Are men inherently better leaders?

Many people are going to read the title to this post and dismiss the question as absurd. Of course not. But, I often encounter people who assume that the answer to this question must be “yes” based on their conviction that God has ordained men to be leaders in the church. I’d like to address this latter group.

The question, then, is this: If you are a complementarian – i.e. if you believe that God has ordained men to particular leadership roles in the church – do you need to believe that men are inherently better leaders?

Let me make this easy….no.

The logic that seems to convince complementarians otherwise runs (loosely)  like this:

  1. Being a leader entails having certain qualities/attributes.
  2. God ordained men to be leaders in the church.
  3. God wouldn’t ordain men to be leaders unless he had given them the requisite qualities/attributes.
  4. Therefore, men have the requisite qualities/attributes for being leaders in the church.
  5. God wouldn’t limit these leadership roles to men unless they possessed the necessary qualities/attributes of leadership in unique ways.
  6. Therefore, men inherently possess at least some of the necessary qualities/attributes in a way or to a degree that women do not.
  7. And, therefore, men are inherently better leaders (at least in the church).

This argument, though, has a number of key problems, and several of them arise with the very first statement: “Being a leader entails having certain qualities/attributes.” Right away you’re faced with a number of challenging difficulties:

  • There is no agreed upon set of qualities/attributes necessary for being a leader. Just read the literature. Everyone who studies the question seems to have their own definition of what it means to be a leader.
  • There is no research to support the conclusion that men disproportionately manifest the qualities of being an effective leader (whatever those are). Here you realize that even if you manage to identify the qualities necessary for being a leader, you simply have no evidence for concluding that men possess these qualities any more than women do.
  • Even if you could find research to support the conclusion that men exhibit some leadership quality disproportionately more than women, you would still need to determine why that is the case. For example, let’s say that a study concluded that men are more decisive in decision-making than women. (I’m not aware of any such study, but let’s pretend.) That still would not prove your case because it’s entirely possible that the difference comes from societal expectations of how boys and girls should behave, how they should be raised, the kinds of decisions they should be involved in, etc. So, even a statistical variance would be a far cry from proving your case.
  • Descriptions of “leadership” are often driven more by culture than theology. If we change the picture and focus on the qualities that Jesus exhibited during his earthy ministry – for example, compassion, patient suffering, gratitude, humility, gentleness, nurturing, etc. – would we still be trying to argue that men exhibit these qualities disproportionately more than women? Good luck with that.

I could probably add other arguments, but these seem sufficient to establish that the first step in this argument faces some significant difficulties.

Skipping past the second assertion since I’m only focusing on people who believe this to be true, there are also significant problems with the third assertion: “God wouldn’t ordain men to be leaders unless he had given them the requisite qualities/attributes.”

Really? What would lead us to believe that this is necessarily the case? Throughout the Bible God apparently delights in calling people into positions of leadership who seem obviously unqualified for the position: Moses, David, Saul, etc. These were deeply flawed individuals who often serve as better examples of how to sin effectively than how to lead appropriately. Indeed, God’s grace is often displayed better by accomplishing his plans and purposes through the outcast, the lowly, and the ungifted. Viewed from this perspective, then, wouldn’t it be more appropriate for the complementarian to assume that men may actually be less gifted in leadership than women, but that God has called them into leadership anyway and that he will graciously empower them for and support them in this calling? Why presume that people must be gifted before God calls them to a particular task? Did the donkey have the gift of speech before God called it to speak to Balaam? (Yes, I did just compare Christian men to a talking donkey.)

And, once you’ve called into question the first and third assertions, the argument really has nowhere to go. (You could also pick on the fifth assertion if you really felt the need to destroy this argument a bit more.)

Now again, none of this has anything to do with whether it is correct to believe that God has ordained men to specific leadership roles in the church. That is a completely separate issue. I just want to point out that there is no necessary connection between complementarianism and the belief that men inherently possess some quality or qualities that make them better leaders. Leadership is a function, not an attribute. The real question is not whether you have the essential/inherent qualities necessary for being a good leader, as though God depended on our capacities and abilities to accomplish his purposes. The real question is whether God in his grace has called you to be a leader in his church and how you will do so as faithfully as possible with everything that he has given you.


About Marc Cortez

Theology Prof and Dean at Western Seminary, husband, father, & blogger, who loves theology, church history, ministry, pop culture, books, and life in general.

Posted on January 25, 2011, in Anthropology, The Church and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 81 Comments.

  1. Marc,

    I also learned leadership in the military, that was a great learning curve! And real combat was always the great test! I see this in the spirit and spirituality of Christian ministry also.

  2. Scripture clearly expects a Godly woman to be a leader and exhibit good leadership qualities… take the proverbs 31 woman as an example.

