Why don’t we have any women pastors in our denomination? Why do men lead our Sunday church services? Does Christianity squash women? What place do women have in ministry? The apostle Paul answers most of these questions in 1 Timothy 2:8-15, one of the most controversial passages in the Bible. The whole letter is all about how Christians should conduct themselves in the church (3:15). When reading this passage (as with the entire Bible) we must be careful to distinguish what is cultural (changeable) and what is a general or eternal principle (unchangeable).
Holy hands and holy kisses
I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger or disputing. (1 Timothy 2:18)
The general principle is that men should pray while serving God in godliness (“holy hands”) and love (“without anger or disputing”). The cultural outworking of the principle is that they lift up their hands while praying. It was normal back then to stand and pray (cf. Luke 18:11), but it would not matter if you sat and prayed, for that cultural expression changes from time to time. A similar cultural expression of a general principle is when Paul tells Christian brothers to greet each other with a holy kiss (1 Thessalonians 5:26). The general principle is warm Christian fellowship; the cultural outworking is kissing. Today we would shake hands or maybe even give a manly hug, but probably not kiss.
God wants men to use their hands for good, not for sin. God wants men who will serve him, their church, and their families faithfully. God wants men who lift holy hands in prayer.
The counter-cultural women
I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God. (1 Timothy 2:9-10)
The King James Version is closer to the original meaning; it says in v9, “in like manner also, that women adorn themselves”. Women should adorn themselves. Women should not be hidden, covered up in black or hide their beauty. The question is how should they adorn themselves? Paul says with modesty.
There was a growing problem in Ephesus (where Timothy’s church was) in that the Sunday service was being filled with women who were not content with their God-given role, but rather used the service to flaunt their wealth, demonstrate their beauty and put on a sexually attractive demonstration for the men. In Ephesus at the time there were also hundreds of prostitutes that were employed in the great goddess Diana’s temple. Listen to what one commentator writes,
“The elaborate hairstyles which were then fashionable among the wealthy, were also the styles worn by prostitutes. The sculpture and literature of the period make it clear that women often wore there hair in enormous elaborate arrangements with braids and curls interwoven with gems and gold and pearls. The temple prostitutes wore their hair in numerous small pendant braids with gold droplets or pearls every inch or so, making a shimmering screen of their locks.”
We know that God created people as sexual beings. God intended us to enjoy intimacy and sex in marriage. God also created men with a big sex drive. Men shouldn’t be ashamed of it, but rather celebrate and enjoy it in God-given institution of marriage. Men are stimulated visually. That’s how God made us. So when we see something it affects us. So Paul, under inspiration of Holy Spirit, says that women, especially Christian women, should dress modestly and respectably – not like the temple prostitutes.
The general principle here is that women are to dress modestly, with decency and self-control; the cultural application was not to have braided hair, gold, pearls or expensive clothes. The command is that women adorn themselves with clothing, hairstyles and jewellery that in their culture is sensible not extravagant, modest not vain, and decent not suggestive. Fashion trends today are hardly modest and respectable: jeans and tops get lower, while skirts and hot-pants get higher.
Well, if you shouldn’t adorn yourself to attract attention to yourself. How should you adorn yourself? v10 says “with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.” You might be single however and say, “Hey, I’m not married! I have to attract they guys!” But the type of guy you want to marry will be most attracted by your godly character, not your bling.God is not against women wearing nice clothes and dressing stylishly. But God does want women to dress appropriately and modestly. He wants women to think about how your wardrobe will affect their Christian brothers.
The submissive woman
A woman should learn in quietness (“peace”) and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. (1 Timothy 2:11-12)
When it comes to the issue of women in ministry, there are three positions. There’s the egalitarian, liberal position. It says that men and women can be partners together in every area of ministry. There are no gender distinctions for any office. This is the classic feminist position and it’s the most popular position in our culture. In other words, women can be pastors and elders. They can preach. Egalitarians look at 1 Timothy 2 and say “It was a cultural thing and does not apply to us today.”
To the other extreme is the hierarchical position. This is a far more strict and conservative. They say that women should not be elders or deacons. They shouldn’t teach Bible studies or classes. They shouldn’t lead in any ministry. They shouldn’t read the Bible, give their testimonies or lead “worship” in church. The women solely should teach other women and children, and perhaps bake cookies.
Complementarianism is the middle, moderate position and that’s us (CESA). It says that men and women are partners in every area of life and ministry together. “Though equal, men and women have complementary and distinct gender roles so that men are to lovingly lead and head their homes like Jesus, and only men can be pastors in the church.” Women and men are partners together in every area of ministry; but we do believe that God places two restrictions on the ministry of women in the church. Paul makes the argument that women are not allowed to teach and/or exercise authority over men within the church setting.
