WOMEN'S ROLE IN THE CHURCH
This article is an attempt to defend certain, admittedly-hard-to-accept biblical statements relative to women's role in the Church. The goal here is to help clarify and hopefully cause men and women to be encouraged when these scripture passages are read in the future.
A mere casual glance at the verses I will address often gives rise to the thought, "that's chauvinistic!" Actually, the meaning of the word 'chauvinism' isn't all that offensive. The Random House dictionary defines it this way:
"prejudiced devotion to any attitude or cause".
We should not find this kind of devotion to be all that objectionable if the 'pre-judgment' is based upon a sound foundation. Although we sometimes find statements in the Scriptures that may bother us, we must always keep in mind, the Bible is God's Word. There is no other written resource from Almighty God. It has been a slow process for me to arrive at this conviction, but I've learned if we are to improve and purify our minds through the absorption of Scripture, we must purpose in advance of study to take it as it is written regardless of how abrasive it may initially seem to our sensibilities. Inner peace will invariably follow correct understanding and proper application of God's Word.
Look again at the above definition. All it really says is that one may have a pre-judged position regarding anything. Question: Does God not have this right? If we recoil in anger or feel offended by any statement in God's Word, what we are really saying is "why hast thou made me thus?" This reaction reveals the rebellion which lies just beneath the surface in all of us, the Saved as well as the Unsaved. But Christians have the built-in power to willfully 'forget' this carnal bent, and, once we understand this fact, even be thankful to God for revealing (pre-judging) our weaknesses.
Having said all that, I still approach this subject with some reservations. But please understand I have no 'ax to grind' with women. I have a wonderful wife, a great mom, a beautiful daughter, two terrific sisters, all of whom are Christians, and many of my closest friends are women. But the facts are, God's Word has some special things to say about Church structure-and-order relative to the roles of men and women in it. My concern has to do with the drastic changes which are occurring in many congregations today in the area of female responsibilities. Some of these changes are so anti-scriptural, I'm convinced it represents one of the primary signs of the Bible-predicted apostasy which would come in the last days*. However, I'm equally convinced that God wants to raise up a standard against this falling away in those churches which are willing to submit to the authority of His will and Word. Purity comes after having gone through the 'crucible of fire' so let's expose ourselves to a few of the 'heated' passages. First, what does the Bible say about women's physical appearance?
*1 Tim. 4:1-3; 2 Tim. 3:1-9; Jude 16-19; 2 Thes. 2:1-12.
"Therefore I desire that the men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting; in like manner also, that the women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly clothing, but which is proper for women professing godliness, with good works."
1 Tim. 2:1-10.
Modesty is not a natural inclination. Like most signs of Godly character, it requires conviction and application. But the instruction here is clear. God says quite plainly how women ought to dress. Why not look exactly the way God has pre-judged for us? As with any other applied principle of Scripture, you'll know if it's right by the peace God gives once it's done.
ATTITUDE IN THE CHURCH
"Let a woman learn in silence with all submission. And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence." 1 Tim. 2:11&12.
You have probably heard all kinds of explanations of the above passage which attempt to make the passage say other than what it plainly does. Come on! These verses don't require interpretation. The right response is belief. A woman once asked me if I thought God really meant what was said here. I suspected the reason she put it that way was that she knew very well the statement couldn't be misunderstood if taken literally. She obviously hoped for some kind of deep theological exegesis and/or to be convinced the command merely represented some kind of cultural problem. WOW! Has that concept ever been overworked! The fact was, the instruction went so strongly against her grain she just couldn't accept it at face value. There can be no uncertainty of the definiteness of the requirement because Paul in the next three verses takes the situation totally out of the cultural setting, placing it all the way back to the garden of Eden in order to clarify why he had put such a strong demand upon women. Note what he said:
"For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression. Nevertheless she will be saved in childbearing if they continue in faith, love, and holiness, with self-control." 1 Tim. 2:13-15.
There's a tremendous revelation here for all who are willing to face the truth by carefully evaluating Paul's explanation. For some reason, Satan preferred to tempt Eve rather than Adam. Why would this be so? If that can be figured out, we'll go a long way toward solving many mysteries surrounding why God devoted so much attention in the New Testament on women restrictions in roles of leadership and responsibility.
Now listen to this logic: there must have been something about Eve that made her more accessible to tempt than Adam, otherwise Satan wouldn't have done it the way he did. Hey, let's face it, Satan is no dummy! There just had to be something about Eve's spiritual door that made her a little easier to deceive. If this is so, would God not be a deceiver Himself not to make this truth plain to us? But God isn't a deceiver. He wants us to know all about our vulnerabilities and that's exactly why the above five verses are in the Bible. They are not there for expositors to manipulate and distort (as many do, due to unbelief and/or because of pressures created by modern, worldly, social changes).
