One of the more debated issues in all of Christian theology is that of the role of women. There are varying views on the issue, and even varying views within the major overall views. So I would like to take some time (maybe a few weeks or so) to consider the matter of the role of women, not only in the church, but also in the home.
The first thing I would like to do is present what are probably the three major views on the topic at hand. Then, I want to close this introductory article by sharing some thoughts to consider as we approach Scripture. The three viewpoints around the role of women are as follows:
The Traditional View
The first view could be summarised as the most stringent of the three. Within this view, proponents have somewhat tended to regard men as superior to women, both within the church and outside the church. In former times, such as the patriarchal structure of the biblical world, a woman could even have been viewed as the property of her husband. But the traditional view, from a more modern perspective, would not tend to hold to such a strong belief.
Still, from the modern traditional view, the man is called to be the head within the home and the wife should be completely submissive to his leadership. The major role and function of the woman is that of homemaker and, thus, women might even be encouraged to not hold jobs outside the home. It is mainly the man’s responsibility to provide for the family. Specifically, within the local church community, women are not to have any major roles or responsibilities in regards to ministry. It is men that are given the responsibility of leading the church and its various ministries.
The Complementarian View
This view could be considered the more moderate view. In the structure of the home, this school of thought sees a mutual and complementary role existing between husband and wife, but the man still carries the lead headship role. Within society in general, it is completely acceptable for women to hold jobs outside the home.
In regards to roles within the church, women are allowed to function in ministry opportunities and other responsibilities. But, with reference to oversight and leadership, women are to be in submission to men. Thus, in this view, women can be given the freedom to lead such things as children’s ministries, women’s ministries, as well as serving in other ministry areas. But, and this is where we have varying views within a major view, it is possible that complementarians will either a) not allow women to teach men or exercise authority over them, or b) allow women to preach/teach with men in the context, but they are not to exercise authority in any main leadership role.
The Egalitarian View
This view could be considered the more liberal view of the three, though the word ‘liberal’ is a bit of a misnomer. Advocates of the egalitarian view do not believe men and women are identical in all matters, for there are definitely some differences between the two sexes. But they believe that both sexes are capable of equal standing in both the home and the church. Specifically, within the church, women should be given complete freedom in expressing their gifts and callings in God, and this extends into leadership roles, even if that leadership role is over other men.
Other Thoughts To Consider
What we must realise when it comes to this issue, as with most biblical-theological issues, is that we approach the Scriptures with the lenses of our particular background, culture and upbringing. What I mean is that, with this issue (and most others), we cannot just read a few passages like 1 Corinthians 11:3 or 1 Timothy 2:8-15 and unequivocally conclude that we can easily understand what is going on within the historical-biblical context. It’s just not that easy. Oh, if only it were!
Yes, as you guessed, I am egalitarian (though I am not a fan of that word due to the baggage it might carry in some people’s minds). But I’m not an advocate for chucking out the Scripture nor explaining away passages. But I am also not a fan of quoting a few of our favourite passages that seem to support our position and think we have dotted all our i’s and crossed all our t’s. Again, it is not that simple.
Let me give you another example where this has been done in the past. There was a day when slavery was thought to be a good practise supported by Scripture itself. Many proponents could quote their favourite passages as well, such as Ephesians 6:5-9. But, here we are a couple hundred years later and we know that slavery is an unacceptable practise. It is not ultimately at the heart of God.
Or, there was a day when we believed that the calling of women was to stay at home, raise the children and run the house. One hundred years ago, one could not fathom a woman working outside the home. Some probably even considered it wrong (i.e. sin). But, here we are now decades later and such a restriction seems quite foreign.
So, as we approach the all-important passages on the roles of women, we are going to have to be careful that we at least be aware that we could be approaching the passages with our own cultural lenses on. Now, this is not so easy to alleviate – for both you and I. Simply knowing that we might be approaching Scripture with lenses doesn’t mean we can always ascertain which passages we are viewing wrongly. But at least being aware of such can cause us to be open that we might just be reading a passage not as it was intended by the author.
As I continue this series over a few weeks, I will approach 9 major biblical passages that usually arise in the discussion. Those 9 passages can be split into four categories:
- The creation – Genesis 1:26-28; Genesis 2:18-22; Genesis 3:16
- The new creation – 2 Corinthians 5:16-17; Galatians 3:27-29
- The church – 1 Timothy 2:8-15; 1 Corinthians 14:33-35
- The home – 1 Corinthians 11:3; Ephesians 5:22-24
Following a discussion of those passages, I will look at other particular issues within this topic such as an overview of women in Scripture, can women be elders (which is the word for the major leadership role in the local church) and head coverings. I hope that, even if we don’t agree, this can at least bring good discussion.