Question: What is the Role of Women in Church?

What is the Role of Women in Church?

The role of women has characteristically been a question since the Garden of Eden.  When the woman, later named Eve, took the leadership role, while Adam stood by, a problem developed.  It’s not that women are not good leaders.  They are incredible and often better leaders than many men.  However, the question is “What is the role of women?” And especially, “What is the role of women in the church?”

This question is like many questions; the question can only be answered if you start with the right source or view. For example, “Is beauty in the eye of the beholder?” Or, “What music should be used to worship God?”  Or even, “Is it right for women to work outside the home?”  If you begin with man’s view, you’ll develop one kind of answer.  If you begin with God’s view, you may get another answer.

The question must be answered from Scripture. There is no question that men and women are equal in essence.  Paul wrote, …there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal. 3:28) They are one in that they are equal in essence before God. When Peter wrote how a husband is to live with his wife, he wrote, “Husbands, likewise, dwell with them with understanding, giving honor to the wife, as to the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life, that your prayers may not be hindered.” (1 Pet. 3:7)  Peter did not say that women were weaker than men.  He said that husbands are to live with their wives AS, or in a similar way, you would with a weaker vessel.  In other words, give her honor and treat her with respect and love.  Men and women are equal as people before God.

Yet, God gave them different roles.  Men are assigned specific leadership responsibilities.  For example, men are addressed as responsible for child training, “Fathers do not provoke your children to anger…” (Eph. 6:4).  But that doesn’t mean women won’t raise children as Timothy’s mother and grandmother raised him (2 Tim. 1:5). Women may do the bulk of child training, especially if the father travels for work or puts in exceptionally long hours. Yet, God holds fathers responsible. 

Another example is that men are addressed as those who might aspire to the position of overseer, which is the functional responsibility in the church of an elder or pastor.  Paul writes, “If a man desires the position of a bishop, he desires a good work.” (1 Tim. 3:1)  The position of pastor is not open to women.  Paul makes that clear in 1 Timothy 2:12, where Paul says, “And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence.” (1 Tim. 2:12)  The original Greek “to teach” and “to have authority” are grammatically both present infinitives, which means the woman is not to be in the position of regularly teaching men or maintaining authority over men.  If the verbs were aorist infinitives, it would mean they could not ever teach men or have any authority over men.  As Paul states it, women could teach men as an expert over a particular subject matter or report back as a missionary to a church, or serve as a chairperson of a committee, of which she is an expert, but not on an on-going basis. This does not mean women cannot teach or exercise authority.  Women are to teach younger women,

3 the older women likewise, that they be reverent in behavior, not slanderers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things–
 4 that they admonish the young women to love their husbands, to love their children,
 5 to be discreet, chaste, homemakers, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be blasphemed.  (Titus 2:3-5)

Women also are excellent teachers of children.  At Grace, women teach boys and girls through high school and then women beyond high school. Women will speak to mixed audiences on special occasions.  Why are women restricted?  God wrote that guideline.  It is His model. 

I do not need to evade that question by providing a simplistic answer, although because “God said it” should be enough.  Paul wrote, “And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression.” (1 Ti m.2:14) Can men be deceived?  Of course, but God holds men responsible to give the answer and justification for what happens, not the woman.  Will she have to give an account?  Of course, she’ll have to give an account for herself (2 Cor. 5:10), not as the final authority for her marriage.  Who does God hold responsible for divorce? The man! Malachi records, “Yet you say, “For what reason?” Because the LORD has been witness between you and the wife of your youth, with whom you have dealt treacherously; yet she is your companion and your wife by covenant.” (Mal. 2:14)  Are wives responsible for their marriages?  Of course (Eph. 5:33), but the onus is on the man!

            An additional example is that men are tasked by God to fight and protect women and children.  God always numbered the number of male warriors in Israel, not women.  Women were not called to fight.  Can they fight?  Like cats and dogs.  But that is not their role.  Men are to lay down their life for women, even as Jesus laid down his life for the Church. God told Moses,

2 “Take a census of all the congregation of the children of Israel, by their families, by their fathers’ houses, according to the number of names, every male individually,

 3 “from twenty years old and above– all who are able to go to war in Israel. You and Aaron shall number them by their armies.” (Num. 1:2-3)

Note two things.  First, Moses was to number the males, not the females.  Secondly, they were numbered and expected to be able to go to war.  Those males who were not, were not numbered.  Men are responsible for the role of protection, not women.  Are women to protect?  Of course, but it is not their responsibility.

            There are additional examples.  For example, God chose men as the writers of Scripture.  All of the priests in the Old Testament were men.  Women were not allowed to serve.  This doesn’t diminish the role of women any more than Jesus’ role of going to the cross diminishes who He is in the Trinity.

