Practical Dangers of Teaching Women Made in the Image of the Church

In last week’s review of True Woman 101 by Mary Kassian and Nancy Leigh Demoss, I discussed my concern with their focus on the core of biblical womanhood, that “God created women to image the relationship of the church to Christ.” This is not how the Bible presents womanhood in its essence, clearly seen if you look at the moment that God actually created woman in Genesis 1 and 2. I spent the last post going through what Scripture says on what God created woman to be as well as other Scriptures likening a wife’s submission to Christ as much as the Church. I won’t rehash that here, but if you haven’t read the first post, please do before reading the rest of this one.

In this post, I want to explore the ways this wrong teaching can affect women practically. A major concern is that wifely submission in marriage is not actually helped by teaching the woman reflecting the church as her ultimate thing. I’ve sat under such teaching, and I found it demoralizing, not inspiring, to think that the best image I have to go to as a woman is the Church, especially if you know anything about the Church according to Scripture. I am the Church, but I am the Church that is being conformed to the image of Christ. If you follow a reformed hermeneutic for understanding Scripture, the other husband/wife team mirroring Christ and the Church is Hosea and Gomer. Their story is beautiful beyond measure, giving us a picture of God’s faithful pursuit of His wayward Bride. But it does not give an inspiring image of the Church’s role in this relationship.

When I couple Ephesians 5’s teaching with Genesis 1 and 2, that I am bearing out God’s image in all of my life, I am inspired toward a better, noble goal. Peter does this in I Peter 2-3. He calls wives to look to Jesus as their example during hard seasons in marriage. Holding both of these Scriptures, Ephesians 5 and I Peter 2-3, in conjunction with Genesis 1-2 on the teaching of wifely submission in marriage gives us a balanced understanding of and inspiration for what God is calling us to. We need to use all the pictures the Bible gives us along with the essence of our creation from Genesis 1-2. Singular focus on one of these pictures without the context of the others creates a skewed view of the issue. Though we ARE the Church, we are created to image God. The Church’s glory is that God is working in Her to make Her glorious in Him. Her glory is best seen when, as the arms and legs to Jesus’ head, she acts in conjunction with her identity in Him. That is an inspiring calling! 

While women weren’t created to image the Church, there is still much of value to learn from Ephesians 5’s metaphor on the husband/wife relationship in Christ. What do marriages between husbands and wives that are IN CHRIST (Eph. 4:15) and IMITATORS OF GOD (Eph. 5:1) look like? In that context, Ephesians 5 is inspiring to think through. Humility. Love. Self-sacrifice. Laying down of your rights. When our language is correct in how we label a woman’s identity as image bearer of God, we can then learn from this metaphor that illustrates a practical piece of the puzzle.

Another major concern with this wrong teaching on a woman’s identity is that women often believe that their only opportunity for acting out their created purpose is with a husband. According to the wording in True Woman 101 on a woman’s created purpose, the singular place for a woman to live out her purposes in God’s kingdom as He intended is in marriage. This is a demoralizing and frustrating teaching for women who are not married. Also, this idea does not fit the narrative of Scripture. Hannah, Esther, Ruth, Rahab, Deborah, Phoebe, Priscilla, Lydia, Mary of Bethany, etc. If you allow God’s example of ezer from the Old Testament to flesh out His created purposes for women, you start to recognize it in women commended in Scripture, married or single, with or without children, as they live out God’s image bearing purposes in their lives.

Furthermore, extrapolations of this wrong teaching lead to patriarchy and abuse. This is so obvious I don’t want to write more on this. Simply put, bad Bible interpretation leads to bad practice by those in power every single time. It will frustrate some that I don’t explore this further. Maybe this is the most important reason in your mind to draw attention to this wrong teaching from Scripture. But I have a more important issue in my head, and I will end focusing on what I think is THE reason to be concerned about this teaching.

It codifies sloppy Bible interpretation, and this is bad for all of us. 

As I said in my first post on True Woman 101, I have a high standard for what constitutes an accurate handling of the Word. I believe that standard is best held through self examination and a willingness to correct when confronted with contradictory Scripture. I have had to correct myself personally in light of that standard many times, usually when another confronts me with Scripture I am misunderstanding or a passage I have missed altogether. It’s humbling to have to correct yourself. But it’s right nonetheless, and for the integrity of the Scriptures, it’s absolutely necessary.

I know this concern of mine isn’t as important to others as it is to me. But of everything else listed here, this is the one that bothers me most. Sure this teaching hurts women when practically applied, and that is a big problem. But this teaching is also just wrong! It is the result of inaccurately handling the Word of God. THAT’S what hurts women! My major concern for women coming out of a True Woman 101 study is not what they think of themselves but how they understand Scripture. If a woman can accurately handle Scripture, she’ll eventually get her identity in Christ. This may be an unpopular focus I have, but I stand by it. I’ve staked my ministry on the belief that the Bible when accurately handled is good for women, that it is LIFE-GIVING for women. Teach women to handle the Word accurately. Do it ourselves in our studies and teaching. Elders and pastors, encourage it and oversee it. When we do that, a whole lot of other issues in the Body of Christ concerning gender suddenly fall into place.

