Rock Your Role

Deaconesses and Female Deacons

The role of women in the church. It can be a sticky wicket sometimes, you know? Some things are pretty clear. Like, women aren’t to pastor churches. That’s clear in Scripture. Complementarians and egalitarians disagree on this point for various reasons, but none of those reasons include disagreeing on what a pastor is. Both camps pretty much agree that the pastor is the primary undershepherd of the church.

But sometimes, the sticking point is the fact that, even within our own camp, we disagree, or have different perspectives on, the definition of a term. And that can leave doctrinally sound, complementarian, brothers and sisters in Christ in a bit of a quandary. We start off with the same orthodoxy but end up with differing orthopraxies.

Such is the case with the question of women serving as deacons or deaconesses. Different churches define these terms differently. But what does the Bible say?

We find the English word deacon in only two passages in the New Testament: in 1 Timothy 3:8-13, where God spells out the biblical qualifications for deacons, and in Philippians 1:1, Paul’s greeting to “all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons.”. Although the English word “deacon” isn’t used in this passage, a significant sector of Christian thought considers Acts 6:1-6 to be a description of the appointment of the first deacons in the New Testament church. In fact, this idea is so widely accepted that one reliable English translation titles this passage with the section heading “The First Seven Deacons Appointed”.

The Greek word διάκονος (diákonos), “deacon,” used or implied in these passages, simply means “servant” and “a waiter- at table or in other menial duties”. It comes from the root διάκω (diákō), which means “to run on errands,” and involves neither teaching nor authority. As you can see, this is a position of humility, anonymity, and servanthood, not power, influence, and rulership. We can see this from the description of the duties of the seven chosen men – presumably the first deacons – in Acts, who “waited on tables” providing food for the church’s widows.

Most churches would basically be in agreement with all of this (at least “on paper”) up to this point. Where we start to diverge is, how does this flesh itself out in practice in the local church body? Though there are undoubtedly more, I’ve run into five main perspectives on the diaconate in the church (the descriptors that follow are only general touchstones based solely on my own personal experience, they are not universally definitive / applicable. I gotta call them something, folks.) :

  • The traditional Southern Baptist perspective: The office of deacon exists and is restricted to men. Deacons must meet the biblical qualifications for the office, and are set apart to the diaconate by way of the ordination process (nomination, examination, voting, and the laying on of hands). There is no category of deaconess. All Christians are expected to be servants.
  • John MacArthur’s perspective: Because diákonos means “servant,” and all Christians are to be servants, all church members who serve in some way are deacons. There is no office, position, or official title of deacon.
  • The Baptistic hybrid perspective: Various blendings of the traditional Southern Baptist and John MacArthur perspectives. Some churches have the traditional, ordained male diaconate with a separate, non-ordained, less formal group of women deaconesses who see to the tangible needs of women and children when called upon by the deacons. Some churches have a group of non-ordained deacons and deaconesses a bit more set apart than the “everybody’s a deacon” perspective. The deacons generally minister to men and the deaconesses to women and children, or each deacon or deaconess is attached to a specific ministry in the church (deaconess of media, deacon of benevolence ministry, etc.)
  • The progressive – egalitarian perspective: Usually found in “mainstream” (i.e. theologically liberal) Protestant churches. The office of deacon does exist and is open to both men and women who undergo the same ordination process, perform the same duties, hold the same positions of authority (if any), etc. There is no need for a separate category of deaconess.
  • The Charismatic – egalitarian perspective: Usually found in Charismatic churches with female “pastors” or co-“pastors”. The formal office or position of both deacon and deaconess exist and may operate somewhat independently from one another. Both deacons and deaconesses seem to function as elders in some ways. Deaconesses often operate in a “ruling elders meets women’s ministry” sort of way.

The two final categories are obviously unbiblical because they are fruit of the poisonous tree (egalitarianism), but what about the first three?

The issue of deaconesses and female deacons recently placed itself in my path, so I wanted to take a fresh look at it to make sure my beliefs and position are as much in line with Scripture as possible. It never hurts to do that, right? We grow in Christ, we grow in the Word, and we strive to increasingly align with Scripture accordingly. Let me share with you where I currently am on all of this in case it might help as you think through your own beliefs.

I continue to hold to the “traditional Southern Baptist perspective” on the diaconate. I think the Bible more robustly supports this perspective than the “John MacArthur” or “hybrid” perspectives for the following reasons:

  • I have long said on the issue of women pastors and elders that if you will take out the chapter and verse markings and look at 1 Timothy 2:11-3:7 as one continuous stream of thought (as it was originally written), the passage starts off by describing who is not qualified for the office of elder (women) and why, followed by who is qualified for the office of elder (men) and how. I do not usually extend that passage to include 3:8-13, because what I’m usually asked about is women preaching and pastoring, not women being deacons. But when dealing with the topic of women serving as deacons, there is no reason not to include 3:8-13 in that continuous stream of thought (i.e. women are excluded in 2:11-15, qualified men are described in 3:1-13), and every reason to include it, as the word “likewise” in verse 8 indicates that 8-13 is part of the same thought as 2:11-3:7.
  • The word “likewise” in 3:8 also indicates the similarity of 3:8-13 to the form and content of 3:1-7. There’s no transition or contrast between the two passages indicating that “pastor/elder is a set apart office for qualified men only” in 1-7, but “deacon is not a set apart office for qualified men only” in 8-13. In fact, “likewise” would seem to indicate to the contrary – that they are both set apart offices of the church for qualified men only.
  • Chapter 3, verses 1-2 speak of deacons as husbands with wives, indicating that deacons are men. If Paul meant that women were qualified for the office of deacon, there is a way to make that clear in Greek. He differentiates between “wives” and “women in general” in other passages – why not here? And if he meant that women could be deacons, why not make that crystal clear in 3:8-13, since he just said basically the same things about elders being the husband of one wife in 3:2-5? (And we certainly use that qualification to help prove that only men can be pastors/elders, don’t we?)
  • I think the preponderance of evidence points to the seven men of Acts 6 being deacons, or at least the precedent for deacons, regardless of whether this was an impromptu, temporary assemblage of men or whether they served the church on a permanent basis. They were a group of men, set apart to serve. No women were appointed. This was the example later codified and explained in 1 Timothy 3:8-13.
  • If Phoebe, or any of the other women of Romans 16, were considered “deacons” on par with the seven men in Acts 6 or the parameters of 1 Timothy 3:8-13, why would translators not simply render Romans 16:1 as “deacon” instead of servant? Choosing those two different words in those two different passages seems to draw a distinction between someone who is qualified and set apart to the office of deacon and any random Christian who serves in some way.
  • To say that all Christians are to serve, therefore all Christians are deacons is imprecise and confusing. All Christians are also to share the gospel. Should we therefore say that all Christians are evangelists in the Ephesians 4:11-12 sense?
  • Look at the widows of godly character in 1 Timothy 5:3-16. These are godly women who, in addition to having served their families well, have a history of serving the church prior to being widowed. Notice verse 11: “having a reputation for good works: if she…has shown hospitality, has washed the feet of the saints, has cared for the afflicted, and has devoted herself to every good work.” Does this passage – just two chapters after qualifications for deacons – indicate in any way that these women were set apart as, or carried the title of “deacon” or “deaconess”? Does it indicate that women need to be set apart as deacons / deaconesses or bear the title of “deacon” or “deaconess” in order to serve in these ways? No. The women of 1 Timothy 5 took it upon themselves to fill the needs of the saints they were aware of – no office or title needed, just as most Christian women continue to do today.

