Introduction to the Role of Women

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:

  1. The creation  – Genesis 1:26-28; Genesis 2:18-22; Genesis 3:16
  2. The new creation – 2 Corinthians 5:16-17; Galatians 3:27-29
  3. The church – 1 Timothy 2:8-15; 1 Corinthians 14:33-35
  4. 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.

97 thoughts on “Introduction to the Role of Women

  1. 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!

    I believe this quote is at the heart of this ongoing debate. Are Paul’s injunctions to be viewed as temporary or permanent ones?

    • TC –

      Are Paul’s injunctions to be viewed as temporary or permanent ones?

      Yes, this is an excellent question. You already know McKnight’s (and many other egalitarian’s) answer. 😉

  2. Having just written a 580 A4 page book on this subject critiquing the egalitarian view, I am interested to see where this discussion leads.

  3. 1. Patriarchy
    2. Complementarianism (male rule, male leadership)
    3. Egalitarianism (complementarianism without hierarchy)
    4. Complementarianism (female rule, female leadership)
    5. Matriarchy

    Egalism the moderate view?

  4. Hi ScottL,

    What do you think of egalitarianism being in the middle and Patriarchy (Father and husband rule) along with Matriarchy (Mother and wife rule) being at the opposite sides of the spectrum? What do you think?

  5. Well I am not sure you will find someone calling themselves complementarian with the emphasis on the mother/wife being the lead/head. But I would have to study more matriarchal societies, though I am not sure there are any, outside of extreme goddess groups.

  6. Well I am not sure you will find someone calling themselves complementarian with the emphasis on the mother/wife being the lead/head.

    lol

    I’m sure I won’t.

  7. Hierarchy is not essential to “complementarity” by definition which is why, if it can be used of “male rule” then it can also be used of “female rule”.

    Always thought that “complementarian” better describes the egalitarian position since egals believe in the complementarity of the sexes along with “comps” the only difference being “hierarchy”.

  8. Scott, as a young student my theological training was initiated under the tutelage of Wayne Grudem and John Piper. You know their views. The case the brothers made for complementarianism seemed compelling in my youth. Today, I am in a much different place. I’ve developed more respect for the way God presented his truth in Scripture (it is more mysterious to me today) and the nature of Paul’s statements concerning what was allowed and not allowed for women in church life.

    Over the last several decades, we’ve been learning more and more to think about human culture and its implications for how God met people within culture. Scripture comes to us ‘wrapped up in human culture’. Human culture carries within it matters related to our views of sociology, science, philosophy, etc. In the Scripture, we see that God meets people where they are and does not choose to reconstruct all matters embraced by those people. Cosmology is one example. I never let my friends forget that Paul would be amazed to learn that our world is spherical and revolves around the Sun. I am certain he would accept these truths were he here today.

    To be sure, there is a ‘faith message’ in God’s revelation to humanity- a message that is timeless and trans-cultural. Yet, God must accommodate to what man is capable to receive if this message is to be known. Thus, in saying, “Humanity bears the image of God” or “God is Creator and Lord of all,” God did not attempt to teach what we know today about the nature of the world and the Universe. We learn this by studying God’s works. Galileo was correct on this- the church was wrong. What God does deliver to us (in time and culture) is what we cannot know except for his self-revelation- about life in faith and his purposes.

    Paul received and delivered God’s faith message through means we do not fully understand but do recognize as unique. We recognize this by the Spirit. We ought not think that Paul was free of all cultural bias or all matters of worldview characteristic of his day.

    Concerning Paul, the more and more I study his letters, the more I see Paul ‘working out’ his theology as he learns and grows in relationship to Christ. Truth was not simply ‘booted up’ in the Apostle at his moment of blinding. This may be why he Paul seems a bit less sure of himself when he speaks of matters related to women in the church. Paul qualified his statements by saying, “We have no other practice in the churches” and “Not the Lord, but I say to you….” To me, it seems that Paul may be hedging when he speaks like this- as if to say, “This seems best to me for us (now- as we live out our life in this world) but may not be fully God’s plan.”

    Let’s not forget that Patriarchy has dominated human cultures through much of time. And this is understandable in view of the way life is without God and the manner of the male’s sheer strength over the woman when physical strength once meant ‘privilege’. We live in a different day. A day that celebrates other human assets.

    Becky and I have come to practice a more egalitarian marital life than we once did. We equally valued one another and see ourselves as equally responsible before God in our relationship. I take the lead in many matters and she in others. This works well for us and allows us both to flourish in our gifts.

