Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 48. Women
Gen 1:27 So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.
Introduction: Before we come to the end of this particular Part where we have sought to deal with particular issues that confront the modern church, I think we would do well to confront an issue that still, in some quarters at least, causes a lot of hot air – the role of women in the church. I think – but I may be wrong – that I have some things to say that are, I believe, the truth as seen in the Bible. Now don’t jump to conclusions. I am simply going to say what I see in the Bible and I hope I am going to put aside prejudice or partisanship, both of which have harmed the proper working of the body of Christ.
Equality? Often the water is muddied by talk of equality. Equality requires measurement using the same units of measurement. When it comes to gender that is decidedly difficult. If you do an identical job for an identical length of time, justice demands identical pay; no problem. An area of injustice that needs righting. Observe the verses that follow our header verse above: “God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” (Gen 1:28) The ‘them’ indicates that this call to multiply is (obviously!) a joint thing, but so is the ruling over the earth part that follows. Man and woman are to share in this mandate but how they do it may differ. The curses of Gen 3 after the Fall clearly show that child-bearing would be the primary (but not only) role of the woman, while working the ground to provide food would be the primary (but not only) role of the man. The picture of an industrious woman in Prov 31:10-31 show her as potentially far more than a mere child-bearer. In the New Testament, the apostle Paul says, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal 3:28) As far as the facts of salvation are concerned there are to be no distinctions.
In the Body of Christ: The concept of the ‘body of Christ’ is all about different gifts and ministries. Old and New Testaments make a number of statements that sometimes appear contradictory but in reality are not so, I believe. Let’s pick up some of the things the Bible shows us, by way of narrative and by way of specific teaching.
The twelve apostles: Twelve men, why not women? Be real and imagine the homes of the people involved. It was bad enough, for the family, that Jesus called the ‘bread-winner’ away. To call away a mother and wife would have been twice as bad. (The wife is the key to nurture of the family). The culture of Israel permitted men to go off after a traveling rabbi but not women; that would have been scandalous – unless they were more elderly, no longer have family duties, were single or came from such dubious backgrounds that they just didn’t care. I suspect Jesus would have avoided adding further causes of opposition than he already had. In the culture – for the obvious reasons given in Gen 3 – women bore and raised the children, men were the breadwinners (although as Prov 31 shows her role was potentially much bigger, even overshadowing that of her husband.) Those who are wise and observant will know that often in such societies where ‘the men are men’ the power within the family is in reality often with the wife. There clearly were a number of women who traveled with Jesus (e.g. Lk 8:1-3) but the apostles (‘sent ones’) had to be men because it would be inconceivable for women to be sent out in pairs knocking on doors in the evangelistic task (see Mt 10:5- and Lk 10:1)
The later ‘body’: The case for ‘only men’ in ministry falls down when we observe the four daughters of Philip the evangelist who all had prophetic gifting (Acts 21:8,9) but the argument for female apostles in Rom 16:7 is uncertain and scholarship suggests these were men (but hold on for later). I tend to agree with those scholars if only for the reasons given above for men travelling on their own. The gifts of the Spirit are given irrespective of gender, hence, “I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy.” (Joel 2:28, Acts 2:17) There is no reason to suppose that prophecy is the only gift available to women and so, as moved by the Spirit, the implication must be that wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, discernment, tongues and interpretation are open to all. Indeed in 1 Cor 12:1 and 1 Cor 14:6,26 and very specifically with gift-encouragement in v.39, Paul does address “brothers and sisters” and makes no distinctions in the three chapters about gifts.
What about silence in church? When he has just encouraged women as well as men to prophesy in church, we need to be careful about his injunction: “Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.” (1 Cor 14:34,25). The meaning of the text in addition suggests this is a matter of order rather than of ministry. Why should Paul single out women in this way? Have you never watched a congregation of God’s people? In the left brain versus right brain argument, the message is always the same, and is clearly observable in any group: women are better interpersonal communicators (they talk more!!). If a church leader has a problem, it is how to get the room to come to quiet to start a service… and why? Just watch. It is a simple matter of order, not ministry.
I want to be a church leader? You must be out of your mind! Yes, Paul did say to Timothy, “Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task.” (1 Tim 3:1) and we should observe his teaching about such overseers in the next verse, that they be husband of one wife, but that doesn’t mean to say the leadership is easy stuff; it is not. The leader is the first in line for attacks from the enemy and they can come thick and fast. Few of the many leaders I know in my area are unscathed. What is the balance here? I believe if you want to be a leader because you want to be seen to be out front, it is a wrong motive. If you feel an urgency to love, care for, and minister to God’s people, do it, and then be recognised for the gifting that God has obviously given you. My own understanding is that mostly God calls men into leadership, but where there is a dearth of men or He sees a particular heart and particular gifting in a woman, He goes for it. I have observed a number of women preaching and been much blessed by them. Having said that I have seen an equal number of women leading or preaching and have cringed at the lack of servant-heartedness (and yes, I’ve seen the same in men) and anointing. Anyone who does it like another job or vocation has got it wrong, male or female. Leading (and preaching and teaching) is a calling and requires the anointing of God.
A Godly Example: I love the example of Deborah in Judges 4. She is a prophet (v.4a), she is married (v.4b), and she was leading Israel (v.4c), but when it comes to battle, unlike some of the other judge-leaders, she gets a word from God and calls for someone else, a man, to lead the army, Barak (v.6). He is half-hearted and wants her to go along with him (v.8) and her reply is, “because of the course you are taking, the honor will not be yours, for the Lord will deliver Sisera into the hands of a woman.” (v.9) She wanted the honor to go to a man, not her. What humility before God. Does God choose women leaders? Yes, clearly.
There is an issue of ‘authority’ and divine order here that is not understood by many. Authority comes from God. If He gives it to a woman, go with it. If it is absent (in man or woman) we’re in trouble. If men are not rising up to the task, He will use women. On average, men have certain characteristics that I believe make them better equipped to handle the opposition better. However some won’t, and some women will – but it is always God’s choice. If we try to be legalistic about it, we will get it wrong. Look at the character, look at the gifting, look at the grace, look at the anointing. What is the Holy Spirit doing? If we ignore Him and His calling and His equipping, we will be in trouble. Grace, humility, anointing and gifting. If they are absent, whoever you are, get out of the pulpit!
Redeeming this area? Redemption, we have been saying is about God taking us out of a bad placed into a good place. Can we redeem leadership of the church, whether male or female, from human choice and career ambition and put it into the Spirit-led, Spirit-inspired, Spirit-anointed realm? May we honor our anointed and God-called men and women irrespective of gender. Can we look for and encourage servant-hearted humility that is devoid of human ambition and through it, may our men and women bring honor and glory to God through the church. And may we dare risk saying, where calling, anointing and grace are missing, may present leaders have the courage to seek God for something they have lost, or have the courage to step down and move into a more fruitful area of life where those things are missing and have never really been there.