Many conservative Christian churches have men as elders because the Bible tells them to, and that’s good. Christians should do what the Bible tells them to. Many conservative Christian churches also promote families to some degree, which is also good, as Scripture records a command given to mankind to be fruitful and multiply.

I’ve seen both of these commands pushed aside, relegated as antiques as a result of whatever convenient excuse can be devised. Some credit is due to those churches that resist the temptation to modernize timeless truth. And yet, I think the majority of these conservative Christian churches still don’t quite grasp what they are dealing with and end up making excuses for God anyway.

Consider the first point above: God commands men to be elders and forbids women the role. The average conservative evangelical, when asked if he thinks women should rule as presidents or be on the boards of organizations, will say exactly what a liberal, feminist atheist would say: “why shouldn’t a woman be in that position?” And superficially, a reading of the Bible grants that this. After all, the Bible only says elders must be men. It doesn’t say what leadership positions women can’t hold. This, I think, is to fail to think through the implications of the text, which is a failure to read it properly.

Why does God forbid women to be elders? If you ask the average Christian evangelical this question, he probably doesn’t know. “He’s God, and I obey what He says” is a good answer for why we ought to observe it, but that’s not the question. We agree on that already. But why does this command exist. I suspect some might answer that it is a relic from an older time, which is another way of saying that it’s inconvenient in our cultural situation and so we hold onto it but never think about it.

A better answer lies in the shape of families, another thing Christians in the West understand poorly these days. Husbands are the head of their wives, just as Christ is the head of the church. Women are to submit to their husbands in everything and husbands are to love their wives as Christ loves the church, even to the point of death. Why are husbands the head of their wives, though? Because Eve was deceived, Paul says. Because Eve was made second. Christians pay lip service to the fact that men and women are different, but skip the conclusions.

So, if the real answer to “why does God forbid women to be elders?” is that women are not suited for that sort of role because women are designed differently by God on purpose, then the reflexive desire to have women ruling over men in other sorts of ways (as our culture demands) should be suspect. Instead of making excuses for why God might limit leadership in the home and at church to men, we should ask wonder what wisdom might be here. Isaiah 3:12, in mocking Israel’s situation, says “As for my people, children are their oppressors, and women rule over them. O my people, they which lead thee cause thee to err, and destroy the way of thy paths.

Scripture does not condemn women in political or organizational leadership. It never says it is sinful for that sort of thing to happen, and so it seems wrong to suggest that’s the case. But Scripture does make male leadership normative. We should have good reason to deviate from that. That sounds so wrong to our modern egalitarian senses, but we must ask ourselves whether those senses were informed by the full council of Scripture or from a culture that hates God and Christ and the church.

It’s useful here to imagine whether or not the tens of thousands of years of patriarchal society that were never disputed by any author of Scripture or Christ Himself are more consistent with the Created Order than a society that can’t tell men and women apart and butchers millions of unborn children a year while labelling it “health care”.