Saturday, May 13, 2006
the do's ... not don'ts
In a recent conversation with a fellow woman student, we expressed our concern over the debate regarding where women belong in Christian ministry. Debates addressing the issues of women in leadership in the Christian community are rampant in evangelical circles. A heavy line divides liberal feminists who seek to categorize Paul’s statements concerning women in the church as cultural and not valid for today’s Christian and staunch conservatives who hold tightly to the words of Paul as ageless words inspired by God, Himself. Sadly, each side often concentrates only on what women are not permitted to do in Christian gatherings. Let women instead revel in the joy of serving Christ in the ways that Scripture encourages women to serve.
Women throughout the past four decades have sought to liberate themselves from the bondage of submission to the world of men under the banner of feminism. How sad it is to have such an outlook on life and one’s calling to be a woman! However, this is not a movement that has only just now erupted. Woman’s desire to rule over man has driven women to sin ever since the Fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. In Genesis 3:16b, the Lord said to the woman, “Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” Paul’s admonition to the female saints of the early church was not cultural. His appeal to the women to keep silent, to dress modestly, to submit themselves to the headship of their husbands (1 Corinthians 11:3, 8-9, 11; 14:34; 1 Timothy 2:9-15; Ephesians 5:21-33; Colossians 3:18-19; and Peter in 1 Peter 3:1-7) is argued in light of the created order: “For Adam was formed first, and then Eve” (1 Timothy 2:13). This order places an immense amount of responsibility upon the shoulders of men, a responsibility that women should rest in and find comfort in, rather than fight.
Paul compares women submitting to their husbands as the church submitting to Christ. “Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands” (Ephesians 5:24). Christ’s headship over the church is not that of a tyrant forcing his people into a submission akin to slavery. The opposite is true. Instead of being a tyrant, Christ is our Savior. The language of Ephesians 5 is full of love, self-sacrifice, care, and respect. Lucy Mabery-Foster in Women and the Church (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1999) states, “the wife’s submission is not to be an unthinking obedience to her husband’s harsh rule but rather a grateful acceptance of his care” [emphasis hers].
Submission is not a punishment to be endured. When Paul urges the women in 1 Timothy 2:11 to “learn in quietness and full submission,” this is for the benefit of the church as a whole. When women step outside of their roles to fill those intended for men by God, chaos ensues. Women who deny the commands of Scripture and take positions as head pastors, church elders, instructors of theology to men all contribute to the confusion. Men become mere pew-warmers allowing the women to run the church. In the end there is a leadership vacuum. Men do not lead. Women attempt to fill those roles. Men leave the church. Sons are raised in churches run almost entirely by women. Finally, boys grow up not having pure examples of biblical manhood. The cycle continues to spiral down until the church struggles on the brink of death, and the women wonder why the men do nothing. Rather, women submitting themselves to the instruction and leadership of men in the church should rest in men’s pastoral care, praying for their growth in the Lord, and supporting and encouraging them in their walks with God. It is not a matter of ability, rather it is a matter of order.
So, instead of giving into the temptation of Eve, whose “desire was for her husband” (meaning, she sought to usurp his authority), what is a godly woman to do? We are blessed, in Scripture, with so many marvelous examples of godly women who served during Christ’s ministry. Mary, the humble young woman chosen by God to birth the Savior of the world, was not only Jesus’ mother but she was also his faithful disciple. Elizabeth, an older relative of Mary’s, miraculously conceived John the Baptist and testified to the Great King within Mary’s womb. Anna, a prophetess in the temple, prayed earnestly for the coming Messiah and was blessed by the sight of the Savior as an infant brought by his parents to be circumcised. Mary Magdalene had been a slave to darkness and her encounter with Christ made her a willing bondservant to the Messiah. She remained with him during his ministry even to the cross and proclaimed the resurrected Christ to the apostles. The sisters, Mary and Martha, stand out as excellent examples of discipleship and servanthood. The Samaritan woman, though broken and sinful, evangelized her village, boldly proclaiming a new life in Christ.
In the early years of the church, several women stood out as ministers of the Gospel. Dorcas, the only woman to be specifically titled a disciple in Scripture, selflessly gave of herself to the poor in her community; so much so, that when she died those she had ministered to pleaded with Peter to pray for her resurrection. Her body was wonderfully resurrected and her ministry continued. Priscilla, alongside her husband, Aquila, invited the orator Apollos into their home and instructed him further in the true knowledge of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul commends her for the use of her gifts in hospitality, service, leadership, teaching, and mercy. Paul further commends several specific women of the church in Rome for their service to the church in hospitality and hard work, and cautioned them to live holy lives in wisdom. Lydia, a prominent businesswoman in Philippi, opened her home to missionaries and the local body of Christ. Eunice, another follower of “the Way”, raised her son Timothy to be a young man “well spoken of by the brethren who were in Lystra and Iconium” (Acts 16:2) despite her mixed marriage.
These women served their Lord and Savior in their homes, among their families, in the communities, within the local churches, and beyond. Some women today assert that Paul’s refusal to allow women to teach men was either cultural or a command bound only within the context of the local church. Thus it would be admissible for women today to serve in authoritative/instructive roles in Christian organizations outside the local church. However, para-church organizations did not exist during Paul’s lifetime. Christian life revolved around the church, whether local or universal. Christian activity was the church. It is this author’s understanding that the exhortation for women to learn in submission and not exercise authority over men refers to all Christendom. Why is it the desire of so many women to neglect their calling of service to women within the body? Why do they long to also have authority over men? Is a ministry, exclusive to women only, in any way inferior to those ministry positions Scripture reserves for men? God forbid!
Women in the New Testament served Christ in many ways. Modern disciples of Christ who seek to be leaders in the church and of women’s ministries ought to look to these examples and implement them within their own ministries. In the Gospels alone, women were found anointing Jesus, following him, waiting on him, believing in the resurrection of the Messiah, being filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesying, fasting and praying, contributing financially to ministry, sitting at the feet of Christ and learning, being admonished to take up their own crosses to follow Christ and to count the costs of discipleship. In the early church, women prayed in the gathering of other believers. They were full of good works and mercy. Many women opened their homes to the church. They were faithful mothers and wives. They even corrected male leaders privately, so as not to shame them or call into question God’s ordained order of creation. In the Epistles, women ministered as servants of the church (deaconesses), helping many, being fellow workers of the Gospel, hard workers, outstanding among the church leadership, using their spiritual gifts, coheirs of the promise in Christ, sharing the struggle of the Gospel, teaching women, and training younger women, exemplifying what it is to be godly wives and mothers.
Feminists who cry out in fury, claiming that those who will not permit them to pastor churches, preach, or lead congregations because they are "inferior" are themselves stating that the office of ministry to women is an inferior position. Women have a high calling when it comes to ministry. Not only does the Spirit gift women with the same gifts as men, but they have also been given the privilege to serve Christ as ministers to their husbands, to their families, to the church, to their communities, and to each other.