Christian women, Church, Complementarianism

Unforbidden Fruits: 3 Ways Women MUST Lead and Teach the Church

Originally published April 20, 2018

Ladies, we whine too much.

Like petulant little girls, we look at what’s off limits to us, stomp our Mary Janes on the floor and cry “Why can’t I? I want to!” instead of giddily jumping into all the opportunities God has blessed us with. Instead of being happy and thankful for what we have, our greedy little fingers stretch out to grasp what God has said we can’t have because it’s not good for us or anybody else.

God has instructed pastors – who are, in turn, to instruct us – that, in the gathered body of Believers, women are not to preach to men, instruct men in the Scriptures, or exercise authority over men. And that’s what we focus on, and whine and kick our feet about. That part – the childish rebellion and discontent with the role God has graciously placed us in – that’s on us.

But pastors, we badly need your help on this one. Many pastors do a wonderful job of rightly and biblically explaining what women are not to do (And may I take a moment to say, from the bottom of my heart, thank you. I know how difficult that can be and that you take a lot of undeserved flak for simply teaching God’s Word on this subject.), but that “no” teaching has often not been coupled with the “yes” teaching of what women must do and how they must lead in order for women, and the church, to be healthy and function properly.

You’ve loved us well to tell us not to bite at the apple from the forbidden tree, but we also desperately need you to take us on a tour of the Garden and introduce us to the all-you-can-eat buffet of pear and peach and cherry and pecan trees that we have the privilege and the responsibility to feast on.

🍊 The Other Institution 🍊

Did you ever notice that the “do” for women in the church comes before the “don’t”? We tend to totally skip over that enormous little word that kicks off 1 Timothy 2:11: “Let a woman learn…”. We have no idea of, nor appreciation for, how huge and groundbreaking it was for the Holy Spirit, through Paul, to proactively instruct pastors: “Hey, get these women in here, make sure they listen up, and train them properly in the Scriptures so they’ll be equipped to fortify their homes with biblical truth.”

We completely miss the fact that, though God installs men as the teachers and leaders in one of His foundational institutions – the church – He has very much made women the functional, boots on the ground, day to day, teachers and leaders by example – of His other foundational institution – the family. The church didn’t even exist for the first few millennia of human history, but the family has existed since Creation. And people who are members of families populate and lead the church. Raising and molding those people is a tremendous position and responsibility. A position and responsibility God has largely given to women.

Wives pray for our husbands’ growth in Christ. We build them up with Scripture. With a gentle and quiet spirit, we set a godly example for them as they observe our respectful and pure conduct. We encourage and help them in their leadership roles at church.

Moms pray for our children’s salvation. We pour the gospel into them at every turn. We train up our children in the way that they should go – in the nurture and admonition of the Lord – so that when they are old they do not depart from it. We teach them to love and serve and invest in the church both directly and by modeling these things for them.

And our single, widowed, and childless sisters work right alongside us in this labor, praying for church leaders and members, nurturing children at church whose parents are unsaved or unequipped to raise them biblically, encouraging and assisting brothers and sisters in Christ.

We grow and develop, nourish and support, exhort and sharpen the population of the body of Christ.

Men may lead the church, but women raise the church.

🍐 Woman to Woman 🍐

Essential to the health of any church is the component of women training women, whether in the formal setting of a Bible study class and structured women’s ministry programs or an impromptu “let’s get together for coffee this week” discipleship discussion.

Though we receive instruction in Scripture from our pastors, elders, and teachers, there are some counseling and teaching situations it’s not appropriate for a man to address with a woman, or that a woman understands better than a man. There are issues women face that men just don’t “get” in the same way a sister in Christ does. There are insights and perspectives a woman can use to explain Scripture to another woman that a man just doesn’t have. There are times when a woman needs someone to walk through a long term emotional journey with her that requires a personal intimacy which would be inappropriate for a man to engage in with her. And in the same way men are better equipped than women to train men to be godly husbands, fathers, and church members, women are better equipped than men to train women to be godly wives, mothers, and church members.