Now, I say all of that to explain how I arrived at the beliefs and position I hold on this issue. It is not, by any stretch of the imagination, to be construed to mean that I think those who hold to the “John MacArthur” or “hybrid” perspectives are wrong, unbiblical, heretical, or false teachers. Not at all.

I stand shoulder to shoulder, without a second thought about it, with many who hold the “John MacArthur” or “hybrid” perspectives. I don’t think either of those perspectives, as I’ve described and understand them, are unbiblical. Personally, I would have no problem joining a church that held to either of those perspectives. My main point of divergence with those two perspectives is that calling women who serve “deacons” or “deaconesses” – because of the wide array of definitions that can be attached to those two terms – is confusing and could lead someone to think a church is doing something unbiblical when it actually is not.

Certainly, it is biblically right and good for women – individually or as a set aside group, titled or untitled – to act as servants, care for widows, run errands, wait tables, and carry out menial tasks in service to their brothers and sisters in Christ. We see Paul commending Phoebe and the other women of Romans 16 for doing these very sorts of things. In fact, most Christian women who are faithful church members are already doing things like that. The Bible says “serve one another,” so every Christian ought to be serving the church in some way.

But because of the current confusion and different perspectives in the church over what deacons actually are and who may or may not serve as a deacon, if a church wishes to set aside a group of women as servants, the pastor and other leadership might want to consider call them something other than deacons or deaconesses. Just a thought.

In the end, whatever our position on the finer points of deacons, female deacons, and deaconesses, I think we can all agree that, as brothers and sisters, we are all to serve one another in love and humility.

In the end, whatever our position on the finer points of deacons, female deacons, and deaconesses, I think we can all agree that, as brothers and sisters, we are all to serve one another in love and humility.

As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace:

For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

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.

1 Peter 4:11, Mark 10:45, Philippians 2:3-4

Postscript:

The issue of women serving as deacons or deaconesses arose for me after my most recent request for recommendations of doctrinally sound churches to add to my list of Reader Recommended Churches. I noticed that a significant number of the recommended churches listed female deacons or deaconesses on their websites, and that these churches also seemed to be doctrinally sound, usually Reformed or Calvinistic churches, often pastored by graduates of The Master’s Seminary – churches I would normally add to the list in a heartbeat.

In the past, I’ve received a handful of recommendations for churches with female deacons, but they were all of the “progressive-” or “Charismatic- egalitarian perspectives,” and were excluded from the list for that reason. Therefore, my initial inclination upon seeing women listed as “deacons” or “deaconesses” on a church website was to exclude these churches from the list.

But because there is such a dearth of doctrinally sound churches available out there, I didn’t want to exclude any church that didn’t, biblically speaking, have to be excluded. So I revisited the issue of deaconesses and female deacons.

Going forward, I’ll be including these doctrinally sound churches with deaconesses / female deacons (as long as they appear to hold to the “John MacArthur” or “hybrid” perspectives). I’ve made a note on the list that some of the churches listed have deaconesses / female deacons, and that if a searcher is uncomfortable with that idea, or has questions about the church’s position, she should ask the pastor about it.


Additional Resources:

Can women serve as deacons in the church? at GotQuestions

Was Phoebe a Deaconess? at Grace to You

Can Women Serve as Deacons? at WWUTT

The Office of Deacon by New Beginnings Church

Qualified Servants for the Church–Deacons, Part 1 by John MacArthur

“No. Women May NOT be Pastors.” But Can They be Deacons? at Truth+Fire

Complementarianism, Rock Your Role

Are Female Bloggers Violating Scripture by “Teaching” Men?

“You say that women shouldn’t teach men (1 Timothy 2:12), but what about men who read your blog? Aren’t you teaching them?”

It’s the canard that will not die. Complementarian women bloggers, authors, and content creators are frequently asked this question, often by dissenters looking for a “gotcha” moment. Other times it’s a genuine concern from Christian women who want to write but still be in obedience to God’s Word as it speaks to the role of women. But, whatever the motivation for asking, it’s a great question that needs to be answered. Biblically.

It is true that God has ordained different roles for Christian men and women. Both roles are needed and important, but different. Part of the role for women is outlined in 1 Timothy 2:11-15. Women are not to preach to or teach men in the gathering of the church or hold other positions of authority over men in the church body.

But notice that key phrase “in the church.” The context of all of the passages dealing with women refraining from teaching men refers to the teaching of God’s Word in the gathering together of the body of believers.

That’s not the same thing as blogging in the public square. The gathering of the church body might take place within the four walls of a church building, at a park for a Resurrection Day sunrise service, at a Christian conference, at a chapel service at a Christian college or seminary, at a Bible study in someone’s home, or a myriad of other venues, but it’s just that – a physical gathering together of the body of Christ for the purpose of worship, studying the Word, sitting under the preaching of the Word, observing the ordinances, prayer, practicing the “one anothers,” and other “churchy” things.

