All (wo)men are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain (in)alienable rights, as we all know… or are they?
One of the great principles in Scripture was penned by Thomas Jefferson, when he wrote: “All men are created equal” (Genesis 1:27). To the modern ear this archaic phrase (and likely even some of the sentiment behind it) will not fully be appreciated. In the context of the times the “it is clear that ‘all men’ was a euphemism for ‘humanity’” (Library of Congress “official commentary on the declaration of independence”: link).
If humanity is indeed created equally in the image of God, “male and female”, then is it not an inalienable right of every woman to share with men in the privilege and responsibility of Kingdom work? How could an equal be debarred from a position of leadership with her male counterpart?
It is reasonable, however, to ask, does “equality” of person necessarily lead to the reality of sameness of qualities? Not all men, or women are equal in strength, or skill, or intelligence. Not all would serve, or could serve as Presidents, or as Generals, or as professional Athletes. But those within and without the NFL continue to be equally persons.
Then perhaps “equality” ought to mean sameness of opportunity? Everyone should have a shot. But then there is not much of an equal opportunity for males to bear children, or for pygmies to compete in high jump. The short man may be every bit as athletic as the tall man, and the male every bit as prepared to have children as the female. The world is full of inequalities of opportunities, inequality of qualities and thus inequalities of position.
According to Scripture, there is an analogous reality regarding places of service in the Church: “While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of elder or pastor (a leader and teacher in the structure of the local church) is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.” What could be the meaning of biblical equality if their are limitations of service?
First, it is critical to note that while their are varieties of gifts (1 cor. 12:4) there are not, on general, any spiritual qualities and opportunities which differ between men and women, as men and women. While arguing for a change in covenant relationship, between the Old, under the guardianship of the Law, and the New, lived in the freedom of the Spirit, Paul notes that the distinctions of the Law no longer stand, “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ” (Gal. 3:26 cf. John 1:12), and this privilege gained through faith results in all being the “sons” being Abraham and “heirs according to promise” (29). The promise was in essence, “I will be your God and you shall be my people. I will be your father and you shall be my son”. This position is an egalitarian one, for believers are reminded: “you are all one [people?], in Christ”. That is to say, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor freeman, there is neither male, nor female” (Gal 3:28).
Thus the promise, the spiritual life of faith bringing the believer into restored relationship with God and the privileges of being a “co-heir with Christ” are given without discrimination to the whole body of Christ, man and woman, slave and free, Jew and Greek. Thus not only Creation, but the new creation majors on the equality of men and woman before God: “all men (and women) are created equal”. Biblically, a case cannot be made for “inequality” between the genders. But what then, is the bible believer to do with regard to the differences in nature and in church service?
Can equals be different? The Scriptures are clear that the glory and privileges of the godhead are equally shared by the members of the Trinity (John 10:30, Phil. 2:6) to the extant that they even share one “Name”, the “Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt 28:19).
Yet Paul reminds the Corinthians, “I want you to understand…God is the head of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:3). Christ testified of himself, “the Father is greater than I” (John 14:28), and “the Son can do nothing of himself” (John 5:19) and “I do nothing on My own initiative” (John 8:28).
How can the Father and the son share “equality” (Phil 2:6), and yet the Father be the “head” (1 Cor. 11:3)? Perhaps the answer lies in realizing that (in God’s eyes) function does not equate to value. God did not create a mechanized race of servants, but rather made for himself rational children, characterized by diversity and individual characteristics. He valued them not for their functionality, but for their personality, that is to say, for their inherent personhood. God is relational. There is one God, but this God has never been alone. He eternally exists as the loving unity of three divine persons.
These divine persons have always existed as perfect equals fulfilling different roles. The Father as the eternal One. The Son as eternally begotten, and the Spirit as proceeding from the Father and the Son have reflected and complimented the Father’s uniqueness, being “the exact imprint of his glory” (Heb 1:3).
In this way, men and woman can have differing abilities, differing roles, differing gifts and differing offices, and like the Father and the Son share both sameness and complimentarily. Thus like the Father to the Son, so Man is to Woman in the home and Church. Just as the Son does not direct the Father, but the Father the Son, even so, “I do not permit a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man” (1 Tim 2:12). For as “God is the head of Christ” just so, “Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman” (1 Cor. 11:3). Thus in relation to public teaching “speaking prophecy” and “speaking in tongues” Paul writes, “The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves” (1 Cor. 14:34).
1 Timothy 2:12 and Galatians 3:28 are speaking of completely different topics. They represent two great themes in Scripture, equality and complimentarily. Equality does not mean “sameness”, nor does complimentarily imply “inferiority”. Value is rooted in person not position, in being, not in doing. Because “God is not a God of confusion, but of peace” (1 Cor 14:33) and because he has happily lived in an equal, yet complimentary relationship since “before the world was” (John 17:5), His creation echoes the same priorities. For the sake of relationship, to reflect the trinity and for the furtherance of peace: “While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of elder or pastor (a leader and teacher in the structure of the local church) is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.”