  3. The Blessed Virgin Mary was the greatest example of spiritual ministry: “(Yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” (Lk. 2:35)

  4. I grew up in an egalitarian culture and am now living in a largely complementarian culture. I am dissapointed when I interact with men who believe women are less capable to lead because of their gender (I’m not arguing appropriateness here, just capability). Most of the guys I know wouldn’t say, and probably don’t even realize, they believe this, but the way they act indicates that they probably believe it deep down.

    I appreciate your destruction of the argument. Regardless of your perspective on the appropriateness of women leading men, it is refreshing for me to see someone argue that role does not inherently indicate quality or competency.

  5. With regard to church leadership, men aren’t put in the role of responsibility because they are better, they are made responsible for the church because they (we) are responsible for the fall which necessitates the need for a Savior.

    • @ Lance

      Could you please expound on your statement.

      Men are responsible for the fall, so this necessitates that they/men be the church leaders?

      Thank you

      • Thanks. Sure, I’ll be happy to elaborate.

        God made man first and put him in charge (Gen 1:26). Eve was created to help Adam (Gen 2:18). The fall was man’s fault (Gen 2:16-17, 3:9-11). The fall happened after Adam ate of the fruit (Gen 3:17-19), not Eve.

        It was man whose sin brought about the fall. It is man who must atone. The woman is to be ruled by her man (Gen 3:16). That’s not because he’s better qualified, its because he’s responsible. Adam passed the buck first. She did as he did, passing the buck to the serpent. She followed suit. Man is to take responsibility. Woman is to help. They are a team.

        Leadership is probably not the best word to use because leadership is not necessarily about being in authority. The story of Esther shows us that you need not be in authority to show leadership. The woman at the well was a leader, but not in authority.

  6. Thanks, Marc. Interesting post.

    In your experience (reading/conversations), is the complementarian logic you just described rooted in a particular reading of I Tim. 2:11-15? In other words, the passage is teaching an “essential” woman, e.g. women are more gullible than men, less discerning, etc. ergo not better leaders. And then from that the conclusions are drawn out about inherent qualities, God’s order, etc.

  7. Good observation. It’s also good to note that when God does call an individual to a service, He then begins to equip them for that work. Whom God calls, He equips. God knows what He is doing when He calls Deborahs, Davids, Priscillas, Phillips, Abrahams, and Lydia types to ministry. It is also good to remember that there is no one that God cannot use as long as they are willing and submissive to His leadership.

  8. @jmellison – I think you’re right that many complementarians believe something like this argument, even if they’ve never articulated it themselves. It’s often just beneath the surface and tends to arise in the context of other discussions.

  9. @Craig – I think just about everyone would agree that women are called to lead. What I often find in the context of this discussion is the idea that because God has called men and women to lead differently and in different contexts (complementarianism), then he must also have created them differently. Thus, men are essentially better at that particular kind of leadership that God has created them for.

    • Do Comp’s believe women were made differently or the difference is a change as a result of the fall?

      I would argue that in de-constructing the latter argument; that in effect they are really judging the veracity of the Atoning work of Christ’s blood for all sin.

      This then leads to the sense of an hierarchical list of sin; where some are placed on various positions of the ladder because of gender… instead of standing on the level playing field of sin and accepting all have sinned and fallen short….

      • Every complementarian that I’ve ever met has maintained that the gender differences and corresponding role difference are part of the creation order and not a result of the fall. So, they would deny that this leads to hierarchy in either sin or grace. All are equally fall, all stand in equal need of God’s grace, and all are equally redeemed in Christ.

      • When it comes to leadership; it would appear most comps are only interested about leadership roles within the family and Church and are happy for women to lead within the secular / corporate / governmental areas…

        Therefore in regards to my previous comment; what do we do with Paul’s apparent argument that it was the woman who was deceived first and that much of the comps position hinges on this…

      • That’s correct. Very few in this group would have any problem with women leading outside family/church. The usual explanation is that this does not involve the kind of spiritual leaders/headship that is involved in family/church.

        I actually wouldn’t say that the complementarian argument hangs on the idea that Eve was created first. Some will make a bigger deal out of that than others, but I don’t see it as the key to the argument.

      • Craig,

        There certainly appears to be a hierarchical category of sin, 1 John 5:16. Though in the end, the sin to death is that willful, continual disbelief in the grace of God and the Holy Spirit toward us.

        And as I have always said, the nature of man and woman is according to the creation of God, (Gen. 2).

      • Good clarification. I would agree that there are different kinds of sin and that we can view some sins as hierarchically better or worse than other sins. This doesn’t change the fact that there’s no hierarchy “in sin” – i.e. no one is more or less dead in sin and therefore more or less in need of grace.