    Finally, in my view, truth is truth and it does not matter who speaks it. We are always told to ‘test all things’ according to the Spirit. If truth comes through a woman’s mouth, it is no less truth than if it comes from a man. Who can deny that God’s anointing to teach (both men and women) has rested on multitudes of women throughout time- on the foreign mission fields (especially- perhaps even exposing a measure of racisim- e.g. African men can receive a woman’s teaching but not Western, White men), in society, and in the Church.

    All patriarchical systems are fighting a losing battle in these days. We know too much of their destructive works throughout history, and, we have, I think, come to a better place by opening things up for our sisters and walking a bit more humbly as men.

    • Not familiar with Piper, but Grudem… Praise God you have managed to escape from his pernicious influence. I wish, however, that you would not perpetuate this folklore about male brawn. First of all, women’s bodies are built more efficiently, so that they are able to accomplish many tasks at the same level using much less muscle. Secondly, I have had the misfortune to have to learn from experience that success in applying physical strength to counter someone else’s force is much less a matter of brawn and much more a matter of knowing what to do with what you have. It is a matter of mentality, of understanding that the moment you use force against someone, you are giving them something to use against you.

      The really sad thing is that people perpetuate this idea of ‘feminine weakness’ to keep women in their places – dependent on male protection, provision and guidance. Because if you teach a woman how to use her own power effectively, there is a very high probability she will eventually use it on you. Please see to it that you do not contribute to the problem. It is much better to teach women how to effectively use what they have.

      • “I wish, however, that you would not perpetuate this folklore about male brawn. First of all, women’s bodies are built more efficiently, so that they are able to accomplish many tasks at the same level using much less muscle… Because if you teach a woman how to use her own power effectively, there is a very high probability she will eventually use it on you.

        Wow, that was weird.

        Look, I’m an egalitarian as well. And I’m even a “feminist,” of sorts — freeing women from our culture that objectifies and subjugates them.

        However, I think you’d be hard-pressed to find many people that would assent to any of this. “Men are not generally stronger than women”? That seems like a bit of a stretch, don’t you think?

      • caraboska –

        The really sad thing is that people perpetuate this idea of ‘feminine weakness’ to keep women in their places – dependent on male protection, provision and guidance. Because if you teach a woman how to use her own power effectively, there is a very high probability she will eventually use it on you. Please see to it that you do not contribute to the problem. It is much better to teach women how to effectively use what they have.

        I’m not really here to talk about the physicality of either sexes. So I’ll leave it at that.

        I would encourage you that, after seeing about 6 or 7 comments in a row, you would join in not to teach but to discuss with us all. Thanks for your interaction.

      • Aaron, Evidently ScottL does not want us to continue discussing this matter. But I admit to wondering whether you really understood what I was saying, and to being a wee bit offended, since I made it clear I was speaking from personal experience. You cannot imagine that that experience was easy for me.

        ScottL, I had not been planning to say anything else about this matter when I wrote what I did. I admit to being quite blunt in my manner. However, to put it delicately, it appears we may disagree about the definition of the word ‘discussion’, since that is what I thought I was doing. Should I take your words as an invitation to leave?

      • Scott wasn’t suggesting that you leave, as I understood him. I simply read him as saying shift your conversational “tone” to have a wee bit more charity :-).

        ” But I admit to wondering whether you really understood what I was saying, and to being a wee bit offended, since I made it clear I was speaking from personal experience. You cannot imagine that that experience was easy for me.”

        I certainly would never call into question a traumatic experience you went through. But nevertheless, under any and all circumstances that would be a weak argument. Just because one person goes through a legitimately traumatic physical experience does not mean that men and women are physiologically of the same general strength.

        Again, nobody can call your experience into question. But the conclusion simply doesn’t follow.

      • Aaron, I did not make any statement one way or the other which sex is physically stronger. They are simply different. I would say, however, that in any situation – physical or otherwise – it is a scary thing to suddenly be confronted with one’s own ability to do a lot of damage. I wish there were more men on the planet who viewed things this way, instead of getting a power high.

        I wish there were more men who, if they were confronted with the possibility of marrying someone smaller than they are, and the knowledge that they do not have 110% complete control over their temper, would take the responsibility to explain to their potential wife what she can expect and how to ensure her own safety.

        More generally, I wish there were more men who would make themselves deeply accountable to their wives, especially for any behavior of any kind that could in any way be damaging to other people.

        Of course, this all applies equally well if a woman is bigger than the man she wishes to marry, or if she knows she has some weakness which could involve behavior that is damaging to others. Again, none of what I am saying here is theoretical 😉

      • “Aaron, I did not make any statement one way or the other which sex is physically stronger. They are simply different.”

        I misread you then :-).

