preach, Deborah Didn’t Dominate, and Esther Wasn’t an Egalitarian

If you have a question about: a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.

7 thoughts on “The Mailbag: Is it biblical for women to carry out The Great Commission?”

  1. Michelle, are you saying that the imperative in MT 28:19 should is split, as in “go disciple” and “go baptize”?

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    1. Hi Caitlin-

      Sorry it took me so long to get to your comment. It has been a crazy week, and I wasn’t sure how much time I would need to set aside to answer.

      I’m hanging on to your second question for use in a future edition of The Mailbag because I think it would be beneficial to the other readers. The short answer, though, is that no one can get saved just by watching the good works of someone else. Your good works may be used by the Holy Spirit to interest someone in the gospel, or make him open to hearing it, but at some point, someone has to explain the gospel to him – sin, repentance, faith, and the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ – and that requires words.

      To answer your first question, no. Receiving baptism and receiving teaching are both components of becoming a disciple. When Jesus originally spoke these words to the 11, they were not only disciples, but also apostles and future church leaders. So it was appropriate to their roles that all of those imperatives – evangelism, baptism, and pastoring (teaching the church at large) – were for them to carry out. Christian women are also disciples, but we are neither men nor pastors, so we carry out the Great Commission in accordance with the role God has prescribed for us – as godly women.

      Maybe an illustration would help. Let’s say there’s a need for a loaf of bread (a disciple) to be made. One person (an apostle, then, or a pastor, now) could make the loaf of bread from beginning to end (evangelism, baptism, teaching). That person would be “making the bread” (making a disciple), and the end result would be a loaf of bread (a disciple). You could also have a scenario in which one person mixed all the ingredients (a woman sharing the gospel with a man) and then gave the dough (invited him to church) to another person (a pastor) who kneaded it and put it in the oven (baptism, teaching). Both of those people (woman and pastor) would be “making the bread” (making a disciple) and the end result would be a loaf of bread (a disciple). Either way, the process is the same and the end result is the same, it’s just that in the second scenario, an additional person gets the joy of participating in making the bread, and all of the work of making the bread doesn’t fall solely on one person.

      I hope that makes sense :0)

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      1. Thank you, that was very clear. I am new to your blog and loving your devotion to the truth.

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  2. I am grieved in reading this, and in knowing that other women may take your words and disastrous hermaneutic above the explicit command given to all Believers by Christ. Heartbreaking.

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    1. Hi Emily- I think you might be misunderstanding something. The section at the beginning of the article that’s in bold type as well as the numbered points in bold type are the reader’s question to me. The parts that follow those sections which are not in bold type are my answer to her. I agree with you that the Great Commission is a command given to all Believers, and I stated that numerous times in my answer.

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