Thabiti Anyabwile: “I’m Complementarian, BUT… Women Can be Deacons”

By Adam Brown –

The first article that I commend to you is by Thabiti Anyabwile. As an active speaker, writer, and pastor with The Gospel Coalition, Anyabwile takes a very irenic approach to this divisive issue. Below are some excerpts from his article entitled, I’m Complementarian, BUT… Women Can be Deacons:

I believe answering the question “What meaningful role can and should women play in congregational life?” is as important a practical and spiritual question we can consider. It’s a question that affects at least half (usually much more) of our congregations. It’s a question that touches directly upon gospel-ordered congregational life. It’s a question that potentially restricts or broadens Christian freedom for women in our churches. It’s a question that either employs or unemploys the gifts the Lord himself sovereignly grants to our sisters.

The Lord has given me the privilege of being in a range of settings, witnessing a range of approaches on the question of women serving as deacons. All of these churches would in some way define themselves as “complementarian,” yet they had differing views of how sisters could serve.

First Timothy 3:8-13 contain some key instruction on this matter. For me, the issue turns in part on verse 11: “In the same way, their wives are to be women worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything” (NIV). . . Both the NIV and ESV contain marginal notes for the word “wives,” indicating the term may be translated “women.” So, the text could either have in view the wives of deacons (if you accept the supply of “their” in the verse), women deacons, or women who assist deacons but are not themselves deacons. Because “their” is not explicit in the text, and the word “likewise” seems to indicate another category in the list, I lean with many others in understanding this verse to refer to women deacons or at the least women who assist deacons.

I’ve been a member at churches that do not have elders but are governed by a group of deacons. If the church does not have elders and deacons perform the teaching and oversight responsibilities biblically belonging to elders, then women should not serve as deacons. . . But having said that, the more important “fix” to such a situation is not to restrict women from serving in what may be a permissible area of service in the church, but to conform the church itself to the New Testament pattern of governance. We shouldn’t restrict women in an effort to maintain irregular governance; we should conform our governance of the church to the word of God and deploy women to serve wherever and whenever appropriate.

To my brothers serving in churches without elders and with ruling deacons, for the blessing of a well-ordered congregation, for the liberty of our sisters, and for the flowering of gospel ministry, re-examine why you currently neglect so clear a New Testament office as elders, which was established in all the apostolic churches (1 Tim. 3; Titus 1). And test yourselves to see if the failure to obey the Lord’s word on elders gives opportunity for denying our sisters an opportunity to serve their Lord and their churches as deacons. Structures do matter. Sometimes the wrong structures prevent spiritual growth, service, and gospel advancement.

Please follow this link for the entire article.

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