        That’s what you appeared to be saying when you wrote:

        “I wish, however, that you would not perpetuate this folklore about male brawn.”
        “The really sad thing is that people perpetuate this idea of ‘feminine weakness’…

      • No doubt the average man has more brawn than the average woman. My point is that brawn is not the sum total of strength – even physical strength. Unfortunately, many women are taught that it is, and that they have no chance of winning with a man – even if they are in fact quite large themselves. That is sheer nonsense.

        But you can imagine the effect it has on relationships if one side has been brainwashed into thinking they are powerless with respect to the other side – whether physically or otherwise. And it is very sad, because it is all based on a lie.

        On the other hand, you can imagine the effect on relationships if a woman has, by some miracle, managed to escape such brainwashing, and just does whatever needs to be done – even if someone else thinks it’s ‘impossible’.

      • When I say ‘whatever needs to be done’, I have in mind in particular what women traditionally look to men for or at least are told they should look to men for: protection, provision and guidance.

      • caraboska –

        I didn’t mean to shut down the discussion and dialogue. I guess I felt you were coming in to teach us all. But you have shared that was not your point, so I apologise. I look forward to the interaction here.

        Thanks so much for stopping by.

  9. Scott –

    Thanks for the comment. I agree with what you have said. I believe complementarianism, in the true sense, is a lost cause that will continue to slowly fade away. I don’t say that arrogantly or because I want to chuck out a few verses of Scripture that seem to support complementarianism. Rather we understand that Scripture was written within a particular worldview and culture which was patriarchal. They weren’t even really complementarian in those days.

    Still, I think Paul comes in with radical teaching about what the reality of the new creation means. This is the emphasis of people like Gordon Fee when he looks at the topic of women. I love how he grounds many of his thoughts in the new creation. And we might even argue that the new creation theology was not even fully worked out in the NT Scripture, though Paul was a great forerunner of such. To the evangelical, that sounds warped, but, as you note, people (like Paul) were still ‘working out their theology’ as they moved forward. They saw some things, but only dimly. But as they grew, they understood more. This is why I am not even sure the concept of sola scriptura is fully in line with God’s heart and desire for His people.

    I don’t believe we throw out Scripture, but we recognise that some of it was written in a time-sensitive way, not expected to be commands ‘once for all time’. Such is true of slavery, of the concept of holy war, head coverings, women’s clothing, etc. Of course a lot of people can abuse this principle of ‘time-sensitive’ commands, chucking out lots of other essential matters of the faith. But we should not steer clear of faithfulness to God in this area because some abuse such. Rather we approach this humbly and carefully in faithfulness.

    How do we know what is ‘time-sensitive’? There is no 7-step plan to figure it all out. Rather we stay in relationship to solid leaders of the body, the solid body of Christ, relying on the Spirit, studying the Scriptures, studying the works of great teachers for 2000 years, and we stay humble. A lot of this will guard us from really heinous stuff. It’s not 100% fool proof, but it is the best we have been given by our Father.

    • I admit to having been dumbfounded when I finally learned Greek and saw the differences between the Greek version of Genesis 2:24 cited in various places in the New Testament, and the original Hebrew in the Torah… A great argument for ‘new creation’.

  10. Mmmm, I thought we were all familiar with trajectory theology, it’s about 30 years old at least and has for some 20 years been the standard egalitarian apologetic against Paul’s view. This has been discussed thoroughly in the relevant scholarly literature.

    Recent commentary on trajectory theology as an egalitarian apologetic includes the following well known works:

    * Soderlund & Wright (egalitarians), ‘Romans and the People of God’ (1999)
    * Giles (egalitarian), ‘The Trinity and Subordinationism’ (2002)
    * Scorgie (egalitarian), ‘Tracing the Trajectory of the Spirit: Egalitarian Hermeneutics and Biblical Inerrancy’, Priscilla Papers (17.2.12-21), (2003)
    * Webb (egalitarian), ‘The Limits of a Redemptive Movement Hermeneutic: A Focused Response to T. R. Schreiner. The Evangelical Quarterly (75.327-342), (2003)
    * Campbell, ‘The elders: Seniority within earliest Christianity’ (2004)
    * Marshall (egalitarian), ‘Mutual love and submission in marriage’, Double Image: The Bulletin of Men Women and God (12.1.07), p. 4
    * Sparks (egalitarian), ‘God’s Word in Human Words’ (2008)

    Let me help you out with a few quotes. Sparks:

    ‘In the end, if one wishes to do serious exegesis and to come out as an egalitarian, there is only one direction to go: one will have to follow in the footsteps of Paul Jewett, an evangelical who finally concluded that, on the matter of the subordination of women, texts like 1 Timothy 2:11-15 are simply out of step with the canonical voice and theological trajectory of Scripture as a whole.’

