There are some biblical aspects about the role of men & women in the church being vigorously debated. While we welcome dialogue on this topic, we owe it to one another to define the source of authority that shapes our beliefs. In short, how do we respond when the world around us stands in sharp contrast to the Word of God? Why raise the issue? My deepest anxiety as I write this is that some women will take it personally, dismissing it as another chauvinist put-down. As a counselor, I recognize there are festering wounds among us and possibly unjust suppression in some homes. I can only say it is not in my heart to add to those hurts. To do so unnecessarily would sit heavily on my conscience. So why raise the issue?
I believe in Bible truth. It is what brought me to this church. I base my convictions on the revealed mind of God rather than the concealed motives of man. This is the path to joy and peace (Psalms 16:11).
Departure from truth carries serious danger in both belief and behavior. I confess that when I began this study in 1994, I did not realize how much was at stake. It is permanently fastened to our view of the authority of Scripture.
I am genuinely concerned that some churches and conferences seem determined to press ahead with this issue, despite the formal expression of will from the world church. Where can we be headed when Conference & Union leaders no longer respect an action taken by the General Conference in formal session? To defy the world church and institute what seems like oncoming congregationalism is a bold (and ominous) new step.
Our identity The Seventh-day Adventist Church is no ordinary body. It is a movement called to prepare a dying world for the soon coming of Jesus. In the words of Paul, this is a mystery, but it is also a reality. God is calling a people together who want to know Him and will walk where He walks. We have long been called the “People of the Book.” Therein lies our identity and our safe conduct as we navigate through a spiritual-war-torn world.
How did we get here? The Adventist movement began with a special emphasis on something in which we believed strongly, for God Himself gave it to us. Our movement was first informal; highly person-oriented, and convinced that the prevailing religion around us was missing these special elements of biblical truth. At first despised and ridiculed we attracted a following based on our God-given scriptural identity. Under God’s blessing, the church grew. After many years, organizational diversity was paralleled by a call for doctrinal diversity--theological confusion ensued in some circles. Time went on.
Today, increasing numbers of members think of themselves as Adventists by heritage or tradition rather than by conviction. Hence they feel free to shop cafeteria-style among the beliefs & practices of the church, assembling for themselves a suitable selection. True to postmodern values they find that their demand to be regarded as equivalent as anyone else–is reinforced in the currents of the wider society. Thus they begin adopting the world’s values in lieu of biblical values. The organized church now becomes challenged. And following post-modernist norms (with regard to organizations) it is regarded as oppressive--enter feminism.
Feminism in the church For some 30-years, a liberal political element in the church has been pushing for the ordination of women, under the premise of equality. For many, the promotion of this agenda is a result of perpetual hydrostatic pressure from the world around us. Admirably, the majority has resisted the intrusion of evangelical feminism because of a love for and a commitment to the Word of God which plainly states that leadership is male. As the feminist agenda keeps pushing, it’s time to look at some biblical principles.
Creation Genesis 1 represents a vertical line. Both man and woman are responsible to God. This is vertical equality (spiritual) in God’s sight. Man & woman are the same in the economy of salvation. Genesis 2 is a horizontal line (a co-ordination). Here is the basis of inequality of role and responsibility. Man directs the partnership, and woman defers to his leadership. Here, man is linked to God and woman to man (an association that follows throughout the Bible). This is the basis of cooperation, and millions of men & women in the Advent Movement peacefully demonstrate this principle. For them I am grateful.
What does the Bible say about male & female roles in the church? The Scriptures forbid a woman to didasko a man (1 Timothy 2:12). The same Scriptures call for women to didasko younger women (Titus 2). Paul calls on Timothy to commit the gospel truths to other men so that they might didasko others (2 Timothy 2:2). The church of Thyatira is signally rebuked for allowing a “woman Jezebel” to didasko and seduce God’s servants (Revelation 2:20). A bishop or elder must be the husband of one wife and able to didasko (1 Timothy 3:2). Peter and the apostles continually didasko’d in the temple and in every home (Acts 5:42).
Men and women each have a unique sphere of ministry that compliments each other. One of the greatest wants of our world is Godly men who will lead as Jesus did. Yet there is a growing number of passive men in our world, and this harms women by thrusting them into roles they weren’t designed for. When men fulfill their roles as spiritual leader in the home, women are encouraged and blessed. The same goes for the church.
