Some of the most popular Christian books right now seem to equate being a faithful Christian with being a certain kind of man or a certain kind of woman.
Through countless sermons, TV and radio programs, devotionals, articles, best-sellers, podcasts, and blog posts, evangelical Christians are being told that the Bible requires them to conform to gender roles of male headship and female subordination. Many evangelicals have heard this teaching so many times and in so many ways, they’re shocked to learn that the words “role,” “headship,” and “subordination” do not even occur in the Bible. Is there any biblical basis for making gender roles a key component in Christian discipleship?
In the passage known as the Great Commission, Jesus tells his followers to “go and make disciples of all nations.” Jesus explains that the process of discipleship involves two components: “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” and “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19–20).
Key passages about baptism like Galatians 3:26–29 emphasize that believers receive a new identity in Christ. Rather than reinforcing gender-based hierarchy and division, this new identity frees men and women—in all our diversity—to live in unity with one another.
Key passages about Jesus’ commands, such as his parables, sermons, and teachings, never mandate—or even mention—hierarchical gender roles. Instead, Jesus discourages his disciples from seeking higher rank and challenges them to follow his example of humble service. He challenged the views of cultural and religious leaders in his day by sending women to preach the good news that he is the Messiah (John 4:28–30, 39–41) and that he has risen from the dead (John 20:17–18).
If there isn’t a biblical basis for hierarchical gender roles in Christian discipleship, then what should Christians look for in role models? The Bible encourages us to follow the examples of people whose character and actions are faithful to their identity in Christ. For example, Paul instructs the brothers and sisters in Corinth to “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). And, after celebrating examples of heroes of faith—both men and women—in Hebrews chapter 11, believers are urged to “Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith” (Heb. 13:7).
Instead of seeking a certain kind of masculinity or femininity as evidence of faith, Paul urges all believers to “eagerly desire the greater gifts” (1 Cor. 12:31) such as prophecy and preaching, and to bear the fruit of the Spirit such as “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Gal. 5:22–23).
In this issue of Mutuality, authors explore how role models can help people transition from conforming to gender-based roles to living out the equality we all share in Christ. They offer concrete examples of how role models can make a difference, and challenge us to take on the responsibility of being good role models. They show that there’s more to being a faithful Christian than just being a certain kind of man or a certain kind of woman