You’re reading this blog right now. Are you practicing the “one anothers” with anyone? Is anyone standing in front of you preaching the Word? Are you actively worshiping? Do you see an offering being taken up? Baptism? Communion? Prayer? Do you consider yourself to be attending church right now? Of course not. You’re staring at a screen reading an article. This is a blog. Not the gathering of the church.

The Greek word for “church” in the New Testament is ἐκκλησία, or ekklesia. It literally means a gathering or assembly. No gathering, no church.1 And because of that, women bloggers and other content creators aren’t violating the Scriptures that prohibit them from teaching men in the gathering of the church. (And, by the way, this all applies to women on social media, too. That’s not the gathering of the church either, praise the Lord.)

When I explain this biblical distinction to the “gotcha” folks, the pushback (that’s a polite word for it) I often get is, “You’re just hypocritically splitting hairs and doing hermeneutical gymnastics to justify yourself!”. No, you’re just conflating things the Bible clearly distinguishes from one another.

Think of it this way: If I say that all sexual activity outside of marriage is sinful, but I joyfully fulfill my marital duty to my husband, am I a hypocrite? Am I splitting hairs or doing hermeneutical gymnastics? No. Because there are right and wrong contexts for sexual activity just like there are right and wrong contexts for women teaching the Bible, writing on biblical topics, and so on. The Bible has defined categories and contexts. The Bible draws lines of distinction. Conflating a biblical “do” with a biblical “don’t”? That’s what’s unbiblical.

But let’s consider something else, too. Even though Scripture doesn’t require it, most godly, doctrinally sound women bloggers and online content creators – including me – aim our content primarily at Christian women. I have set up parameters for my blog (and my book, when it was in print) and for my ministry to do everything I can to place myself under the umbrella of 1 Timothy 2:12. Look at the title of this page and my Facebook page. It specifically says “Discipleship for Christian Women“. My book was always labeled and marketed as a women’s Bible study. If you’ll take a look at the “Welcome” tab at the top of this page, you’ll see I explicitly say that this blog is for Christian women and that I’m a complementarian. When I address the readers of this blog I nearly always address them as “ladies,” both because my target audience is women, and also to remind the handful of men who follow me that they are not my audience; they are, in a sense, “eavesdropping” on what I’m saying to women. My speaking engagements are for women only. I ask men not to use my Bible studies. I’m not really sure what more I need to do to make it clear that my blog and my ministry are for women, not men.

Don’t men bear any responsibility here? Why should the entire burden for women not “teaching” men fall on the shoulders of women bloggers and content creators? Why don’t the Christian men who are ostensibly so concerned about men consuming content from women address the men who are reading our blogs and following our platforms?

But sometimes these “gotcha guys” – who often have ulterior motives of undermining complementarianism – will visit my blog, claim to have learned something, and then turn around and attack me as a hypocrite for “teaching” them. This is akin to a man listening at the door of a women’s Sunday school class, then bursting in and saying, “Aha! You taught a man.” To those men, I would ask a simple question- If a female blogger puts a fence around her blog and you jump over it and trespass on her property, how is she the one at fault?

Along with Christian women, Christian men ought also to be obedient to 1 Timothy 2:12 by not seeking out female content creators for biblical instruction for themselves. While I welcome male readers – especially those who are vetting me for their wives and daughters or the women of their church, or to gain a better understanding of the issues affecting Christian women in order to lead and shepherd them better – I do not want men seeking me out for personal biblical instruction. All of my readers should look to the doctrinally sound teaching of their pastors and elders for biblical instruction. For women, my blog should only be a leisure time supplement to their sermons and classes at church.

Being a godly female blogger or content creator can be a tightrope walk. All of us have fallen off from time to time, and in those cases we ask that you extend us grace and forgiveness, knowing that we didn’t do it intentionally or rebelliously. Praise God for the “net” of God’s mercy and cleansing that catches us and puts us right back up on that tightrope so we can encourage and build up the lovely Christian ladies in our audience. You mean so much to each of us. We love you and want you to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. That’s why we do what we do.


1This is why it is impossible to “attend church” by watching an online church service. You are not “attending church” online, you are watching other people attend church.

This article is an updated and revamped version of the original article by the same title, published on October 23, 2015.


Additional Resources

Rock Your Role – a series examining the Scriptures governing the biblical role of women in the church

Rock Your Role FAQs

Sisters Are Part of the Family of God, Too!

Women Preaching the Gospel? at A Word Fitly Spoken (on the issue of conflation)

Complementarianism, Mailbag, Rock Your Role

The Mailbag: Counter Arguments to Egalitarianism

Originally published May 20, 2019

What are some of your favorite counter-arguments to egalitarian theology? 

Such a great question for a plethora of reasons. One important reason is that it’s a hot topic right now that needs to be dealt with biblically in order to silence the lies and to make onlookers aware that the Bible does address this issue with the correct answer. Another reason is that, when you think through an issue via an apologetics, “point-counterpoint” framework, it really helps solidify in your mind, and give you confidence in, what the Bible has to say about the issue.

So let’s start off with some basics…

If “egalitarian” is a new term for you, let’s nail down what egalitarianism is and what complementarianism is. Both have to do with the issue of women’s roles in the church and in the home.

Egalitarianism is the anti-biblical view that women can do anything men can do in the context of the church and home. Women can be pastors, elders, heads of denominations, preach whenever, wherever, and to whomever they want, and they don’t have to submit to their husbands.

Complementarianism is the biblical view that women and men are of equal value and worth in salvation and in the imago dei, but have different, yet equally important roles in marriage and the church. Complementarians embrace the Bible’s teaching that women are privileged to portray the relationship of the church to Christ by graciously and joyfully submitting to our husbands. Complementarians honor and respect the high calling and unique gifting women have to disciple other women and to raise up the next generation of godly men and women by discipling our own, and other, children. Because this is such a weighty and arduous responsibility, we consider it a blessing that God has not also burdened us with the responsibility to preach, teach the Scriptures to men, or exercise authority over men in the context of the gathering of the church. Rather, we encourage the men who have been given this responsibility, leaving godly women free and unfettered to carry out the ministry God has given us.

