Well, last week was an eventful week for my gender studies. Kathy Keller mentioned me on the Gospel Coalition website, and a certain masculine Bible teacher told a certain feminine Bible teacher to go home. Now, I don’t follow either of said Bible teachers. I’m pretty sure I disagree significantly with both. I also didn’t read said remarks – just saw a brief summary of them. But it made me realize that it might be helpful if I spelled out what I’m thinking in these areas here on the blog. I’ve been writing ideas for my own thinking and talking through it with some people for a while, so this seems like a somewhat providential push to put it out there. Please understand that this is my own personal view at the moment. I don’t expect everyone – ok, I expect very few people – to agree with me. My views may change as I learn and grow. I just saw an article titled something like ‘I’m human, so I think and change my mind.’ That. Yes.
First, I’ll just say that I don’t fit into either the women belong at home or the women can do whatever they want camps. I see the situation as a bit more nuanced. I believe that a woman’s place is wherever God has placed her.
First, as I detailed in my last post, I see submission to authority – whatever authority God has placed over you, male or female – as a Christian virtue, like charity or kindness or love or joy or peace. The only context in which gender plays a role, as far as I can see scripturally, is wives to husbands. There are several possibilities as to why God may have made it that way – the fall, or the picture of Christ and the church (as Jesus was masculine), for instance. I don’t really know. But at the heart of my acceptance of that command is that I believe God said what he meant in his word, and that he only commands what is best for everyone. And wife is only a role, like citizen or employee, entered into willingly, that does not define who I am. In the role of wife, I submit to my husband. In the role of parent, I exercise authority over my children. When they are no longer children, I will no longer be in authority over them. Remember the arch.
As to women in the church, I mostly agree with Kathy Keller’s position in Jesus, Justice, and Gender Roles. Women in the Bible are clearly given leadership roles. Deborah was a judge, several women are mentioned as prophetesses, deaconesses or co-laborers – even one as an apostle. Ann Voskamp recently gave an excellent overview of women listed in the Bible as spiritual leaders. The only position I see as not open to women is what my church calls elders. Some call it pastors or bishops or priests. It seems from my study to be a single position, with different words describing the qualifications or type of work emphasized in the context – ‘elder’ referring to maturity, ‘pastor’ being taken from the command to ‘shepherd the flock of God’ but not used as a title in the New Testament, and ‘bishop’ or ‘overseer’ referring to the primary function of overseeing the church. The term ‘priest’ is a carryover from the Old Testament. Personally, I think the New Testament is clear – especially in Hebrews – that we no longer need priestly mediators between God and humans as Christ’s death tore the veil, ending the separation between God and humankind. We have become, as God prophesied through Moses, a ‘kingdom of priests’, with Christ as high priest and the ‘only mediator between God and man.’ There is, as far as I can see, no mention in the New Testament of such a position in the church(see note). The requirements for elder as listed in I Timothy and Titus both expect it to be filled by a ‘one-woman man’ – for the most literal translation. That seems to me to exclude women from the position. It’s important to note, as well, that there are no women mentioned in the New Testament as filling the role.
As to teaching in the church, there seems to be an expectation that women will prophesy – which before the NT was completed would have been the equivalent of teaching or preaching. When women are told to be silent in the church in I Corinthians 14, the context is when people have prophesied and the prophecy is being judged to determine whether it is in line with commonly accepted revelation. It seems to me to be focused on a woman questioning her husband’s or the church leadership’s judgement of prophecy in public. Paul says they are to be silent in obedience to the law, but women are never instructed in the Old Testament to submit wholesale to men, or to be silent in a gathering. They are instructed to submit to their own husbands, and men and women are both to submit to authority – including church leadership. If she does question either her husband or the elders’ judgement, she is instructed in the passage to ask her husband at home. Presumably, then, her husband could come to see her point of view, or he could explain why he believes she’s wrong. If her disagreement is with the elders, and her husband comes to agree with her, they could go together to the church leadership. This would fit the circumstances described in I Timothy 5 for correcting an elder with two or three witnesses. The reason I don’t think it can mean that women are never to speak in church is that so many women are described as prophets in the very law he says they should obey. So I think it is acceptable for women to teach/preach/speak in church – as long as they are doing so in submission to their husbands and the church leadership rather than in opposition to them. I’ll say here that I’ve never done so – have never been asked or asked to do so. I do lead in congregational prayer regularly – which is more than some churches permit women to do. I hold my hands open to what God asks, but I will not seek something he does not call me to do.
