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Published Date: July 31, 1989

Published Date: July 31, 1989

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Biblical Equality and Christian Ministry

This material was first presented by the author of Equal to Serve at the November ‘88 meeting of the Twin Cities Chapter of CBE, held at Bethel College.

When speaking to various CBE groups around the country, I have shared two incidents to help put my topics in focus. One is humorous, one sad. Both show how pervasive is the notion of an “appropriate” (but restrictive) role for women.

For the first: When clearing out family papers last year, I came across a 1932 news clipping headlined “Methodist Women Ministers Denied Again.” This was a report of the Methodist General Conference in Atlantic City that refused to accept women ministers as equal with men ministers. The article gave the views of one opponent of women’s equality thus: “Six days out of seven I must listen to a woman preaching in my home. And on the seventh day the Lord said, ‘Thou shalt rest.’ It seems to me that there are things higher and nobler for a woman than gallivanting around filling pulpits.”

Well, in the so-called “mainline” denominations, as far as equal opportunity for ordination is concerned, “You’ve come a long way, baby!” Not so in the Anglican Church. In 1988 I made a second lecture trip to Australia, where ordination of women is a key issue and is tied into the debate on the “proper” role for women. I was also in England at the time of the once-a-decade Lambeth Conference where the “women question” was prominent on the Anglican agenda.

Hence the second incident: Last June, after a lecture I presented at the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity, a man got up in the discussion period and said: “I don’t understand why a woman wants to go into ministry of any sort. Women were created specifically to support men at home, and so women have quite enough to do being wives and mothers.” He gave a lengthy discourse extolling wife and mother as the only possible biblical role for women, totally oblivious to the many single women present, to childless women, widows, or women with grown children. During his remarks, one single woman left, saying, “I just can’t deal any longer with the hurt he’s causing me to feet.”

The issue of role-playing is not confined to England or Australia. In recent years gender role-playing has become an issue championed by the religious right in America. For example, one very conservative group denounced a primary grade reader as teaching gender role reversal because one of the illustrations showed a little boy making toast The complaint was that it is a woman’s role to cook, and boys were being taught a woman’s role. But where does the Bible say men should not cook? What about Jacob’s gourmet stew for which Esau sold his birthright? And why shouldn’t men help in the kitchen? I could cite as my prooftext II Kings 21:13 which records God’s own action in these words: “I will wipe Jerusalem as a man wipeth a dish, wiping it and turning it upside down.” If God refers to Himself as wiping dishes, isn’t this a perfectly suitable male role?

However, there is indeed a noticeable increase in rhetoric from the conservative wing of the church calling for rigid roles for men and women, in effect defining activities in home, church, and society primarily by gender. And very often this rhetoric claims to be representing a Christian world view, thus – at first glance – making its conclusion seem ironclad.

Well, any of you who have read my book, Equal to Serve, know that I am a question-asker. Therefore I ask: What is a Christian world view? Surely it must be more than a televangelist’s cliché or an empty religious slogan. A Christian world view must mean a basic, scriptural way of looking at life that will cut across denominational particularities or emotional bias or cultural pressures. So let’s explore the matter to see if there is a broad outline to our Christian world view that we can establish before we go on to those particularities, or deal with that emotional bias or cultural pressure.

Certainly if someone stopped you or me and said, “Define a Christian world view,” we would not begin with particulars but would start with the broader basics. So let’s ask some questions about those basics, and see if our answers will shed light on this particular matter of gender roles.

Asking Questions

In being question-askers, you and I are in good company: Job, the Psalmists, Habakkuk, those Bereans in Acts 17 who searched Scripture for their answers. From the beginning of recorded history, throughout Bible times, and ever since, human beings have been asking questions about their existence. Today we might be phrasing the questions a little differently, but we all still want to know: Who am I? What am I doing here? What is life all about, anyway? Do I have a meaningful role in life?

For the Christian, answers to these questions will be found in a Christian world view. We do indeed have a theologically-based world view, but I hasten to point out that we are not alone in that. No matter how much they might protest to the contrary, almost every person’s world view has a theological basis.

If you doubt that, think of the ordinary language people use when they describe how they think things are ordered in this world. For example, when the New York City sanitation department opened its ranks to women, there was a lot of controversy. From the pictures I saw of the first women sanitation workers (in plain language, garbage collectors) these women appeared physically capable, and they had passed tests showing they could lift a certain weight. Like their male counterparts, they wanted steady work rather than be on some welfare program.

