A word from the elders...

"It seemed good to the Holy Spirit..." (Acts 15:25)
...and to us to share with you some of the things in which we,
the elders, are seeking the Lord's guidance.

Biblical Principle Paper
Peninsula Bible Church
September 1993

Spiritual Principles Concerning Gender

in a Christian Marriage and the Church

Thinking Christianly about being male and female is difficult. Three reasons for this difficulty stand out: 1) roles and expectations are tied to culture. 2) every individual will filter philosophical statements, meaning of words, etc. through his or her own experience (both good and bad). 3) there is great mystery in the interaction of the sexes as they bear God's image---in marriage as it illustrates Christ and the church (Ephesians 5:32), and in the discovery of personal identity in Christ as it relates to being a woman or a man.

Throughout history, fallen mankind has overwhelmingly accorded privilege to men, and often the church has wrongly approved of such arrangements. Men have used that privilege to stunt and restrict women from developing as Jesus' servants. Too often Christian men have abdicated responsibilities at home for selfish reasons, and more frequently in recent years have distanced themselves from healthy relationships because of fear or confusion. Contemporary women, knowing of other options, have often acquiesced to unhealthy patterns in marriage rather than lovingly challenging distortions caused by male privilege. All sin must be repented of, but given the advantages accorded men, it is critical to emphasize that they accept the challenge to sacrificially "love as Christ loved" (Ephesians 5:25).

Men and women equally and together bear the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27). The essential need for unity, honoring of one another (1 Peter 2:17) and mutual submission (Ephesians 5:21) are both described and taught in scripture. Nothing that implies superiority or inferiority attaches itself to gender (not intelligence, creativity, experience of the presence of God, range of spiritual gifts, responsibility to obey and grow to maturity in Christ).

Christian Marriage

1. The most profound description of marriage is stated first in Genesis 2:24, "they shall become one flesh." Jesus reiterates this truth (Mark 10:8-9), adding the recognition that it is God who makes a marriage and that none should tamper with it

2. Marriages are made by God between two unique individuals, not between a generic masculine unit and a generic feminine unit. We should expect a beautiful variety to exist among godly marriages (not cookie-cutter sameness), especially in a culture like ours where men and women share almost all spheres of life equally (education, travel, decision making positions, etc.), so that few things exist as belonging exclusively to the experience of men or women.

3. The Scriptures describe and teach that men have a responsibility for leadership in marriage and the church that women do not have. This function is best described by the New Testament term "head" ---Gr. kephale (1 Corinthians 11:3). Male headship is not a result of the fall. It is observable in the creation account of Genesis, chapter two. New Testament authors understood Genesis to teach male headship and taught it themselves with application to the culture in which they lived. (1 Corinthians 11:8, 1 Timothy, 2:12-13)

Kephale does not indicate domination. It is leadership that initiates, blesses and strengthens. It invites a response---receiving as well as giving. "...Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ." (1 Corinthians 11:3)

4. The Scriptures describe and teach that women have been given a corresponding responsibility, a creative counterpart to the man's leadership role. The function is best described by the Old Testament term "help" ---Heb. azar (Genesis 2:18, 20). This unique contribution of support, and aid is clearly a gift from God. New Testament authors call women to exercise their influence as "helper," encouraging their husbands toward mature leadership and trusting God's sovereign plan and purpose in marriage (Eph. 5:22, 24, 33; Col. 3:18; I Pet. 3:1, 5).

Azar does not indicate passivity, or merely taking orders. It represents interaction and contribution of great value. Men should welcome and encourage "help" with the same gratitude and enthusiasm Adam showed Eve (Genesis 2:23).

5. In the New Testament epistles, the passages that directly address the relationship between a husband and a wife (not between all men and all women) are written in the context of a particular culture and usually to correct a problem or establish order amidst congregational chaos. The context of the Ephesians 5 teaching on marriage calls for us to "be filled with the spirit" (Ephesians 5:18). In Colossians 3:17, "whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus," precedes the directives for life in the home. In 1 Peter 3, discussion of marriage is prefaced by two motivational issues: "maintaining good order among the gentiles (2:12)" and "honor all men (2:17)." Paul's word on marriage to Titus is within the rubric of "sound doctrine." Each individual man and woman is first a disciple who must enjoy and obey Christ from the heart before attempting to measure up as a "proper" husband or wife.

6. Mutual submission between husband and wife (Ephesians 5:21) rules out positions of domination, privilege, condescension, fear-based withdrawal, co-dependency, irresponsibility, power struggles, and buck passing (Genesis 3:12).

7. Distinctions between Christians are not erased but diminish in importance with growth in spiritual maturity. Wealth and poverty are not leveled out in the body of Christ, but among mature brothers and sisters genuine fellowship and gift based service occur without interference from distinctions based on wealth. Jews do not cease to be Jews in fellowship with Gentiles, but no middle wall of partition separates them from each other. If the mind of Christ is clear to all in a fellowship the distinct role of elders in guiding the body is received gently. In marriages characterized by healthy communication and loving sacrifice questions like, "who gets the credit?" and "what is my role?" rarely come up. Wisdom is required in guiding believers from fleshly insecurity to "strength in the Lord."

8. Jesus' teaching (Mark 10:42-45) and example (John 13:12-17; Philippians 2:5-8) make clear that biblical leadership is servant leadership. It is measured not by any benefit gained by the one who leads, but by the degree to which others are empowered, encouraged, set free. Male headship, properly exercised, destroys barriers that keep women from experiencing everything God intends for them (Ephesians 5:25-30). Of course, God intends for all of his followers to live within limits of his choice (e.g. couples who are parenting young children have demands not present in the lives of those whose children are grown).

9. The familiar distortions of male privilege in the past have given way to anger, confusion, withdrawal, and spinelessness among many men in the post-feminist 1990s. A vision of Christian servant-leadership (stressing both elements of the term) offers the best hope for men to honor God and bless their wives and children.

The Church

1. Churches should be led by a community of men (elders) who serve the body, and submit to Christ and to one another. Their leadership responsibility is to find the mind of the Lord for the sake of the flock, not to run things as seems best to them (Acts 20:17-35; 1 Timothy 3:1-7,5:17-19; 2 Timothy 2:14-16, 3:14-4:5; Titus 1:5-9). Elders should be easily accessible members of the body, and should solicit the thinking of a variety of men and women in their deliberations. Widespread encouragement of all saints to use their gifts and talents in ministry is characteristic of churches with godly elders.

2. Anyone ministering in a congregation should support the leader ship of the elders (Hebrews 13:7-9, 17). Those desiring to teach should seek an evaluation of their gifts, character, and doctrine. Women should not be restricted from teaching men if they submit to evaluation by the elders. We do well to note the practice of the New Testament church being led in worship (prayer and prophesy) by women (1 Cor. 11:5).

PBC Board of Elders:

Bruce Cairns, Craig Duncan, Doug Coins, Eff Martin, Ron Ritchie,
Mike Tracy, Charlie Tucker, Ed Woodhall, Steve Zeisler.