A Woman’s Place

This was originally published on Intellectuelle

Part 1, in the Church

I don’t know of a more hot-button topic for both the churched and unchurched than this one. For that reason, we should probably try to take a fresh new look at threading out the various views on just what a woman’s place in society consists of.

It seems as if there are more presumptions on what the Christian scriptures say than there are authoritative doctrines. And of the authoritative doctrines, few are widely agreed upon as to how they work in the modern world. I’d like to look at that. In fact, I’d like to look at that with one of the more curious variations of recent memory: that blogging is a questionably womanly pursuit.

But first, what are some of the controversies? Women themselves are not agreed on what woman’s freedom, rights, and dignities are or ought to be. And this has lead to some confusion about what the reaction of re-instituting traditional roles should look like. An example: Feminists of today would eschew the mid-twentieth century persona of “June Cleaver”, TV mother. Neo-traditionalists seem to view those scenes with scentimental nostalgia. But what are we really looking at when we review mid-twentieth century female roles and lifestyle? Aren’t we seeing the Feminine Mystique generation? The women who oftentimes threw off the homemaker’s mantle and went into the workplace in hordes, who sometimes left home to ” find themselves”? Or had to make new lives for themselves as divorce rates skyrocketed? I know my mother had ‘Feminine Mystique’ on her bookshelf, had to become a breadwinner, and lived a very different life from the Donna Reed Show, et al. This is why I don’t think it is in looking backward culturally that we may find the defining roles of women.

And where has the Church been in all this? Pretty much where the rest of the culture has been: experimenting and floundering around to define women and understand how society should work. The Church hasn’t had a voice of consensus. And I think it is out of laziness and self-protection that it hasn’t yet produced clarity for even women in the Church, let alone a view of women in the Culture.

Further, the responsibility for this has lain with the Protestants. The ones who lay claim to Sola Scriptura, and studying to show oneself approved. But instead we are tangled up with reiterations of traditions and slipshod adoption of the culture’s lead on this. The Worldly culture. We are the ones who ought to be able to work at rightly applying how the Bible’s directives appear in our culture.

The Churches View

So first, what do the scriptures teach? Undoubtedly, the Bible gives a view of order and hierarchy. This is underlined in nature, but doesn’t have to be to give it moral force. The hierarchy of the Bible is: God, the man, the woman. Before I lose you modern souls, here, I ask the question: does this mean in all ways and at all times? If it did, there would not be so many permutations of leadership roles, and the reason I would give for this is contained in the word,”delegate”. Hierarchy is only the basic structure and not the immutable law of how all the players interact. But it is how responsibility is divvied up, and it is also the authority structure. Everything in life operates with authority structure of some sort:”You Gotta Serve Somebody” as Bob Dylan put it.

I heard a teaching long ago that made alot of sense to me. It was this: that in the Genesis curse the paths of success and downfall for men and women, respectively, was stated. Men would gladly give up the mantle of authority if they could also divest themselves the burden of responsibility, women will gladly shoulder the most onerus amounts of responsibility if they can only be in charge. That was the reasoning given on how the famous curse helped outline where people go awry in their gender roles.

To move on to a specific instance of scripture, let’s look at one chosen by so many raise controversy:

1 Timothy 2

11 Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.
13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve; 14 and Adam was not deceived,
but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.

That seems quite clearcut until you add Paul’s epistle to Titus:
Titus 2:3-4: 3 Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, 4 and so train the young women to love their husbands and children…

Apparently, there is a place where women can teach.Then you have examples such as Priscilla, in the company of Aquilla:”when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him and explained to him the way of God more accurately” -Acts 18:26

John MacArthur points out:”In Romans 16:1, Paul indicates that women possibly serve or minister as Deacons (Diakonon) in the church. Then in I Timothy he sets forth the qualifications for a Deaconess.”

If we understood that there are times when women are delegated place in the Church to minister in such ways we wouldn’t have foolish contentions about whether women may say things of substance in blogging, etc. If it were sin to blog it would be sin to write, and all women-authored books should be rejected on that basis. That is how I see the logical progression of such thinking. Yet, I don’t believe we see any such idea like that from the scriptures. I do think that the final authority in spiritual matters is given to men, but not just any men. Again, the hierarchy is that God calls and ordains who He wills, and this is the outline given for the Church.

Is it an abrogation of hierarchy for women to produce something intellectual just because some man somewhere might view it and thus “be taught”? In the light of day that sounds a bit silly, but when a respected teacher throws out such an idea it stirs up doubts and confusion. I call it as I see it: such are irresponsible teachers who are sloppy when they ought to take the admonition of James,

Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.

This sloppiness gives occasion for misunderstanding to a listening world. More circumspection and less retraction in important doctrines and controversial views becomes the more necessary when hostility and high rhetoric are rampant on a topic.

But the counterbalance for women who minister through preaching and teaching should be:”What? came the word of God out from you? or came it unto you only?” Our Churches and society as a whole welcomes and gives a place to women, but in the economy of God the truth is not in any one persons personal possession. If there is not a position given to a woman within a Church that does not mean that there is no avenue for teaching, simply that there is no officially ordained position within that group. No Christian ought to strive for pride of position, and it is disappointing to see so many women disdain opportunity unless it comes with a full set of perks and prestige.
I think the example of Deborah in the Old Testament is one of the most telling on this subject.

