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.
Complementarianism

Seven Reasons 1 Timothy 2:12 Isn’t the Crazy Aunt We Hide in the Closet when Company Comes Over

Originally published January 12, 2018

A while back I was scrolling through my Twitter feed and happened to catch part of an interaction between two women discussing a false teacher. I couldn’t come close to the exact wording if I tried, but the gist of it was…

Discerning Christian Woman: Divangelista X is a false teacher and preaches to men.

Non-Discerning Christian(?) Woman: How can you say she shouldn’t be preaching to men? So what! She’s out there helping so many people and charitable causes! People love her! I think she’s great!

Discerning Christian Woman: Well, I’m really not as concerned about the fact that she preaches to men as I am about the false doctrine she teaches.

I didn’t butt in because neither of them was talking to me, but what I wanted to say was, “Why?” Why, Discerning Christian Woman, did you back off the completely biblically valid point that this false teacher is rebelling against Scripture by preaching to men? If you had been discussing a male false teacher who was running around on his wife, you probably would have led your argument against him with his sin of adultery, with the false doctrine he teaches relegated to a level secondary importance.

Ladies…pastors…why are we so embarrassed to stand up boldly and say that women who preach to men are in unrepentant sin and disqualified from teaching regardless of what their doctrine might be?

It’s a simple little thing called the fear of man. Or, more specifically, fear of woman. We’ve seen women whose feminist ideals are challenged. Even feminists who call themselves Christians have been known to fly into a demonic rage, bent on destroying any person, pastor, or church who dares to topple their golden “I am Woman, Hear Me Roar” calf. No one wants to be on the receiving end of that kind of vitriol.

We’re more afraid of the wrath of woman than the wrath of God.
And shame on us for that.

God doesn’t call us to be wimps, people. He calls us to stand on His Word no matter the cost. The great men and women of the faith who have gone before us have done just that, giving their lives rather than renouncing Christ, refraining from sharing the gospel, compromising the Lord’s Supper, stopping the translation of Scripture into the language of the people.

And we’re worried that feminazis might yell at us or make trouble at church.

We need to stop blushing ashamedly and stand unapologetically firm when it comes to denouncing female teachers who preach to men. Here are seven reasons why:

1.
Women preaching to men is personal sin.

When a woman takes it upon herself to disobey Scripture by preaching to men, she is sinning. If we’re the Christians we claim to be, how can we see someone mired in sin and not want to rescue her? It is not loving to ignore someone’s sin, or worse, affirm her in it. To do so is the ultimate act of selfishness, because we’re more concerned about the the consequences for confronting her and how that will affect me than we are about her soul and her relationship with Christ. John 15:13 says, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”. Sometimes laying down your life means dying to self and confronting sin out of love for someone else.

2.
Women preaching to men is public rebellion.

When a woman stands up in front of a group of men and women and unashamedly preaches to them, she is initiating a public act of aggression against Christ and His church. I don’t care how sweet and pretty and “aw, shucks” she is – that’s what she’s doing. She is leading a rebellion against God’s clear command for all the world, and the church, to see. This is a blot on the reputation of Christ’s Bride whom He wishes to be “holy and without blemish“.  Christians are people who submit to and obey Christ, not leaders of rebellions against Him.

3.
Women preaching to men is false doctrine

She may not say it with her lips, but when a woman preaches to men in defiance of Scripture, she’s teaching false doctrine through her behavior. What is the false doctrine she’s teaching? “I don’t have to obey God’s Word, and neither do you. If there’s a part of the Bible you don’t like, you’re free to disregard it.” Call it antinomianism. Call it whatever you like. But it’s one of the oldest and most fundamental false doctrines.

4.
Women preaching to men undermines
the authority of Scripture.

Christians are “people of the Book.” We are to live under the authority of the written Word of God breathed out by the Holy Spirit. Those who truly love Christ love His Word and want to be obedient to it. When a woman preaches to men in defiance of God’s Word, she is stating with her actions that Scripture has no authority over her. That she can do whatever she wants regardless of what God has spoken. Those who follow her learn, “I am the authority in my life, not God.”

5.
Women preaching to men is God’s judgment on the church.

My people—infants are their oppressors,
    and women rule over them.
O my people, your guides mislead you
    and they have swallowed up the course of your paths.
Isaiah 3:12

The fact that God allows a thing to take place in no way indicates that He is pleased with it. When God allows people to persist in sin, it’s not that he’s blessing that person or church, but that He’s giving them over to sin in judgment.

And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God,
God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.

Romans 1:28

(To the church at Thyatira)
But I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols. I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her sexual immorality. Behold, I will throw her onto a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her I will throw into great tribulation, unless they repent of her works, and I will strike her children dead. And all the churches will know that I am he who searches mind and heart,
and I will give to each of you according to your works.
Revelation 2:20-23

6.
Women preaching to men undermines
God-ordained male authority.

Jesus Christ is the head of the church. That means He gets to make the rules for it, not us. And one of His rules is that men are to be the pastors, elders, and those in authority, not women. When women try to push themselves into positions designed for men, it waters down and cheapens the beauty of male leadership the way God designed it, just as it would if men tried to push their way into the roles God has designed for women. And just as a woman would feel disenfranchised if a man tried to usurp her position as an older woman teaching younger women (Titus 2:3-5), biblical pastors perceive the threat to their God-given authority as more and more women take the pulpit.

7.
Women preaching to men is
an indicator of further false doctrine.

I have researched dozens of female teachers, and every single one of them who unrepentantly preaches to men also teaches other forms of false doctrine (usually Word of Faith {prosperity gospel} or New Apostolic Reformation). Every. single. one. If you see a woman unrepentantly preaching to men, that is God’s warning signal to you to stay away before you’re engulfed in even more false doctrine. Refusing to speak out against women preaching to men is to put fellow Christians in a gasoline-doused house of straw without a fire detector. It forces them to stop and search for the fire or examine it to see if it really is a fire – which could end up getting them killed – whereas, if they had a fire detector they would know to make an immediate exit.

 

Every family has that one crazy relative that you just pray will act normal for once – or that you could lock her in the closet – when company comes over. (In my family, I’m pretty sure that’s me.) First Timothy 2:12 is not the “crazy aunt” of the family of God. There’s no need to be embarrassed about putting her front and center for the world to see. She is beautiful and precious and serves an important purpose for God’s glory and our good. Let’s let her out of the closet and be proud of her.

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.

Complementarianism

Putting on the “You Can!” of Complementarianism

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.


Additional Resources

Rock Your Role: Jill in the Pulpit

Let Me Count the Ways: 75 Ways Women Can Biblically Minister to Others

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

Servanthood

The Servanthood Survey