Women in the Church – A Deeper Look at Patriarchy


  • Why is the ministry and gifting of godly Christian women so often still being prohibited in the Church?
  • How are women being treated and why?
  • Where do people get ideas from?
  • Is modern Patriarchy biblical?

Let’s look at the TRADITION of Patriarchy in cultures worldwide and see why this belief system dominates, but first, let us consider this question:

Where do people get ideas from?

We get ideas from our Cultures. 

Cultures are the ways of living and doing things which make sense to a group of people, so that becomes a tradition or a cultural expectation that everyone follows.

Cultures are the “Traditions of Men.”

This includes Patriarchal Traditions in cultures worldwide.

Patriarchy has been so universal in human society that it could be said to be the default mode [the pre-set option] of human existence.

Patriarchy has been part of the cultural life in the world for generations.

Let’s look at Patriarchy worldwide from a historical understanding.

>This next section is taken from an article by Carrie A. Miles, Ph.D. 

Scott Bartchy defined Patriarchy this way: “Patriarchy is not just the rule of men over women, but as the rule of a few men over every one else, male and female.  Patriarchy involves not only the subordination of women and children, but also the subordination of most men.”                                                                    

(S. Scott Bartchy, professor of Christian origins and New Testament History at UCLA)

Historically, “few men had a choice about what they would do in life.  It could be observed historically that 90 percent of the population, both male and female, were peasants.  Aside from childbearing, men got stuck with the nastiest and most dangerous work.  Ultimately, however, it is the limitations  of scarcity and the resulting need for women to bear children that allowed men to become dominant over them.”

“The very thing that made a woman valuable—her unique ability to bear children—also made her dependent.”

“Although many scholars claim that men became dominant over women because of man’s superior size, strength, and aggression, historic family structure is better understood as based on a unique female characteristic: women’s ability to bear children.  As the only member of the marriage who could bear and feed children, women would still have ended up specialized to the home, even if they had been bigger and stronger than men.” 

“Although the woman may have held considerable power within her domestic areas of concern, a housewife had little decision-making authority or ability outside it. Thus, the strong economic need for women to bear children results in the economic realities of separate spheres for men and women and in women’s subordination to men in family, society, government, and church.”

(Source:  Carrie A. Miles, Ph.D.  Excerpts from an article entitled:  Patriarchy or Gender Equality?  This article can be found at:  http://www.godswordtowomen.org/Patriarchy_or_gender_equality.pdf)                               

< Now let’s consider Christianity and Roman Patriarchy.    

Christianity began as a small Jewish sect within Israel, a once-sovereign nation, that was ruled by Rome–like the rest of the known world in the first century.  The Roman Empire was itself dominated by a class known as the “patricians.” Patricians were the powerful and wealthy men of the ‘citizen class’. 

This citizen class made up only a tiny percentage of the Roman population; yet in Roman law, everyone else existed only to serve them

Ancient Rome was a highly competitive.  They had an honor/shame-based culture.  Promoting and preserving one’s personal and family prestige were of the utmost importance.

This culture required demanding revenge for all slights and injuries.  There were continual social contests to gain honor for oneself at the expense of others.  This struggle for power, honor, and respect had very real consequences in Rome, especially for people who did not achieve it.  

It is estimated that one third of the population of cities located around the Mediterranean were enslaved, another third were former slaves, and most of the rest were “free” (never-enslaved) people who lived in dire poverty. 

Patricians held life-and-death authority over their slaves and children, though not over their wives.  In short, Rome was very much a “kill or be killed,” “eat or be eaten” economy.

Households, among those wealthy enough to have a house, were also places of business.  These households sheltered not only the patrician, his wife, and his children, including grown children and their families, but also his slaves and production workshops. 

The Latin word familia referred to such households–often with the interactions between master and slaves.

Part of the Apostle Paul’s reputation for supporting patriarchy comes from what some scholars perceive as similarities between his writings on the family and the “household codes” of conduct written by Greek and Roman philosophers like Plutarch and Aristotle. 

While these secular writings ordered obedience upon slaves, children, and wives, they were actually addressed to the family patriarchs themselves, encouraging them to “rule” or “govern” well those under their control.

Some scholars see the texts labeled Ephesians 5:20–6:9 as Paul’s mirroring of these household codes to assure secular authorities of the respectability and conformity of Christian family life. 

We read it from the familiar King James Version as:

“Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.

For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of

the church.  . . .  and he is the saviour of the body. . . .

Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right.  . . .

Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ.”

(Eph. 5:22–23 and 6:1, 5)

But a careful reading of this passage—one that does not take it out of its literary or social context—shows that, rather than supporting patriarchy, Paul was standing patriarchy on its head.

As a leader of a very small, suspect sect, Paul could not hope to change the Roman social order.  Instead, in this letter he asked each of the three pairs addressed—masters/slaves, fathers/children, and husbands/wives—to radically transform the meaning of these legal structures, rejecting the requirements of the flesh in order to achieve a higher spiritual goal.

(Source:  Carrie A. Miles, Ph.D.)

 ~ ~ ~

< In our next section we will take A Serious Look at Patriarchy and the Bible. 

We can ask this critical question:  Does the Bible support patriarchy or not?

This section is taken from an article by a student of theology. This author invites us to consider the message of her article: 

Why Modern Patriarchy Is Not Biblical

by Kathryn J. Riss, Th.M.

Patriarchy is defined as “a state or stage of social development characterized by the supremacy of the father in the clan or family, in both domestic and religious functions, the legal dependence of wife, or wives, and children, and the reckoning of descent and inheritance in the male line.”                        

(Webster’s New International Dictionary of the English Language 2nd Ed. unabridged).

Patriarchy is the nearly universal social system by which men dominate women and other men.  Unfortunately, combined with the fallen, sinful nature of humanity, a misogynist. that is, a person who has an attitude of hatred toward women and the aggressive nature of males, patriarchy has produced many evils.

In pagan societies, this mixture produced the kidnapping and enslavement of women, the rape of women, the outdoor exposure of female infants, and the human sacrifice of virgin girls.

Jewish patriarchy practiced polygamy and the depriving of rights of Jewish women.  Christian patriarchy produced a 500-year witch-burning craze which resulted in the torture and murder of as many as one million women and girls.

Although the rights of women have improved over the centuries, the excesses of patriarchy have not ended.  Modern Hindu societies still practice wife-murder in order to maximize financial gain from dowries and the burning alive of wives on their husband’s funeral pyres.

Moslem societies enforce the seclusion of women, denial of their rights, and the mutilation of young girls, often leading to their death, under the religious euphemism of “female circumcision.”  

Throughout the world, but especially in China, where population control is strict, millions of female fetuses have been aborted due to the preference of parents for a son. 

The term for societies which value the male line is called:  ‘patrilineal’.

And in all societies, rape, pornography, prostitution and the sometimes violent subjugation of women continue to multiply the evils and injustices of unrestrained patriarchy.

< Biblical revelation was given within the patriarchal contexts of ancient Israel and the first-century Roman Empire.

This revelation limited the practices of patriarchy by commanding children  to honor both father and mother, held men accountable to God for the treatment of their wives, and upheld God’s directive in Genesis 2:24 that marriage should be between one man and one woman.

However, patriarchal abuses continued.  Polygamy was a common practice under ancient Judaism, which continued into Jesus’ time.

In the world today, the physical, emotional, spiritual, and sexual abuse of women and girls is unintentionally enabled by religious organizations which fail to confront abusers or to correct the patriarchal belief system they use to justify their behavior.

It is important to recognize that the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures deny the patriarchal belief system, leaving room for the development of a model for male-female relations more in line with the revelation of Jesus Christ.

1.  God created woman, as well as man, in the divine image.

  • In Genesis 1:26, God created BOTH man and woman TOGETHER in the image of God:

We read in Gen. 1:26:

“Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind (adam) in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.’ So God created humankind (adam) in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” (Gen. 1:27, NRSV).

  • Both humans, not just the male, were created in God’s image.  The word adam basically means earthly.  Genesis uses it for the human race and also for the first (male) human being.  Since it is joined to plural words in Genesis 1:26, it cannot mean the first human being alone.    The generic usage is doubly confirmed by the statements, “let them have dominion” and “male and female He created them.”  Women are specifically included by God! 
  • God’s image includes all the divine characteristics that separate humans from the animal world.  Sovereignty and dominion are major aspects of the character and image of God that are given to all people.                  

In fact, Genesis 1:26-27 indicates that God’s purpose for creating human beings in His image was so that they could exercise dominion!

  • Women are created with these godly characteristics just as much as men.  Human sexual differences were created and designed to function FOR reproduction, NOT for governance.
  1. God gave both man and woman a divine command to exercise dominion over Creation, NOT each other.
  • God did not give a domestic command to the woman and a governing command to the man, but addressed the same double command to man and woman together

In Genesis 1:28:

*  God addressed man and woman together.

*  God blessed them together.

*  God appointed them together with the instruction to rule over the rest of creation. 

“. . . male and female He created them.  God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.’”

After all, it would be pretty difficult for the man or the woman ALONE to be fruitful and multiply all by themselves.  God was setting up human community right from the beginning.

  • Sovereignty and dominion are God-given gifts to all human beings, they are NOT faults in women, but virtues in men.  Rather, they are virtues in all people when rightly used.  As a result of the Fall, men have misused these gifts by dominating women and other men. 

Wars, violence, and rape have resulted.  Women have forfeited their sovereignty and dominion gifts by allowing themselves to be subjugated by men, desiring their approval. 

These misuses of God’s gifts are results of the Fall from which Jesus Christ came to redeem mankind.

As someone has observed:  “Always ask why—not who, but why—for if you ask WHO gave the man authority over the woman, you may not find out why the man was given the authority, BUT if you ask WHY the man was given authority over the woman, you will find that it was the man’s idea.”  

(Quote from Susanna Krizo)

Instead of patriarchy, Christian men and women need to crown Jesus Christ as Lord over them, so that both men and women can serve Him together!

  • According to Genesis 1:29, the proper use of our God-given dominion and sovereignty is to govern God’s creation wisely. 

This dominion includes control over ourselves, being good stewards of the natural world, and by subjecting evil spirits to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. 

If we obey God’s commandment to love others as ourselves, we should exercise dominion jointly, through mutual cooperation and respect. 

  • Therefore, to rob woman of her sovereignty is to violate her creation as a human being in God’s image and her God-given command to subdue the earth.  Like a man, a woman may use her sovereignty to yield willingly to others, but it should never be taken away from her.
  1. Domination of man over woman is the result of sin.
  • The first mention of man ruling over woman occurred AFTER Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit.  It was not part of God’s original design, but resulted from their sinful, fallen condition. 
  • “He will rule over you” was spoken to Eve, not Adam.  It was not an imperative, but future tense.  The fact that her husband would rule over her was a consequence of sin that God told Eve would occur.  
  • It was NOT addressed to Adam, let alone a commandment given to him! Rather, God warned Eve of what would happen as she turned toward her husband–for what she really needed from God. 
  • Adam’s statement, “the woman you gave to me, SHE gave me the fruit and I did eat,” emphatically blamed Eve for his own violation of God’s commandment. This shows his hostility and rejection of his wife.  He was more concerned about himself than about her. 
  • Adam’s independence from and blame toward his wife created an imbalance in their relationship in which her love for and reliance upon him was not reciprocated [mutually given] in the same measure.  This relational imbalance has enabled men to dominate their wives, who tolerate the behavior, in order to preserve the relationship.
  • The dominion God gave, both to man and woman, was over the animals and the earth.  Nowhere did God grant some men dominion over other men or women.  They just took it!  The result was violence, lust, and oppression, which grieved God so much that He decided to wipe out mankind with a flood.
  1. Scripture nowhere directs a husband to rule over his wife, nor a wife to obey her husband.
  • The Ten Commandments contain no directive for wives to obey their husbands or husbands to govern their wives. 

The second commandment directs children to honor both father and mother, showing that the marriage partners share equal authority over their offspring.

  • No command of Scripture anywhere directs a husband to govern his wife.

When God blessed Abraham, He said, “For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord. . . “(Genesis 18:19).  Abraham’s wife is not mentioned as one who Abraham would command!

In 1 Timothy 3:4, Paul says that a bishop should be “one that rules well his own household, having his children in subjection,” not his wife!  Verse 12 says that deacons should be “husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their households well.”  Roman husbands were legally the rulers and judges of all those belonging to their households.  Yet, Paul deliberately omits any reference to Christian husbands ruling over their wives!

