ImageI recently read a blog (http://theocchronicles.com/2013/01/25/women-in-ministry/) that expressed the writer’s reservations about the place of women in ministry.  Ironically, the writer was a woman.  Questioning the legitimacy of women in leadership positions, she confesses:  “But for now, in January of 2013, I am not ready to abandon biblical principles that are so clearly spelled out and beautifully in place for reasons I may not fully understand” (emphases mine).  While I do not concur fully with her “take” on this issue, I do find in her disclosure two noteworthy “takeaways”:  first, she qualifies her position by the phrase “for now,” suggesting something like “I may not have the right answer to this question, and I am open to revisiting it, so talk to me”; and second, she does not make complete understanding of the rationale behind God’s commands a requirement for her obedience to them.  To put the matter more simply, she can obey the “what” even without fully understanding the “why.” This is the kind of obedience that most fully displays trust in God.  It is in fact the level of obedience parents dream their teenagers will attain.

Of course, this does not mean that God (or a parent, for that matter) is unconcerned about his children understanding the rationale behind his governing precepts.  This is a necessary step on the journey to maturity.  So, for what it’s worth, I will boldly go where only angels do not fear to tread (since they are genderless, they have no dog in the hierarchical fight!) and offer here my response to the previously mentioned blog.  As such it represents my present “take” on the issue of women and leadership.

Bethany, thank you for your kind comments on my blog, which, by the way, led me to your blog here.  I wish I had time to dialogue more about the issue you raise; It is a VERY important one in our culture.  I must say that I admire your courage not only in being open about your stance, but also about the very stance itself.  It is surely not a popular one, and of course the popularity of a tenet must never be made the litmus test of its veracity.

I must also say that I have a VERY high regard for women.  I am compelled by Scripture and by God’s holy indwelling Spirit and by everyday experience to recognize and affirm the high value of women.  Like you, however, I do have some “reservations” about the level of leadership that would typically be appropriate for women as a general rule (intentional redundancy).  I cannot help but “feel” (yet not without rational, exegetical grounding) that the rationale for the “general rule” has to do with the way God has “wired” maleness and femaleness.

Gender is an essential constituent of humanity, not an “add-on” package.  God “wired” females to be fulfilled by the achievement of certain aspirations, and He “wired” males to be fulfilled by the achievement of other kinds of aspirations.  The “exceptions” to the rule are just that, . . . exceptions, and I believe they can be traced to the influence of culture, rather than to inherent native instinct.

I further believe that the Bible teaches a sound rationale for a functional hierarchy within the family unit.  God intended it to operate in a beautiful, interdependent way.  The problem is that humans have mistakenly confused functional hierarchy with ontological inferiority.  The unfortunate by-product of this faulty understanding is a condescending attitude of men toward women and a bitter attitude of women toward men.  Both of these aberrations war against God’s shalom (peace, unity, wholeness, health) not only in society at large, but also in the home.

But make no mistake about it, friend.  I do believe that there is biblical warrant for women exercising a variety of leadership functions in the church. I admit that I am less comfortable with a female occupying the hierarchical top of a given church or para-church organization.  Although I see no specific Scriptural mandate against that (when rightly interpreted), one could argue that such an ecclesiastical structure would model on the large scale how the home should function.  I am speaking here of general principle and not thereby excluding the possibility of certain exceptions to it.  Can we make God a prisoner of his spiritual laws any more than we can make him a prisoner of his cosmic laws?  God may say, “Yes, this is the general rule—and for good reasons—BUT, I have called this specific woman for this specific task!  How do you like those apples? (OK, bad analogy . . . it was the apple that got us in trouble in the first place!!  And, after all, Eve did take the first bite . . . ).  The Bible itself does narrate (“commend,” MAY be saying too much) exceptions to the rule.

To my mind the more important context for the functional hierarchy is in the home, because that is the microcosm where children learn through modeling how to relate to both super-ordinates (not, significantly, “superiors”) and subordinates.  Through the “headship” of their father God provides children a model of how to administrate a delegated, functional authority; more specifically, through the father’s meek, loving self-sacrifice for the benefit of his wife and family that consistently (and sometimes at great personal loss) prioritizes their welfare above his.  Likewise, from their mother God intends children to learn how to respond to authority; namely, through the mother’s respectful, voluntary laying aside of her right to autonomy, willingly accepting the decisions of her husband.

Before I am pelted with rotten tomatoes, I hasten to conclude with three final thoughts:  (1) a primary responsibility of both husband and wife is to mutually affirm and support the other’s functional “headship” over their children; (2) only a husband with the I.Q. of a poached egg would regard the wisdom and advice of his ontologically equal wife as unworthy of serious heed!! and (3) Any husband who opts for a dictatorial, coercive, and abusive mode of “headship” simply cannot count himself among the followers of Christ; he has long since ceased to march to the beat of our Divine “Drummer.”   Jesus sternly warned his disciples about abusing the authority he had delegated to them:  “The kings of the Gentiles lord authority over them . . . . NOT SO WITH YOU!!” (Luke 22:25). I welcome further dialogue, but I pray responders will forgive me for any delay in my response because I am buried in “to do’s” . . . that my wife has rather dictatorially demanded that I do!!  ;)

Join the conversation! 2 Comments

  1. Enjoyed this very much. Here is my take: Do you know why women’s feet are smaller than mens feet? So they can stand closer to the sink. Now that’s a Hot Potato!



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About rstarner

Husband of one; father of two; professor of Greek and New Testament at Southwestern A/G University; Adjunct professor of Greek and New Testament at Regent University