God knew all of this back when He breathed out the words of Titus 2:3-5…

Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.

…and, again, 1 Timothy 2:11:

Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness.

Women must be trained properly in the Scriptures so we can take that training and pour it into other women, teaching and sharpening them into godly women, wives, mothers, and church members.

🍑 Super Models 🍑

Women instruct our brothers and sisters in the church in biblical truth when we lead by example. When we sin against someone, we go to that person and ask forgiveness. We demonstrate the importance of meeting together with the Body by being faithful in our church and Sunday School attendance. We model servanthood by serving the church and our brothers and sisters. We paint a picture of biblical compassion by ministering to the sick and others in need. We show Christians how to carry out the Great Commission by sharing the gospel. We set an example of trusting God when others see us depending on Him through difficult situations.

And one of the most important biblical concepts women have the privilege and responsibility of teaching the church through our example is submission to authority – a lesson the church is sorely in need of these days.

Because God blessed us by creating us as women, we have an opportunity to model submission to authority in a unique way that God has chosen to deny to men.

As we submit to our husbands, we teach the church what it means to submit to Christ. How to walk in humility and obey Him out of love. How to put selfishness aside. To trust Him to take care of us. To deny ourselves, take up our cross daily, and follow Him.

When we submit to God’s design for leadership in the church and joyfully carry out the work He has planned for us as godly women, we teach the church to submit to God’s authority and love Him by obeying His commands. We instruct our fellow church members in respecting and submitting to the pastors and elders God has placed in spiritual authority over us.

Submission to Christ, to God’s commands, and to pastors and elders is the bedrock of a healthy church. God has graciously given women the role – and the duty – of teaching these and other biblical principles to our churches in a way that men cannot -through our example as godly women.

 

Remember the series of fun little nutritional books that came out several years ago called Eat This, Not That? The idea the books centered around was, “Don’t eat that unhealthy thing. Eat this similar but healthy thing instead.”

Sadly, many Christian women have only been getting half the story. “Not that” (preaching to/teaching men and exercising authority over men) is biblically correct, but it’s not biblically complete. If all you tell someone is “Don’t eat that,” without showing her the “Eat this,” part, what she needs to eat to be healthy, she’s going to starve, and the church will be malnourished as well.

Christian women need our pastors to teach us to eat the fat of the land of being properly trained in the Scriptures and drink the sweet wine of leading and instructing the church the way God gifts us and requires us to. Only then will the Body be healthy and well nourished.

Christian women, Complementarianism

Throwback Thursday ~ Toxic (Evangelical) Femininity

Originally published August 24, 2018

Toxic masculinity. It’s a buzzword that’s gaining momentum as it’s bandied about in pop culture like a shuttlecock over a badminton net. There’s a clinical definition of the term (which, in the ivory towers of the scholarly world is, properly, “hegemonic masculinity“):

Hegemonic masculinity is defined as a practice that legitimizes men’s dominant position in society and justifies the subordination of women, and other marginalized ways of being a man. Conceptually, hegemonic masculinity proposes to explain how and why men maintain dominant social roles over women, and other gender identities, which are perceived as “feminine” in a given society.

And then there’s the sort of similar working definition of the huddled masses: Anything a man does that others, especially women, don’t like that can, by any stretch of the imagination, be blamed on the fact that he’s a man.

If a man cuts you off in traffic, it’s not that he’s a jerk or didn’t see you, it’s toxic masculinity. If a man holds a door open for a woman, it’s not that he’s polite and helpful, it’s toxic masculinity. If a man leaves his socks on the bathroom floor, it’s not that he’s sloppy and has no home training, it’s toxic masculinity. In other words, he’s not doing these things because he’s a polite or rude or aggressive or helpful human being, it’s because he’s a man who just wants to keep women down and exercise dominance over them.

Pardon my French, but what a bunch of malarkey.