The Christian Opportunity

Should the Church abide by these standards enough to have a body of evidence for the culture to view, I think the high esteem for women, and their opportunities for fulfilling their potential could be seen plainly. In fact, I think this is what we see in the the way Western culture has grown to give Women the place they enjoy today. Unfortunately, the extrapolations of those high views under the secular watch seems to be leaving women highly vulnerable to harm. This is seen in too many ways to go into with proper depth here. Everything from increased vulnerability from easy divorce to the emerging picture of exploitation due to ideas of “sexual freedom”. This is all hotly debated even within the feminist camp. Not just between Christian traditionalists and Feminists.
Some of the examples are enumerated by Melanie Phillips, arguing in books such as “The Sex-Change Society Feminised Britain and the Neutered Male” that “feminism has distorted its own agenda of equality by replacing it with sameness”, “women are being encouraged to work at all times, whether they want to or not” . (I cite this book because it articulates some of the conflicts and issues. It makes some accusations that I am not prepared to defend. )

Is this the pattern the Church wants to emulate? One which has not and will not work? Or ought we return to looking at what our own guidelines and mandates say? And figure out which is which?

I’m not sure we can do that if we forget Christ’s example of Lordship was also one of humility and service, and think that men in authority means that women’s voices are silenced. In all cases, if God gives us words to speak, how can we not speak them?

When qualms such as these are brought up, I ask myself, what is the actual articulated fear here? Is it blogging and accidental teaching?
Is it the idea that women must have a restricted place in the church ministry? I do not think this is what is actually being verbalized. I think the actual fear is the breakdown of accountability, and that is something that doesn’t get addressed in the calls to shut women away from the internet or to stop blogging or writing books. It is a different problem that has symptoms and poor outcomes in some of these areas. Putting a band-aid on the gushing hemorrhage, or cutting the rest of the hand off, isn’t the solution. The solution is to strengthen the Churches structure to function properly. And just as there are times a husband should listen to his wife, there are times when men in the church should give ear to women. Not in exchanging authority roles but in the mutual respect and honor that Christ teaches and Paul explained.

If we restored such accountability in the essence of Christian brotherhood, we would make inroads against other problems such as pornography use, that is eating many men alive. Men in the Church. Accountability would strengthen them and help them to grow into the husbands and fathers that watch over the welfare of those in their care. I think this is the needed emphasis and that the squabbling over women somehow wandering into conflict with biblical wisdom is a red herring. The reason Deborah was called to lead, (Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was leading Israel at that time.) may well have been due to a dearth of men vigorous enough in the service of God. But perhaps I am wrong about that, perhaps there are times that God shows His sovereignty in working through those whom He chooses.

Please do not take this as a doctrinal statement on the idea of women leading the Church, the only expression given us is that women have callings and gifts, and that these should be used. I have no ambitions for women in specific roles, and I think there are many ways to serve God, some of the best without titles. Best because they are the more free, and I would conclude my thoughts here with the idea that our expression, as Christians, about the place of women in society is that they should be free to fulfill their potentials, and that we all appear before our maker without designations of gender or nationality or prestige. We ought to value that freedom and use it to its fullest in the service of God and mankind. It isn’t the licentiousness of the worlds version of women, it isn’t the subdued version of domination from the power hungry, either. What it is, is a respectful and responsible form of what best expresses woman in the full version of her humanity, and spiritual heritage.

“What of the future? We live in a day that is fast-moving. The United States is moving at great speed toward totally humanistic orientation in society and state. Do you think this will leave our own little projects, our own church, and our own lives untouched? Don’t be silly. The warnings are on every side. ”
-Francis Schaeffer.

A Woman’s Place, in the Culture, what might that look like? What does it look like now? Who’s going to draw the template?

2 thoughts on “A Woman’s Place”

  1. Thanks for sharing your analysis, Ilona, and broaching the subject. You’re absolutely right that the church has been experimenting and floundering on this issue. I’m not sure we’ll see an end to that anytime soon, or that we necessarily should, although a more unified theology would be helpful. I would like to see something grounded upon spiritual truth and not reactionary against perceived evil, whether attributed to culture or anything else.

    It would no doubt be helpful to look at the hierarchy idea, because I think we do go wrong there. My preliminary thought is that hierarchy certainly exists, and man has a kind of pre-eminence that woman does not, yet I am not convinced that the hierarchy extends to a chain-of-command across the board. It seems to me that there is categorical (lateral) hierarchy as well as top-down. (In other words, I’m not convinced that a woman can only have authority as delegated by a man.) (It wasn’t clear to me whether you were saying that.) I think the Scriptures show that women get spiritual authority straight from God.

    Will comment more later…

  2. Since this is a repost of an old article I wasn’t sure whether your comment was new ( like I stepped into some sort of a time warp).

    “I’m not convinced that a woman can only have authority as delegated by a man”

    I can understand how that isn’t immediately going to find acceptance.

    “I think the Scriptures show that women get spiritual authority straight from God. ”
    I think trying to work with this idea might provide a test for the former idea. If women get authority straight from God without avenues of hierarchy, then I would ask where that takes us in women having authority over men in the Church.
    In secular arenas it is not so hard to see. We have authority vested in the institution of the government ( not saying just authority, but authority- they have the right to rule over us; we must abide by the law). So a woman president is invested with authority by right of the government. No problem with that.

    The Church, however, has this problem of testing whether one has spiritual authority or not. The contentions between Catholic and Protestant have pivoted on this quandary. Does the pope have the spiritual authority that the Roman Catholic See claims?

    Then there is the fact that spiritual authority comes in different manifestations. Here, we are talking about the order and structure of the Church, not the spiritual authority in ministry. Not all who minister do so in official callings.

    Previously I think the thread did go previously in the direction of “parachurch” ministries, etc.

    As I went through the thinking on this (this was only the first article in a series) I did grasp that while there is definite hierarchy and it is necessary for women to give appropriate acknowledgment of men, they are not subject to their overall dominance. In fact, that “overall dominance” had no place at all in the Kingdom of God. I suspect that the invasion of that dominion idea is at the root of much oppression and injustice.

    you are right, the whole thing needs to be duly considered.

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