But in the case of these women, there was further motivation: Not only were they minority women (which, sad to say, can still be an unspoken limitation in today’s job market) but they were single heads of households with a desperate need to put bread on the table, and also provide their children with a good role model, a work ethic. So these women were capable of doing this heavy work, they wanted the security of the sort of municipal job that would be open to unskilled laborers, and they wanted to provide for their families.

I was fascinated by the reactions of many men, which, as reported by the New York papers, were along this line: “It’s against Nature for women to do such work. Nature tells us that men do yard work and women do dishes.” (Obviously these men did not know my prooftext, II Kings 21:13!)

Now I suggest that any time someone says, “Nature tells us…”, that this is really a theological statement. The person is saying: “The force behind things has set up society in certain ways so that men do this and women do that.” Thus when we peel back language, we see that most persons do indeed have a theological basis for their world view. Whether it’s Nature, a “higher power” or “creative urge”, or Fate, or whether they acknowledge that the power behind everything is God, most people are making a theological statement of some sort as they articulate their notion of how things in this life are set up.

Therefore we Christians need not ever feel defensive about developing and promoting a Christian world view. You might say that we are simply sharpening or focusing the theological world view that almost all human beings have -whether or not they realize it. (The only persons who might be exempt from operating from a theological basis would be those who espouse a complete randomness in the universe, but they are in the distinct minority.)

So let’s ask: What are the components of a Christian world view? What makes us different from the person who says vaguely, “Nature is in charge”?

Laying the Foundation

Most people today accept a moment of origination for the universe, popularly called “The Big Bang.” And many persons, including scientists, would attribute that moment of origination to a higher power of some sort. That’s roughly Deism, the concept that God started everything off. Christians, however, take the further step beyond Deism and say that God not only started everything off but that God sustains it, cares for it, and, as evidence of that care, at times intervenes in His created world.

In explaining this to a non-Christian, I may use the Argument from Design. To use an illustration: If you came on a model train layout, you’d know someone had made that layout. And if you saw a little train derailed, you’d assume the creator of the layout would return to put it back on track. Yes, the design presupposes the Designer.

As we Christians look at the tremendous intricacy of the vast design of the universe, we affirm that there is a living God who (because He is absolute and we are only relative) must be self-revealing. That is, because the Designer so transcends the design, God must take the initiative in communicating with His creation. We believe that one of God’s initiatives is the Bible, God’s written Word, which presents God’s revelation of what we need to know to “get back on track.” We further believe that God’s greatest initiative was coming into our world of time and space in the Person of Jesus Christ, as the ultimate means of communicating with us, God’s creatures. And we also believe that God did all this because God loves us: The God of the Bible is love.

In Byron’s poem, CAIN, there is a very provocative question. Cain asks about God: “Because He is all-powerful, must all good follow too?” In the abstract sense, the answer could be “No.” An all powerful force might not have to be good.

However, as we Christians examine the universe, its intricate design convinces us that its Designer is not only all-powerful but all-good too. For example, we recall the tremendous passages in Job and Isaiah where God says words to this effect: “The created world with its provision for every aspect of plant and animal life demonstrates that I care about My world.” Thus in other passages God says, “Because I love My creation, I do indeed want what is best for it. And part of what is best for humanity is knowing about Me and the abundant new life I offer to all who believe, a new birth that gets them “back on track.” So for Christians, two of the most familiar verses in the Bible are “The Lord is my shepherd” and “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

The word “whosoever” makes a very strong point: The God of the Bible cares about the individual human being. Unlike other world views featuring blind fate or some uncaring deity, the God of the Bible recognizes and affirms our human individuality.

That individuality is essential to our humanity. No matter how generous we try to be in overlooking the insensitivity of others to our persons, each one of us does have a certain self-awareness. It is a common human desire not to be “lost in the shuffle”, not to be merely a cipher on a state income tax list. At a party or a professional meeting, you and I know how disappointing it is when the person with whom we’re conversing is always looking past us to see if there is someone present more worth knowing.

All human beings want to be recognized and respected as individuals, and we also want to live in a society that allows us to express our individuality. It is no accident that we speak of “the free world” when describing countries with a democratic form of government. As the phrase puts it, “We only go around once” (in spite of Shirley McLaine and the New Age movement), and most of us hope our existence will be more than marginal.

