Christian women, Complementarianism, Ministry, Sin

Women Preaching: It’s Not a Secondary Doctrinal Issue

When it comes to Christianity, are the specifics of what people believe important?

I think most of us would answer a resounding “yes” to that question. Of course, the various concepts we believe are important. You can’t just believe anything you like and still be a Christian. There are certain things you must believe in order to become a Christian at all, and there are certain things you will come to believe because you are a genuinely regenerated Christian. But what are those things, and how do we know which is which?

Maybe you’ve heard the terms “essential doctrines” or “primary, secondary, and tertiary theological issues” or “first, second, and third tier levels of doctrine”? For years, theologians have been attempting to organize beliefs of the Christian faith – all drawn from the Bible, naturally – into nice neat categories in order to make things a little simpler. As someone who thrives on organization and categories, I’m grateful for their efforts. But if you begin to study this categorization of beliefs, you’ll find that we haven’t reached an across the board consensus yet.

Generally speaking, “essential”, “primary”, or “first tier” doctrines are those which you, biblically, have to believe in order to become a Christian and/or be considered a Christian. For example:

✢ Sin is a thing, and I am a sinner.

✢ God exists and is the supreme authority of the universe.

✢ Jesus was God in human flesh.

✢ Jesus rose bodily from the grave.

See how this works? If you don’t believe you’re a sinner, you’re not saved. If you don’t believe in the bodily resurrection of Christ, you’re not saved. Here’s how our friend, Pastor Gabe, briefly outlines essential doctrines:

 

(Gabe later tweaked the acrostic a little and added an “S”, which I think is helpful.)

The vast majority of brand new Christians have only the most basic understanding of most of these tenets at the moment of salvation. But it’s not an issue of fully understanding – or else we’d all have to be theologians in order to get saved – it’s an issue of believing. Someone who is genuinely regenerated may not completely understand how the Trinity works (honestly, no one does), but when she’s introduced to the biblical idea of the Trinity, she believes it, learns more about it, and does not reject it.

There is typically agreement among most reputable theologians regarding what constitutes first tier doctrine. Scripture is clear about these things, and several of these issues were settled long ago by the church fathers in assorted church councils (Nicea, Chalcedon, etc.)

Secondary issues are routinely defined as non-salvific but still extremely biblically important, if not quite as biblically clear-cut as primary issues. Doctrines surrounding baptism (credo versus paedo, affusion versus immersion), for example, are usually cited as a secondary issue. A disagreement on a secondary issue doesn’t mean one person is saved and another isn’t, but it normally prevents close partnership in ministry activities involving these issues. For example, my Presbyterian friends and I can join together in pro-life ministry, but we would most likely not plant a church together.

Tertiary issues are non-salvific, less immediately urgent, biblical issues in which the Bible is even less clear-cut and open to wider (yet still biblical) interpretation. These are issues over which Christians can disagree and still maintain close doctrinal fellowship, even in the same church, if they’re in agreement on first and second tier doctrine. Eschatology – the order and timing of events at Jesus’ second coming – is a doctrine that’s often considered third tier. Someone can hold a different eschatological view than mine, yet it doesn’t affect our ability to worship together, work together, or participate in the ordinances together in the same church.

Some theologians add a fourth category – issues of adiaphora, conscience, or Christian liberty. Usually these are issues of much less importance that the Bible either doesn’t specifically address, or doesn’t give commands about one way or the other. Individual Christians may use biblical principles to inform their consciences and decide for themselves. These would be things like whether or not to take your child trick-or-treating or deciding whether to dress formally or casually for church.

While theologians are largely in agreement about primary doctrines, there is wider spread disagreement on which doctrines are secondary and tertiary (many consider eschatology to be a second tier doctrine, for example) and whether or not there is a need for a category of adiaphora, since such issues are normally not considered to be “doctrinal” issues. In fact, there’s enough space for disagreement that pastors and theologians often wisely refrain from making concrete lists of secondary and tertiary doctrines.

But when we’re talking about the different levels of doctrine, what you won’t find is questions like these: Is murder a first, second, or third tier doctrine? What about gossip? Rape? Adultery? Lying? Gluttony? Pride?

