25 November 2012

The place of women

Here are some brief comments on ten points from a magazine article. All of these points aim to keep women in a subsidiary role in church life. We look at them to see if they are justifiable and if not, why not.

Adam and Eve
Charisma Magazine has produced a list of  'ten lies the church tells women'.

This sounds very alarming and 'lie' is a strong and emotive word. Are they right, is it true? Let's take a look at the list item by item and consider it.

The ten points are certainly worth pondering. Are they deliberate lies, are they perfectly reasonable ideas, or are they just careless and unthinking remarks?

I'll comment briefly on each item as we go through the list, but I strongly recommend taking a look at the original article where further arguments are provided. Here, then, are the ten points.

God’s ultimate plan for women is that they serve their husbands - I'm not sure how widely this is taught, but it's clearly not correct as it stands. If we are to serve anyone it is first Jesus and secondly one another.

Women can’t be fulfilled or spiritually effective without a husband - I'm inclined to say, 'Let them be the judge of that!' Paul suggests we might prefer to stay single so we can focus more fully on living for Christ (1 Corinthians 7:34), so it's preposterous to suggest that spiritual effectiveness depends on marriage.

Women shouldn’t work outside the home - So... no female nurses, or teachers? Lydia worked as a fabric trader and hosted Paul and his fellow travellers in her home (Acts 16:14-15).

Women must obediently submit to their husbands in all situations - All situations? Really? What if the husband requires her to renounce Christ? We are probably all familiar with Ephesians 5:21-33, but notice that Paul begins by saying we should submit to one another and ends by stressing love and respect. Does 'do what I say' really equate with love, respect and mutual submission?

A man needs to “cover” a woman in her ministry activities - The whole idea of 'ministry activities' is suspect - for both men and women. We live to serve Christ in everything we do and say and think. We dare not think in terms of ministry and non-ministry activities. Anna is a good example of a woman without a man to 'cover' her (Luke 2:36-38).

A woman should view her husband as the 'priest of the home' - Are we not all priests? Peter says that all who believe are a royal priesthood. (1 Peter 2:5, 1 Peter 2:9-10)

Women are not equipped to assume leadership roles - Junia was 'outstanding among the apostles' according to Paul (Romans 16:7). (Despite some attempts to argue the contrary, Junia is a female name.) Phoebe was a deacon (Romans 16:1), Priscilla was a 'fellow worker' (Romans 16:3)

Women must not teach or preach to men in a church setting - Paul writes that women are to remain silent (1 Corinthians 14:34), but he also writes that the brothers and sisters (implied, eg NIV) should each speak or sing (1 Corinthians 14:26). Whatever he means, it's much too simplistic to regard it as a blanket ban on women speaking. It's necessary to dig deeper than that.

Women are more easily deceived than men - There is no biblical basis for this idea. None. Genesis 3 is often offered as proof, where Eve says that the evil one 'deceived me, and I ate' (Genesis 3:13). But this is, frankly, a cop out. Adam also heard the temptation and ate so he was equally deceived.

Women who exhibit strong leadership qualities have a 'spirit of Jezebel' - This one is just made up. There is no suggestion of anything like this in the New Testament, no support for the idea at all. It seems to me to be both hurtful and offensive, a criticism that is sometimes wielded like a weapon.

There is, perhaps, just one more thing to say; and it's a warning. Be very careful about creating obstacles! (Romans 16:17-19) Let us be both wise and innocent.

May the Father and the Son through the power of the Spirit lead us into all truth and build us into the church, his Bride, pure and complete and perfect in every way. May we so love and encourage one another in everything we do that the world will see his nature represented in us. May the body be one just as the Father and the Son and the Spirit are one. In Jesus name, amen.

Questions:

  • What did Paul mean when he wrote 'there is neither male nor female'? (Galatians 3:26-28)
  • If you are a man, should you insist on these ten points? If you are a woman, should you listen?
  • Gentleness, love, peace, kindness and patience are part of the fruit of the Spirit. Are these evident in the ten points? If so, how? (Galatians 5:22-26)
  • Truth, authority, service and submission are not part of the fruit. Why not?

See also:

2 comments:

  1. The world says walk away from an abusive husband. The church says stay with him and keep on forgiving him and allow God to use the experience to refine you into the person you should be so you can be the best wife that you can be.

    You are to do what you are told when you are told how you are told no questions asked. If he says disinfect a roof tile or a wheelbarrow then you do it. If he says do not touch the papers he put on the settee then you do not touch them you let them sit there year after year.

    I am not the only one who suffered in this way.I have seen someone in tears after being given a telling off by the church leadership for disobeying her husband. Her crime. She had food in the freezer and refused to switch it off when her husband told her to. What was worse was that at the time her husband was detained in hospital under the mental health act. The church found out after someone told her mother in law about the situation and the mother in law had complained to the church leadership about her terrible daughter in law. When the hospital staff found out they laughed at the church saying that their patient could not make a sensible decision to save his own life so why should his wife be submissive to him.

    The church leadership's idea was that if only they could get a wife to become all that she should be then her husband would seek the counsel of the church to sort himself out. Great theory but an abused wife is allowing herself to be abused because she does not value herself and encouraging her to submit can further damage her sense of self-worth. On top of that blaming her for her husband not seeking help further reduces her sense of self-worth so it becomes a self-defeating cycle.

    Yet God in his mercy can encourage the abusive unbelieving husband to murder the relationship by divorce rather than allowing the marriage to continue. Thankfully not all churches look on divorce in horror. Some are realistic enough to see divorce in such circumstances as an answer to prayer for the protection of one of their own. Far better to murder the relationship than the wife. After all Matthew says it is only humans who are not to pull apart a marriage. Sometimes God arranges circumstances that bring a marriage to an end if the horror of divorce is genuinely the best thing for one of His children.

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  2. Hi Lily, divorce is hopefully a last resort, and there is guidance in the New Testament about it. But hopefully, where both the wife and the husband are willing, it's possible to rescue the situation.

    We are called to respect one another and to be humble. In other words we must always put the other person's needs ahead of our own. That's not just in marriage, that's the standard Jesus calls us to in every part of our lives, in and beyond the church. That sort of respect and humility is clearly missing in the situations you shared in your comment.

    If a husband or a wife is wilfully putting the other partner in danger or treating them unkindly, the first need is for safety (getting people out of harm's way) followed quickly by practical help, advice and prayer.

    Helping people going through this sort of distress isn't easy, but it is necessary and worth it. It means listening (not just giving advice) it means getting alongside, understanding, encouraging, praying, reassuring and persevering. It may take a lot of time.

    But if no believing friends can be found to come close and sacrificially pour out their own lives to help, it's more likely that the marriage will fail. It's worth mentioning that dealing with problems early on is far better and more helpful than waiting until the trouble is deep and has a long history.

    As brothers and sisters in Christ we should all have people around us we can turn to. I know this isn't always the case, but that's a failure of church life. The best people to help are usually close friends who have already proved trustworthy, wise and caring. If these are hard to find in church, then church itself is thoroughly unwell and needs healing.



    None of the things I have written should permit abusive behaviour to go unchallenged. And obviously I can't advise on specific, individual cases; local help is always best if the right kind of friends can be found.


    My prayer is that anyone (wife or husband) who is going through abuse or distress will find peace, comfort and joy in Papa. He's wiser than anyone else and he does hear when we call out to him.


    Grace and peace to you Lily, and thanks for leaving a comment.

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