The biblical perspective on our individuality is that our origin was as beings created in the image of God. In line with Genesis 1:26-28 and 5:1, 2, and also Psalm 139 and Jeremiah 1:5, the Bible tells us about human beings that “male and female created He them,” and that God knew and knows each one of us even when we were first formed in the womb. We also believe that our future lies in God’s hands, as promised in John 14:1 and Romans 8:17. Contrary to those who see little meaning or dignity to human life, Christians accept the biblical precept that each human being has worth and value, and therefore that each individual life is significant in the eyes of our Creator and Redeemer. God-In-Christ loved our world so much He came to die for all the “whosoevers” who will accept His saving power to get them “back on track.”

Thus Christians affirm an absolutely good and loving Creator who set up a world where His creatures could enjoy life to the fullest, and -as the ultimate sign of the worth and dignity of the individual human being -God gave men and women free will, freedom to act as individuals and not as automotons. Then, even after humanity’s loss of innocence in the disobedience of the Fall, in love God still reached out to offer recreation, renewal, restored spiritual fellowship, a return to all we were created to be. Therefore a Christian world view incorporates the sequence of Creation, Fall, Redemption.

The Importance of Human Rights

One significant measure of the breadth of God’s love is that it is unconditional. In spite of the estrangement of the Fall, and irrespective of any individual human being’s final decision about God’s redemptive plan, God loves us. Thus God has decreed the sanctity of human life, and His Word sets forth guidelines about how humanity is to be treated. These guidelines form the basis of a scriptural view of human rights.

The Bible indicates that we are to uphold each person’s rights to care and nurture on the physical level, and also the person’s rights on the spiritual level. Study of Scripture shows that human rights fall into these two basic categories: Natural or physical rights, which are rights necessary to keep a person alive and help the person develop as a human being originally created in the image of God; and, secondly, spiritual rights, which include the right to know God’s plan of redemption, the right to respond to that plan, and -if the response is affirmative -the right as a new creation in Christ Jesus to grow spiritually and to serve God as God calls.

Careful reading of both Old and New Testaments reveals that God’s people are to be in the forefront of upholding human rights. Over and over, God’s Word inveighs against injustice and inhumane actions. These many passages are undergirded by phrases like “It is the Lord who speaks” or “This is the word of the Lord.” Both individual Christians and the institutional church must understand that God is deeply concerned with justice issues and that God expects His people to be concerned also.

In the Old Testament, Israel was repeatedly told to respect the rights of those society considered “lesser” -the widow, the orphan, the alien or stranger. In the New Testament, Jesus not only showed care for the natural or physical rights of all persons by healing both Jew and Gentile, man and woman, rich and poor, but Jesus supported the spiritual rights of all persons as well. He commanded children be brought to Him; He interacted with so-called “sinners” and not only with religious leaders; He did not turn away the Roman centurion or the leper. Further, He respected the individual moral responsibility of women, and upheld women’s right to learn of Him, and commissioned women to tell others about Him.

The early church record in Acts and the Epistles reveals that the first Christians cared for human life by helping each other with food, shelter, and possessions. Remember Paul’s exhortations to liberality in II Corinthians 8, to the effect that we help others when we are able so that when we are in need they can help us. Compassion must be a part of our Christian world view.

The early church record also shows that all persons’ spiritual rights were to be upheld, as the Gospel was proclaimed to all persons -men, women, Jew, Gentile, slave, free. Further, the Gospel was proclaimed by all persons, as God called many diverse individuals to spread His Good News of new life in Christ.

Thus broad components of a Christian world view include affirmation of God as Creator of this world, and ourselves as beings created in God’s image -which means that all individual human beings share a fundamental equality of being. Each individual has worth and value, and each has been endowed by Creator God with certain inalienable rights indicating the sanctity of life, and the opportunity to know and serve God. Further, God’s people are to uphold the rights of others, regardless of the person’s race, gender, or class. For God, there are no “second-class” human beings, nor can there be for God’s church.

What about Gender?

But then, what about that particularity – that matter of gender roles that is so controversial today? Some of the discussion is just plain silly, such as saying men are better at certain roles like chauffeuring. We’ve all heard the old saw that only women drive into garage doors! I can recall that after I drove Chuck Colson to an airport in record time he said, “If I didn’t know you wrote on discrimination I’d say ‘You drive like a man!’ Well, I don’t drive like a man. I drive like me!