The New Testament never uses the active voice of hupotasso, “to bring into subjection,” in relation to marriage.  Nowhere in Scripture are husbands allowed to bring their wives into subjection

Christians are to bring evil into subjection, not other Christians!

  • The New Testament instructs wives to “submit” to their husbands, not to “obey” them.  Obedience was instructed for children and slaves. 

The voluntary decision to submit by the wife is under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.  She voluntarily submits to her husband as she is submitting to the Lord; that is, with godly wisdom.                     

Absolute obedience belongs to God alone!

  • The original, Greek word translated “submit” or sometimes, erroneously, “obey” (hupotasso) means to defer to someone respectfully. 

To quote the Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, the middle or passive voices, which are always used in NT marriage contexts, mean a “voluntary yielding in love.”

  • The Greek words to “obey” (hupakouo) and to “obey a ruler” (peitharcheo) are not used in any New Testament command for wives!
  • Nor is a husband ever described as “ruler,” archon, but “head,” kephale, which means source of life, as Jesus Christ is the source of life for His Bride, the Church.  [kephale is pronounced keph’ a lay.]
  1. The New Testament teaches that a married couple should come to a decision by mutual responsibility, equal authority, and consensual agreement. 

1 Corinthians 7:3-5 is the ONLY passage that directly addresses how a married couple should make a decision, and it tells them to decide the matter “by consent” or “by agreement.”  It is also the ONLY passage which uses the word “authority” (exousia) regarding husband and wife, and Paul gives it to both equally!

Paul gave the wife authority over her husband’s body, counterbalancing the husband’s first-century legal power over his wife’s body. 

Paul’s declaration removed a husband’s most basic “right” to control his wife, replacing the patriarchal norm with biblical mutuality

In stark contrast to the legal positions and social expectations of the first century, Paul upholds the rights and responsibilities of husband and wife as equal in 1 Corinthians 7. 

Although first-century parents customarily arranged marriages between their pre-adolescent daughters and much older men, Paul recognizes the rights of both men and women to remain unmarried. 

Ancient societies did not expect husbands to be faithful to their wives, whereas women were secluded to ensure their chastity. 

By contrast, both Jesus and Paul held both husbands and wives equally responsible to remain faithful within marriage.

  • Nowhere does the Bible tell husbands to break an impasse by making the final decision.  That would leave the couple in disagreement.   As Abraham Lincoln said, “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.” The same is true of women!
  • Agreement is essential for effective prayer and Christian service, because without it there is no true unity.  The New Testament urges Christians to be of one mind in Christ.
  • Scripture teaches that Christians should settle an argument by seeking the Lord together.  Paul counseled, “I beseech Euodias and beseech Syntyche that they be of the same mind in the Lord” (Phil. 4:2).  When these two “women who labored with me in the Gospel” disagreed, Paul humbly asked them both to come to an agreement. 

Paul did not “pull rank” of one over the other or command a decision by the rest of the Philippian church leadership.  He did not even impose his own apostolic authority.  Apparently, Paul believed that mutual love and respect were more important than who had the last say.

Although patriarchy practiced a “chain of command” from the oldest male over the clan, Jesus forbade His disciples to rule over one another, calling them instead to exhibit humility and love.

  • Jesus condemned authority being exercised among His followers.  He said, “The princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them and they that are great exercise authority upon them, but it shall not be so among you.  But whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister, and whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant, even as the Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.”  (Matt. 20:25-28)
  • Jesus’ commandment prevents ANY rulership over others.  Instead, Christians are to love, honor, prefer, and submit to one another. 
  • This instruction is given to ALL believers, not just women.
  • It is better to walk with God than to follow a “chain of command” with hierarchy.  Mature believers should walk in love, in obedience to God’s Word and the leading of the Holy Spirit. 
  • Leadership is given by God for the benefit of others; not to dominate, but to guide, to teach, to encourage and to set an example.  Scripture asks, “Can two walk together unless they be agreed?” (Amos 3:3)   And “Love does not seek its own way. . .” (1 Cor. 13:5). 
  • If love does not seek its own way, no husband who loves his wife can insist on imposing his will on her.  That is fallen man’s way, not the way of Christ.  God does not bless a domineering spirit!

The Bible shows patriarchy to be a result of the Fall, not God’s original design for marriage and family.

Patriarchy undermines not only the gospel and the message of Scripture, but also the health of families, marriages, and communities.

**The epicenter of gender injustice is patriarchy

guised as a biblical or a religious ideal.**

Because religion offers the most exalted and irreproachable authority shaping gender relations in cultures around the world, it is important to take on the challenge to uproot patriarchy as a biblical ideal and as a long standing practice among Christians.

  • While patriarchs were the religious leaders of their extended families, the New Testament teaches that all believers are on an equal footing before God.  Galatians 3:28 states, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” All become followers of Jesus on the same terms: faith and repentance.                       
  • Natural distinctions are irrelevant in God’s Kingdom.
  • Entrance into the community of Christians is by believing in Christ as Lord and Savior and by water baptism, administered to all.                

By contrast, Jewish patriarchy required males to be circumcised into membership.  Ten male Jews were required to establish a meeting; women did not count.

  • In the Church of Jesus Christ, all believers, not just men, are ‘priests’.

1 Peter 2:9 declares:

“But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation that you should show forth the praises of him who has called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” 

This word is addressed to ALL believers, including women!

  • Christian ministry flows from giftedness over which the Holy Spirit is Lord.  Scripture nowhere states that some gifts are given to men and others to women, but says in 1 Peter 4:10: 

“Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received.” 

This means that like men, Christian women should function freely in the abilities with which God has endowed them. 

  • Spiritual gifts are manifestations of the Holy Spirit, who lives and works within every Christian.  We operate in the spiritual gifts according to God’s empowerment, our faith, and the need of others, not gender.  The life of the Holy Spirit in Christians equalizes all in Jesus Christ, who alone is Lord of His Church.

While patriarchy leads to polygamy and other abuses, the biblical pattern is marriage between one man and one woman.

Patriarchy was characteristic of the Old Testament.  Free to rule, the men did what they wanted; and being fallen, they didn’t always want what was right.

The Old Testament patriarchs married multiple wives, and so accumulated huge clans.  The ten tribes of Israel descended from the polygamous marriages of Jacob and were perpetuated under the Israelite monarchy.

David had numerous wives; Solomon had over 1,000 wives.

Continuing into Jesus’ time, Jewish men still could marry multiple wives and divorce them at whim.

  • When asked by the Pharisees if this practice was lawful, Jesus told them, “Moses because of the hardness of your hearts permitted you to put away your wives; but from the beginning it was not so.” (Mt. 19:8).

Jesus pointed them back to Genesis where God created one man and one woman for each other.  Polygamy did not originate until Cain’s descendant, Lamech, a murderer, married two women (Gen. 4:17-24).

  • God’s pattern “in the beginning,” which Jesus re-established, was the exact opposite of patriarchy. 

Instead of the woman leaving her own family for her husband’s, the Bible commands a man to leave his parents and be joined to his wife. Jesus directs us to God’s original plan for marriage–the unity and equality of Adam and Eve before the Fall. 

  • Jesus quoted Genesis 2:24 to the Pharisees: ‘Therefore shall a man leave his father and mother and shall cleave unto his wife; and they shall be one flesh.”  Jesus’ words reversed the patriarchal practice of sending a woman to live with her husband’s family. 
  • God designed His family organization in the interests of the wife, who remained under the protection of her family of origin. 

Under God’s original commandment regarding marriage, the wife would enjoy the support of her relatives during pregnancy, childbirth, and lactation. 

Under this system, the husband could not easily abuse his wife, for in joining her, he would be accountable to her parents and brothers. 

Also, the husband couldn’t marry another woman, for it would be impossible for him to join more than one woman’s family!

God’s design for marriage prevents patriarchy and its excesses.


We should work together to overcome the results of the Fall and reinstate God’s design for marriage:  Not patriarchy, but mutuality.

The challenge for a man is to yield his independence and take responsibility for his own faults instead of blaming and denigrating women.  He must turn back to God and to his wife. 

The challenge for a woman is not to make her marriage relationship more important than her relationship to God.  She must be strong in doing what is right and not compromise God’s standards in order to please a man.

Both men and women need to put God first in their lives, obeying Him rather than their own sinful tendencies or the ungodly demands of others.

Christians should base their marriages on mutual love and respect, not a power struggle. 

Both husband and wife should defer to the other. 

Decisions should be made by mutual agreement. 

The process of coming to agreement will build Christian character into both partners as they listen to each other, consider each other’s needs, and seek the mind of Christ.  

(End of article by Kathryn J. Riss, Th.M.)

~ ~ ~

What do ‘some’ Christian leaders believe, teach, and practice TODAY about the place of women in marriage and in the church?

Why do some Christians still hold to a Patriarchal View of the Scripture?  Is their belief valid?    

For Christians—Where do Christians get these ideas from?

The obvious answer would be that Christians get their ideas from the Bible.  There are some passages in the Bible which seem very clear that women should ‘keep silent in the church’—from the plain reading of Scripture. 

First, we need to explore this question:   What Do ‘some’ Christian Leaders Believe, Teach, and Practice about the Place of Women in Marriage and in the Church and Why?

We need to ask ourselves:  Do we agree or disagree with what some Christians believe about women in the home and in the church??

Some Christians call this idea:  ‘Biblical Patriarchy’.

Two groups can be categorized under Biblical Patriarchy:  One is Traditional Patriarchy; the other is Complementarianism.

  • Why was this term: ‘Complementarian’ chosen?

This term was chosen, rather than using the traditional term:  Patriarchy, to disassociate it from Patriarchy.

The term: ‘Complementarian’ was a softer term and it was hoped to attract Christians since they thought that this term would have more appeal than rigid Traditional Patriarchy.

One of the key phrases that this group is known for saying is:

“Women are EQUAL to men, BUT . . .”

So, women are equal to men, BUT.  This can only mean that women are NOT equal if there is a BUT in their belief system! 

The difference between these two groups is mainly in the term.  Yet, it is clear that a Complementarian View is still based on a Traditional, Patriarchal view of gender, but with a few changes. 

Additionally, Complementarian belief is NOT consistent regarding what they believe that Christian women CAN or CANNOT do, especially in the church.

Both Biblical Patriarchy and Christian Gender Complementarianism fosters co-dependency which causes harm to women who live under it.  Christian Gender Complementarianism, even when practiced in a loving way, creates a situation of co-dependency for women.  Christian-endorsed co-dependency for women is not a healthy emotional way to live and causes harm to women who live by it. 

(Source:  Daisy Flower)

These groups usually gather around two main Bible verses!  Plus a few more.  

Both groups begin with:  Male entitlement–based on Scripture.

We quickly observe that Man’s View of church leadership is quite different from the Jesus’ Model of Leadership!

WHAT is being promoted as biblical and Christian, but is not–is what we need to look at

The Traditions of Men in Society and what is to be expected in the Church have often become the SAME.   

There are various distinctives or characteristics of Patriarchy.

One of the most extreme views in this teaching is that:

ALL women should submit to ALL men in ALL areas of life, even secular areas, outside of church life.

As you can see, THIS is a very extreme position to hold!!

Because of this belief, many godly Christian women in the Church have been wounded over the centuries and still are today!

In my research regarding spiritual abuse, it was evident that many women had been harmed by the belief that ONLY MEN could be church leaders and that women were NOT PERMITTED to be pastors, elders, or church leaders–and that this was based on the Bible!

So many women have had to ‘leave’ something.  They have had to leave their home church; they have had to leave their denomination, and in some cases, women have left the institutional church altogether—because of the treatment that they have received IN the church.  This ought not to be! 

How People Understand and ‘Make Sense of the World’ is Very Important.

In trying to understand how different people—even those who call themselves Christians—can arrive at such different conclusions, we must consider our “worldviews.”  What does this mean?

Our ‘worldview’–and everyone has one–is how we see the world.  Everyone asks important questions about the reason for life, the world, and for reality. 

Everyone asks questions such as:  “What is the origin of the universe?”  “What is the purpose of life?” and “What is real?”  

Our worldview is based on HOW we see a Divine Being (God) and ourselves in relation to the world, and to these ques­tions.

All humans ask these questions and the way we answer these questions becomes the basis for the way we think, how we make decisions, and how we act.