      • Marc,

        I am not so sure however when it also comes to the nature and depth of sinful acts and its demonic depravation? I have seen what I would consider demonic possession! It is really frightful! But that is another subject.

      • @Marc Most comp’s will use 1 Tim 1:12 as a basis for their position. Yet to do so; this scripture at face value hangs on 1 Tim 1:14… where Paul says it was the woman who was the transgressor….

        So is Paul saying here that Adam was not a transgressor? At first glance it appears that he is saying that….

        @ Father Robert… demonic involvement is certainly an interesting issue and yes deliberate and continued sin can lead to demonic strongholds…yet I would also add that not all demonic involvement is because of specific sins; rather is the result of the fall in general.

      • It is certainly true that 1 Tim 2:12 (I assume that’s what you meant) features prominently in this discussion. And, certainly the logic of Paul’s argument in that verse is connected to vv. 13-14. But, exegetical difficulties in vv. 13-14 are so significant that I’ve noticed people on both sides of the discussion are typically hesitant to place too much weight on them. So, in my experience, they are usually included in the discussion, but are not as foundational as v. 12.

      • Craig,

        Indeed evil is a certain mystery, and it is dark power, and as presence and not only absence. It is certainly a personal world of hate, and even rebellion. But though the Church has never formed a precise doctrine here, or systematically, it has kown the Devil. And we simply must walk in Spirit and Truth, and in the Church’s Scripture.

      • Yes..sorry I meant 1:2:12-14. This is what frustrates me in the discussion. Both sides have a tendency to proof text without engaging in the difficult verses surrounding them.

        So the comps will use verse 12 at will…. yet ignore the following verses… yet it has to be argued that verses 13-14 must be weighed into the argument…otherwise a great deal of proof texting is happening….

        I do agree there are exegetical difficulties with those verses… and I believe that if we can’t agree with them; then perhaps Paul is arguing something different in the letter than what we suppose him to be doing.

        I totally agree with your stance about gifting and believe this is the more biblical way forward. In engaging with the narrative story of the early church; one can certainly see the great inroads the Gospel was making in regards to the status of women…

      • @ fr Robert. Yes; I have encountered the demonic face to face on a couple of occasions and it’s not much fun.

        You can read my story here.

      • Craig, I have learned as a priest, that evil is very personal and real, we can only clothe ourselves in Christ and His word. And prayer must become somewhat contemplative within us. And we must be what we are as “Christians”.

  10. @Lance – I’d like a little more explanation of your comment as well. It seems odd to conclude that men causing the fall entails men leading in the church.

    More to the point, though, I don’t think complementarians need to try and find a reason why God has called men to lead in the church (e..g. they’re inherently better at it, they failed in the Garden, it models the Trinity, etc.). Indeed, I think the complementarian position gets into unnecessary difficulties every time it tries to do that.

    • That’s a fair question. In the grand scheme of things its enough to say that’s just how God wants it and leave it at that. People can certainly do that and at times we need to be willing to do that. The fact is I’m completely on board with Paul’s statements about women being quiet in church and not taking leadership roles. But I do believe God gave man responsibility, and even though he blew it, it doesn’t get shifted off to the woman.

  11. @pg – That usually comes into play, but I’m not sure that it’s the driving factor. It seems to be more of an assumption that leadership requires certain qualities/attributes and a corresponding assumption that God would not call men into leadership without creating them with those qualities. Then 1 Tim gets read through the lens of those assumptions.

    • So, the reasoning is: folks start with a certain understanding of leadership [decisive, strong, whatever], then they look at Scripture, and decide – “That is why God says that men lead in the church or home, because they have qualities.”

      The gist of what I got from your original post was that there was some kind of Natural theology at play, and you – good Protestant that you are – said, “Nein.” To that I say, “Ja.”

  12. @TL – Definitely. God’s calling is not dependent on our capacity, but he will faithfully equip us as necessary to live out that calling.

  13. Also, it is good to consider that we are not talking about corporations with their necessarily selfish motivations. We are talking about spiritual goals and principles of which no human is equipped in their flesh or their humanity to function in without God’s help. No one human in their fallen flesh is more able than any other (regardless of gender) to function in spiritual matters. Only God’s calling and equipping by the Holy Spirit enables any human to lead, minister or serve appropriately and effectively in spiritual matters. On that we are all on the same level ground at the foot of the cross awaiting God’s inspiration.

  14. Here is an interesting blog post which engages with the Biblical Manhood org

  15. Thanks. Sure, I’ll be happy to elaborate.

    God made man first and put him in charge (Gen 1:26). Eve was created to help Adam (Gen 2:18). The fall was man’s fault (Gen 2:16-17, 3:9-11). The fall happened after Adam ate of the fruit (Gen 3:17-19), not Eve.