However, the issue of appropriate roles for men and women is exactly where many tensions arise in contemporary evangelicalism. You see, as more women explore their modem educational and career opportunities, they are often puzzled to be told by their churches that certain spheres are closed to them simply because they are women. They question why their options in the secular world are increasing, while the church tells them their options are static or decreasing.

The most frequent justification for limiting women’s sphere is to invoke three New Testament passages: I Corinthians 11:2-16 and 14:33-38, and I Timothy 2:8-15. In my book, EQUAL TO SERVE, these passages are dealt with in a lengthy Appendix that shows quite graphically exactly why, in theological circles, they are called “hard passages.” These three Scripture portions contain over 50 exegetical difficulties, that is, difficulties of meaning, and that means that they also have many difficulties of interpretation as well. Most English translations will not indicate the depth and severity of the problems in these hard passages, and so the person working only from a translation may conclude that Scripture clearly teaches a subordinate gender role for women. But in New Testament Greek the matter is far different, as scholars world-wide are aware.

Of course I recognize that this matter of gender roles is a highly emotional issue. But since we need to do much more work on the three New Testament passages traditionally used to invoke a subordinate gender role for women, then for me they must be put temporarily to one side. I would challenge groups wishing to restrict women to face honestly the possibility that their cherished presuppositions and long-held traditions about gender roles have been based largely on passages as yet unclear to us in the New Testament Greek. And, while specialists continue their research into these passages, I would ask all fair-minded people to be open to hearing fresh evidence about these “hard passages.”

Yet -sadly -some Christian leaders have felt they must impose their views on these unclear passages without discussion of the exegetical difficulties because their congregations cannot handle the fact that there might be unclear areas in Scripture. I cannot accept that reasoning. All sincere Christians can appreciate the fact that we finite beings can never hope to plumb the mind of the Infinite, and that there will be places in the inspired Scriptures that are beyond our comprehension. The sincere Christian can also understand that our knowledge of ancient times and ancient languages is expanding, and that verses that seemed obscure at one time may well be opening up at this time. And certainly the layperson understands that, in line with Jesus’ words in John 16:13, the Holy Spirit will guide us into more truth.

So let’s turn to clearer evidence as we continue examining what role gender might play in our Christian world view. We have already seen the ontological or essential equality of men and women in their very inmost being. Next we will take a quick look at some actual case histories of women Scripture itself commends for acting in roles that transcend any narrow gender restriction.

For the Old Testament: In Micah 6:4 God declared to Israel, “I sent Moses, Aaron, and Miriam to lead you.” God’s own Word describes Miriam as a leader. Then, Judges 4 and 5 tell us how God raised up Deborah as Head of State for ancient Israel, and in II Chronicles 34 we are told that the prophetess Huldah gave out the authoritative word of the Lord to the court of King Josiah, thus sparking a national revival. In addition, the paradigm of womanhood described in

Proverbs 31 is commended for being businesswoman, real estate broker, estate manager, devotional leader, as well as wife and mother.

In the New Testament, Jesus’ interaction with human beings was not according to gender roles, and in the matter of male/female relationships, nothing Jesus ever said about marriage supports a hierarchical concept. For example, contrary to Jewish practice, Jesus’ comments on divorce in Mark 10 and Matthew 19 place wives on an equal basis with husbands. And nothing Jesus ever did or taught suggests Jesus supported some sort of dominant/subordinate pattern between the sexes. This is often overlooked by those who teach that men should be leaders and women should be followers.

The Book of Acts presents a gender-blind view of the early church. The Holy Spirit was poured out on women as well as men, a fact underscored by Peter’s quotation of Joel’s prophecy. In Acts, Luke (a careful historian) introduces many women’s names in the most natural manner as women respond to the Gospel, and study and minister in everyday situations. John Mark’s mother courageously opened her home to a house church; Phillip’s daughters prophesied (the highest spiritual gift, and one that undoubtedly included preaching); the businesswoman Lydia spread the Good News as she helped plant the church in Philippi; Berean woman were among those called “more noble” for searching Scripture; Priscilla taught the man Apollos. In Acts, spiritual gifts were not parcelled out according to gender.

And what about women martyrs who were imprisoned? Persecutors held women and men equally accountable for their faith (Acts 8:3). Then, as now, those outside the church saw no role differential with men more responsible and women less so.

