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 (1Timothy 2:13-14; 1Corinthians 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 1Corinthians 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.
What is hard complementarian?
What is an egalitarian?
Ministry positions open to women (by view)
Resources on the issue of Women in authority in the church
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