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Women in Ministry – A Response to the PCA Report


The World Reformed Fellowship asked if I would like to respond to a paper produced by the Presbyterian Church in American (PCA) on the question of the role of Women in Ministry.  To be honest I was reluctant to do so but since they asked so nicely I wrote This

It is more a personal and practical reflection than an academic or deep analysis – for which I would recommend the actual report – PCA Report on Women in Ministry

The following is my response:

The PCA committee reports on the role of women in the church will doubtless cause some controversy when it is reported to this year’s general assembly. Although I have no idea why! It is balanced, biblical and gives a variety of different viewpoints whilst providing clear teaching and guidance for the denomination. It may be that there are those who will read between the lines and find some concern for a potential downgrade, and I suspect that there are those who will think that it does not go nearly far enough and who will be disappointed at its conclusions. As a member of a sister church, with a great many friends in the PCA, I’m very interested in this report. What follows is not a comprehensive analysis just a few reflections.

Firstly I want to say I am grateful for the report – it is a very useful summary of the biblical, historical, theological and contemporary positions. It will be very helpful in the future as a resource. Those who produced it should be commended for their hard work and the clearly prayerful, biblical and detailed manner in which they went about it.

Secondly as someone from another culture it is clear to me that there are underlying cultural questions that I am not qualified to comment on. But I thought it might be helpful for our Reformed brothers and sisters in different parts of the world, to see how we in St Peters, a congregation of the Free Church of Scotland, approach this issue. The Free Church is wholeheartedly committed to the doctrine of the Westminster standards and our practice must fit in with that as a subordinate – always subordinate to Scripture.

As such, like the report, we do not believe that (whatever the culture says), women can be ordained as elders within the church. Ministering within a contemporary context in which a large number of people come from outwith the church, I am often asked about this. It is a question that should be taken seriously and not automatically dismissed. I remember one German lady who had just been converted who asked me why women did not preach or were not elders in the church. I asked her to write the Kirk session with her questions and they responded in an excellent manner. They asked Rev Alistair I McLeod, a professor in what was then the Free Church College, to present a paper to the congregation along similar lines as the committee’s report. It was for congregational purposes and so was not nearly as detailed. But I always remember her response at the end – she said she could not agree, and yet she thought that what was presented was biblical. She was also deeply appreciative of having been taken seriously and she accepted that her previous suspicion that we were a bunch of misogynistic, patriarchal male bigots, was wrong! In other words we were doing what we did because we believed it was biblical, not because it reflected our culture.

However I do not believe that the idea that women should never take part in any leadership in the church is biblical. In my predecessors day, (I am in the church of Rev Robert Murray McCheyne), he appointed Bible women to evangelise and visit in the local area. I grew up in a tradition where it seemed as though women were not allowed to do anything, except work in the church kitchen, unless you happened to be a female missionary in a foreign land. Then you were permitted to speak, even in the church. I always found it quite amusing that, when one particular lady missionary from our home congregation spoke about the work and always brought in a word of Scripture, that was warmly welcomed. It seemed as if you were a nurse in Africa you were able to speak, but if you were a nurse in Scotland it would have been a sin!

Another example of a woman teaching was in what is now known as Edinburgh Theological Seminary. When we didn’t have a New Testament Greek professor there was a very capable woman who was certainly the best Greek teacher, and so it was obvious that she should teach our students biblical Greek. Surely that principle applies in other areas? What would be wrong with a woman teaching in her area of expertise in an adult Sunday school class – given that this is done under the authority of the local kirk session?

Another issue that came up early in my ministry was the whole question of women being silent in the church. I have never yet met anyone who thinks that that is an absolute prohibition. Do we really think that women should not sing? I think the report deals with this particular aspect very well. It is clear from the New Testament that women prayed and prophesied – Therefore in my own church we are quite happy to have suitable gifted women pray in public and also read the Scriptures. Equally there is no problem in women giving some of the notices, sharing their testimony or giving the children’s talk. The only things the women do not do is that which is reserved for the elders and the Minister.

Like many churches in the United States we have women involved as part of our staff. This can be done in an administrative or indeed a pastoral role. In fact the greatest need in my congregation at this moment is for a woman’s pastoral worker – this is because of the continued growth of the congregation and the particular societal constraints on men working with women.

What about ordination? I must admit I’m not a big fan of the term. The discussion in the report on this I also found particularly helpful. We do not ordain women as elders or ministers. Although I personally would be in favour of ordaining women as deacons, that is not the position of the Free Church, and so instead we have the diaconal assistants. In effect they fulfill the same function as deacons. There is a sense in which we set apart (ordain?) women in other roles as well – Sunday school teachers, clerk to the deacons court, church office manager etc.

One of the beauties of the New Testament church – is that it lacks the detail and organisation of the Old Testament temple. It is therefore able to be much more flexible in different cultural contexts. This does not mean that we make things up according to our culture – it rather means that there are basic biblical principles that we then have to apply in the context of that culture. In this regard I take as my basic principles – the following, which I think are also reflected in the report.

1) Men and women are equal in Christ. There is no difference in that regard.
2) We are equal but different in other respects. Equality does not mean sameness – hence the complementarian position. But the working out of what it means to be complementarian will vary in different cultures.
3) The Lord has ordained that only men can be elders in his church. Everything else is open.

I once heard of a Professor who told his students “David Robertson is a feminist by nature and culture but constrained by his understanding of the Bible.” I think he meant it as an insult, but I take it as a complement. Here I stand, I can do no other. My conscience and practice should be determined by Scripture, not by tradition or culture. But that works in different ways – some times we take our culture as absolute and interpret Scripture through its eyes. Instead we must always be taking our culture (including our church cultures) and judging it through the eyes of Scripture. This PCA report does that. I commend it to the wider Church.
David Robertson
Minister of St Peters Free Church

Associate Director of Solas Centre for Public Christianity

10th May 2017


This old blog from a woman is very helpful – A Young Womans Perspective on Womens Ordination




      1. Indeed. But as I say that is not easy in this issue to know with certainty. The weakness no doubt lies in us rather than Scripture. Thus we must make judgements that are tentative rather than certain. And here I return to my original point; if I must err, or possibly err, I’d rather do so supporting freedom than denying it.

      2. Thanks John – but I don’t agree. It is as clear as it can be that elders in the NT church were men and only men. There are ‘grey’ areas but this is not one of them. And I don’t understand why you are equating this with freedom – as though to be for the biblical position is somehow to be against freedom!

      3. I agree church leadership is male. I believe authoritative teaching is male. I believe Scripture unambiguously champions patriarchy. However, how do we reconcile 1Cor 14 (women must be silent) with 1 cor 11 (women pray and prophesy)? The silence of 1 Cor 14 seems fairly absolute. I accept, with some reservation, that it probably refers to the judging of prophesy yet this is by no means clear cut.

        My point is, reconciling these two texts in particular is not easy.

      4. We reconcile it, as I point out in the article, by the simple principle of letting Scripture interpret Scripture and always reading in context – and therefore 1 Cor 14 cannot be absolute on its own because of what has just been said – the Holy Spirit and Paul do not contradict themselves. I don’t find reconciliation of these texts at all difficult!

