Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Issue of Gender

The American church is run by women.

Oh sure, the leaders of most evangelical churches are men, but the actual leaders are women...

...their wives
...older matriarchs
...spiritually mature women

The issue I am addressing today, attempting to look at five aspects of biblical manhood and womanhood, needs to begin with a dose of reality.

Regardless of our theological convictions, we have lived within a church culture that has accepted female leadership for years.

Second, I will, at the end of this post, point out how the convictions stated in this blog play out in my life at the end of the blog. My intent is to show that healthy, biblical convictions regarding any topic must have application in the life of the convicted.

With these two notes in mind, I would like to investigate five aspects of gender which the Bible discusses:

1. The NATURE of gender

Genesis 1:27 gives us the basis for understanding the nature of gender. God creates humanity, and he does so with two distinct characteristics: We were God's image-bearers and we have two genders. I want to emphasize here that woman was never an afterthought, as if God decided to create woman after the fact. NO, he created humanity with the intent of creating male and female. Both Genders are included as image bearers--we both reflect and image-forth the identity of God to the world.

The nature of humanity also points to the distinctness of our genders. Though both reflect God (and neither do perfectly!), we are also created unique--not like the other. It is more than anatomical parts. God created us to have two halves, male and female. We see this twofold distinction as a gift from God, not as a curse. Please note that this distinction does not make one gender "better" than the other. They are both unique, both important.

2. The UNION of genders

Marriage, according to the Bible, is where the two genders are made "one flesh." In this divine union, two parts become one whole. There is a completeness to it. We find that this union comes with distinctive roles (not jobs) for each gender. We find this in the creation story of Adam and Eve (Eve created as a helper/lifesaver), and more perfectly in Ephesians. Ephesians calls husbands to the role of the perfect lover, imaging forth (as our original intent) the self-sacrificial love of Christ. The love we give, the lessons we offer, the words we use, and the choices we make are all with the betterment of our wives in mind.

Wives, in this picture, are called to submit/respect their husbands. Here is where we sometimes lose people: This is not a call to lose one's opinion, lose one's identity, or any other garbage theology. This is a call to image forth God's transformational power in the church. The wife, like the church, embraces the sacrificial love of her husband and allows it to fill her. If we resist Christ's sacrificial love, we reject him and his power in our lives--the same is true of the husband/wife relationship.

It is important to note (thanks to poor theological teaching in some church circles) that this passage in NO WAY allows for any man to "have authority" over any woman. In fact, this passage teaches "mutual submission" not dominant authority. We see a circle of service, beginning with the husbands sacrificial love, that always looks to the other instead of the self. This passage is entirely contained in the marriage relationship, and has no command over male-female relationships of ANY other nature.

3. The EQUALITY of the genders

According to Galatians, in Christ we are all one, and this means, specifically stated, that there is no male or female. This means that our standing before God is absolutely equal. We each have responsibility in our own spiritual lives, and we are equally part of God's kingdom, the body of Christ. There is no biblical text to support a view of one gender as superior to the other.

It is important to note that this does not eliminate the nature of the genders--created unique. We are still created as two parts to one whole--not of the same substance, but the same standing. Just like Jews and Gentiles were in the same standing by God's grace, but they were still uniquely different, so with men and women.

4. The Roles of the genders

There are two difficult passages that teach that women are to remain quiet. These are tricky passages, and must be treated with respect, but also with careful study of context. We see in 1 Corinthians that Paul points to the Law as his reason for requiring quietness among female Christians. However, in the same book he discusses how women were expected to pray (vocally in the midst of the church), and prophesy (which would require words).

1 Timothy calls women to learn in quietness and full submission (to whom?). It is followed by a call for women (or wives) not to have authority over men (or husbands). I tend toward the husband/wife view because it harkens back to the Adam and Eve story in this context. This passage is extremely difficult.

The two passages, taken together, point us to a role within the church that requires submission to someone/something. In other passages, we see that women are to avoid acting in such a way that tends toward overt sexuality--women were not created to be sexual object within the church. Unlike many religions of the day, women were participants in the church, not objects of enjoyment for the male members.