18 Responses to Practical Dangers of Teaching Women Made in the Image of the Church

  1. Anneke De Jong March 23, 2015 at 2:17 am #

    Thank you! Your posts have been so helping to me in articulating what deep down I already knew and understood.

  2. acheerfulheart March 23, 2015 at 2:27 am #

    I can't decide if I have a favorite paragraph from this post. Great encouragement and great food for thought. Only good things come from people knowing how to study and apply God's word — it's the dangerous, sloppy teachings that cause problems, like you mentioned here.

    -abby hummel.

  3. Bailey March 23, 2015 at 2:43 am #

    This is so true! Having grown up with demoralizing, unbiblical beliefs on women, I've been realizing more and more that the greatest damage done to me wasn't just the wrong teaching itself….it was that I was given a really bad hermeneutic. It's a struggle to learn how to accurately interpret all of Scripture because of it, not just those Scriptures pertaining particularly to women. :/

  4. Anonymous March 23, 2015 at 12:09 pm #

    “I am the Church”

    again, an individual is not the Church, but one member of the growing organism of Christ’s body of many parts held together by joints and ligaments

    maybe you could solicit a response from the authors for clarification about ‘a wife reflecting the church as the ultimate thing’

  5. Angel March 24, 2015 at 8:17 pm #

    I love your passion for the word and to teach and empower women to not be weak-willed in our faith. When I read your first post on this topic, my mind started racing with the ways this teaching is harmful for women. I'm so glad you addressed them in this post. I'm blessed to lead so many women who have been abused and wounded and it doesn't offer much hope to tell them to aspire to be like the church that has often been part of the abuse. But, to tell them they are image bearers of the Most High God is to breathe new life into their souls.

  6. Emily March 26, 2015 at 8:10 pm #

    This has been an interesting series of posts, mostly because I frequently listen to Revive our Hearts, and have digested Nancy Leigh DeMoss's teachings for years. Overall, I've found her to affirm the importance of marriage, but also affirm the importance of God's plan for women in singleness (as she is single herself). From my own observation, I've never felt like she gives women the impression they can't live out the unique aspects of gender apart from being a wife. In fact, she frequently interjects ways to be a biblical woman in different life contexts. Also, I've heard Nancy talk A TON about submitting to Christ and imaging him. I have not read True Woman 101, but according to the texts you've drawn from study, I would agree with your assessment that the metaphor was taken too far. My question is this, “Do you feel like this is a singular error that was made in this study alone, or do you see these errors being made across the ministry as a whole in all the teaching?” Again, my personal observation is that this seems like a fairly isolated error, but I'm curious to hear other perspectives.

  7. Wendy March 26, 2015 at 9:07 pm #

    Emily, I don't have enough experience personally with the ministry to say how widespread this is. However, I know a lot of people associated with it who have really great Biblical perspectives on this. So my gut instinct is that this is an anomaly that doesn't reflect the whole of the True Woman ministry. However, it's odd to me to see it so blatant in print in a book that has gone out to a large number of churches and women's ministries.

  8. Anonymous March 27, 2015 at 3:38 pm #

    It seems to me True Woman, Demoss, Kassian, et al are teaching the fundamentals of the hierarchical complementarian movement. (I give that qualifier because I believe in complementary, though I am not a complementarian in the sense of Demoss, et al.)

    Complementarian theology teaches marriage is a “living drama of how Christ and the church relate to each other.” (Piper, Kassian) This theology teaches Christ, the male, leads, provides, and protects his bride, consequently, “biblical” manhood men is leading (authority), providing, protecting. In contrast, it teaches the feminine church is submissive and follows, hence, “biblical” womanhood, affirms and receives the leadership of all men, though based on differing relationships. This ideology extracted from this metaphor is codified in the definitions of manhood and womanhood developed by those who began the movement and coined the term complementarianism. The strained application of one metaphor in all of scripture led to a teaching that the essence of manhood is authority, initiation, and leadership and the essence of womanhood is submission and responsiveness.

    Demoss says elsewhere, “Those differences between man and woman, between husband and wife, between masculine and feminine that were intended to complement each other…They’re supposed to give us a picture of redemption, of the love of Christ the Savior for His Church.” Here, again, Demoss extrapolates from the Eph 5 metaphor the essence of masculinity as Christ-likeness, (in so far as it is Christ's leadership, initiation, and authority), and the essence of femininity as submission.