Yes, I’m sure there’s a fringe element of men out there who consciously think they’re better than women, that women shouldn’t have any rights or hold any positions of responsibility, blah, blah, blah. And you know what? They’re considered fringe kooks, and rightly so. But I’m not buying this business of these elitist gnostics telling us that every little move a man makes is a subconscious act of belittling women or exercising domination over them, and neither should you. It’s like the race-baiters who say that every single white person is racist, deep down, and this latent racism manifests itself in everything we do, from the way we tie our shoes to the breakfast cereal we buy at the store. We’re just not aware of it, supposedly.

Poppycock.

You want to know where this notion of toxic masculinity came from? It sprang from the loins of toxic feminism. Zoom out and look at the big picture. This is a manufactured concept, baptized in the (assumed) credibility of academia, designed to help women leverage power and control over men. How? By denigrating them at every turn, thereby convincing the world that men are intrinsically bad and women are good and must be elevated to prominence. Call me crazy if you want to, but it doesn’t take a prophet or the son of a prophet to look down the road and see that the feminist end game here is a matriarchal world where women rule and men drool. And there are plenty of brazen females out there who would openly and unashamedly admit this.

That, however, is not my concern. Sinners gonna sin, and God’s going to deal with them in His own way and in His own good time.

My concern is the way this attitude is fleshing (pun intended) itself out in Christian families and the visible church, and creeping into evangelical women’s (and men’s) hearts. Because, whether or not we’d like to admit it, this worldliness is advancing upon us, and we need to be aware of – and biblically approach – the facets of this issue that are already at our doorstep:

On the Top of the World Looking Down on Creation

I actually laughed out loud when reading some of the academic definitions of so-called toxic masculinity. There seemed to be an air of, “We just don’t understand it! This pattern of male dominance seems to transcend all cultures and time periods!”

Well here’s a really academic response to that: Duh.

I mean, you have to wonder if these researchers and scholars have ever said to  themselves, “I wonder if there’s a reason for that. I wonder if this tendency in men that defies time and culture can be traced back to a pinpointed source.”

There is, and it can. It’s called Creation, and God is the one responsible. God created man first and then woman. God created husbands to lead and wives to be helpers. God set up the Old Testament patriarchal society that became the nation of Israel, which was led by male tribal heads and, later, male kings. God established male leadership in the temple, and subsequently, in the church. The major and minor prophets were male, Jesus was male, the apostles were male, the writers of Scripture were male. And all of this traces back to that one moment in Genesis 2 in which God decided to create man first and hard-wire him to lead, protect, and git ‘er done. Broadly¹ speaking, the reason we see a general¹ pattern of male leadership across time and culture is because God set those wheels in motion.

As Christians, we recognize that sinful men sometimes abuse the positions of leadership God has given them, but that doesn’t negate the entire pattern and call for us to turn it on its head. We study our Bibles and embrace and submit to the way God has instructed men and women to behave in the roles He has bestowed upon us.

(Don’t) Do the Woke-Emotion

One of the components of God’s creative work that adds inexplicable beauty to this world is the tender-heartedness, passion, and empathy He built into women in a uniquely feminine way. Emotions. Feelings. God created them, and they are good. What a dreary and heartless world this would be if women didn’t bring nurturing, caring, sympathy, and love to the table. God uses us to soften the hard edges of life and make the planet pleasantly inhabitable.

But along with that good gift comes the challenge to steward it wisely and in obedience to God so that we may use it to glorify Him rather than dishonoring Him.

I see Christian women wisely stewarding their emotions to the glory of God every day as they care for their husbands and families, friends and co-workers, and serve in their churches. It is a beautiful picture of the mature fruit of biblical womanhood.

Unfortunately, I also see the exact opposite. I see (ostensibly) Christian women who scream like banshees any time their pastor preaches on the passages of Scripture dealing with women’s roles in marriage or the church. I’ve seen women who claim to believe and follow the Bible throw an everloving fit when someone points out – from Scripture – that their favorite women’s “Bible” study author is a false teacher. I see women formulating their beliefs and practices about God, worship, the Bible, their own behavior, their families, and their churches based on their own personal opinions, experiences, and feelings rather than on rightly handled Scripture.

