It never really hit me until I started teaching the book of 1 Timothy how many instructions in the pastoral epistles pertain to women, and how weighty those instructions are. The pastoral epistles are the “policy and procedure manuals” for the church, and, far from relegating the ministry of women to nothing more than crafts and tea parties while the men do all the “important” stuff, you come away with the impression that a healthy, well-balanced church actually depends on godly women working hard to carry out the ministries that God has uniquely created and gifted us to fulfill, alongside men fulfilling their own ministries.
These epistles don’t view “woman’s work” around the house of God as trivial or menial, but as a high and holy calling. Vital. Necessary. Honorable.
But is that the lofty perspective of the biblical role of women that the local complementarian church is conveying to its female and male members? Are we, especially those of us in women’s ministry, proactively teaching that the calling of motherhood or the task of discipling other women or serving those in need is qualitatively just as imperative and noble as the calling of pastor or elder?
Intentionally or not, the egalitarian movement has maneuvered biblical complementarians into constantly playing defense. Their offensive squad keeps moving the ball forward by offering women a no holds barred buffet of powerful and prestigious ministry positions. Our defensive line correctly and biblically pushes back with, “No, the Bible says women are not to ‘teach or to exercise authority over a man’ in the church setting.” But often, only two or three members of our offensive squad are dressed out to play, and they never get off the bench and into the game. And as any football fan knows, you have to have a good defense and a good offense if you’re playing to win.
Egalitarians offer women “you can,” but all too often all we complementarians have offered godly women yearning to serve is, “you can’t.” Where is the big, beautiful, biblical showcase of complementarian “you can”?
Not long ago, I was teaching a group of ladies the biblical process of putting off the old self and putting on the new self in Ephesians 4:20-32. We explored how interesting it was that every “don’t” in the passage was coupled with a “do.” We don’t just put off lying, we put on proactive truth-telling instead, and so on. Nature abhors a vacuum in the physical realm, and it would seem this is true in the spiritual realm as well. When we subtract the ungodly, we must replace it with the godly. If we don’t, something will rush in to fill the void that’s been created, and that “something” isn’t usually biblical or fruitful.
So how can we shift the perspective in our churches from “you can’t” to “you can,” and create an atmosphere, not merely of “put off,” but also “put on”? How can we get our offensive team suited up, on the field, and moving the ball toward the goalpost while at the same time retaining a strong defense?
We can, so to speak, make complementarianism great again.
As I studied 1 Timothy 5, I was struck by Paul’s description of women who are “truly widows.” These are women who have spent their lives being busy and intentional about the work of the Lord in their homes and in the church. They adorned themselves with the good works proper for women who profess godliness, and they were honored and revered for it by the church. I didn’t come away from this passage with the feeling that these women were frustrated, oppressed, or seen as “lesser” by the church because they weren’t allowed to teach or exercise authority over men. I came away from this passage thinking, “Those women were awesome. That’s the kind of woman I want to be.”
What would the climate in our churches look like if women’s ministries and the church at large recaptured that same reverential posture and purposefulness toward biblical womanhood? If, instead of teaching the biblical role of women strictly as, “You can’t eat the fruit from this apple tree,” we followed that admonition with a grand tour of the Garden, focusing on the delicious fruit of the pear tree, the cherry tree that needs a good pruning, the fig tree just waiting for the right woman to come along, harvest its fruit, and make some preserves, the banana tree that needs an expert in fertilizers, and the orange tree dying for someone to water it?
In my experience, what happens in churches of that climate is that – just like the godly widows of 1 Timothy 5 – women are so busy and fulfilled tending the other trees of the Garden, that they have neither the time nor the desire to go apple picking.
May our churches strengthen themselves and grow to more robust spiritual health by proactively encouraging Christian women to joyfully throw ourselves into the godly “good works which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” – the biblical “you can” of complementarianism.