  1. I’m probably too tired to make comment here, save to say that in a recent email to you on the recording of full services at St Peter’s I mentioned that I’d recently attended the funeral of a friend at a CoE church. Notwithstanding what I wrote, I support what you have wriiten here. I could write more but it could be too personal for friends. God uses sometimes surprising means and people for His purposes.

    It’s interesting that there has been a recent ordination of a man to Bishopri, by a South African Anglican Bishop, outwith the CoE structure through a fairly local, robustly reformed, Anglican Church, where there is already female female Bishop.

  2. It must be very difficult for you, as a man to begin to comprehend the damage this does to women. You couldn’t possibly see this though any lens other than your own. Women aren’t the only ones who should be silent in the church.

    1. It must be very difficult for you as a woman to being to comprehend the damage your comments do to men. See how that works? Claim hurt and damage and no one can contradict you. Well – I will. It appears to me that the rather silly name calling and mud slinging could just as easily be reversed on to you – are you really saying that you can see this through any other lens than your own? I am trying to see it through the lens of seems to me that you are judging scripture through your own prejudices and self-centredness. You have no more right to say that you speak on behalf of women than I have to say I speak on behalf of men….overall a very disappointing and ill thought out prejudiced comment.

    2. Damage is most done to women when men don’t live out their God-given responsibilities, not when they do.

  3. To see clearly I would suggest you rewrite the entire article and change genders throughout. For example, whatever is man, is now woman. Whatever is woman is now man. This would give you a better idea of the inferiority you, as a man, impose on women. I recently bought a Bible that was gender neutral in wherever it could be without changing the perceived Biblical intention. It was hugely enjoyable to read, for once, a book written to everyone, not just men.

    1. And again that crass arrogance and smug superiority (all done whilst playing the victim card) asserts itself. You assume that you see clearly and others who disagree with you do not. I don’t impose any inferiority on women as I don’t believe that any woman is inferior. You on the other hand clearly believe I am inferior. The Bible is a book written for everyone and you don’t need to change the language to make it such. It is an incredible arrogance for you to think that you can change the language without changing the perceived biblical intention – something which you apparently just know! I’m sorry, whilst I accept there is often gross discrimination which is often excused and justified (wrongly) by some religious men – I don’t buy into your outrage and hurt. Your comments show a lack of biblical understanding and rational thought and a level of prejudice and discrimination which I actually find both sad and disturbing. Maybe you need to look away from yourself and your own ideology and take a more humble look at the word of God? Meanwhile I suggest you don’t bother posting on here unless you have something constructive to say and actually engage with the article. Take your name calling, faux pas outrage and abusive comments elsewhere – please…

      1. I apologize for offending you. It was not my intention. Your comments are from men and I thought a view from women would be welcomed. I looked at my comments wondering about the name calling and arrogance. I didn’t see it, but you did and each person’s perception is their reality. I am truly sorry and will do as you requested with no more comment. Truly sorry to offend.

      2. And my turn to apologise…perhaps I reacted too strongly….lets begin again! Not all my comments are from men – and womens perspectives are always welcome – there is no gender discrimination here! You are welcome to comment – but lets avoid the generalisations and the ad hom (both of us!)…David

  4. Janis Edmondson,
    At the risk of being trite, are you a Quaker?Your last sentence may suggest you are.

    1. No, but I guess my comments were offensive, not my intention. Being silent to me, was suggesting receiving whatever God might give us…regardless of gender.

  5. There aren’t many issues in the church that engender more passion than this one. Noting the previous posts may validate that. My thinking around this issue is multifaceted. There is the emotional response, where I could feel anger at men who restrict the gifting of women to be in leadership. How dare they, I say, the church is missing out on all those leadership skills! However, this does not mean scripture isn’t correct in not allowing women in leadership. Scripture stands whether I respond emotionally, culturally or whatever. It’s me that has to adjust my worldview to the scriptural one.

    I am still undecided. It seems the overarching worldview in scripture is that men and women are equal but have different roles. However, we are unable to truly understand this worldview because of our fallen state. Therefore, we will interpret this issue within our different cultural settings (different lenses). Paul, in 1 Timothy 2, was relating to a first century church in a dominant Roman culture, so does this prohibition apply to us now? In Scotland, in a Free Church, it may be appropriate and/or scripturally interpreted for women to not be in leadership.

    We need each other and good Theologians to help with interpretation of scripture. We will always keep wrestling with the difficult texts and what are biblical directives versus biblical principles.

    1. Thanks for your helpful comment. The only response I would make is that it is very sad, with all that is going on in the world, this issue engenders so much passion in the church. Would that we were more passionate about Christ! Also the argument about culture only has limited validity. It can be used to negate almost anything – besides which Paul does not argue from culture but from Scripture..

  6. Dear David,

    As ever a very helpful posting. Please could you let me know where I can get hold of a copy of the report – not the entire handbook just this report. I could run it off on my printer but I’m guessing the ‘real thing’ might be cheaper!

    By the way do greet David Ellis from me next time you bump into him. He runs a very efficient marriage bureau – he’ll fill you in on the details!

    Derek Foster

    On 11 May 2017 at 19:47, THE BLOG OF DAVID ROBERTSON wrote:

    > theweeflea posted: ” The World Reformed Fellowship asked if I would like > to respond to a paper produced by the Presbyterian Church in American (PCA) > on the question of the role of Women in Ministry. To be honest I was > reluctant to do so but since they asked so nicely I wro” >

  7. I assume the Professor gave you a compliment instead of an insult – he was a complimentarian but not a complementarian.

  8. I don’t think you can address the subject of women in leadership or ministry without also addressing or having a common understanding of the terms and the distinctions between them. I believe Scripture teaches that leadership is male, and whatever else is involved that has to include authority. With that authority comes responsibility in particular for the direction the congregation is going, including guarding against error. My understanding is that Scripture strongly suggests that women are more prone, although by no means exclusively so, to being deceived. As for ministry (small m) I don’t see too many restrictions on women in Scripture: Acquilla and Priscilla both taught, Anna, Mary and Miriam not to mention Philip’s 4 daughter prophesied, Lydia hosted a church. While men have often misinterpreted authority for power, failing to follow their servant king’s example, the feminist clamour for ‘equality’ completely misunderstands ‘equal but different’ and intrusion of these ideas into the church is not guided by the Spirit. In a way I suppose it serves men right for failing to act as men.

  9. “She said she could not agree, and yet she thought that what was presented was biblical. She was also deeply appreciative of having been taken seriously.”

    If only this were to happen more often.

    Who is right and who is wrong in disagreements over interpretation of scripture?

    Sometimes God judges by saying OK have it your way and things going to hell.