And, just like secular feminists demand domination over men because they feel oppressed, have experienced sexism, or resent the world’s history of male dominion, I see Christian women letting their emotions rule the day as they demand unbiblical solutions to their real or perceived personal experiences with men and male leadership.

The anger, the outrage, the hurt feelings, and being offended are nearly as evident in evangelicalism as they are in society at large.

Godly women are not ruled by their feelings. We are ruled by the Bible. We make our feelings submit to and obey God’s Word. We don’t make decisions based on what we like or don’t like, or what makes us feel good about ourselves. We base our decisions on what the Bible says. When our feathers get ruffled, we take a step back and evaluate the situation with rightly handled Scripture. Maybe we’re upset because someone actually sinned against us, but maybe we’re upset because our pride or vanity was wounded, or our unbiblical notions were biblically challenged, or because God used someone to expose an idol we’re worshiping. Maybe it’s not that the other person sinned, but that we’re in sin. Those hurt feelings could be a wake up call from God to humble ourselves and repent.

Ladies, we must learn to put our feelings aside and act on the objective truth of God’s Word instead of our fickle and deceptive emotions. If we display the same sorts of fleshly emotionalism as unsaved women, how are we being salt and light in the world, pointing the way to Christ? We’re supposed to be set apart and different from the world.

Why Can’t a Woman Be More Like a Man?

Because – speaking of salt and light – embracing and submitting to our biblical roles in the family and in the church sets us apart from the world. Now, more than ever, we have a unique opportunity to be counter-cultural – simply by obeying God’s Word.

Women being hired as pastors and teaching and exercising authority over men in the church and leading denominations and becoming popular evangelical conference speakers with co-ed audiences – that’s what the world expects because that’s the way they do things. But a Christian woman who happily puts her foot down and refuses to teach men in the church setting or joyfully insists on submitting to her husband? That’s different. It’s against the grain, not the norm.

Remember that out of the ordinary burning bush that caught Moses’ attention and he turned aside out of curiosity to investigate? And remember how, when Moses was watching it burn, wondering what in the world was going on, that God called to him out of that fiery shrub – “Follow Me.”? God can do the same thing with our obedience to Scripture.

Lost people see this anomaly of our “weird” behavior, and they want to know what in the world is going on. Why do we act differently than they do? And that’s when we get to explain it to them. We get to share the gospel. God can call to them out of our passionate burning for Christ and His Word, “Follow Me.”.

People in darkness gravitate toward light. Salt makes people thirsty. Do we care more about giving them the Light of the World and the Living Water or our own selfish and fleshly desires for power and position? Our embrace of and obedience to the biblical roles God has laid out for us as Christian women is one gateway to sharing the gospel with the lost.

 

Toxic femininity is worldly and fleshly. It has no place in Christian homes and churches. How do we combat it? We take up the sword. We submit to the authority and sufficiency of Scripture. We recognize that God is the authority in our lives, not self, and that we are to obey Him at any cost – even at the cost of our convenience and pleasure. We trade our desires for His.


¹I’m well aware that there are plenty of exceptions to this generalization. I’m referring to a broad pattern across time and culture, here. There are many biblical ways women can contribute and lead in the family, society, and the church.
Christian women, Church

The 5 Church Ladies You Don’t Want to Be

Originally published September 21, 2018

It’s just as easy to fall into a ditch on the right side of the road as it is to fall into a ditch on the left side of the road.

The longer I walk with the Lord, the more I see how true this is in the Christian life. We can be legalistic or antinomian. Crushed by guilt over our sin, or hard-hearted about our sin. Extending too much grace to unrepentant sinners, or not extending enough grace to repentant sinners.

Abandoning the church altogether, or taking ownership of the church and using it for our own purposes.