It is important to be aware of our own worldview because it helps us analyze our own perspective on things.

We grow into our worldview as a result of the way we have been taught by parents, by our family, by our church, by our schools, by the media, and by the way we have experienced the world.

While there are hundreds of competing worldviews, most people who call themselves Christians adhere to a “theistic” worldview.

Theism acknowl­edges that there is a personal God who created the universe and who has given moral principles.              

As Christians, our view of gender ought to be based on our view of God and what the Bible says and NOT based on the cultural views around us.

In Summary:

Patriarchalists and Complementarians will cherry pick, misapply, and misinterpret biblical passages, or engage in eisegesis,* to support their contention that the same behaviors that are signatures of codependency are God’s design for all women for all time.

[*Eisegesis means reading into a Bible passage one’s own ideas.  It is the opposite of exegesis, which is to accurately explain or interpret what is IN the biblical text.] 

So then, we need to ask this question:

WHY do Patriarchalists and Complementarians want to prohibit Christian women from preaching or teaching God’s Word in the Church?

  1. They say that this restriction is IN the Bible. Therefore, the Bible says, NO to women teaching men.

Our question would be:  Does the Bible REALLY say NO preaching or teaching of God’s Word to men?

  1. Gender complementarians associate certain behaviors or activities with being “feminine” or not being feminine.

Patriarchalists and Complementarians often engage in eisegesis.  That is, complementarians read their personal assumptions and prejudices about gender or their culture’s norms of gender role expectations into the biblical text.

Both groups also ignore or try to explain away examples of godly women in the Bible who do not meet gender complementarian parameters, but who serve as counter-examples.

  1. Human cultures have mostly always favored male dominance. 

Women have been subservient to men in most cultures—and for countless ages. 

So, how is this fact ‘biblical’?

Isn’t this just agreeing with the godless and pagan cultures which dominate most nations of the world that elevates male dominance and privilege??

* Doesn’t this basic cultural belief, in so many nations of the world, simply affirm and make females subservient to males. 

* Aren’t women really second class when it comes to the created order?

* Therefore, shouldn’t women need to be controlled, ruled, and treated like children?

When you have male privilege and male dominance in a society, then the hidden reality is that women are so often abused in these societies. 

The fruit of the mindset of male dominance is harmful to women!

Physical, emotional, economic, and spiritual ABUSE just goes with the territory!  Harm to women and girl children must STOP!

So, what are we seeing here??

When males do NOT treat women as equals, created by God, and co-regents in managing God’s creation, then they are NOT honoring the Creator, nor are they honoring the Creator’s design! 

The results of this belief and this behavior are seen all around us!

Men and women in so many places are now taking a stand against injustice—one main issue is:  the injustice against women and girls.

< You don’t have to be a Christian to grasp that men and women should be treated equally!

So what is different about the Kingdom of God?

Genesis 1 establishes the bedrock of human identity.  In this text we find the source of all human responsibility and authority.  God blesses the man AND the woman alike with the gift of a common identity: both of them are the image-bearers of God.

In the same manner, God summons male and female alike to a common calling:  BOTH are given the responsibility and the authority to be fruitful, to fill the earth, and to have dominion, or rule over it. 

The Creation account of Adam does NOT support a hierarchical ordering of male leaders OVER female helpers (the complementarian bias).

Instead, the Creation account opens up the very exciting perspective of humanity as a community of man and woman in union together. 

(Source: Christiane Carlson-Thies)

Biblical equality includes one’s heritage.  This means that who you are born to, your gender, or even your economic status, does not matter in the Kingdom of God.  It is WHO you ARE in Christ that really matters!

Clearly, ideas have consequences and biblical teachings have a colossal impact on the daily lives of girls and women.  Accuracy in interpreting Scripture is critical in building families, churches, and communities where females are treated not as responsible for sin and, therefore, incapable of moral virtue,  but as created in God’s image for shared dominion (Genesis 1:26-28).

As Christians, we should be leading the way with respect and honor of both genders.  Women and men working together is the ideal model that Christians can present to the world.

Women and men should be able to work together in the business world, in the church, and especially in the home.

We are each suited to some functions in the church better than others.  God does not withhold teaching and leadership ability based on gender.

In Eph. 4.11–13, we are reminded about the ministry gifts of people that Christ Jesus gave to the Church:

“some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.”

These gifts and callings are available to both men and women—there are no biblical gender restrictions recorded in this passage.

In conclusion, individuals today are fighting everywhere against ridiculous cultural and religious restrictions placed upon women.  Many individuals are taking a stand and saying:  “Enough is enough!”

Christians should be the ones leading the way for justice and equality regarding race and gender issues.

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** A Special Thank You to each of the scholars and authors who have provided informative material regarding the many inter-connected topics with this issue. **

The following are links to helpful articles on the internet about this topic:

*Patriarchy or Gender Equality: The Letter to the Ephesians on Submission, Headship, and Slavery by Carrie A. Miles, Ph.D.


*Why Modern Patriarchy Is Not Biblical by Kathryn J. Riss, Th.M.


*Patriarchy and Hermeneutics by Mark Hanson

http://reformedpendulum.com/index.php/articles/homeschool-movement/ patriarchy-and-hermeneutics/

*Even Warm and Fuzzy, True, Correctly-Implemented Gender Complemen- tarianism is Harmful to Women, and It’s Still Sexism by Daisy Flower 


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Beck, James R., and Craig L. Blomberg, eds. Counterpoints Series, ed. Stanley N. Gundry. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001.

Belleville, Linda. “Male and Female Leadership Roles in the New Testament,” vol.1. Chicago: Covenant Publications, 1993. 20-44.

———. Women Leaders and the Church: Three Crucial Questions. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2000.

Bilezikian, Gilbert. Beyond Sex Roles: What the Bible Says about a Woman’s Place in Church and Family. 2d ed. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1985.

———. Community 101: Reclaiming the Local Church as Community of Oneness. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1997.

Bristow, John Temple. What Paul Really Said about Women: The Apostle’s Liberating Views on Equality in Marriage, Leadership, and Love. Harper SanFrancisco, 1991.

Bushnell, Katharine C. God’s Word to Women. 1923. Reprint, Peoria, IL: Cosette McCleave Jolliff and Bernice Martin Menold, n.d.

Clouse, Bonnidell, and Robert G. Clouse. Women in Ministry: Four Views. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1989.

Collier-Thomas, Bettye. Daughters of Thunder: Black Women Preachers and Their Sermons, 1850-1979. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1997.

Cunningham, Loren, and David Joel Hamilton, with Janice Rogers. Why Not Women? A Fresh Look at Scripture on Women in Missions, Ministry, and Leadership. Seattle: YWAM Publishing, 2000.

Evans, Mary J. Woman in the Bible. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987. Reprint, Carlisle, England: Authentic Media, 2002.

Fleming, Bruce C.E. “On the Meaning in Context of Those Troublesome Verses on Women in 1 Peter.” Priscilla Papers, Summer 1991.

France, R. T. Women in the Church’s Ministry: A Test Case for Biblical Interpretation. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997.

Grady, J. Lee. Ten Lies the Church Tells Women: How the Bible Has Been Misused to Keep Women in Spiritual Bondage. Lake Mary, FL: Creation House Press, 2000.

Grenz, Stanley J., and Denise Muir Kjesbo. Women in the Church: A Biblical Theology of Women in Ministry. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1995.

Groothuis, Rebecca Merrill. Good News for Women: A Biblical Picture of Gender Equality. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1997.

Gundry, Patricia. Woman Be Free: Biblical Equality for Women. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1979. Reprint, n.p.: Suitcase Books, 1993.

Hull, Gretchen Gaebelein. Equal to Serve: Women and Men Working Together Revealing the Gospel. Grand Rapids: Fleming H. Revell, 1987. Reprint, Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998.

Johnston, Robert, Jean Lambert, David Scholer, and Klyne Snodgrass. A Biblical and Theological Basis for Women in Ministry. An Occasional Paper, No. 1. Chicago: Covenant Publications, 1987.

Keener, Craig S. Paul, Women, and Wives: Marriage and Women’s Ministry in the Letters of Paul. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1992.

Kroeger, Richard Clark, and Catherine Clark Kroeger. I Suffer Not a Woman: Rethinking 1 Timothy 2:11-15 in Light of Ancient Evidence. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998.

———. “Pandemonium and Silence at Corinth.” The Reformed Journal, June 1978.

———. Women Elders…Called by God? Louisville, KY: Women’s Ministry Unit, Presbyterian Church (USA), 1992.

McKenzie, Vashti M. Not without a Struggle: Leadership Development for African American Women in Ministry. Cleveland: Pilgrim Press, 1996.

———. Strength in the Struggle: Leadership Development for Women. Cleveland: Pilgrim Press, 2001.

Mickelsen, Alvera, ed. Women, Authority, and the Bible. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1986.

Noren, Carol M. The Woman in the Pulpit. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1992.

Osburn, Carroll. Women in the Church: Reclaiming the Ideal. Abilene, TX: Abilene Christian University Press, 2001.

Perriman, Andrew. Speaking of Women: Interpreting Paul. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, London: Apollos, 1998.

Scholer, David M. “Galatians 3:28 and the Ministry of Women in the Church.” Theology News and Notes, June 1998.

———. “Patterns of Authority in the Early Church,” in Servant Leadership: Authority and Governance in the Evangelical Covenant Church, vol.1. Chicago: Covenant Publications, 1993. 45-65.

———. “Women in Ministry,” a Bible Study. Reprinted from The Covenant Companion. Chicago, IL: Covenant Publications, December 1, 1983; December 15, 1983; January 1984; February 1984.

Smith, Marilyn B. Gender or Giftedness: A Challenge to Rethink the Basis for Leadership within the Christian Community. N.p.: World Evangelical Fellowship Commission on Women’s Concerns. 2000.

Snodgrass, Klyne. “‘Your Slaves—on Account of Jesus’: Servant Leadership in the New Testament.” in Servant Leadership: Authority and Governance in the Evangelical Covenant Church, vol.1. Chicago: Covenant Publications, 1993. 7-19.

Spencer, Aida Besançon. Beyond the Curse: Women Called to Ministry. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1985. Reprint, Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1989.

Swartley, Willard M. Slavery, Sabbath, War and Women: Case Issues in Biblical Interpretation. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1983.

Torjesen, Karen J. When Women Were Priests: Women’s Leadership in the Early Church and the Scandal of Their Subordination in the Rise of Christianity. San Francisco: Harper SanFrancisco, 1995.

Trombley, Charles. Who Said Women Can’t Teach? Gainesville, FL: Bridge-Logos Publishers, 1987.

Tucker, Ruth A., and Walter Liefeld. Daughters of the Church: Women and Ministry from New Testament Times to the Present. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1987.

Tucker, Ruth A. Women in the Maze: Questions and Answers on Biblical Equality. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1992.

Van Leeuwen, Mary Stewart. Gender and Grace: Love, Work, and Parenting in a Changing World. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1990.

Webb, William J. Slaves, Women and Homosexuals: Exploring the Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001.

Witherington, Ben, III. Women in the Earliest Church. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991.

———. Women in the Ministry of Jesus: A Study of Jesus’ Attitudes to Women and Their Roles as Reflected in His Earthly Life. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987.

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For Further Reflection

Two sites which provide Free Articles for personal research are:

 Christians for Biblical Equality and God’s Word to Women.

CBE           www.cbeinternational.org

GWTW      www.godswordtowomen.org


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 © 2016   Barb Orlowski, D.Min.


Women in the Church and Purpose, Calling, and Role

Subtitle: The Danger of Abusive Sexual Stereotyping

by Alison Rowan


Complementarianism claims that the sexes are ‘equal’ but that they have different ‘roles’. This is also called ‘gender differentiation’, and divides the responsibilities that God is supposed to have designed as a perfect plan for humans in the very beginning. They say the female ‘nurturing’ and ‘submissive role’ and the male ‘headship’ or ‘leadership role’ is meant to exist for marriage and the church, but it does not matter for secular affairs.

When Complementarians say the ‘role’ of a man or husband is the patriarchal leadership within the home and church, but not in society, it leads to all kinds of inconsistencies and artificial rules, conflicts due to rankings of authority, and a mess that Complementarians themselves disagree over finding a satisfying implementation that accounts for these anomalies. In truth, contrary to their dogma there are Sixteen NT Instances where Women Teach and Lead Men, either in actual example or by deliberate lack of prohibition.

