Male headship: two opposing views

by
25 May 2011

Should authority be exercised only by men? Two Evangelical clergy, Lis Goddard and Clare Hendry, disagree

AS AN ordained woman in the Church of England, and a former theological-college lecturer, I have found it impossible not to be aware of debates going on concerning the position of women in the Church. For many Evangelicals, the debate focuses around the issue of head­ship in the parish church.

There are many significant pas­sages in scripture that need to be studied in order to grasp the biblical teaching on headship. Gett­ing a sense of Creation is vital to an under­standing of the place of women in the Church. Men and women were created in the image of God (Genesis 1.27, 28), created to be equal, both having worth, as reflected in Genesis 2.18-25.

There are many significant pas­sages in scripture that need to be studied in order to grasp the biblical teaching on headship. Gett­ing a sense of Creation is vital to an under­standing of the place of women in the Church. Men and women were created in the image of God (Genesis 1.27, 28), created to be equal, both having worth, as reflected in Genesis 2.18-25.

Equality, however, does not necessarily mean being the same. Men and women are different.

Equality, however, does not necessarily mean being the same. Men and women are different.

We see that in the way they were created, and the different names and respon­sibilities given to them before the Fall. Adam, for instance, is com­manded to work and to take care of the garden, and Eve is to be the helper (Genesis 2.15-18). They are to comple­ment one another: this is why I favour mixed church-leader­ship teams, headed by a man.

We see that in the way they were created, and the different names and respon­sibilities given to them before the Fall. Adam, for instance, is com­manded to work and to take care of the garden, and Eve is to be the helper (Genesis 2.15-18). They are to comple­ment one another: this is why I favour mixed church-leader­ship teams, headed by a man.

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Some argue that there is no distinction be­tween Adam and Eve in their calling, but I am yet to be convinced. Why was Adam created first? Why, since the serpent ap­proaches Eve first, is it Adam that God calls out to? If you hold the view that Adam’s sin included abandon­ing the responsibility of headship, as I do, it is significant that God addresses Adam first. After all, in Romans 5.12-21, why does Paul blame only Adam for the Fall, if both Adam and Eve were joint rulers/ heads?

Some argue that there is no distinction be­tween Adam and Eve in their calling, but I am yet to be convinced. Why was Adam created first? Why, since the serpent ap­proaches Eve first, is it Adam that God calls out to? If you hold the view that Adam’s sin included abandon­ing the responsibility of headship, as I do, it is significant that God addresses Adam first. After all, in Romans 5.12-21, why does Paul blame only Adam for the Fall, if both Adam and Eve were joint rulers/ heads?

Reading further in the Old Testa­ment, we see women such as Deborah and Huldah playing significant parts. They are presented as evi­dence that women have led God’s people. Yes, women are clearly sig­nificant in the Old Testament, but are they actually ful­filling the same position as men?

Reading further in the Old Testa­ment, we see women such as Deborah and Huldah playing significant parts. They are presented as evi­dence that women have led God’s people. Yes, women are clearly sig­nificant in the Old Testament, but are they actually ful­filling the same position as men?

If we look more carefully at how such women exercise ministry, pro­phetesses such as Huldah seem to speak either to women or in private rather than exercise a public minis­try.

If we look more carefully at how such women exercise ministry, pro­phetesses such as Huldah seem to speak either to women or in private rather than exercise a public minis­try.

It has been argued that Deborah was named first in the song (Judges 5.1) because she is more significant than Barak — in other words, she is the real leader. Despite, however, Barak’s coming across as rather a weak leader, he is the one to lead the troops into battle, urged on by Deborah (who is perhaps keen to encourage male leadership). Be-cause Barak would not go without Deborah, he was told that the Lord would hand Sisera over to a woman.

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It has been argued that Deborah was named first in the song (Judges 5.1) because she is more significant than Barak — in other words, she is the real leader. Despite, however, Barak’s coming across as rather a weak leader, he is the one to lead the troops into battle, urged on by Deborah (who is perhaps keen to encourage male leadership). Be-cause Barak would not go without Deborah, he was told that the Lord would hand Sisera over to a woman.

In the New Testament, some would argue that things are different in Jesus’s time. Jesus was certainly countercultural — women were the first witnesses of his resurrection. But when he chose his closest com­panions, he chose 12 men. Even when he replaced Judas, we read “it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time” (Acts 1.21). There were women who had been with them all that time; so why not choose one of them?

In the New Testament, some would argue that things are different in Jesus’s time. Jesus was certainly countercultural — women were the first witnesses of his resurrection. But when he chose his closest com­panions, he chose 12 men. Even when he replaced Judas, we read “it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time” (Acts 1.21). There were women who had been with them all that time; so why not choose one of them?

Other important passages that need to be studied in the New Testa­ment include Galatians 3, 1 Corin­thians 11 and 14, and 1 Timothy 2, but one that has been significant for me is Ephesians 5.21-33. The pas­sage on wives and hus­bands flows out of verse 21 that calls for mutual submission.

Other important passages that need to be studied in the New Testa­ment include Galatians 3, 1 Corin­thians 11 and 14, and 1 Timothy 2, but one that has been significant for me is Ephesians 5.21-33. The pas­sage on wives and hus­bands flows out of verse 21 that calls for mutual submission.

Paul goes on to see how this is worked out in specific relationships. In the marriage rela­tionship, the wife is to submit to the husband as to the Lord, because the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ is the head of the Church. The relation­ship between husband and wife is to reflect the relationship between Christ and his Church.

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Paul goes on to see how this is worked out in specific relationships. In the marriage rela­tionship, the wife is to submit to the husband as to the Lord, because the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ is the head of the Church. The relation­ship between husband and wife is to reflect the relationship between Christ and his Church.