The purpose of the local church is to glorify God through worship and discipling the saints. Proper, biblical church membership is not optional for Christians. It is not to be treated as unnecessary by “Lone Ranger” Christians, nor is it to be used as a means toward our own ends. We are to be faithful, invested church members, but we’re to do so in a humble, loving, serving, “others first” way.

I’ve talked about the “left ditch” of abandoning the church:

Basic Training: 7 Reasons Church is Not Optional and Non-Negotiable for Christians

Six Ways Not to Forsake the Assembly

You Don’t Need the Internet, You Need a Pastor

Today, let’s talk about avoiding the “right ditch” of doing church the wrong way. Here are five church ladies who use the church for their own purposes- to build their own little empires, to impress others, or to make themselves feel better. Church ladies you don’t want to be, and the Scriptures they need to embrace and obey:

Part-time Paula– Paula is involved in lots of different pursuits: travel, hobbies, volunteer work, her kids’ sports/activities/clubs, social events, political events, family gatherings, civic projects…and church is just one more activity on the list. And it’s not even at the top of the list. Paula comes to church when she has time, when she feels like it, and when church doesn’t conflict with one of her other activities, but she doesn’t have any leftover time, energy, or desire to get plugged in, commit to a place of service, or fellowship with her brothers and sisters in Christ. Paula keeps just enough of a foot in the door at church to assuage any guilt she would feel for quitting altogether, or to be able to keep it on her “resume” of activities to impress others.

Paula’s Scripture: And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. Hebrews 10:24-25

Screechy Sheila– Sheila knows how this church ought to be run: her way. And if you step out of line – not with Scripture, but with her personal preferences and methods – she’ll let you know. Sometimes she’s loud and vehement. Sometimes she’s quiet and threatening. Sometimes she’s nicey-nice and just educates you on the “right” way to handle things. But you’d better get with the program – her program – or else. Sheila uses the church as a platform for being bossy and exercising control.

Sheila’s Scripture: Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
Philippians 2:3-4

Cotton Candy– Forget the meat and potatoes of church – sound doctrine and theology, studying the Bible, serving others, and giving sacrificially – Candy is only there for the fluff. She’ll be there for every fellowship, day trip, and fun-filled women’s ministry event, but she wants her “sermons” chock-full of jokes and stories, and her “Bible” studies to be positive, encouraging, self-esteem builders. Candy uses the church as entertainment or to make herself feel good.

Candy’s Scripture: But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh. 1 Corinthians 3:1-3a

Que Será Katie– Katie is a founding member of this church, doggone it, and she’s not going anywhere. Some Katies have been known to say to their less-favorite pastors, “I’ve been here for fifty years, and I’ll be here long after you’re gone.”. Others are more placid, unfazed by unbiblical pastors, faulty doctrine, or spiritually unhealthy practices in the church. They just go with the flow. There’s a lot to be said for a faithful church member who doesn’t cut and run at the least little problem and works hard to help the church become healthier. But that’s not why Katie sticks around. There are biblical reasons Katie should have left this church in the past, but her friends are here, her memories are here, she’s comfortable in these surroundings, and those things are more important to her than whether or not the church is operating biblically. So she stays, loving the church for sentimental reasons.

Katie’s Scripture: Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. Ephesians 5:25b-27

Ulterior-Motive Ursula– Ursula has an agenda and the church seems like a convenient gathering of good-hearted people to use for reaching her goal. Maybe she needs volunteers for a community project. Or she’s trying to get out the vote for the candidate she’s campaigning for. Or she needs a client base for multi-level marketing. Or she’s trying to become the next American Idol and needs a pre-fab audience. Whatever the end game, coming to church where a crowd of people is already assembled is easier than staging a rally or phone-blitzing or setting up a free concert. Maybe Ursula is a faithful member of the church. Maybe she isn’t. But she’s using the church to further her own goals.