Obedience is what God expects from those who love Him. In verses 11-14 above, God explains the problem. In verse 15, He gives the solution:
"Nevertheless she will be saved in childbearing if they continue in faith, love, and holiness, with self-control."
I've yet to hear a sermon or read a commentary on this verse that makes much sense to me. My observations are that most expositors just kind of let it alone. But the fact is, it's the crowning comment from the apostle on this whole passage regarding the necessity of a woman to be in submission to authority, not to assume it. I'll admit the verse does elicit all kinds of questions and it disturbed me for years. It's not that I think I have some kind of special intelligence others don't, but I really believe God has given me a few insights here. I felt so sure of this I wrote a tract on it a few years ago, calling it FOR MOTHERS ONLY. I think it's worthwhile to include the text of it here. Quote:
"A little 'revelation' went off inside me when my first grandson was born. I didn't fully understand it at first but I knew God was trying to get my attention. It was one of those times when you just know He's got something particular in mind for you to learn. Then, a few months later my second grandson was born and the same ringing once again occurred in my spirit. "What is it, Lord?", I wondered. But no definite answer, just that unmistakable inner awareness one experiences when Jesus is close at hand. Let me tell you how it unfolded.
I need say no more than that to other grandparents to convey how much fun it is to become one. It's marvelous beyond words. Moms! Dads! You've got a lot to look forward to. Just you wait and see!
Jennifer (my daughter) gave birth to Joshua Anthony about four years ago (now nine years as of April 1998) and for the first time, I was allowed to be in the delivery room. WOW! You talk about heavy goings-on! We're talkin' awesome! The room was full of people: the doctor, nurses and other attendants, Jim (the dad), Marty and Jane (my son & his wife), Cindy (my wife) and other family members from time to time. To flavor the situation God had provided a song and it was blasting on the tape machine, "I will be with you, in joy and in pain; your cry for mercy, echoes my Name..." It was wild, yet magnificently beautiful. Tears? Yes, but at the same time, joy unspeakable. You've got the setting. And to top it all off, I've never felt the presence of Almighty God more strongly in my whole life. (Attention dads and grandads: You must be there at these times!)
NINE MONTHS LATER:
Exactly nine months after that, Jane, who helped assist Jennifer, repeated the incredible drama described above, this time Jenny 'coaching' her; same doctor, almost the same group of people, same music, same pain and agony, same joy, and the same presence of the same God! Only one thing wasn't the same, God delivered another brand new person. This time it was Eric Daniel, Joshua's first cousin and new playmate. How great! I love it! I love them! (Today’s count: 5.)
Folks, birthing is still a miracle — every time God repeats it. That moment of delivery is priceless beyond words. And to think we have reached a point in time when millions of women (and men) decide every year to prevent this miraculous gift cuts deeply into my heart. If it does that to me, a mere mortal dad and grandad, think of what Jesus, the designer and giver of life, must feel! What a shame! What a sin! "Forgive them Father for they know not what they do", is all that seems appropriate for me to say right at this moment.
"SAVED IN CHILDBEARING"...???
A few months prior to all this I had been prompted to do a Bible study on women's role in the church (the rest of the paper you are now reading). 1 Timothy 2:11 through 3:13 was one of the passages which had my attention. I want to concentrate here mainly on one verse — I Tim.2:15:
"Nevertheless she will be saved in childbearing if they continue in faith, love, and holiness, with self-control."
I must have read that verse hundreds of times trying to figure out what in the world it meant. Commentaries provided little help. Not to be cynical but sermons I've heard have been equally disappointing. In fact, it seems to me expositors and preachers are almost afraid of the verse! It may seem a bit strange but my tendency is to just keep 'hanging around' such obscure passages. I do that because past experiences have taught me that God rewards persistence, especially where His Word is concerned. I've yet to encounter any topic or passage which seems particularly vague that God didn't eventually bring unusual insights if I just kept at it: studying, thinking, waiting & praying.
From day-one of Joshua's life, as I watched Jenny tend his needs I'd often say, "Honey, you're being saved in childbearing." She'd throw me a puzzled glance and say, "What are you talking about?" I'd grin and say, "Oh, I'm not sure but I just know that you are being saved in childbearing, that's all." After a few dozen times of this she would anticipate me and right on cue would remark, "Yes, I know Dad, I'm being saved in childbearing." The game got so common it was as if we both knew what we were talking about, but we really didn't. However, I do believe God was honoring our hearts and kindling our minds just by our audacity to use His Word, even if it was in playfulness.