How can that work out, were I the Vicar of our church in which my husband was a member? How can I be overseer of him in the church, and he be head of me in the home? Some might argue that this passage applies only to the home and not to church, but I cannot see a valid argument for such a limitation: surely the husband is head in all areas — home and church.

How can that work out, were I the Vicar of our church in which my husband was a member? How can I be overseer of him in the church, and he be head of me in the home? Some might argue that this passage applies only to the home and not to church, but I cannot see a valid argument for such a limitation: surely the husband is head in all areas — home and church.

I have highlighted only a few passages that need to be examined. The debate goes on, but let us base those debates on scripture, and model grace in our discussions. Listen to the other side. It is too easy to write off others as not having engaged with the biblical material.

I have highlighted only a few passages that need to be examined. The debate goes on, but let us base those debates on scripture, and model grace in our discussions. Listen to the other side. It is too easy to write off others as not having engaged with the biblical material.

What is clear from scripture is that women have played, and always will, an important part in the Church: they should be encour­aged and equipped for whatever position is felt appropriate. It would be a sad day if people who, in good conscience, hold differ­ent biblical position on the place of women were not allowed to be part of the future Church of England.

What is clear from scripture is that women have played, and always will, an important part in the Church: they should be encour­aged and equipped for whatever position is felt appropriate. It would be a sad day if people who, in good conscience, hold differ­ent biblical position on the place of women were not allowed to be part of the future Church of England.

The Revd Clare Hendry is Minister for Pastoral Care at St James’s, Muswell Hill, and co-author of The Gender Agenda (IVP, 2010).

THE question whether there should be women bishops in the Church of England brings into sharp relief a debate that has been dividing Evangelicals for a long time. This causes much pain within the Evan­gelical constituency, as it divides those otherwise united in their com­mitment to the authority of scrip-ture and to preaching the gospel.

The biblical debate over whether women should hold positions of overall leadership within the Church rests on well-known fought-over pass­ages, and is also shaped by how we approach scripture and reads its whole sweep. There remain, however, important passages that are vital to a an understanding of the rela­tionship between men and women, and the part they are individually and cor­porately called to play in the world.

The Revd Clare Hendry is Minister for Pastoral Care at St James’s, Muswell Hill, and co-author of The Gender Agenda (IVP, 2010).

THE question whether there should be women bishops in the Church of England brings into sharp relief a debate that has been dividing Evangelicals for a long time. This causes much pain within the Evan­gelical constituency, as it divides those otherwise united in their com­mitment to the authority of scrip-ture and to preaching the gospel.

Perhaps the most important text is Genesis 1-3. It is impossible here to rehearse the entire argument, but in Genesis 1.26-8, we see both man and woman created in God’s image, and called to rule — there is no dis­tinc-tion between them in the part they play. The same is true in Genesis 2. Although the man is created first, it quickly becomes clear that he is incomplete because he is alone — he is made for relationship with some­one like him.

This is not a narrative about parts played, but about the mutuality of being the same but different. It is notable that the man does not name the woman until after the Fall (Genesis 3.20). Only then does he seek to establish authority over her, a sign that their relationship has changed irrevocably from his earlier recognition that she is different from the animals and provides the mutuality he needs (Genesis 2.23).

This narrative sets the scene for the rest of scripture. God created man and woman to reflect the mutuality and self-giving love of the Trinity without one’s ruling over the other (rule appears only in Genesis 3.16).

We see in scripture the narrative of God’s journey with his people from creation through Fall to new creation, and this is mirrored in the story for men and women. In the Old Testament, God calls women to lead and challenge his people, giving a glimpse of how it could have been, but it is when Jesus comes that things begin to change radically with the ushering in of the new creation.

We sometimes miss just how radically different Jesus’s attitude to women was from that of his context. He had female disciples (Matthew 12.46-50). He allowed women to sit at his feet and learn (Luke 10.38ff). Women followed him with the other disciples, and provided for his needs (Luke 8.1-3).

Perhaps crucially, women were the first witnesses of the resur­rection (Matthew 28.9 and John 20.17). This is particularly important because he commanded Mary Mag­dalene to go and tell the disciples what she had seen, and she became the first witness, and thus, in a sense, the first apostle of the resur­rection.

We see within the New Testament other examples of women in po­sitions of leadership; other signs that the Fall has been overturned, and that the new creation has broken in; that God’s original design for male-female relations is being restored.

There were women such as Lydia (Acts 16) and Nympha (Colossians 4) who had churches meeting in their homes. Priscilla taught (Acts 18.24ff) and Junia was an apostle (Romans 16.7). We are also told that the daughters of Philip were prophets (Acts 21.8-9), and that Pheobe was a Deacon (Romans 16.1-2).

Alongside this, we have Paul’s witness in Galatians 3.28 that, be­cause of the salvation wrought by Christ, “there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Suddenly the implications of the new creation become abundantly clear.

In many ways, the rest of the New Testament writings on this subject work this out in the messy reality of church life. Hence 1 Corinthians 11 establishes that women are praying and prophesying, but that it is also important that difference be main­tained — men and women are differ­ent, and that difference needs to be valued as God-given.

So 1 Timothy 2.11-15 is not op­pressive. It establishes radically the need for women to be taught so that they should not be deceived. What it forbids is women usurping an auth­ority that they have not been given, within the context of an epistle that speaks of female deacons, and, quite possibly, elders.

Read as a whole, scripture not only permits women to be in positions of leadership: its whole trajectory is one towards the new creation, towards a new creative dynamic, where women and men work together as they were created to do, without dominance on either side.

The Revd Lis Goddard is Vicar of St James the Less, Pimlico, and co-author of The Gender Agenda (IVP, 2010). Reviewed in books this week.

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