The views regarding women in authority in the church can be generalized into 3 basic positions: hard complementarian (most restrictive), soft complementarian (less restrictive), and egalitarian (least restrictive).
This is a general summary of the egalitarian position. Individuals who hold this view may vary in their understanding.
- Men and women were created by God as equals in all respects.
- Because of sin, relationships between men and women become marked by hierarchy involving superiority and inferiority. In particular, men usually assume a role of supremacy over women while women assume a role of subservience.
- Redemption in Christ offers men and women the opportunity to enjoy God-intended equality among genders, free from distinction or hierarchy.
- Women are usually allowed to occupy any role of church leadership.
- Occasionally some churches with egalitarian viewpoints will restrict leadership opportunities for cultural or practical reasons.
Reading of Scripture
- Understands men and women to be created without functional distinction. Equality of being is evident from both genders being in the image of God. Equality of function is evident from both genders being given the responsibility to rule over creation.
- Highlights examples of female leadership throughout Scripture: Miriam (Exodus 15) and Huldah (2 Kings 22) served as prophetesses; Deborah (Judges 4-5) served as a judge; significant counter-cultural treatment of women by Jesus (Samaritan woman as first evangelist, first resurrection appearance to women, women held out as example of faith); women allowed to prophesy in church (1 Cointhians 11:5). Argues for Priscilla as leading house-church (Acts 18:26); sometimes argues Junia (Romans 16:7) was an apostle.
- Views central result of redemption as a community without ethnic or gender distinctions (Galatians 3:28).
- Understands restrictions on women (1 Timothy 2:13-14; 1 Corinthians 11:8-9) as applying to specific cultural setting rather than teaching universal truth.
- Sometimes uses a “progressive hermeneutic” to understand Scripture: Early church began a process of changing cultural norms (slavery, treatment of women) that is meant to continue throughout church history, eventually exceeding explicit commands in Scripture. Slavery is often cited as clearest example of this.
For more information on this view: Christians for Biblical Equality. An egalitarian organization with the following motto, “Advancing a biblical foundation for gift-based rather than gender-based ministry and service.”
Groothius, Rebecca Merrill. Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity Without Heirarchy, Intervarsity Press, 2005. (The standard and comprehensive defense of the egalitarian position.)
Keep in mind
- Both complementarians and egalitarians defend the essential equality of men and women.
- Believers who hold to biblical inerrancy and seriously seek to follow the Bible as the source of truth also hold egalitarian or complementarian positions.
- Everyone agrees that certain commands are culturally specific. The question is not whether culture influences instructions in Scripture, but how it influences.