    Campbell:

    ‘Rather than striving to show that women played a more prominent part than our evidence suggests, or that the prohibitions of the Pastorals do not mean what they appear to say, it would be more honest to admit the facts and then, if so minded, set them aside.

    Again, rather than using the New Testament to establish a primitive, egalitarian innocence for the church, while discarding much of the New Testament in the process, those for whom the New Testament documents speak with authority would do better to take them as a whole and ask what we learn from the disciples of the apostles and the fact that they in their generation closed the door to women in leadership after Jesus and Paul had seemed to open it.’

    Marshall:

    ‘Thus the argument is that Scripture itself moves us to a recognition of a kind of way of life for husbands and wives in which both partners are called to love one another and both partners are called to be submissive and considerate to the other within their common obedience to Christ. This goes beyond what Scripture actually commands, like much else, including the abolition of slavery and the promotion of democracy.

    Hence, the essence of my case is not that submissiveness by the wife is abolished, but it is balanced by the attitude of the husband who must also be submissive to his wife, just as he is to be to other believers; likewise, although it is not actually said in these two passages, the wife is to love her husband (cf. Tit 2:4) just as he is to love her.’

    Soderlund & Wright:

    ‘On such grounds they may speak of a development or “trajectory” toward the elimination of discrimination between men and women in relation to Christian ministry which, even if not fully effective within the New Testament period, was inevitably destined to lead to women taking a full and leading role in the life of the churches.’

    • I didn’t know what trajectory theology was up until now, and from this description, I am glad I didn’t. It is sheer nonsense that this kind of theology is a necessity in order to reach an egalitarian view. I myself have done quite happily without for a few decades already 🙂

  11. Fort –

    You told us you were the expert in a comment above. So I could have you post a series to show us how we are all wrong and that we don’t really know what we are talking about. Would that be ok? 😉

    In the end, I don’t believe Scripture gives strong support to complementarianism. But I also believe Scripture presents many a cases for ‘time-sensitive’ statements. You might not agree on this aspect with the role of women, but it at least has to be wrestled with. Which I’m sure you have in your book. Again, though I think Scripture does not support true complementarianism, I also think we have to give room for the time-sensitive manner on some of Scripture, i.e., as your quotes above even recognise, slavery, head coverings, holy war, women’s clothing, etc.

  12. Scott,

    You told us you were the expert in a comment above.

    No I didn’t.

    So I could have you post a series to show us how we are all wrong and that we don’t really know what we are talking about. Would that be ok? 😉

    Mockery does not advance dialogue. Thanks for the exchange, I’m done here.

  13. Fort –

    It was not mockery, but I did feel you were coming in to prove us all wrong. I want interaction, but at least understanding interaction from both sides. I had understood you to tell us you were an expert since you said you had written 580 page book critiquing the egalitarian view.

    Sorry if I offended you.

  14. Scott, I don’t pretend to be an expert on anything. I mentioned my book, and the only other thing I said was that I would be following the discussion. I did not say that I was going to be arguing for the complementarian position, nor was it ever my intention to do so.

    You wanted interaction, I gave it. I asked you if your approach was trajectory theology. You wanted more information on trajectory theology. I looked through my notes and found you half a dozen of the most cited recent works on the subject as it applies to egalitarianism, and an older work which is representative of the earlier generation trajectory apologetic. I also provided you with direct quotes from four of these sources.

    In response, you tell me that I came in here claiming to be an expert and that I was intimating I was going to prove everyone wrong. That’s not exactly how to spell ‘thank you’.

    Unfortunately such personal attacks are typical of polarized discussions on this topic, and with this as an early start I can’t see any reason to continue participating. There is no dialogue here, and no evidence that there is going to be any dialogue in the future.

  15. Fort –

    Again, I apologise if I misunderstood you and misrepresented you. I had felt that you were trying to show your expertise, but I obviously read wrongly. I guess the typed medium does not allow for the best of interaction. I will give you the benefit of the doubt from now on.

    As for trajectory apologetic, I kind of sensed what it might mean. I just had not heard that specific term. I really don’t want a polarized discussion here. I want good interaction.

  16. Scott,

    I appreciate your gracious apology, thank you. We’ve had our interaction. With one complementarian here, and five egalitarians, ‘interaction’ is not going to be on the agenda.

  17. Fortigurn, Scott may be a Trinitarian, but he’s a decent guy. 😛 Cut him a little slack and take his words at face value.

    You have much to offer this thread.

  18. Thanks Deb.

    I don’t know Jonathan very well, so I can’t speak on his behalf. Hopefully the series here will provide good discussion on the topic. Feel free to interact with us.

