Currently, only one of the traditional reformed denominations in South Africa is the last hold-out in appointing women as church officers. The other two that come from the Dutch Reformed tradition allows women to be ordained as pastors or ministers, elders and deacons.
Historically, most churches did not allow women to be office bearers. Not because women don’t have a role to play in church, or that they were viewed as inferior in the Bible, but because it was considered Biblical under regulative principles.
When culture changes, those changes often find their way into the church and church governance. In the past, women were discriminated against in many areas of society, and that has thankfully changed. There is no indication, Biblically or otherwise, that women are inferior to men in any way.
But this has brought about a conflict, as can be seen from the South African example, and also in discussions in the PCA and OPC in the United States. If women are not different, and if they have the same rights as men in all other areas of society, then why should they not be allowed to hold office in church?
The answer, apparently, is easy for some relatively conservative denominations, who concluded that women should hold office. But as always, when culture and Christianity is in conflict, the answer is not that easy. The key question is not as much about the role of women in the church (that is but one example of cultural intersection with the church), but more about the governance of churches.
By which principles should churches be governed? The answer historically has referred to the regulative principle, which in short states that worship and church governance are to be strictly Biblical. More clearly, those matters which can be clearly distinguished from the Bible as the will of Christ (jure divino) for His church must be part of how the church operates.
The question that has to be answered is how does the prevailing culture change our view of the regulative principle, if at all? On what basis do we determine which instructions for the church that Christ put forward in the NT are to be adhered to, and which are optional? Do we allow culture to have the last say, or do we stick with what Scripture says, even if it is in conflict with the prevailing culture.
Every church must decide that for themselves. But the Bible is replete with descriptions of what happened when culture was put before the Word of God, and the outcome was never good.
In the end, the Bible is quite clear, church officers are to be men only, and is mentioned in the same syntax and context as those verses that cover worship, for example. Many churches have chosen to ignore all or most of the NT instructions on church governance in deference to “what is needed to reach people in modern culture”. Many churches also claim that they want to make full use of the teaching gifts of women, which is why they allow ordination.
The role of women in the church is different to that of men, and that is clear throughout Biblical history. That is not to say that those roles are less important to God, even if it may appear so through the eyes of contemporary culture.
But the bigger question is how we govern our churches…Biblically or culturally? In my opinion, cultural governance is a slippery slope, and is to be avoided.