Why I’m Not Ashamed of Different Gender Roles in the Church

God doesn’t make mistakes.

When He said, “It is not good that the man should be alone” (Gen. 2:18), He was not saying “Whoopsie daisy!” Instead, He was teaching that a genderless world is not good. To highlight this, God commanded Adam to name every creature in an effort to teach Adam that no animal had the capacity to worship God with him, serve God with him, or bring him the companionship that only an equal could.

Then God gave Adam a helper perfectly suited for Him. The King James Version calls her a “help meet.” She was equal to Adam, but different in role and function. She perfectly complemented him in a way that mirrored both the equality and functional diversity of the three-in-oneness of God.

They were given a mission bigger than themselves: to be fruitful and fill the earth (Gen. 1:28). Adam named his wife “Eve,” which means giver of life (Gen. 4:20). The act of naming someone is a demonstration of headship. Even after they both believed Satan’s lies and sinned, thus losing rights to the Garden of Eden, Adam’s headship over her remained (Gen. 3:16). Together they continued to model the equality and submission of the members of the Trinity.

Just as aloneness wasn’t good in the garden, it isn’t good in the church. A church without gender is just as incomplete as the Garden of Eden without gender. The church today is part of something bigger than itself; it is commanded to multiply and fill the earth with disciples (Matt. 28:19-20). The fact that women, in particular, are commanded to teach the younger women how to be givers of life in both the home and the church (Titus 2:4-5) makes this, in a way, woman-specific. Women can do things that no man can.

Jesus Gave Legitimacy to Women During His Ministry

Jesus teaches us something in how He recognized the inherent equality of women and men, in how He ministered to women, and in the dignity with which He treated them in His ministry. He impartially addressed women directly when in public (John 4:7-26; Luke 7:12-13; 8:48; 11:27-28; 13:12; 23:27-31), which was culturally unusual for a man to do (John 4:27).

As Jesus went through cities and villages proclaiming the good news about the Kingdom, the disciples were with Him, “and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities […] who provided for them out of their means” (Luke 8:2-3). Women served alongside Jesus, even at the cross, for “there were also many women there, looking on from a distance, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to Him” (Matt. 27:55).

God chose to give women crucial roles in the resurrection accounts, despite the fact that in Christ’s day, women were not considered reliable witnesses. Josephus warned, for example, “But let not the testimony of women be admitted, on account of the levity and boldness of their sex.”[1] Yet, it was the women who loved Jesus who came to the tomb to anoint and pay respects to His body, only to discover He was missing. They were the first to hear the good news, “He is risen!” (Matt. 28:5-8; Mark 16:5-8; Luke 24:2-12; John 20:1-2). Jesus then appeared to these women before anyone else, saying “Greetings!” and “Go and tell” (Matt. 28:9-10). They faithfully reported what they saw to the disciples, and no doubt continued to tell others for years to follow.

Jesus Recognized Gender Role Distinctions

We should point out that Jesus was not afraid of breaking social customs when He felt it necessary. Against custom (to put it mildly), He publicly condemned many of the Jewish leaders (Matt. 23:13-36), healed on the Sabbath (Mark 1:21-27; Luke 13:14; John 5:8-10), and cleansed the temple (Matt. 21:12-13; John 2:14-17). Against custom, He spoke with women (John 4:7-9), ate with dishonorable people (Matt. 9:11), and even ate with unwashed hands (Mark 7:1-23). Notice when moral issues were at stake, Jesus did not bend to societal pressure.

But Jesus did not appoint any women to be apostles, nor did He choose any women to pen the New Testament Scriptures. Many of the apostles had wives (1 Cor. 9:5) – could not Jesus just have easily appointed them to the position alongside their husbands? It wouldn’t have necessarily been culturally taboo to do so, as both Jewish and Gentile societies occasionally allowed for women leadership (Judges 4-5; 2 Kings 11:3; Acts 17:4, 12). Yet Jesus still had role distinctions in mind when selecting His apostles, and the same is true today when selecting elders in His church.

Not long after His church was established, a problem arose regarding the neglect of a select group of women (Acts 6:1). Plenty of women were numbered among the Christians in that day (Acts 1:14; 5:1, 14). Yet the church was told to select seven qualified men (andras, Acts 6:3), which meant this choice of men to serve in this capacity (presumably deacons) was deliberate.

Regardless of gender, Jesus recognized the intrinsic equality of men and women. He valued their fellowship, prayers, worship, testimony, and financial support. There are no gender barriers between a believer and Jesus Christ. Yet we can also see in Christ’s choice of apostles, writers of the New Testament, and other leadership roles a pattern of male leadership.

The Church Needs Men & Women Who Treasure Their God-Given Gender Roles

Women play such an important function within the body of Christ. There are hundreds and thousands of ways the strength of the church depends on the work and devotion of women. But the devil’s strategy remains the same: “Did God really say you cannot hold a leadership office in the church?” The enemy always downplays the bountiful forest of trees in the Garden to focus on just one. Eating what God has forbidden will never make us like God; it can only separate us from Him.

The leadership of the church is to reflect the created order. “For Adam was formed first, then Eve” (1 Tim. 2:13). Walking with God by faith means submitting to the fact that the Bible only allows for men to hold authoritative leadership offices – preachers, elders, deacons – in the church (1 Tim. 2:8-15; 1 Cor. 14:34-36; 11:2-16). In our day, this is culturally preposterous. But by the grace of God, we will trust God’s commands and celebrate the God-given treasure of complementary gender roles.

It is tempting to give in to the world’s pressure and wave a rebellious, “women can do anything men can do” fist at God. This attitude can only lead to spiritual death. However, the attitude of humble submission to God’s plan of gender roles will lead to salvation (1 Tim. 2:15).

Your comments are welcome and encouraged, even if they are in disagreement. However, please keep your comments relevant to the article. For my full comment policy, click here.

[1] Josephus, Antiquities iv. 8. 15.

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