Because their hermeneutics lead to an interpretation of 1 Tim. 2:12 saying that a woman should never hold any office or perform a function in the church where men would need to follow her advice or instruction, there are some ludicrous scenarios that come out of this mindset.

For instance, a woman cannot be the church’s worship leader since men are present, yet be the conductress of an excellent mixed gender secular choir that sings the occasional sacred oratorio, and the concert venue being sometimes in a church building . . . although some would disapprove or even dissuade her from doing that!

Some say a woman cannot even read the Bible aloud in the presence of men, but she can write a thesis or Bible commentary for men to learn from?! She can teach Bible classes to children–but at what age should she stop instructing her own son?!  She can be a gifted and inspiring high school religious education teacher, but not be in church youth work with teenage boys–and certainly not be involved in the main Sunday meetings or be permitted to lead a mixed gender Bible study!

One thing they all seem to agree on is that it is wrong for a woman to make major domestic decisions or to aspire to be the breadwinner over being the homemaker and child-raiser. Thus, when circumstances dictate that she needs to, there is a sense of guilt and ‘missing the mark’ (sinning) from God’s ‘perfect plan’ if she has to, say as a single mum. Yet if she puts herself ‘under the authority’ or ‘covering’ of a man … father, pastor … ? … it’s now OK!

There is increasing dissatisfaction, disillusionment, and frustration being felt, voiced, and demonstrated by withdrawal from volunteering by women in the western churches that espouse ‘roles’ for them. They are asking: “What is my purpose in life? How do I know if I am doing what God has called me to do? Is there really only one role for me–because I am a woman?”

In addition to that, the words: ‘purpose’, ‘calling’, and ‘role’ are used inter-changeably, becoming the chief cause of the frustration and disillusionment. To remedy this dissent, it is necessary to both define and distinguish between these three words and to give these despairing women some hope.

  1. Purpose  (Why mankind was created and why we are redeemed)

1 Peter 2:5-9 makes our purpose clear and is true for all:

“You yourselves, like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ . . . you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.”

God’s purpose is universal and unchanging for every single believer, wherever we are and whatever we do, it is the reason for which Christ purchased us.  It is to know Him and proclaim His excellencies, giving testimony of His salvation. In order to accurately proclaim the excellencies (to portray the image) of God, which is described in Gen. 1:27 and 5:1-2 as ‘male and female’, both genders are required to play an active part, supplementing and completing His image in each other. With mutual co-operation we will then clearly tell forth His goodness and desire that all should know His reign of love and righteousness in their lives–to ‘subdue and fill’ the Earth with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord.

Ultimately, our purpose is to be intimately one with our Saviour as His Ezer Kenedgo, his capable helper, perfectly matching Him in the New Creation and our hardships and challenges are currently training and preparing us for that joy. In all our trials, we know that everything works together for our good for we are individually called, according to that purpose.

  1. Calling  (What we do to fulfil our purpose)

One’s calling is highly individual, depending on natural temperament, aptitudes, desires, and talents as well spiritual gifts, experiences of life, robustness of character, and faith. It is also something uniquely designed by God for us and also something for which God uniquely designs and prepares us.

There comes a ‘knowing’ something ‘in the bones’ that cannot be shaken or dismissed about one’s call. There comes an attraction, a necessity to do it and dissatisfaction and frustration when its performance is denied or delayed.  Yet when functioning in one’s call, it is like wearing a well-fitting coat and as people are benefited, much good fruit ensues.

Further to this natural equipping there is his ‘grace’ or enabling anointing to fulfill his call.

“He has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace, which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began.” (2 Tim. 1:9)

“Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” (1 Pet. 4:10)

“I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power.” (Eph. 3:7)

The types of “gifts of God’s grace . . . through the working of his power’’ are outlined in Eph. 4:11: “apostle, prophet, evangelist, teacher, pastor” and in Rom. 12:6-8. Together they describe callings which entail all sorts of ministries and service within the church. These are only ‘according to the grace given’, not ‘according to the role’, nor ‘according to the sex’, since there is no gender specific pronoun in the Greek, which states for example, “ho didaskon en te didaskalia”—‘the (one) teaching, in the teaching’ etc.

“Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them:  if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.” (Rom. 12:4-8)

This list encompasses all sorts of callings:

  • “prophecy”–God-given insight for the progress of the church or individuals
  • “serving”–in administration, music, catering, maintenance, newsletters, bookstall etc.
  • “teaching”–the Word by any to all
  • “exhortation”–people-centred, pastoral encouragement and advice, and also preaching to the unsaved or to the congregation with exhortation to receive from the benefits of the cross
  • “contributing” (financially)–skill in business to earn the wage to be generous, making Spirit-directed appropriate gifts
  • “leadership”–with diligence and humility in all areas, whether, a prayer group, Bible study, admin team or the whole church
  • “acts of mercy”–charitable activities whether visiting the sick or prisoners or helping the under-privileged.

Many find great fulfilment in discovering their unique calling and then labor in it faithfully, eventually to enjoy their reward when the King returns.

Likewise, Christ’s betrothal gift to the Church, to make herself ready for when He returns, are the five-fold ministries in Eph. 4:11. How are they apportioned?   By gender?   NO–the qualification is given a few verses earlier and puts these gifts into their proper context: “to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.” (Eph. 4:7). It is His sovereign choice, for ‘each one’.

God’s own sovereign choice of calling, being a spiritual entity, is not on the physical body with its genitalia, but resides within one’s born again spirit. Since it is also woven into the individual’s temperament, desires, and life experiences, it therefore transcends sexual stereotypes. As R.M. Groothuis says:

“Unlike traditionalism and women-centered feminism, equalitarianism does not sexualize the entire person. Gender is not viewed as the primary determinative factor in a person’s life; spiritual, intellectual, experiential, relational, and personality factors are likewise important. A person’s sex does not deterministically and indelibly color all of a person’s character, being, and life experience. Sexual identity is not conflated with personal identity.”*

(*Women Caught in the Conflict: The Culture War between Traditionalism and Feminism by Rebecca M. Groothuis. Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, 1997, p. 126.)

Admittedly, most personality profile determinants, such as Myers-Briggs, do show sexually weighted percentages on a few of the personality types and, therefore, the most suitable type of employment can have a gender preference. However, I believe it is abusive to either prohibit or to enforce certain callings according to sexual stereotyping and that it does not appear to be how God Himself makes His choices.

All of the callings in the Body of Christ are to fulfill the higher purpose, stated above and it takes a humble, accountable group of leaders to ensure that all are given space and edified so that they can grow into their own calling and usefulness in the Body for that purpose to know God and make Him known.

God’s first mandate to Mankind still stands: to fill the Earth, not only with Adam’s seed, but also Christ’s seed. It is also to fill it with the knowledge of the Glory of the Lord, by being His Male and Female likeness, bringing order –having dominion–good custodianship over all God’s creatures, especially the human ones! This is still our purpose towards which our callings function.    

A study of the Greek words for the requirements for leadership, aside from a generalized recommendation for faithful monogamy if the candidate is married, also shows no gender specification, therefore, all callings are open to both genders. This is especially evident in the appointment of Phoebe as a deacon and a leader. 

  1. Role (What we do in life and to fulfill our calling)

In considering these three terms, purpose–which is universal and unchanging and calling–which is individual and unchanging, we quickly recognize that role–which is individual and changing throughout life, is really the most transient. The most appropriate definition for role is that: a role is a part played in a scene of one’s life and can change, develop, or diversify with time and circumstances. There is no strait-jacketed, fixed definition that delineates the sexual differences into only two categories for life, as Complementarians teach.

Because role is connected to what we physically do, what we are physically, does affect it. A 250 lb. woman will never be an Olympic hurdler!  A 125 lb. man would not be the anchor man in a tug-of-war team! Likewise, a grandfather will never breastfeed, but can be a great friend and inspiration to his growing grandchildren.  Simultaneously, he can be a counsellor to his son’s marital problems, a caring husband, a gardening expert, a volunteer for several charities and a golfing partner to an ex-colleague, who both, now, no longer are agile enough to play badminton together.  

It may be that in doing some of these roles it may also be revealed that he is fulfilling a calling on his life–to be one who shows mercy with cheerfulness. Through all his actions and words, he involves His Saviour and brings the knowledge of His love into all his relationships. He is fulfilling his purpose, too.

Role is also connected to personality type, intelligence, and general psyche.  As examples, the sanguine would not be suited to work in an abattoir, neither would someone with Asperger’s syndrome be a good marriage guidance counselor, but could be an excellent historical researcher, scientist, or musician. The choleric make better executive decisions than the phlegmatic and the melancholic, but their pastoral advice may be too prescriptive and inappropriate. Since these qualities are common to all humans, is it not unjust, counterproductive, and abusive to invent an artificial gender distinction and make it law in both secular and ecclesiastical spheres?

The only places where gender definitely does play a part is with the ‘be fruitful and multiply’ edict of our Creator! Even while raising the children, the genders do not necessarily define which parent is best at what. Personally speaking as an aspie, I do not have the intuitive sensitivity and ‘people skills’ usually associated with mothering, whereas my husband does! He is also an excellent father to our five children and I do my best with the three who have Asperger’s and the two who definitely don’t. At least we all understand our limitations!

I gave up a promising career as a scientist to follow the traditional ‘Christian’ model–‘a woman’s place is in the home’ and by living very frugally, my husband’s teacher’s wage saw us through. If he had not had the intelligence or qualifications that would have allowed entrance to and progression in his career path, it would actually have been better if he had raised the children while I earned the wage. I believe there has to be flexibility, not law. That is the way of grace and closer to God’s heart.

With all that said, I would like to ask: Where in the Bible are there defined ‘roles’ that are set in stone for the separate genders as the Complementarians claim?  I see Proverbs’ virtuous wife being the manager of her household and business, being the wage earner for her husband who may be an unpaid city elder, (judge and councillor) ‘sitting in the gates’.

I also see Paul’s advice to the widowed Ephesian women through Timothy  (1 Tim. 5:11-14) to remarry, have (new) children, and manage their households and for them (instead of the servants) to stay with their children (from the new or previous marriage), rather than wander from house to house as idle gossips, which they could only do if supported by the church (on the widow’s list) or if their estate brings in the income or their new husband does.

Lydia ran a lucrative business and managed her own household, presumably as a widow. There is flexibility here. Also, all of the necessary qualifications were found in Lydia to be an overseer! (The brief mention in 1 Cor. 1:11 of ‘the brethren of Chloe’, I believe identify her as the overseer of the household of faith in her care, likewise the two ‘elect ladies’ in 2 John).

In conclusion, I cannot find in the Genesis accounts, any justification for reading into the text of Gen. 1:26-8, that Adam was given the ‘leadership role’ (having dominion over), whereas Eve was given the ‘nurturing role’ (be fruitful), as the Complementarian’s claim. There seems to be a level of deliberate dishonesty to do so, when it unequivocally states that God blessed them BOTH at the same time with the same words.

In fact, it is very instructive to study the pronouncements in Eden to see exactly what authority was granted to whom and when. Likewise a careful examination of the claims that God had set up these roles as a ‘divine order’ or ‘perfect plan’ BEFORE the Fall, also shows that it is only assumed by reading Patriarchy into the early Genesis text, from the post-Fall scenario when man DID have authority over woman. Reading by honest exegesis, I cannot see any foundation for Adam having authority over Eve, his perfectly matching ezer kenedgo, in God’s ‘very good’ pre-Fall Eden. There was no Patriarchy in Paradise!

If the blood of Jesus fully paid for Adam’s sin, why is it that the Complemen-tarian Church behaves as if it did not pay for Eve’s?! Implementation of our full redemption, purchased at such horrendous cost should not be denied, but the timing of it needs to be understood. Our spiritual disconnection was completely dealt with at Calvary: Christ has joined our spirits to His (1 Cor. 6:17) and again granted us all authority over all the works of the Evil One in the use of his Word and His Name. Is that authority diminished on female lips? Is it written anywhere that her spiritual authority only functions under a man’s ‘covering’ or is this belief a mere eisegetical assumption of Complementarianism?

All physical effects of the Fall will be dealt with in the future Resurrection and New Creation, but the social disconnection (in the realm of the soul) is to be implemented now, in the present time.

