equality

There, But Not Here: Bible and Culture in Conflict

“They offered me the role of pastor at my church,” my friend told me with a smile. Originally from South America, she had been serving as a missionary for many years in the Balkans. Continuing with a touch of resignation, she added, “but back home, when I started a vibrant church plant with my friend, the denomination took it over because it needed a male pastor.”

These stories are not uncommon. Women are sent into mission by churches who support them prayerfully and financially. They are commissioned to evangelize, disciple, care, preach, teach and pastor. They are received back into silence and submission. As long as they preach and teach away from home, it is not a problem. As soon as they come back, it is. Women are equal ‘there’, but not ‘here’.

I am not sure why this is the case. Maybe there is some sort of cultural superiority at play. Things apply differently to ‘them’ than to ‘us’. Maybe there are not enough men to go, so we compromise and let women do the job. Maybe it does not matter, as long as we are not seeing it. Maybe we have never thought about it.

Complementarians often point to passages such as 1 Timothy 2:12 to bolster their position that women should not be allowed to teach. In it Paul writes, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.” They assert that Paul’s instruction to Timothy was trans-cultural, and so should be applied in a similar way today, even though our context is different.

But the apparent double standard between a woman’s permissions at home versus in mission sends a confusing message. Are women really equal with men? Or are they not? Are women really permitted to engage in the same ministry with the same authority as men? Or are they not? It seems to me that if Paul’s exhortation was truly trans-cultural, then it would apply as equally in mission as it does at home.

A pastor once told me, “we’ll just call it a missional encouragement, not a sermon. That way no one will get upset.” I had taught and preached in a variety of settings around the world as a missionary, but at home, it was different. The inconsistency in application leads me to believe the real issue is our culture and comfort levels, not Biblical adherence. For whatever reason, people are not comfortable with women in positions of influence and authority, so we limit when and where it can happen. If it were anything else, would mere semantics put us at ease?

Either Paul’s words in 1 Timothy 2:12 are trans-cultural, or they are not. Either women can engage in the same ministry with the same authority as men, or they cannot. Either women are equal to men, or they are not. We cannot pick and choose in which geographic location Scripture applies.

God is using women in mission around the world. Many are hearing about Christ for the first time because of women. Churches are being planted because of women. Relief and development projects are thriving because of women. Justice is happening because of women. If it is okay ‘there’, but not ‘here’, ‘here’ is what is missing out. Women will always take advantage of opportunities and serve God however they can. Let us clarify our message: women, you are commissioned to evangelize, disciple, care, preach, teach and pastor. Everywhere.

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Wrestling with the Buts: Women in Leadership and the Bible

Lady in the MarketThese days it seems like everywhere I turn, I’m getting pulled into discussions about what the Bible does or does not allow women to do. Can they be pastors? Can they preach? What about other teaching and leading ministries? How about leadership in the home? Articles such as this one by Matt Walsh, and this one from Got Questions, have been sent to me with requests for my perspective.

I’m not a Bible scholar, but I have extensively thought about, prayed through, and researched these issues. I grew up in a complementarian church, and have written previously about how I changed my mind about women in leadership. This article, though, isn’t about my personal process. It’s dealing with the popular objections Christians have about women in leadership. In short, we’re wrestling with the buts. Instead of reinventing the wheel with my own written responses to the arguments, I’m including a series of articles that respond in a much better way than I can. Here we go…

…BUT Adam was created before Eve (Genesis 1-2; 1 Tim. 2:9-15)

A scholarly take on the ‘creation order’ argument – http://www.cbeinternational.org/resources/article/priscilla-papers/genesis-equality-part-1

Word study on helpmeet (Heb. Ezer kenegdo) – https://godswordtowomen.org/ezerkenegdo.htm

…BUT no women are found teaching men in the Old Testament

An examination of women and their ministry throughout the OT & NT – https://rachelheldevans.com/blog/mutuality-women-leaders

…BUT Jesus was a man

This article deals with this objection, as well as the larger context of God and gender – http://www.cbeinternational.org/resources/article/priscilla-papers/does-god-have-gender

…BUT the 12 apostles were all men

Dr. Gilbert Bilezikian’s article deals with this objection beautifully – http://godswordtowomen.org/Apostles.htm

…BUT Paul says women can’t be church leaders or teach / have authority over men (aka the 1 Timothy 2 argument)

The short answer – http://www.cbeinternational.org/resources/article/other/short-answers-challenging-texts-1-timothy-211-15

The long answer – http://www.cbeinternational.org/resources/article/priscilla-papers/1-timothy-28%E2%80%9315-and-gender-wars-ephesus

The meaning of ‘authority’ in 1 Timothy 2:12 – http://juniaproject.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/THE-MEANING-OF-%CE%B1%E1%BD%90%CE%B8%CE%B5%CE%BD%CF%84%E1%BD%B3%CF%89-IN-1-TIMOTHY-2.12.pdf

…BUT the man is the head of the home (Eph. 5:21-33)

On the Significance of Kephalē (“Head”) – http://juniaproject.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/Cervin-Sig-of-Kephale.pdf

Q&A: Does the Bible Allow Women to Have Authority Over Men? –  http://www.cbeinternational.org/resources/article/mutuality/qa-does-bible-allow-women-have-authority-over-men

There are probably many other ‘buts’. To be honest, even with everything I have read on these topics, I still don’t have all the answers. However, what I do know leads me to believe that the Bible’s answer to the question of women in leadership is a resounding YES. Leadership, just like any other ministry in the church, depends on one’s gifts, calling, passions, and interests. It does not depend on gender.

All in all, everyone is entitled to their viewpoint, and we do need to learn to disagree agreeably. People are supposed to know we are Christians by our love (Jn. 13:35). But I’ll let you in on a little secret: I’m tired of defending my ability to exercise my gifts, so I’m just gonna be over here getting shit done for Jesus.

Further Resources

For an overall scholarly treatment of the biblical basis for women’s ministry in the church, NT Wright’s video and article are excellent.

Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity Without Hierarchy – Ronald W. Pierce and Rebecca Merrill Groothuis (eds.). Available from Amazon.

For Individual or Group Bible Study – In the Image of God: Exploring what the Bible says about men and women. Available as a PDF from Proost.*

*I have gone through this study myself and with a group, and found it a non-threatening way to examine and think through key aspects of this topic.