When smart people make valid points on both sides of an issue, it begs the question: Why is the idea of women in leadership so divisive? Why do well-meaning people make it an absolute must?
I will venture to make an educated guess here: I believe it’s the principle of the slippery slope. How can you hold the line on other issues if you are willing to interpret the Bible in such a way that approves of female leaders? The passage quoted most frequently by those against women in church leadership is 1 Timothy 2:11-15:
“11 A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve. 14 And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. 15 But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety”.
If we are to take this as a command without any cultural context, what does this mean for women who never have children? Is Paul really expressing this as the universal principle for all churches for all time? Or, could the key to understanding Paul’s writing come from knowing that it’s a letter to his protégé about how to set up leadership in a specific city (Ephesus)?
That city previously had been pagan and struggled with modesty and the worship of sex. In Ephesus culture it was probably necessary to set up some parameters for women to lead in the church.
Making cultural arguments can make people a little nervous. Still, the Bible was written in a culture with cultural implications. Middle Eastern culture had—and still has—some specific nuances that are different than Western culture. How women were treated and continue to be treated is one of those differences. So, to base our non-negotiable theological positions in places of culture makes it difficult for the teachings to transcend culture.
If we instead take the Bible as a whole and look at how women are treated throughout the scriptures, we begin to get a broader perspective. For example, when we search for our identity in Christ, Galatians 3:28 opens a door to equality in leadership.
“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus”.
This more-encompassing verse seems to transcend culture. And, many other Bible passages support this view.
Jesus elevated women in his ministry. There are times in the Old Testament when a woman was the Judge of Israel. Female deacons appear throughout Acts, the Bible’s account of the early Christian church.
I leave it to you to engage God’s word and to try to discern its meaning. At minimum, though, I believe that the Bible is inconsistent on the role of women in leadership. Given that, I have come to believe the issue should be a non-essential in deciding who we can fellowship with.
About the Author
Kevin Dixon is the Executive Pastor at Journey Church in Brentwood, TN. He is a graduate of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield IL.