1 Timothy 2 is probably the most offensive passage to the feminist woman because it imposes limits on their public ministry and perpetuates male-leadership in the church. Several Pauline passages have become fashionable to be referred to as "problem passages" because they run counter to modern sensibilities. It should be noted, that they are only a problem to those who have different understandings, whatever the reason.
There are three prevailing attitudes that Bible students adopt towards these passages and others regarding the roles on men and women.
- Paul was wrong then, and he is wrong now. That is, he was sincerely mistaken in his views. Progressives/liberals normally pursue this line.
- Paul was right then, but he is wrong now. This is the culturally-conditioned argument.
- Paul was right then, and he is right now. That is, he was divinely inspired to set standards for all the churches down through "the last days." I believe this is the Bible’s position.
Galatians 3:28 is a favorite passage cited by people pressing for change in male/female role definitions. Unfortunately, it is being used out of context. This whole letter deals with two dangers in Galatia:
- Building faith on the Law of Moses rather than the promise of Abraham.
- Second, interpreting liberty of the Spirit as license for the flesh.
The theme is the inheritance of the blessing promised to Abraham and his “seed.” It could not be inherited by a slave or a girl or a Gentile. Jesus fulfills the conditions and is the obvious son and “Heir.” How then can anyone else share in this inheritance and blessing? The answer is simple.
By total identification with Christ anyone can claim the inheritance!! Through faith in Jesus a person is baptized into Him, crucified with him (2:20) is clothed with Him, is in Him, and belongs to Him (verse 29; Galatians 4:5).
Because all are sons, all are heirs, which daughters could never be (3:29). So in Christ, there is neither Jew nor Greek, only Jew; neither slave nor free, only free; not male and female, only male.
If this verse is lifted out of its inheritance context and taken to abolish all sexual differences (neutered in Christ), it would contradict Paul’s teachings on homosexual relations (Romans 1-24-27; 1 Corinthians 6:9), on the duties of husbands and wives (Colossians 3:18-19; Ephesians 5:22-23), on slaves’ attitude to their masters (Ephesians 6:5-9; Colossians 3:23–4:1) and in particular his qualifications of women’s ministry in the church (1 Corinthians 11:3-16; 14:33-38; 1 Timothy 2:11-14).
Accusing Paul of such inconsistency is a grave charge, with implications for the inspiration of the whole Scripture as well as his personal Christian integrity. To enlarge one verse of Scripture into a social or ecclesiastical manifesto is unwarranted and misleading, particularly in view of Paul’s specific teaching on the subject. “Christian Feminists” have hailed this statement in Galatians as the epitome of their inspiration—and hated Paul for almost everything else he said on the subject!
Solutions for Leadership For men, more training needs to be given. The answer to the present confusion regarding ordaining women is not to weaken the woman’s contribution but to strengthen the men’s. Local churches must give top priority to evangelizing and discipling men as Jesus did. It is better to teach a man to lead his wife and family than to provide women’s meetings and youth clubs to compensate for a godless father. The Word tells us where to go. Godly wisdom tells us how to get there.
Blurring the Lines It takes little imagination to see how the enemy is warring against biblical role distinctions. This war affects marriages, homes, the church, and ultimately the whole world. Last week, when the U.S. President gave his support to homosexual marriage, the assault line of gender confusion advanced still further. Should these gender revisions prevail (ecclesiastical feminism and homosexual capitulation), the character of the church will be almost entirely redefined, leaving little beyond a lingering sentiment to tie us to the authority of Scripture.
Summary What looks like a simple difference over the interpretation of Scripture easily slips into a subtle debate about its authority. And behind it all, the very nature of the Godhead is being questioned. Men and women have been given the answer to a mystery. As in Ephesians 5, the sacrificial love of the husband, and the submission of the wife illustrate to a watching world what God is like. It is a mystery made known to all. Any disruption in these roles and relations result in a witness lost and a mystery stolen.
Let us firmly reject the world’s counterfeit of cultural competition, and joyfully demonstrate the Word’s standard of cooperation. We have found peace in an un-peaceful world, and it is not of this world.