            So what is the role of men and women?  John Piper and Wayne Grudem edited an historical volume entitled, “Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism.”1  They give the following definitions for biblical manhood and womanhood.  For manhood they wrote,

At the heart of mature masculinity is a sense of benevolent responsibility to lead, provide for and protect women in ways appropriate to a man’s differing  relationships. (p. 35)

For womanhood, they wrote,

At the heart of mature femininity is a freeing disposition to affirm, receive and nurture strength and leadership from worthy men in ways appropriate to a woman’s differing relationships. (p. 36)

In this excellent 566 page tome, they, word-by-word, explain these definitions and relate the roles of men and women in the home and church.  This is the best volume on the market that examines the roles of men and women, including their roles in the church. I refer you to this excellent resource.

            This begs the question, “Why did God make distinctions between the roles of men and women?”  Did God decide to put women under the thumb of men to make women miserable?  Does God not like women as much as men?  Nothing could be further from the Truth!  God is a God of order (1 Cor. 14:40).  Everything has a purpose and ultimately that purpose is to glorify God.  Consider the following thoughts.

            First, the roles of men and women mirror the roles of the Trinity.  Just as God the Son was submissive to the Father (John 5:19, 30), so the woman is submissive to the man (Eph. 5:22).  The Son is not inferior to the Father (John 10:30), but they have different roles (Luke 22:42).  The Son executes the Father’s plan in obedience to the Father’s will (Luke 2:49).  The Son doesn’t look down on Himself and was obedient to the point of death (Phil. 2:8).

            Secondly, the roles of men and women provide for structure and order. Paul commands wives to be submissive, “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.” (Eph. 5:22)  The word for “submit” or “be subject” is a military term, which means “to serve under” or “under authority.” The Roman centurion understood this authority (Luke 7:8). The husband doesn’t become the big Kahuna, whereby he is free to do what he wants.  That would be sin.  The husband must die to himself, his own desires, so that he can lead his wife, in order to best serve the Lord as a couple (Eph. 5:25-26).

            Thirdly, the roles of men and women provide the best environment for raising and discipling children to the next generation. Women are tremendous nurturers with children all through life, and often much better than fathers, while fathers are called on to exhort their children to godliness. Paul explains that differentiation,

7 But we were gentle among you, just as a nursing mother cherishes her own children.
 8 So, affectionately longing for you, we were well pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God, but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us.
 9 For you remember, brethren, our labor and toil; for laboring night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, we preached to you the gospel of God.
 10 You are witnesses, and God also, how devoutly and justly and blamelessly we behaved ourselves among you who believe;
 11 as you know how we exhorted, and comforted, and charged1 every one of you, as a father does his own children, (1 Thes. 2:7-11)

            Fourthly, the roles of men and women in the church are designed to hold men responsible to the original command in the Garden “to tend and keep” and be responsible for ensuring that the church will be kept on track.  Can men lead the church off track?  Of course he can and does!  And he will be held responsible before God.  Can women lead a church to godliness, truth and growth?  Yes and there are many examples where they do.  But just because they do or it is expedient, because some women are better capable to lead and communicate, that does not make it right.  It is not any more right than numerous other roles in Scripture. For example, it was God’s choice for the Levites to serve in the tabernacle and temple, not another tribe (Ex. 38:21; Num. 1:50-53).  It was God’s choice that elders were to devote themselves to prayer and teaching the word (Acts 6:4), instead of the administrative and serving roles of the deacons.  It was God’s choice that Jesus die on the cross (Luke 22:42).  It was God’s choice that we remain on earth and be witnesses (Acts 1:8).  It is God’s choice that we suffer for doing good to exalt His name, because life is about Him, not us (1 Pet. 3:17).  It is God’s choice. 

            Women should pursue raising up women to be godly.  Paul explains what women ought to do,

3 the older women likewise, that they be reverent in behavior, not slanderers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things–
 4 that they admonish the young women to love their husbands, to love their children,
 5 to be discreet, chaste, homemakers, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be blasphemed.” (Titus 2:3-5)

This is not being done today.  There are many wonderful examples of women who are discipling other women.  There are many wonderful examples of women who care deeply about the future generations of children.  However, there are too many women who are more focused on temporal and mundane goals, rather than eternal goals.

           Women are trying to catch up and surpass men in the unimportant roles of working in the world.  There are few higher callings than to train young women to be godly, so that the Word of God not be blasphemed, as it is today.  Additionally, women should be working with children to teach them holiness, respect and diligence to understand God’s will.  What would happen if the godly women spent most of their time working with their own children and other children that are a part of their church family?  There would be such blessing our current world has never seen! Instead they are pursuing their own careers.  Where is their spiritual fruit of disciples?

            Are women intelligent?  Of course women are intelligent.  They are often more intelligent than men.  Are they good communicators?  Women are often better than men.  Are they better administrators and leaders?  Many women are much better than some of the best of men.  That isn’t the point.  What is God’s view? What does God outline in His Word? What does God say is important?  What will bring honor to God?  Will a successful career honor God like raising up disciples?  Will an ability to do whatever she wants or travel wherever she wants to go really honor God like raising up disciples?  Will an ability to have her name on the wall among the men leaders honor God like raising up disciples?  The worldly measures are so unimportant compared to raising disciples for Jesus Christ.  As Jesus said, “Not my will, but Thine be done.”

1Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism, ed. John Piper and Wayne Grudem, Crossway Books, Wheaton, IL, 1991.

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