Let me first tell you what I'm convinced the verse doesn't mean: It's not referring merely to God's safety measures taken during a mother's delivery, although that is true too. The whole context of this passage is about Eve's transgression in original sin. Paul is recalling the consequence of her part in the Fall — ain and sorrow of childbearing (Gen. 3:16). But it's much more than the agony of delivery because notice that "she will be saved in childbearing..." "...if they continue in faith, love, and holiness, with self-control." (I'll come back to this.)
Now realize the women Paul was referring to were already born again! Something entirely different is being inferred here than being "saved" in the usual sense. So don't forget, if you are a Christian you are already God's child.
The Greek word here for "save" is "sozo", which means to deliver, protect, heal, preserve and do well; but the best rendering for this word is to make whole. Now mothers, think carefully through all these definitions again, for that's what God is promising to do for you through the process of childbearing.
The first question that probably comes to a mother's mind at this point is this: "Lance, are you saying that being in Christ has not already made me perfectly whole?" Well, in a spiritual sense, of course you are. In fact, spiritually speaking, you are already "seated with Christ in the heavenlies". But in a practical sense, there's something God leaves undone. This idea was also conveyed by Paul in Philippians 2:12 which says to all believers they are supposed to work out their "salvation" with "fear and trembling". These people were already born again too. However, something remains to be taken care of and post-regeneration believers must participate in the process. Here in 1 Timothy 2:15 Paul is addressing one of the important specifics where mothers are concerned.
After being born again we still possess the inheritance traits each of us receives from Adam and Eve. Even as believers we still live in sin-prone flesh. That's why Paul referred us back to the Fall and points mothers directly to their relationship to Eve. Now whether you or I like being associated with the Fall is beside the point. Paul is merely explaining the facts.
Genesis 3:16 tells us a woman would experience "multiplied sorrow" in childbearing. Again, I'm convinced this is not just talking about birth pain. One only has to be around a group of caring, Godly mothers to observe the reality of this. Let me give you one example:
Yesterday (Father's Day, by coincidence), several of our families got together at a friend's home for an afternoon dinner around the swimming pool. (This tract was already underway.) Little children were in the water of course. I watched the moms with great interest and the difference between them and the fathers was incredible. As the little tykes would occasionally go under, or cough a bit, etc., every mother (and grandmas) would let out screams, "Oh no!", "Watch him!", "Look out!" The conclusion of the matter was perfectly and humorously put by Grandma Mary Rose: "Just look at those men! I don't think they have any nerves!" She was right on! We men don't have something that women do relative to children. It's not lack of love or unconcern. It's like..., well, let's put it like Mary Rose did: we have "no nerves" (i.e., no 'multiplied sorrow').
Now let's come back to the major point of this story. What God wants mothers to know is that He will be with them in a supernatural way to make them whole during the childbearing years (which includes everything from conception on, and throughout the growth years; actually, I'm convinced it never ends). Even Christian mothers still have Eve's "multiplied sorrow" within them. But the good news is that God wants to demonstrate just how fantastic is His grace towards mothers who "...continue in faith, love, and holiness, with self-control."
It was this "if" clause which made me realize there must be more to this passage than most people think. For His Own good reasons, God has allowed all mothers of the ages to bear Eve's "sorrow". This was not for mere punishment sake, rather, that women can more readily identify with God and Jesus Christ. With regards to the physical pain, I believe a woman in labor identifies with the sufferings of Christ. My daughter tells me her greatest relief during delivery came by meditating on Jesus on the cross.
Also, what is it that a mother learns most during parenting? I think it has to do with obedience. A mother obviously knows far more what is good for a child than it does, just as God does relative to all of us. Every time a child disobeys, a mother has greater appreciation of how it is with God when we disobey Him. You could say she acts as kind of a "lord" over her children, and in this way identifies with God. The sum total of this is that during the course of "child-bearing", a mother learns the value of disciplined living, and thus participates, to a degree, in a personal 'reversal' of Eve's undisciplined act in the garden. God wants us to think as He thinks and it is in this manner, I'm convinced, He has purposed to teach women this ever-so-important truth.
Now the bottom line here is that Christian mothers are the only mothers who can learn what God wants to teach through these principles. This is because only Christians have the power to "continue in faith, love, and holiness, with self-control". God is saying, "you do your part, I'll do mine; together, I promise you a wholeness you have not yet experienced." Mothers, if I'm right, I believe a new spectrum of joy and freedom awaits you. All you have to do is apply the 'if' clause.
