Lesson 8 The Divine Roles In The Church

“But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:3)

Order is evident in all that God does. It is evident in creation’s obvious design, and the physical universe with its many laws. God has established an arrangement of things according to His wise judgment. That is the meaning of order. The opposite of order is confusion. We are told in a passage relating to church meetings that, “…for God is not a God of confusion…” (1 Cor. 14:33). The exhortation was directed to a church that was disorderly and confused in its function.

Order has nothing to do with equality. It is confusing to mix the two ideas. Order has to do with the assignment of responsibility and the exercise of necessary authority. In the eternal realm, God is the Head because He is God. Within the Godhead there is authority and subjection to that authority. The Father is the Head. Both the Son and the Spirit are subject to the Father. Yet there is no inequality. Each is eternally and equally God, a doctrine denied only by cultists and apostates from the Christian faith.

Among human beings, the head of every man is Christ and the head of the woman is the man (1 Cor. 11:3). This is not a matter of inequality or inferiority, but a matter of leadership or headship. Sometimes the phrase “…be subject to one another…” (Eph. 5:21) has been used to support the concept of mutual submission; that is, that everyone should be subject to everyone else. This idea completely ignores the following context of the verse where there is a contradiction to any notion of mutual submission. The verses that follow read, “But as the Church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything” (Eph. 5:24). Later in this same Epistle we are told that children should obey their parents and therefore be subject to them (Eph. 6:1). Slaves (or employees) should be subject to their masters (or supervisors)(Eph. 6:5). Again, the order of subordination or submission is clearly stated. Subjection is always necessary toward those in proper authority, including governmental authorities (Rom. 13:1-5). Resistance to this authority is said to be resistance to God. Thereby, one risks His condemnation.

Divine Roles From The Beginning

It is interesting to trace the distinctions of the role between male and female back to the garden of Eden. The man was made first (1 Tim. 2:13). The woman was made later to be his helpmeet (Gen. 2:18). The man was to lead and make decisions, while the woman was to follow. In the first temptation, the woman made the fatal decision and the man followed her (Gen. 3:6). The woman was deceived, not the man (1 Tim. 2:14). Instead of obeying God with his mind and will, he followed his emotions and joined her in sin. Satan had cleverly seduced each by having them reverse roles and areas of competence.

The woman’s judgment from God was to bear children with pain and to be ruled by her husband. Her desire for satisfaction was to be found in her relationship to him (Gen. 3:16). To both of them, and to their descendants, came the sentence of physical death. The man’s judgment was to labor by the sweat of his brow upon a cursed ground (Gen. 3:17-19). Succeeding centuries and generations did not alter these prescribed roles. Christ did not annul or change these roles, as some claim. The husband is to be the leader, protector, and provider. The wife is to bear and nourish children, keep the home and to be a helper to her husband. The physical and emotional makeup of each is well suited for these differing roles. Titus 2:4,5 confirms these roles for this present era. Women have not been slighted, but rather have benefited in a marvelous way by the influence of the Lord Jesus. The Lord Jesus lifted them from abject slavery but He did not change their fundamental role in the family. He did put man under a much heavier responsibility to love their wives as Christ loved the Church (Eph. 5:25). There is no provision for competition between husband and wife, nor for equality of marital roles in what has been called egalitarian marriage. Husband and wife are a team but their roles complement each other. They are not the same in function within the family.

Divine Roles In Church Function

There is an order of sexes within the area of church function. This does not deny the equality of women with men in Christy or before God. They are both one in Christ Jesus (Gal. 3:28). Order is not a prescription of inferiority upon women, nor is it an authorization for a domineering tyranny or oppressive leadership. The woman is not to teach or exercise authority over a man (1 Tim. 2:12). The statement is quite clear and unequivocal. The reasons given in verses 13 and 14 should not be subjected to the objection that the rule was only temporary accommodation to culture or prejudice. If we say that the Apostles were simply accommodating the culture of the times when they taught that women should be in a submissive position, we are denying the fact that God inspired the Scripture to say exactly what it says in the New Testament.

