“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Gen. 1:27) It was declared in the beginning that men and women were created in the image of God, equally. Genesis 2:20-25 communicate that male and female we equal, but still had their own distinctive roles on the governance of creation. From a mystical perspective, masculine and feminine energies work best in balance and harmony with one another. There is a natural order of things, including the roles of men and women; however, both men and women are equal in their divinity and importance to God and serving the church, the community, and the home.
In the New Testament, elders, or, presbyters, are linked with James and his governance over the local church, similar to that of the synagogue, with requirements including age and experience. All elders were considered representatives of the people and were expected to serve as such. Deacons in the New Testament were servants who were chosen by and worked under the apostles. Deacons were expected to live wholesome lifestyles that were examples of high moral standards and were expected to be “practical servants”, according to theologian, G. M. Burge.
While elders were typically male, deacons of the NT were female as well. For example, Paul commends Phoebe of Cenchreae in Romans 16:1, acknowledging her service to many people, and commands that the church “receive her in the Lord in a manner that is worthy of the saints.” (Romans 16:2) In Romans 16:7, Paul continues his list of great women servants who were also prisoners with him — Andronicus and Junia. There is an exegesis that asserts the deaconesses were a separate order who served their role separately form the male deacons. This may please the ego of the Patristic Church, but Jesus had a reverence for women and Paul saw their equal role in service, thus, there is no need to distinguish deaconesses as a separate order, for all people lived and served equally under Christ. (Gal. 3:28)
A few other scriptures cause controversy in understanding the role of women in the church. 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 instructs women to keep silent in the churches and ask their husbands for further teaching. Many have misconstrued this into a chauvinistic command that women should never speak in the congregation, which conflicts with scriptures stating that women should prophesy and testify to the person of Jesus Christ. (1 Cor. 11:5, 13) In Corinth women were known to have been “primary disturbers” in public gatherings. (Elwell, p. 1284) Thus, Paul likely spoke in reference to maintaining order during church services. 1 Timothy 2:11-15 has been similarly misinterpreted, but the true context of “silence” is not as clear. The epistles to Timothy were among the writings of Paul’s personal preferences. It is possible that Paul may have slipped in his own personal feelings of how women should conduct themselves and why, similar to 1 Cor. 7 when he expounds on his views on the preference of celibacy, but due to human desire, marriage is best for those who seek sexual pleasure.
Although denominations such as the Methodists celebrate the ordination and leadership of women in the church, many others such as the Southern Baptists are staunchly against women being ordained and teaching. If there must be a limitation on a woman’s ability to serve in the church, then one must consider if women are limited outside of the church. 1 Timothy 3:2 and Ephesians 5:22-33 illustrate the role of the male as the head and overseer of the family, while the wife is subordinate. But there is also balance communicated in these scriptures, for the man is required to love his wife and by loyal to her in emotion and service. In the home, there is still a natural order that one may find needs to be manifest in the church as well, but this does not mean there are biblical limitations on a woman’s place in the workplace or society.
Women can make great contributions to the church from basic serving to teaching of Sunday School to serving as a pastor. Methodist services have been known to be fully comprised of women, from the pastor to the liturgical worship director. While males are still chosen to collect the tithes, maintaining the dignity of specified male service, the women are allowed to lead, teach, and preach. In modern times, one must find the right church that will allow for growth and service according to one’s preference. This will be the starting point of resurrecting the true balance and equality of male and female in the image of God, serving and teaching the people of earth.
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Elwell, Walter A. (2001).Elder. In Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (pp. 369-370). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.
Elwell, Walter A. (2001). Deacon, Deaconess. In Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (pp. 320-321). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.
Elwell, Walter A. (2001). Woman, Biblical Concept of. In Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (pp. 1281-1286). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.
Elwell, Walter A. (2001). Woman, Ordination of. In Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (pp. 1286-1289). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.
Elwell, Walter A. (2001). Women in the Church, In the Bible. In Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (pp. 1289-1291). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.
This essay was written for educational purposes for the A.A. Religion Program at Liberty University. (c) 2015