Ursula’s Scripture: And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.” Matthew 21:12-13

 

The purpose of the local church is not to salve our emotional wounds, or to fill a void in our lives, or to further our own agenda. The purpose of the church is to focus our attention on Christ – how He gave His life for us, forgave us, and made us His disciples. It’s where we come together to praise Him, honor Him, worship Him, serve Him, serve our brothers and sisters, and get equipped in His Word. We’ve probably all been guilty of being Paula, Sheila, Candy, Katie, or Ursula at times. I know I have. But let’s strive to be the godly women at church – and everywhere else – Christ commands us to be.

Christian women

You’re Not Awesome…and You Know It

Originally published September 19, 2017

I am absolutely weary of some of the memes aimed at Christian women these days. You know the ones I mean, ladies- the ones with lovely pictures of flowers or an ocean or a meadow with a superimposed flowing script practically BEGGING us to believe how much worth we have to God, how awesome we are, how we need to discover the greatness within, how God gives us limitless potential and a superfantastic divine purpose, blah, blah, blah.

You know why they have to take that begging tone to try to get us to believe those things? Because they’re not true. You know it, and I know it.

You’re not awesome or great or imbued with some radical purpose or potential that will magically make your life phenomenal and give you oodles of self esteem once you discover it.

You’re a dirty, stinking, rotten, rebellious sinner. You yell at your kids. You don’t submit to your husband. You act out of selfishness. You lie. You gossip. You covet. You bow down to your idols instead of to Christ. You sin against a holy and righteous God in a thousand ways every day in thought, word, and deed. Just like I do. Let’s put on our big girl panties and just admit it. (1 John 1:8,10)

That’s why these memes and false teachers have to try so hard to convince us of how terrific we are- deep down we know we’re not. It’s a lie. And putting all our eggs in the basket of that lie of greatness sets us up for disappointment and self-loathing every time we sin.

Ladies, stop listening to this hearts and flowers, cotton candy, pump up your ego so you’ll feel better about yourself dreck, and put your faith and hope in the One who will never let you down. The One who looked at all your nasty thoughts and evil deeds and said, “I’m going to the cross for her anyway.” The One who sees all your daily faults and failures and is still willing to forgive when you repent. The One who’s faithful to you even when you’re not faithful to Him.

Stop focusing on how great you are – because you’re not – and put your focus on Christ and how great, and awesome, and superfantastic, and terrific He is. Because if you’re feeling bad about yourself, it’s not because you don’t have a high enough self esteem. It’s because you don’t have a high enough Christ esteem.

We’re not worthy. He is. Let’s get over ourselves and give Him the glory, and honor, and attention, and focus, and praise He so richly deserves.

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in him.”
Lamentations 3:22-24

Christian women, Complementarianism, Ministry, Sin

Throwback Thursday ~ Women Preaching: It’s Not a Secondary Doctrinal Issue

Originally published August 3, 2018

When it comes to Christianity, are the specifics of what people believe important?

I think most of us would answer a resounding “yes” to that question. Of course, the various concepts we believe are important. You can’t just believe anything you like and still be a Christian. There are certain things you must believe in order to become a Christian at all, and there are certain things you will come to believe because you are a genuinely regenerated Christian. But what are those things, and how do we know which is which?

Maybe you’ve heard the terms “essential doctrines” or “primary, secondary, and tertiary theological issues” or “first, second, and third tier levels of doctrine”? For years, theologians have been attempting to organize beliefs of the Christian faith – all drawn from the Bible, naturally – into nice neat categories in order to make things a little simpler. As someone who thrives on organization and categories, I’m grateful for their efforts. But if you begin to study this categorization of beliefs, you’ll find that we haven’t reached an across the board consensus yet.

Generally speaking, “essential”, “primary”, or “first tier” doctrines are those which you, biblically, have to believe in order to become a Christian and/or be considered a Christian. For example:

✢ Sin is a thing, and I am a sinner.

✢ God exists and is the supreme authority of the universe.

✢ Jesus was God in human flesh.

✢ Jesus rose bodily from the grave.

See how this works? If you don’t believe you’re a sinner, you’re not saved. If you don’t believe in the bodily resurrection of Christ, you’re not saved. Here’s how our friend, Pastor Gabe, briefly outlines essential doctrines:

 

(Gabe later tweaked the acrostic a little and added an “S”, which I think is helpful.)