Now for the ‘go home’ aspect of the remarks I mentioned at the beginning of the post. Sigh. I wish people would learn their history. I’m focusing here on European history, but I think the idea holds true across many societies. Prior to the Industrial Revolution, most women were at home. BUT so were most men. The family had a farm or another business. Husbands and wives and children all contributed to the financial sustainability of the family. Husbands did the heavy lifting around the farm – because they’re physically bigger. Wives did more of the housework – because they’re physically smaller and because, well, babies need mom’s milk. What exactly the division of labor was depended on the individual family, type of work they did, and the society to which they belonged. When people started leaving farms and villages for cities in the Industrial Revolution, everybody had to work to survive. BUT if the husband alone made enough money, the wife could stay home and take care of the kids because not everybody had to earn money. So mom staying home became a status symbol and a goal – like owning a house is in ‘the American Dream.’ Then, thanks probably in part to Queen Victoria’s emphasis on children and home, it eventually became the norm. Then it got read back into the Scripture to the point that now moms are held responsible for the home and children, especially in Christian circles, even if they work outside the home.
But this doesn’t really fit what the Bible says. The Proverbs 31 woman’s children aren’t even mentioned except as part of ‘her household’ until they’re praising her along with her husband. But she has her own businesses – makes and sells goods, purchases and runs a vineyard. (Oh, I love the story of Katharina von Bora Luther – this sounds so much like her! Martin had absolutely no money sense.) She’s apparently rich, as she has servants. But her work and wisdom have clearly contributed to the wealth of her household. Her financial contributions are so emphasized that you could almost summarize it as ‘marry a wise woman and be both happy and rich.”
Another big problem with glorifying the idea of mom staying home with the kids while dad works outside it is that Scripture expects fathers to be the main disciplers of their children. Really! Go look. The only time mothers are directly connected with discipline in the Bible that I’ve found is when a kid is about to be stoned for rebellion and both parents have to verify that the kid was appropriately disciplined. David and Eli alone were held responsible for their sons’ rebellion. God disciplines us . . . as a father. The primary audience of Proverbs is . . . a young man. Women are portrayed as teaching their children, and the main command to them as mothers is to love (affectionately) their children. And, presumably, they should carry out some discipline as the couple mentioned above testifies that they both have done so. But the father is the one held responsible. He is pictured as teaching and admonishing them. Those things aren’t possible if he doesn’t spend time with his kids or if he views them as his wife’s responsibility. So I believe the problem with parents working away from home is the father’s absence even more than the mother’s.
Oh. I should probably also address a commonly misused verse. I Timothy 5 says ‘if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.’ This is sometimes used to say that it’s a man’s responsibility to provide for his wife and children – therefore the woman can just stay home and care for the kids. The reason this is a misleading application is that it’s actually talking about a man providing for his mother or grandmother – and possibly other relatives – after his father has died. Elderly widows in that time and had very little recourse for earning an income, so Paul is giving instructions for deciding which widows were eligible for church financial support. If a widow had children or grandchildren who could support her, they should provide for her, leaving church funds available for women who were truly in need. Verse four actually describes this support of relatives as a way to ‘show godliness’.
So, no, I don’t believe that women are restricted to the home – or that they are any more responsible for the home or children than are men. In our society, unfortunately, at least one parent will usually have to work outside the home to make ends meet. In many cases, both parents will have to work. Honestly, I think the best case scenario is both parents working from home as much as possible so that both have significant time to interact with the children. But which parent works outside the home if the family can afford one staying home – at least once the children are old enough to be independent of mom’s milk – simply depends on the individual couple and their gifting and priorities.
For our family, we believe, strongly, that God gave my husband and I our children because he wants us to rear them rather than turning them over to others for the majority of their days. At the moment, that priority means I stay home and they only go to school two days a week. My husband works outside the home because one of us needs to and I can’t make enough money to support us in our area. To make that happen we do without some things many in our culture see as necessities. But it is what God has called us to do. If things changed, we might swap places. My husband is definitely a better cook than I am! And I’m far more extroverted than he is, so more time with people would be nice for me – and less for him. Early in our marriage, I was the primary breadwinner for a time. We will do what God calls us to do, when he calls us to do it.
That will all be different for each family. Coming back to Lewis, for a moment, the important thing is that each individual and each family holds their hands open for whatever God calls them to do. For some mothers, that means leaving their children with their husband or in school and going to work outside the home. For some fathers, that will mean staying home with the kids. For some parents it means parenting without a spouse – or in the wake of a difficult divorce. For some families it may mean moving from an expensive city or a big house into something smaller that gives them time with their kids. For some it will be making the most of the little time they have with their spouse and children because everyone must work to survive.
Having open hands means filling the place God has uniquely created for you – male or female, mother or father or childless or single. He is the one who defines your unique role. His commands are always for your good, and he knows the plans he has for your good future. Your place, man or woman, is wherever God places you.
(Note: You may notice that this is a significant point of difference between Lewis and I. He belonged to the Church of England, which has priests. He believed in an equal or almost equal degree of authority between the Bible and church tradition. I believe Jesus illustrates that the Scripture alone is God’s Word. He absolutely ignored the Talmud as a guide to his behaviour, going back to the words of Scripture when he did something that broke the additional commands/interpretations in the Talmud, particularly concerning the Sabbath. The Talmud was the collection of writings the Jews of his day considered authoritative (think church councils from our perspective). All authority belongs to God – not the Scripture – but God always says what he means and means what he says, as written to the original audience in the original genres.)
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