The role of women in the church is one of the most controversial issues plaguing Christianity today. The range of positions that Christian thinkers take on this matter range from advocating for the complete isolation of women from leadership roles, to full acceptance of women as capable leaders (Staton 34). This paper examines various facets of egalitarianism and complementarism in regards to the role of women in Christianity.
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The first issue is to establish the definition of an elder and a deacon. In addition, it is necessary to uncover the qualifications for these offices from the bible. According to the New Testament, deacons are helpers (The Holy Bible, New International Version, Acts. 6.3-4). Deacons handle specialized duties in ministry such as administration and worship. They may also serve as assistants to pastors and priests (Collins 14). On the other hand, elders are ministers and decision makers in a congregation that work under the main minister.
The qualification of a deacon is that one must be full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom (Acts 6.1-12). In addition, a deacon must respectable, and must not be a drunkard (1 Tim. 6.4). On the other hand, the qualifications of an elder are more elaborate. In addition to all the qualifications of deacons, elders must also be married to one wife. Elders must be in charge of their homes and they should not be new converts (1 Tim. 3.1-12). In this sense, the qualifications for elders are more elaborate than the qualifications for deacons.
The second issue of interest is whether a woman can be a deacon or an elder. Women can be elders and deacons because both sexes can handle the responsibilities of these offices effectively. Men have no spiritual advantage over women in terms of the qualifications for these positions because there is no distinction between men and women (Gal. 3.28). In fact, Paul sends greetings to a female deacon named Phoebe demonstrating that women deacons existed in the early church (Rom. 16.1-7).
Paul teaches that women should not assume authority over men (1 Tim. 2.11). This is not a restriction of service, but a restriction in the way that women become leaders. Paul also restricted the participation of women in church services by stating that they must remain silent in church (1 Cor. 14.34-35). This teaching is context specific, and is not a generalization on the participation of women in ministry. However, it seems that church elders must men.
One of the qualifications for an elder is that one must have one wife (1 Tim. 3.1-7). Only men can have wives. In addition, the text refers to men in its entirety. A literal interpretation of this section of scripture shows that the New Testament does not give room for women to become elders. An interesting point to note about this chapter is that it also speaks of deacons from a male perspective (1 Tim. 3.1-5).
Reading this chapter alone leaves one with the impression that only men can occupy these two positions. However, the principle of faithfulness to one’s spouse is not an exclusive rule for men. Women too can live up to this principle. Therefore, the intention of this chapter is to present these principles, and not to stop women from becoming elders.
The third issue of interest regarding this debate is whether to uphold egalitarianism or complementarism. In the first case, women and men are equal and can play the same roles. In other words, gender is not a criterion for qualification or disqualification for ministry. This view is consistent with the readings presented above. On the other hand, complementarism postulates that men and women are different. Therefore, each gender should play roles that best suit their strengths.
This view holds validity in some quarters. For instance, women tend to be compassionate and they can express their feelings better than men. This predisposes them to ministries that require compassion, such as caring for the sick and the needy. The point here is that gender can affect the expression of ministry between the sexes.
However, this does not provide a proper basis for qualification or disqualification from positions of responsibility in a Christian Church. In this regard, egalitarianism is closer to biblical principles when it comes to qualification for leadership.
The limitations that may exist on the role women play in a particular congregation cannot be the basis for limiting what women can do outside the church. In fact, any limitation on what women can do in a Christian church based on gender alone is discriminatory. The limitations do not have a strong scriptural basis, and therefore they cannot be valid outside of the church. Given the same opportunities, women can handle the responsibilities that men handle, both in and out of church.
Women can contribute to the church using their gender-based strengths. One of the areas identified above is participating in acts of compassion. Women connect better with people who need compassion, such as the sick, the orphaned, and the destitute. In this sense, a woman can make a more effective head of a church department that works with people who need compassion. Women can also offer perspectives on theological issues that affect their participation in ministry. If women do not contribute towards the development of theology, then men will develop theological frameworks laced with their biases.
Collins, Joda. The Biblical Role of Women in the Church. New York: Xulon Press, 2005. Print.
Staton, Knofel. The Biblical Liberation of Women for Leadership in the Church. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2003. Print.
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The Holy Bible, New International Version. Grand Rapids: Zondervan House, 1984. Print.