IS THE CHURCH SUPPRESSIVE TO WOMEN?
DOES THE CHURCH TREAT WOMEN LIKE SECOND CLASS CITIZENS?
These are very strong allegations!
The first – “suppressive” – is a word that means holding someone (or their views) down forcefully – the implication being that maybe men (or some men) use their strength, power, or control to ensure that women do not reach their full potential as disciples.
The second – “second class” – suggests that women are seen by the church (or some of it) as not being equal to men in status within the church and before God; that they do not have the same rights as men.
History tends to support this view. Throughout time, in most cultures, woman has been expected to serve the man, to obey the man (is that not still enshrined in the traditional wedding ceremony – “love, serve and obey”?), even be subject to physical abuse by the man. Until the late-19th Century (1870 and 1882 acts of Parliament) a woman’s property belonged to her husband – even the children. Until 1918 the woman could not vote in our nation. Until the 1960s a woman earned less for doing the same job as a man -this was only ended by the “Equal Pay Act” of 1970.
All that has now changed – hasn’t it? The “women’s lib” movement have “burnt their bras” and secured equal rights and equal opportunities to men. Three women have now served as Prime Minister. Women occupy seats as CEOs of multi-national companies and sit as “Chairs of the Board” on many others. They work as teachers, judges, astronauts, doctors, lawyers, even (in Russia) coal miners (ugh!).
But the allegation from many (particularly outside the church) is that the Church STILL treats them as second-class citizens – accusing the church of insisting that women wear hats, dress soberly, stay at home to look after the children, keep silent in the services, can’t teach, can’t preach, can’t lead – so there is not equality of status or equality of opportunity.
How do we answer these charges?
EQUALITY OF STATUS
This church refutes the allegation that there is not equality of status.
We believe the Biblical principle that men and women are equal in worth and status before God:
26 Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’
27 So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them. (Genesis 1: 26-27)
We rejoice in the way that Jesus elevated them above the position that they held in society in their day. He was radically affirming of women. In His day women were very much expected to know their place. But Jesus, throughout His life here on earth, honoured women – His mother; those women who cared for Him throughout His ministry; speaking to the “woman at the well” – not only a woman but a Samaritan – both actions being anathema to a Jew of the time; appearing first to the women at the tomb after His resurrection. Then, after His ascension back to Heaven He continued to honour women as being of equal status to men – on the Day of Pentecost the Spirit was poured out on all who were in the Upper Room – women as well as men – a fact cited by Peter who, addressing an amazed crowd, reminded them that God promised:
‘“In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your young men will see visions,
your old men will dream dreams.
18 Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
and they will prophesy. (Acts 2: 17-18 citing Joel 2: 28-32)
Paul – often charged today (most wrongly) of being misogynistic – was, in fact, eons ahead of his time in his respect for women. In Galatians 3: 26-29) he writes:
26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptised into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
This is equality of status, equality of dignity, equality of worth.
Ladies: if we men treat you as if you were not equal in dignity, equality, worth, status then I ask that you forgive us – and challenge us!
EQUALITY OF OPPORTUNITY
Now this is the BIG ONE!
Society today screams that not only are women “equal” (agreed) but also that they are the “same” as men in that they should be able to do the same jobs for the same pay with the same opportunities.
Now, for most things I totally agree (especially the “same pay” for the “same job”).
However, just because men and women are equal does not mean they are the same – physically and psychologically they are (generally) very different.
Physically men have a greater upper-body strength – perfect for lifting, tearing, hitting…real “men” things! Women on the other hand generally have greater lower-body strength – perfect for…well…I think you know where I am coming from…This is why women in the UK were banned from coal mining in 1842 – an act instigated by none-lesser than Queen Victoria (so you can’t say this is man’s abuse of women).
Psychologically, women tend to be more empathic and intuitive whereas (so the saying goes) men can’t see what is right before their eyes! Women tend to be more in-tune spiritually too. No wonder the book “Men are from Mars, women are from Venus” (John Gray 1992) was such a “hit” – and made so many people laugh!
I believe that God made us all different for He has different purposes for each one of us. I will never be a brain surgeon – no matter how hard I try – but hopefully I make a tolerably good teacher!
And I believe that God made the sexes different for He has a different plan for men and women when it comes to fulfilling His purposes on earth. When God created Eve, He made her Adam’s “helper” (see Genesis 2: 18-24). Let men beware! “Helper” does not mean that Eve had to do all that Adam said – total obedience and no input. The Hebrew word translated “helper” is “Ezer” – and this is very exciting! Occurring 21 times in the Old Testament, Ezer usually refers to a powerful nation or even God Himself – never does this refer to an inferior, but always to a superior or an equal…’help’ “expresses that the woman is a help/strength who rescues or saves man”. Therefore the church talks about the “complementary” rather than the “identical” roles of men and women.
Again, I believe that God has made the sexes different for He has a different plan for men and women when it comes to fulfilling His purposes on earth. This is clearly seen as we study Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 12: 12-31. Although referring to disciples REGARDLESS of their sex, it can help answer our question of whether there is equality of opportunity.
12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptised by one Spirit so as to form one body – whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free – and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 And so the body is not made up of one part but of many.
15 Now if the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body.
21 The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’ And the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you!’ 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honourable we treat with special honour. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honour to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it.