  19. Scott, I have written one previous work on this subject (which I wrote after being requested to), which is the 67 page work to which Deb refers. The publisher to which I submitted it made a number of changes to it before publication, including changing the title, and introducing material and arguments which were not my own, without indicating that these were alterations to the original manuscript.

    Other than that, the larger work to which I have already referred is the only other publication I have written on the subject. I am neither the most vocal nor the most ubiquitous opponent of the ‘sistersspeak’ movement in the Christadelphian community, of which Deb is (as she mentioned), one of the foremost leaders.

    I address egalitarian arguments as they are presented to me. I don’t go around different forums starting threads or arguments on the subject, as some of them do. I am a member of a number of two forums and one email list which have been subjected to a sustained series of posts pushing the egalitarian case, and abusing people who hold the complementarian case. I have responded to those posts, on those forums.

    Certain Christadelphian egalitarians keep meeting me online, only because they keep deliberately going to the two forums and one email list where they know I am a regular member. That’s not a matter of me being ubiquitous, it’s a matter of them going where they know they’ll find me. I don’t go looking for them.

    Having said which, Deb’s characterization of me is highly revealing. It seems I’m on the top of their list of perceived threats, which suggests something about the impact my work so far has had on their movement. I know of at least one member of our community who informed me that he no longer holds the egalitarian position as a result of my work on the subject, much to my surprise I might add.

  20. Deb –

    There are 2 main aspects to leadership. First and foremost, leaders are called to serve, which involves washing feet, laying down our lives for others. That is what the greatest leader of all, Jesus, did. I want to emulate that.

    Secondly, leaders are called to shepherd. And one of the words connected to shepherding is overseer. [Some translations used the word bishop, but it is a very misunderstood word from my perspective.] As 1 Pet 5:1-4 notes, part of shepherding is exercising oversight. And this includes protection, standing firm and strong when people come into cause problems, dealing with wrongful confession and practise, etc. Even Jesus was an overseer, as 1 Pet 2:25 makes clear. But this does not mean lording over the people, as I said the first aspect is serving. Jesus made clear what it means to serve in Matt 20:25-28.

    So as the overseer-elder-shepherd of our local church, I have had to make decisions that, if looked on in from the outside and from a one-off basis, people might claim I am an authoritarian. But that is not the case. But part of leading is overseeing, shepherding, etc. And this means that we will have to exercise that oversight and the spiritual authority we have been given at times. As long as we stay submitted to other leaders, stay humble, and keep pursuing God, these will guard against overstepping boundaries in most cases. And, you know, overall people will actually appreciate leadership that lead and protect and exercise their God-given spiritual oversight. It provides security.

  21. SL: <>

    This is a good summary, Scott, but I just query one word… “over” [last line]… in regard to leadership. Do you think a leader is ‘over’ the followers? I think true leadership involves only willing followers who are inspired by the ideas, energy and ability of the leader. Leadership is not a ‘power-over’ position, but a ‘dialogue’ of innovation and cooperation, as Scott J illustrated with this lovely piece about his marriage:

    SJ: <>

  22. Hmm, the quotes didn’t come out. Can someone explain how I can copy and insert small sections from previous posts? Not familiar with blogs :-/

  23. Hi all,

    I am a Christadelpian, currently holding to the complementarian view, and I have read documentation coming from both the egalitarian and complementarian viewpoints within Christadelphia.

    A couple of discussion points for Deb H and Scott L…

    Deb, Regarding the term “over”, is your objection to it based more on a misunderstanding of the meaning or implication of the word? It is, after all, used in the sense that Scott used it many times in scripture:

    “Moses chose capable men from all Israel, and he made them heads OVER the people, rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens.” – Exod 18:25

    “Now the head of all the Levitical leaders was Eleazar son of Aaron the priest. He was appointed OVER those who were responsible for the sanctuary.” – Num 3:32

    “And again Isaiah says, “The root of Jesse will come, and the one who rises to rule OVER the Gentiles, in him will the Gentiles hope.” – Rom 15:12

    “And God put all things under Christ’s feet, and he gave him to the church as head OVER all things.” – Eph 1:22

    Citations from the NET.

    Clearly there is a suitable scriptural use of the word in context of leadership, headship, or responsible authority. Is it rational and honest to reject it, or broadly question its generic use, because it might imply something that doesn’t equate to egalitarianism?

    “Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who labor among you and preside OVER you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them most highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves.” – 1 Thess 5:12-13

    “But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority OVER a man. She must remain quiet.” – 1 Tim 2:12

    Is the presence of the word in the last passage cited the reason for egalitarian concern? Can the concern be truly considered valid, particularly given the words usage in 1 Thess 5?

    I’ll put some thoughts/questions more specifically for Scott in a second post. :c)

    • – Is the presence of the word in the last passage cited the reason for egalitarian concern? Can the concern be truly considered valid, particularly given the words usage in 1 Thess 5?