  10. I’m coming late to this but what interests me about the complementarian position is that there is not a strong reason stated for why it should be held. Yes, there are various interpretations of Scripture but on any other important issue of interpretation there is always a solid answer to ‘why?’ For example, it’s very clear why penal substitution is a necessary doctrine and it’s also clear why infant baptism is something Christians should practice. I’ve yet to hear why women should not be elders except that a particular interpretation of the relevant texts says so (I know someone who was told that elders could not be single – and presumably also not be childless – based on a simplistic reading of an elder having to be the husband of but one wife and be someone who managed his family well). There is the odd hint (including in one of the comments above) that the reason is that women are more easily deceived. The evidence of Scripture that the vast majority of false teachers were men probably indicates this is not a valid argument. Or is the reason just that advocating for women in leadership disrupts the ‘natural order of things’?

    The apostle Paul neither advocated the overthrow of the culturally ingrained practice of slavery nor for a new way of doing government but from history we know that Christianity has had major influence the abolition of slavery and the formation of modern democracy. Likewise, Paul didn’t advocate the overthrow of patriarchy but again Christianity sowed the seeds for that to happen (or is it a mere coincidence that it happened only in the Christianised West?).

    Without really knowing the ‘why’, it’s hard in practice to know which roles women should or should not have in a complementarian church. David, you list a few above, but again, it’s hard to see your basis for doing so without a better framework for why. I’m not saying that we should disobey the Bible if we don’t have a ‘why’ – the ‘why’ should primarily arise from the Bible in the first place. But there must be a better way to explain the complementarian view than a simplistic ‘the Bible says so’ (which, in my experience of this debate, often means, ‘I’ve interpreted it to say so based on my received tradition’). Full disclosure – I’m not complementarian and I’m part of a church that is egalitarian and evangelical (evangelical in the proper, traditional sense of the word) but I did arrive at my position through serious study and having experienced churches with both positions.

    1. Tom,

      Firstly, I would argue strongly that ‘the bible says so’ is the basis for all Christian truth including the role of women if it is expressed there. In my view, the bible does speak about the role of women and in the main it’s teaching is not hard to discern.

      Firstly, the whole of Scripture is patriarchal in perspective. By this I do not simply mean it was written in a patriarchal culture but that it champions patriarchy; Scripture teaches not simply that patriarchy is but that is what ought to be. The form patriarchy takes may be open to debate but the fact of it is not. It is as I say part of the warp and woof of Scripture. It’s foundation, as with many truths, is laid out in Genesis 2. Man is created first. Woman is derived from the man and intended to be his helper. In the fall Adam is not deceived the woman is. It is Adam God holds primarily responsible for the fall. None of these narrative comments are incidental. They are teaching that God intends patriarchy to be the order in human culture in marriage at least. All of this is explicitly stated by Paul in the NT; patriarchy is creational not merely cultural.

      Further patriarchy, lies everywhere in biblical theology. God is Father Son and Spirit. The Spirit is referred to as ‘he’. Humanity is ‘mankind’. The forefathers of faith to whom the promises are given are male. The priests in Israel are male not by accident but by divine instruction. The leaders are overwhelmingly male and exceptions are true only of extraordinary situations and usually reveal the weakness of the male.

      In the NT, Jesus, the founder of the Church is male. He chooses twelve male apostles and not simply to fit in with culture. Jesus was never bound by culture and openly contradicted it when it was seriously misguided. I.e. His teaching on divorce. When the apostles forbid women to teach they expressly root their teaching in God’s order in creation. When speaking of marriage the husband is the head of the home for creational reasons not cultural ones. The strong implication in Paul instructing male elders only is that only male elders existed. Elders in Israel were male and it seems clear in the church. Authority Paul says is male

      Regarding slavery. Firstly Scripture never roots it in creation. Secondly it never insists upon its continuance as an institution. Thirdly, some forms of slavery the OT allows were quite different from what we think of when we think of slavery. I.e. Voluntary indenture to pay off debts. Fourthly, the NT condemns slave traders.

      No doubt much of this you are aware of since you have considered the issue. However, I’ve given this outline to demonstrate that such a belief is not naive or outlandish. Male leadership has been the overwhelming position in the church throughout its history and not merely because it wished to echo its culture but because it believed patriarchy was a creational truth.

      In the final new creation it appears such gender distinctions, if they exist, will have no relevance. Though even there it seems as if there may be heirarchies (meritocracies of faith???). Full blown egalitarianism does not seem to feature even in the final new creation. However, while we live in the old creation we are expected to honour the structures that God built into it. Patriarchy is one such structure. To repeat, there seems to me to be some room for discussion as it’s forms but it’s creational fact seems to me indisputable.

      1. Thank you John for your comprehensive reply. I would never want to suggest that your view is naïve or outlandish. I note that you don’t answer the reason ‘why’ and simply state an observation of what Scripture appears to teach – this is not biblical theology. Any biblical theology has to take Genesis chapter 3 very seriously which you don’t mention at all. There are two Christian responses to the curse in Genesis 3:16. One is the complementarian view which seeks to redemptively transform patriarchy to be more loving and inclusive of women while maintaining male ‘headship’ in marriage and church leadership. The other is the egalitarian view which says that this redemptive move goes further. But patriarchy, in the form that we observe it in the culture of the Ancient Near East and in many world cultures today is a result of the curse of Genesis 3:16. So the question really is: to what extent should this redemptive move apply? Is egalitarianism an ‘over realised eschatology’ or is complementarianism an ‘under realised eschatology’?

        Related to this discussion, slavery is rooted in the curse of Genesis 3:17 because if work had not become toil, there would have been no driver for the practice of slavery. I don’t think God pronounced these curses in order for humanity to pursue sin but rather so that we would seek him and his ways and his heart. You mention the transformation both the OT and the NT bring to slavery (which eventually resulted in its abolition through Christian influence) but you don’t mention or else downplay the transformations the OT and the NT bring to women under patriarchy. It’s also interesting that Christian egalitarianism was what drove Western society to treat all people equally under the law.

        Genesis 2 does not present patriarchy as a normal unfallen state – the fact that Adam was created first tells us little (animals were created first before him). What Paul has to say about it is certainly not as simple and straightforward as saying that because Adam was created first, patriarchy was established. Genesis 1 presents male and female as mutual, co-rulers of creation under God’s lordship.

        Space doesn’t permit a full discussion of all these things here but it’s a discussion worth having especially as my experience of many who hold the complementarian view is that they are often subject to ‘confirmation basis’ and only read what will support their view. My experience of many who hold the egalitarian view is that they hold it because they think it should be so without much in the way of biblical reflection. These days there’s really no excuse for either because so much has produced on the egalitarian view from evangelical writers.

    2. Hi Tom

      Thanks for your equally comprehensive response. I did not address the egalitarian aspects of the gender debate largely because I was seeking to defend the patriarchy aspect. For me the way Scripture invites us to think about the sexes is equal in value with distinctions in role. I agree I did not address the ‘why’ and realised I should have addressed this. Tacitly I was by suggesting that ‘the bible says so’ is the only ‘why’ we need. I have argued patriarchy is God’s creational design. Why he should create this ‘order’ is in the final analysis of secondary importance. Obedience flows from obeying the command whether it appears to make sense or not. Abraham’s offering of Isaac being a good example. God does not always explain the ‘why’.

      That being said Paul considers marriage and the mystery it embraces as ultimately Christological modelling the relationship of Christ and the church. Among other aspects marriage models is that of Christ’s authority in the church and the church’s submission to that authority.