And it’s not because these issues aren’t important or because the Bible doesn’t address them. It’s because they’re in a different category from the other issues: the category of sin. They aren’t doctrines upon which salvation hinges, they aren’t open to interpretation, and the Bible is clear that we are absolutely not to do these things.

In 2005, Dr. Albert Mohler wrote an excellent article about the different levels of doctrine entitled A Call for Theological Triage and Christian Maturity. He carefully explains the importance of each level of doctrine and what it covers in a plea to keep each level’s urgency in its proper place of significance during discussion, debate, and decision-making.

It was a helpful article to which I always refer people who have questions about tiers of doctrine, and I agree with Dr. Mohler’s thoughts wholeheartedly (as I usually do) …except on one point:

“In recent years, the issue of women serving as pastors has emerged as another second-order issue.”

Women serving as pastors, women preaching, women teaching men Scripture in the church, and women exercising authority over men in the church is not a secondary issue. Nor is it a primary or tertiary one. It does not belong in the category of “doctrine” in the same way baptism and eschatology do. It belongs in the category of sin in the same way murder, gossip, and adultery do. Let’s take a look at the reasons for this.

I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. 1 Timothy 2:12

(The preponderance of Scripture supports and affirms this concept, so to keep things simple, we’ll use this verse as an exemplar.)

✢ The prohibition in 1 Timothy 2:12 is a clear command against a certain behavior. And when we behave in a way God has prohibited, that is called “sin”. All of the tenets in the three levels of doctrine are affirmative statements regarding beliefs (you must believe in the resurrection of Christ, we believe in baptism by immersion, etc.). None of them are commands, in the negative, against sinful behavior (Thou shalt not murder, I do not permit a woman to teach… etc.)

✢ Secondary and tertiary doctrines can be open – to varying degrees – to biblical interpretation. Every stripe of non-heretical eschatological thought can provide you with chapter and verse passages that can, depending on the angle from which you approach the subject, be biblically plausible and scripturally supported. There is no biblical support for anything God prohibits. No one can cite a properly handled, in context Bible verse in which God says, “It’s OK to commit adultery,” or “Women are allowed to preach.” There can be multiple views on a secondary or tertiary issue that can all be considered biblical, but there can only be one view of sin that is biblical.

✢ Differing beliefs on true secondary and tertiary issues are not sin. My Presbyterian friends have a different view of baptism than I do. That doesn’t mean either of us is sinning. I may think their interpretations of the verses they believe support paedo baptism are incorrect, but they are not breaking any of God’s commands. Differing behavior (again, we see the distinction between doctrinal belief and sinful behavior) on issues of sin is sin. If someone behaves differently from God’s command about lying, she is sinning. If a woman behaves differently from God’s command in 1 Timothy 2:12, she is sinning.

✢ Differing beliefs on secondary and tertiary issues are not born of disobedience and rebellion toward God. Usually, it’s quite the opposite. When someone has studied a theological issue enough to hold a particular position on it, it’s usually because she is striving to please God and to be biblical in her beliefs. Differing behavior on issues of sin is born out of disobedience and rebellion toward God. Someone who steals has already decided in her heart that her desires are better than God’s command. A woman who knowingly holds improper authority over men in her church is doing so because she has already decided to defy God’s clear command against such.

✢ Because different beliefs on secondary and tertiary issues are not born of rebellion and are not sin, they do not require church discipline. Sin does require church discipline. If someone in your church is openly dishonoring her parents, she is sinning and should be subject to church discipline. If a woman is pursuing a career as a pastor, she is sinning and should be subject to church discipline. 

Since the publication of Dr. Mohler’s article (and perhaps as a result of others teaching the same thing) the idea of the violation of 1 Timothy 2:12 being a “secondary doctrine” has spread in a most unhelpful way, leading many Christians to treat the issue in a c’est la vie, “We can just agree to disagree on this,” manner.

No, we cannot.

We would not say, “We can agree to disagree,” on lying or adultery or homosexuality or abortion, and we cannot say it about women preaching, teaching men, or holding unbiblical authority, either. We disciple and teach a sister in Christ who is unaware of what the Bible says on these matters, and if she is committing any of these sins, we begin the process of church discipline. But it would not be loving toward her, or honoring God, to allow her to continue in biblical ignorance or in willful sin.

