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 soft complementarian position. Individuals who hold this view may vary in their understanding.
- Men and women are created equal, but with some aspect of complementary function.
- This complementary nature sometimes corresponds to roles in church and at home, but has a less authoritarian and hierarchical expression than that of hard complementarians.
- Because of sin, relationships between men and women are broken and difficult.
- Redemption in Christ offers opportunities for men and women to relate to each other as equals while fulfilling some different responsibilities at church and in the home.
- Women are allowed to do everything non-ordained men do in the church.
- Women may be ordained and/or given the title of pastor.
- Women are allowed to teach mixed gender groups and hold positions of pastor over men and women, such as associate pastor.
- Women are restricted from occupying the highest levels of church leadership, such as elder or senior pastor.
Understanding of Scripture
- Varies on understanding complementary roles as designed by God at creation, resulting from disruption of sin or cultural factors.
- Recognizes examples of female leadership throughout Scripture alongside a pattern of men occupying highest positions of authority.
- Recognizes that culture contributes significantly to current understanding of gender relationships. Sometime argues that biblical wisdom informs behavior within a cultural paradigm but doesn’t always attempt to create a new paradigm.
- Understands restrictions on women in New Testament (1 Timothy 2:13-14; 1 Corinthians 11:8-9) to either be culturally specific or to only prohibit highest level of church authority.
- Understands the complexity of strong biblical emphasis on equality with unique commands given to men and women throughout Scripture as leading to some gender distinctions with minimal hierarchy.
- Interprets 1 Corinthians 14:26 as giving broad permission for anyone in the congregation to share a teaching.
- Understands pastor to be more of a role or a gift than an office.
For more information on this view: Doriani, Dan. Women and Ministry: What the Bible Teaches, Crossways, 2003. (The most comprehensive defense of the soft complementarian 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 both complementarian and egalitarian positions.
- Everyone agrees that certain commands are culturally specific. The question is not whether culture influences instructions in Scripture, but how it influences.