      I noted that Paul’s patriarchal perspective is based on Genesis 2. It is for him God’s pre-fall creational design.. In this sense, as you note, complementarians (rightly in my view) view the fall as distorting patriarchy not devising it. Part of this distorting is judicial… ‘he will rule over you’. The curse focuses on the particular aspect of the creational mandate relevant to each. In each case the area of responsibility would bring problems. Work for Adam once a delight would produce obstacles and difficulties similarly for Eve male leadership would not be what it ought to have been producing angst. However, just as Adam’s difficulties with a less than ideal work environment did not cancel the creational mandate to work similarly for Eve, male oppression does not cancel the creational mandate of patriarchy. Unlike you Tom, I think Scripture is clear on this and makes good sense. We have yet to see the full impact of a full blown egalitarianism in society but I suspect the results will not be good.

      I have read some egalitarian literature and I find many of the arguments wanting. There is to my mind an unwillingness to allow Genesis 2 to have its full force. The tendency is to treat patriarchy as post-fall. This I see as exegetically weak and, to be honest, biased. However, it is good to discuss. Thank you for responding.

      One final point, I agree slavery is a post fall entity. It is not creational but the result of the fall. That is why slavery and patriarchy are not a legitimate comparison, we are not comparing like with like.

      1. John, thanks for the interesting points you make. I still think the ‘why’ question is important and of course, we do now know why Abraham was asked to sacrifice Isaac because we have the full cannon of Scripture.

        The question of how male leadership operates in practice is interesting. I’m a Presbyterian and our form of church leadership involves mutuality amongst elders which is more of an egalitarian concept. The PCA report does seem helpful in that it gives women more of a voice in leadership through involvement in committees. My experience of Presbyterian leadership is that having a voice is often more influential than having a vote.

        Egalitarianism distorted by sin is already showing adverse effects on society. But from my experience in other parts of the world, patriarchy opens the door to horrific sins against women and children. Therefore, neither view has within itself an antidote to sin. What we do know is that biblical egalitarianism is our future in the new creation – so it comes back to the question of how our eschatology shapes our current practice. We might also ask what leadership looked like before the fall. If Adam didn’t ‘rule over’ Eve, what did his leadership look like (in a complementarian view)? It’s fairly easy to see what mutual leadership would look like in an unfallen state in which selfishness played no part.

  11. Perhaps our Lord recognises that, whatever His own opinion or intention on the matter, no man ever, anywhere, truly in his heart will take “leadership” from a woman. Even the Thatchers and Mays of this world are seen as a temporary aberration.
    And the resurgence of “traditional” culture will soon save you the trouble of defending it.
    Regarding women singing in Church: in our choir there are ladies still living who remember first being banned from membership: then made to sit hidden at the back; and even after full admittance, being physically barred by the men from entry. The old Adam simply doesn’t care what the Church thinks 🙁

  12. It seems plain to me that patriarchy must be part of the Fall: before it, the only authority that existed or was necessary was that of God. Both humans were at all times completely submitted to His Will, with their own wills equally conformed to it, and no divergence or conflict of interest could possibly exist that might require the enforcement of one’s will upon the other. It was the introduction of conflict that required the force of authority for one partner to “master” the other.
    And the result is that I read through man after man giving us *his* view of women’s place in God’s Kingdom, as if the very Word had not chosen to give Himself to us through a woman’s body, or first revealed His own risen one to several more. But then they weren’t believed by the disciples either *wry smile*

    1. Karen

      I hear what you are saying. I see the apparent force in it. Yet, it’s hard to know how relationships would work out in a perfect world. Would children be subject to the authority of their parents? Authority doesn’t seem to exist to simply quell rebellious tendencies. It seems to be God’s intention to administer his perfect kingdom through delegated authority. Jesus, in the gospels, describes authority structures in the age to come…. reign over ten cities… Luke 19.

      Certainly, in this world, a husband ought to demonstrate his authority by loving his wife as Christ loved the church and a wife should submit as the church submits (or ought to submit) to Christ.

      In any case, the case for a creational patriarchy does not rest on our speculations but on the narratival implications of Gen 2 and Paul’s NT exposition of the chapter. 1Cor 11; 1 Tim 2.

      Incidentally, it was men (Moses and Paul) who gave us these texts. And in one, 1Cor 11, where Paul stresses patriarchy, he also balances it by pointing out that as woman creationally is from the man, so man by generation is from the women. His point is not that one cancels the other but rather to prevent abuse and overstatement of the patriarchal principle.

      1. In that perfect world, children would no more need to take orders than Our Lord does from His Father – they are at all times in perfect concord, as we may hope to be in that day when He shall wipe away every tear along with our sins.
        And Luke 19 is a parable, using the current affairs of the day where Archelaus had recently travelled to Rome to be invested by the Emperor with the local kingship, in the teeth of the Jews’ refusal: (‘We don’t want this man to be our king.’ ) Do we think the blessed will be literally given sums of money (which could never be spent) or rulership of cities where there is only one Heavenly City? Certain it is that when He promises his disciples that they will “sit on thrones and judge the twelve tribes of Israel”, He also warns that “many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.”

      2. But that’s just it; God the Father informs the Son not vice versa; they have a lead/follow relationship. And yes, of course Luke 19 is a parable but it is a parable revealing pictorially a corresponding reality; what we do with the gifts we are given now will be the basis of our place in the kingdom.

  13. In which case I can only assume that when He gives obvious gifts of spiritual leadership to women, they should (notwithstanding that parable) inform Him He has made a mistake and would He kindly take them back and give them to someone with the proper staff of office? Meanwhile we wait in vain for the wave of dedicated males taking up the burden, now it no longer carries the power and status that it did.

    The relations of Father and Son crucially depend on the Son knowing His Father is wholly good and totally trustworthy and will never abuse His power: the sort of man who uses God as a weapon to enforce his will on someone already physically, financially and socially weaker than himself should think carefully before presuming to demand the same level of submission.

    1. Karen, I think you have a good point about the failure of males to lead. This is presumably in part due to male weakness and in part to a culture which is emasculating men. There are of course abuses of patriarchy that should be addressed. However, Paul does not make the failure of authority ground for overthrowing it. Poor government should still be obeyed as should poor masters. The same applies to poor husbands. The bible gives little excuse for divorce (though separation for a time it allows may be necessary). I am not trivialising the troubles abused authority creates. For Paul, as for many who have found themselves in difficult relationships the key lies in giving obedience to the authority figure as though it were really to the Lord. Although this does not remove suffering it alleviates it and enables submission. The promise also enables – our suffering results in far excelling glory. Such teaching of course is not intended as a trite answer to abuse but as a real way to overcome in very testing circumstances.

