I believe those who disagree on gender roles in marriage and the church can be true believers in Christ. In other words, this isn’t an issue of “cardinal doctrine.” I would hope all Christians would concur that “complementarians” and “egalitarians” are within the umbrella of orthodox Christianity.
So what are the implications of disagreeing with the pastor or church on this issue? Well, some decisions have to made. Let me use another example to illustrate.
Some time ago, I met with a woman who was “paedo-baptistic.” She believed baptizing infants of believing parents is a good and important practice for the church to have. (Please note, paedo-baptism and the Roman Catholic teaching of “baptismal regeneration” are different views). The church where I was pastoring held to “believer baptism” and didn’t baptize infants of believing parents. This was a deal-breaker for her so she decided not to attend.
I applaud this woman’s approach for three reasons. First, she acknowledged we are both true believers in Christ. That is, she didn’t conclude because we held to different perspectives, one of us was a true believer and the other wasn’t. Second, she knew ahead of time which theological issues were deal-breakers and which weren’t. This is SO important. Most of the time, people start attending a church without knowing which theological perspectives are deal breakers and which aren’t. For her, paedo-baptism was a deal-breaker and she knew it already. Third, she didn’t start attending and try to change the majority view or the pastor’s mind. She knew this would be divisive and she didn’t want any part of that. Sometimes, people start attending a church knowing the church has a theological position they disagree with, but hope to change. This isn’t wise.
This can be applied to the gender role conversation. First, you have to decide which “secondary” doctrines are deal-breakers for you in attending a particular church. For the woman mentioned above, it was paedo-baptism. For others it will be views on the millennium or the roles of women in marriage/ministry. You need to wrestle with which “secondary” doctrines are important enough to you, you would choose either to attend or not attend that church. Second, if the secondary doctrine isn’t a deal-breaker for church attendance, you have to be comfortable giving, serving, learning, etc. in it without seeking to rock the boat.
There is a well-known pastor I had lunch with a few months ago who told a story about this very topic. He is a “complementarian” in his view on gender roles. Many years ago, before he was a pastor, he was attending an independent Bible church that was wrestling with the topic and decided to have the congregation vote on whether or not women should be able to serve as elders. They voted to approve this action. One gentleman, a complementarian, came up to this future pastor and asked, “So, what are we going to do in response to this? We have to marshal the troops to fight this.” This future pastor replied, “I’m not going to do a thing. The majority have spoken. There are only a handful of verses that address this topic while there are dozens that discuss the importance of preserving the unity of the church. While I don’t agree with the decision, I’m not going to launch a campaign and divide the church.” Wise words.
This summer at Alliance Bible Church, we are doing a sermon series entitled “You Asked for it”. People in our congregation have submitted dozens of questions and we’re taking the most frequently asked and/or those questions with broadest appeal and preaching on them. We won’t be able to preach on them all, so I’m going to answer a few more on this blog.
We’ve been reflecting on gender roles. If you haven’t read or seen the first three installments in this blog series, you can do so here, here, and here.
Today, we dive into the pertinent texts… kind of. The book I would recommend you read is Two Views on Women in Ministry. It’s in a counterpoint format so people who hold to different positions write a chapter stating their perspective and then the others offer a response. It’s a great way to read all the way around the topic. It’s over 350 pages long so summarizing it here is beyond my ability.
Typically, the most often interacted with biblical texts on this issue are (please note, this is not an exhaustive list):
For sake of brevity, I’m going to attempt to quote and fairly restate two perspectives on the 1 Timothy 2 text. Just so the text is in front of you, here it is:
"11 A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve. 14 And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. 15 But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.” - 1 Timothy 2:11-15
The first perspective is from Linda Belleville’s chapter in the above mentioned book. She is an “egalitarian,” which is the counterpart position to “complementarian.” In regard to the above passage, she writes:
“The first step in getting a handle on these verses is to be clear about the letter as a whole. Why was Paul writing? It certainly was not to provide routine instruction. He is stance throughout was a corrective one. Paul was reacting to a situation that had gotten out of hand” (pp. 78-79).
She goes on:
“What kind of teaching is Paul prohibiting here? Traditionalists [complementarians] are quick to assume a teaching office or other position of authority. But teaching in the NT period as an activity, not an office (Matt. 28:19-20), and it was a gift, not a position of authority (Rom. 12:7; 1 Cor. 12:28; 14:26; Eph. 4:11). It was something every believer was called to do, not merely church leaders (Col. 3:16; Heb. 5:12)” (p. 81).
So Linda’s translation of v. 12 reads like this: “'I do not permit a woman to teach in order to gain mastery over a man,’ or ‘I do not permit a woman to teach with a view to dominating a man’” (p. 88).
“Paul would then be prohibiting teaching that tries to get the upper hand (not teaching per se). A reasonable reconstruction would be as follows: The women at Ephesus (perhaps encouraged by false teachers) were trying to gain an advantage over the men in the congregation by teaching in a dictatorial fashion. The men in response became angry and disputed what the women were doing. This interpretation fits the broader context of 1 Timothy 2:8-15, where Paul aims to correct inappropriate behavior on the part of both men and women" (vv. 8, 11) (p. 89).
My attempt to fairly represent Linda’s position on this passage would be something like this. There is something going on in the Ephesian church where women are teaching in a domineering fashion. And what Paul is saying in 1 Timothy 2 is not that women should not teach or have authority over men, but that women should not teach in such a way that they seek to gain mastery over men.
The second perspective is from Craig Blomberg’s chapter in the above mentioned book. He is “complementarian” In regard to the phrase “to teach or assume authority over a man” in the 1 Timothy 2 passage he writes, “In formal terminology this is called a ‘hendiadys’ (from the Greek words that mean ‘one through two’). In other words, Paul is not forbidding two separate actions here; rather, the two verbs together define one specific function or role” (p. 169).
“But if Paul is not prohibiting women from all forms of teaching men in church, and if he is not prohibiting women from exercising all forms of authority over men in church, what might the one role of ‘authoritative teaching’ be that he has in mind? We do not have look very far to find a convincing answer. In the very next chapter of 1 Timothy, Paul sets forth criteria for the two leadership offices of the church - overseers and deacons (3:1-13) (p. 169).
“Note the two most obvious distinctions between the two groups of leaders: (1) Only in his instructions for elders must candidates be ‘able to teach’ (v.2), and (2) Only in his instructions for deacons do women appear (v. 11)…In Titus 1:5-7 it is clear he uses the terms ‘overseer’ and ‘elder’ interchangeably, and in 1 Timothy 5:17 the elders are described distinctively as those who ‘direct the affairs of the church’. Thus, the two important responsibilities that set apart the elder, or overseer, from the rest of the church their teaching and their exercising of authority…It appears probably, therefore, the the only thing Paul is prohibiting women from doing in that verse is occupying the office of overseer or elder” (pp. 169-170).
Which explanation best makes sense of 1 Timothy 2:11-15? Frankly, what I’ve shared with you isn’t enough to answer that question. I share these very brief snippets with you not to settle the issue, but introduce you to the complexity of the conversation. Ultimately, you have to prayerfully wrestle with the pertinent texts and make up your own mind about it.
"So… what happens if I disagree with you, Pastor?" We’ll explore that next time.
This is the third installment in a blog series entitled "Gender Roles." To read parts 1 and 2, click here and here.
Jackie Hill Perry, Rosaria Butterfield, and Sam Allberry discuss the topic: how to depict the beauty of complementarity.