Furthermore, the violation of 1 Timothy 2:12 brings with it dangers to the church that true secondary and tertiary issues, and even many sins, do not.

I have mentioned several times when dealing with this issue that women preaching to men is highly correlated with women teaching false doctrine. I have researched scores of women teachers. Every single one of them who unrepentantly teaches men also teaches false doctrine in some other aspect of her theology (usually Word of Faith or New Apostolic Reformation). In other words, if a woman teaches men, you can just about take it to the bank that she also teaches false doctrine. False doctrine and heresy are infecting the church – via female preachers – at an alarming rate.

We dare not simply “agree to disagree” on this.

The violation of God’s command that women are not to instruct men in the Scriptures nor hold improper authority over men is a sin like any other. It is not a doctrinal issue in the same sense that other second and third tier doctrines are. If left undisciplined, however, it can lead to first tier doctrinal issues infiltrating a church and eventually destroying it. It is detrimental to the church to label and treat any sin as a secondary doctrinal issue.

33 thoughts on “Women Preaching: It’s Not a Secondary Doctrinal Issue”

  1. This was extremely helpful, Michelle. Although I have always believed it is wrong for women to preach and hold authority over men, I had never thought of it in terms of distinguishing between it being a sinful behavior vs a doctrinal difference. This will be helpful when discussing with other believers who think it is okay for women to be pastors.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Powerful, clear article. I so agree. It grieves me that so many believers are open and willing for women to usurp the authority that God has designed for men to have in the church. It is painful to have others say I am not loving because I am standing for Biblical truth. But as you point out in this article, there are areas in which we cannot and must not allow what the Bible says explicitly to be changed in any way. We must stand for Truth. Here I stand, I can do no other.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, DebbieLynne! So far, the response has been mostly positive. (My comments/e-mail policies against publishing and responding to attacking comments, comments containing false doctrine, and comments showing that the commenter hasn’t actually read the article have cut way down on a lot of the negative comments. When they know you won’t give them a platform they tend not to waste their time :0)

      Liked by 2 people

  3. I enjoyed your article bro Mike, you nailed it clearly,sin is sin, we can’t agree to disagree on this issue. The word is clear about leadership in the body of Christ,why some of the sisters insist on this issue to be in the pulpit…..I don’t know!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Wonderful approach to this problem. You are biblical, unbiased and thorough, yet concise. If we are humble and teachable and want to know and obey the truth, we will submit, align ourselves with the truth of God’s Word and be obedient. Thank you.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Fully agree and thankful for the way you’ve articulated it so well. I would like to share this in a group with other women who are being led astray in this area. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Hi Michelle,

    Loved the article, thank you.
    Just a few personal questions or points.
    It seems to me that this scripture is an instruction for women not to teach or preach to men.
    So as I understand it, woman may pastor, preach to and teach women and children. Is that correct?
    So she may still study theology and pursue a career as a teacher, but not to men. ?

    Secondly, you mentioned that we are free to choose whether to dress us or our children casually or formally for church, or whether to take our children trick or treating. I’m not sure if that was just an example, but trick or treating is a Halloween activity and certainly anti- Christ and unbiblical. Surely we do not have the freedom to make decisions like this, as Christians?
    I look forward to clarity on these.
    Thanks so much.

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    1. Hi Charlene-

      Thanks so much for your questions. Let me see if I can help.

      1. So as I understand it, woman may pastor, preach to and teach women and children. Is that correct?
      So she may still study theology and pursue a career as a teacher, but not to men?

      Just to avoid confusion, I would use words like “teach” and “disciple” rather than “pastor” and “preach”, but otherwise, yes – absolutely! In fact, Titus 2:3-5 affirmatively instructs older women to teach the younger women. If we older ladies don’t do that, we are being disobedient to Scripture. Here are a few articles I’ve written that might help:

      Rock Your Role: Jill in the Pulpit (1 Timothy 2:11-12)
      Rock Your Role ~ Order in His Courts: Silencing Women? (1 Corinthians 14:33b-35)
      Rock Your Role FAQs
      Let Me Count the Ways: 75 Ways Women Can Biblically Minister to Others
      Unforbidden Fruits: 3 Ways Women MUST Lead and Teach the Church

      2. trick or treating is a Halloween activity and certainly anti- Christ and unbiblical. Surely we do not have the freedom to make decisions like this, as Christians?