27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. 28 And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? 31 Now eagerly desire the greater gifts. (1 Corinthians 12: 12-31)
Too often, feeling second-rate, many cry out “because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body” (v 15) – both men and women. This might be because we are not able to do this or lead that and feel frustrated that someone else is doing it – especially when we “KNOW” that we can do it better! But Paul points out that we ALL have a purpose, a place, in the church (“God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as He wanted them to be” (v 17). And Paul declares that each is equally necessary, and each is equally important. In fact he states that those parts “of the body” (or the church) that seem pretty lowly are in many ways the most important and the most needed.
All – men AND women are the “body of Christ” – no distinction in worth or status, just in responsibility and function. And (this will be contentious to many and reflects my personal view) when Paul lists the “gifts” to the church – of being apostles, prophets, teachers, miracle-workers, healing-givers, helpers, guiders and speakers-in-tongues – he is talking to both men AND women!
Women are equal in dignity and standing. But this does not mean that men and women are called by God to do the same things. And in one area God has clearly decreed the role and responsibility of men: headship.
HEADSHIP IN THE FAMILY:
Paul says in Ephesians 5: 22-24
Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Saviour. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.
I have found this article, by Dr Christopher Peppler simple and helpful – I hope you do too…
When they are in public, one of my closest friends relates to his wife as though he is a king and she a humble serving wench. He snaps out instructions and she scurries over with a second portion of food or a glass of refreshment. Hang it, she practically walks two steps behind him when he enters or exits a gathering. Now this is definitely not a glorious display of male headship, but just a cultural convention they adopted from early childhood… so relax all you female readers, I am not advocating this practice. Actually, I wouldn’t dare because my wife sometimes reads these blog posts ????
Headship in a family has to do with structure, function and unity. God has ordained that the husband assume the role of head of the home. This is not because men are more intelligent than women, or more capable of making decisions, or superior in any way. In any equal partnership one of the two must have a casting vote and one must be responsible to a higher authority for the wellbeing of the partnership. If both partners have exactly the same authority and accountability, then any major difference of opinion has the potential of bringing the partnership to a standstill and of damaging relationships.
Why did God decide to allocate headship to the husband and not the wife? In other words, why is it gender specific? I don’t really know, but the Bible is pretty clear on this issue. We know that there are physical, emotional and psychological differences between the genders, so why should there not be spiritual differences as well?
Being the head of the home does not mean that the man is superior to the woman. It simply means that he has a different functionality and responsibility within the marriage partnership. Verse 25 of the Ephesians text goes on to say, ‘Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…’ So a husband is responsible for placing his wife’s wellbeing above his own self-interest. The essence of headship is sacrificial service. This is a far cry from the male chauvinism that so many people associate with family headship.
HEADSHIP IN THE CHURCH:
In the beginning God made man and woman in His image but gave man (Adam) the responsibility to ensure that God’s commands were carried out (before Eve was created) – we find this in Genesis 2: 15-17. It was Adam who would be responsible for ensuring that no fruit was eaten from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil:
The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.’
In the early church, Paul, speaking of Elders states in 1 Timothy 3: 1-7 –
Here is a trustworthy saying: whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task. Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.
And again in Titus 1: 3-9 he says –
The reason I left you in Crete was that you might put in order what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you. An elder must be blameless, faithful to his wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. Since an overseer manages God’s household, he must be blameless – not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.
Some modern scholars have tried to assert that “wife” can be “person” and that the words Episkopos (“overseer”) and Presbuteros (“elder”) are not gender specific. However, most Biblical scholars do not accept this view and see Paul as directly talking about men being elders.
Some have argued that a male-eldership was “for then” and that in our enlightened and egalitarian society this is no longer necessary. Our view is that the Bible does not change and that what was right “then” remains right “now”.
Now let me make myself clear. Headship does NOT equal superiority or supremacy. Headship equals responsibility and accountability. An elder is not BETTER than one who is not an elder. He just has a different responsibility.
Also, am I absolutely certain that I am right in this? NO! I am just a man myself – fallible and confused – many others believe very differently; many others have a different understanding on how to interpret Scripture. They might be right, and I might be wrong. So I humbly ask you to bear with me. As such I do not in pride refuse to have anything to do with those who think differently. Indeed, just this very week, I have enjoyed and valued meeting with a new female Anglican vicar. I respect their views on church leadership as I hope they respect ours.
TEACHING AND PREACHING
For many, the BIGGER problem is whether a woman can teach or preach and there are differences of point of view even in the Eldership – the current situation within the church is that therefore most of the preaching is done by the Elders – who are men and are responsible and accountable before God for the doctrine – within this women and men may be invited to contribute as well under the authority and covering of the Elders.
Women and men ARE equal in status but are DIFFERENT in just a few areas of opportunity and responsibility – physically we are different and when it comes to “headship” God has laid the “buck stops with you” at man’s door.
Let us not allow society to dictate what we believe. We must avoid the 2 extremes of either women are 2nd class citizens or women are totally the same as men. There is more that unites us on this issue than divides us.
And again I say: women – where we men have treated you badly and made you feel like “second class citizens” I apologise and ask you to “hold my feet to the fire” over the whole issue.
And again I say: men – do not think too highly of your gender. You are neither better nor more important than the women. Take your responsibility of headship seriously – but without a feeling of false-superiority.
And again I say: women, do not feel subservient to men – you are not! Rather seize every opportunity to serve God in the way that He has called you to serve. Step up to the mark! Be the leaders in the areas that God has called you to be leaders in.