(End of tract.)
Now back to the main theme of this paper: women's role in the Church. Remember this: I'm not talking about (nor was Paul) intellectual differences between men and women. The passages covered thus far reveal something of the inner natures of men and women. If I could paraphrase the way I believe God views this situation, it would go something like this: "I am the potter. You are the clay. I know what your limitations are and I am setting the standards to be followed in the church because I have the knowledge and sovereign right to do so. It is for your good, not punishment. Trust me now and you'll have peace. Later, you'll know why by what I do in and through your life as you continue in faith, love, holiness with self-control."
(Men, we are not off the hook here. Remember, Eve was formed from Adam's rib*. The accessibility in Adam was just as much there before Eve ever came along. She just made it more obvious for us to see the self-will in ourselves.)
*Genesis 2: 21&22.
SUBMISSION AND AUTHORITY
What is the main implication we can draw from Eve falling into temptation? It's really very simple when you think about it. She was out from under the authority God had placed over her: Adam. Eve was to be Adam's "helpmeet", (a "suitable helper"*). By no stretch of the imagination can it be rationally concluded that the Bible teaches anything remotely similar to how the world is today defining equality of men and women. Neither did God make us 50-50 partners. Men are 100% men. Women are 100% women. This is biblical truth. There are all kinds of deviations from, and perversions of, the biblical picture of men and women, of course, but Christian men and women should obviously have no part of this.
* Genesis 2:18.
It is no accident that the apostle Paul moves directly into a discussion of the requirements for the office of "bishop" (church elders, pastors; i.e., leaders) immediately after having given us the above exhortation regarding women. In other words, just prior to listing the qualifications for these offices in the church, he prepared the way by saying who couldn't participate in these areas. He then said:
"This is a true saying: If a man desires the position of a bishop, he desires a good work. A bishop (other versions say "overseer", or "superintendent") then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach; not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous; one who rules his own house well having his children in submission with all reverence, (for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?); not a novice, lest being puffed up with pride he fall into the same condemnation as the devil." 1 Tim. 3:1-6.
Also read Titus 1:5-9 & Titus 2:3-5; there Paul reverses the order, i.e., he first lists the qualifications for eldership, then explains what women should do.
These two passages are clearly the solid biblical foundation God expects church elders to be. It begins with "...if a man", and by no means can one conclude from these scriptures, or any other, directly or by inference, that a woman can have the ordination of God upon them in roles such as these. And yet today, churches throughout the world are defying the clear instruction above by electing and appointing women into these God-restricted offices of leadership. In June 1991, the Episcopal Church demonstrated where they are, spiritually, by ordaining a practicing lesbian into the "priesthood"! Baptists and other evangelical conservatives may think, "O, this will never happen in our church. We'd never go that far!" Don't be too sure. The Episcopal Church was once a solid, mainline denomination, a branch of the Church of England out of which came many great church leaders and Christians. Branches of the Presbyterian and Lutheran Churches are doing things just as repulsive as the Episcopalians and the United Methodists are right in line with them. (There are others too.) I mention these for their names are often cited in the media today. The apostasy Paul predicted is here, fellow Christians. Make no mistake about it.
"Likewise you wives, be submissive to your own husbands, that even if some do not obey the word, they, without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives, when they observe your chaste conduct accompanied by fear. Do not let your beauty be that outward adorning of arranging the hair, of wearing gold, or of putting on fine apparel; but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible ornament of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God. For in this manner, in former times, the holy women who trusted in God also adorned themselves, being submissive to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, whose daughters you are as long as you do good and are not afraid with any terror."
1 Peter 3: 1-6.
What a contrast the above statement is, when compared to the pressures applied upon women today by the secular media. I'm not a prude and I don't think women should dress down to prove their humility. That can be taken to extreme also and can be just as wrongfully influential as the gaudy side Peter is talking about. Moderation is the key to understanding the intent of this passage.
The main, positive point of these verses is that a woman is to be of a submissive spirit. This is for her protection, not that she should cower to a domineering man. Christian husbands must be careful how they interpret Sarah's recognition of Abraham's position over her ("calling him lord", or "master"). Men's position is by God's grace alone. There is no deserving it. The Godly wife understands that she is being submissive to her husband's positional responsibility as declared by God. The implication is that by her Godly character she may even win an unbelieving husband to the Lord. (Note to single Christian women: It would be wrong for you to take this scripture to mean it's O.K. to marry an unbeliever. There are many scriptures prohibiting that. Here, Peter is obviously talking about either a situation where one had already entered into an "unequally yoked" marriage (ignorantly or disobediently) or else of a woman who became a Christian after marriage. In any event, her plight then would be to win her unbelieving husband to Christ, too.)
