Mary Kassian wrote an article at Desiring God entitled Women Teaching Men — How Far Is Too Far? In it, she addresses recent discussions about what women can do in the church. She gives the guidelines she uses, some of which I found helpful. She also affirms that women asking this question are doing so from a heart of faithfulness to the Scripture, a point I appreciated as well.
May women ever teach from Scripture when men are in the audience? Should men even be reading this article? How far is too far?
It’s a question being asked by scores of women who want to be faithful to the Bible and want to exercise their spiritual gift of teaching in a way that honors God’s pattern of male headship in the church.
My problem with the article comes primarily from the analogy she uses to explore this question.
The discussion surrounding the boundary reminds me of another how-far-is-too-far issue: How physically affectionate should a couple be prior to marriage? Should they hold hands? Kiss? Kiss for five seconds, but not fifteen? Lip kiss but not French kiss? How far is too far?
Well, the Bible doesn’t exactly specify. Trying to put together a list of rules about permitted behaviors would be both misleading and ridiculous. But we’re not left without a rudder. The Bible does provide a clear boundary. Sexual intercourse prior to marriage crosses the line.
Here’s the major problem I have with this analogy. The Bible specifies a lot more about women teaching/prophesying/proclaiming in the church than it does with foreplay before marriage. What if the Bible told a story of Boaz and Ruth french kissing without judgement before they were betrothed? What if Paul affirmed in I Corinthians young men in the church holding hands with women not yet their wife? If the Bible affirmed some form of premarital foreplay, then the line for premarital foreplay would be a reasonable analogy for acceptable forms of women teaching men in the church. But the Bible doesn’t give examples of acceptable foreplay outside of marriage.
In contrast, Scripture does give examples of women affirmed as prophets, apostles, judges, and deacons. When we forget that fact, we run the great risk of declaring as bad (or just projecting some type of taint on it) what God affirms. We must not set up a false dichotomy between affirming and honoring God’s plan for male headship in church/home and women using their gifts of teaching as Scripture allows. In fact, I would argue God’s plan for male headship is harmed, not helped, if co-laborers in the household of faith are encouraged away from using their gifts as fully as Scripture allows.
I went to Bible college with a number of earnest Christian women who used Mary’s encouragement on the issue of premarital foreplay. There was the Virgin Lips Club, the model women on campus who had never kissed a guy and vowed not to until marriage. I lost my virgin lips in high school youth group many moons before, so I wasn’t a member. I had no problems with that club, and I don’t have much problem with my experience either. In general, we all valued God’s command around sexual faithfulness, which was good.
But I submit that the women-teaching-men version of the Virgin Lips Club greatly undermines God’s plan for the Church. If a large portion of the Church is instructed that it is OK to stamp down their spiritual gifts of teaching to stay as far from the line of teaching with authority that I Timothy 2-3 limits to male elders, we are going to lose a boat load of 2×4 studs in the household of faith. In my article on Thomas Jefferson and headship, I argued the case of husbands and elders as kephale headstones in their little houses in the big house of faith. But women come alongside them as necessary supports. The cornerstones can not hold the entire structure of the house. They need 2×4’s and cross beams, and the gifts of women, including the gift of teaching, are necessary, not periphery to the health of the Church. This is the point complementarians must regularly stress if they want to be truly Biblical. We are not free to not use women’s gifts.