There is an old story of a conversation between a school teacher and some female students that reminds me of a controversy brewing in evangelical church circles today, as part of another battle ground of the sexual revolution, which goes like this:
Teacher: Susie what do you want to be when you grow up? Susie: I want to be a doctor.
Teacher: How wonderful! And what about you Julie? Julie: I want to be a soldier.
Teacher: How commendable! And what about you Hannah? Hannah: When I grow up I want to be a wife and mother!
Teacher: [dead silence] . . .
Doesn’t that dead silence sound like a chat in 2019?
Mind you, while I believe there’s nothing wrong with women becoming doctors- though I do take issue with the “soldier” idea, young ladies desiring to take on the traditional, Biblical and submissive role of mother and wife in the home (Pro. 31; Eph. 5; Ti. 2, 1 Pet.3) will be often met with that same type of silence if not vitriol today, largely influenced by the latest wave of feminism in our society.
We might “pity the fool” who dares suggest that God has created men and women equal though different by design as the Bible teaches. The sexes are different to the extent that God has assigned complementary roles to each gender in order to better bless and order grace in his kingdom- particularly in the realms of church and home.
However, this issue has reared its head again in the wake of the internet fueled debate over the comments of notable Pastor and Author John MacArthur, concerning Author and Mega-Conference Speaker, Teacher and ‘Preacher’, Beth Moore and whether or not women are permitted to preach – a role in the church, which scripture seems to say must be filled by a qualified man, an elder or pastor, who is the “husband of one wife” (1 Tim. 3:2; Ti. 1:6).
The controversy ensued when an online video began circulating of MacArthur in a round-table game of word association at his recent Truth Matters conference. The first words MacArthur was given by host Todd Friel to associate was the name of the founder of Living Proof Ministries, Beth Moore. His instantaneous reply was thought of by many to be derisive; when he quipped, “Go home,” to the raucous laughter of a predominantly male audience.
The backlash over MacArthur’s comment and follow-up, seemed to reflect according to his critics, a politically incorrect if not misogynistic view of Moore and her ministry, who over the past several years has proven to be more of a lightning rod figure in mainstream Christianity, by moving towards a more biblically liberal, prosperity gospel like direction.
Moore has also joined some other high-profile figures of late, in advocating support of a relatively new “Red-letter” movement of the New Testament, which ascribes greater influence and import to those ‘red-letter’ words of Jesus,found in more modern Bible translations than the words of Christ which by the Holy Spirit, inspired the apostle Paul to write in 1 Tim. 2:12, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.” How convenient those red letters can be.
This controversy, has been brewing in evangelical circles for the past few years now, under the pressure of the ever-powerful sexual revolution and the LGTBQ movement, which led the mainline American denominations within Christianity (e.g. Presbyterian USA, some Episcopal and Methodist churches) to adopt the more liberal approach to the scriptures and sexuality, even leading to the ordination of female and same-sex ministers.
Whether intended or not, John MacArthur’s response to the mention of Beth Moore’s name touched a live nerve and sent off a firestorm of reactions both in support and opposition of his comments (Moore herself called for “an end to the slander” of MacArthur, pointing out that “it doesn’t honor God”).
While some may quibble with, or others take strong exception with Macarthur for his rhetoric in a day and age of declining public civility, the question remains outside of the heat of that moment. It is a question even the long-standing and more biblically conservative Southern Baptist Convention, may be now wrestling with, which is, “Can women be Christian pastors and/or preachers to a mixed, adult audience or congregation?” MacArthur among other Biblicists have been questioning the SBC’s intent and direction of late, as some Southern Baptists had spoken of nominating Moore to the position of convention President earlier this year.
Beth Moore has openly preached in public to both men and women (which the biblical permission to do so in a non-church setting is debatable), but to such an audience in her local church in Texas, including Sunday School classes.
The Redemption of Women over Feminism
In the hotly debated passage of 1 Tim. 2:11-15, Paul had finished addressing corporate prayer when he moved to the issue of a woman’s role in the church which is not to teach, preach and lead in authority over the men in the congregation. That’s the big bone sticking in the throat of Beth Moore and many egalitarians in evangelicalism. The apostle in introducing the biblical basis for his instructions laid the foundation for that doctrine which speaks to the unique design and high-calling that God has for women – in motherhood in particular (v.15).