Unbelievers often rebel against God’s order in society. Worldly, or carnal, believers bring this same spirit of rebellion into the church, wearing an extremely clever camouflage. Scriptural principles that have been settled for centuries have been challenged by ingenious new reinterpretations of certain verses. The purpose has been to make the Scriptures fit modern ideas about the role of women, or democracy, or opportunity. Nothing new has been discovered. Long-accepted principles from God’s Word have simply been explained away to accommodate the thinking of modern man.

There are several areas of divine order touching the church. First there is an order of leadership in the assembly. The elders or overseers are placed over the flock by the Holy Spirit (Acts 20:28). They are to be appreciated as those who have charge over the flock (1 Thess. 5:12), and to be obeyed (Heb. 13:17). There is no provision for female elders.

There may be female deacons (1 Tim. 3:8-13; Rom. 16:1), although some disagree. The serious Bible student must come to his own conclusions in this latter subject.

There is an order of participation in the public meetings of the church. Preaching and teaching, as well as public prayer at general church meetings is restricted to men under the regulations prescribed in 1 Timothy 2:8-14, 1 Corinthians 11:3-16, and 1 Corinthians 14:34,35. This will be examined in detail later. Women are not to usurp the functions designated by God solely for the men in general public church meetings.

Although this chapter is not devoted to the subject, it should be mentioned that there is also a divine order of the family. The husband is the head and the parents are in authority over the children (Eph. 5-6). This also is being challenged in various ways by modernistic movements and certain fields of study (sociology, psychology).

Divine Roles For Men

In the church, as in the home, the man is to be the leader. Only men are to be elders (1 Tim. 3:2), just as the Lord appointed only men to be among the twelve apostles. The feminist movement has penetrated the evangelical world with demands for women to be elders, preachers, and church leaders functioning in the same roles as men. Women pastors, elders, evangelists, and leaders are on the increase. They disregard the Word on this subject or explain it away.

When praying or prophesying a man is to have nothing covering his head. For him to pray with a headcovering is a disgrace (1 Cor. 11:4,7). His uncovered head means that he is to display the image and glory of God. His head represents the uncovered glory and image of God, which is Christ. The woman’s covered head and hair represent the covering of man’s glory.

Men should assume headship or leadership in their homes. This includes spiritual leadership. Christ’s example of love for the church should be imitated by the husband’s love for his wife (Eph. 5:25-29). The man should take the lead in prayer at home, and also take the responsibility for teaching the Word to family members. It is a reversal of divine order for a woman to be forced to lead in these areas because of spiritual immaturity on the part of her husband, assuming he is a believer. The father (as well as the mother) is to see that the children are brought up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Eph. 6:4). Both parents should share in this. If one is an unbeliever, the other must do the job.

Young or old, women are to be treated with great respect by the men (1 Tim. 5:2,3). The older women are to be treated as mothers, and the younger women as sisters, with great purity. This kind of respect has become a rarity in many societies and many churches.

Men are told to work and support not only themselves but their families (2 Thess. 3:7-12; 1 Tim. 5:8). The western phenomena of the working wife and the husband who studies or does something else while she supports him has no basis in divine order. It undermines the marital roles and often sows the seed of bitter misunderstandings. The working man who sends his wife into the working world to raise or sustain their standard of living is exposing her to temptations, and robbing the children of their mother. Men should bear the burden and keep their families intact.

Divine Roles For Women

Tribute must be paid here to the remarkable role played by women in the church. They were prominent from the beginning in the support of our Lord. They were the last at the cross of Jesus and the first at the tomb. In more recent times, they have made up the majority of those on the mission field. This must be said to the shame of men. Women are the backbone of most church working activities, including helps, Sunday School, missionary work, prayer, attendance at meetings and committees. They probably do more evangelizing than the men and are more apt to study their Bibles at home. All of this is something of a commentary upon the weakness of men at home and in the church. There is no reason for men to be less important in the areas mentioned above, except that they have not been taught or exhorted to assume their proper responsibilities. In most cases the women would be delighted to have them do this. Neither the feminist movement nor those pushing egalitarian marriage relationships are likely to improve the effectiveness of men in their roles. Rather they undermine whatever men are now doing to fulfill their responsibilities.