    It was man whose sin brought about the fall. It is man who must atone. The woman is to be ruled by her man (Gen 3:16). That’s not because he’s better qualified, its because he’s responsible. Adam passed the buck first. She did as he did, passing the buck to the serpent. She followed suit. Man is to take responsibility. Woman is to help. They are a team.

    Leadership is probably not the best word to use because leadership is not necessarily about being in authority. The story of Esther shows us that you need not be in authority to show leadership. The woman at the well was a leader, but not in authority.

    Thanks Lance for your response.

    Genesis 1:26, what about verse 27? When God says *man* in verse 26, we can tell that he also is referring to *woman* by verse 27. Both Male and Female are created in the image of God (without distinction). In verse 28, both are told to be fruitful, multiply replenish, subdue and have dominion (without distinction).

    Genesis 2:18, Calls woman the helper of man (Ezer). Ezer is used most often to describe God in the Bible as our Strong helper. But, when helper is used in reference to the woman, men interpret it as keeping house, having babies, etc. Wha?

    You use the verses Gen. 2:16 and 17 to fault Adam. Though I do not disagree with you on where the blame lies, these verses do not speak to that but, only show us that Adam being created first was the first on to get the command (Eve had not been created yet).

    Genesis 3:17-19. “The fall happened after Adam ate the fruit”. In that you are correct, do you know why? Adam ate out of wilful disobedience (he knew what he was doing was wrong) Eve was deceived (by the serpent) into believeing that she could be as God. The passage in 1 timothy 2:14 (that all complimintarians like to quote) bears this out. “And Adam was NOT deceived, but the woman BEING deceived was in the transgression.”

    But still, in what way would this make Adam more qualified to lead? 😕

    • As I have said repeatedly. It isn’t a matter of qualification. Men are not any more qualified to lead than women. Men are responsible to lead, not qualified. There’s a profound difference and that’s all I was really trying to say.

      • Thank you Lance.

        So, men are responsible (not just merely qualified) so that is why they are to lead? Please show me that in scripture.

        I’ll just go ahead and say it, the statement that you made above is just plain illogical. Please explain to me why the constant imposition of male over female leadership in the church is a burden/responsiblity/duty? Whether you use the word responbility or qualified, it really makes no difference. Egalitarians understand what is acutally being said through all the equivocation. It all just simply boils down to who has power and authority and who does not. Isn’t that truly what you are saying when you use the word responsibility?

        If I am wrong please correct me.

      • Terri, we are not so far off as you probably think. Elsewhere in the comments under this post I’ve given biblical evidence. I can see why it might seem illogical. I don’t frankly understand all the logic for the tough stance of Paul, but God did establish specific roles for males and females. To the more important issue you raise of who has the power, that’s a very legitimate question. Men often use Eph 5:22 to tell women to submit. That verse, taken out of context, does a great deal of harm. So do most of the “sexist” passages in scripture, particularly among Paul’s letters. Godly male leadership does not look like worldly leadership in terms of power. A woman should not ever be forced into submission. The man is to be worthy, to protect, to lead, to get in harm’s way. The man is to be the example of Christ, not Caesar. When a man behaves this way, the woman’s proper response is natural and willing submission in love and respect just as we all are to submit to our Lord Jesus. I do not believe a woman is ever required to submit to an unworthy man nor to submit unwillingly.

        I am very careful about suggesting some of what Paul said to also be tied to culture, though I suspect some of it could be. I also think Paul said a lot of things as “best practice” which might not have been so hard and fast as has been traditionally taken. Again, care should be taken when applying such views, but I wouldn’t rule it out.

  16. Lance,
    Why would God choose to reward Adam by allowing him to rule over Eve when he was the one who willfully sinned? That makes no logical sense to me.
    I don’t think that Gen 3:16 was meant to be a command. I think that God is telling Eve what is now going to happen because of the fall.

    • I do not believe it was a reward to Adam to rule over Eve. Did I say that? God was holding him responsible. It was a burden, not a reward. As anyone who has ever been in the military will tell you, command is a heavy burden rather than a rich reward. And yes, her being subject to his rule is a consequence rather than a command, though frankly it seems to me a matter of semantics. Being up under the rule of another robs liberty from both the ruled and the ruler, and surely the corruption of sin robs liberty. Praise God that Jesus came to set the captives free. Amen? Amen.

  17. @Lance – I have to agree that I don’t find the connection between Adam’s fall and male leadership in the church to be all that convincing. As the previous comments note, there seems to be a missing logical connection. You state that the man has to atone for his mistake. But, of course, that’s exactly what he can’t do. None of us can. So, there seems to be a missing step somewhere.