Currently, there is a movement afoot to establish a third position regarding this issue. It’s often called soft complementarianism – an attempt to straddle the fence, make everybody in both camps happy, and have your cake and eat it too. There are a variety of beliefs among those who choose this label. Many would argue, for example, that a woman may not hold the office of pastor (i.e. she can’t be on staff as the pastor of a church), but it’s perfectly OK for her to guest preach the Sunday morning sermon. At least on Mother’s Day.

Let’s dispense with soft complementarianism right now. It is a position of compromise between the biblical and the anti-biblical. Compromising with sin has never been a biblical stance for God’s people to take. Ever. The Bible tells us “a little leaven leavens the whole lump.” You don’t have to consider yourself a full-blown egalitarian to infect the church with ungodliness. Just a little compromise, a little leaven, a little dab’ll do ya. And that little dab never makes the church or individual Christians more godly, more biblical, or more Christlike. It always leads to more compromise and greater ungodliness.

Furthermore, we don’t treat other sin and rebellion this way. No one would dream of saying, “I hold to a soft view of adultery. Only actual extra-marital sex is off the table. Kissing, touching, dating other people – that’s all fine.”

For those who would argue that complementarianism vs. egalitarianism is a secondary theological issue, I would argue vehemently that it should not be categorized this way. Egalitarianism is sin because it is rebellion against God’s Word. And it is extremely detrimental when high profile complementarians unhelpfully classify it as a “secondary issue”. I know all they mean when they say that is that it is not part of the ordo salutis or a linchpin doctrine of soteriology. But when Christians hear “secondary issue” what they think is, “Oh, this is an issue where both sides have genuine biblical support like pre/post/a- millennialism or credo/paedo baptism. We can just agree to disagree and both sides are biblical.” Nobody thinks that about adultery, murder, gossip, lying or any other sin, and we need to be more careful in our terminology lest we give people an opening to think that way about egalitarianism.

Rebelling against God’s commands regarding the role of women is either a sin or it is not. There is no middle ground, so so-called soft complementarianism is not a biblically legitimate position to take. If you’re a “soft complementarian,” you’re a functional egalitarian. And if you’re a Christian who’s toying with this idea, I urge and encourage you to repent, love Christ and His Word more than you love the world and its ideals, and unashamedly embrace and promote what the Bible says about the role of women.

The next foundational issue we need to explore is whom we’re addressing when we make these apologetic arguments.

There are only two kinds of people in the world: saved people and unsaved people. Which means there are only two kinds of people who hold the egalitarian view: saved people and unsaved people.

The Bible is abundantly clear that saved people have the mind of Christ. That means we think the way Jesus thinks and we view the world and the church the way Jesus views the world and the church. We deny ourselves, putting aside whatever we might want or think, and we submit, as Jesus did, to “It is written…“. Additionally, obedience (or lack thereof) to the commands of Scripture is an indicator of whether or not someone actually belongs to Him. In fact, God says if you claim to be a Christian and you habitually and unrepentantly walk in disobedience to, and rebellion of heart against, His commands, you’re a liar, and you don’t know Christ.

What this means in practical terms when dealing with any biblical issue – egalitarianism, evolution, abortion, homosexuality, etc. – is that a sizable portion of the people on the unbiblical side of the issue are unsaved. Because a saved person has the mind of Christ, she will embrace, believe, and obey God’s Word regarding these issues and come out of these unbiblical camps, and an unsaved person will continue to fight for the unbiblical position. A new or previously poorly discipled Christian may need to be taught what Scripture says about these things, and it may take some time for her to come to grips with God’s commands, but her nature is to fight her flesh to submit to God’s Word, not to make provision for her flesh to fight against God’s Word.

Why do we need to understand this crucial foundational concept in debating this issue? Because people who are unsaved regard the things of God as foolishness and they cannot accept them no matter how much you explain Scripture to them or how much sense you make. This is a spiritual issue that requires a spiritual solution – the Holy Spirit must save the person and open her eyes to the truth of His Word. Often, what the person you’re arguing with needs most is the gospel, not an argument about a theological issue. And you will need to be careful and wise to discern when your apologetics are helpful and effective with someone who truly wants to learn and accept the biblical view, and when it’s time to gather up your pearls, step out of the pigpen, and go home until the Holy Spirit does His good work in her heart.

So I guess all of the above would be my primary apologetic argument against egalitarianism: If you’re truly saved, the fruit of your new nature in Christ will be to forsake and repent of any opinions or positions you hold that conflict with Scripture and submit to, love, and obey God’s commands. If you’re not saved, your opinion doesn’t really matter when it comes to how the church is run because the church is the body of Christ – Believers – not the house of unbelief.

Another argument I’m fond of is what I call the “let’s take a stroll through the Bible” argument, because it addresses so many arguments about 1 Timothy 2:12 that it’s almost a “one size fits all” argument:

But the Bible only says one time that women can’t preach to men!

That was just Paul, as a human, saying women can’t teach men, not God.

That passage is about wives taking authority over their husbands, not about women preaching to or exercising authority over men in the church.

That instruction only applied to the women of the Ephesian church at that particular time.

Look at the overall general pattern of male headship and leadership in Scripture. First human created? A man. The Patriarchs? As the word implies – all men. Priests, Levites, Scribes? Men. Heads of the twelve tribes of Israel? Men. Major and minor prophets? Men. All kings of Israel and Judah? Men. Noahic, Abrahamic, Mosaic, and Davidic Covenants? All established between God and men. Authors of Scripture? Men. The forerunner of Christ? John the Baptist – a man. Messiah? A man. All of the apostles? Men. All of the pastors, elders, and deacons of churches in the New Testament? Men. Founder and head of the church? Christ – a man. Leader and head of the family? Men. Now which fits better with this pattern, women preaching to, teaching, and exercising authority over men in the church, or women not preaching to, teaching, and exercising authority over men in the church?

It’s not just one verse. The entirety of Scripture backs up 1 Timothy 2:12. Which means it wasn’t just Paul’s human idea, just for the women of Ephesus, or just about wives and husbands (more on that one here, second section). Male headship and leadership in God’s foundational institutions – family and church – has been God’s idea, God’s plan since the dawn of Creation (as 1 Timothy 2:13-14 clearly explains). It’s much harder for someone claiming to be a Christian to throw out the whole Bible than to sweep one verse aside.

