Is calling the wife of a pastor, elder, or bishop 'First Lady of the church' biblical?
Nothing in Scripture indicates that the spouse of a church office holder should receive some sort of honorary title such as First Lady. To do so elevates that spouse above others, puts undue pressure on her, and goes against biblical instruction for Christian leaders to serve and remain humble.
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The church offices listed in Ephesians 4:11–13 are apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds (pastors), and teachers. We are told God gave these leaders "to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love" (Ephesians 4:12–16). There is no position of "First Lady" ever mentioned in the Bible. The offices listed in the Bible are just that—offices, not titles.
While many women are honored in the Bible, both in the Old and New Testaments, none are given titles. There are several wives of prominent leaders in the Bible who are not named or take no identifiable role in what happens, such as Noah's wife (Genesis 6—9) and Moses' wife. Even David's wife, Abigail, though she exhibited integrity and loyalty, is given no special title (1 Samuel 25).
In the New Testament, Peter's wife is identified only though a mention of his mother-in-law (Matthew 8:14–15), but not named. Peter was a central figure in the building of the church. His wife does not receive a title. Others in the New Testament who were important, but did not receive titles, were Mary, Martha, Priscilla, Dorcas, the "elect lady" in 2 John 1:1, and the "elect sister" in 2 John 1:13. These "elect" women are not titled, nor granted an office, but identified by John as believers in Jesus as Savior and Lord, as all Christians are "elect"—that is, chosen by God (Ephesians 1:4).
Some traditions call for honorary titles for the spouses of government leaders and heads of state. The wife of a U.S. president is called the First Lady. Some churches extend this honor to the wives of pastors. And some churches bestow upon the wife of a pastor more than an honor title, but also leadership roles and power to make decisions and co-pastor the church. There is no biblical mandate or example for this. In fact, the Bible does not support female pastors.
We contend that no one, in a church setting, should be called First Lady because:
• There is no God-ordained office identified in the Bible for such an office or title.
• The title is man-made, so to speak, from the traditions of culture and society.
• The use of First Lady could (and sometimes is) extended to the family's children as the First Son or First Daughter. This elevates the family above other members of the congregation, creating a hierarchy and threatening to establish a leadership dynasty, which is not how God designed the church to function.
• Bestowing such a title opposes the spirit of humility, servanthood, impartiality, and mutual respect called for repeatedly in the New Testament (for example, Luke 6:31, Romans 11:18, Ephesians 4:1–16, Hebrews 13:16).
• Elevating the wife of a pastor communicates that she deserves special privilege and entitlement.
• Granting this title may spark competition among believers and put pressure on the pastor's wife to distinguish herself by the way she presents herself outwardly instead of focusing on the inner self (1 Peter 3:3–4).
We don't question the right desire for a congregation to appreciate the wife and family of a pastor – often the family sacrifices greatly for the good of the congregation. It is good to find ways to appreciate and encourage pastors and their families. But bestowing titles, and possibly authority, that is not biblically supported is not a good way to do this. Allow the pastor's wife to minister in the way God has equipped and directed her. Do not impose some cultural expectation on her that cannot be found in the Bible.
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