Monday, February 19, 2007

Paradigm Issues Facing the Church - Women's Roles

I am going to open a can of worms on this one but here we go. I am going to throw a couple of questions out there for you to mull over.

1) If God allowed someone to worship Him in various ways, what would God think of someone who tried to stop them from doing so?
2) If the early church met in homes and "broke bread" together, don't you think the women probably helped serve the meal?
3) On a similar note, what is the difference between a woman in a pew passing the bread or the cup and a woman in the aisle passing it across the pews?
4) If deacon means servant and Paul and others recognized some females as deacons/servants, how do we draw the line and abstain from doing that also (Rom 16:1-2 - By the way, TNIV now translates diakonon as "deacon" in this passage)?
5) How do we decide the age at which it is "no longer appropriate" for a woman to teach a male?
6) Where have all the men gone?

Am I pushing for women to be in the pulpit preaching on Sunday? No. I am just wondering what your opinions are on how we draw the lines where we do. I am not one to shake things up just to shake things up or cause controversy and division. I do wonder if women shouldn't be allowed more freedom in the church than is often allowed by various groups of elders. This is, of course, something to be worked out on a church-by-church basis as we study the text for ourselves AND be honest with what we find. What do you think?

P.S. This leads me to the next paradigm issue I want to address - Honesty with the biblical text.


III said...

I think your questions are fine questions that we should have legitimate answers for. And I'm most concerned with #6. I'm convinced that a lot of the women's role stuff is an issue with some leftist women because there is a vacuum of good male leaders.

Anonymous said...

Actually, I'm a sophomore at Harding University. My family lives in Memphis- that's my home.

Bob Bliss said...

1. I'm not sure how this question is relevant to the issue of women's role in the church. No one is denying them the privilege of worship just perhaps restricting what they can do.
2. This would be mostly speculation, however, we do have some insight into Jewish practices regarding this in Luke 10:38-42. Jesus certainly raises the respect of women in this situation. But does that really answer any questions about roles for men or women in the modern day?
3. Maybe no difference at all but you are looking at perspective here. If many in a congregation have the perspective that standing in the aisle passing the trays (after standing up front) is different then for them it is different. It is regrettable that we seem to demand that everyone tow the line with respect to our practices. We don't graciously disagree but seem to denounce that others have gone liberal just because they practice something differently.
4. I'm not convinced that Paul was calling Phoebe a "deaconness." What I find interesting is that in 1Timothy 3:8-13 as Paul is giving qualifications for "deacons" he interrupts his discussion to focus on women. I'm convinced that Paul is giving qualifications for women servants and not wives of deacons or elders. But he encases their qualifications in the middle of the deacons' and I'm convinced that Paul's form is speaking a message. These qualified women servants are on some level roughly equivalent to the male servants. They can be given tasks just like the men. But since they are encased within the deacons' qualifications they are on another level not quite equal in the sense of church-wide leadership. Plus Paul didn't call them by a title (not sure that title is the proper description here but it's all I could think of) as he did with the men.
5. In South Africa, culturally speaking, boys become men at age 18. Once they turn 18 women are no longer allowed to teach them. Our society has less certainty about this process. In another congregation I remember talking with elders who thought it inappropriate for baptized 14 year old boys to be taught by women in Bible class. I suggested that if these 14 year olds were indeed men that they should come to the business meeting with full voting privileges. The boys never showed up. That's a tough question and will never be answered satisfactorily until Jesus returns.
6. Have you read the book "Why Men Hate Going to Church"? You should read it. He suggests without being too over the top that many churches today that have opted to allow women to be leaders in their churches as co-equals with men have lost the most men. Many churches have begun to realize that men should be the leaders in their churches. However, this doesn't necessarily answer all the questions as to gender roles within the church.

Steve Puckett said...

I would suggest Sarah Sumner's book, Men and Women in the Church: Building Consensus on Christian Leadership to you. She approaches this subject from a scholarly women's perspective.


Matt said...

Thanks for such a lengthy response Bob. I certainly value your opinion and am glad you posted it.

What I meant in #1 should have focused on service rather than worship (although the two are certainly linked). I wholeheartedly agree that this is a decision that needs to be made on a congregational basis. As you mentioned, getting people to toe the line to all our opinions is the same problem we have had in the past - and we don't want to duplicate it in another form in the future.