    I also wonder if there’s a tendency in complementarianism to think that if they can’t offer a compelling reason for why God would establish men to be leaders in the church, that somehow weakens the complementarian argument. And, maybe it does. Personally, I think that you can create a strong argument out of “God said do it that way, so I’m going to do it that way even though I don’t really understand why.” It may be less satisfying in some ways, but it frees the complementarian from trying to figure out how to explain God’s choices – an exercise that is usually more futile than fruitful.

  18. Amen Marc, the complementarian position is just anchored in God’s creation, and in his basic creational injunction, (Gen. 2-3 / 1 Tim. 2:8-12..and verse 13, etc. But also note 1 Cor. 11:2-16). The last has also to do with the “order” of God, and the “angels” therein, note also Eph. 3:10.

  19. “Personally, I think that you can create a strong argument out of “God said do it that way, so I’m going to do it that way even though I don’t really understand why.” It may be less satisfying in some ways, but it frees the complementarian from trying to figure out how to explain God’s choices – an exercise that is usually more futile than fruitful.”

    Marc, the only problem is that God didn’t actually say that He wants only male leadership in church. The comp arguments are built upon what I call helicopter theology. By taking a piece of a sentence out of context here and there, one can make a paragraph of misplaced sentences ‘sound’ like they are saying such. This is why the comp argument is so mixed up.

    • @TL – Keep in mind that my focus in this post/discussion has not been on the broader issue of complementarianism itself, but the narrower question of how complementarians understands and presents the leadership capacity/ability of women. So, nothing that I’ve said really has anything to do with the coherence/adequacy of complementarianism itself. That’s a topic for another post.

  20. Sadly, this subject seems to be driven socially, rather than biblically and theologically. My take at least, but then I am certainly an old comp. But I hope & pray one that is not driven by my being just a male. And again, this cannot be a mere social issue!

  21. “But I hope & pray one that is not driven by my being just a male. And again, this cannot be a mere social issue!”

    Very nicely said. And I’m sure that many women will identify with your sentiments as people who have been set aside because they are “just women”.

    blessings in Christ 🙂

  22. “Her’s was not the outward be the interior. And we all can learn here, both male and female!”

    I agree. But what we cannot do is assume that because Mary had a calling that was not outward, that all women have the same calling to not have “outward” ministry and function. Indeed some of God’s own choices for important “outward” ministries were godly women called to such.

    • But the Virgin Mary is simply in a place since Salvation History (the Incarnation), that transcends and places Her in a position for all men and women. She is both the Theotokos (Mother of God; the God-bearer), and the Mother of the Redemption (the Church of God). So in reality there is no other like her! (John 19:25-27 / Rev. 12:1-2) And elect vessel of grace & glory! (Lk. 1:48-49) I can think of no greater position for any woman! Thus Motherhood is itself a very gift of God! And in some since has no greater glory!

  23. Lance; would you say ALL men are responsible to lead?

    • Does leadership equal responsibility and vice versa? I don’t know for sure, but I’m guessing there’s a logical fallacy hiding in there. Men and women both have responsibilities and both can lead. The thing is, according to Paul, and this seems based on OT history, men and women have certain roles to fulfill and being the priest of the family and by extension of the congregation seems to be one of them.

      A moment of personal confession here… my wife has a very strong personality. I’m generally pretty mild mannered, even keel, and quiet. Given my preference she could run things and I’d be content to do as I’m told. But that’s not God’s plan. It frustrates both of us. I struggle with this issue because it isn’t so easy. I don’t usually just say, well God said so. Paul said so, but Paul isn’t God. Do I take his command as equal to Moses’? Or Jesus’? And is it consistent with what Jesus taught? And what was the context of Paul’s instructions? I personally think it goes back to the original order and fall. I hope that this, combined with the answers I’ve tried to give to objects above, will help you understand where I’m coming from.

      Thanks for holding me accountable. This has been a beneficial conversation for me.

  24. “Keep in mind that my focus in this post/discussion has not been on the broader issue of complementarianism itself, but the narrower question of how complementarians understands and presents the leadership capacity/ability of women. “

    Marc, thank you for the reminder. I’ll keep that in mind.

  25. “So in reality there is no other like her! (John 19:25-27 / Rev. 12:1-2) And elect vessel of grace & glory! (Lk. 1:48-49) I can think of no greater position for any woman! Thus Motherhood is itself a very gift of God! And in some since has no greater glory!”