I love the word precious. Notice that God considers the "gentle and quiet spirit" precious in a woman. When God uses this word, He is showing what is of highest value to Him. We all (men and women) ought to search out those gems of Godly knowledge from the scriptures. Once known, we can then purpose to develop and exercise those character traits He prizes the most. Isn't it great that God tells us these things?
Let's look at another passage:
"Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says. And if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is shameful for women to speak in church." I Cor. 14: 34&35.
The whole theme of the New Testament concerning the wife is that she should have a submissive spirit to her husband. (Old Testament teaching as well.) Therefore, the above passage is instructing that women ought not be acting publicly contrary to the submissive spirit which is supposedly being demonstrated at home. The submissive spirit, though tough it is to continually maintain, is the message of these verses.
"But", you say, "what if my husband doesn't know the answers to my spiritual questions? He's not even a believer. He has no Godly wisdom. What am I to do?" We've already partially covered the answer to this question in the 1 Peter passage: win the man by your quiet and gentle spirit at home. Even if he doesn't accept your faith, God will bless you abundantly for the effort. You have His Word on it!
Another natural reaction to this instruction is, "But I am more spiritually wise than some of the men in the congregation. Shouldn't I have the right to speak out and share my knowledge with them?" Not from a position of authority. If a woman has the kind of character God says is "precious" to Him, she'll be declaring these things I'm saying are so. She'll be agreeing and, not only that, she'll delight in teaching other women these things. In fact, that's exactly what she's supposed to do, according to the Titus 2 passage. Paul also had this same thought in mind when he said only two verses later:
"If anyone thinks himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things which I write to you are the commandments of the Lord." I Cor. 14:37.
LADIES, GOD WANTS YOU COVERED!
"But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. But every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonors his head. But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered, dishonors her head, for that is one and the same as if her head were shaved. For if a woman is not covered, let her also be shorn. But if it is shameful for a woman to be shorn or shaved, let her be covered. For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, inasmuch as he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. For man is not from woman, but woman from man. Nor was man created for the woman, but woman for the man." 1 Cor. 11:3-9.
This passage is rather difficult for most of us. The apostle was using customs of his day (heads being shaved or unshaved, etc.,) and drawing spiritual parallels to those customs. But the main point is rather obvious: we are being told that we all have an authority figure over us and that we ought to be submissive to the person (s) which God has ordained to be there. Again, it has to do with positional responsibility for the Christian life.
Notice that even Christ was subject to the authority of God the Father while He was here as the Son of man, Jesus. It's taught in many places but let's just look briefly at John 14. Verse 9 says this:
"...He who has seen Me has seen the Father..."
which clearly reveals Jesus' oneness with the Father, thus making Him God.
But then a few verses later (verse 28) we find Jesus saying:
"...for my Father is greater than I."
The seeming paradox can be explained by understanding Jesus was teaching that, at that time, the Father occupied a higher positional seat of authority than He did. In John 5:19 Jesus stated, "...the Son can do nothing of Himself; but what He sees the Father do;..." Here He was referring to His complete submission to the will of God the Father, in spite of the fact Jesus had the authority and power to act independently if He so desired.
Now think about this, ladies! God is comparing you to His Own Son. He is saying, in effect, "be submissive just as My Son was and be exalted in due course, just as He was." We know that today Jesus sits at the right hand of God the Father and holds Kingship position. (Obviously Jesus' physical reign on earth has not yet begun, but it will. This is a central truth of scripture.) The Bible doesn't say exactly what exaltation will belong to those who willingly attempt to parallel their lives to that of Jesus Christ, nevertheless, God is worthy of our complete trust in the here and now.
OTHER REASONS GOD PROVIDED COVERAGE FOR WOMEN
"For this reason the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels." 1 Cor. 11:10.
This verse needs to be observed from two vantage points. The question arises, "what "angels" are being referred to here, God's holy angels or Satan's angels — demons?" The context of the passage does not itself provide a clear answer. For that reason, I'm persuaded both are meant to be considered.