1 Tim 3 - This is a tricky passage and your exegesis is probably correct. Paul uses the same word that can mean woman or wife in both 3:11 and 3:12. It clearly means wife in the second instance and probably does in the first. If that is true it would then exclude Paul talking of "deaconesses" in this passage. 3:10 is an unfortunate translation in the NIV - "let them serve as deacons." There is only one word here for serve/deacon but to get the point across the use it twice. The point of the verse is that they should only be able to serve if they are beyond reproach/irreproachable.

Bob & Steve, I will bookmark links to those two books. Thanks.

James Wood said...

I like the openness of the discussion, but I don't think these questions are paradigmatic. Talking about passing communion, deaconesses, and bible class teaching is an addressing of the symptoms. At the core of the issue is the way that women are viewed in the church.

In many churches women are viewed as inferior creatures (though people would not articulate it that way), the non-verbal communication in the church tells the women that they are worth less than men.

What if your church says that men and women are created equal? How do you communicate that?

I think that you're already familiar with Carol Osburn's book Women in the Church, but it is a treasure trove for this issue.

Our churches are communicating a view of women to every visitor, to ever woman, to every little girl. What view is that? Is it a biblical view?

Bob Bliss said...

I think that James has established his own paradigm for how he is going to view this subject. To suggest that just because I think women should have roles of submission is not to suggest that I view them as inferior. How does James know that many in our churches view women as inferior? Has he met and discussed this with those church members? I think we should refrain from over generalizing and stick to the texts and what they actually say.

I do agree with James that passing trays and such are really not the issue. However, why does a role of submission for women in a church communicate inferiority? That is how those who wish to change the roles of women want to frame the issue.

This is the approach that I read in many evangelical blogs where they are in favor of advancing leadership roles for women in their churches. They seem to say that if a women is qualified to teach then we are wrong to stop her from doing such especially if we put a man in her place who is not as qualified. They seem to indicate that one's ability is the only qualification for leadership.

Male/female roles in the Bible are not based on superior/inferior approaches even though it is true that in the past some commentators tried to suggest such. Paul in 1Corinthians 11:8-9 (and other passages) bases his discussion on the order of creation in Genesis 2 rather than on cultural values. It seems to me that if we are to discuss this openly then we should focus on our discussion on what the biblical texts pertaining to women's roles actually say rather than trying to impugn the motives of those of us who are men with traditional views.

What is the biblical view? Women are equal in value to men (Genesis 1:27) by virtue of the fact that they likewise have the image of God in them. Women are not equal to men in terms of roles (Genesis 2). God created man first, gave him the commandment, and then made the woman from him. Trying to suggest that men and women are only equal when they have identical roles doesn't appear to be the biblical view to me.

In 1Corinthians 14:34 Paul says that women are to keep silent in the churches (a discussion for later on) as it says in the Law (i.e. the OT). Where in the OT does it say that women are to keep silent in NT churches? Well, it says that man was created first. It has men as high priests and priests. With one exception all the judges are men. It has men as kings. With rare exception only men are prophets. Paul's statement is a summary statement not a direct command. The OT indicates that male leadership is the norm.

If we continue in the NT we see Jesus choosing 12 men and no women to be his apostles. Paul says that bishops and deacons are to be men in 1Timothy 3. As with the OT a summarized look at the NT suggests that God hasn't changed his mind about male leadership. No doubt that Jesus (especially in Luke) shows that God values women just as much as he does men (Lk.8:1-3; 10:38-42) even though they may not have the same role as men.

There is no doubt that some men will abuse their position as head of their family and as leaders in the church. There is no doubt that some men will view women as inferior. But the abuse does not make for good exegesis. Yes we should communicate the biblical view of men and women to all who visit our services. But let's focus on the biblical text and not on our modern cultural view.

Matt said...

Thanks for the input. I do have Osborne's book and it does have some useful material. The questions point to the bigger issue. It is more an inductive look, filtering through the questions to the deeper issue that is now being addressed in the comments. Keep on hashing through this with us. That is one thing I love about this medium is watching the thoughts progress as they bounce around but it takes more than one voice for that to happen.

