The “role” of men and dishonor
Another common objection to women in ministry is the claim that when women speak and lead publicly it dishonors men.
The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) speaks of this as dishonoring the “calling” of men:
We would say that the teaching inappropriate for a woman is the teaching of men in settings or ways that dishonor the calling of men to bear the primary responsibility for teaching and leadership. This primary responsibility is to be carried by the pastors or elders. Therefore we think it is God’s will that only men bear the responsibility for this office. (pg 64 online version)
One thing that we can notice from the quote above is that CBMW says “we think it is God’s will…”. The fact that they don’t know for sure is telling. The fact is that God has not revealed in the Scriptures that it is His will that only men can teach and lead in their gifts. God has also not revealed that women can never teach and lead with their gifts in the body of Christ. Instead of a sure word from God, “inappropriateness” of the public use of women’s gifts is a position based on what some surmise is God’s will. It is a result of the teaching that men alone bear the God-ordained responsibility for teaching.
CBMW continues with the thought that it isn’t about competency:
The issue is not whether women are competent or intelligent or wise or well-taught. The issue is how they relate to the men of the church. … So the issue of shamefulness is at root an issue of doing something that would dishonor the role of the men as leaders of the congregation. (pg 65 online version, my emphasis)
So, according to CBMW, the issue is not about whether God gifts women or about women’s intelligence or their wisdom or how well-taught they are. The focus is solely on men’s dishonor. Where does this issue of shame and dishonor come from? Is it a Biblical teaching or does it come from shame-based cultural “laws”? There is no doubt that the worldly system is based on honor and shame. In worldly Islamic societies if a woman does something that is considered a shame to the man she may suffer punishment even to the extent of losing her own life. In ancient Jewish culture recorded in the Talmud, a man may suffer shame by his wife exposing the hair on her head in public or by exposing a bare ankle or her forearm. A man was encouraged to deal with this shame by divorcing his wife. It was his right to punish her for his dishonor. This was the world’s way of handling men’s dishonor, but is it Biblical to accuse women of shaming and dishonoring men by using their God-given gifts?
If we do a Biblical search for the issue of shame or dishonor coming upon godly Christian men merely because of a woman using her spiritual gifts, we find no verse that teaches such a thing. No woman is ever charged with dishonoring a man by giving her gifts for the benefit of the body of Christ. So where does CBMW get such an idea that women teaching the truth of God’s Word shames and dishonors men? I suggest that issues of shame and dishonor follow quite naturally with the issue of pride. Proverbs 11:2 speaks of pride that brings dishonor:
Proverbs 11:2 When pride comes, then comes dishonor, But with the humble is wisdom. (NASB)
When one has a coveted “position” or “office” to defend, the pride that follows will set up boundaries to hold others outside. Then when women dare to function in the gifting that these men believe they alone have received from God, their pride is hurt, and shame, and dishonor follows.
Paul did not experience this shame. Instead of experiencing any kind of competition and thus dishonor, Paul gave his personal commendation on behalf of a woman to the Romans. This woman who received Paul’s personal recommendation was a servant or minister or deacon of the church at Cenchrea. Depending on the translation, Phoebe is called “a deacon of the church,” “who serves the church,” “our sister, who is a minister of the assembly.”
Paul describes this woman as one who actively served the entire church at Cenchrea. Because she was one who served in this way, she was to be received favorably by the Romans and because she had been the benefactor, protector, helper of many people, including Paul himself.
Romans 16:2 I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of his people and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been the benefactor of many people, including me. (TNIV)
Paul was not dishonored that a woman had been his benefactor. Nor did Paul indicate that the church at Cenchrea was dishonored by having a woman minister to the entire church. She is not said to be a deacon of the women but a deacon, minister, or servant of the church. ‘She is not said to bring dishonor, but Paul’s extended his commendation in honoring her. Phoebe used her gifts to benefit many people including men because she used her gifts to benefit Paul.
Paul also was not dishonored by the ministry of Priscilla who was a “fellow worker” of Paul’s (Romans 16:3). Priscilla was one of the teachers who taught Apollos the way of God more accurately. Apollos did not experience shame or dishonor by being taught and corrected by a woman.
Some are so dishonored by a woman using her gifts for the benefit of the entire church that they have kept some of the best of men’s teaching away from women. Just in case that a woman might dishonor them, they will not allow her to learn about anything that has been held in high regard for the use of men alone. They will not allow her into their seminaries or take pastoral courses even though the Scriptures never hold back learning from women, and Paul himself commands that a woman should be allowed learn. A man’s protection of his “office” from suffering “dishonor” causes him to disobey the Bible’s clear injunction to allow a woman to learn.
Rather than holding to a position of boasting in an “office,” the Bible turns men away from such a boastful way and it commands all who desire to be the greatest in the kingdom to be the servants of all. The servant then must equip the saints for the work of service. (Eph 4:12) The true servant of God will equip all for service for the express purpose of building up the entire body. There can be no dishonor in equipping women to serve the body.
Eph 4:11 And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. NASB
True servants of God should never suffer dishonor through their position of equipping the saints when these godly women saints take that equipping and use it to build up the body of Christ. When a Christian man turns aside from both protecting the flock and preparing them for ministry, pride will cause them to feel a need for protection from the flock especially from the gifts of godly Christian women. Any Christian leader who is dishonored and fearful of equipped Christian women is short sighted and has taken his eyes off of Jesus as the giver of the gifts and the One who has empowered us with the Holy Spirit for body service. When men’s shame and dishonor comes before the work of God, it is time for men to repent and seek His forgiveness. I believe that when godly men turn from their pride in an “office” and turn back to the Lord Jesus in humility and start practicing the equipping of the entire body of Christ for service, God will be honored, and the Church will go out triumphant in all her glory to win the lost for Christ.