Another argument that often needs to be made is explaining the difference between descriptive and prescriptive passages of Scripture, because one of the most common arguments egalitarians will make is, “Look at Deborah! Look at Priscilla! Look at the women at Jesus’ tomb! Look at the women Paul commends in Romans 16! They were all in some sort of leadership or teaching position, so that means women can do anything in the church that men can do!” No. No it doesn’t.

Broadly speaking, there are two main types of Scripture: descriptive and prescriptive. Descriptive passages describe something that happened: Noah built an ark. Esther became queen. Paul got shipwrecked. These passages simply tell us what happened to somebody. Prescriptive passages are commands or statements to obey. Don’t lie. Share the gospel. Forgive others.

If we wanted to know how to have a godly marriage, for example, we would look at passages like Ephesians 5:22-33, 1 Corinthians 7, and Exodus 20:14,17. These are all passages that clearly tell us what to do and what not to do in order to have a godly marriage.

What we would not do is look at David’s and Solomon’s lives and conclude that polygamy is God’s design for marriage. We would not read about Hosea and assume that God wants Christian men to marry prostitutes. We would not read the story of the woman at the well and think that being married five times and then shacking up with number six is OK with Jesus.

And when looking for instruction about the role of women in the church, we look to clear, prescriptive passages which tell us what to do and what not to do, not descriptive passages about various women in the Bible. Descriptive passages may support, but never trump, the clear instruction of prescriptive passages.

(I’ve addressed each of the women often trotted out in defense of the sin of role-busting in my article Oh No She Di-int! Priscilla Didn’t Preach, Deborah Didn’t Dominate, and Esther Wasn’t an Egalitarian.)

Some try to make the argument that it’s OK for a woman to preach or teach Scripture to men if she’s doing it “under her husband’s/pastor’s authority”.

When God tells us (in context, rightly handled, correct covenant, etc., of course) not to do something and we do it anyway, that is sin, right? Only God has the authority to say what is sin and what is not. No one – not your pastor, your husband, your parents, your best friend, the Pope, nobody – has the authority to tell you that it’s OK to do something God has said is sin. That authority belongs to God alone.

Try inserting any other sin into that situation. Does your husband, pastor, etc., have the authority to tell you it’s OK to lie? Cuss? Covet? Of course not. And why would they even consider doing such a thing?

If you were to ask your husband and pastor to show you from Scripture where God says it’s OK for them to allow you to teach men, they would quickly realize that they are not basing their decision on Scripture (because there is no Scripture that allows them to do this), but on their own opinion that it’s OK.

When God says “no,” no man has the right to say, “yes.” 

And there’s the “You don’t know Greek, so you don’t know what that passage really means. I do.” fallacy.

Some have tried to make the argument that 1 Timothy 2:12 is mistranslated – that “woman” and “man” should be translated as “wife” and “husband” – and that this passage isn’t prohibiting women from teaching men at all, it’s really about marriage. I’ve dealt with that fallacy in this article.

And finally, if a Christian struggles with the biblical argument against egalitarianism, God has graciously given us a real-time, tangible, visible argument against it. Take a look at all the once doctrinally sound Christian churches and denominations that are now apostate – the ones that embrace homosexuality, New Apostolic Reformation heresy, preach morality or liberal politics instead of the gospel, etc. They all followed the same pattern. The very first step they took on the road to apostasy was “soft complementarianism”: letting women teach co-ed Sunday school classes, preach on Mother’s Day, hold committee positions that placed them in biblically improper authority over men, and so on. The next step was full blown egalitarianism: allowing women to be elders, ordaining women as pastors, placing women in unbiblical denominational leadership positions. Next came embracing homosexuality: extending church membership to unrepentant, practicing homosexuals (and now, transgender people), ordaining them, and allowing them to serve in any and every position of church and denominational leadership, including the pastorate. And the final step is abandoning the gospel and the authority and sufficiency of God’s Word altogether. It happened to the Lutherans, the Episcopalians, the Methodists, the Presbyterians, scores of non-denominational churches, and now it’s happening to Southern Baptists. Not a single church or denomination that has embraced egalitarianism has become holier, truer to God’s Word, or more spiritually healthy. They have all ended up dead eventually, and the true Christians in those churches and denominations have left to form biblical churches and denominations.

Egalitarianism is anti-biblical, harmful to men, women, and the church, and dishonoring to God. We may not be able to convince every egalitarian to repent and embrace what God’s Word says about the role of women, but it’s important to think through this issue in a biblical way, and using an apologetic framework is a great way to do that.

Additional Resources:

Rock Your Role Series

Jill in the Pulpit

Oh No She Di-int! Priscilla Didn’t Preach, Deborah Didn’t Dominate, and Esther Wasn’t an Egalitarian

Women Preaching: It’s Not a Secondary Doctrinal Issue

All Things Being Equal

Rock Your Role FAQs

Fencing off the Forbidden Fruit Tree

The Mother of All Rebellions: Having a Woman Preach on Mother’s Day


If you have a question about: a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.

Christian women, Church, Complementarianism, Rock Your Role

Sisters Are Part of the Family of God, Too!

I’ve got some wonderful, godly male friends and acquaintances on social media. I’ve learned from their wisdom, referred people to their churches, and had a great time joking around with them.

But every now and then there are men who stumble across my social media accounts or blog or podcast, seemingly drunk with biblical ignorance, who clearly don’t think women should have any sort of a voice when men are around – or at all, I guess. In my mind I call them the “Shut up and go sit in the corner” guys, because that’s what it feels like they’re saying to me, and to women everywhere.

One of the errors of the Pharisees’ legalism was that they stretched the boundaries of God’s laws farther than God intended them to go. This is why, when we see Jesus and the disciples walking through the fields and picking kernels of grain to eat in Matthew 12, the Pharisees accused them of “doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath”. Because this was, ostensibly, “harvesting” and “threshing” – working on the Sabbath.

But as Jesus went on to explain to them, this kind of unbiblical overreach of the fourth Commandment was never God’s intent. The Sabbath was a gift of rest meant to benefit God’s people, not to oppress and enslave them to nitpicking, nor to keep them from enjoying God’s blessings.

