“Is it a boy or girl?” The answer to that simple question begins to define our identity from birth. However, according our culture the question of gender is increasingly complex.
Schools are given the “Gender Unicorn” to help children navigate their choice between 15 different expressions of gender (3003 combinations). On the other hand, a popular singer recently released a line of “gender-neutral” clothing for children intended to remove gender from a child’s appearance.1
The cultural confusion over gender spills over into our faith. Instead of faith changing the way we view culture, culture becomes the dictionary from which we define our faith. As a result, churches today market themselves as “gender-inclusive” churches who see no distinction in the roles of men and women.2
Equality of Men and Women
To understand gender, we must go back to the beginning. The account of creation in Genesis one is told in complementary pairs. God created, light and dark, land and sea, sun and moon, plants and animals, and at the peak of his creation stands the human pair, male and female. They are both created in the image of God and given dominion over creation (Gen. 1:26-28).
Therefore, any discussion about gender must begin with a clear statement about the equality in value and nature of men and women! Men and women deserve the reverent respect of those made in God’s image. Many of the wrong views about gender today are a response to people and cultures who do not treat women with the honor they deserve. Understanding the equality we have in creation helps correct this abuse.
In addition, in Christ there is a spiritual equality between men and women. “There is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). The saving blood of Jesus doesn’t look at gender (Gal. 3:26-27)!
Difference of Men and Women
Genesis two, however, introduces the differences between men and women. These differences are seen in the order of their creation and the works and roles God assigned to each of them (Gen. 2:15-24).
The creation account ends with this complementary pair, different in gender and function, living in blissful oneness (Gen. 2:24-25)! Here we discover the gear which turns the human machine at its best—we are different, but one. When men and women come together in submission to their God-given roles there is a holy oneness. When those roles are rejected it leads to suffering and separation (Gen. 3).
This principle of “different, but one,” is not limited to gender. It is essential to the function of the church (1 Cor. 12-14). It is even the operative rule of the Godhead (1 Cor. 11:3). There is much life to be found in learning to be “different, but one.”
How do these principles apply to the role of men and women in the church?
All Are Cross Caring Servants of Jesus!
Oh, how I wish I could etch these words into the heart of each reader—Men and women are equally cross carrying servants of Jesus Christ (Luke 9:23, “anyone!”). One reason we struggle with what the Bible teaches about the roles of men and women in the local church is because we put too great an emphasis on the church being an event and power coming through positions! We think a person is significant if they play a role in the show and have a title. What carnality! Jesus taught us the greatest in his kingdom are servants, whatever gender they might be (Matt. 20:26-28)!
In the New Testament women were just as active disciples of Jesus as men. They listened to Jesus, served the disciples, gave financial support, cared for widows, taught their friends and families the gospel, showed hospitality, and devoted themselves to every good work (see Titus 2:1-8; 1 Tim. 5:10). The gospel spread through women like Elizabeth, Mary, Anna, Martha, Lydia, Lois, Eunice, Dorcas, Euodia, Syntyche, Phoebe, and Priscilla to name just a few.
American style Christianity values the professional performers who hold a position. Therefore, people scratch and claw to get their piece of the pie. But the instrument of service in Christ’s kingdom is a cross. It fits equally on to the shoulders of men and women.
Women Roles in The Local Church
However, men and women have different roles in a local church.
In the New Testament the apostles and evangelists were men. When the church in Jerusalem needed people to oversee the care of widows, they chosen seven men (Acts 6:1-6). The work of elders and deacons was done by men, specifically married men (1 Tim. 3:1-13; Titus 1:5-9)
Someone might say, “Yes, but the church was just trying to get along in a male-dominated society.” Since when did the gospel teach things just to fit in with culture!? In the New Testament women managed households, ran businesses, and had servants, yet they were not appointed as elders, deacons or ministers of the gospel.
In addition, American Christians are surprised to learn that the New Testament teaches a woman is not to teach publicly when the church is assembled. In 1 Corinthians 14 Paul gives several instructions to govern the assembly of the church. The final instruction addresses the role of women teaching in the assembly.
“34 the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. 35 If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.
36 Or was it from you that the word of God came? Or are you the only ones it has reached? 37 If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 14:34–37)
Paul does not appeal to cultural norms or his personal opinions, it is the “command of the Lord” that women are to not teach when believers come together as the church.
Paul writes similar instructions to Timothy,
“11 Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.” (1 Timothy 2:11–12)
The reason women are not to teach in the assembly has nothing to do with intelligence or ability! The reason is rooted in God’s created purpose (1 Tim. 2:13-15). Therefore, to honor our gender roles is to honor our Creator.
