Always a Woman

What is a Woman’s Role in the Church?

Also, many feel like they do not fit into the box that’s promoted as “biblical womanhood.” Single women feel left out because women’s roles tend to focus heavily on being a wife and mother. Women who are athletic, business oriented, or who don’t like crafts and casseroles may not feel like they are feminine enough according to their church’s culture. And what if a woman wants to talk theology outside of the “pink” verses in Scripture? It’s easy to generalize the differences between men and women, and then reduce our roles to stereotypes. We should be careful not to attach mere cultural ideas to womanhood.

 

We see Adam change his tune about women pretty quickly. In Genesis 2:23 he utters a beautiful poem upon the creation of Eve: “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” But by Genesis 3:12, as soon as he is confronted for his sin of eating fruit from the forbidden tree, he passes the buck: “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.”

It’s as if he is saying, “Lord, why did you give me this woman? I could have done better without her.” And let’s face it — even today men may be no closer to figuring out women. I think of Billy Joel’s song “She’s Always A Woman” and concur that we are complicated. But it seems all of us are a bit confused about gender distinctiveness and roles these days. What makes a woman a woman and a man a man? Are we to emphasize our differences or pretend like we are all the same?

While society is trying to figure out if gender is a biological trait or something we feel from within, the church is also struggling with the purpose of our design. We have all kinds of resources now for so-called biblical womanhood and biblical manhood. Some of it is helpful, and yet some of it adds to the frustration. Many women feel sidelined, left to contribute in the nursery, children’s classes, and the nebulous world of women’s ministries.

Also, many feel like they do not fit into the box that’s promoted as “biblical womanhood.” Single women feel left out because women’s roles tend to focus heavily on being a wife and mother. Women who are athletic, business oriented, or who don’t like crafts and casseroles may not feel like they are feminine enough according to their church’s culture. And what if a woman wants to talk theology outside of the “pink” verses in Scripture? It’s easy to generalize the differences between men and women, and then reduce our roles to stereotypes. We should be careful not to attach mere cultural ideas to womanhood.

And yet, there are real differences between men and women, both biologically and in some of our roles. A man cannot be a daughter or a sister. God created male and female, and it was very good. But sometimes we are left wondering with Adam: “Why did you give me this woman?” Even women are asking, what is our role in the church? How can our differences truly complement according to God’s design? And are we really that different, after all?

Designed for What?

We know the godly answer to why woman was created. It’s right there in Scripture: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27). Together, men and women make up the image of God.

This is profound. Adam and Eve are not given two different missions. They are both responsible to carry out the cultural mandate (Genesis 1:26). They are to expand the garden-temple of Eden, thereby expanding God’s presence throughout the earth.

And yet, men and women are not androgynous beings. We get another angle to God’s design in creation in Genesis 2: “Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him’” (v. 18). Unfortunately, this verse has lost some of its helpfulness with the English translation and our own cultural context. When I hear the word helper, I immediately think of the jobs we give our children to make them feel like they are contributing, while distracting and preventing them from getting hurt doing the real work. We’ll tell the little ones to pick up the sticks in the yard, but we aren’t going to turn them loose on the mower. They can wear an apron, fetch some ingredients, and even give them a stir, but we aren’t going to let them use the sharp knives or retrieve the dish from the hot oven.

The Hebrew word ezer is far more meaningful than our interpretation, helper. It is a word used throughout the Old Testament, mostly in a military context, referring to God’s rescue and salvation for Israel. Author John McKinley proposes that “necessary ally” is a better interpretation of ezer, one that takes note of the analogy God shows us in Scripture. This also moves us away from the inferior connotations of “helper” while biblically upholding the value of the woman in her relationship with man. In his work “Necessary Allies: God as Ezer, Woman as Ezer,” McKinley notes:

The issue in ezer is neither equality nor subordination, but distinction and relatedness. She is to be for the man as an ally to benefit him in the work they were given to do.

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