Let's first assume the verse refers to demons (who the Bible declares are fallen angels. See Rom.8:38; Jude 6; Rev.12:7.) Indications are that Eve acted independently of Adam when the serpent tempted her. This doesn't mean Adam wouldn't have eaten the forbidden fruit had he been approached first. After all, where did Eve get that sin-proneness? We must also remember that when God confronted Adam, he tried to 'pass the buck' saying it was Eve's fault. In fact, Adam even tried to blame God! In Genesis 3:12, he said, "...the woman whom Thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat." However, the main thing we need to grasp here is this: Satan knew about their positional responsibilities and he entered the most accessible 'door' — Eve (out of position).
Some might assume my thoughts imply female inferiority. No way. I'm speaking about God's order. Now Satan knows something about that order. Woman is the 'apple' of man's eye; always has been. Any time Satan wants to get to the 'Adam-man' in all of us, he goes to the object of our attention. With men, so often this turns out to be women. Now with these thoughts well in mind, re-read the above verse. Do you see Satan's strategy? Is it not reasonable to assume that today he would be instructing his demonic followers to use the same techniques he did in the garden against Eve?
In this light, let me transliterate the hidden message of 1 Cor. 11:10 this way:
"...woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, otherwise Satan's demons will be given permission to tempt her just like Satan did Eve."
In Ephesians chapter 6, Christians are instructed that their enemy is not 'flesh and blood' but 'principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual wickedness in high places." Because we can't see these powers with our natural eyes we are further instructed to put on "the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand..." Eph. 6:13. Notice that although God has provided us with adequate protection, it is our responsibility to put it on. For the woman, in addition to the whole armor described in Eph. 6, she is to 'wear' her symbol of authority on her head. This may be a husband, a father, an elder, a pastor or other God-ordained, scripturally-described person.
But now let's assume the passage refers also to God's angels. Of what value would it be for a woman to willfully manifest her symbolic covering here on earth before His holy angels? I believe the Lord gave us that answer quite specifically in Ephesians 3: 9&10. (Paul is talking about the purpose of the Church.)
"And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ: To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God, according to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord."
A careful reading of this verse indicates the Church will teach "principalities and powers in heavenly places". A part of this must infer God's Holy angelic hosts! What an awesome responsibility. Listen to this quote from Jamieson, Fausset and Brown's "Commentary on the Whole Bible" of why the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head:
"Because of the angels" — who are present at our Christian assemblies (see Psa. 138:1) and delight in the orderly subordination of the several ranks of God's worshipers in their respective places, the outward demeanor and dress of the latter being indicative of that inward humility which angels know to be most pleasing to their common Lord..."
What a powerful statement! Imagine. Invisible beings present during our Sunday morning services, observing every action. Of course the Holy Spirit is there prompting us, guiding us, convicting us, etc., but we are also surrounded by another group of God's created beings, a "cloud of witnesses" known as angels. Our response must be, as is common in all areas of the Christian life, to accept it by faith, the same as if we could see them physically.
"ALL THIS SOUNDS TOO LEGALISTIC TO SUIT ME. BESIDES, I'M FREE 'IN CHRIST'."
Have you ever had that thought? If so, it could be a prideful reaction. Or, it might just be due to an erroneous interpretation of Galatians 3:28, which reads,
"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."
Churches which ordain women into pastoral or eldership offices cling tenaciously to this verse. That's understandable for it's about the only thread of scriptural backing they have on which to base their stand on this issue. However, because of the very plain teachings from several passages (already covered) relative to eldership qualifications, we can know beyond question the above verse isn't designed to cancel out those much broader and clearer statements. Well, if the verse isn't designed to erase the already-established church structure, what does it mean?
It's quite simple. Once saved, we all become heirs of God's Kingdom by being in Christ. Insofar as one's right standing before God, there is no variation in our relationship before God, male or female. The verse has nothing to do with congregational, church structure. The thrust of the passage as a whole is talking about the fact that there is no favoritism nor restrictions with regards to becoming a "son of God" by faith in Christ Jesus. It has nothing to do with positional responsibilities which are still very much a part of our existence while we are still present on this earth. Paul makes this quite clear a little further on in this same epistle:
"For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but by love serve one another." Gal. 5:13. (The word brethren includes all believers, male and female.)
ANOTHER VERSE USED ABUSIVELY TO SUPPORT WOMEN IN POSITIONS OF AUTHORITY:
"I commend to you Phoebe our sister, who is a servant of the church in Cenchrea,..." Romans 16:1.
The word servant here is translated from the Greek word diakonia. Liberal theologians make a big deal out of Paul using this term with regards to a woman, thus opening the door for women to be in positions of authority over men. (The Greek word for deacon is diakonos which refers to an attendant, a teacher or a minister.)