    Friar Robert,

    You are correct, there is no greater position for any woman. And it cannot be replicated. One Messiah. There are no more to be born. I do appreciate the concept that some think women are to be mothers and wives and leave other things to men, such as leadership.

    here is some of why I disagree with that concept:

    Women and men today can be content with lessor callings of spiritual ministries in the church than Mary had. Motherhood is great but there will be no more messiahs born. Like the other Mary the sister of Martha, those who chose the greater ministry of learning and thus teaching of God’s great truths are not to be dissuaded. Please do not try to patronize todays women with stories that motherhood is more to be desired than teaching, preaching, pastoring, evangelizing and other spiritual ministries. Every person has access to be used by God in spiritual ministry, regardless of whether it is to a more intimate setting of friends and family or a wider setting of church and community. Whatever God calls men and women to do, we should support and encourage and not seek to control and restrict according to cultural ideas of who should or should not do this or that.

    • First TL,

      I am an Anglican priest, that would be Father and not Friar. And you have completely missed my whole point. I would hope that you might study the theological truth to the Catholic and Orthodox teaching of Mary the Theotokos, the Mother of the Incarnate Christ.

      And certainly the calling and role of the Virgin Mary is no lesser teaching call, though hers is in the place of that Salvation History of God. Again, I hope you can do some theological work here! For in reality Mary was the first NT believer! (Lk. 1:45)

      Finally, Mary is both a real Mother, but much more.. the Mother of the Redemption and the Church! I simply cannot express the grace and elevation that God has given this elect woman of God. This post was about the place and position of women in the Church of God, and certainly Mary Ever-Virgin must be given her place in this the Salvation History of God! How can women think that her work and position is somehow as a Mother, one of being just some mere surrogate for God? No, never! Mary’s Motherhood was a divine gift of grace & glory!

  26. Ah, sorry Father Robert, I didn’t understand the Fr. abbreviation. My apologies.

    And actually I didn’t not get who Mary is as Theotokos. Don’t have a problem with that. Hers was a very special calling and ministry, that cannot be duplicated today.

    However, I do have a problem with what appears to be your idea that because Mary had a high calling of mother to Christ, then all Christian women should consider it their spiritual high calling to be mothers, forsaking all other spiritual giftings, ministries, etc. in Christ (leaving them to the men). That concept is not found in Scripture.

    • Ms TL,

      I have spoken of the life and calling of the Blessed Virgin Mary for all people, not just women but men also. Growing up Roman Catholic in Dublin Ireland in the 50’s and early 60’s, the Blessed Mother as we called her then, was a model of Motherhood and a profound Christian “charism” for all! Now, I follow more of the E. Orthodox position and place of Mary the Theotokos. But it is very close to both RC and Anglo-Catholics, and the latter is also a place and position for me personally.

      I have not really waded into this issue (on the blog) of the complementarian position, save to identify with it in position, and here creationally in the theological manner. Finally, I would myself be what is called “traditional” here. Men and women are equal before God, but have different creational roles. 🙂 Now, I will bow to the aspect of this blog, and again listen to women’s ministry and position, before the complementarian place, as Marc noted.

  27. Fr. Robert,
    Raised on the “traditional” teachings and going to Catholic schools, properly trained by my grandmother 🙂 I can relate to how you grew up.

    “Men and women are equal before God, but have different creational roles.”

    It would give me great pleasure to discuss this statement and it’s implications with you. Since the topic is the question of whether or not men are better leaders than women and thus whether or not leadership in the church should be left to males only, I’m assuming that this statement is key to your traditional conclusion that male only church leadership is foundationally required.

    • TL,

      The issue for me at least is not “better” male leadership, but in the position of the “priesthood” (presbyter), as Jesus called 12 male apostles. As I understand the Christian priesthood and ministry, the “priest” stands in the position somewhat of Christ, as man and spiritual leader. (1 Peter 5:1-4, etc.)

      Episkope – Acts 1:20; Overseership; Episkopos – overseer (Acts 20:28) The elders verse 17 are the same as the overseers. Elder (presbuteroi)..1 Peter 5:2-3 / Phil. 1:1 / 1 Tim. 3:2 / Tit. 1:7 / 1 Pet. 2:25. Note “Rule” (Proistemi) lit. means “to stand before” to lead, attend to (indicating care and diligence)…Rom. 12:8 / 1 Tim. 3:4-12 ; 5:17 / Heb. 13:7; 17;24).

      But certainly women can be called to some aspect of a “deaconess” (Rom.16:1). But this is a place of service, more than that of an “office”. Note, Acts 6:1-7…there the “office” of the deacon appears only male.

      But again, let’s not get afar from this post, itself. And this was very quick on my part. 🙂

  28. Fr. Robert and TL – I just wanted to jump in real quick and let you know that I wasn’t ignoring you. You’re having an interesting conversation and please feel free to continue it if you’d like. I’m just not interested in getting drawn into a discussion of complementarianism itself at this point. That’s a discussion that’s been pursued pretty thoroughly in other places, and I don’t think I have anything really new to add to that conversation. (Does anyone?) But again, feel free to continue chewing on this together if you’d like.