  14. Gifting is not a side issue – God breathes His Spirit where He will, and if physical, financial, sexual and societal power was the measure of a God-chosen leader not only would David have been overlooked by Samuel but Jesus’s life story would have been a lot more like Muhammad’s. If authority was of itself untouchable, and never to be challenged or escaped, we would still have the Divine Right of Kings and your own Church as well as mine would not exist. And even more dead wives and children who’d “gone back to him one last time” than we already do.
    Far from being “emasculated” in this age of Donald Trump, modern males desert the ministry precisely *because* it demands humility and sacrifice and service and poor wages, rather than as in former times the parson, minister and priest being drawn from the monied and educated classes and treated accordingly. (Scots mileage may vary?)
    Many other professions have gone the same way – I have long said that you can tell when a profession is losing its prestige and financial rewards precisely by the number of women admitted and allowed promotion. I respect those men who have stepped up to serve, in an era when Christianity and its ministers are viewed with open contempt, all the more.
    When I see men willingly and meekly submitting to legitimate authority in the same way they demand from us (and the history of both Church and State, or even most places of employment, shows us precious little of that) I’ll take their arguments a tad more seriously. In the mean time it sounds all too like those politicians constantly extolling “hard work”, while ensuring they and their children stay as far away from it as possible.

    1. But you are setting up a straw woman. No-one is arguing that ‘physical, financial, sexual and societal power was the measure of a God-chosen leader’. Your history is also simplistic and clearly shaped by your pre-judgements. It was not the case that the ministers etc were drawn from the monied classes – but I would assume you would agree that education is essential to ministry? Your prejudice about men and your ability to judge by what you see is not helpful – who made you the judge over whether men are ‘willingly and meekly submitting to legitimate authority’? I of course agree with you – every minister must submit, by definition to the courts of the Church, to the Word of God and to the Lordship of Christ. If they don’t do so then how can they minister? But my concern is your setting yourself up as the judge. What you see or don’t see should not be the criteria!

  15. Apollo’s was thoroughly educated, intelligent, and knew all about Jesus: yet he still needed “something more”. God can speak “out of the mouths of babes” or even a donkey when he chooses – although He leaves it to us whether we listen. One thinks of the disciples cowering behind locked doors for unnecessary hours because they wouldn’t believe the testimony of their women.
    I’m away from my keyboard now for a few days so cannot pursue this with depth and seriousness it (and you) deserves, or respond to your criticisms. Probably best to leave it here, with continuing prayers for His blessing on you and your ministry.

  16. I love all of your (all contributions) passion. I do wonder though if it is best placed to further The Kingdom?

    In response to Tom Finnegan’s contribution. Having been an avid reader of the Bible for over 25 years I completely recognise John Thomson contribution of May 16, 2017 at 4:51 pm, as a comprehensive, faithful exposition of Scripture. For clarity, until recently I have not read any extra Biblical material on the subject, therefore my understanding of what Theologians refer to as the ‘complementarian position’ I obtained from Scripture alone. This often in contradiction to the teaching I have found myself under in various churches.

    I am regrettably unable to say the same for your considered position Tom. Sadly to understand your position, one requires a degree, something the majority of Christians in Glory will not have required to understand the Bible. The only B.A. most folks need is a BA (Born Again) in eternal life. (I’m not against education, I am an undergraduate).

    John’s eloquent exposition is clear and reflects what the bible says. A blind man could see it. A Blind man may not like it, but that’s God’s Word for you. He thinks He can just have things His way, without consulting us first. Who Does He think He is? GOD?

    All joking aside folks, God’s Word is offensive to our rebellious sinful natures & He desires Obedience rather than Sacrifice. Please refrain from this majoring on the minors & lets get to work in the harvest field, submitting to God & pulling together to see God’s Kingdom Come & His Will be Done. There are People running head long down the broad road that leads to destruction tonight & let me tell you, they don’t care about this polemic. They simply need to see a people who love God so much that in turn they are compelled to reach out to people, to share the wonderful Good News of what Jesus has done for US.

    The Gospel changes lives. This stuff is superfluous. Come on Brethren, all hand to the plough;)
    P.S We are all Wrong. GOD IS RIGHT 😉

    1. Ray, I totally agree with you about the harvest field. Let me say (tongue in cheek) if this discussion has simply been ‘majoring on the minors’ and ‘superfluous’ then I am sure you would be happy not to rule out 50% of the possible gospel workers for advancing God’s kingdom because of your complementarian position.

      You are right, I do have a degree in theology and it was especially at Bible college that I was able to explore this issue in more depth. I’m passionate for people reading the Bible and understanding and applying it for themselves.

      But it is true, as the Westminster Confession of Faith says in chapter one, ‘The meaning of all the passages in the Bible are not equally obvious, nor is any individual passage equally clear to everyone. However, everything which we have to know, believe and observe in order to be saved is so clearly presented and revealed somewhere in the Bible that the uneducated as well as the educated can sufficiently understand it by the proper use of the ordinary means of grace’ (modern English version).

      No doubt as you read the Bible you will wonder how Paul’s directive in 1 Corinthians 14 that women should be silent in church can be reconciled with his affirmation of them prophesying in church a few chapters earlier. You might also wonder why he would give a directive that women shouldn’t teach men in 1 Timothy 2 when elsewhere in Acts 18 Scripture affirms Priscilla teaching Apollos the gospel. Or why Deborah was blessed by God as a leader in Israel, or why women can be authors of Scripture (Mary’s song for example) which is for our instruction. You might wonder too what the curse in Genesis 3 that man would rule over women really means or why there appears to be to no gender hierarchy in the new creation. My point is that this is one of those issues where some further study is required and, in particular, a good biblical theology rather than taking verses in isolation.

      It’s worth knowing that the term ‘complementarian’ is very recent being coined by John Piper and Wayne Grudem in 1991. Prior to that it was simply ‘patriarchy’. That’s but one example of how a bit of knowledge of church history can be helpful in this discussion. It also helps to understand culture and how we are shaped by it. Since the fall, the dominant culture in male/female relationships has been patriarchy. In the West in the last 100 years or so there has been a move to a more equal relationship between male and female. The root of this move is the Biblical belief in the equality of all persons before God. So we always have to ask, did I arrive at my conclusion because of my cultural influences (and my male prejudices!) or because I really see what God is doing in both pronouncing the curse in Genesis 3 and then providing redemption in Christ from all curses?

      1. Many thanks Tom, for your kind & considered reply. As you will be only to aware many of us have taken a great number of years to come to our sincere conclusions on many Biblical issues & I wonder if we are really going to change our minds on the basis of a couple of brief Blog conversation. This much I am totally convinced of, the more I learn the more I realise I know nothing. Therefore like our forefather in the faith, I propose to no nothing but Christ & Him Crucified, for this is the power of God unto salvation. In truth I have no desire to win contentious arguments, I would much rather loose the argument & win a person for Christ. We are all great at asserting how wonderful we are with our theological ducks all lined up in a row 🙂 Really people don’t care how much we know, till they know how much we really care for them.

        My desire is to serve God Faithfully, & do as little damage in His Kingdom as I can. God knows the damage our arrogant pride has done in His Church & if we have been around long enough we have some understanding to. There are enough hurt & broken people outside the church without us adding to there number in it. God loves people & I pray we will get to the task of working at it ourselves :). Men by nature all want to be in charge. Paradoxically we tend to run a mile from anything labelled responsibility, I wonder if that is why God commands Men to take a leading role, otherwise we would sit on our posteriors & let the ladies run everything:) Only God knows.

