Is Christianity Repressive to Women? (Part II: Equally Different Roles)

Isn’t God good?  Isn’t he good to let us know the value that He has placed on us?  Isn’t it wonderful that no matter who we are, male or female, that in Christ we are one in Him! (Read Part I of this topic.)

Yet, this is not all that God has to say about the matter, is it? We are equal in our souls—and this is the area to which we must hold on.

Submission?

One of the issues that seems to trouble most is the idea of submission–that is, women submitting to their husbands.  This is found in two different places:  one in Ephesians 5:22-24 and 1 Peter 3:1-6.  What’s going on here?  Some believe that the word submit is actually a Greek word that means doormat.  The husband can do whatever he wants, say whatever he wants and the wife has to go along.  Look at Ephesians 5:22-24:

22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.

Do you know why so many in our culture believe that?  It’s because so many in our churches believe that’s what Scripture says.  “Woman!  The word says submit!  I know I’m acting ungodly, but you still have to go along with it.”  Really?  Let me share with you what it says for husbands, if you’re wanting to kick the word out there for the wives.

25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. 28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.

Do you see what this is?  Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her.  If you’re having to throw out the ‘submission’ thing in your house to your wives, dead husbands, it could be that your wife may have a hard time submitting to your leadership, whether it’s weak or overbearing.  We go back to Ephesians 5:21–we are to submit to Christ and to submit and serve one another, with the wives being the helper and the husbands serving their wives as the servant leader and protector, as God laid out in Genesis 1-2. 

Silence? 

Another area found in the NT is that of women being ‘silent in the churches.’  This is found in two places that I would like for you to look at.  I would not be much of a pastor if I ignored that which the culture is coming at so hard. 

First, 1 Timothy 2:9-14.  Here, we see that Paul brings out the item of women’s dress.  Some have taken this to mean that women should not wear jewelry or dress nicely.  They are missing the point.  I put it this way: “Women should be known for their godliness, not their goldliness.”  We all have a responsibility not to be a stumbling block to others.  In this case, women have to be careful about their appearance.  Why, because we are judgmental and legalistic?  No, because all of us have to help others grow in Christ, not stumble in their walk with Christ. 

But then Paul really does it, doesn’t he? 

“Let a woman learn quietly with all submisiveness (GG: there’s that word again).  I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.  For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor” (1 Timothy 2:11-14).

First Corinthians 14:33-35 says virtually the same thing:

As in all the churches of the saints, 34 the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. 35 If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.

Boy, does this light the powder keg in our culture–and in our churches?  Should we just ignore this because Paul was just talking in that time?  We can’t, for two reasons. 

  • One, in the 1 Corinthians passage, Paul commanded it in all the churches. 
  • Secondly, in the 1 Timothy passage, Paul didn’t bring in the Ephesian church context, but brought in the creation order of things from Genesis 1-3.  So we cannot ignore this.

What’s the takeaway?  I’ll tell you right now what the takeaway for some of you is–these two passages just contradicted everything else that God said about equality.  What’s equal about women being quiet? 

Keep in mind that women had a new found freedom in Christianity that they didn’t in Judaism or their culture–and some were taking advantage of it.  They were gossiping, being busybodies, in culture and church.  So Paul reminded them that part of the creation order from the beginning was something that should not have surprised them.  Women were not to teach and have authority over men.  The obvious understanding here is of preaching in the assembly, the congregation, because God called men to be the spiritual authority in the house of God and in our own houses.  In this context, women are not to teach/preach as an authority as a pastor or deacon. 

Another obvious one that we need to deal with is this:  is God saying that women cannot teach in any context of a mixed group?  There seems to be a distinction between teach or to exercise authority–are these considered synonymous?  Or is Paul talking about teaching, and having authority? I confess to you that I am confident of the obvious, special calling of a pastor/preacher to a congregation.  I’m still sorting through this and believe God is bringing some clarity–and when he does, I will share this with our Sunday School and small group leaders first.  (John Frame believes women may with caution; Denny Burk of Southern Seminary does not believe so – both of these men I respect.  Jim Hamilton weighs in as well.)  I owe it to them to talk to them first before I have the perception of firing a shot over the bow here.  But we must look at what Scripture says, pray that we would obey what Scripture says, and ask ourselves if teaching small groups as well as preaching is an area of authority over a people?  I would say a case could be made.

But why is Scripture bringing this out?  To denegrate women?  Because women do not have the gifts or the wherewithal to do this?  I think that misses the ultimate point.  Keep in mind, women have spoken up in 1 Corinthians 11 when they pray and share their testimony.  I’m so thankful the Holy Spirit included that, because I would miss out on Mrs. Gloria Hughes, Mrs. Sheila, and other women praying for us–wouldn’t you?  Can women speak up at a Family Conference?  Yes, absolutely!  No prohibition there. 

But in cases of spiritual authority, this is not about denigrating women. It’s about reminding men of who they should be in Christ!  God called men to lead!   We must not abdicate that position in a world where women are becoming more masculine and men are becoming more feminine.  Women are leading our homes and our churches because (for the most part) men are not stepping up to be who they are in Christ!

I was in Trinidad back in 2004 with my former church as we did VBS, revival services, and on top of that, I did a leadership conference at a time when I had no business doing such.  I geared it on the Epistle to Titus, who addresses some areas of the leadership roles in our homes and in the house of God.  There were women pastors who happened to have shown up, and I honestly had no intention of addressing it until Pastor Roddie asked the question, “Pastor Perry, could you address the issue of roles of women in the church?”  So I did in regards to leadership–that God in 1 Timothy 3 called for male leadership in the church with both pastors/elders and deacons. 

One woman raised her hand in regards to my comments about wives submitting to their husbands. She said, “Pastor, I have two children at home.  My husband left me about four years ago, so I’m having to be father and mother.”  I was stuck!  I wasn’t prepared for this, but then after some conversation and others chiming in, God gave it to me: “You see,” I told them, “this is what happens when men aren’t being men and leave their responsibilities.”  To that, she said “Amen!  That’s right preacha!” 

While she does not speak for everyone, she does speak for many–even though she didn’t speak it.  She affirmed that God’s design in the right design.  When men are upholding their servant leadership in the church and home, most women in Christ will gladly live under that type of leadership.  And it’s only through Christ that we could ever come to that point.

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