I appreciate the obvious amount of study you have placed on this issue. I need to digest what you have written just a little more. I wholeheartedly agree that we need to be very familiar with the texts involved and give them a fair look/exegesis.

Lisa said...

Just to put in my two cents (I know you love it when I do), I struggle with feeling inferior more in my marriage than I do with my particular church. That's not to say that it doesn't happen with the church. My church is really good about praising men and women for their generous acts, their servant hearts, etc. Maybe they even praise the women more, because there are so many godly women in my congregation who often serve behind the scenes, and then our minister or others like to call attention to what they've done. I think I would feel pretty awkward getting up and serving communion, though I cannot say if that's because I feel it's the men's responsibility or if it's because it's different from what we've always done. I feel stretched to the limits from the many areas of service I am already involved with ... if you were to add to the list of responsibilities, which I would no doubt feel compelled to take on, it would be too much. That is to say, I don't know why men or women would complain about what women are limited to, when the areas in which they already do serve are many. I obviously don't have the Biblical study to back this up that others have, but I thought you might want a woman's perspective. You should obviously not take my word as truth for all women or for what the Bible says, though.

Matt said...


You open up another issue - Do overburdened women even want to be opened up to more responsibility as they have already taken up much slack from uninvolved/uninvested men? I thought that was a very insightful point to say it may well be too much to ask more than we already do! The implication being what Bob originally made reference too - even further under involvement by the men in the event that women fill roles that have traditionally been filled by men.

Lisa said...

Ha, didn't mean to open up another issue. I kinda thought it went along with your last question -- where are all the men? I think it's a cycle ... men aren't fulfilling roles, women take over, men don't feel needed, they don't fulfill their roles, women take over more, and so on.

To hit your 5th question too ... I think it's really up to the elders of each congregation (as all of these are, I realize), but it can be difficult to say the age should be the same for each congregation. I think something that complicates answering the question is ... how could you say a man who is Christian in name only--but does not seem to be a great example of Christian living outside of church activities--is a more appropriate teacher for baptized male children, than a Godly, Scripture-reading/quoting woman? You know? I know a woman who volunteered to teach the middle school class at her congregation, but the elders were unsure about that. Throw in her husband, who is a sporadic service-attender, and not much of a leader in the church, and suddenly it's all right!

Just my two cents (again) :)

Bob Bliss said...

You're right about putting in male teachers who are not that committed. It seems that we are only trying to project an image. We are afraid to say no to a situation only because of hurt feelings. Unfortunately we do that in a lot of different areas. We (me included) are afraid to do that absolute right thing. A preacher I know discovered a couple (members of the congregation and headed toward marriage) living together. He was actually living in his car. He was waiting to move in with her when they got married. But one thing lead to another and he sort of moved in. Some church members knew about it and did nothing. They encouraged the couple to hurry up and get married but did nothing about their living together. So we are sinners in need of grace from all angles.

Matt said...

Yeah, not really a new issue, just another implication of the discussion.

Doing the right thing is certainly not always easy. It is especially hard when you know the congregation doesn't think it is the right thing and you are going to face heat for it.

Paula Harrington said...

Interesting blog and comments.

James Wood said...

Whoa! Slow down people, that's a lot to read :)

Bob, I'm sorry that I didn't communicate my point very well in my previous post. I'm not trying to say that when women express an attitude of biblical submission that it necessarily implies inferiority. You are absolutely correct that the Bible teaches that men and women are equal and submission has nothing to do with equality.

I seriously doubt that there are many churches that actualy believe that women are inferior. The problem is that their non-verbal communication proclaims a message that is in contrast to their actual beliefs.

One example: a card was distributed asking for volunteers that would be willing to serve in the church. It specifically asked for men who would be willing to serve. There was no explanation given for why women were left out. What does that communicate about how the church views women?

In a world that is hyper-sensitive to any form of oppression we need to be very clear what we mean by submission. The church has a reputation for being a boys-club that delights in oppressing women (a feminist perspective). What are we doing to demonstrate the love of Christ to those people? How do they see that we love each other?

Bob, you're correct submission is not inferiority. Christ demonstrated submission when he came to earth, and he is in no way inferior to anyone. In fact, Ephesians tells us that we all ought to submit to one another (5:21).