        He who would be the greatest is he who would be the least, the servant of all. Is that not what an under-Shepard is. Are we not to lead by serving. In the same manner as we are to love our wives, sacrificially. The very department I have observed over the past 21 years that my wife puts me to shame in. The woman could quite easily run the church without us men & in my opinion would do a better Job. But God did not ask my opinion. Therefore in all things I seek to bow my nee to His will, not mine, within all my fallen limitations. (& there are no shortage)

        That’s my Goal. I am commissioned to reconcile man to God, as is EVERY FOLLOWER OF CHRIST ( Male & Female).
        I have no agenda to harm or dominate anyone, man or woman. I had a Black belt in that in a previous life & that is of no eternal benefit to anyone. In truth the responsibility of looking after God’s people should be a frightening prospect for anyone, especially when a greater accountability will be expected on that day. Like any man I seek to shelter my wife from frightening prospects. Not out of anything other than my wholehearted love for her. I wonder if this God given instinct is meant to jealously guard His Church? I don’t know.

        For the benefit of any Ladies reading this, may I say how wonderful my life has been because of women. I love women (my wife specifically & exclusively) but you get my point. We are one body. Many parts. EVERYONE ESSENTIAL to the rest of the body. We need one another. No part of out body is of more significance than the rest. Surely as Human beings we can grasp the magnitude of this simple analogy. Women are not second class Christians. You are loved in equal proportion to your male Brothers in Christ. We are simply different. We have different roles to play in God’s purposes. May I encourage us all to rejoice in the fact that God has made us the way we are & thank Him that He has not left us as we are, but is transforming us into the wonderful image of His Son. Jesus never asserted His Rights nor sought to dominate others & nor should we. He was a Servant King & so should our leadership be.

        May God richly Bless everyone who has the opportunity to partake in this forum, May He add to to each congregation represented, those who are being saved daily, For His Glory I pray, in Jesus name, Amen.

      2. Tom,

        I write this on a cafe on holiday where I have a brief access to the internet.

        I agree our view on women’s role in the church is not itself a reason for Christians to divide; it is not a gospel issue (you can be wrong on this and still clearly a Christian). Having said this, while the material issue in this debate is women’s role, the formal underlying issue is the authority of Scripture. I find it difficult to accept that those who argue for egalitarianism ascribe to Scripture its intrinsic authority. It seems to me impossible to read Scripture responsibly and fail to note it champions patriarchy, not of course a worldly and corrupted patriarchy but a creational patriarchy which teaches male sacrificial leadership and female submission and respect out of loyalty to Christ. A failure to see this in Scripture I can only ascribe to cultural blinkers wilfully or otherwise blinding the reader to what is plainly taught. Paul is easy on believers where issues are a matter of mere cultural preference but where the issues impinge on matters he treated as creational (in this case patriarchy) he is much less sanguine and is strident in his approach; for Paul, mistaken views here really matter.

        Theological education turns what may be ignorance into wilful culpability. It is worth noting that in terms of theological education both patriarchy and egalitarianism have their academic devotees. It is also worth noting that historically and even presently the evangelical position has been overwhelmingly patriarchal. While more evangelicals are embracing an egalitarian position this is a fairly recent phenomenon and the lead for it has come from liberal theology. Academia craves respectability. It is not objective while loving to present itself as such. Respectability in academia means embracing egalitarianism. I am more than a little cynical of the enthusiasm for egalitarianism many evangelical academics have recently espoused.

        I like how you present some arguments from Scripture for your position. That is the only way forward. What does the Bible say. Here study and conviction is open to every believer of average intelligence. I have not found the arguments of academia particularly profound on either side of the debate. The issues are on the whole fairly clear. Yes, there are a few more difficult ones such as reconciling 1 Cor 11 and 14 but it is a mistake to see the tension here as anything to do with patriarchy; both assume patriarchy, and 1Cor 11, the more liberal passage, explicitly so.

        Further, no one who supports patriarchy says women cannot teach. The only question is the context in which such teaching is appropriate and does not abuse patriarchy. Again, the issue is not the right of patriarchy but how it works out in the context of the church.

        Regarding Deborah, it is clear even in the OT that Deborah is an exception that proves the rule. All the judges were unusual characters and that is the point. They all broke the mold. They were exceptions to the norm in an age of deep spiritual rebellion. Deborah’s ‘exceptional’ characteristic is that she was a woman and normally a woman would not hold such a leadership role. Here leadership showed God’s ability to adapt in extraordinary circumstances of male weakness. Deborah herself makes the point that her leadership shamed the male.

        I could go on. But it’s time to leave the cafe. I can live with females in leadership, sometimes extreme situations demand it, sometimes unbelief occasions it. But living with it does not mean I approve it and fear the underlying hermeneutic (cultural accommodation) leads ultimately to embracing homosexuality and other PC agendas.

        Regards. John

  17. P.S Thank you Tom for the John Piper and Wayne Grudem info, I found it helpful.
    Respectfully, yours in His Service 🙂

  18. Hi John. Yet Again I can only wholeheartedly concur with you John. However I could have said everything you said but chose not to, because Tom is clearly aware of both sides of the argument & has come to a view. Whilst I completely agree with your eloquent & biblicaly reflective exposition, I sense this polemic will not produce the desired fruit you seek:(

    I think the point that may be of most assistance to Tom, was your closing assertion: ‘…underlying hermeneutic (cultural accommodation) leads ultimately to embracing homosexuality and other PC agendas.’

    If we look at the theological trajectory of denomination’s who have adopted Tom’s position on egalitarianism over the last 40 odd years, we can see the resultant consequences of the thin end of the wedge that drives Scripture out the window & opens the door to every politically correct wind of change which blows through the door of institutions such as the ‘c’ of England/Scotland who are now apostate. Be in no doubt, others will follow in there droves but, ‘Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.’ Galatians 6:7.

    2 Timothy 3:13-15 (NIVUK) ‘while evildoers and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. 14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15 and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.’

    1 Corinthians 6:9-10 (NIVUK). ‘Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men 10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.’

    John 14:15. ‘If you love me, keep my commands.

    Scripture is clear. Those who are His, will Keep His Commands. Those who are not His, will not.

    God’s Word said it, I believe it, that’s an end to it!

  19. ” I can live with females in leadership, sometimes extreme situations demand it, sometimes unbelief occasions it. But living with it does not mean I approve it…”
    Well that’s incredibly gracious of you. It’s been such a blessing to read 47 comments every one of which (apart from my own) consists of men comfortably assuring one another that God orders their women to “submit” to them and not compete for leadership. The spirit of this world, who also loves domination and competition for power, won’t lose any sleep about a Church like that.
    Perhaps if Christians generally sought more to submit and serve every person of any sex, and less to demand submission and service and status, they might find a more attentive hearing. Those few women priests I know have a very different mode of relating, I’ve never met an authoritarian among them and they don’t seem to pull rank or preach “submission” to anyone other than Jesus. Perhaps it is time for Him to “do a new thing” – except that the call to humility and service, especially from leaders, isn’t new at all.

