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”.
Moments before checking my email this morning I was reading Ephesians 5 and thinking how badly we Christians have lost the plot with respect to submission and church/family order. What we miss is that God’s design is not arbitrary. As you say, “God says so” is a good enough reason to obey, but it turns out one side benefit of obedience to God’s order is households and churches characterized by contentment and harmony. Who knew?
An absolutely excellent post. Thank you for faithfully telling it like it is.
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If you ask the average Christian evangelical this question, he probably doesn’t know.
Of course he doesn’t. The average Christian, otherwise known as a “churchian,” rarely reads his Bible, and on the rare occasions in which he does, never studies it in any depth in order to grasp its deeper meaning. This is at the root of the current western church’s decline, and the issues of family and women’s roles get short attention from the church largely because no one is motivated to discover what GOD wants in this realm. The answer might just be too unpalatable to modern sensibilities.
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The elephant in the room, of course, is that priests have to be male because they act in the person of Christ, who is the Bridegroom. But I rather doubt that that point would go over well in this milieu. So I will limit myself to observing that I don’t think you have 1 Tim. 2:14 quite right. It’s not “women are subordinate because Eve was deceived into sin”; that wouldn’t make any sense, since then you have to interpret the verse as meaning that Adam *wasn’t* “in the transgression”, which St. Paul himself explicitly contradicts elsewhere. (And, yes, I know how St. Augustine got around this, but I’m with Chesterton on that subject: “[I]f we are cads and blackguards… it is not because our first ancestor behaved like a husband and a gentleman.”)
No, what St. Paul is doing here, I believe, is using Satan’s Edenic strategy as an *instance* of female subordination. He says, in effect, “And bear in mind that it wasn’t Adam whom Satan directly deceived; rather, it was an essential part of his design for man’s fall that he should work through Eve.” For, of course, if it had been Adam who had eaten of the fruit first and then given it to Eve, Eve’s disobedience couldn’t have been entire, since she would have been obeying her husband even in the act of disobeying God. But Satan wanted both of humanity’s protoplasts to be utterly without excuse for their sin; therefore, he had to train his guns on Eve first and foremost. And so we see, O son Timothy, that the subordination of woman to man was a part of humanity from the beginning – which clearly shows how unseemly it is for a woman to have doctrinal authority over a man. These things command and teach.
(And I don’t know that Is. 3:12 is much of a rod for you to lean this argument on. That mention of children says to me that the Proto-Evangelist isn’t envisioning a female ruler along the lines of Maria Theresa, Corazon Aquino, or Deborah the wife of Lapidoth, but something more like Catherine Parr during the reign of Edward VI – someone to whom God hasn’t really given the office, but who uses its juvenile occupant as a puppet so she can wield its power anyway.)
While there are many examples of male leadership in families playing the role of Christ as unto the church (the man’s wife), I’m not aware of the parallel between elders playing Christ to the church. This would seem to mix metaphors, as in this case the role of the church *just is* played by the church. Even if we granted this, it still reduces the reason for male headship to God’s command. No one doubts God’s command, though.
To your second point, the passage states very clearly that women are to “learn quietly with all submissiveness” because “Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.”
I won’t try to add words to Paul here. He bases his prohibition on the fact the woman was deceived and leaves it at that. And thus, so do I. Paul here is appealing to something in Eve’s nature, and the nature of all women by extension. He’s giving a reason for his requirement for submissiveness. It seems strange his reason for it is really just a cloaked example of submissiveness and not a reason after all.
As to your point regarding Isaiah, I agree those are not the sorts of people he is thinking of. Deborah would have been my first example of a counterpoint to a universal application. But then I wasn’t making a universal application. If the mockery were to succeed, and I think Isaiah knew what he was doing, then male leadership must be normative, even if not universal. Isaiah knew about Deborah, but he still said those words.