Therefore, other than the physical specializations for procreation, I propose that there were no fixed, separate ‘roles’ regarding social or spiritual functions, nor disparity of authority in God’s perfect pre-Fall creation.

Since the born-again spirit is indeed neither male nor female, neither should there be any artificial distinction of roles and authority now, in the glorious, post-redemption liberty of all the sons of God, whatever the genitalia of the flesh they currently inhabit. Procreation excepted, we are indeed equal ‘in Christ’ in every single respect and outworking, in this present age and in that which is to come. 

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With Thanks to Alison Rowan for her research and article composition.

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For Further Reflection

To read more articles by Alison Rowan, go to this link:

Biblical Equality Resource Articles:


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© 2015   Barb Orlowski, D.Min.


Women in the the Church and Luke’s Teaching From Acts 2, 10, and 11


There seems to be much discussion about the place of women in the church, that is, what women can and cannot do. From the entirety of Scripture, there is much more evidence to support the fact that women CAN MINISTER in any and all capacities. This is primarily based on the fact of the empowering of the Holy Spirit upon individuals.

This article will consider how the impact of the Holy Spirit upon the Jews and the Gentiles as recorded by Luke, in the Book of Acts, can inform us today. Luke’s account provides foundational support for both women and men to be called of God, anointed and empowered for pertinent Christian ministry in the church and in the world.

Let us examine Acts 2, 10, and 11 and glean from these passages some pertinent truths of what Luke was intending for his readers to understand and to practice. 

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Acts 2—The Believing Jews and Pentecost

So, what was the point of the Day of Pentecost when it comes to ‘how’ women should function in the church today? Obviously it was a significant day in the cycle of Jewish feasts—which pointed to spiritual realties that would come.  It is not hard to understand the implications of the Passover. Fifty days after the Passover celebration, came the Feast of Pentecost in the Jewish calendar.

Details after the Resurrection and Ascension of Christ are found in the Book of Acts. Though the disciples were living in the joy of seeing their Lord raised from the dead, talking and eating with him again, they also followed through on what they were told to do next, after his ascension: To wait and to expect, as a community of Christ followers, in order to be filled with the Holy Spirit.

I am sure that they wondered what this could mean, but they had the promise, both from the Scriptures and the words of Jesus, himself, that this would be their personal experience. This was the time of huge change—since Christ had come in the flesh and had completed what he was sent to do. In our context, we could ask: Was this Acts 2 event/experience to be only for the apostles, only for the converted male followers of Christ, or was this ‘promise’ for ALL of God’s people–which included women and maybe children too?

Who Was Gathered in the Upper Room?

We read from Acts 1:12-14 that a group of about 120 gathered in a designated place. Many from Jesus’ family were there too. Both women and men gathered together to pray, to wait, and to expect. Notice Peter’s salutation to them when they considered appointing someone to fill the position of Judas.

“12 Then the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day’s walk from the city. 13 When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. 14 They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.

15 In those days Peter stood up among the believers (a group numbering about a hundred and twenty) 16 and said, “Brothers and sisters, the Scripture had to be fulfilled in which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through David concerning Judas, who served as guide for those who arrested Jesus.”

When the Day of Pentecost had come, Luke records in Acts 2 that:

“All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.” 

Moving Out into the Open

As this group found their way outdoors, those gathered in Jerusalem at that time were perplexed at the phenomena that they were witnessing–and some even ridiculed them.

Peter wasted no time to clarify what exactly was going on. He based his explanation on a familiar passage to them, found in Joel 2.

14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. 15 These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! 16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:

17 “‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. 18 Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.     . . .

22 “Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. 23 This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. 24 But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.”

Peter gave witness to the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus and verified the basis for what was happening:

32 God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it. 33 Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.”

What Jesus told them, based on the OT and NT promises was now being fulfilled—before their very eyes. There was no longer any waiting. Men and women, who had trusted that Jesus was the Messiah of God, were the recipients of the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on this Day of Pentecost. There was no going back to the ways that things had been shaped by Jewish culture, based on the OT Scriptures.

A New Era Had Begun!

A new era had unfolded and those who gathered on this day were the first fruits of many more men and women who would boldly declare the Gospel message to many nations. It is quite obvious, from a biblical perspective, that the reader of the Acts account should be able to factor in that women were included and that women have a place in ANY and ALL ministry in the Church today–since the day of this significant outpouring!

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Acts 10 and 11—The Gentiles are Included

To continue with our look at the inclusion of women in the Book of Acts, let us consider the account of Peter going to the house of Cornelius and what transpired there. This lengthy account can be found in Acts 10 and 11.

For the Apostle Peter, to be called and commanded to go to the home of a Gentile was quite a big deal for any serious Jew. It was by direct revelation to this spiritual leader in the early church that this was the divine will of Yahweh.

We are familiar with Peter’s lunchtime vision about the unclean animals. We are intrigued as we recognize the unique timing—at the same instant as his vision, the three men sent by Cornelius, were at Peter’s door.   Peter could not avoid going with these men to the centurion’s home. Even still, it was so far out of cultural norms that this story needed to be explained more than once by Luke–in order for the readers to get the full impact of what was so cross-culturally taboo for a Jew to even think of doing. The reader watches this story unfold, blow by blow.

It is noteworthy that Cornelius was expecting them. In fact, he had called together his relatives and close friends to be assembled there upon their arrival. Upon entering this home, there was a large gathering of people—also waiting and expectant—as to what this Jew might say to them.

From his Jewish perspective, Peter made this significant statement before them all: “You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile. But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean.” (10:28)

Cornelius described his angelic visit. From that report, it solidified Peter’s response which confirmed what he now realized: “. . . God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right.” From there Peter rehearsed pertinent Jewish history and tied together the recent events regarding Jesus of Nazareth, and established that HE was indeed: God’s Anointed One.

Peter affirmed that: “We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a cross, 40 but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. 41 He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.    42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

Right in the Middle of Peter’s Sermon!!

What happens next arrests the reader and demonstrates that what had happened to the believers on the Day of Pentecost was indeed happening right here and right now in this Gentile home!

“While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. 45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles. 46 For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.”

Just as on the Day of Pentecost, Peter gave voice to what had just happened to his fellow Jews. Here again, Peter acknowledged what exactly was happening among these Gentiles. “Then Peter said, 47 “Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” 48 So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days.”

Peter Now on the Red Carpet

In chapter 11, we read how Peter had to defend his actions after being rebuked by fellow believers for having overstepped Jewish cultural boundaries. “So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him and said, “You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.” Peter had to rehearse the entire story about his vision and about the angelic encounter of Cornelius.

Peter emphasized the fact again that the ‘voice’ that spoke from heaven made it clear that he was NOT to ‘call anything impure’ that God, himself, had made clean. Peter words, recorded by Luke, endorsed again what the message was: “As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning. Then I remembered what the Lord had said: ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ So if God gave them the same gift he gave us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could stand in God’s way?”

With those words, there was no more need to defend this multi-ethnic situation any longer. There were no further protests and praise was given to God!

“When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, “So then, even to Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life.”

Again the teaching from Acts 10 and 11 is clear. Though Peter was slow to grasp the full message—that the Holy Spirit had come upon all, not just the Jews–he eventually got it, at least this time. This account of the significance of the coming of the Spirit upon those gathered in the home of Cornelius, underscores again that the Spirit ‘came upon ALL’—both men and women assembled there.

The Gentiles heard the Gospel and in their hearing and receiving the impact of the Good News, they were empowered by the Holy Spirit–identically as the believers waiting in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost. Luke’s thorough description of this event in Acts highlights the empowering of the Spirit upon all who believe!


In summary, we see that a host of both Jewish and Gentile men and women were filled with the precious Holy Spirit beginning with these two momentous events. It was God’s timing for change and for the new era of the Spirit to commence. We can thoughtfully conclude that: there are no restrictions between the calling of women or men today–to fulfill all that God calls them to be and to do in His Kingdom!

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For Further Reflection

How did the early church deal with the challenge of including Gentiles into the church? What were the criteria that they used to establish that the Gentiles were ‘worthy’ of inclusion in the church—that is, the Redeemed Community of God’s people?

Acts 15 gives details of the sharp dispute regarding the inclusion of the Gentiles as believers by teaching them that it was imperative that they be circumcised, “according to the custom taught by Moses” OR they could not be saved!

From this passage we see that there was strong contention about this crucial and Jewish traditional issue. We also observe how the early church dealt with such strong controversy. It was a time of huge change and the leaders of the church needed the wisdom from God, patience, tenacity, and the witness of both the Word and the experience of their ‘sent forth’ ones to establish any purposeful change.

We listen in on the Council at Jerusalem in Acts 15:

“Certain people came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the believers: “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.” This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question. The church sent them on their way, and as they traveled through Phoenicia and Samaria, they told how the Gentiles had been converted. This news made all the believers very glad. When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and elders, to whom they reported everything God had done through them.

Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, “The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to keep the law of Moses.”

The apostles and elders met to consider this question. After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: “Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. 10 Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear? 11 No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.”

12 The whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul telling about the signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them. 13 When they finished, James spoke up. “Brothers,” he said, “listen to me. 14 Simon has described to us how God first intervened to choose a people for his name from the Gentiles. 15 The words of the prophets are in agreement with this, as it is written:

16 “‘After this I will return and rebuild David’s fallen tent. Its ruins I will rebuild, and I will restore it, 17 that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord, even all the Gentiles who bear my name, says the Lord, who does these things’ 18 things known from long ago.

19 “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. 20 Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood. 21 For the law of Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath.”

From all of the contributors to this tense situation, we observe the following:

  1. Peter verified from the Scripture and from his own recent life experience that God accepted the Gentiles–since the evidence was that they had received the filling of the Holy Spirit ‘exactly as they had’ on the Day of Pentecost.
  1. Barnabas and Paul also recounted their experiences of the signs and wonders that God had done among the Gentiles through them from their recent missionary adventures.
  1. When Barnabas and Paul had finished, James spoke up. James confirmed Peter’s description that “God first intervened to choose a people for his name from the Gentiles.” James also pointed them to the words of the prophets which were in agreement with this.

To conclude, these chosen leaders proved by the Old Testament Scriptures, the very words of the prophets, and the verifiable recent life experiences of Peter, Barnabas, and Paul on the frontlines of mission that this was God’s divine will. They corroborated how the Gentiles were filled with the Holy Spirit and signs and wonders were done among the Gentiles–as a further witness to God’s working among them. All of these factors pointed to the need to no longer carry on the ‘Moses’ tradition’ of circumcision.

Instead, there were four main guidelines instituted for the discipling of the Gentiles after their conversion to Christ. A letter was written and taken to the church at Antioch by Paul, Barnabas, Judas, and Silas.

That which had been done for centuries by the Jews–to show their covenant devotion to the words of Moses and Yahweh’s Law–was now set aside since there was a new season of the Spirit’s visitation in the lives of Jews and Gentiles. This became the new path for followers of the Christ, the Son of God.

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Two sites which provide Free Articles for personal research are: Christians for Biblical Equality and God’s Word to Women.

CBE           www.cbeinternational.org

GWTW       www.godswordtowomen.org

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© 2015   Barb Orlowski, D.Min.

Women in the Church and Evangelical Feminism


Over the past number of decades, the term ‘feminism’ has gotten a bad rap. Many Christians seem intent on contending that ‘feminism’ is an ‘enemy’–to be thwarted at every turn. I am not sure what some Christians have been taught, but when the topic of ‘feminism’ is raised in some Christian circles, a number of people go ballistic!

Some have even speculated that the word ‘feminism’ is the new ‘F-word’ in some Christian settings. The question that comes to mind is: Why is that?

One factor is that there is an overarching assumption that all feminism is wrong.

I would like to take a poke at the new F-word—Feminism!! Therefore, it is necessary to clarify the historical roots of feminism and to put it in the perspective of the three waves of feminism. It will be important to note that the word ‘feminism’ is not just a single- purpose, catch-all word that is both suspicious and should be maligned because it is linked with radical feminism.

The history of the church includes a serious look at changes in how society and the church viewed the place of women. It is imperative that we grasp the facts regarding the historical record in order to be better informed and not caught in a false interpretation of the facts.

History Matters

The following commentary has been taken from an excellent book which explores and resets the idea that ‘feminism’ should be anchored in church history. It should be correctly designated as ‘evangelical feminism’ in order to be historically correct.