Someone might say, “Yes, but doesn’t 1 Corinthians 11 say women were prophesying?” Yes, they were! Women prophesied in both the Old and New Testaments. Joel promised, “In the last days…I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters will prophesy” (Joel 2:28; Acts 2:17). It is not new that women prophesied. What was new was the message (Acts 2:21, 36-38; 22:16). Women are not prohibited from teaching (Acts 18:26; Titus 2:3,4; 2 Timothy 1:5, 3:14-15). They are simply not permitted to teach men in the assembly of the church in recognition of God’s created purposes.
A Shocking Scandal!
Some believers are shocked to see women become elders and preachers. However, a more shocking scandal is brewing—men are not fulfilling their roles! Families and churches are drifting rudderless because men are content to be spiritually weak. They gobble up every opportunity for money and pleasure and too tired for spiritual works. This is the real scandal! Where are the men who know their Bible better than their hobbies? Where are the men who love their wives more than their own pleasures? Where are the men who would rather see souls saved than another promotion achieved, or project done?
Some believe the concept of gender has never been more confusing. If this is so, how much more do we need listen to the One who invented the concept of gender? We work best when we accept the different roles God gives us and work together as one.
“Let all that you do be done in love” (1 Corinthians 16:14)
1 Last week one of the most popular singers in the world launched a new line of “gender neutral clothing.” The promotional video shows the singer breaking into a hospital nursery and blowing glitter into the air which magically changes the babies out of their pink and blues into black and white clothes. She then says, “Our children – they are not really our children, we are all just links in a never-ending chain that is life.” Twice, in the Orwellian like commercial, she claims she has the right to tell us how babies should be dressed because, after all, she is a celebrity.
2 “Gender inclusive churches” Sometimes we need peer beneath the packaging (i.e. propaganda). It doesn’t always match the toy inside. Every church I’ve been a part of was a “gender-inclusive” church—full of men and women who loved God and each other. The discussion of gender and the local church is not an issue of inclusion, but function. The term “gender inclusive” unnecessarily biases the discussion. Is the opposing view, “gender exclusive” churches? That would be boring! It is better to use Biblical descriptions to define who we are in Christ. Leave marketing to worldly endeavors.
Extra Bits …
Caution About Controversy. A few years ago, I met a man who woke up in the morning only to put someone down. His rising meant someone falling! He looked at the past with bitterness, the present with anger, and the future with despair. He saw an enemy in every face and a fight in every conversation. From his life arose this proverb, which acts like a guardrail to keep me from going off track when controversies arise.
If all you see are foes,
you’ll have nothing but fights!
The fact is, there are many who love the Lord (1 Kings 19:18), and my Jesus is still on the throne (Psalm 2). I have a heavenly Father who loves me, and my future is secure. Sure, I must be on guard (Eph. 6:10-18). I live in lion country (1 Pet. 5:8). But I will choose to see my friends, and not just the foes. I will let the peace of Christ rule in my heart, and not crave the battlefield.
Further Study on Gender
American culture and Christianity have fundamentally changed the way they view gender and gender roles. The above article only introduces some of the texts in the discussion. More study and writing are required to wrestle with many theories surrounding the subject of gender in the Bible.
Like any “controversial topic” you can find a multitude of “well-lettered experts” who will support our preconceived opinions with academic sounding arguments which pluck at our heartstrings. At that moment our hearts are tested! Will we then turn again to Scripture, listen to our Lord, bow before him in prayer and let him mold our thinking?
Gender, Clothing and 1 Corinthians 11
I was in high school, stylish with a full head of thick hair. Friends called me “Fonzy,” because I had an “unbreakable” comb in my back pocket to keep my mane perfectly parted down the middle with feathered sides.
One Sunday the preacher taught about how men and women should dress. I thought, “Stay out of the fashion business. Your wide tie and lapel prove you know nothing about taste.”
Then I got older and, to my surprise, discovered Paul also preached on clothing. He said the way we dress says something about what we believe, just as clearly as our words. Our fashions should say, “We value godliness above prosperity” (1 Tim. 2:9-10; 1 Pet. 3:4). According to 1 Corinthians 11, our clothes should say, “We value God’s purpose for gender.”
1 Corinthians 11 always evokes much discussion about “coverings” and “hair-length.” Is the text “culturally bound” or does it prescribe a “permanent practice”? Regardless of your conclusions, one of the clear applications of this text is to think carefully about how we present ourselves. How we dress matters.
Yes, men and women are equal in Christ, but they have different roles. Those different roles are declared by the way we dress. When men and women dress differently, they magnify the glory of their Creator who made them male and female. To blur those differences is to mar our created purpose and misrepresent the message of the gospel.
–Kyle Pope recently wrote an article on Focus Online about the assembly of the church which will be helpful to your study: “When Are We “In the Church”?”