      1. The gender of those who “preside over” you (one word) in 1 Thess 5 is not specified.
      2. While we are told that a woman should not “exercise authority over” a man in 1 Tim 2 (a completely different word), we are NOT told anywhere that a man IS to “exercise authority over” a woman (or over another man, for that matter).
      3. Given that the words are different, I’m not sure why Mark thinks they are the same, and why this English coincidence is a significant problem for egalitarians.

      • Deb,

        Evidently this difference is not obvious to all. What is really shocking is the following verse:

        A man shall leave father and mother, cleave to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.

        As shown in Hebrew in the Old Testament, the ‘man’ (‘ish’) is a ‘male person’. In the Greek translation given in the New Testament, the word ‘man’ (‘anthropos’) means ‘human being’.

        As shown in Hebrew in the Old Testament, the word ‘cleave’ (‘dabaq’) is in the active voice – in other words, it is something the man does to the woman.

        In the Greek translation given in the New Testament, the corresponding word (proskollethesetai) is in the passive voice. The takeaway from all this is that in the New Testament, marriage is something God does to both parties.

        But these verses are always given exactly the same in English in both Testaments, thereby obscuring something that looks pretty darn important – thunderously so even….

    • > “Moses chose capable men from all Israel, and he made them heads OVER the people, rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens.” – Exod 18:25

      Old Covenant.

      > “Now the head of all the Levitical leaders was Eleazar son of Aaron the priest. He was appointed OVER those who were responsible for the sanctuary.” – Num 3:32

      Old Covenant.

      > “And again Isaiah says, “The root of Jesse will come, and the one who rises to rule OVER the Gentiles, in him will the Gentiles hope.” – Rom 15:12

      New Covenant. Notice it refers to Jesus.

      > “And God put all things under Christ’s feet, and he gave him to the church as head OVER all things.” – Eph 1:22

      New Covenant. Notice it refers to Jesus.

      > “Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who labor among you and preside OVER you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them most highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves.” – 1 Thess 5:12-13

      The word ‘over’ is not present in the original Greek. Nor does the word used necessarily connote same.

      > “But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority OVER a man. She must remain quiet.” – 1 Tim 2:12

      The word ‘over’ is not present in the original Greek. And the word used is so rare, even in extra-Biblical literature, that no one can be sure even exactly what it means. It only appears once in the New Testament, so we do not even have a basis for comparison.

      In this situation, we have to look to other portions of Scripture to figure out what it could mean.

      • Very good volley, Caraboska. I was going to do that but regretted that it was necessary to point out the obvious in regard to Old/New Covenant quotes. There is an approach that takes all scriptural values and practices from every era, bundles them all loosely together and applies the lot to today. If you can quote a verse that shows hierarchy and authority under the Mosaic Law…well, you can justify the same here and now!

  24. Hi again,

    Deb and Scott, some discussion points based on Scott’s numbered list:

    1) Forcing/Making people do things. This is not a valid part of true Biblical leadership, however it might be possible (indeed easy) to incorrectly interpret an action as falling into this category. If I, as a Christadelphian, start preaching the doctine of the trinity, while still claiming to be a Christadelphian, pretty soon I will be given an ultimatum which will basically add up to “either reject the trinity doctrine or cease being a Christadelphian”. I could choose to read this as Christadelphian leadership “forcing” or “making” me to do something, but in fairness, Christadelphians have a long held set of doctrines that define the Christadelphian faith, and it is right for the shepherds and overseers to make efforts to uphold that. In truth I am being dishonest, by calling myself a Christadelphian yet teaching something that is against Christadelphian doctrine. I am not being forced to do anything but make my own free honest choices. These sorts of ultimatums can easily be called “lording it over” someone, but the situation is usually far too complex to dismiss the leadership so unfairly.

    2) That’s a great summary Scott, probably most famously we have the words of Christ in Mark 10:40-45. In Christ we can have complete confidence that we have the greatest ever King, by virtue of the fact that he is also the greatest ever servant. As always in scripture it is vital to bring to bear all of God’s teaching.

    3) Another great point. God’s glory WILL fill the earth, future tense. The Bible makes it clear, however, that in this age imperfection and injustice are the norm. One of the key elements of faith is to obey the teachings of God while living in an unjust world, believing that these things will be made right when Christ returns. Prov 11:21, 13:23, Ecc 7:14, 8:10-14, Mal 3:15, John 5:28-29, Heb 10:30, 2 Pet 2:8-9

    4) The organised structure that has been handed down from the times of the Apostles is compelling for the depth of its wisdom (which no one has yet fully comprehended). It is almost organic in its design (not unfittingly described as a human body in Ephesians), and its purpose is to call and grow a people unto his name. Fundamentally it must be remembered by all that the body is designed by God, and its head is Christ.

