On Monday, I asked on Facebook ”When you hear the term “biblical womanhood,” what do you think of first?”
By the end of the day, there were over 30 responses. While some shared their initial reaction to the term, others added their feelings on the topic. The topic of biblical womanhood can often be an intense debate, combining our identity as women and the Bible we hold dear it’s no wonder the discussion is continuous.
Why Study Biblical Womanhood?
For awhile, I’ve wanted to dive deeper in the topic of womanhood, gender roles, and the role of women in the church to study the varying opinions and history of womanhood, specifically how it relates to and affects church.
For the most part, I know where I stand. I’ve done my own studying and believe what I do because I am convinced it is true. I can’t read the Bible and confidentially see it another way.
That said, there are a myriad of tangential issues that involve womanhood, gender roles, and church that I haven’t completely sorted out–
Should a woman hold a position of leadership in the church over men (children’s director, worship leader, etc)?, Are the terms ‘director’ and ‘leader’ thinly veiled to fall into the complentarian view though truly pastoral positions?
Should a woman teach a co-ed Sunday School class (even if under the authority of her pastor and/or husband) ?, Should a woman be a deacon?, How does the office of deacon differ from elder?
Even in conservative, complentarian churches the answers will vary.
Rethinking Biblical Womanhood: Two Compelling Reasons
The more I think of the biblical womanhood I’ve read of, seen, and practiced the more convinced I am it is very much Americanized. Search ‘women’s ministry’ or ‘women’s ministry ideas’ and you’ll be met with not ways to actually minister to women, but how to decorate, set-up, and execute a women’s ministry event full with flowery details and Jesus-lite. Women are more than events and so should our ministry.
Aside from that, women’s ministry and role in the church, even the discussion itself, is often limited to wives and mothers. But what of the other women?
If biblical womanhood is to be truly biblical it must encompass all women.
Biblical womanhood must embrace every stage of womanhood. Much of the discussion on womanhood is centered on being a wife and mother, and while most women do become wives and mothers it is surely not the calling for all. Even the term ‘stage’ or ‘season’ assumes a woman will one day be a wife or mother, but what if she won’t?
How do we effectively minister to a woman who is single, a widow,or barren when so much of our time is spent on what she is not? Do we even realize how much weight and significance we put on the role of wives and mothers? They are most definitely significant, but does that mean a woman who never becomes a wife or have child has a lesser role? By no means! Yet, that is, more often than not, the message they receive.
What of the 16-year-old believer or the young professional? Do we simply train them to be wives and mothers, even if that season is decades away? I think we do a disservice to all women when we assume the role of wife and mother. We place a higher value on being a wife or mother than on being a disciple of Christ—which we are for eternity and not just a season.
Biblical womanhood must be cross-cultural to be truly biblical. I truly believe this, but if I took the Americanized version of biblical womanhood to Ethiopia, India, or South America is probably wouldn’t translate well. We have our nuances, though not painted as law are often suggested as such, that tell us to have our homes hospitality ready with cups of tea and tidiness, to read our Bibles in the morning to be the best woman, to not work outside the home (it’s ideal though not always possible, they say), and to dress in a decidedly American, feminine way.
Most of our biblical womanhood nuances rest on having money and possessions. What of the woman who has been kicked out of her home for believing in Jesus? What of the destitute who lives in a shanty and doesn’t have food for tomorrow’s meal? What if she isn’t a bargain shopper? What if she can’t stay at home?
I believe that if a woman’s only source is the Bible, whether she’s in Ethiopia, Iran, Tokyo, or my own city she should be able to read it and know what it is to be a godly woman without hundreds of commentaries, stacks of books on the topic, or even a Bible with cross-references. The Bible should answer the question itself. So even though I am reading the stacks of books and commentaries, ultimately I’d like to see how it all measures against pure Scripture.
The Aspect of Story
I believe story is a powerful tool for change and it has been through story my attitude and perspective of others in this issue of womanhood and the church has changed. To put it nicely, in the past I have been very ungracious to my egalitarian sisters. While most of my opinions stayed in my head, I often approached this debate with little regard for them, believing them to not really know the Bible, love Jesus, or that they just wanted the authority of position. There’s no other way to call this attitude, but sin. It was very wrong of me and I am sorry for it.
One of the things blogging has done for me is to bring me closer to women and ideas I wouldn’t have contact with otherwise. My heart has been softened and I have grown in compassion to other women through hearing their stories. Even if I don’t agree with them, I am better able to see their perspective and to understand how they got to where they are.
I’ve found that many women have not had my experience in church. I am thankful I have been in churches that encouraged and equipped me to serve, listened to my ideas and opinions, and truly respected me. I felt empowered and strengthened in church.
Sadly, many women have not. Through hearing the stories of others, many women have been denied the opportunity to serve even in the most benign situations, told they were less than because they are women—humiliated, embarrassed, ridiculed. These were not meant for women and especially not in the church.
Defending the Cause?
I have no desire, in my study or discussion on the various topics surrounding womanhood, to get into heated debates, begin slinging stones, or participate in “us v. them.” I’m interested in hearing what people think, believe, how they got there, and why.
I don’t care to defend the cause of complentarism or my view of biblical womanhood. I don’t feel compelled to. I know some will disagree with me and say the glory of God is at stake if I don’t, but is it really? Does God glory really hinge on how many “converts” I bring to this side of the issue or how strongly I press it? Will God somehow become less God if I don’t take up arms?
I care for the truth, but I also care for people. I care for unity in the body of Christ. And while I may disagree with people, on both sides of the fence at times, I desire to see and participate in discussions that are mutually beneficial and edifying. I believe these discussions can be loving, compelling, stir compassion and understanding, and not be divisive. It’ll just take some humility.
In the end, if it doesn’t build up the body, doesn’t make us more like Christ, doesn’t cause us to love each other and Jesus more, then what’s the point?