I would like to point out, concerning the two main passages found here, that though they are certainly open to interpretation on some respects they cannot be argued as cultural teachings. To claim Paul was speaking culturally is to completely ignore the context and reasoning of Paul. Paul reasons back to creation, the fall, and the law to make his argument for quietness and submission. For us to ignore this context is to take free reign of the text, picking and choosing what brings us pleasure and what annoys and challenges us can be ignored or altered. This is dangerous and faulty exegesis.

5. The JOBS of our genders

Finally, we find the final point, the jobs that God grants to men and women. Looking first to Proverbs 31, we find a woman who is a worker--not a homemaker. Proverbs praises a woman who assists the family in financial means, and who is a blessing to her husband and kids. Any reading of Prov 31 to point to a humble homemaker is a gross misreading of the text.

In the New Testament, we see women titled with every title except one: the job of elder/overseer. (Note, the term elder is used once referring to the elderly women in 1 Timothy 5--an interesting passage!). The overseers were the final rule and authority for the church. They were those recruited to maintain correct doctrine and to correct and rebuke those in need of spiritual repentance.

This points me to believe that women, who were called preacher/prophets, deacons, apostles, etc., were able to do anything, with the likely exception of overseers. The Bible never outright rules against women in this role of leadership, but the balk of evidence points us to this conclusion. We must maintain that men and women could each have the same jobs within the church, except that role of spiritual guardian.

What does it mean to me?

My wife is a godly woman. She respects me, she allows me to love her in a way that lifts her up, allowing me to serve her. She is also, in many ways a leader in our church. She leads worship, teaches Bible (she is one of two people in the church who know ancient Greek--I am the other), and helps in the youth. She can speak to men of the church and they listen. She can teach me and I will listen. However, she has always submitted to the elders, following their guidelines for worship, study, etc. She is not a "less than" but a "same as." She has purpose and propriety (not in the Puritanical sense!)

What would submitting to biblical teaching on gender roles change about you? Guys, have you been guilty of demeaning women to uphold your "biblical right"? If so, what must change? Ladies, where have we as men done a bad job of showing you the equality? What do you think about the job issue? How does this play out in modern churches?

I would love to hear your thoughts!


  1. The role of women in the Church is a very difficult, sensitive subject for me. Thanks for articulating your thoughts so well here-- it will be good stuff for me to think about as I wrestle with my own.

  2. Well presented thoughts dude.

    I don't think the debatable absence of a woman named overseer or elder in the Bible should lead us to conclude that women could not fill that role.

    It's also important to realize that creation of roles and positions of hierarchy in communities (churches) in the first place is likely to compensate for the fact that, because we are imperfect, we couldn't exist harmoniously without them. In a completely restored world we could exist without hierarchy. To reiterate, I'm referring to the existence of hierarchical roles - I think that diversity itself exists in perfect restoration.

    I've also found myself unable to comprehend a perfect equality in which men are ultimately better equipped to have the final rule and authority for the church. I am greatly appreciative, though, that you did not mention a man's final rule and authority in the home. (Not that, based on my first statement in this comment, that would indicate you don't believe the Bible make implications for this...I'm just glad you didn't mention it.)

  3. Duane! Thanks for the thoughts! (You too Tamara, but Duane is the single greatest friend I have ever had, so he gets the great treatment).

    I agree with your first statement, that the absence of a named woman overseer does not necessarily lead us to exclude them from that position. I am actually wanting to post more detail on that issue some other time.

    Also, I find it telling that you have used the term "rule and authority" in your comment. This is something that I did not address. Who has the final rule? Christ. The rest is an act of mutual submission, but that submission takes different forms between husband and wife. I think this is accurate to the teaching of Paul.

    I will post in the next 2-3 weeks about the overseer/elder and the difficulty I have with taking a stand on it. It is truly one of the toughest studies I have ever done.

  4. I'll be looking forward to your thoughts.

    Also, you started it...
    "The overseers were the final rule and authority for the church."