The vast majority of brand new Christians have only the most basic understanding of most of these tenets at the moment of salvation. But it’s not an issue of fully understanding – or else we’d all have to be theologians in order to get saved – it’s an issue of believing. Someone who is genuinely regenerated may not completely understand how the Trinity works (honestly, no one does), but when she’s introduced to the biblical idea of the Trinity, she believes it, learns more about it, and does not reject it.

There is typically agreement among most reputable theologians regarding what constitutes first tier doctrine. Scripture is clear about these things, and several of these issues were settled long ago by the church fathers in assorted church councils (Nicea, Chalcedon, etc.)

Secondary issues are routinely defined as non-salvific but still extremely biblically important, if not quite as biblically clear-cut as primary issues. Doctrines surrounding baptism (credo versus paedo, affusion versus immersion), for example, are usually cited as a secondary issue. A disagreement on a secondary issue doesn’t mean one person is saved and another isn’t, but it normally prevents close partnership in ministry activities involving these issues. For example, my Presbyterian friends and I can join together in pro-life ministry, but we would most likely not plant a church together.

Tertiary issues are non-salvific, less immediately urgent, biblical issues in which the Bible is even less clear-cut and open to wider (yet still biblical) interpretation. These are issues over which Christians can disagree and still maintain close doctrinal fellowship, even in the same church, if they’re in agreement on first and second tier doctrine. Eschatology – the order and timing of events at Jesus’ second coming – is a doctrine that’s often considered third tier. Someone can hold a different eschatological view than mine, yet it doesn’t affect our ability to worship together, work together, or participate in the ordinances together in the same church.

Some theologians add a fourth category – issues of adiaphora, conscience, or Christian liberty. Usually these are issues of much less importance that the Bible either doesn’t specifically address, or doesn’t give commands about one way or the other. Individual Christians may use biblical principles to inform their consciences and decide for themselves. These would be things like whether or not to take your child trick-or-treating or deciding whether to dress formally or casually for church.

While theologians are largely in agreement about primary doctrines, there is wider spread disagreement on which doctrines are secondary and tertiary (many consider eschatology to be a second tier doctrine, for example) and whether or not there is a need for a category of adiaphora, since such issues are normally not considered to be “doctrinal” issues. In fact, there’s enough space for disagreement that pastors and theologians often wisely refrain from making concrete lists of secondary and tertiary doctrines.

But when we’re talking about the different levels of doctrine, what you won’t find is questions like these: Is murder a first, second, or third tier doctrine? What about gossip? Rape? Adultery? Lying? Gluttony? Pride?

And it’s not because these issues aren’t important or because the Bible doesn’t address them. It’s because they’re in a different category from the other issues: the category of sin. They aren’t doctrines upon which salvation hinges, they aren’t open to interpretation, and the Bible is clear that we are absolutely not to do these things.

In 2005, Dr. Albert Mohler wrote an excellent article about the different levels of doctrine entitled A Call for Theological Triage and Christian Maturity. He carefully explains the importance of each level of doctrine and what it covers in a plea to keep each level’s urgency in its proper place of significance during discussion, debate, and decision-making.

It was a helpful article to which I always refer people who have questions about tiers of doctrine, and I agree with Dr. Mohler’s thoughts wholeheartedly (as I usually do) …except on one point:

“In recent years, the issue of women serving as pastors has emerged as another second-order issue.”

Women serving as pastors, women preaching, women teaching men Scripture in the church, and women exercising authority over men in the church is not a secondary issue. Nor is it a primary or tertiary one. It does not belong in the category of “doctrine” in the same way baptism and eschatology do. It belongs in the category of sin in the same way murder, gossip, and adultery do. Let’s take a look at the reasons for this.

I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. 1 Timothy 2:12

(The preponderance of Scripture supports and affirms this concept, so to keep things simple, we’ll use this verse as an exemplar.)

