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Role of Women

I thought I was just about done with this topic after commenting on <a href="textual issues, but there have been some additional comments that called attention to some additional information. Molly commented and through her comment I found her very thoughtful entry Jesus/Women: Equal Worth, Unequal Role (?), and her link to another thoughtful article, On being “Equal in Being, Unequal in Role”. The second article looks particularly at doctrinal issues related to the trinity. There seems to be at lest some case that complementarians are abandoning an orthodox view of the trinity in order to support their theology on male and female roles. That’s way out of my stomping ground, so I just suggest you read the articles if you’re interested.

What came to my mind as I looked at this was a practical question. We have numerous posts dealing with theological and doctrinal issues and many more discussing exegetical issues in numerous passages, but what about simply observing the church and women’s ministry today? By asking this I’m not suggesting that we abandon the scriptures and all doctrinal statements and just take a practical look. Rather, I accept the particular interpretation of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral that calls for examination of doctrine in the light of scripture, tradition, experience, and reason. (There are similar views in a number of traditions.) I do this under the conviction that there is certainly an opening for women in ministry in scripture, and that the tradition of the church has often placed women in positions of authority, though less often than men.

Let me start from a very secular point. Placing people in roles for which they are not suited, or for which they are not gifted can produce dangerous results in any organization. Managers who are not capable of delegating, disorganized administrators, teachers who know their subject but cannot communicate, and so forth. Being put in a position which one cannot properly fill results in fear, feelings of incapacity, and in responses such as over-control, or complete lack of control. Basically putting people in roles for which they are not gifted produces bad results.

Now complementarians might think this sort of argument leads straight to their position–women are not gifted to lead men, some suggest, so you produce bad results by putting them in a position for which God did not design them. But if you will allow observation to overcome prejudice, you might see a somewhat different picture. I call myself egalitarian not because I think men and women are alike, but because I think we have to start from an equal position in evaluating who we are and what we do best. Men and women each, individually, have different gifts. Following the pattern of 1 Corinthians 12, would it not be best to discover each body-member’s gifts and put them in a position that puts those to use? If God has not ordained that women should lead, surely we would find that there are no women gifted for leadership in the church. If God has not ordained women to teach men, surely their gift of teaching will be found to be inadequate to the task. If God has not ordained that women be pastors, surely we will not find the pastoral gifts in any women.

Now be careful when you do your observation that you actually look at the gifts and performance of those you observe. It’s quite easy to find women in positions of authority who are lousy managers, teachers, pastors, or whatever. If you are determined to discover that women, as a group, can’t do such jobs, you will count the negatives, and never give credit to the positives. You may also ignore all the men who have similar problems. Besides the numerous examples of women who exercised leadership in Biblical times, we have numerous examples of women in the modern church.

If, on the other hand, you believe that even though women have the gifts, they are not supposed to use them, then I suggest you go back first to the doctrine of creation and consider whether you are not saying that God improperly planned the world by providing gifts and then planning for their use to be frustrated, then go to Pentecost, and consider whether God erred in giving out the Holy Spirit as he wills.

I would suggest that we, as a church, do severe damage to relationships both in the church and in our homes by teaching doctrinally that people should take particular roles based on gender, when the individuals concerned clearly do not have the right gifts for those roles. Some people think that the man must have control of the finances in the family. My mother always kept the checkbook and the accounts, and handed cash to my dad. In my own household we have divided it up, with my wife doing our personal finances and me doing our business finances. To hear some people teach both these households violate God’s ordained order. I think they are 100% in line with it.

I would go so far as to suggest further that this forcing of roles can result in abusive relationships as people become frustrated with a perceived moral imperative to be someone they are not. A man who shares leadership with his wife according to their gifts may be seen as less than fully masculine. On that basis, one might surely see me that way when my wife and I are setting up a book display for our business. She gives the orders, and I carry the stuff. Why? She’s good at organizing such a thing and I’m not. When teaching we share equally. Why? Because I teach theory better, and she makes practical applications more effectively. Feedback from numerous classes proves this.

The Holy Spirit gives gifts as he wills. Perhaps we should simply observe and go along.

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  1. I think you’re right on target, especially with the issue of assigning roles to people based on their gifts (and not necessarily what tradition dicates or even the “need of the hour” demands). In our church (and I’m not sure if this problem arises more so in smaller churches than in large ones), roles are sometimes assigned based on needs and not gifts. That often ends up in burnout and frustration. On the other hand, ministries have to go on, the church has to be maintained, the musicians have to play, and so on.

    In an ideal world, we would all be serving with our gifts and passion. Maybe there’s a happy medium somewhere.

  2. My mother always kept the checkbook and the accounts, and handed cash to my dad

    That’s precisely the arrangement my lady and I have. Because I’m crap with money and she’s good at figures. On the other hand I do most of the family driving, an arrangement we’re both happy with. The ‘traditional’ ideas of masculinity and femininity

  3. Thanks for the link. 🙂 I agree with you…if this teaching is wrong, it is doing untold damage as people try and fit into “roles” that they are not designed to occupy.

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