  20. As a contribution to this debate, I would like to submit my small review of an article by the Rev N. T. Wright on this topic, titled ‘Women’s Service in Church: The Biblical Basis”. Link here:

    I think Wright is a useful voice in the debate here, not only because it comes from a notable theologian (not a plea to authority on my part), but because it may cause us to think differently about some of the passages we use to justify a position where women cannot be a part of church ministry leadership. I think the correct scriptural interpretation is paramount in a debate like this as I am sure both ‘sides’ do. For me, though, I have never found it easy to understand some passages in the Bible because of the many cultural settings this book is written within over thousands of years.

    Of course, cultural practices can never trump the truth of scripture, but finding true meaning in issues like a woman’s place in ministry leadership is not something we should be too constrained in our conclusions about. We all bring our sinful nature to bear on these things whether we realise it or not. Hence, the debate is a lively one, but should not detract from the greatest way we know the truth, that is through love and the person of Jesus Christ.

    Wright, states that we “must claim the freedom in Christ in our various cultures, to name and call issues one by one with wisdom and clarity, without assuming that a decision on one point commits us to a decision on others.” Wright emphasises this in order to make us aware that we may have absolutism in our particular positions brought about through the contexts we live in and that these absolute ideas may be incorrect. I would add that it may not be easy to see that our interpretation of scripture is clouded (by where our understanding is located) at a particular point of our biblical understanding journey. I have changed my position on a few scriptural matters over my 55 years of life, but none, I hope, compromise the Gospel. (But then I might say that in my humble hubris and so this is where we need each other).

    Wright states his viewpoint on a few important biblical passages. For Galatians 3:28, he stresses that Paul is making the point that God has one family, not two, through the unity gained by the Messiah. “The ground is even at the foot of the cross,” he says. Paul was emphasising that none of the male privilege which structured Jewish life counts when it comes to “membership in the renewed people of Abraham”. This passage is not about roles or how we relate to one another, or distinctions, it is about what new creation looks like. The difference is irrelevant for membership into God’s family but still to be taken note of when it comes to pastoral practice.

    In the Gospels and Acts, Wright talks about how Jesus chose twelve male disciples and how we can easily forget, and not emphasise, the fact that women were the first to be entrusted with the good news of what had happened after the resurrection. This being after the men had deserted Jesus. In regard to the importance for women, the title of being an Apostle meant you had witnessed the resurrection, so these women were amongst the first apostles and (maybe) leaders in the early church.

    Wright also talks about the many other examples in the Gospels where the status of women is promoted through the ministry of Jesus, particularly illustrated in the story of Mary and Martha in Luke 10. There are important illusions in this story about the challenge given out by Jesus regarding the then social conventions about the place of women in Jewish society. Sitting at the feet of a Jewish Teacher was unacceptable for a woman. Moreover, by doing so you would be following the path of a disciple which tended toward becoming a Leader and Teacher yourself.

    In regard to 1 Corinthians, Wright draws on recent work carried out on the social and cultural context of this book and how that needs to be carefully taken into account. In regards to 1 Corinthians 14, where woman are told to keep silent in church, Paul certainly had the cultural milieu of Corinth firmly in mind. Whether or not Wright is correct in drawing upon Ken Bailey’s work here, is moot. What struck me in reading this is that we should never be too certain of some traditional analyses and conclusions about women in ministry from these passages, and perhaps be more circumspect in how adamant we are towards our current interpretations. Moreover, I think Wright makes a useful point in that this passage cannot “possibly mean that women had no part in leading public worship” because in 1 Corinthians 11:2-11, Paul talks about giving instructions for how women are to be dressed while engaging in worship.

    Wright also approaches the topic of headship and curly passages that deal with angels and authority, but the main point of 1 Corinthians “was that the marks of difference between the sexes should not be set aside in worship.” Worship is an important part of the new creation and it needs to have order to reflect that. It is not about women in leadership per se.

    In regard to 1 Timothy 2, Wright acknowledges this is the main passage people quote to justify that women should not be teachers or leaders and should not hold authority over men. However, the key to the passage, Wright says, “is to recognise that it is commanding that women, too, should be allowed to study and learn, and should not be restrained from doing so (verse 11).” Being in full submission to the gospel, which is a submission not in reference to men. Then Wright goes on to explain these passages and particularly references the culture in Ephesus at the time. In specific reference to the female only Artemis cult, Wright concludes that Paul was saying women should not try to seize control of a gathering, as they do in the Artemis cult. But, as in Luke 10, women “must have the space and leisure to study and learn in their own way … so that men and women alike can develop whatever gifts of learning, teaching and leadership God is giving them.”

    In summary, Wright thinks we have “seriously misread the relevant passages … through a long process of assumption, tradition, and all kinds of biblical and post-biblical attitudes that have crept into Christianity.” Anyway, fellow blog readers, have a read of Wright’s treatise. It is worth putting in the mix here I think.

  21. Briefly, a few points.

    First, Karen, thank you for your contribution but can I point out that you seemed to have missed what I have been saying if you think you are the only voice supporting an egalitarian view!

    Ray and John, please please do not lump together the egalitarian view on women with an acceptance of sexual immorality. To do so misrepresents the many evangelicals who are egalitarian and who are completely opposed to liberal views on same sex marriage – NT Wright (who Andrew refers to above) being a great example. You might be surprised that many evangelicals outside your own circles hold an egalitarian view.

    It is true that those who are liberal have more readily accepted women into ministry without serious engagement with the Bible but it’s simply not true that if someone, like me, who believes in the inerrancy and authority of Scripture holds an egalitarian view that we are on some sort of ‘slippery slope’. My own denomination, the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, allows female elders and is firmly opposed to same sex marriage.

    John, I appreciate that you have the consistency to use the term ‘patriarchy’ but the recent popularisation of the ‘complementarian’ view has come from scholars, not lay people, especially John Piper and Wayne Grudem and therefore the nature of the debate on both side is actually at a theologically academic level.

    Finally, I appreciate the tone of this debate, that we can disagree as brothers in Christ. This is so important. It’s also important to learn from those with whom we disagree. As it happens, I have found much that John Piper says on other subjects immensely helpful (although I disagree with him on baptism). I also find NT Wright helpful but I disagree with some of his other theological thinking. This is the blessing of being part of the Reformation but also the challenge it brings – to have free access to the Bible but also to engage with it on any number of important subjects that affect our life and practice as Christians.

    1. Tom, thanks for your irenic reply. I appreciate your tone and evident faith. You’ll appreciate that those who advocate a radical change from historical Christian beliefs on this issue naturally display greater largesse. Any new kid on the block belief must show beneficence until it becomes the established position then the tone changes with the new dynamic. I am speaking of the general principle not your personal response.

      Karen, I have not found women any less sinful than men when it comes to leadership, nor do I expect to in the future. Those who wield power tend to abuse it; it is an endemic sin that has no gender bias.

      Ray, thanks for your support and helpful comments.