    • Marc,

      I just wanted to express a few things here. But you are right, there’s nothing new “here”! And it becomes an issue of position and belief finally. Though I consider myself generally a somewhat moderate comp, it does become an important issue for churches like the High Church, etc. As I do not believe in women’s ordination itself. But who can deny the great spirituality of women even in the Apostolic NT Church itself! (Rom. 16:1-2 ; Phil.4:2-3, etc.)… not I for certain!

  29. And, by the way, thanks to all of you for the tone of this discussion. It’s pretty clear that you’re all on very different sides of this issue, and I’ve appreciated that the tone of the discussion has stayed constructive.

  30. I have noticed as well, that some can discuss this topic with civility and some can not. I guess it is predicated on whether you are legalistically dogmatic about women staying in thier proper place (whatever that is) or still on the fence. As long as I was passive on this issue, I had no worries. But, when I asked questions I was suddenly told that I had a problem with authority, I was rebellious, etc. Just about every Christian woman that has come out from the fog of Patriarchy knows what I mean, and has suffered similar experineces.

    It just seems so very condescending to debate and bicker about whether Christian women have the same privleges/rights (sorry responsibilities/burdens/duty) as thier Christian Brothers. 😕

  31. Fr. Robert,

    ”The issue for me at least is not “better” male leadership, but in the position of the “priesthood” (presbyter), as Jesus called 12 male apostles.”

    The fact that 12 apostles were male has impact as patterning over to the 12 tribes of Israel. They were also all genetic Hebrews, and from a specific area. Using your reasoning, only genetic Jews, born in in the areas of one of the 12 tribes is allowed for leadership ministries in the Body of Christ. I wouldn’t stand on that too long.

    ”As I understand the Christian priesthood and ministry, the “priest” stands in the position somewhat of Christ, as man and spiritual leader. (1 Peter 5:1-4, etc.)”

    Since Catholicism interprets a priestly calling into leadership, we’ll have a bit of difficulty with this one, as I am protestant. I do not see 1 Peter implying priesthood on leaders in the manner of OT Levitical priests. Rather, 1 Peter 2:5 & 9 tells us that all believers are a chosen people, a royal priesthood. We represent Christ to the world, pray for their souls and teach them God’s truths as we are witnesses of His salvation. In that sense we all stand in the place of Christ to the world.

    As for priestliness, all believers together have the same access to the Holy place. It is no longer behind curtains and accessible only to the priests or leaders. We need make no more sacrifices for our sins since Jesus made the finale complete sacrifice. Thus, I do not see anything in the New Covenant that show leaders standing in the place of Christ for the Body of believers.

    As for overseers and elders I do not see them as identical as some do. Since presbuteroi is built upon an age element even in English, IMO we do best to not erase that from it’s meaning. Thus, any elder in ministry can also be an overseer, but not every overseer is necessarily or can be an elder as well. That’s just one of my “nit pickers”.

    Proistemi has meanings of leadership not rulership. IMO this idea of ‘rulership’ is a mistake carried over from KJV language, that we would do well to dispense with. Many Bibles today note this discrepancy in a footnote. This type of care and diligence to stand before with a guardians watchful eyes (overseeing) is something that both men and women are capable of. Indeed parenting children requires us to learn such. Certainly Prophet Judge Deborah of the OT displayed great leadership, as did Miriam, Huldah, Esther, Abigail and others in the NT. You may have noticed that prostatis has its roots in proistemi and though too often translated as succourer or benefactor was also used in Biblical times in official leadership descriptions as well. I’d have to research my notes on that, since I’m sending this on the ‘fly’. 🙂

    ”But certainly women can be called to some aspect of a “deaconess” (Rom.16:1). But this is a place of service, more than that of an “office”. Note, Acts 6:1-7…there the “office” of the deacon appears only male.”

    Fr. Robert, I’m really sure you know that all ministry (diakoneo) is service more than a position of privilege such as most ‘offices’ are….. “not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.” IOW all leadership in the church is to be based on service not rulership. Matt. 20:25-28 Instead of being concerned with exercising authority over or rulership, we must be concerned with being a servant to God’s people. This should be the foundation for all ministry of all types, whether leadership, overseership, eldership, apostolic, evangelistic, prophetic, pastoring or teaching.