The Epistles also record women in various roles, including ministry. Paul commends Phoebe as a diakonos, or minister, and also as a prostatis, or leader. Romans 16 abounds with names of his female coworkers, including Junia who may well have been an apostle, and in Philippians Paul singles out Euodia and Synteche as his fellow-laborers in contending by his side for the Gospel. In addition, the Elect Lady addressed in Second John led a house church. Thus full rights and privileges in the early church flowed from the saving work of Jesus Christ, not some gender role.

As we develop our Christian world view, we see that the Bible itself does not present a record of only men in leadership and only women as subordinates, or only men in certain roles and only women in others. Both men and women serve in a wide variety of roles. Yes, although this does conflict with some contemporary teaching about gender, in the Bible women do indeed act in leadership capacities.

As I point out in my book, it is not intellectually honest to say, “These women are exceptions to the truth of gender role-playing.” Truth cannot have exceptions. If God had ordained a narrow female role that precluded any activity outside the home or prohibited women in leadership, then this would be a timeless, transcultural truth and as such could have no exceptions. Yet this is our common authority, the Bible, that itself records women as well as men operating in many different roles, including women leaders of men and teachers of men.

The Question of “Headship”

However, the usual rationale for promoting gender roles today is what is called male headship over women, and the particular verses used to support this are found in Ephesians 5:22-24, where the husband is termed head of the wife, as Christ is head of the church. Those who appeal to these verses say that the Bible does indeed set up a gender-based authority structure for home, church, and society, and that the male role is to be in charge.

I am sure most of you are aware that there is solidly scholarly disagreement over the meaning of the word kephale, or head, as used in the New Testament Greek. Because the Bible in English is a translated book, it is indeed most important to discover all we can about the precise meaning of the original Greek, so that our translations are as accurate as possible. If the best translation of kephale is “source” and not “chief leader,” then we should know and accept that.

However, my own conclusions about headship are not drawn solely from the lexical meaning of kephale. As I study the entire passage, Ephesians 5:21-6:9, and not just a few verses, I find that Paul’s own description of “head” in this context is that “head” is to be a sacrificial figure. Those who latch on to one or two verses as prooftexts for male leadership can miss the thrust of the larger context. This passage in Ephesians is a household code, as is a similar passage in Colossians, and when the entire passage is examined it is clear that it is not a role that Paul is highlighting, but the action of the person within the role. You see, Paul cannot be highlighting or endorsing every role he mentions, because then he would be endorsing slavery. Rather, within the general admonition that all Christians be mutually submissive to one another out of reverence to Christ, (Eph. 5:21) Paul calls on both the unempowered persons (wives, children, and slaves) and the empowered persons (husbands, parents, masters) to be mutually submissive.

In these household codes, the husband is to sacrifice himself for his wife, the parent is to put the needs of the child first by not acting in a tyrannical way, the master is to act towards the slave as Christ would act. Interestingly, there is a similar emphasis on mutual submission for both wives and husbands in Peter’s parallel passage in I Peter 2:13-3:7, where both marriage partners are to act towards each other “in like manner” as did Christ who went to the cross for our sakes.

Thus for me any emphasis on power-oriented headship as a component of a Christian world view is deeply puzzling. Since Paul’s own definition of kephale right in the Ephesians 5 passage itself is that head is a sacrificial figure, then, if the husband takes the lead in anything, it is in sacrificing himself for his wife, not in being dominant over his wife. Surely that is a much-needed corrective today as in the first century. I suggest that an objective look at this entire passage shows Paul’s emphasis is on role worked out in servanthood, and thus brings both men and women back to the mutual submission enjoined of all believers in Ephesians 5:21.

Individual Responsibility and Spiritual Gifts

Some proponents of male headship over women do say headship involves sacrifice, and describe the sacrifice as the weight of taking extra care of the sex “liable to be deceived.” For these people, headship is the burden of extra responsibility for what they term “the weaker, irresponsible sex.”

However, as we have seen, a Christian world view means that each individual is a morally responsible human being, and each individual is accountable to God for the most important decision any human being can ever make, namely, the question of eternal salvation. We each -on our own -must answer: “What will you do with Jesus?” For me, it is completely illogical to say women are mature enough to make the single most important decision in life, but that in every other aspect women are irresponsible, weak, liable to be deceived, and need the “sacrifice” of male oversight.