    2. Tom: Not “the only voice supporting an egalitarian view” – but, unless I’m confusing this long thread with a couple of others here I’ve commented on, the only woman. And finding it very off-putting to be discussed over my head by a group of men as though I was a talking animal who may or may not (if sufficiently well-conducted, and if John can hold his nose long enough) be admitted into the house. It’s fortunate I have other reasons for not aspiring to leadership, for who would want to lead – or even feel truly in fellowship with? – people who think you are only a sort of overgrown child in need of a further human intermediary with Christ?

      That God is Himself unchanging is what we all know – but that He changes how He deals with his children is no more surprising than that we do the same with our own as they grow. I’m sure male circumcision seemed as Scripturally founded and important to the first Apostles as our current positions do to us; yet even the Spirit’s decisive intervention didn’t silence the resistance to change for years afterwards. The opposite error, of wrongful innovation, is only more obviously a risk. May the Spirit bring the Lord’s chosen outcomes in His good time, as He did then, and despite our (hopefully well-meant) mistakes along the Way.

      John: I didn’t say that women leaders don’t sin – only that their sin, in my small experience, has not been pride of office or authoritarianism. Not growing up with power and status and the display of loud overconfidence as the markers of success – indeed quite the opposite, as young women and girls are strongly sanctioned for those behaviours – may only mean we take longer to fall into temptation, or succumb to that lovely Twitter word the “humblebrag”. But if we are happy to admit sinful men to office (otherwise we should have no leaders at all!) the women should not be treated as though the Church still thought our female bodies intrinsically more “unclean” (and uncleansable even by Christ?) than a forgiven man’s.

      Thank you all for bearing with me in this conversation.

  22. Hello Pastor

    I have a question that has been bothering me a lot lately and I’d appreciate your input.

    I agree with the Biblical position that women should not be pastors or elders in the Church. I also feel the husband should be the head of his household.

    What about in the workplace? Is it good to have a woman as manager over a mixed team (with the majority being men)? What is the Christian ideal?

    Many thanks. Christ bless you and your work.

    1. Thanks….There is no problem at all biblically in having a woman as a leader in many spheres of life. The Bible does not say that women are to be excluded from all leadership – but does teach that in the eldership of the church it should be men only.

      1. I would in all seriousness like to ask how biblical and consistent is it to have female leaders ruling over men in other spheres of life but not in the church? Doesn’t the rule of Christ and its principles extend over all of life? I think of Abraham Kuyper who said “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!” (Quote from Kuyper’s inaugural address at the dedication of the Free University. Found in Abraham Kuyper: A Centennial Reader, ed. James D. Bratt (Eerdmans, 1998), 488).
        I also noticed that John Piper among others believes strongly that this biblical rule of male headship extends to other spheres of life i.e. that women should not be appointed or rule over men in the workplace.
        Adam and Eve was not in a church but under the theocracy of God where He clearly ruled over all spheres and gave the couple their cultural mandate.
        Christ also came to heal and restore and I believe that accounts for gender relationships, marriage and other spheres of life. Obviously no unbeliever – and unfortunately not even all Christians – understand and accept that yet.

        Let’s look at a likely example: A male and female teaches together in a school. The two fall in love as things go, they get married and they continue to teach at the school. Because of her longer service or some other criteria she becomes the principal (I shall at the moment steer away from the titles “head mistress” or “school mistress” since I might end up with a load of burning coals on my head but it is interesting how few quite of them prefer the male title – especially when it comes to be the mayor or alderman of the town or city).
        Obviously he submits to her authority. Now what happens in that household? We can argue that he is the head of the household but we cannot ignore that some issues at the workplace carry over or have direct or indirect influence on the household. And what influence does their parents peculiar situation have on them and their upbringing? Also if the children hear at church that the man must the the head and the wife to submit to him?
        I saw that clearly in a situation where the wife was the minister of the church and the husband one of the deacons. (They got married after she was ordained). At times she was embarrassed and he quite often inferior – especially if somebody would ask how she reconciled her position as reverend with biblical teaching that men only should lead the congregation. She said at times he is the head of the household but one didn’t have to look even too closely to see that the reality was different from what she pronounced.

        And what will the school couple do if she is transferred to another school to be principal over there?
        I also witnessed another couple – the wife was also a minister for a few years in her first job in a Reformed church and her husband a highly qualified professional at a large well-established company. She saw an advert for a minister in a distant part of the country and applied. She was accepted and so he resigned from his work and they moved. They arrived starry-eyed and received an emotional welcome, her parents crying there in the service because of their daughter being appointed in what they perceived to be a better and well-established and richer congregation, etc. than the one she came from.
        The husband started to look for job and at long last got a job in a different industry in another town about 90 minute’s drive away where he was at least able to apply some of his skills. He didn’t work there very long and then started something else by working from the manse. About 18 months later she made a teary announcement in the morning service they would be getting a divorce – and stressed that there was no affair. It was just something personal.
        He was not in the service, and also never again after that announcement. They didn’t have any children. He inquired at his old workplace and they were happy to have him back – so he moved back to his old job.
        The whole thing caused an upheaval among the congregational leadership and the matter went to the district’s presbytery where she was eventually allowed to remain and continue her work as a minister of the congregation. The other one is a young male straight from seminary who arrived after the lady minister. I would rather not expand here how the senior minister who has been in his post for many years had been removed – one reason leading to it was his view from Scripture that her divorce disqualifies her to be in the ministry (though he is not against women being in ministry).
        Now that the senior minister is out of the way it seems that the divorced female minster would become the new senior minister. The leadership body still have to decide whether they are going to replace the senior minister – but the number of church members and dwindled over time and it is now a real open question if they would replace the senior minister.
        So that is another real-life story of a case where the husband who seemed to be equal to his wife in position (egalitarian), or under his wife followed her so she can pursue her dream and career.

        So the way I see things at the moment my question remains whether is biblical and consistent for women to be in authority over men in the workplace and other spheres in life?

      2. Yes – it is consistent for women to be in charge of men…..leadership in the church is not because of ability or superiority!

      3. Thanks for your comment, J. Cilliers. It illustrates somewhat my thinking when I posed my initial question to Pastor David.

        I am still genuinely uncomfortable in my conscience about having female managers “domineering” over males in the workplace but I am not sure if that is coloured by my own prejudices and experiences or if it is the Spirit pricking my conscience. After all, this is still a relatively new phenomenon that has only come about in the past 40 years ir so in western industrial culture.

      4. In my old Civil Service job, it was considered unethical, and always involved one partner moving, to have one partner in a relationship as the line manager of the other. It was a sound principle, and one that should be more often practised, regardless of the sex or legal status of the participants.
        As to female ministry: the fact is that, if Jesus Himself had been a woman, we’d have never heard of him. It would have taken a greater miracle than the Incarnation itself to get past the simple social facts of fallen society, and the Atonement itself would have been forever suspect if not carried out by a man. That is not something humanity should be proud of – or the fact that male headship and monarchical government have been so grossly abused since that the Bible’s chief metaphors for the role of Christ are effectively incomprehensible to the modern reader.
        May the Spirit inspire us to overcome these obstacles and make the Good News clear to our own generation.

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