Thinking about the thinking about women in the church

nun statueBeen thinking about women. No, not in that way! I’ve been thinking about the different views Christians hold about women and the church. It’s amazing to me to see people try and group the views into some binary system: you’re either ___ or ___. Yeah, right. The only binary system that works is “You agree with me or you don’t.” That’s the only way to lump everybody into two groups.

Think about the different questions involved:

  • Must women remain silent in the church? Does this include singing?
  • Must women wear a head covering to church? Must it be a veil, or will a hat suffice?
  • Can women and men sit together in church?
  • Can women serve as deaconesses in an official capacity?
  • Can women stand to pass the trays of the Lord’s Supper?
  • During the assembly, can a woman answer a question asked of her by a man?
  • During the assembly, can a woman provide clarifying information during announcements?
  • During the assembly, can a woman make a prayer request?
  • Can a woman lead a prayer in the presence of a man?
  • Can a woman participate in a chain prayer?
  • Can a woman begin a chain prayer?
  • May a woman be called a minister?
  • May a woman serve as elder?
  • May a woman preach when men are present?
  • May a woman read Scripture out loud when men are present?
  • Is it right for a woman to baptize another woman?
  • Is it right for a woman to baptize a man?

I’ll stop there. Feel free to add some in the comments. I guess if you are one who says that there is absolutely no difference between men and women as regards church participation, then you can make the world a binary world. People agree with that or they don’t. But for most of the world’s population, and Christianity in general, the question is much more complex.

photo from

10 thoughts on “Thinking about the thinking about women in the church

  1. Keith Brenton

    Then there are those of us who look at those questions a different way and have our own questions: “What are women who believe gifted, called and commissioned to do, to God’s glory?” “Is every biblical instruction for all circumstances, for all people, for all time?” “Are there really gender roles described in scripture for singles, marrieds, within the home, outside the home, in the church?” “Was God’s response to Adam and Eve’s sin a gender-specific curse of them and all succeeding generations, or a description of consequences that included cursing the ground Adam would till?”

    It makes a huge difference what questions we’re considering … and how they are framed.

  2. Tim Archer Post author

    Keith, I very much agree. That was some of what I was thinking about when I posted last week about Bible-shaped culture or culture-shaped Bible. I’ve got lots more questions to raise! (and not as many answers)

    I guess my starting point with this is that the labels “egalitarian” and “complementarian” (or whichever we decide to use) just don’t work all that well.

  3. Chuck Smith

    I would agree with Keith Brenton in his response. It matters how the question is framed and the context in which we are discussing the role of women in the church. The Bible is filled with stories about women of faith and their respective roles in God’s Kingdom. I believe it is important to recognize that if we are not careful, we may become legalistic in our approach to women’s active participation in the ministry of sharing Christ’s message. I recall the story in Mark where Jesus was headed to the home of a rich, powerful Jewish leader to see about his ailing daughter. As I re-read this passage (Mark 5: 21-42) I imagine how the Jewish leaders of the day would have been turned on their collective ears that Jesus (also a Jew & aware of the law) healed an unclean woman that touched him on his way to cleanse another. We, as Christians have no right to judge others by status, wealth or cleanliness. We are called to love and serve others. Are not women called to do the very same?

  4. guy


    i agree that the categories of “egalitarian” and “complementarian” are oversimplified.

    Not sure if it matters to you or not, but just to offer the Orthodox workings: Women can’t become ordained clergy. However, they can become monastics (nuns). They can do the scripture readings in church. They do pass out the offering baskets. They can teach mixed classes. They can even preach. (There are traditions where men and women sit separately though, but this is tradition only, not a dogma.) So basically, they can do everything but administer sacraments (something men cannot do either *unless* they are ordained).

    At the end of the day, i understand us to hold a “complementarian” sort of position. But notice, our practice includes women doing things that would make a lot of “complementarians” cringe.


  5. Tim Archer Post author

    I had read Mark’s previous post. I was a little disappointed in the tone. It seemed to be saying, “If others could study what I’ve studied, they’d all agree with me.” I know… probably the pot calling the kettle black. But I tried to point out to him that one reason for staying just might be for others to help him correct his views on things.

    That’s one reason I call this the Kitchen. I need others to show me where my ideas are off base.

  6. Danny Holman

    Thanks Tim. I am reminded of a line from C.S. Lewis… forget where it was… where he asserts that for every question there is a clear, easy, simple answer… and its usually wrong. Why? Because real life is complex. Thanks for a good reminder.

  7. Pingback: Resources for UCC Bible Study | Tim Archer's Kitchen of Half-Baked Thoughts

  8. Jossie

    One of the reasons I try to avoid the coaapementlrimn/egalitarian debate is the focus on authority; if working out a theology of marriage is simply about deciding who is in charge, then we’ve missed the main point of marriage.I think one of the problems is that we still largely handle authority as the Gentiles do we really don’t have much of a handle on what Jesus meant by servant leadership. We end up arguing over who should be in charge (remind you of something the 12 disciples did?), when the real problem is what we do with that authority once we’ve got it. We tend to hang onto it and its perqs and privileges for dear life, just the opposite of the attitude we’re supposed to have (see Phil 2:5,6; if Jesus considered equality with God as not something to be grasped, how much less should we consider the comparative drips and drabs of authority that we end up with as something to hang on to?). We too often use the feelings that being in authority gives us to fill in gaps in our own emotions and to make up for other lacks in our lives, which makes us grasp onto that authority even more.It’s something of a paradox, but it seems that you can’t be the leader God intends you to be unless you’re capable of letting go of that leadership. I can’t say that I completely understand how that’s supposed to work, but I am convinced we need to beg God for more clarity on it. This is an issue that Jesus had to repeatedly deal with with the 12 disciples, and I don’t think we’re catching on much better.

  9. Pingback: Trying to duck the pendulum | The Kitchen of Half-Baked Thoughts

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.