Historian and theologian, Rebecca Merrill Groothuis, in her book: Women Caught in the Conflict: The Culture War between Traditionalism and Feminism has provided excellent research with insights into this topic. Rebecca’s work illuminates much of the uninformed and shallow thinking around these issues and bases them in historical happenings and in the context of the Christian church.

I, again, invite you to consider ‘evangelical feminism’ in order to understand its solid Christian heritage and then to recognize the impact that this 19th century movement has had on society as a whole. I ask you to reflect on what motivated people to change the way things were—and were motivated to make a significant difference!

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Let’s peel back a few layers of this onion and see what has gotten people thinking and/or reacting. Dr. Groothuis arrests our attention by using this colorful subtitle and then developing her astute perspective.

The Feminist Bogeywoman

“Feminist ideas are stereotyped; a one-size-fits-all definition of feminism —descriptive of the most radical secular feminism, of course—is used to characterize any idea that deviates from the traditional woman’s role at any point.

Traditionalism today equals   =    Antifeminism.

Many evangelicals have lately been concerned that the wall of demarcation between the church and the world has been breached by assorted evils, including feminism. . . . In this retrenchment effort, feminism is deemed wholly evil and traditionalism wholly biblical.   . . .

Falling back on tradition in order to circumvent the confusion and uncertainty of social change is not warranted, for the simple reason that that which traditionally has been understood to be biblical is not necessarily biblical at all.”

Agreed, it is mandatory that we need to get our facts straight in order to make informed assessments and draw valid conclusions regarding this topic.


Women’s Missionary and Reform Societies

Dr. Groothuis reminds the reader of the massive involvement of women in missionary and reform societies that was burgeoning forth in the 19th century.

“Women’s ministry in the 19th century initially took the form of evangelistic, missionary, benevolence, and reform societies founded and led by women. Numerous such organizations thrived from 1810 until 1920. In their zeal to involve women in ministry outside the home, these groups—without officially sponsoring feminism as a cause—were simply doing the things that evangelical feminists declare every woman should have the opportunity to do.”

Therefore, it can be clearly observed that: “biblical feminism is simply continuing along the lines of a tradition begun nearly two hundred years ago.”

Now we will look at what factors were in play during the 19th century that propelled godly women forward in making a difference in their society. We will consider the ‘roots’ of evangelical feminism in the social milieu of this era.


“Evangelical Feminism Compared with Other Views

The terms biblical and evangelical are used interchangeably to describe a feminism rooted in the Christian world view, which looks to the Bible—not “women’s experience”—as its final authority.

The biblical diagnosis for the “disease” of sexism recognizes that legal and economic inequity and the cultural institution of patriarchy are some of the factors that perpetuate gender injustice. But human sin is identified as the root cause of sexism as well as the factors that perpetuate it.

Genesis 3:16 spells out God’s commentary on sin’s consequences in the area of male/female relationships. Sin has resulted in women being ruled by men in every context—legal, economic, cultural, and personal.

The cure for this universal malaise is the same biblical cure prescribed for every ill effect of human sin: repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation. Men must repent of the tendency to use women simply to facilitate their own agenda; women must repent of their tendency to circumvent this male domination through sexual manipulation, as well as their tendency to give in to passivity and an unfaithful stewardship of the gifts with which God has entrusted them. . . .

Unlike mainstream feminists who often seem only to be trying to imitate men, and woman-centered feminists who seem bent on being separate from and superior to men, biblical feminists aim for both women and men to become more balanced people who are more harmoniously related to one another.

The goal of evangelical feminism is that men and women be allowed to serve God as individuals, according to their own unique gifts rather than according to a culturally predetermined personality slot called “Christian manhood” or “Christian womanhood.”

Also unlike many secular feminists, women who identify with evangelical feminism are not motivated by a greed for power or a self-centered desire to prove themselves equal or superior to men.

Rather, they are motivated by a sense of justice and the conviction that the traditional order which has been imposed on women and men is not in keeping with God’s will for his people. They desire to see women liberated from the stultifying effects of exclusively male leadership, and they are impelled to seek the opportunity to serve God and minister to others to the full extent of their abilities in obedience to the call of God.   . . .

Traditionally, evangelical feminism derives more from a spirit of “preaching the gospel to the poor” than an attitude of self-assertion and self-fulfillment. Speaking of the nineteenth-century women’s missionary movement, Ruth Tucker echoes similar sentiments:

“Women missionaries generally were motivated by the needs of others rather than their own. They may have looked and acted very much like feminists when they launched the women’s missionary movement in 1861, and when they individually fought for ministry opportunities equal to men’s, but beneath the surface the issues were very different.”

Far from being a struggle to gain power and dominance, the goal of biblical feminism is that men and women in the church might be liberated from the preoccupations with power and authority that characterizes the traditionalist agenda, so that everyone may serve God freely and whole-heartedly without the anxiety that one might be stepping out of one’s place in the “chain of command.”

Evangelical feminists believe that when male authority is billed as biblically mandated, this is not an inconsequential error. Such teaching entails the unavoidable implication of the male’s unique relationship to God—that he is more representative of God and closer to God in the “chain of command”—and it is therefore harmful to both men and women spiritually, socially, and emotionally.


Biblical Feminists and the Bible

Biblical feminists are distinguished from other feminists in their diagnosis and prescribed cure for the problem of sexism, and in their motivation for attempting to solve the problem. They also differ in their use of the Bible.

Other feminists either reject the Bible entirely or seek to interpret it from the perspective of “women’s experience.”

Evangelical feminists regard the Bible as authoritative in its entirety and maintain that sexism in the church derives from the traditional practice of interpreting the Bible in the patriarchal light of “men’s experience.”

The corrective to this androcentric hermeneutic is not a gynocentric hermeneutic, but one which is free of any hidden gender agendas.

  • A biblical feminist hermeneutic is no more woman-centered than it is man-centered
  • It simply seeks to correct a historic imbalance in traditional biblical interpretation as regarding the role of women.
  • It does not attempt to rewrite the Bible or to usurp biblical authority.

Naturally, male translators and interpreters with such a preunderstanding tended to find in Scripture what they expected to find—a central role for men and an ancillary, subordinate role for women.

But evangelical feminists believed that, although the Bible was written in the context of male-dominated cultures, it does not teach male domination as a universal, God-ordained norm.

Although evangelical feminism today has gleaned some truths from modern secular feminism, it is not a product of the women’s liberation movement of the 1960s or 1970s, nor does it find inspiration in the pagan feminist spirituality which has emerged since the late 1970s.

Rather, biblical feminism is simply continuing along the lines of a tradition begun nearly two hundred years ago.

For evangelical feminists, the Bible is more than a cultural and religious force with which to be reckoned. It is God’s infallible and authoritative word—every believer’s source of truth. It is for this reason that evangelical feminists for the past two centuries have sought the accurate translation and interpretation of Scripture.

Respect for the veracity and authority of God’s Word is central to the evangelical feminist enterprise, and this is primarily what distinguishes it from the theologically liberal feminist approach to Scripture that has developed in the last century.”


What Does the Biblical Feminist Hermeneutic Include?

“The biblical feminist hermeneutic includes the following eight strategies.

The first and most fundamental principle of biblical interpretation is to endeavor to be faithful to the biblical author’s intent in writing the specific passage in question. We must try to determine why the biblical author wrote what he wrote, and in determining the “why” we determine the basic biblical principle or message of the text. That principle can then be applied to our own situation. All other strategies of biblical interpretation follow from this basic objective.

In order to know why the biblical author wrote a particular text, it is essential to know exactly what he wrote. Therefore, a second hermeneutical principle is the accurate translation of the passages traditionally used to silence and subjugate women.

Biblical feminists have found that many texts which are in fact less than clear in the original language have been translated so as to appear unequivocally to support the idea of male authority. . . .

1 Tim. 2:12 The traditionalist prohibition of women occupying positions of church leadership hinges on the translation of the Greek word authentein in the usual way of “have (or usurp) authority over.” But because authentein is not used anywhere else in the NT, and because authentein seems to have a wide variety of meanings in ancient Greek usage, the traditional translation of this verse appears to be open to legitimate debate.

1 Cor. 11:3-16 is full of notorious exegetical difficulties.

The only appearance of authority is speaking of the woman’s own authority— “authority over (or on) her head” is augmented to read “a sign of authority on her head” (NIV). This leads conveniently to the idea that the veil or covering that the woman is to wear serves as symbol or sign of her submission to the authority her husband has over her.

Such an understanding of the verse is far from obvious when one considers only the literal translation of the text. But when the text is augmented and the meaning adjusted so that the authority to which the verse refers becomes that of the man under whom the woman is placed in the chain of command, then it seems to support the traditional interpretation of the passage.

Third, it is important to maintain interpretive consistency with the rest of a biblical author’s writings as well as the whole of Scripture. Toward this end, unclear and/or isolated passages are not to be used as doctrinal cornerstones, but are to be interpreted in light of clear passages which reflect overall biblical themes.

This hermeneutical principle prohibits building a doctrine of female subordination on 1 Cor. 11:3-16 and 14:34-35 and 1 Tim 2:11-15, for these texts are rife with exegetical difficulties. Principles clearly expressed elsewhere in the Bible must inform one’s interpretation of such “proof text” passages.

Fourth, texts couched in a context of culturally-specific instructions are not to be taken a priori as normative for the present day. Biblical texts that have a universal, doctrinal orientation are more likely to be considered directly transferable to the present day than those texts that were intended for immediate practical application in a particular cultural situation.

Millard Erickson points to water baptism and footwashing as illustrative of the difference between a biblical command that is put into a universal setting (the Great Commission, Matt. 28:18-20) and a command given in a culturally specific situation (John 13:14-16). The biblical principle behind the footwashing incident is that we always ought to maintain a humble attitude of servanthood, rather than that we ought to institute a permanent sacrament of footwashing. “In that culture, washing the feet of others would symbolize such an attitude [of humility].  But in another culture, some other act might more appropriately convey the same truth.”

This leads to a fifth hermeneutical principle, which is that culturally-specific instructions are to be interpreted not only in light of biblical doctrine and principle, but also in light of the culture to which they were written and the author’s reason for writing them.

For example, when Peter instructs wives to be submissive to their husbands (1 Pet. 3:1), it must be remembered that in Roman society civil law granted husbands absolute authority over their wives and that Peter’s instruction is couched in the context of similar exhortations for believers to submit to the civil authorities. The biblical message, then, would seem to be that Christians are to be respectable, law-abiding members of society by behaving appropriately in the society in which they live, rather than that God has commanded all husbands for all time to be in authority over their wives.

Sixth, events recorded in the Bible should also be understood in light of the culture of that time. For example, a woman leader in a highly patriarchal culture would have more significance than a woman in leadership today. While both instances indicate that women are capable of leadership, chances are that the presence of a woman leader in a patriarchal culture—unless she is the wife, mother, or daughter of a male leader—indicates that something other than cultural forces propelled her to that position. We can therefore surmise that women in ancient Israel of the NT church who were in positions of leadership were quite likely in those positions by virtue of God’s design.

Seventh, because of the progressive nature of God’s revelation in the Bible, NT texts concerning women should be considered more accurate indicators of God’s intent for women than those provided in the OT. The familiar traditionalist idea that a man is the priest of his home, for example, fails to consider progressive revelation.

The OT arrangement whereby priests were always male Levites (or, in pre-Mosaic times, the patriarchs of households) was superseded by the new covenant, wherein Jesus serves as the permanent high priest (Heb. 7:21-24) and the one mediator between God and humanity (1 Tim 2:5), and all believers serve as priests unto God (1 Pet. 2:5-9; Rev. 5:10; 20:6).

Concerning the priesthood of all believers, F.F. Bruce comments, “If, as evangelical Christians generally believe, Christian priesthood is a privilege in which all believers share, there can be no reason that a Christian woman should not exercise her priesthood on the same terms as a Christian man.”

In discussing progressive revelation, Millard Erickson notes,

“In some cases, the essence of a doctrine was not explicitly realized within biblical times. For example, the status of women in society was elevated dramatically by Jesus. Similarly, Paul granted an unusual status to slaves.        Yet the lot of each of these groups did not improve as much as it should have. So to find the essence of how such persons should be treated, we must look to principles laid down or implied regarding their status, not to accounts of how they actually were treated in biblical times.”

