John Wood on Women's Role in the Church
John Wood has been Senior Pastor of Cedar Springs Presbyterian Church since 1990. In a recent telephone interview, he commented that having a woman preach "was actually nothing new for Cedar Springs. We have over the years had women speak, both Sunday mornings and Sunday evenings. We've had people, from Elizabeth Elliot to Helen Rosemear to Marilyn Laszlo, speak on Sunday mornings." He explained that Helen Rosemear was a medical missionary to the Congo who had suffered much during the 1960 rebellion against Belgian rule; and Marilyn Laszlo is with Wycliffe Bible Translators.
"We've had a number of women over the years who have spoken," Pastor Wood stated. "The view that the church has held since before my time, and that I hold, too, is in agreement with Susan Foh's argument. Her book was recommended to me years ago by Jim Boice. I really thought that she did a good job of laying out the argument against women elders, but for women being able to teach, if they are under the oversight of the Session of the church. And that what Paul is prohibiting is the authoritative teaching of a teaching elder-teaching that would then be enforced by barring from the Lord's Supper, if a person resists that teaching: church discipline. It seems to me that Paul, in I Corinthians 11, has already given instructions for women who are prophesying and praying in worship services. And therefore his injunction in I Corinthians 14, 'Let women be silent,' has to be read in the light of what he has said in I Corinthians 11. And therefore, she's to show proper submission to authority. And I think in different cultures that manifests itself in different ways. It doesn't prohibit women from speaking, but women aren't to be speaking out and doing anything to disrupt the worship."
Pastor Wood graciously gave answers to specific questions posed to him, as follows:
So you think that a woman may do anything an unordained man may do, other than serve as an officer or administer the sacraments?
That means that a woman may preach (i.e., give a sermon or the main message during a service of public worship, which may include exposition of Scripture and/or exhortation)?
"If it was under and at the invitation of the Session."
Could a woman pronounce the benediction?
"That's something that an unordained man is not supposed to do, either."
So a woman could take up the collection or offering, or lead in prayer in public worship, or read Scripture in public worship?
"Interestingly, we don't have that here. Women at this point have not been ushers or taken the offering."
But there's no principial objection to such?
"No, no principial objection."
Do you believe that it is against God's revealed will to ordain women to ecclesiastical office?
"I would say that I submit to the church on that matter. But I think that there are arguments [in favor of female ordination] that can be made that have Biblical base. [Ordaining women] is not what we do, and I have no zeal on that subject."
Historians have demonstrated that allowing women to lead public worship has led, in the past, to female ordination, particularly teaching office. How does your position protect adequately against that eventuality?
"Of course, only time will tell. It may not! My thought has been that we have not had a woman teach in a public worship setting more than once or twice every two or three years. It is a rare thing indeed here. Linda's not part of the ordinary rotation. And, in fact, we've never had a woman who's on the staff speak on Sunday morning. But it was a time that the staff was rotating through. And it was actually in response to the feelings that so many of our people didn't know Linda, didn't know who she was. And so I was away, I was on vacation, and I asked if I could have Linda speak a couple of evenings, just so that people could get to know her and her teaching. And that was quite honestly the reason that it was done. It permitted a lot of our elders, who never had the opportunity to go hear her when she was teaching the women, to know the nature of her teaching."