      Yes, actually, we do, if we can do so without violating Scripture:
      In Case You Were Wondering: Should Christians Participate in Halloween? 7 Scriptures to Consider

      Hope this helps :0)

      Liked by 2 people

  7. Thank y0u Michelle, I would like to say that I have had the opportunities to stand up for the truth of this Bible verse and that it is to be followed today. And discussions can get quite explosive when women feel offended or like they don’t count for as much as men if they aren’t to have authority over men. I have seen that they have a hard time giving that up even if they profess to giving all of themselves to Jesus. I had two women try to use Galations 3:28 as an argument for their case: There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
    This verse isn’t applicable as it is talking about our salvation in Christ.
    I believe your writing on this subject would be very helpful in clarifying misunderstandings about 1 Timothy 2:12.
    I have my own ideas on why many women cling to the right of women to preach….mostly having to do with culture and control….but that all goes back to what you pointed out anyway……it is sin. Sin is sin.
    And could you just comment on how sitting under women pastoring….(even when most I know of are the wives of pastors and they take their turns in sermons on a regular basis..)….is a sin and we should point out the error and if need be find a church that doesn’t permit women to preach?…..and not condone it.
    Thanks again, Michelle. Bless you for putting this out there with clarity and firmness in not moving or budging when it comes to the absolute truth of the Word of God.
    We must all remember that His ways are perfect. And we exalt Him and revere Him and give Him glory, honor, and praise.
    We are to joyfully follow His order of all things.🌺🍃💗

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  8. I am so glad I came across this article. You are very clear and biblical. I have been on the mission field where I worked under a large international missionary organization which co-operated with a national church on the field.
    Both groups affirmed women to be pastors; and in the case of the missionary organization women could ascend to senior ranks – even becoming field leaders.

    At first I was naive but later saw he implications and decided to protest their views that women could lead in those roles – even in authority over men,

    That was the beginning of a lot of trouble. The team leaders gave me a choice – keep quiet or resign. The national church’s moderator heard about it and told me to ignore the field leader’s ultimatum.
    The field leaders was unhappy about this development and referred it to the international directorate and I was given the green light because I handled my protest correctly. Somebody who was there told me later it evolved into a very heated debate.
    One of the women in the international office who overheard things privately wrote to me expressing her appreciation for my stand.

    Later when I again gave more attention to the issue on the field the new international director who visited the field decided in his own capacity that the directorate was wrong in their previous decision.
    He personally handed me a grave ultimatum: (1) I keep quiet and I can continue my ministry, (2) should I continue to speak they will ask me to resign, or (3) I can simply reign and leave.

    I opted for the third option but in my resignation letter I spelled out all the inconsistencies in the the things they said and did in all the time.

    A great encouragement at the time when things became very heated it so happened that the widow of Jim Elliot of the Ecuador sage, Elizabeth Elliot visited another missionary group on the field. I contacted her to hear her view and how she handled it when requested by the local elders to lead the local congregation on the field after Jim’s death.
    She declined on biblical grounds to do so but she taught the elders privately so they could start to take up leadership.
    She was taken aback when she heard what was happening and how I was treated and encouraged me to stand firm.
    I did so until the point came where I was forced to compromise or to leave.

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    1. Thanks so much for sharing, Wolf. I’m so sorry for the personal hardship you went through, but what an honor that God would use you to speak biblical truth in that situation. It reminds me of Moses speaking to Pharaoh. Pharaoh may have hardened his heart and said and done the wrong things, but Moses got to be an instrument in the hands of God.

      Like

  9. Thank you, thank you, thank you! It is so refreshing to see that there are other people who understand and believe what the Scriptures say about a woman’s role in the church. I am leaving my church (around 4000 members) because of false teaching creeping in on more than one front, and one of those is women teaching men. No one seems to be interested in hearing about it and I’ve received looks as though I must have paint on my face or something. A friend of mine teaches Bible studies, and she believes it’s OK to mentor men just so there are more men interested in leading Bible studies. And she is mentoring women to begin leading other Bible study classes, and of course those classes are coed as well.

