By Ashley Smith
One morning, I got in my car and drove from Richmond, VA to D.C. I was newly married to a pastor and almost finished with my seminary education. I was so excited to meet up with some college girlfriends who had recently moved to the area and like me had hopes of changing the world!
We quickly jumped into easy conversation, remembering old times and catching up on all that we had missed in the last few years. We covered love, travel, politics, and eventually got around to the church. One of the young women passionately stated,
“The Church is the only place where women are not Equal!”
The statement shocked me, but also made me stop and think. My friend was really saying that because the church limits the opportunities for women in leadership and teaching, women are not equal in value to men in the church. I happen to disagree with her.
And, even though I disagree, primarily because of theological reasons, I can truly empathize with her feelings and understand her concerns. She actually had some good questions and raised the issue that many people wonder about. When younger generations consider the church and God, they are looking to several major issues, one of which is the role of women.
Interestingly, some of the passages women find most offensive, actually bring women great value when interpreted correctly. Let’s just consider 2 verses:
I Corinthians 11:3-16 addresses head coverings for women in the church. Even though most churches do not practice the custom of wearing headdresses in worship services, the content of the passage still comes under scrutiny. Many women, unsure what this passage means, become highly offended. It is important to study these verses to understand Paul (and the Holy Spirit’s) meaning! My purpose today is not to give a complete exegesis of these verses, but to point out one significant-and often overlooked-intent of this passage.
In this section on the order of worship in the church, the Apostle Paul was emphasizing the importance of distinguishing the roles between men and women when they come to church. In other words, I think he meant, when men come to church, it is important that they look and act like men and when women come to church, it is important that they look and act like women.
Let me say clearly that I believe the Bible. I believe the Bible when in Genesis 1: 27 it says that “God created man in His own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female He created them.” All of us, men and women are to display the image of God. Men can’t do this alone and women can’t do this alone. This is one of the beautiful things about the church. Men and women coming together in worship and unity show the world a more complete picture of who God is than a church full of only men or only women. And, in the family, both a husband and wife are needed to display the message of the Gospel and accurately teach their children about the character and nature of God. Men and women together, in their God-ordained roles reflect the Gospel to the world!
Of course no one is perfect and therefore cannot perfectly reflect the image of God, but it seems clear to me that if both are made in the image of God, both are needed in order to give a fuller witness of who God is. Together, men and women can reflect the triune nature of God in unity, diversity, and plurality. Since God created both, He obviously had a purpose in creating two kinds, not one. And, He clearly had intent for how men and women would function as individuals and as a group.
While it is common and natural for women to wonder why, dwelling on these responses can steal the glory from the real intent of the passage. Women have something unique and valuable to offer when coming to worship in the church.
The message that woman have something significant to bring, and show in church is not degrading but value building! The realization that if I fail to be the woman God intends and refuse to do my part in displaying His Glory in the way that only a woman can, puts healthy pressure on me to obey and set about the difficult and valuable role that only I as a woman can rightly fill. When I truly accept that my family, my church, and my community needs my contribution, not just in a physical way, but in a spiritual way, my value increases.
Along this same line of reasoning, we might also want to consider Titus 2:3-5. Some dislike these verses because of the dreaded clause encouraging older women to teach the younger women to be “subject to their husbands.”
Some get so stuck on this one phrase that they overlook the significance of the larger section. One major responsibility of the church is to provide women with the gender specific kind of training that they want, need, enjoy, and thrive in!!
Although some consider Paul a pig, these verses indicate quite the opposite. He first explains that women ought to have access to teaching and training in the church. He also acknowledges that their teaching and training should be tailored to their special role, calling, and needs. He further identifies that women in the church are best qualified to fill the role of Teacher (to women). And, he finally shows how deeply valuable this woman to woman teaching is when he relates it to the protection of the Word of God in verse 5.
If Paul really were a pig, I seriously doubt he would have encouraged men to make a place for women to not only learn, but learn in a way that was helpful, enjoyable, and applicable to them. And, if Paul truly thought so little of women, than I am sure he would not have identified their behavior and character so closely with the words and plan of God. Paul is not a chauvinist pig who hates women, but an Apostle who taught women to glorify God through their lives.
I know that God is a refuge for women and not just men. I believe that God’s Word is a safe and trustworthy book for women. I am committed to the truth that the church values women. I know the family is blessed by a godly mother who is made in the image of the Creator.
I also know that the church and male leaders can do more to increase the value of women and should make efforts to allow women the opportunities that the Bible allows for. The church and its male leaders should also intentionally teach men how to be better spiritual leaders in the church and home.
If, as a conservative church, we say that we believe women are equal (valuable), yet different, then we still need to decide what we are going to do about it.
In the family…The husband must not use the less tangible ideal of spiritual leadership as an opportunity to overlook the ministry of sacrifice but, instead focus on teaching the Bible requires of godly husbands. And the wife ought to work hard at respecting her husband, supporting his efforts to be a minister in his own home, and searching out ways she can uniquely reflect the image of God.
In the church…The male leaders should limit women based on Scripture not on simple tradition. They should take responsibility for making certain that women are valued and feel valued in the church, and not assume their own feelings of satisfaction extend to the many female members of the congregation. They must also be men of courage who use their leadership role to protect women and families rather than shelter the “good ole boys.” The women, likewise, must value and appreciate their families and spend more time looking for means of ministry than avenues to equality.
In the Christian community… well, more can be done and I believe many are trying. The question is, will you try?