Today, the pendulum has swung to the other extreme, and antinomianism, rather than legalism, is the false teaching du jour. Antinomianism stretches the boundaries of God’s grace farther than God intends it to go. That’s why we have to spend so much time teaching and explaining that the Bible prohibits women from being pastors and elders, and from preaching, instructing men in the Scriptures, and holding authority over men inside the biblical boundaries of the formal gathering of the church body. Because, for the antinomian, practically anything, anywhere, goes.

But the “Shut up and go sit in the corner” guys help us to see that the same type of legalism the Pharisees practiced – though not as prolific – is still alive and well today. They stretch the boundaries of God’s command for the role of women in the church gathering to all other venues in which women might have a voice – to anyone, about anything. Some even say women aren’t permitted to teach other women and children, which is clearly at odds with Scripture.

The God who consistently values women holistically – their skills and talents, their intelligence, their contributions and hard work – throughout Scripture never intended this kind of unbiblical overreach of His commandment regarding the role of women in the church. This command was a gift meant to benefit God’s people, not to oppress and enslave women nor to keep us – or our brothers – from enjoying God’s blessings, especially the blessing of each other.

God consistently values women holistically – their skills and talents, their intelligence, their contributions and hard work – throughout Scripture.

Sometimes we lose sight of the fact that there’s a difference between the “set apartness” and formal structure and hierarchy of God’s house for worship and instruction, and the informal, unstructured “family time” around the table, around the living room, around the Twitter machine. And we forget that these two different environments serve two different purposes.

Worship and instruction are vital and primary. But we are the family of God. Brothers and sisters. Siblings. We need each other. The give and take. The back and forth. The jokes and laughter. The sharing, advice, support, encouragement, and yes, even the occasional, biblically appropriate brotherly or sisterly reproof. We’re to relate to each other as family – especially during “family time,” which is different and discrete from worship and instruction time.

We are the family of God. Brothers and sisters. Siblings. We need each other.

How dysfunctional would a family be if, during informal times of fellowship all of the sisters were prohibited from taking part in the discussion, sharing thoughts, offering insight, setting an example, and even proffering loving words of correction?

Normal, healthy, natural families don’t operate that way. And God uses the natural family as the metaphor for the way He relates to us: Father to child, the way we relate to Him: child to Father, and the way we relate to each other: brothers and sisters.

We’re to love one another and draw strength and help from one another, not amputate half of us from fellowship. When legalistic men unbiblically silence women…

…they’re out of alignment with the God who values women.

God showed us that women are valuable by purposefully and intentionally taking the time and effort to craft a woman in the first place. He could have stopped with Adam, but when He finished forming man, for the first time in Creation, He said, “It is not good…”. And the crowning glory, the final masterpiece of His world, was woman.

Throughout Scripture, from Sarah, Hannah, Esther, and Deborah, to Mary, Anna, Priscilla, Phoebe, and so many more, we see God using women to glorify Him and further His Kingdom.

Jesus and the epistles instruct men to love and protect women, to respect women, and to treat them with honor and dignity.

The God who sees women as a valuable part of His creation, who requires the respect of their worth, would never shut them out of family life, treating them as though they don’t matter.

…they are rebelling against God’s complementary Creative design.

Why did God say at Creation that it wasn’t good for man to be alone? Because he needed a helper “fit for him,” or “corresponding to him”.

Yes, God was speaking of that particular man, Adam. Yes, God was speaking of all husbands yet to come. But there’s a very real sense in which God was also saying, “It is not good for male humanity to be alone on planet Earth. Therefore, I’m going to make women as well.”.

Mankind needs the complementarity of womankind. He’ll be strong where she’s weak and she’ll be strong where he’s weak. He will fill out Creation with masculine beauty that she can’t contribute and she will fill out Creation with feminine beauty that he can’t contribute. He’ll see things from one perspective, and she, from another. It’s like two gears in a machine that fit together perfectly and work together perfectly, yet each doing its own distinct part.

God wasn’t finished with Creation when He created man. Something was still missing that God wanted to supply, and He filled in that hole in Creation with woman.

God wasn’t finished with Creation when He created man. Something was still missing that God wanted to supply, and He filled in that hole in Creation with women.

And when you basically tell women, across the board, to sit down and shut up, you’re denying and suppressing God’s Creative design for women… and men.

…they are crippling the church’s ability to carry out the “one anothers” in a healthy way.

Love one another. Comfort one another. Forgive one another. Serve one another. Bear one another’s burdens. Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another.

Because men and women complement one another in our strengths and weaknesses, we need both men and women to minister the one anothers to each other in the church. Otherwise, the balance is completely thrown off. Without the compassion and nurturing God has uniquely wired into women, a man’s “Comfort one another,” could turn into, “Suck it up and rub some dirt on it. You’re fine.” “Forgive one another,” might become, “I’ll forgive you….but first I’m going to punch you in the mouth.” Without the dispassionate objectivity and firmness more common to men, women’s comfort might turn into enabling, and forgiveness into being a doormat. And how can a woman properly bear the burden of a man who’s struggling with lust, or a man the burden of a woman facing infertility?

We minister to one another together. We need both halves of the church for it to be healthy and whole.

We’re family, folks. We sisters need you brothers, and, yes, you brothers really do need us sisters – even you “Shut up and go sit in the corner” guys. That’s not feminism, it’s not rebellion, it’s not sin…it’s family. When we understand and embrace this, we’ll discover what a precious gift God has blessed us with.

The gift of each other.

Additional Resources:

Rock Your Role series

Rock Your Role FAQs

Complementarianism, Mailbag, Rock Your Role

The Mailbag: Counter Arguments to Egalitarianism

What are some of your favorite counter-arguments to egalitarian theology? 

Such a great question for a plethora of reasons. One important reason is that it’s a hot topic right now that needs to be dealt with biblically in order to silence the lies and to make onlookers aware that the Bible does address this issue with the correct answer. Another reason is that, when you think through an issue via an apologetics, “point-counterpoint” framework, it really helps solidify in your mind, and give you confidence in, what the Bible has to say about the issue.