    Demoss says, “I’ve been very helped by the writings of people like Dr. Wayne Grudem, Dr. John Piper, Bruce Ware, and others who have been mentors and teachers to me in this area. I’m trying to take some of what they’ve written that’s a little heavier—some of the big, thick books—and boil it down to some simple teaching to help us understand.” Demoss is making the complementarian teaching plain. Even more problematic is the further strained application of this metaphor that has trickled to the pulpit teaching that husbands, in their Christ-like role, sanctify their wives and are responsible for presenting them holy to Jesus. The message is clear: men rescue; women need rescuing. Men save and redeem; women need saving and redeeming. Men are Christ-like (God-like); women are less than Christ-like, or less than image-bearing.

    As far as I understand it, this teaching diminishes the essence of females as mutual icons of God, and I agree, it is wrong.


  9. Curious Thinker March 29, 2015 at 1:55 am #

    I totally agree. In fact, this is what bothers me about ultra conservative teachings on biblical womanhood besides of some of the rigid stereoptypes on what a godly women should be and chauvanistic mentatlity. I agree with the husband wife relations mirroring Christ and the church metaphor. As for submission I think many only focus on the wives submission to their husbands and forget that as all memebers of the church we are Christ's body where we are to submit to one another. God created both men and women to image bearers of God and have dominion over the earth. Thanks again for a great post. God Bless.

  10. Michelle March 29, 2015 at 11:23 pm #

    Wendy– This is an excellent series. True, clear and kind. (You reminded me of the time when I was a child on a bus and a boy was trying to get another little girl to vacate her seat so he could sit near his friend “The Bible says men should submit to women, so you have to move.” )

    “If a woman can accurately handle Scripture, she'll eventually get her identity in Christ.” I don't think you could possibly overstate the value of this truth as you discuss gender issues.

  11. Anonymous March 30, 2015 at 12:12 am #

    Wendy, I wonder if you would consider having a conversation with Kassian and DeMoss to discuss your concerns? It would be helpful and wonderful for me to hear a gentle and gracious conversation between you about this.

  12. Wendy March 30, 2015 at 12:16 am #

    Oh, I'd love that, but they are a good bit higher up the totem pole than I in the realm of evangelical writers.

  13. Emily March 30, 2015 at 7:50 pm #

    Interesting. I read the comment below and probably agree with Piper / Grudem / Ware's expressed views of complimentarianism, as well as many of DeMoss / Kassian's teachings. This is a good discussion to have though, because I want to continually go back to scripture and not just accept any and everything from the mouth of a teacher I respect. I'm not afraid of re-examining people and gender in light of scripture, and I'm thankful for discussions with a heart to discern truth. Thanks!

  14. Jen April 1, 2015 at 3:37 pm #

    I keep thinking–isn't Nancy Leigh DeMoss single? I know if I was single, I would be insulted by the study, which to me implies that being single is “lesser than”

  15. Michelle Lewis April 15, 2015 at 8:04 pm #

    This post has made clear something that was so muddled and confusing to me. Thank you so much for this!

  16. Loraena Tuttle April 21, 2015 at 1:03 am #

    “I've staked my ministry on the belief that the Bible when accurately handled is good for women, that it is LIFE-GIVING for women. Teach women to handle the Word accurately….When we do that, a whole lot of other issues in the Body of Christ concerning gender suddenly fall into place. “

    AMEN! You are so right – unpopular perhaps, but life giving indeed. Thank you so much, Wendy.

  17. Henna Maria April 27, 2015 at 10:02 am #

    Wendy, what do you mean with this? I was also wondering if you have addressed them directly about your findings. I agree with what you write, but I would like to see you approach them too. I find it Biblical to gently point out mistakes or misunderstandings directly to the people who make them. You write about them, what about writing to them? An email wouldn't hurt and you could ask if you could publish their answers?

    Totem pole???

  18. Wendy April 27, 2015 at 2:55 pm #

    I am definitely open to private conversation with them. But embarking on a private conversation with an established, popular evangelical author is not as easy as you think, even for another author. But if someone has their email addresses (because I can't find them online myself), I am glad to attempt that type of private communication.

    But, second, recognize that I became aware of this teaching because of those it affected on the ground. From Facebook friends doing this very public study in their church wrestling through its presentation of womanhood. It's a bit like my criticism of Real Marriage. Mark needed to be confronted privately (which we did when we had the opportunity), but error in public teaching doesn't follow the route of Matthew 18, which is about a private offense.

    As for the totem pole, as evangelical authors become more popular and more widely published, they also become less accessible, which makes sense. One person can not juggle all the needs that get presented to them, and they have to weed out what they can and can not handle. I've tried reaching out to various teachers over the years at various levels of popularity. It is a rare one that is accessible for a conversation like this, and I have very much appreciated the ones who were.