If some persist in saying women, as was Eve, are easily deceived and thus cannot be trusted with decision-making roles, I ask: Why would a deceived person be a worse leader than a deliberately disobedient person, as Adam was? Rather than miring only women in the sin of the Fall, cannot redeemed women (as well as any disobedient men) also become new creations in Christ Jesus and as such exercise their spiritual gifts in the strength and wisdom God gives them as God calls these women today?

Undeniably, women do have all types of gifts, including leadership gifts. I have mentioned some biblical examples of women in leadership, and subsequently women have been proven leaders -from Queen Elizabeth I to Golda Meir, Indira Ghandi, and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. In America, we see many women as capable leaders. One of my college classmates is Dr. Hannah Holborn Gray, who was Provost and Acting President of Yale University and is now President of the University of Chicago, one of the world’s most prestigious universities. The academic world did not elevate Dr. Gray to this position of leadership just to be nice to a woman!

But when some conservative church groups declare that a Christian world view means such women should not use their leadership gifts, the result can be confusion and pain. Why? Because the reason for the prohibition is not that the gifts are inappropriate for the tasks involved but solely that the gifts reside in women’s bodies. In trying to cope with this teaching, many women feel that in the biblical sequence of Creation, Fall, Redemption, only women are mired forever in the effects of the Fall, unable to move out into spiritual freedom and co-administer their spiritual inheritance with their Christian brothers as equal members of the priesthood of all believers.

Further, many dedicated Christian women agonize over their spiritual responsibility to use their gifts to the fullest, in line with Jesus’ parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30, which teaches that God’s servants are to use their God-given abilities and not hide them. These women agonize over whether, when they stand before the judgment seat of Christ, it will be enough to say, “We were told not to use our gifts, and so we hid them.” Yes, we need to be very sensitive to this question: Does the 20th century notion of gender role-playing deny a fellow-believer’s call to serve God? The woman whose leadership, administrative, decision-making, teaching, or planning gifts have been confirmed and affirmed by the world, can feel tremendous confusion and pain upon being told by her church that she must restrict use of her gifts simply because she is a woman.

Here I ask you to recall the Argument from Design. Christians believe that all the myriad details in this world show the love and care of our Creator. God does know all about us because God made us and formed us. God has given us rights necessary to preserve and enhance our lives, including the right to know God and the right to serve God as He calls, and God has also given us talents -gifts -that God wants us to use in His service.

If any person suggests that only on the ground of gender a woman should restrict use of her abilities, her special gifts, then that person is saying one of two things: Either her Designer made a mistake in giving her those gifts, or her Designer gave her those gifts only to frustrate her by giving her no opportunity to use them. But think what a warped view of God either statement makes! The person who says some God ordained gender role restricts a woman full use of her gifts is saying that either her design was faulty (and thus Creator God was careless), or that her Designer was cruel. But what a slander on the nature of our loving, caring Creator! No, a just and loving and omnipotent God could not be careless or cruel and still be true to His nature as Absolute Good.

We must never forget that God is the One who endows us human beings with gifts, and if God has endowed a woman with leadership abilities, then what a tragic denial of her individual personhood and of God’s divine creativity to discriminate against her solely on the ground of her gender.

So the question must be asked: Is the current notion of male headship over women not only an artificial notion imposed on Scripture, but also an evasion of Scripture’s clear call to mutual submission on the part of all believers, and thus on the part of male believers as well as female? Yes, it can be very difficult for some to be asked to give up a certain role to which they feel entitled, but is not that just what Christ asks us all to do?

Servanthood and Evangelism

Inescapably, whenever Jesus talked about leadership it was within the context of giving oneself for others, and Jesus defined His own mission thus in Mark 10:45: “The Son of Man has come not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” A vital component of any Christian world view is servanthood, and we must now ask: How does servanthood relate to gender roles?

Of course I recognize that, as with racial and social differences, sexual differences are a fact of our humanity. But, in a Christian world view, those racial, class, and gender differences are not the primary factors controlling servanthood.

Thus we read that Judge Deborah was also a wife and mother; Huldah the prophetess was a wife; the wife and mother in Proverbs 31 played multiple roles, as did women in ministry in the New Testament. So we today may play many roles. We can be spouse (husband =male role, wife =female role), or parent (father =male role, mother = female role), and in various career situations gender may well play a part. However, rather than concentrating on gender and gender roles, the biblical emphasis for the believer is on obedience to God’s call. Certainly Jesus made that plain in Luke 11:27,28. Paul then expands that thought in II Corinthians 5: 16 where he teaches that we Christians are no longer to view ourselves from a worldly, fleshly, human point of view. Instead, Paul challenges all believers to accept the mandate of II Corinthians 5:20: Moving out into our primary role, a spiritual role, as ambassadors for Christ.