So let’s start off with some basics…

If “egalitarian” is a new term for you, let’s nail down what egalitarianism is and what complementarianism is. Both have to do with the issue of women’s roles in the church and in the home.

Egalitarianism is the anti-biblical view that women can do anything men can do in the context of the church and home. Women can be pastors, elders, heads of denominations, preach whenever, wherever, and to whomever they want, and they don’t have to submit to their husbands.

Complementarianism is the biblical view that women and men are of equal value and worth in salvation and in the imago dei, but have different, yet equally important roles in marriage and the church. Complementarians embrace the Bible’s teaching that women are privileged to portray the relationship of the church to Christ by graciously and joyfully submitting to our husbands. Complementarians honor and respect the high calling and unique gifting women have to disciple other women and to raise up the next generation of godly men and women by discipling our own, and other, children. Because this is such a weighty and arduous responsibility, we consider it a blessing that God has not also burdened us with the responsibility to preach, teach the Scriptures to men, or exercise authority over men in the context of the gathering of the church. Rather, we encourage the men who have been given this responsibility, leaving godly women free and unfettered to carry out the ministry God has given us.

Currently, there is a movement afoot to establish a third position regarding this issue. It’s often called soft complementarianism – an attempt to straddle the fence, make everybody in both camps happy, and have your cake and eat it too. There are a variety of beliefs among those who choose this label. Many would argue, for example, that a woman may not hold the office of pastor (i.e. she can’t be on staff as the pastor of a church), but it’s perfectly OK for her to guest preach the Sunday morning sermon. At least on Mother’s Day.

Let’s dispense with soft complementarianism right now. It is a position of compromise between the biblical and the anti-biblical. Compromising with sin has never been a biblical stance for God’s people to take. Ever. The Bible tells us “a little leaven leavens the whole lump.” You don’t have to consider yourself a full-blown egalitarian to infect the church with ungodliness. Just a little compromise, a little leaven, a little dab’ll do ya. And that little dab never makes the church or individual Christians more godly, more biblical, or more Christlike. It always leads to more compromise and greater ungodliness.

Furthermore, we don’t treat other sin and rebellion this way. No one would dream of saying, “I hold to a soft view of adultery. Only actual extra-marital sex is off the table. Kissing, touching, dating other people – that’s all fine.”

For those who would argue that complementarianism vs. egalitarianism is a secondary theological issue, I would argue vehemently that it should not be categorized this way. Egalitarianism is sin because it is rebellion against God’s Word. And it is extremely detrimental when high profile complementarians unhelpfully classify it as a “secondary issue”. I know all they mean when they say that is that it is not part of the ordo salutis or a linchpin doctrine of soteriology. But when Christians hear “secondary issue” what they think is, “Oh, this is an issue where both sides have genuine biblical support like pre/post/a- millennialism or credo/paedo baptism. We can just agree to disagree and both sides are biblical.” Nobody thinks that about adultery, murder, gossip, lying or any other sin, and we need to be more careful in our terminology lest we give people an opening to think that way about egalitarianism.

Rebelling against God’s commands regarding the role of women is either a sin or it is not. There is no middle ground, so so-called soft complementarianism is not a biblically legitimate position to take. If you’re a “soft complementarian,” you’re a functional egalitarian. And if you’re a Christian who’s toying with this idea, I urge and encourage you to repent, love Christ and His Word more than you love the world and its ideals, and unashamedly embrace and promote what the Bible says about the role of women.

The next foundational issue we need to explore is whom we’re addressing when we make these apologetic arguments.

There are only two kinds of people in the world: saved people and unsaved people. Which means there are only two kinds of people who hold the egalitarian view: saved people and unsaved people.

The Bible is abundantly clear that saved people have the mind of Christ. That means we think the way Jesus thinks and we view the world and the church the way Jesus views the world and the church. We deny ourselves, putting aside whatever we might want or think, and we submit, as Jesus did, to “It is written…“. Additionally, obedience (or lack thereof) to the commands of Scripture is an indicator of whether or not someone actually belongs to Him. In fact, God says if you claim to be a Christian and you habitually and unrepentantly walk in disobedience to, and rebellion of heart against, His commands, you’re a liar, and you don’t know Christ.

What this means in practical terms when dealing with any biblical issue – egalitarianism, evolution, abortion, homosexuality, etc. – is that a sizable portion of the people on the unbiblical side of the issue are unsaved. Because a saved person has the mind of Christ, she will embrace, believe, and obey God’s Word regarding these issues and come out of these unbiblical camps, and an unsaved person will continue to fight for the unbiblical position. A new or previously poorly discipled Christian may need to be taught what Scripture says about these things, and it may take some time for her to come to grips with God’s commands, but her nature is to fight her flesh to submit to God’s Word, not to make provision for her flesh to fight against God’s Word.

Why do we need to understand this crucial foundational concept in debating this issue? Because people who are unsaved regard the things of God as foolishness and they cannot accept them no matter how much you explain Scripture to them or how much sense you make. This is a spiritual issue that requires a spiritual solution – the Holy Spirit must save the person and open her eyes to the truth of His Word. Often, what the person you’re arguing with needs most is the gospel, not an argument about a theological issue. And you will need to be careful and wise to discern when your apologetics are helpful and effective with someone who truly wants to learn and accept the biblical view, and when it’s time to gather up your pearls, step out of the pigpen, and go home until the Holy Spirit does His good work in her heart.

So I guess all of the above would be my primary apologetic argument against egalitarianism: If you’re truly saved, the fruit of your new nature in Christ will be to forsake and repent of any opinions or positions you hold that conflict with Scripture and submit to, love, and obey God’s commands. If you’re not saved, your opinion doesn’t really matter when it comes to how the church is run because the church is the body of Christ – Believers – not the house of unbelief.

Another argument I’m fond of is what I call the “let’s take a stroll through the Bible” argument, because it addresses so many arguments about 1 Timothy 2:12 that it’s almost a “one size fits all” argument:

But the Bible only says one time that women can’t preach to men!

That was just Paul, as a human, saying women can’t teach men, not God.

That passage is about wives taking authority over their husbands, not about women preaching to or exercising authority over men in the church.

That instruction only applied to the women of the Ephesian church at that particular time.