Bob Bliss said...

Sorry James if I appeared to come on strong. I realized afterwards that I was pretty heavy on the response. I see your point and agree with you. We tend to think that everyone understands our language and actions. Usually only those who have been members understand the language. It's like me having a sermon on "propitiation" and assuming that everyone understands the word (probably not even our members would understand the word). We do live in a world that is hyper-sensitive and tends to react to everything that is not their way. This is a subject that finds passion on both sides.

Darin said...


Here is my struggle. Paul says things that at this point in history were totally revolutionary when it came to husband/wife, father/child relationships.

No husband ever thought of his wife in the way Paul teaches. A wife was typically property that was to be dumped or ignored depending on the man. The man had total control in divorce and every other area of marriage. To tell a wife to submit to her husband was nothing because that is what the wife already understood but to tell a husband to die to his wife as Christ died for the church, to love your wife like your own body was totally counterculture. He is pushing for treatment of women that is an incredible paradigm swing.

Paul does the same when he instructs fathers on their treatment of their children. It was nothing to tell a child to obey their parents, which was understood, but Paul tells them something radical when he says that the father shouldn’t exasperate their children. At that point in history the father could have a child killed, at any point before or after birth.

So why do we expect Paul to be even more radical at that point in history? If he is already pushing the box beyond what was the norm for women why do we think he would have pushed that treatment in an appropriate way for us 2000 years later? Paul is dealing with a point in time, why is that hard to understand?

People seem to get afraid when this is mentioned because they think somehow the church will go willy-nilly but that doesn’t have to be true. We already allow women to speak in church, we just change the name from church service to Bible class and suddenly women didn’t have to ask their questions in private but could ask them in the assembly and not only could they ask questions but now they could share their thoughts which if a man listens is teaching.

It wasn’t that long ago in our own country that the men sat on one side of the building while the women sat on the other. Why don’t we reinstate this early church practice?

Don’t get me wrong, I believe that men are to lead but that comes from creation not some words of Paul. In the culture of Paul’s day the way you showed this is much different so why should we be worried as long as the male position is honored?

That would be my point. In our culture we show respect to men in different ways. Men must lead but much of the trappings we call male leadership are more about control than any real leadership. It saddens me if we think men passing trays equals leadership. Men stepping up and protecting their flock is leadership.

The problem is most men want to play at leadership by passing trays and making sure they are the only ones who stand in front of the group while the church suffers.

I agree that men have more responsibility in the church but I disagree that much of what we argue about has anything to do with that. When I truly began to exhibit Christ-like leadership in our church I discovered several things. First, the vast majority of women don’t want those roles and when you allow a couple of women who want to share their thoughts in public it allows all women to know they are valued but it doesn’t change anyone’s attitude about who is in charge.

Matt said...

What Paul had to say was entirely counter-cultural. The household code was a pretty standard practice in early ancient letter writing but Paul gives it quite a twist. The relationships you describe in the first century, as I understand it, are dead on. The only thing I would add is that women did have some protection in that culture (dowry, right to divorce their husbands, etc).

The points you raise nullify some of the questions we bicker about and raise even more significant ones and I think that is a good thing. I wholeheartedly agree that we have often labeled things as leadership (passing communion trays, etc) when that is really not leadership at all. It is just service. All Christians are expected to serve.

Another significant issue is control vs. actual leadership. I could be wrong here but it seems to me that control is the fortress mentality while leadership advances the kingdom (without being "willy nilly"!).
God bless

Bob Bliss said...

I like Darin's viewpoint about how we allowed women to speak during the assembly - by calling it Bible class rather than worship. Paul doesn't differentiate in 1Corinthians 14 between the two.

When I was at my first pulpit ministry in Northern New Jersey we had a 20 year reunion about the third year I was there. We had about 100 past members show up. Our program was Thursday night through Sunday morning. Thursday I spoke to the group (we had singing, prayer, a lesson - a worship service!). After my lesson we had a sharing time where the former members would tell the others what they had been doing since leaving the area. It seems that some of the folks (I think both men and women) had some concerns about the women speaking up during this worship service. So the elders decided on Friday that before the sharing session we would have a closing prayer (I'm still trying to find this phrase in the NT!) and then since the worship service would be over the women could speak up! I asked the elders to show me where in the NT worship services are defined by the opening and closing prayers. I love those two men dearly and know they were just trying to find a solution to keep conflict to a minimum but you have to agree that something is amiss with this situation (may God be gracious to me when I do similar things). The assembling of ourselves together should include Bible class, worship services, potlucks, devotionals, and all other public events. These public events should all include the same "rules" (or maybe principles would be better) for how we behave.