✢ The prohibition in 1 Timothy 2:12 is a clear command against a certain behavior. And when we behave in a way God has prohibited, that is called “sin”. All of the tenets in the three levels of doctrine are affirmative statements regarding beliefs (you must believe in the resurrection of Christ, we believe in baptism by immersion, etc.). None of them are commands, in the negative, against sinful behavior (Thou shalt not murder, I do not permit a woman to teach… etc.)

✢ Secondary and tertiary doctrines can be open – to varying degrees – to biblical interpretation. Every stripe of non-heretical eschatological thought can provide you with chapter and verse passages that can, depending on the angle from which you approach the subject, be biblically plausible and scripturally supported. There is no biblical support for anything God prohibits. No one can cite a properly handled, in context Bible verse in which God says, “It’s OK to commit adultery,” or “Women are allowed to preach.” There can be multiple views on a secondary or tertiary issue that can all be considered biblical, but there can only be one view of sin that is biblical.

✢ Differing beliefs on true secondary and tertiary issues are not sin. My Presbyterian friends have a different view of baptism than I do. That doesn’t mean either of us is sinning. I may think their interpretations of the verses they believe support paedo baptism are incorrect, but they are not breaking any of God’s commands. Differing behavior (again, we see the distinction between doctrinal belief and sinful behavior) on issues of sin is sin. If someone behaves differently from God’s command about lying, she is sinning. If a woman behaves differently from God’s command in 1 Timothy 2:12, she is sinning.

✢ Differing beliefs on secondary and tertiary issues are not born of disobedience and rebellion toward God. Usually, it’s quite the opposite. When someone has studied a theological issue enough to hold a particular position on it, it’s usually because she is striving to please God and to be biblical in her beliefs. Differing behavior on issues of sin is born out of disobedience and rebellion toward God. Someone who steals has already decided in her heart that her desires are better than God’s command. A woman who knowingly holds improper authority over men in her church is doing so because she has already decided to defy God’s clear command against such.

✢ Because different beliefs on secondary and tertiary issues are not born of rebellion and are not sin, they do not require church discipline. Sin does require church discipline. If someone in your church is openly dishonoring her parents, she is sinning and should be subject to church discipline. If a woman is pursuing a career as a pastor, she is sinning and should be subject to church discipline. 

Since the publication of Dr. Mohler’s article (and perhaps as a result of others teaching the same thing) the idea of the violation of 1 Timothy 2:12 being a “secondary doctrine” has spread in a most unhelpful way, leading many Christians to treat the issue in a c’est la vie, “We can just agree to disagree on this,” manner.

No, we cannot.

We would not say, “We can agree to disagree,” on lying or adultery or homosexuality or abortion, and we cannot say it about women preaching, teaching men, or holding unbiblical authority, either. We disciple and teach a sister in Christ who is unaware of what the Bible says on these matters, and if she is committing any of these sins, we begin the process of church discipline. But it would not be loving toward her, or honoring God, to allow her to continue in biblical ignorance or in willful sin.

Furthermore, the violation of 1 Timothy 2:12 brings with it dangers to the church that true secondary and tertiary issues, and even many sins, do not.

I have mentioned several times when dealing with this issue that women preaching to men is highly correlated with women teaching false doctrine. I have researched scores of women teachers. Every single one of them who unrepentantly teaches men also teaches false doctrine in some other aspect of her theology (usually Word of Faith or New Apostolic Reformation). In other words, if a woman teaches men, you can just about take it to the bank that she also teaches false doctrine. False doctrine and heresy are infecting the church – via female preachers – at an alarming rate.

We dare not simply “agree to disagree” on this.

The violation of God’s command that women are not to instruct men in the Scriptures nor hold improper authority over men is a sin like any other. It is not a doctrinal issue in the same sense that other second and third tier doctrines are. If left undisciplined, however, it can lead to first tier doctrinal issues infiltrating a church and eventually destroying it. It is detrimental to the church to label and treat any sin as a secondary doctrinal issue.