    As I said, there is false teaching coming in on several avenues. Some other “Bible studies” are authored by people (mostly women) who are clearly teaching errant theology, and some of them are written by women who don’t have a problem with teaching men. Another verification of your statement about how the two problems go together. A couple of the Associate Pastors have distributed many copies of Jesus Calling. I am aghast at the lack of discernment! But no one is interested in even having a conversation about any of this.

    It has taken me 1-1/2 years to get to this point. I don’t want to leave. I love my church. I’ve been a member for over 7 years and have been involved in many different outreaches and ministries. It breaks my heart, and my relationship with the Lord has suffered. But I’m just now starting my run back to my Father, and it began with my decision to leave my church.

    Please pray for me in my search for a new home church. And thank you again for this article. It’s a big encouragement.

    Like

    1. I’m so glad the article was an encouragement to you, Peggy. It is my pleasure to serve you in Christ.

      I’m so sorry about what is going on in your church. Sadly, it is an all too familiar story. You might find the “Searching for a new church?” tab at the top of this page to be helpful.

      Like

      1. Thank you for the reference on searching for a new church. I will make use of it. I resigned my membership yesterday. Unfortunately, in Tennessee finding a Baptist church that isn’t in the SBC is a pretty tall order. But I trust my Lord to send me in the right direction.

        Today I spoke with my friend whom I referenced above, about her teaching men. Her reply? “I’m not teaching. I’m facilitating.” She uses Kay Arthur’s Precepts materials, so she insists that she is only a facilitator. Even though she directs how the classes are run, she has mentored one man that I know of, and if someone makes an error about something in class she is the person who corrects them. When that man was doing his first evenings in a Bible study as teacher, excuse me – facilitator, my friend sat next to me evaluating him. How is that not in authority over him?? She teaches our Sunday School class, and I know that there have been a couple of times that a man has come to visit, and she didn’t have a problem with that. Personally I think she is rationalizing. Don’t get me wrong about Precepts, I love Kay Arthur’s materials, but I believe Kay sets a poor example by teaching men herself.

        Like

  10. Can you please help me with the counter arguments that are usually used, like Judith, and that Jesus honoured women, and Mary Magdalene being the first to see our Lord etc. Also that this verse may have been about process and order in the church meetings, and to keep gossips quiet. It’s clear though, isn’t it. But some say it’s cultural. Thank you. And er, aren’t you teaching here? 😉

    Like

    1. Hi Bella-

      I think the articles in my Rock Your Role series will answer your questions, especially these four:

      Oh No She Di-int! Priscilla Didn’t Preach, Deborah Didn’t Dominate, and Esther Wasn’t an Egalitarian
      Jill in the Pulpit
      Are Female Bloggers Violating Scripture by “Teaching” Men?
      Rock Your Role FAQs

      Like

  11. Michelle I am puzzled, if you 100% believe what you have taught here, have you not condemned and contradicted yourself with your own words? For you are a women trying to teach the body of Christ (men and women) doctrine and thus according to your own teachings ‘sinned in the eyes of God’

    Matthew 7:2 New International Version (NIV)
    For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

    Like

    1. Glenn- I’m assuming from your name that you are a man (my apologies if that’s not the case). If that’s true, it’s very hypocritical of you to come to a blog that’s clearly labeled “for women” and accuse me of attempting to teach men. You might want to continue reading in Matthew 7:

      Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:3-5)

      Additionally, it seems you have a misunderstanding of the Scriptures governing the role of women in the church. Scripture prohibits women from preaching to and teaching men the Scriptures, as well as exercising authority over men in the church setting. A blog is not the church, and, as I mentioned, it is a blog for women. I think these articles will help:

      Are Female Bloggers Violating Scripture by “Teaching” Men?
      Adam 3.0: Meanwhile, Back in the Garden, It’s Deja Vu All Over Again
      Jill in the Pulpit
      Rock Your Role FAQs

      Like

  12. One of the best articles I have read on the topic. Well thought out reasoning and based on the Word of God. Excellent!

    Like

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