This involves one further aspect of servanthood. Think again on Mark 10:45: “The Son of Man has come not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” Inescapably, Christ came to die for the lost, and we His ambassadors are His deputies today in proclaiming that Good News to those still outside God’s family. Thus a Christian world view must also include evangelism. If our Lord Himself said, “I am come to seek and to save those that are lost,” how can we ignore those who have not heard the Gospel?

So think what any rigid role-playing that would curtail women’s full ambassadorship says about concern for those without Christ. If the church affirms with John 3:36 that all without Christ will be eternally separated from God, then how can any limitation of Christ’s ambassadors ever be justified? What does exclusion of women from any area of ministry really say about the church’s concern for those outside the Body of Christ?

I see only two conclusions, both tragic: Either segments of the church do not really believe souls will be separated from God, and thus espouse universalism, or, those groups do not care whether those without Christ hear the Good News. Surely, any rigid roleplaying that hinders proclamation of the Gospel by all believers is in direct conflict with Jesus’ clear command to “Go into all the world and make disciples” and is in sad contrast to the sense of urgency of the New Testament church.

Yes, I know very conservative church groups say, “Of course we want people to hear the Gospel, but we are not to use improper means. Certain preaching and teaching roles are improper for women.” My rebuttal is that Jesus considered women apt to learn His truth, and appropriate vehicles to transmit His truth. As we have seen, Jesus’ teaching in Luke 11:27, 28 is that women are not blessed by performing some feminine role but by knowing and obeying the Word of God, and Jesus charged all believers to obey His command to “Go into all the world and make disciples.” The propriety of women in all ministerial roles is borne out by the actual practice of the New Testament church. Could it be that we need to hear again Acts 10:15, “What God has called proper, we must not call improper?”

Therefore, as we consider evangelism -this vital component of our Christian world view -and as we see the fields are still white with the harvest, dare we restrict from working for that harvest women laborers whom God has called and gifted to serve?

Biblical People, not “Traditional” People

No matter how familiar or how ingrained, a traditional world view is not necessarily a Christian world view. Remember that the first Christians were called “those who turned the world upside down.” They wanted to be biblical people more than they wanted to be traditional people. They took to heart Jesus’ admonition in Mark 7, where He said, “You have let go of the commands of God and are holding to the traditions of men….Thus you nullify the Word of God by your tradition that you have handed down.”

My final question is: Don’t we, too, want to be biblical people more than we want to be traditional people? Don’t we, too, want to move on from blindly accepting traditional answers, to the excitement and challenge of implementing Christ-like answers?

Affirming a Christian world view – a Christ-like world view – must mean acting as Christ would act, and thus embracing the servant role over all other roles. When we stand before the cross of our Servant-Lord, we see at last that there is no place in a Christian world view for any feeling of entitlement to a preferred position. We are all fellow-sinners for whom Christ died; we are all fellow-servants of our Savior. There is no biblical support for social mores or cultural traditions or even a religious teaching that would say, “One gender is ordained to be over another,” or even “One gender is to be protected by the other.” When we finally begin to understand the import of Christ’s new commandment to love others as He loves us, we see this decrees the death of self-interest. A Christian world view always means putting the rights of the other person above our own, and so encouraging all believers to grow and mature into ambassadors for Christ. A Christian world view means moving beyond the artificial restrictions of rigid gender role-playing and out into the greatest role any creature can ever play: Ambassador of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

Remember Paul’s words in II Corinthians 5:16-20: We no longer think of each other in fleshly, human terms; we are now new creatures in Christ Jesus; we are therefore His ambassadors. Surely that takes the emphasis off self, and off gender, and puts the emphasis back where it belongs: On Jesus Christ, and serving Him.

The words of an old hymn are my prayer for us all on our journey to servanthood:

May the mind of Christ our Savior live in us from day to day,

By His love and power controlling all we do and say.

May we run the race before us, strong and brave to face the foe,

Looking only unto Jesus, as we onward go.

May His beauty rest upon us, as we seek the lost to win,

And may they forget the channel, Seeing only Him.

Three women smiling at the camera, each is holding a present.

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