To say that the woman’s role in the church is a controversial subject would be an understatement! Sadly, the subject in the local church is increasingly being challenged today. Many churches have divided over this issue, resulting in many hurts and families leaving their meetings. The pressures of society, genderism, feminism, and equal rights have brought about great misunderstanding about the role of men and women in society. Unfortunately, because of these misconceptions the issue has spilled over into our churches. There is often an inadequate response as to what the Scriptures teach, why the church takes the position it does, and too often many are not open or do not wish to understand what is meant by biblical equality in the local church. Does equality mean there are no distinctions between men and women in society and in the assembly?
In many present-day cultures and paganist societies womanhood has suffered greatly. Women are subordinate to men, second-class citizens, often abused and degraded. Her role is simply to bear children, be the servant of men, and satisfy his lustful pleasures. “Woman in the mind of pagan man, is little better than a serf oppressed by a lustful lord.”1 This is obviously not the mind or heart of God, nor does Scripture commend this type of attitude. By God’s grace may we seek to discern the mind of the Holy Spirit on this important topic.
From the time of creation, God gave unique and distinctive qualities and responsibilities to men and women, that beautifully complement each other. The Bible never suggests that women are unequal to men. Both equally enjoyed precious communion with God in the garden. Both uniquely became “one flesh,” when they were brought to each other (Gen. 2:23-24). Adam and Eve complimented each other. There was no sense of inequality prior to sin entering the world. Eve, meaning “the mother of all living,” (Gen. 5:20), would bear children and naturally love, care, and nurture their offspring. This honor was given to Eve and through her seed, “seed of the woman” (Gen. 3:15), the Lord Jesus would come.
Sadly, because of sin, there were consequences (Gen. 3:16-19). Judgments were placed on the serpent, Eve, and Adam. Eve would now experience pain in childbearing. In verse 16 God establishes the headship of her husband, but never was it to be a tyrannical headship. “Your desire shall be toward your husband.” This obviously would bring a change in their relationship.
Adam would now toil and deal with many obstacles in his work. Genesis 3:18 says, “thorns and thistles” reminding us of the daily problems and struggles still today in the workplace. This was never experienced in Eden before sin. Because of sin, both were removed from the garden and both no longer enjoyed the presence of God walking with them. Sadly, death would eventually bring an end to their relationship as husband and wife.
In Exodus 35:21-29, we see the role God gave to women and men in the building of the tabernacle. We see a unique oneness in its preparation and building. Both men and women brought their offerings and skills which they presented to the Lord: “Then everyone came whose heart was stirred, and everyone whose spirit was willing, and they brought the Lord’s offering…They came, both men and women, as many as had a willing heart…And every man who offered an offering of gold to the Lord” (vv. 21- 22); “Everyone who offered an offering of…All the women who were gifted artisans…And all the women whose hearts were stirred with wisdom” (v. 24-26). It was never a competition; rather they complemented each other in building the tabernacle. The women who were gifted artisans spun yarn for the making of the veil, the door, the gate, the tabernacle covering etc., as well as for the making of the priestly garments. The men built the furniture, the boards, and pillars for the tabernacle. They worked equally, but each had unique responsibilities and they complemented one another and brought glory to God, and blessing to the nation. But there were never women priests!
In the New Testament, and because of Christianity, women are given a unique role, which is not found in our world. In Christ, there are absolutely no distinctions between women and men. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3: 28). Yes, there were Jews and Greeks, slaves and free, and male and female in the local assembly, but in Christ, all distinctions are gone. We have been “accepted in the beloved,” (Eph. 1:6). We are all members of one body (1 Cor. 12:12). This is not true of the world’s religions such as Islam, Hinduism etc.
The distinctions between the two genders is beautiful, but they have nothing to do with equality. God created us male and female, nothing more, nothing less and gave us an array of distinctions. Generally, the nature of women is more caring, tender, nurturing and loving. Because Eve was the “mother of all living” she was given these qualities. The husband is exhorted to love (agape) his wife as Christ loved His bride, the Church: unconditionally; sacrificially; and without reserve (Eph. 5:25). “For the husband is the head of the wife, as also Christ is Head of the church; He is the Savior (Protector, Defender) of the body” (Eph. 5:23).
The headship of the husband is not a position of superiority or rights, but of responsibility. He is not to be the bully nor the demanding lord. He is to lovingly respect her, protect her, and be the primary provider for her, and their children.
By divine inspiration, Paul deals with the subject of public prayer and the distinctive roles of men and women in the local church (1 Tim. 2:8-15; 1 Cor. 14:34-35). “I desire that the men (masculine) pray everywhere” (1 Tim. 2:8). He mentions the silence of the women in the public meetings of the local church and explains the reason for it (1 Tim. 2:11-15). Nowhere in the New Testament are the sisters given the place of public ministry. But in verse 15, he tells us of the distinctive honor, and unique, dignified position women have in bringing children into the world. In Luke 1:28, Mary was “highly favored;” the Lord was with her; and she is called “Blessed are you among women.” Psalm 127:3 says, “Behold children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb is a reward.” I believe Paul confirms these verses and reminds women of the privilege of raising a family for God. I would never have been able to fulfill the call God placed on me if my wife had not been 101% behind me! Raising children for God can have far more influence than any public ministry in the Church. Yes, there are women who do not marry, and there are those who cannot conceive, but God can give them a ministry far more influential, than public prayer or preaching. However, most women do marry and raise children for the Lord. They too are “highly favored.” In bearing precious new life, are they not “saved” (1 Tim. 2:15), that is are they not elevated to the true honor of motherhood? However, there is a condition, “if they (both parents) continue in faith, love, and holiness with self-control.” President Abraham Lincoln said, “I remember my mother’s prayers and they have always followed me. They have clung to me all my life.” Take time also to read Paul’s teaching regarding the complimentary roles of older and younger women in Titus 2:3-5.
I often wonder who will receive the greater reward in heaven: preachers; teachers; men who take a public part in church meetings; or the mothers and wives who love; support; and stand by their husbands. I think I know, don’t you?
1. James Gunn, I Will Build My Church, p. 136