I (I'm saying this cautiously) think that the NT only differentiates between participatory and leadership roles in the assembly (and in the congregation in general). I'm not sure we really know how to define these two roles adequately. Leadership roles are those that speak to the entire congregation with authority (such as teaching and preaching the word of God). I believe that the men are called to fulfill the leadership roles (whether by gift or by qualification) and that men and women are to fulfill the participatory roles. However, I think we should also take caution in redefining these roles today considering the cultural shifts that are taking place. Theology is rarely done in a vacuum and some could take the ball and run with it in ways God didn't intend.

Anonymous said...

Wednesday, February 14, 2007
A female christian's head cover

Should women wear veils or hats or head covers in the worship assembly today? How about before and after, the assembly, do they need to wear it too? Do you pray outside the assembly? Do you pray anywhere, anytime? One of the many subjects of discussions in a christian community is whether a woman should wear head cover or not. Another one is the head cover itself. Let me just refresh you of what Paul wrote concerning these tradition and doctrine.

1 cor 11:2-15(ESV) said that, 2Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you. 3But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife[a] is her husband, and the head of Christ is God. 4Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, 5but every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head--it is the same as if her head were shaven. 6For if a wife will not cover her head, then she should cut her hair short. But since it is disgraceful for a wife to cut off her hair or shave her head, let her cover her head. 7For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man. 8For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. 9Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. 10That is why a wife ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels.[b] 11Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; 12for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God. 13Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a wife to pray to God with her head uncovered? 14Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair it is a disgrace for him, 15but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For her hair is given to her for a covering.

Let me highlight the concern, 1 Cor 11:13-16(KJV) states that, 13Judge in yourselves: is it comely that a woman pray unto God uncovered? 14Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him? 15But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering. 16But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God.

Why then should women wear a hat or any other artificial head cover? Thus, biblically speaking, even nature teaches us that women need not use an artificial head covering but rather should maintain a long hair that nature provides for her. Let it grow, untouched by a scissor. Even black women can grow their hair given the time or if nature permits. So, if you cut it, then it's not long anymore, more so when you shave it. I see many churches fight a simple question, which should not be the question after all. You should first ask, what covering is being considered for women as a symbol. Also, why is it important? The covering or long uncut hair of a woman represents that her man is under Jesus Christ's authority.

Therefore, a woman praying with a long uncut hair honours her head, which is the man that is under Jesus Christ's authority. 1Cor 11:1-4 states, 1Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ. 2Now I praise you, brethren, that ye remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances, as I delivered them to you. 3But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God. 4Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoureth his head.

Therefore, based on the bible, women honor God, above all, if she lets her hair grow naturally and never cut it. And what should we look for as a sign of authority on a woman's head? The covering or long uncut hair of a woman represents that her man is under Jesus Christ's authority, and she is in the church of God, mentioned by Paul. Should a woman has no sign of God's authority, then whose authority is she under? Now, if you want to be subjected to God's authority, what shall you do? Should women wear artificial head cover? How can a woman pray if she does not have or hold a head cover? Can every woman buy a head cover? Many women in africa does not even got a food to eat.

These are questions that might have been raised by so many who professed that they are female christians, but did their minister, preacher, or anyone in their church answered this with wisdom, authority, conviction, fear and trust in God? If not, then now is the time to ponder if you are in the right church. Comparing to what Paul said about the last supper: 1 cor 11:17(ESV) Now in this that I declare unto you I praise you not, that ye come together not for the better, but for the worse. Finally, 1 Cor 11: 16 (KJV) said, If anyone is inclined to be contentious, we have no such practice, nor do the churches of God.

This would need another posting but anyways let me ask another subject, should a man cover his head or grows his hair and maintain a long hair like unto a woman? These questions are clearly explained to us in our Church. For those of you who are interested and found in their hearts God's calling, please visit our website ( .

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