There's no way the apostle Paul would use a brief word about Phoebe’s assistance to him to imply she held the office of deacon in terms of teaching men from a position of authority. His clear intent was to show that Phoebe did the ministry of a deacon. She was an aid to him, and thus, in a helper sense, could be called a “deaconness”. We must be sure to differentiate between function and office when considering who can? and who can't? hold authoritative positions.
1 Timothy 3:8-13 spells out the requirements for the office of deacon just as clearly as 1 Timothy 3:1-7 does for the office of elder. To allow that Romans 16:1 (which does indeed allow women to help with regards to Church ministry) negates a whole passage of Paul's clear instructions in the broader coverage of 1 Timothy 3:8-13 is typical violation done by those who don't take God's Word at face value and/or who try to find biblical support for worldly views.
The first three chapters of Ephesians give details of believers' spiritual position in Christ. Spiritually, it's as if we are already in heaven, even from the foundation of the world! This becomes true at the moment of the new birth. But that doesn't free us from our part in walking through what God has prepared for us in the here and now. The Bible says to Christian believers: “...work out your own salvation with fear and trembling...” (See Phil. 2:12b.) This passage has nothing to do with achieving spirit salvation through works. Spirit salvation is by grace through faith alone in Christ Jesus. The above verse is talking about soul salvation, which DOES come by works. One “saves” his soul by living in accordance to Spirit-led, biblical standards. This “salvation” prepares one for the rewards to be received at the Judgment Seat of Christ.
So, spiritually speaking, even now, there is no difference between male and female, but practically speaking, in the Church age, God's Word is very clear that He has laid down the positional differences He expects us to abide by if we are to be faithful, obedient followers of Christ. In the heavenly kingdom, all things will be very different than now. We get a good hint of this fact from Matthew 22:30:
"For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like the angels of God in heaven."
However, we must remember this doesn't become a reality until we have our glorified bodies. (See 1Cor.15.) Our plight now is to humble ourselves and be patient in our God-ordained positions, just as Christ did:
"But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone."
It should give all the saints great joy that we may enter into a pattern of obedient living, for in so doing we can better understand Christ's statement:
"For both He who sanctifies and those who are being sanctified are all of one, for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren, saying, 'I will declare your name to My brethren; in the midst of the church I will sing praise to You.”
How beautiful the thought! Jesus considers us brothers and sisters. He's so worthy of our praise and honor. To be submissive to the One Who Himself became subject in all lowliness, even death on a cruel cross, ought to be the desire of every Christian. Praise His Holy Name!
It would be unjust for me to end this article having addressed only the "don'ts" of women in the church. Therefore, what about the positive side of their role?
WOMEN AS CO-LABORERS
Careful study of the whole Bible reveals God has prepared the woman to function best in a supportive way. Just as Eve was to be a helpmeet (a suitable helper) for Adam, the modern woman is to be an assistant in the work of the ministry of the Christian Church. The spirit of what I'm saying is found in Phil. 4:3:
"And I urge you also, true companion, help these women who labored with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the Book of Life."
Being a co-laborer doesn't make one a second-class Christian. If it did, then Christ was a second-class Savior! But, the life of Jesus lived down here indicates just the opposite is true in the eyes of God:
"Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but emptied Himself by taking the form of a servant, (the inference is to that of a slave servant — lower, by the way, than a deacon servant) and coming in the likeness of men. And being obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow..." Phil. 2:5-10.
Surely this passage should put to rest, once-and-for-all, the idea that being submissive to God's structure and order is somehow indicative of inferiority. The above verses show clearly the absurdity of this kind of thinking. Read it again. It's a powerful message and ought to be especially encouraging to women who truly desire to make their ways pleasing to God.
THE MOST IMPORTANT GODLY TASK FOR THE CHRISTIAN WOMAN
I've yet to see in any church an on-going program designed to fulfill God's clear instructions concerning the main activity He wants women involved with! "Aw, come on, Lance!", I can hear someone saying. I'm serious. Here it is:
"...that they (i.e., the older women) admonish (teach) the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste homemakers, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be blasphemed."
The above passage appears immediately following the list of eldership qualifications. It is significant to find it here. Right after God makes it clear concerning His order for men in the church, He then focuses on women, lest there be any misunderstanding of the different-ness of the role of each.
I want to draw your attention to the underscored phrase "love their husbands." For the moment, forget about the other instructions in the verses. The instruction began with "love their husbands", so let us begin there also.