There is a ‘what’ and a ‘why’ in Paul’s first point of that text. The what at that time at Ephesus, was an issue with false teaching in general and feminist leaning women in particular, seeking to teach and preach the word in the local church and thereby usurping the role of church leadership.
The main verse in contention is of course 1 Tim. 2:12, where Paul instructs his young pastor and apprentice to instruct the church that women are not permitted or allowed to instill biblical doctrine into the greater community of faith, or to exercise or usurp the authority of the preacher and local church leader.
As unpopular as that statement may be to hear or read in today’s feminist leaning culture it is nonetheless, straightforward, biblical truth. Paul is making an argument for complementarianism, which is to say that men and women are separate in some roles and responsibilities in God’s economy, but equal in worth and position before the Godhead.
The fact that Paul said that the women should learn in church (v.11), was a massive and truly progressive position for the church to take in a very chauvinistic time in history, where Jews and pagans treated women as slaves in some respects and didn’t think they should be allowed to congregate at the synagogue or temple to learn any spiritual truth at all. God said otherwise. The gospel liberates women in a biblical sense that the world at that time had no concept of.
But it is the why of this command from Paul, which gives us the key to understanding not only the fall that cursed women, referred to by the apostle that finds it roots in Genesis 3, but the rationale for male church leadership, encompassing preaching (Acts 20:28; 1 Tim. 3:2g; Ti. 1:9):
For Adam was formed first, then Eve;and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor (1 Tim. 2:13-14).
Much to the chagrin of the post-truth skeptic of historic and orthodox Christian doctrine, Paul’s argument appeals to the transcultural and pre-Israeli legal principle that “Adam was not deceived,” but the woman was deceived (the oldest manuscripts translate the compound Greek verb, “Having been seduced by deceit”).
In other words, Paul’s 1 Timothy 2 command that women are not to lead the church and are not the head of their married homes (1 Cor. 11, 14; Eph. 5) is because the woman listened to Satan rather than God and her husband. She became the leader, Adam was the follower and what was the result? Chaos and cursing. God created us, the blueprint is his, he knows us best and what’s best for us and his original creative design was rejected.
Woman was made to be the helper of man. She is to follow his lead, live in his provision, find safety in his protection and find pastures of rest and growth in his pastoring and preaching in the home – if it’s a Christian home, as well as of the male elder or pastor in the local church – which are differing names for the same office (1 Pet.5).
A tendency to follow was built into Eve prior to the Fall and then came the curse and in that curse the tendency to rule man was followed by the conflict, which brought the battle of the sexes into existence that remains today.
It is that never-ending battle on this side of glory which prohibits feminist leaning advocates from submitting to the authority of scripture and its plain, face-value language. As one of John Macarthur’s staff pointed out, “When we as believers encounter portions of the Bible that clash with our deeply-held convictions, we need to humbly assume that our convictions are wrong—not Scripture. And we need to carefully consider what benefit there is in following pastors and teachers whose ministries rest on the dismissal of inconvenient parts of God’s Word.”
God’s intention is not to prohibit good and godly women from exercising their giftedness and desire to teach. Far from it. This issue is a matter of obedience to the will and word of the Lord. As Seminary Professor Mary A. Kassian put it in a recent article, “It’s not about competence. God created the family and, in the family, men are supposed to be the dads and women are supposed to be the moms. It’s not a question of who is better at it or more gifted. Male-female roles are neither identical nor interchangeable.”
What Beth Moore and her supporters should remember is that the head of the church, Jesus Christ has built it and has mandated an order for it featuring male leadership. But as a result of his grace and the Spirit’s gifting, women still have opportunities and places to teach the word in a female or children’s Sunday school, small groups, prayer meetings, seminars, and perhaps conferences as well.
Beth Moore and other Bible teachers like her are not to be thought of as inferior by any stretch, but by God’s sovereign decree, different by design and should be faithful to the very Bible they aim to teach.