Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Women's role in the church

A member in one of our churches enquired on this topic and this is the answer given.

in the IPC, we only have male elders, and only men leading worship and preaching.  This is not down to misogyny(!) but to our understanding of Scripture.

The Bible is clear that men and women are equal, but different.  We are equally made in God's image (Gen 1:27), but we are not just made 'human' but 'male and female'.  We have different roles - even before the fall, in Genesis 2, Eve is described as Adam's 'helper'.  Interestingly, even though Eve is the one who eats the fruit first, Adam is the one primarily held responsible.  The curses in Gen 3:16-17 also differentiate between male and female.

Throughout the Bible, leadership roles are male, including the twelve disciples.  Jesus certainly wasn't afraid to be counter cultural, but although he treated women with the utmost respect, he didn't appoint them to leadership roles.

This is the pattern throughout the New Testament.  Perhaps the clearest teaching is 1 Tim 2:12 "I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent."  It is clear here that the issue for Paul is about positions of leadership (teaching and authority).  He roots this not in any cultural setting, but in creation.  The qualifications for elders that follow (1 Tim 3:1-7) are all assuming the candidate will be male.  Of course, that is only one among many qualifications.

Male headship in the church is mirrored by male headship within marriage (eg Eph 5:22-33).  Exactly how these verses are worked out is a larger conversation, but Paul clearly gives different roles to the husband and wife within the marriage relationship.

Sadly many men have abused their roles (in the family and in the church) but this doesn't mean we abandon the biblical pattern. And we must always assert that we absolutely believe men and women are equal in value and status in God's eyes, even as they differ in role.  Just as our individual calling doesn't make us more or less important in God's eyes.  (A minister is not more (or less) important than a butcher, baker or candlestick maker).

With that general understanding, we then have to work out what that means, on the ground in an individual church.  There would be some variation amongst IPC churches about the exact roles women perform, under the authority of the male eldership.  However, no IPC congregation would have a woman lead or preach.  As you know we have women reading Scripture and praying, and teaching children.  This is not picking and choosing.  Women clearly have a role teaching/mentoring one another, and children in their care (eg Titus 2:3-5).

You mention the verse in Galatians 3:28, that in Christ there is no male or female.  In the context there, Paul is saying the adoption through the gospel is available to all, regardless of gender, race, status.  He is not doing away with gender altogether.

Of course this is a radically counter cultural position in our society, and needs to be handled and taught carefully.  However, male headship was uncontroversial in the church for the best part of 2000 years, and has only recently been challenged in the West.  In terms of church history, the IPC stance is in the majority!

No comments: