I recently compiled a list of positive examples of what the Bible clearly affirms for women, in an attempt to start from a positive rather than more negative question of whether there are any restrictions.
Having spent some time reflecting on this list, there are a few observations that stand out to me. See what you think.
Firstly, the idea that women should be restricted to home-making and childcare is bunk. This isn’t to underestimate the importance of the role of wife and mother but to argue that’s where it ends, as many especially in the US do, simply can’t be right. It ignores too many positive examples in Scriptures of women like Lydia and the woman of Proverbs 31. My calling Deborah, a high court judge, probably won’t go far enough for many but you can’t really say less than that and I’m not sure you can just ignore her example as is often the case.
Secondly, I can see examples of women leading worship, praying, prophesying, training, hosting churches, involved in church planting, involved in missionary endeavours, serving as deacons, studying, learning, caring for the poor and generally working hard for the gospel. Even if this list doesn’t go far enough for some, if churches of whatever position regularly saw the women in their churches fulfilling these roles (as is clearly the case in many churches all over the world) than that would be a good thing.
It’s a sad reflection of the state of this debate, that as a male leader with a complementarian view of eldership that I can’t celebrate and praise the role of women in serving the kingdom without being accused of being patronising. Sometimes there is no agenda, you just want to say ‘well done what you’re doing is amazing’.
Thirdly, some people infer more from this list than I am suggesting. So for example, that churches were hosted in a home suggests to some that they also held the senior leadership role in that church. I don’t think there’s enough evidence to say that with any kind of certainty. That’s why there’s debate and that’s a good thing. We should be debating this, it is important.
Lastly, there is a lot of work to be done. I’m not sure even in churches where women can be the senior leader I often see the full spectrum of possibilities being embraced but certainly those, like me, who think scripture teaches that churches should have male elders, fail far too often in encouraging women in their churches to serve in ways that mean they know they are advancing the gospel and are not just putting the biscuits out while the men get on with the real work. That means the church is missing out on many of the gifts God has given to many women in many churches and that is a shame. Even if this doesn’t go far enough, within what we do affirm there’s lots more to be done.