This means that women shouldn’t preach to a congregation where there are men present. This is why we (at Christ Church Tygerberg) only have men lead our Sunday services as leading services is seen to be an authoritative role. It’s not a problem for a woman to minister in hundreds of ways in the church, but the office of leadership and teaching of men is preserved for spiritual and godly men. Jesus was pro-women, but chose twelve men to be his apostles. That was intentional, because they are all given incredible authority to found the church. They are like pastors, only they have more authority than pastors. (Of course, Jesus did call women to significant ministry – but not to be apostles.)
Instead of seeing complementarianism as a bad thing we should rejoice, because unlike so many other churches in the world, we actually have gifted, godly men prepared to stand up and lead the church. We also only have men as council members (“elders” in biblical terminology), but we’ve got men and women on our management team (“deacons”). Our management team, in fact, has lots of amazing women who help us lead our church in the general areas of ministry. God wants men to lead his church, but he also wants women to serve alongside men in the church. They shouldn’t teach men or occupy the office of elder, but if a woman wants to serve, everything else is open. Women could be full-time staff members, preach to women or at women’s conferences, teach ladies Bible studies, run kids clubs, supervise Sunday schools, lead praise and worship, they could give testimonies and report backs and words of encouragement. But they must always be under the leadership of godly, faithful men.
Remember that Paul’s only talking about the church context here; he’s not saying that women can’t have male employees in the business world. Women are free to work and be bosses if they want to. They can lecture men at university or Bible college. Paul’s specifically talking about public worship services here. Just as God wants the spiritual leadership of the family to be exercised by the husband, so he wants the leadership of the church to be exercised by men. Women have no reason to feel inferior and men have no reason to feel superior. God has simply given us different, complementary roles.
Adam and Eve
You might argue that the call for women to learn quietly and not to teach men is just a cultural expression, like wearing braided hair or giving holy kisses. But look at the reason Paul gives:
“For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner.” (1 Timothy 2:13-14)
Paul gives a universal principle that goes all the way back to the creation of the world. This means that what he’s just said is applicable and binding for all time because it is exactly the way God intended it to be from the beginning of the world.
Paul says we should also look back at Adam and Eve and you’ll see how God’s whole design can come undone. He makes Adam first, and Adam needs help. So he makes Eve to help him, but she does the opposite. She’s deceived and takes over the leadership role and leads Adam into sin.
We should therefore strive for a return to God’s order: to have men who lead the church (and their families) with godliness and integrity and women who serve alongside them as equals, yet willingly submitting to the men’s God-given role of spiritual leadership and oversight in the church (and family).
You might say, “Wow! Women are getting a real raw deal.” Maybe as a woman you’re thinking, “Hey, it wasn’t my fault!”
1 Timothy 2:15 answers this by saying,
“But women will be saved through childbearing––if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.”
The word translated here as “saved” can refer to being saved from things other than sin. This verse means that women are saved or delivered from the stigma of a woman having caused the fall – of course with Adam’s help! Women have the opportunity to lead the race to godliness through their influence on children as the godliness and virtue of a mother has a profound influence on her children. One of the women’s great contributions comes in motherhood. However, she must continue in faith in Jesus, in love and in holiness. Only a godly, Christian mother can raise godly children.
Obviously God doesn’t want all women to be mothers. Some of them he doesn’t even want married. But as a general rule, motherhood is the greatest contribution a woman can make to the human race (think about it!) Not business, politics or advertising, but child-rearing. The pain of child-bearing was the judgment on her sin, but bearing children delivers her from the stigma of that sin.
Satan seeks to undermine the role of women and attacks the whole concept of family – seeking to devastate and destroy. The devastation and destruction of the family has left a horde of individuals who look out only for their own interests. But the church is a family, just like in the home. Just as men and women have different roles in family, so too they have different roles in the church. The feminist movement is Satan’s big lie that hurts the women of our world. Motherhood should be a top priority, but now it’s right at the bottom. How tragic it is that so many women feel unfulfilled because they don’t function in the same roles as men. God has given women the unique privilege of raising a godly generation of children and of having an intimate relationship with them that even fathers don’t quite have.
Don Carson gives a good summary of why we use the word “complementarian” over here.
(Thanks to Alistair Anderton for his recent sermon that contained many of the insights and thoughts contained in this blog; any errors are mine.)