Women can and should evangelize other women by personal witness. They should disciple them, counsel them, do follow-up, form prayer teams or chains, give, show mercy, help teach children’s or women’s groups, and do many other important things, as indicated before.

Women are commanded to cover their hair when praying or prophesying (1 Cor. 11:5-7). Headcoverings should be worn by women at public meetings of the church. The headcovering is a symbol of the authority of men, and also of the Lord, over her (1 Cor. 11:10). The hair mentioned in 1 Corinthians 11:15 as a covering is not the same thing as the covering that is upon her hair, as some have thought. There was no practice in the early churches of women ever going without headcoverings, if one is tempted to argue the point (1 Cor. 11:16). Many still argue this point and have given up the headcovering as culturally outmoded and unnecessary.

The woman’s primary role in the home is set forth in 1 Timothy 5:14 and Titus 2:4,5. This should not be construed as a criticism or those women who have had to work outside the home to help support their families or be single parent providers. The pressures upon marriage and family by modern societies has become enormous. Women have proven to be most able in the working, professional, and political worlds. Nevertheless, their primary role is as wives and mothers, if married and able to bear children.

A word should be said about single women. They are relieved from home duties as mentioned above. They are free to serve the Lord, unencumbered by family responsibilities. There are great advantages to singleness, especially in the service of the Lord. Singleness is commended by the Scripture, especially if it enables us to better serve Him. (1 Cor. 7:34,35). In any event, it is far better to be single and to walk with the Lord than to be married to the wrong person, especially an unsaved man or even a carnal believer.

Conclusion And Application

Much of what has been said in this lesson flows against the popular tide today, even in evangelical circles. Detailed arguments might be made pro and con on various issues. Taken as a whole, without appeals to extra-Biblical authorities or changing customs, the Scriptures cited will support the historic position of the church on this question. It is not traditionalism that is at stake, but Scripture.

Today we have strange ideas about freedom and equality. Freedom in Christ is freedom from the slavery of sin in order to do the will of God, not to seek self-fulfillment. Equality is being equally accepted in Christ by reason of the precious blood of Christ, not equal in roles assigned to others. The Biblical way is not, and never will be, coordinated with the latest thinking of the world. God says, “My ways are not your ways and My thought are not your thoughts.” We can be grateful that this is true. The Biblical way is self-denial. The modern way is to assert your desire to please yourself, irrespective of God’s will in your life.

Where God has established His order in any realm, it is well to respect it. This is because of the benefits of working within the divine plan as well as the dangers of defying it. The Lord has said, “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my Word shall not pass away.” Let it be so.

Lesson 8 The Divine Roles In The Church

1. What can you say about the role of women from the creation of Eve (Gen 2:18; 3:16)?

2. How are women to glorify God in the church (1 Tim. 2:9-15)?

3. Read Romans 16:1; Philippians 4:2,3; Acts 9:36-39. Search through these Scriptures for other examples of what women have done to serve God and His people. Give an example from the Bible that inspires you to better service.

4. Compare Galatians 3:28 with Ephesians 5:22; 6:1; 6:5. In what ways are we all equal in Christ? In what ways are our roles as men and women different?

5. What are the duties of men in the church (1 Tim. 2:8; 3:1,2; 5:1,2; 2 Tim. 4:2)?

6. What do we symbolize when men take off their headcoverings in the assembly, while women cover their heads (1 Cor. 11:1-6)?

7. How are the men and women to participate in the ministry of the Word of God in the assembly meetings and at home (1 Cor. 14:29-35)?

8. How would you answer the objection that Biblical teaching about the roles of men and women in the church makes the woman appear to be inferior?