Saturday, June 5, 2010
Truth Series - Women's Roles
Last night was the graduation of my three youngest children. During the ceremony, an alumni of the christian High School was given a Distinguished Alumnus Award for her work in foraging a path for women in the field of full-time ministry - "full participation" was what it was called. Basically, she was a senior pastor of a Reformed church and was re-shaping the way women are viewed in the Reformed denomination. Her story was simple - she saw a woman preacher in her presbyterian church and thought to herself, "I could do that." So she went to seminary while her children were in middle school and high school and earned her degree. She now sits on the synod and preaches weekly at a church in Grand Rapids.
Women's roles are vastly changing in the church today, with the final frontier being the pulpit itself. Debates on whether or not women are equal to men stir emotions and anger, and in the past have split denominations. But today, most denominations are moving towards opening all roles to women, ending the strife and discussions. But is this God's way or are Christians compromising to meet culture's expectations?
So, when it comes to women, my question is this: What does the Bible say about equality and roles in the church?
First of all, scripture is clear that all are created equal in the sight of God - Galatians 3:28 states, that "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus." Romans 3:22, I Corinthians 12:13 and Colossians 3:11 also support this truth. So the question is not whether men are more valuable in God's eyes or not, we know that we are all equally precious in our Father's sight. Both male and female cost the same - the blood of Jesus shows no discrimination.
So there is no question about equality. The debate comes with roles. The argument before us is, if men and women are equal in God's sight, then they can interchange their roles equally as well. Nothing should be off limits to women, solely because of their gender...if they are truly equal. The limitations put on women in scripture were cultural, and not intended to be applied in a modern society. Therefore, women can serve as elders (overseeing the spiritual direction), be deacons (overseeing the hands on service) and even pastors. Right?
Well, let's look briefly at the Word. We all know the controversial verses for elders are the ones that say an elder should be the husband of one wife (I Timothy 3:2, Titus 1:5,6). In both of these passages, lists are given to describe the office of overseer or elder - he must be above reproach, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine, peaceable, free from the love of money, in control of his own house, not a new convert, have a good reputation and be the husband of one wife.
This last phrase is commonly dismissed as cultural and is interpreted today as both men and women candidates for elder should have only one spouse. However, the Timothy passage goes on to talk about deacons, giving basically the same list. In the middle of the deacon qualifications, women are then addressed - I Timothy 3:11 - "Women must likewise be dignified, not malicious gossips, but temperate, faithful in all things." Then the next phrase goes back to describing deacons - "Deacons must be the husbands of only one wife and good managers of their children..." (v. 12) So apparently, women are allowed to be deacons and this qualification of being a husband to one wife is actually meant for men. But no women qualifications are given in the elder passage.
So, taking out culture, elders are to be men, and deacons are to be respectable men or women.
But let's deal with the cultural aspect. Paul actually ends this debate in I Timothy 2:9-15, where he instructs women in the church to dress modestly in church and adorn themselves with good works rather than with costly garments. He says in verse 11, "A woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet." This is a very volatile comment, one which has caused Paul to be given the label of a woman hater. But this comment exceeds culture because Paul give his reasoning for his instruction. He goes back to the garden, before modern culture or even sin had deteriorated man's treatment of woman. He says in verse 13, "For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve. And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression."
So Paul's reason for not allowing women to teach men is their vulnerability. This was part of their created order. Man was not created for woman but woman for man (I Cor. 11:7,8). She is considered the weaker vessel (I Peter 3:7). Husbands are called the head of their wives, just as Christ is the head of the church (Ephesians 5:22-33) and they are called to love them sacrificially, just as Christ loved the church and gave His life for her. Did you know that there are seven times the instructions for husbands in regards to how to treat their wives in scripture than there are for wives towards their husbands? So men are held in higher account, as the head of the home. But they are still the head and this leadership is extended into the church.
I have had people argue that if I am going to take this passage literally, then women should not sing, greet or even smile in the church - that they should have their mouths duct taped when they enter the building. Obviously, this is not what Paul is teaching. Why do we have to do the pendulum swing? Is there really no place for women in the church? The spiritual authority and instruction is placed in the laps of men. In Titus 2, however, Paul encourages the older women of the church to teach the younger women, not only through living godly lives, but by teaching what is good - to love their husbands and children, to care for their homes, to be sensible, pure, kind and submissive. That is our platform - with the women of the church. But the pastoring and the spiritual leadership of the congregation in general (over men specifically) is only given to men through scripture.
God uses women in mighty ways. In their proper, God-given roles, there is great power. But when we choose to oppose a basic biblical teaching by excusing it away for culture's sake, we step away from God's perfect will. Remember, for men, leadership and provision for their families are to be difficult because of Adam's sin(Genesis 3:17-19). For women, they will want to take the reins from their husbands naturally, though this is not their role (Genesis 3:16). This is also seen in the church. As the men struggle either outside or inside of the church with life's problems, if women will rise up and start relieving some of the leadership pressure, why not let them? If there is a capable woman to lead, why would a man stop her? Women are bright, intelligent and efficient - perfect to lead.
However, this is not God's plan. God knows that life is tough and He wants men to step up and handle it. He knows that being an overseer of a church is a messy and often thankless job, but He created men with broad shoulders to carry the burden. So, ladies, rather than long for something that God has not intended for you, why not embrace the role He has given you?
Even in the Triune Godhead there are submissive roles. If I asked you, who was more important, the Father, the Son or the Holy Spirit, I hope that you would struggle to answer. They are all equal, even though they have submissive roles. The Son submits to the will of the Father (Matthew 26:39) and the Spirit submits to the will of the Father and the Son(John 15:26). So, gals, submission is not a bad word. It's a calling. And it has nothing to do with equality. Just because men are called to lead, that doesn't make women less valuable in God's sight. It's all about created roles, and women, as helpmeets (Genesis 2:20-25) we have been created for a submissive role but by no means a lesser role.
Because, come on, ladies, we all know that behind every good man...