    A question for egalitarians reading these posts: is there, or will there be a time, when believers will be equal with God and Jesus?

    • > A question for egalitarians reading these posts: is there, or will there be a time, when believers will be equal with God and Jesus?

      With God, no. With Jesus, yes. Because the Scripture teaches that at the end, Jesus will hand over his authority to God the Father, so that God may all in all (I Corinthians 15:28)

  25. On “authority” of leaders in the body, it cannot be found anywhere in the NT that any leaders have “authority” over those in their care. Their is no hierarchy prescribed in the NT for leaders (pastors, or even elders, teachers, etc) or even husbands. It absolutely cannot be proven from the scriptures that anyone in the body whether a church leader or a husband has authority over ones in their care or over one’s wife.

  26. What scriptures are open for discussion at this time?

    I really like to discuss 1 Timothy 2 and most of Genesis that pertains to the man/woman debate.

  27. “Leadership… is a fluid arrangement of innovation and cooperation, depending on what’s going down and who wants to do it”

    Is that a scriptural principle Deb?

    • “…*each* according to the measure of faith that God has *assigned*. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do *not all have the same function*, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having *gifts that differ* according to the grace given to us, let us *use* them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith…” etc.
      (Rom 12:3-6)

      “Now there are *varieties* of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of *service*, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of *activities*, but it is the same God who empowers them *all in everyone*. To *each* is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”
      (1Co 12:4-7)

      “All these are *empowered* by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as *he* wills.”
      (1Co 12:11)

      “Now I want you *all* to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy…”
      (1Co 14:5)

      “What then, brothers [and sisters]? When you come together, *each one* has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let *all things* be done for building up.”
      (1Co 14:26)

      “For you can *all* prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged,”
      (1Co 14:31)

      “Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these *women*, who have *labored side by side with me in the gospel* together with Clement and the rest of my *fellow workers*, whose names are in the book of life. ”
      (Phi 4:3)

      “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing *one another* in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”
      (Col 3:16)

      “As *each* has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: *whoever* speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; *whoever* serves, as one who serves by the strength that *God supplies*…”
      (1Pe 4:10-11)

      you can supply your own commentary 🙂

  28. Can someone please show me how to quote extracts of previous posts within my text? I tried to just copy and paste in a post yesterday, but when I clicked ‘submit’, only the words I had typed myself came out :-/

  29. Scott, what you are describing in regard to leaders being in submission to other leaders and so on (a hierarchy?) as some sort of safe-guard against abuse, seems to me to be a recipe for abuse 🙂 This has been the history of institutionalised church practice, hasn’t it? Layers of empowerment?

    Such theory ‘has the appearance of wisdom’ but does it preserve liberty in Christ? What is more, (back on topic), the vast majority of these leaders have been and continue to be men, which gives a whole other under-class of parishioners (women) whose needs and views are un(der)represented. More abuse.

    I am somewhat alarmed at little phrases and hints in your posts above (have to type them in, don’t know how to copy so it will come through); for example “the people will not have anything to do with them [the problem-makers] because of respect for the leaders”.

    One way to test the wisdom of such a theory is to imagine yourself as the ‘problem’, imagine that the issue is a matter of genuine conviction and conscience (as it was for me) …and then imagine an entire church community being advised by ‘respected leaders’ to not have anything to do with you.

  30. Thankyou Pinklight 🙂 Indeed we are free people. The only one with spiritual authority over us is Jesus, and we submit directly to him. This puts us in a supportive but equal relationship with other Christians. Leadership therefore is a fluid arrangement of innovation and cooperation, depending on what’s going down and who wants to do it 🙂

  31. All –

    Wow, I go to bed and a plethora of comments start rolling out. Please keep it gracious and irenic. I am not saying it isn’t thus far, but please keep it that way. I’d hate to have to turn on comment moderation. 😛

    Deb –

    Practically for copying in quotes: I don’t know what to say. If you highlight the specific text, then copy and paste it into the comment box, it should show up. Maybe just put quotes around the comment so we know it isn’t your words, but that you are quoting someone. Also, there is a way to do it specially on blogs, to make the quote text become a blocked quote. But if I type in the html here, it will not show up, but rather just block quote something. So the copying and pasting into a comment box is the easiest solution.

  32. Deb –

    You can use the pointy brackets , but you have to put something in the actual brackets. So, if you put the word blockquote at the beginning of the quote and then put /blockquote (with the forward slash) at the end of the quote, you will get a nice special blocked quote.