Look at the overall general pattern of male headship and leadership in Scripture. First human created? A man. The Patriarchs? As the word implies – all men. Priests, Levites, Scribes? Men. Heads of the twelve tribes of Israel? Men. Major and minor prophets? Men. All kings of Israel and Judah? Men. Noahic, Abrahamic, Mosaic, and Davidic Covenants? All established between God and men. Authors of Scripture? Men. The forerunner of Christ? John the Baptist – a man. Messiah? A man. All of the apostles? Men. All of the pastors, elders, and deacons of churches in the New Testament? Men. Founder and head of the church? Christ – a man. Leader and head of the family? Men. Now which fits better with this pattern, women preaching to, teaching, and exercising authority over men in the church, or women not preaching to, teaching, and exercising authority over men in the church?

It’s not just one verse. The entirety of Scripture backs up 1 Timothy 2:12. Which means it wasn’t just Paul’s human idea, just for the women of Ephesus, or just about wives and husbands. Male headship and leadership in God’s foundational institutions – family and church – has been God’s idea, God’s plan since the dawn of Creation (as 1 Timothy 2:13-14 clearly explains). It’s much harder for someone claiming to be a Christian to throw out the whole Bible than to sweep one verse aside.

Another argument that often needs to be made is explaining the difference between descriptive and prescriptive passages of Scripture, because one of the most common arguments egalitarians will make is, “Look at Deborah! Look at Priscilla! Look at the women at Jesus’ tomb! Look at the women Paul commends in Romans 16! They were all in some sort of leadership or teaching position, so that means women can do anything in the church that men can do!” No. No it doesn’t.

Broadly speaking, there are two main types of Scripture: descriptive and prescriptive. Descriptive passages describe something that happened: Noah built an ark. Esther became queen. Paul got shipwrecked. These passages simply tell us what happened to somebody. Prescriptive passages are commands or statements to obey. Don’t lie. Share the gospel. Forgive others.

If we wanted to know how to have a godly marriage, for example, we would look at passages like Ephesians 5:22-33, 1 Corinthians 7, and Exodus 20:14,17. These are all passages that clearly tell us what to do and what not to do in order to have a godly marriage.

What we would not do is look at David’s and Solomon’s lives and conclude that polygamy is God’s design for marriage. We would not read about Hosea and assume that God wants Christian men to marry prostitutes. We would not read the story of the woman at the well and think that being married five times and then shacking up with number six is OK with Jesus.

And when looking for instruction about the role of women in the church, we look to clear, prescriptive passages which tell us what to do and what not to do, not descriptive passages about various women in the Bible. Descriptive passages may support, but never trump, the clear instruction of prescriptive passages.

(I’ve addressed each of the women often trotted out in defense of the sin of role-busting in my article Oh No She Di-int! Priscilla Didn’t Preach, Deborah Didn’t Dominate, and Esther Wasn’t an Egalitarian.)

Some try to make the argument that it’s OK for a woman to preach or teach Scripture to men if she’s doing it “under her husband’s/pastor’s authority”.

When God tells us (in context, rightly handled, correct covenant, etc., of course) not to do something and we do it anyway, that is sin, right? Only God has the authority to say what is sin and what is not. No one – not your pastor, your husband, your parents, your best friend, the Pope, nobody – has the authority to tell you that it’s OK to do something God has said is sin. That authority belongs to God alone.

Try inserting any other sin into that situation. Does your husband, pastor, etc., have the authority to tell you it’s OK to lie? Cuss? Covet? Of course not. And why would they even consider doing such a thing?

If you were to ask your husband and pastor to show you from Scripture where God says it’s OK for them to allow you to teach men, they would quickly realize that they are not basing their decision on Scripture (because there is no Scripture that allows them to do this), but on their own opinion that it’s OK.

When God says “no,” no man has the right to say, “yes.” 

And there’s the “You don’t know Greek, so you don’t know what that passage really means. I do.” fallacy.

Some have tried to make the argument that 1 Timothy 2:12 is mistranslated – that “woman” and “man” should be translated as “wife” and “husband” – and that this passage isn’t prohibiting women from teaching men at all, it’s really about marriage. I’ve dealt with that fallacy in this article.

And finally, if a Christian struggles with the biblical argument against egalitarianism, God has graciously given us a real-time, tangible, visible argument against it. Take a look at all the once doctrinally sound Christian churches and denominations that are now apostate – the ones that embrace homosexuality, New Apostolic Reformation heresy, preach morality or liberal politics instead of the gospel, etc. They all followed the same pattern. The very first step they took on the road to apostasy was “soft complementarianism”: letting women teach co-ed Sunday school classes, preach on Mother’s Day, hold committee positions that placed them in biblically improper authority over men, and so on. The next step was full blown egalitarianism: allowing women to be elders, ordaining women as pastors, placing women in unbiblical denominational leadership positions. Next came embracing homosexuality: extending church membership to unrepentant, practicing homosexuals (and now, transgender people), ordaining them, and allowing them to serve in any and every position of church and denominational leadership, including the pastorate. And the final step is abandoning the gospel and the authority and sufficiency of God’s Word altogether. It happened to the Lutherans, the Episcopalians, the Methodists, the Presbyterians, scores of non-denominational churches, and now it’s happening to Southern Baptists. Not a single church or denomination that has embraced egalitarianism has become holier, truer to God’s Word, or more spiritually healthy. They have all ended up dead eventually, and the true Christians in those churches and denominations have left to form biblical churches and denominations.

Egalitarianism is anti-biblical, harmful to men, women, and the church, and dishonoring to God. We may not be able to convince every egalitarian to repent and embrace what God’s Word says about the role of women, but it’s important to think through this issue in a biblical way, and using an apologetic framework is a great way to do that.

Additional Resources:

Rock Your Role Series

Jill in the Pulpit

Oh No She Di-int! Priscilla Didn’t Preach, Deborah Didn’t Dominate, and Esther Wasn’t an Egalitarian

Women Preaching: It’s Not a Secondary Doctrinal Issue

All Things Being Equal

Rock Your Role FAQs

Fencing off the Forbidden Fruit Tree

The Mother of All Rebellions: Having a Woman Preach on Mother’s Day


If you have a question about: a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.