Eighth, the propensity for male translators and interpreters to read their bias into the biblical text exemplifies the ever-present need to guard against interpreting the Bible in conformity with one’s own cultural preunderstanding or personal expectations. In addition to safeguarding biblical interpretation from emotional interference, it is important to rely on the direction of the Holy Spirit as well as one’s God-given reasoning abilities in the interpretive process.


Engaging an Evangelical Feminist Hermeneutic

The net effect of the evangelical feminist hermeneutic is the discovery that—contrary to what both traditionalists and radical feminists believe—

The Bible does NOT teach male supremacy as a transcultural norm

BUT teaches instead mutuality and equality between women and men.

The biblical principle of the essential equality of man and woman—each made in the image of God—is set forth in Genesis 1 and 2.

In Genesis 3:16 God delineates some of the consequences of human sin; he does NOT issue a command for men to rule women, as some have believed.

The entrance of sin into God’s created order destroyed the equality and mutuality of the relationship between woman and man; cultural patriarchy was the result.

God revealed himself and his plan for his people by means of patriarchal cultures, but progressively made known his redemptive plan whereby the essential equality of all people would be restored and the practice of sexual hierarchy brought to an end.

This ethic of male/female equality was put into practice by Jesus Christ, who countered the prevailing patriarchal norm by treating women as persons in their own right. It was summarized by Paul in Galatians 3:28 and was put into operation by Paul and the early Christians as they sanctioned the service of those women who had been called by God to leadership in ministry.

In view of the existing customs of the surrounding cultures, however, the principle of biblical equality was exercised with restraint and moderation in NT times. It was important, for the sake of the testimony of the gospel, that Christians appear to the onlooking world as respectable, law-abiding members of society. Clearly, the highest priority of the early church was spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The principle of human equality and liberation which was entailed by the gospel message could not be implemented on a widespread basis, at the risk of alienating non-Christians from that gospel message.

“Thus the early church, even while tolerating slavery for the sake of the missionary principle, pointed to a vision of Christian justice and community which would eventually leave slavery behind. So too, Christian feminists argue, does the Bible point beyond the patriarchy tolerated, yet progressively modulated, throughout salvation history to a vision of mutuality between brothers and sisters in Christ in marriage, church and society.”

Today, when non-Christians are offended, not by an equalitarian gospel, but by a hierarchical gospel, there is no reason to continue in the cultural practices that were initially intended for Christians living in a patriarchal society.


Far Deeper Issues Are At Stake

  • Far deeper issues about the relationship between men and women are at stake than that of who makes the (somewhat mythical) ‘final decision’.
  • Far more crucial is the teaching on love: self-giving and self-denying love which should characterize all relationships.
  • The way others will know that we are Christ’s disciples is in the way we love one another, and not in the way we exercise authority over one another.


Gender Is Not the Primary Determinative Factor

Unlike traditionalism and women-centered feminism, equalitarianism does not sexualize the entire person. Gender is not viewed as the primary determinative factor in a person’s life; spiritual, intellectual, experiential, relational, and personality factors are likewise important. A person’s sex does not deterministically and indelibly color all of a person’s character, being, and life experience. Sexual identity is not conflated with personal identity.”


In Conclusion

Dr. Rebecca Groothuis has again helped us to process the essential data regarding the motivation of the early evangelical feminists. We are brought up to speed regarding how to better approach the subject of ‘feminism’ from a biblical and Christian perspective.

Therefore, we must not equate all feminism with ‘radical feminism’ but discern better the implications of evangelical feminism. Also, we should not forget the impact of Christian women who blazed a trail for equality and justice in the 19th century and see how we can be inspired to do the same!


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The quotations for this article are taken mainly from Chapter 7, but also from Chapters 4 and 8, of the book entitled:

Women Caught in the Conflict: The Culture War between Traditionalism and Feminism by Rebecca Merrill Groothuis.

Publisher:  Baker Books, 1994.

Later version:  Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, 1997.

The excerpts from this book provide a small taste of the expertise that Dr. Groothuis has regarding the context of evangelical feminism in church history and invites the curious reader to explore her entire book and her other works for themselves.

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For Further Reflection

Two sites which provide Free Articles for personal research are:

Christians for Biblical Equality and God’s Word to Women.

CBE           www.cbeinternational.org

GWTW       www.godswordtowomen.org

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© 2014   Barb Orlowski, D.Min.






Women in the Church— American History, Slavery, and Feminism


Often we forget what was going on at various times in history. As we look at some American history and see how Christians were active in social issues at that time, we are reminded that not everyone believed the same way. It is, therefore, a good habit to look back at the historical record and grapple with what freedoms, or lack of freedoms, were experienced by people in their time.

I find that history is quite revealing. It allows us to better grasp how things really were, ponder the implications, and consider how we look at these things today. One topic that continues to draw my attention is how women were ‘considered and treated’ at various points in history! Let’s consider some of the implications of patriarchy found in the 19th century.

The following is an excerpt from a book detailing some history during that era.  I have taken these thoughts from historian and theologian, Rebecca Merrill Groothuis. Her book is entitled: Women Caught in the Conflict: The Culture War between Traditionalism and Feminism. This is an excellent book. It provides a keen historical overview as well as biblical and cultural insights. Rebecca clarifies much of the haze around these issues and provides excellent references for further study.

I invite you to consider ‘evangelical feminism’ in order to understand its solid Christian roots and then to recognize the impact that it has had on society as a whole. I ask you to reflect on what motivated people to change the way things were in favor of following Kingdom principles.

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“In the 19th century, the political ideas of classical liberalism interacted with the religious zeal of the Second Great Awakening to energize numerous social reform movements in the quest of a godly society of free individuals. Many of these reform efforts were led and supported by Christian women and men.”

Women and Slaves

“The ideology of anti-slavery was equality and independence for all human beings; many abolitionists became feminists when they realized that the principle that “all men are created equal” applied as well to women as it did to slaves.”

The following is a look at the legal rights of women then and how some godly people saw the need to take action and oppose what was an unjust and unreasonable reality regarding marriage laws at that time. From our perspective, their situations are often hard to fathom while living with the many freedoms in our day.

“The similar state of women and slaves prior to the reform movements is particularly notable. The 18th century English common law of William Blackstone—which early America inherited from England—upheld the “civil death” of women who married. Blackstone asserted in his Commentaries: “By marriage, the husband and wife are one person in law; that is, the very being or legal existence of the woman is suspended during her marriage, or at least, is consolidated into that of her husband under whose wing, protection and cover, she performs everything.” Even as he owned his slaves, so a man owned his wife. Andrew Sinclair notes,

“Early American women were almost treated like Negro slaves, inside and outside the home. Both were expected to behave with deference and obedience towards owner or husband; both did not exist officially under the law; both had few rights and little education; both found it difficult to run away, both worked for their masters without pay; both had to breed on command, and to nurse the results.”

In early America, neither women nor slaves had rights as individuals. Both were under the legal cover and control of their male masters.

The early feminists’ objection to legalized domination of wives by husbands led some couples publicly to renounce such laws upon their marriage. Before John Stuart Mill married Harriet Taylor in 1851, “he wrote out a ‘formal protest against the law of marriage’ for conferring on the husband ‘legal powers and control over the person, property, and freedom of action of the wife’; and he made a ‘solemn promise never in any case or under any circumstances’ to use such powers.”

At the wedding ceremony of evangelical abolitionists Theodore Weld and Angelina Grimke, Weld disclaimed any right that the law gave him to own and control his wife’s person or property. Their marriage of mutual love and equality served as an example to others, particularly to Henry Blackwell who diligently courted suffragist leader Lucy Stone for some time before she agreed to marry him. In his letters of persuasion to her, he wrote concerning Angelina and Theodore Weld, “If ever there was a true marriage it is theirs—Both preserve their separate individuality perfectly.”

Blackwell also wrote . . . The idea of equality and mutual submission is rarely considered as a possibility. Only two options are recognized: either a man dominates his wife, or he is dominated by his wife. Because the idea of a man being dominated by his wife is particularly repugnant to most people, his “right” to dominate her is retained. But Henry Blackwell saw through this false dilemma and promised Lucy that he would “repudiate the supremacy” of either woman or man in marriage. “Equality for me is a passion,” he wrote to Lucy. “I dislike equally to assume, or to endure authority.”

The minister who married Henry Blackwell and Lucy Stone commented, “I never perform the marriage ceremony without a renewed sense of the iniquity of . . . a system by which ‘man and wife are one, and that one is the husband.’” . . .

Because of the blatant injustice of the law toward women, early feminist efforts were directed toward equalizing marriage and property laws. Also promoted, however, were women’s rights to education, to decent working conditions, and to public speaking and leadership. As American feminists were successful in legal reform, “it allowed American lawyers to boast of the superiority of their legal system to those of European countries, most of which now possessed a version of the Code Napoleon that was based on his dictum, ‘woman is given to man to bear children; she is therefore his property, as the tree is the gardener’s.’”

Women’s suffrage was slower in coming than other legal reforms. The idea of women having the right to vote struck at the very heart of male authority by presupposing that women had minds of their own, that they had thoughts and opinions independently of their husbands, and that the ideas of female minds should be counted equally with those of male minds in determining the laws and leaders of the country.

Nineteenth-Century Liberalism

The application of the principle of equal rights for all people—regardless of race, sex, or economic class—is characteristic of classical (pre-modern) liberalism. The legal rights that were traditionally granted only to free men began to be extended to slaves and women in the nineteenth century. This advocacy of the rights of the individual was part of a trend in Western society toward abandoning the traditional practice of ascribing roles to people solely on the basis of the circumstances of their birth—their sex, race, socioeconomic status, and father’s vocation. The pattern in Western society has been an increasing awareness that these characteristics ought not determine a person’s role in life and that the only valid determining factor should be each individual’s competence to perform a given role or job. . . .

Abolitionism and the Church

The anti-slavery impetus did not come only from 19th century political ideals. Christian abolitionists believed the abolition of slavery to be in obedience to biblical principles. Most of the exegetical arguments of northern Christian abolitionists went along the lines of Presbyterian minister Albert Barnes’s 1846 publication, An Inquiry into the Scriptural Views of Slavery. He upheld that “The principles laid down by the Savior and his Apostles are such as are opposed to Slavery. . . . the spirit of the Christian religion is against it; . . . it is an evil and is displeasing to God.”

The pro-slavery faction in the church responded by firing a volley of proof texts against the abolitionist appeal to biblical principle. . . . But “Christian abolitionists rested their hermeneutical case not just on what decontextualized, individual passages of Scripture said but on their perceptions of where scriptural revelation in its entirety was heading.”

As theologian Cornelius Plantinga explains, “Despite what Paul says to slaves about obedience, despite what Peter says about obedience even to bad masters, the bigger historical-redemptive line of Scripture tells us that humans made in God’s image cannot be owned by anyone but their maker . . . and especially, that Jesus Christ came to set at liberty those who are oppressed.” Those abolitionists who “learned to defend the egalitarian and liberationist ‘spirit’ of the Bible against status quo literal interpretations found that the same arguments could be used in support of the women’s movement. . . .

The pro-slavery proof text assault rested on the assumption that the apostles Paul and Peter simply accepted existing social institutions as God’s order for society.   Christian abolitionists, on the other hand, contended that, “for the sake of advancing God’s kingdom in a given time and place, temporary compromises can and often must be made with the societal status quo.”

Hence, a biblical command to cooperate with a particular cultural institution does not necessarily constitute an endorsement of that institution as God’s ultimate will for society. . . . Pro-slavery Christians had no patience with the notion that the Bible merely tolerated slavery rather than advocated it—any more than traditionalists accept the biblical feminist contention that biblical revelation accommodated itself to patriarchy but was not itself patriarchal.

Similar to the antifeminist of today, 19th century anti-abolitionists grounded the practice of slavery in order of creation, or the God-ordained order of things. African people were viewed as designated by God for poverty, hard labor, and subservience. Slavery was rationalized by the belief that the subjugation of certain classes of people to other classes of people is somehow built into the hierarchical order of the universe. . . . God, they said, had ordained slavery even as he had ordained the subordination of women.

In the biblical case for slavery, proof texts were exalted to the status of universal applicability, and fundamental biblical principles such as the equality of all believers in Christ were qualified and conditioned by cultural pre-under standing—the precise antithesis of the procedure that would normally occur in unprejudiced biblical interpretation.

In addition, anti-abolitionists claimed that because OT law allowed slavery and because people in both the OT (Abraham) and NT (Philemon) owned slaves and the Bible contained no specific rebuke of such activity, slavery was God-ordained. . . .