  33. A few comments to varying people.

    Dave B –

    I cannot speak on behalf of Deb, but I suppose a hierarchist is one who holds to leadership being more of a hierarchical structure. So a structure that is pyramidical in shape from the top tier to the bottom tier. Of course, I don’t agree with that model, and I’m sure you don’t either.

    Deb (and others who are questioning the use of the word authority) –

    I can only imagine people are misunderstanding my use of the word authority. I have never posted any particular articles on my blog about church leadership thus far, so I cannot refer you to more of my thoughts in shorter articles. But, if you want, you can download a paper that I wrote. You can get the PDF file on church leadership by clicking on the link, though it is 26 pages, if you want to endure. 😉

    But in all, I do not believe in a pyramid structure of leadership. But I believe in what I might term ‘leaders amongst equals’. I believe that is biblical. We are all the body of Christ, but in that body, Christ has appointed leaders who lead.

    On the word authority: Jesus gave authority to the apostles (Matt 10:1). Now one could argue, well that was the apostles. But Jesus still gave it to fallible human beings, for they were fallible in their lives. Paul did not want to, but he challenged the Corinthians that he might have to use his authority that the Lord had given him (2 Cor 13:10). Paul told Titus, who was possibly an overseer in Crete, to exercise authority (Titus 2:15). We are even told that God gives authority to the government for our good (Rom 13:1).

    I think the word authority is becoming a hindrance to the discussion, since we all have differing ideas of what that word means. It’s like how the word religion is a hindrance to many people because they think of some legalistic duty. Or the word church becomes a hindrance to non-Christians (or even Christians) because the church has not always been Christ in the world. Again, I cannot stress enough of what I don’t believe leadership is about:

    1) It is NOT about lording over people
    2) It is NOT about a pyramid structure or hierarchical structure
    3) It is NOT about forcing people
    4) It is NOT about being an authoritarian dictator

    But authority is biblical. Again, the greatest example is Jesus. He has all authority in heaven and on earth, but He is not a dictator. He is King, and from a biblical perspective, a king is to shepherd, protect, care for, and tend to the sheep. But, at times, in that protecting, caring, shepherding, tending role, He has to be very direct, discipline us, exercise His authority, etc.

    A leader is called to first and foremost serve (like Jesus). They are called to stoop down and wash feet (like Jesus). They are even called to be hurt at times in their leading. The first response when this happens is not ‘being assertive’. But, at times, the role of the elder-overseer-shepherd is to exercise their oversight (a very biblical phrase), not to be forceful, but to protect and discipline. Discipline is part of parenting, it’s part of biblical leadership.

    So please discard the idea that by authority or exercising oversight I am referring to some heavy-handed method. If a leader does not know how to serve with love and grace, wash feet, and give their lives for others, they are not true biblical leaders. But, for those who do know this path, this Christ-like path of leadership, there will at times call for stepping up in the authority granted by Jesus Himself as Head of the church. Matter of fact, our gracious care for and tending to the sheep is part of exercising our authority in Jesus as leaders. But again, we have such a wrong view of authority that we automatically connect it with being forceful. That is not what the word means. It means walking in the calling and gifting that we know Jesus has granted in leading His sheep.

    • Thanks, Scott. Googled for ‘hierarchist meaning’, found this blog post, and very much enjoyed reading it.

      http://fourcultures.com/2009/01/11/grid-group-cultural-theory-and-hierarchical-churches/

      some snips:

      “Hierarchists see social relationships as strongly asymmetrical (unequal) while Egalitarians see them as strongly symmetrical (equal). Both solidarities try to shape the world to make it more like how they already think it is.”

      “A… minister who believes women should not lead worship or preach, but should only ‘help’ clearly has his ecclesiology determined by a Hierarchical worldview, while Egalitarians, Individualists and Fatalists emphatically do not.”

      “An organisation that holds views and practices significantly out of step with those that prevail in the wider society risks becoming defunct as the recruitment gap becomes steadily harder to bridge. Women have been leaving the churches in England and Wales at a rate of more than 50,000 a year since 1989, and since 1998 the rate of women leaving has been double that of men. Church leaders younger than forty are likely to face in their lifetime a stark choice between the continued defence of a hierarchical worldview and the effective demise of their religion.”

  34. Scott:

    I cannot speak on behalf of Deb, but I suppose a hierarchist is one who holds to leadership being more of a hierarchical structure. So a structure that is pyramidical in shape from the top tier to the bottom tier.

    The article she’s linked to basically states that anyone who’s not an Egalitarians, Individualists or Fatalist, is a hierarchist by default. I think we can all see the flaw in this logic.

    Of course, I don’t agree with that model, and I’m sure you don’t either.

    Correct.

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