Suppose your family moves to a new town. The first Sunday there, you (the wife), go to the office for information and ask, "Could you please direct me to the class which centers on women learning how to love their husbands?" The question would probably get the reaction, "HUH?" So, you restate your inquiry and in all probability you'd get the answer, "I'm sorry but I don't believe we have such a class. However, I'm sure you'll like our 'mixed couples' class".
You may be thinking — "Why should women be gathering to discuss how to love their husbands? Men don't get together to talk about how to love their wives." Well, first of all, because God has commanded it! But there's some down-to-earth reasons too:
Before I go on, let me assure you women that men (even the unsaved) do discuss their "love" for women. When my life was predominately secular oriented, the conversation would almost invariably, eventually involve women. Admittedly, the discussion was based on lust, not love. I believe that which comes "natural" to both men and women is lust, not love. That's why God said to teach how to love. He knows that which comes naturally is not the kind of love He wants followers of Christ to possess and manifest to an unbelieving world. (As I think about the concept I'm trying to explain, the words of an old humanist song comes to mind: "Folks are dumb where I come from; ain't had any learnin'. Still they're happy as can be; a doin' what comes nat-ural-ly!" Well, I guess those who live "naturally" are as "happy as can be" but they are living under a delusion. They don't have the real thing: the joy of the Lord and being set free by following His ways.) However, the point here is that even the natural man does make an attempt to discuss with other men his love (even though perverted) for women.
Now let's consider why it would be beneficial for older women to teach the younger women to "love their husbands". For one thing, just imagine what it would do in the minds of the men in a congregation if they knew their wives were gathered every Sunday morning for the express purpose of learning and sharing how they could best love and support their husbands from a scriptural basis? The thought ought to send your head reeling. As a man, I can say beyond question that if I knew that women were uniting their efforts to better understand how to best serve and love their husbands, it would heap coals of fire upon my head. I can think of nothing which would be a stronger stimulus to cause me to attempt being the kind of husband God's Word says I should be:
"Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the Church and gave Himself for it, that He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word."
As you can see, women occupy a position of powerful influence. There's nothing wrong with using that influence and strength if used in a Godly manner. You've got the best adviser there is: God Himself! He says it's good to do this. If done with an attitude and motivation of becoming the leader (indirectly), then that would be wrong and God's chastisement would necessarily result. But following this plan of action because of sincere humility and a heart that seeks after God's ways can only please your husband, and more importantly, God.
WHY IS IT SO UNNATURAL TO BE SUBMISSIVE?
I do not personally find it easy to be submissive to others. However, God desires to develop this characteristic in us. I have learned (slowly but surely) that in the long run it is in my best interests if I practice it. This means at times submitting my will and actions for other Christian leaders to scrutinize, but as I said, I find this goes against my 'grain' at times. Why is this so?
The fact is, a non-submissive spirit is a very strong attribute of all mankind, men and women alike. It's the nature of the 'beast' within us. Willful submission goes against our built-in carnality. Non-submission is so much a part of our 'naturalness', we simply can hardly believe it isn't right to be this way! What I want you women to know is that I believe everyone, males included, have a natural, rebellious spirit.
Concerning women, we must go all the way back to the garden of Eden to understand the consequence of Eve's yielding to Satan's temptation. God said,
"...I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee."
Immediately coming to mind as I read this is that God's original intent of childbearing was to have been painless for the mother. This is an amazing thing to discover in light of what we know to be common reality. Right, mothers? The latter part of the verse suggests that in spite of the pain though, women would soon ignore the past and she would once again desire her husband. God also saw fit to include in this verse the positional order of the family by saying, "...and he (the husband) shall rule over thee."
It has only recently come to my attention that the Hebrew word for which the King James Version renders the word "desire", implied something far deeper and more meaningful than we today normally associate with the word. The root meaning of the word implies to desire positionally. This understanding does indeed seem logical as we relate it to the last part of the verse which speaks of a man's rulership over the woman.
In summary of Genesis 3:16, it appears as though God's Word teaches that women are to assume a submissive role in spite of a persistent, underlying tendency which acts against the commandment. If the above understanding is correct, not only do women (naturally) not want to be submissive, they will, deep down, want to occupy the leadership position which was given to men. This represents two quite different levels of sin. Let me carry this to the extreme with this example: Suppose I say, "Lord Jesus, I don't want to submit my will to you." That's one kind of rebellious sin. But, if I say, "Lord Jesus, I want to occupy your position", I think all would agree that's quite a different sin.
Satan's own rebellion against God parallels what I've been talking about, doesn't it? He refused to accept God's description of who he was, his power, authority, etc. Satan refused to just be what God had made him to be, even desiring to occupy the only position higher than his own — God's!*
* Isaiah 14.