A major discussion point in my faith community recently has been the concept of female elders. Not the actuality of female elders mind you, just the concept. Given my previous post on the proper roles of men and women, we need to ask what the purpose of elders is. Elders, rightly understood, are not institutional functionaries. This is clear because an institution is not what God is after. They are instead, sages of the People of God; mature, disciplined, faithful followers of God who grasp the faith as it was intended and can pass it along to younger generations.
To do this job, elders form a deliberative and guiding body for the People of God – not a church. As such, elders pray, meditate on Scripture, contemplate what they know of God and His purposes, and provide guidance and correction collectively and individually to the People of God. To pass on the faith – or for the purpose of maturing believers – elders counsel, advise, teach, and preach with an eye toward forming the completed economy of God on earth.
There is nothing in either the character of God (in whose image we are made) or Scripture (which describes the purposes of God) that would prevent a woman from fulfilling this role any more than a similar role in the “secular” world. For believers, there is no such thing as a secular world. Everything they do – including work – is within the economy of God.
We find then that in America, in 2011, and in keeping with the economy of God and His purposes, there is no basis to restrict women’s full participation in the life of the community of faith. Further, Paul’s prohibition on women’s activities is based on cultural considerations rather than any asserted universal desire of God to define gender roles.