Mike Winger is a fairly prolific maker of good YouTube videos covering theology and apologetics. I really like most of his stuff and I recommend his channel. In keeping with my custom, you know what’s coming next is going to be some critique, and I can’t disappoint. I recently learned he created a series on the role of women in the church and I found it more than a little underwhelming. It wasn’t all bad, but it dealt primarily with complementarianism vs egalitarianism, and it was a bit too kind to both positions.
I’m not responding to his particular statements on the subject, but I realized that the nature of the question itself needs to be addressed.
The Big Question
If a Christian asks “what is the role of women in the church”, it might seem reasonable, even Biblical, but it betrays a more fundamental problem. If we have to ask it, it means we haven’t answered a bigger, more fundamental question: What is the role of women?
What did God make women for? That leads to other, related questions. What did He make men for? What’s our purpose? How do we relate to each other? What are our strengths and weaknesses? Or are we just androgynous beings?
These are all much more fundamental questions than what role a woman can play in a church. Our answers to these questions will mean we can understand the New Testament teaching on women or we can’t. We will either see what Paul and the other Apostles said about the subject and nod in agreement or try to find complicated ways to avoid sticking to the plain teaching.
There are three views on this subject, but really only two and a faux third. On one pole you have patriarchy, and on the other egalitarianism. Complementarianism, invented in the 1980’s, tries to have it both ways by preserving a patriarchal view by softening it up to appear more palatable to our radically egalitarian popular culture. “Popular” is doing a lot of work here; our culture is still patriarchal all the way up, it’s just harder to see.
Patriarchalism is simply “father rule”. It’s the view that men are naturally called to leadership in the home and that leadership elsewhere flows out of that.
Egalitarianism is androgyny. It’s the view that men and women are effectively interchangeable, and with increasing technological sophistication, the egalitarian hopes this can be made complete where biology puts up a fight.
Complementarianism, as I said, is like soft patriarchy. It’s patriarchy without a real foundation. It comes to patriarchal conclusions about the role of men and women in the church only, and mostly ignores the nature of men and women. It’s the view that when the New Testament speaks about church roles, it’s mostly arbitrary rulings from God that we follow out of obedience, not because it makes sense.
Our egalitarian culture has produced:
- Same-sex “marriage”, mandated
- Mutilation of young children in hospitals to “conform their bodies to their gender”
- The destruction of our language through pronoun manipulation
- Effeminacy, a vile sin, among men in dress and behavior
- The wholesale slaughter of tens of millions of unborn children
- Miserable, lonely women who chose careers over families
- Miserable women who wish they had chosen miserable careers because they don’t know how to be homemakers
- The rainbow mafia
- BLM and other race-bait organizations
Any time you find a problem in modern culture that wouldn’t have happened if your grandpas were in charge, you find something enhanced, it not outright caused, by egalitarianism.
The consequences of this worldview are so stark and so severe, and the view itself is so obviously contradicted by Scripture (as we’ll see), that I have a hard time taking those who hold it to be faithful, obedient followers of Christ. There’s a gradient here, where some less extreme egalitarian positions might be within orthodoxy, but it’s still dangerous. Egalitarianism is really a denial of hierarchy, but since God Himself is a hierarchy, this denial comes straight into contradiction with God’s nature. Not a place I’d want to go, theologically.
The Biblical Answer
God made man, and Adam realized he was alone. So God made Eve. The names alone tell us something about both. “Adam” refers to the dirt of the Earth, from which he was made. “Eve” means mother. Names are not trivialities in the Old Testament. Here we have something profound about men and women said just from what God called them. When Eve is created, we are also told she is created from Adam to help him. Both are made in the image of God, both are loved by God, but there’s a hierarchy.
Adam and Eve sinned and there was a curse. What was it? Adam was cursed to hard labor working the earth. It would no longer be easy. Eve was cursed with far more pain during child-bearing, and she was cursed to “desire her husband”, a statement I think is most accurately translated as that she would desire to rule over her husband. So here we have in the curse a reinforcement of their roles.
As if that weren’t enough, Paul in the New Testament, when describing limits on what women can do in the church, says that the sins Adam and Eve committed were different in nature. Eve was deceived. Adam was not. He sinned willfully. He obeyed his wife, didn’t stop her, but most of all knew it was sin. The serpent did not deceive him. Paul understands this as a difference in the nature of men and women.
In the New Testament we also have the relationship between men and women elevated to be the most accurate description of Christ’s relationship with His church. He is the bridegroom and the church is the bride. Paul appeals to this when he talks about wives submitting to their husbands and husbands loving their wives. Christ doesn’t submit to the church, but He loves her even to death.
The egalitarian will point out that I missed a passage in Galatians that “there is neither slave nor free, Jew nor Greek, male, nor female, but all are one in Christ”, which is actually totally unrelated to this conversation. Paul wants to make the point that, despite our differences, Christ died for all of us, loves us all, and we all need to come to repentance; in Christ’s work, there is no distinction. But that needs to be said only because outside Christ’s work, there are distinctions.
So lets consider what we have here:
|Created first||Created second|
|Named Eve||Was named by Adam|
|Name means “Earth”||Name means “mother”|
|Called to work the earth to sustain life||Called to help her husband|
|Cursed to harder labor working the earth||Cursed to harder labor bearing children|
|Was not deceived||Was deceived|
|Told to love his wife||Told to submit to her husband|
Again, this is a very, very brief survey of what the text says, but we already have enough of a picture here that men and women are fundamentally different. When we ask “what role do women play in the church”, these differences all need to inform our more important understanding of the role men and women play in life generally. The failure of the complementarian position is that it mostly ignores all of these, plus natural revelation, and tries to take the New Testament teaching about church offices in isolation. Egalitarians are right to find it weak.