The assumption here is the same one that seems often to be made by antifeminists today: any aspect of the culture of biblical times that was not specifically condemned or prohibited in the Bible must be God-ordained. . . .

The correlation between the abolitionist cause and the feminist cause was not missed by the anti-abolitionists, who further defended their position by pointing out that if slaves were freed, women would most likely be next, and this, of course, would never do.

[T]he proof-text hermeneutic is still applied by evangelicals to the question of women’s roles but the broader hermeneutic of biblical principle is applied to the issue of slavery.

The traditionalist tendency is always to assume that tradition rests on Scripture and that any new or contrary idea is therefore a violation of biblical authority. Martin Luther exhibited this tendency when he wrote in support of slavery in his day, employing all four weapons of the anti-abolitionists: the example of the culture of biblical times, the proof texts commanding slaves’ obedience, emotional rhetoric, and an appeal to the God-ordained social hierarchy: “Did not Abraham (Gen. 17:3) and other patriarchs and prophets have slaves? Read what St. Paul teaches about servants, who, at that time, were all slaves.” The idea of freedom for slaves, therefore, “absolutely contradicts the gospel. It proposes robbery, for it suggests that every man should take his body away from his lord, even though his body is the lord’s property. . . . A worldly kingdom cannot exist without an inequality of persons, some being free, some imprisoned, some lords, some subjects.”

In propounding the biblical doctrine of justification by faith, the Protestant Reformers were able to counter elements of false theology in church tradition. Nonetheless, they were blinded by tradition when it came to defending not only slavery, but male supremacy, the divine right of kings, and a geocentric universe.

When Copernicus advanced his theory of a heliocentric cosmology in the 16th century, Martin Luther found biblical grounds for disapproving of that “upstart astrologer” in the fact that “sacred Scripture tells us that Joshua commanded the sun to stand still, not the earth.” John Calvin demanded, “Who will venture to place the authority of Copernicus above that of the Holy Spirit?” Puritan leader John Owen deemed the Copernican theory “a delusive and arbitrary hypothesis, contrary to Scripture.”

The lesson to be learned from such historical misuses of Scripture to support tradition is not that traditional biblical interpretation is always or even usually wrong, but that in some cases it can be wrong, and we ought not assume that the traditional is always the biblical. Neither may we assume that any traditional biblical teaching may be evaded simply by dismissing as proof texts those references which support that teaching, and by claiming allegiance instead to some overarching biblical theme or principles to the contrary.

In the first place, there are objective criteria for determining which texts are culturally specific (i.e., applicable primarily to biblical cultures) and which texts are universally applicable. These criteria must not be dismissed in favor of personal preference. In the second place, those texts which seem to contradict a clear biblical principle and are rightly deemed culturally specific nonetheless mean something for us today, and that meaning must be determined by understanding the biblical author’s reason for writing the passage to that specific culture.

Suffrage and Temperance

After the cause of abolition had been won in 1865, the cause of temperance drew the enthusiastic support and leadership of many Christians, including Jonathan Blanchard and A.J. Gordon, founders of Wheaton College and Gordon College, respectively. . . .

After women’s right to vote was legally acknowledged in 1920, traditionalist Christian leaders were obliged to regroup, they redoubled their efforts to keep women subservient in the spheres over which they still had control—a project which in some denominations extended even to denying women the right to vote in church elections.

Today, of course, few if any traditionalists believe that women ought not be granted the right to vote in public elections; it is assumed instead that the biblical texts are intended to place women under male authority only in the church and the home, and to silence women only in the public worship service. There are, however, some conservative denominations that even today prohibit women from voting on matters of church governance.

Evangelical Reform Movements

While abolition, suffrage, and temperance were broad movements that drew followers form both within and without the church, the extent to which these movements were fueled by the evangelistic and reformist zeal of the Second Great Awakening (1795-1840) should not be under-estimated. . . .

Charles Finney was a principal leader behind evangelical social concern. In an issue devoted to North American spiritual awakenings, Christian History magazine notes that when Finney “propelled the awakening onto center-stage in America” its “side-effects became more widespread than ever before: out of it came power for the antislavery crusade, women’s rights, prison reform, temperance, and much more.”

Although Finney did not identify himself as a feminist, his insistence on women’s freedom to testify and pray aloud in mixed gatherings flew in the face of the traditional silencing of women in church meetings. Bur Finney’s “new measures” regarding women were not without precedent. In 1825 Theodore Weld had urged women to speak and pray in public meetings, and a number of women had responded, confessing their sin of being “restrained by their sex.”

The refusal of revivalists such as Finney to consign women to silence and inactivity in church affairs served as an important first step for the 19th century evangelical women’s movement. Ahlstrom notes that “one breakthrough [for women’s rights] resulted from the revivals, especially in the West . . . notably by Charles G. Finney’s new measures.” . . . that women be encouraged to pray publicly in “promiscuous” or mixed meetings. “Traditionalists considered Finney’s practice of having women and men pray together the most dangerous of the new measures, for it implied new kinds of equality between the sexes. Indeed some harried husbands recognized the revival as subversive of their authority over their wives.”

Not only did Protestant church membership increase from one in fifteen Americans in 1800 to one in seven by 1850 as a result of the Second Great Awakening, but thousands of evangelical societies for social betterment were formed during this time—to which “the support of local women’s groups came gradually to be almost essential.” . . .

Finney and other revivalists and preachers helped women “to achieve an attitude of self-confidence and a sense of mission that infected many of their later activities. Surely it is no coincidence that the areas where Finney’s revivals and women’s religious education flourished . . . were early centers of women’s reform work and feminism.”

According to the Dictionary of Christianity in America, “The rise of American feminism had its roots in the Christian reform movements of the 1830s and 1840s that were in turn generated by the Second Great Awakening. Following the Civil War, as the women’s movement increasingly focused on the suffrage issue, the traditional link with Christian thought remained strong.” George Marsden notes that the “ministries [of prohibition and women’s rights] were a part of the wider holiness revival,” which followed the Second Awakening later in the 19th century.

As sociologist David Lyon points out, “A simple correlation of feminism with secularism is hard to square with 19th century evidence. . . .What may appear to some today as the permeation of ‘secular’ ideas into the churches as a 19th century precedent which was quite the other way round! The ‘secular’ movements were initiated or boosted by the ‘religious.’” Lyon notes, “Of course, these feminisms were pro-family—a far cry from some contemporary counterparts (not of Christian origin) which doubt the necessity of any form heterosexual relationship for the nurture of children.”

1920-1960s: The Decades Between

Feminism began to fall out of favor after 1920 as reformist zeal waned in both church and society. The slaves had been freed, women had gotten the vote, and prohibition was in full swing. Suffragists and other reformers believed there was nothing more to do after the legal battles had been won, so they gave up the fight for social reform. . . . Women, for their part, did not take advantage of the legal freedoms that had been won for them. Succumbing instead to the prevailing cultural climate, they retreated from the public arena and sank back into retiring domesticity.

Feminists had assumed that once women were granted equal opportunity under the law everything would turn out as it ought. But it did not. The hidden force of patriarchal social custom prompted a cultural return to female subservience. . . .

Traditionalists contend that women and men had been perfectly content with the gender role prescriptions of the 1950s until feminism came along to unsettle and disturb everyone. But there is evidence that change had been on the way for some time prior to the cultural revolution of the 1960s. . . .

The groundswell that developed in the wake of The Feminine Mystique instigated a wide variety of feminist thought, from the revival of the evangelical and classical liberal ideas of early feminism to the fairly recent woman-centered ideology of radical feminism.

Comparing Early and Modern Feminism

Both early and modern feminism developed in a general cultural milieu of social discontent and reformist idealism. Social concern for the rights of African-Americans (the anti-slavery movement beginning in the 1830s and the civil rights movement beginning in the late 1950s) served as a catalyst for both feminist movements. When women began to fight against racism, it did not take them long to become aware of the ways in which sexism violated their own civil rights.

Their awareness of discrimination against themselves was hastened by their systematic exclusion by the male leaders of the movements: in 1840 women were denied seats at the anti-slavery convention, and in the 1960s women who were active in the civil rights movement “increasingly became conscious that they were not included in any of the decision-making processes but were instead saddled with domestic and ancillary chores.

Although the women’s movements in both centuries have been diverse, with internal squabbles and factions, they hold in common an insistence upon the idea of woman as an individual, as her own person, who does not need to be dependent on a man for her value and identity. Fundamental to any feminist agenda, therefore, is that woman’s personhood and equality be established, verified, and protected through social change wherein inequitable laws and social customs are made equitable.

. . . There is a conviction that woman’s silence and subservience unfairly restricts her from important spheres of activities. Feminism has therefore encouraged qualified women to take part in political, social, or church leadership. . . .

Nineteenth-century feminism testifies to the fact that sexual license is not inherent to the idea of women’s rights. The accusation that evangelical feminism is an offshoot of modern feminism and therefore intrinsically endorses sexual immorality betrays historical and cultural ignorance.

The evangelical denominations at the turn of the century that were most committed to women’s equality were part of the holiness movement—which could hardly be said to be promoting sexual promiscuity. The only motivation of these groups to “liberate” women was the desire to open up all the channels through which God wanted to bless the church. The notion of using liberation to engage in a lifestyle of sexual irresponsibility could not have been more alien to the convictions of early evangelical feminism.

. . . But early feminists campaigned to make home and family values central to the lives of both men and women in both the public and the private spheres. . . . Domesticating the marketplace, not commercializing the domestic realm, was the central focus of much early feminist thought. . . .

While 19th century feminism was not composed entirely of Christians or supported by the entire evangelical church, its goals and motives were in line with biblical principles. A significant percentage if not a majority of those involved in the suffrage movement were Christians or at least “God-fearing.” . . .

The anti-Christian element was a minority one in the 19th century, whereas today it characterizes the secular feminist movement. The evangelical support for women’s rights in the 19th century is apparent in the fact that a significant number of evangelical institutions encouraged women to be pastors and evangelists. This situation can hardly be said to prevail today!

Nineteenth-century feminists—both Christian and non-Christian—rightly viewed abortion as an instrument of male oppression rather than as a means of women’s liberation. Specifically, it was seen as an act that devalued women and enabled men to evade responsibility for the children they fathered. . . .

The roots of early feminism are in the evangelical efforts of social reform following the Second Great Awakening, as well as in the premise of classical liberalism that “all men [including women] are created equal.” Early feminists understood inequality as a function of inequitable laws, so the solution was perceived in legal terms.

. . . Observing that sexism remained even after most of the legal inequities had been removed, modern feminists have focused on the force of traditional social convention that views women as essentially—even if no longer legally—the property of men. In view of this vestigial patriarchy, feminists are now putting more energy into changing discriminatory social structures.

In this respect the feminist movement has seemed to follow a pattern roughly similar to that of the black civil rights movement. In the 19th century, the goal was to secure equal legal rights for both blacks and women.   . . . The 1960s saw blacks fighting to realize their constitutionally guaranteed legal equality by protesting the segregation customs of the South.

Following the inception of the civil rights movements by about a decade, women began to organize resistance to patriarchal custom. While legal reform continued as an element in both movements, both women and blacks were realizing that there was something deeper than law which accounted for their social subjugation. It was a deep-seated attitude, a cultural mindset that even new legislation would not budge. Members in both movements tended to respond with belligerence and anger to this intangible, ineluctable creation of culture called prejudice.”



History is a great teacher.  What we have learned about how things were and what people then did to change things, by the power of the Holy Spirit, along with a clear understanding of the biblical message of freedom for all, inspires us to seek justice—especially for women in the church and in the home.


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The quotations for this article are taken from Chapter 3 of the following book by historian and theologian, Rebecca Merrill Groothuis.

Dr. Groothuis’ book is entitled: Women Caught in the Conflict: The Culture War between Traditionalism and Feminism. Publisher: Baker Books, 1994.   Updated version:  Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, 1997.

The excerpts from this chapter provide a small taste of the expertise that Dr. Groothuis has regarding the context of evangelical feminism in church history and invites the curious reader to explore her entire book for themselves.


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For Further Reflection

Two sites which provide Free Articles for personal research are Christians for Biblical Equality and God’s Word to Women.

CBE           www.cbeinternational.org

    GWTW       www.godswordtowomen.org


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© 2014   Barb Orlowski, D.Min.