    And these things apply to both men and women. There is no evidence to my knowledge of men being more responsible to be servants than women are, or more capable. In fact, I’d wager that many men have more difficulty with the concept of serving than many women do. And I blame that on sin, a sin the world lives with everywhere.

    blessings, and thank you for the dialogue. 🙂

    • TL,

      Yes, as Marc says I think we have “chewed” enough on this! lol And we are not going to solve this on an open blog. And I am myself even thinking about going over to “Orthodoxy”? But, that will be timely and in God’s good providence if I did – For I still desire the ministry of the priesthood (At least I think? For I am semi-retired as an Anglican priest right now). It becomes not more strict education, but the nature and depth of Orthodoxy itself. Btw, I am (if ya cannot tell, basically already Anglo-Orthodox once again in my theology, etc.) And since you are Protestant now, I am not sure how much of this you will understand? One thing is sure, one cannot judge Orthodoxy by the Roman Catholic standards!

      I would only reply that the “priesthood” for the Orthodox and many Anglo-Catholic’s would not be Aristotelian (like Rome), but toward the Pauline..Rom. 15:16, etc.

      Blessings to you also 🙂
      Fr. Robert

  32. Marc, thank you for your kind words and encouragement. When I started reading this post/article I had no inclinations to get involved. But Fr. Robert has been most engaging. As well, I don’t always have the time. 🙂 So while I do…….

  33. Fr. Robert, if you are interested in a little more private conversation there is a Christian forum at where you could dialogue respectfully with several knowledgeable believers on this subject.

    You’ll have to explain how Paul is suggesting a priestly office in Rom. 15:16. All I see is what I said earlier that all believers are to do in proclaiming the gospel to unbelievers. Paul is stating there that he is called to proclaim the gospel to non Jewish unbelievers. I see nothing to do with any priestly office.

    • TL,

      Thanks, but I think I will pass on that. 🙂 And if you care to? You might want to check out both Anglo-Catholicism and the EO..Eastern Orthodoxy on-line.

      Also, btw, I had a greatgram in Ireland who was in fellowship with the so-called Plymouth Brethren, she died when I was 15. So I am well aware of that whole aspect of “biblicism”. She was a wonderful lover of the Lord and Holy Writ, however. I have great memories of her!

      Just a quick question, but are you Trinitarian?

  34. Plymouth Brethren! Were they somewhat like the Amish?

    I’m not old enough to be compared with your greatgram 🙂 but I am part Irish. LOL But I’ll accept the compliment of being a biblicist who loves the Holy Writ.

    The only thing I really like about Catholicism and I believe Anglicism shares, is the beauty of the buildings and some of the rituals of worship. Unfortunately, my opinion of othodoxy may not be the best. While I love to read the early church fathers now and then (sometimes the language enthralls me) they were after all just humans like us all today and very affected by their culture and times. The records we have of what they believed do not compare to the inspiration of the original manuscripts of the writing we hold today as the New Testament. As well, by the time the catholic church was formed much warping had crept into the body of believers of that time. So, I do not take what the Catholic priesthood taught as the gospel or even always correctly interpreting our Bible.

    And yes, of course I believe in the trinity. 🙂 Do you?

    I offer up prayers for your dilemma, that God will give you divine wisdom on the direction of your life. And that whatever you decide and where ever you go, that you may be so filled with God’s Spirit that your words will inspire others to draw deeply of God presence finding all they need in Him.

  35. “”We worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity; neither confounding the persons, nor dividing the substance.” Athanasian Creed”

    BTW, the Athenasian Creed is one of my favorites. 🙂

    • TL,

      Yes I am Trinitarian, in fact the line you quote from the Athanasian Creed, is on my blog page. I asked about the Trinity, for I could see that you were perhaps a literal type biblicist, and some of them are not Trinitarian. So just checking! 🙂

      I am sorry to hear that your experience of the patristics has not been so good, but we certainly cannot do theology without them.

      My so-called “dilemma” is not really doctrinal at all, as providential. My younger than me wife, has a chronic condition in COPD. In fact that is the major reason we have been in the US for quite a while now, her health. We bought a Condo here too. She cannot take the cold of the the UK much anymore. But we will get back to greater London someday (Lord-willing!). We still have a Son in college and a house there. And I have several British Orthodox Christian friends there too. I miss them! I even miss some of the pagan Anglicans, and just plain some of the British pagans! lol But we write many e-mails.

      Part Irish eh? Well that is very good then! 🙂

  36. COPD is a terrible disease. Prayers gone for her comfort, pain and healing. I imagine you both must miss the UK.

    “I am sorry to hear that your experience of the patristics has not been so good, but we certainly cannot do theology without them.”

    Very true. And we certainly have limited church without each other. All the parts are needed. 🙂

  37. I’ve been reading (most of) the comments here. My comment refers to some of the earlier comments about motherhood.

    One thing that intrigues me is that motherhood is held to be, by many Christians, the highest calling for women; yet these same Christians rarely assert that fatherhood is the highest calling for men. I wonder what that’s about?

    Did Jesus think that motherhood was the highest calling for women?

    As Jesus was saying these things, a woman in the crowd called out, “Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.” He replied, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.”
    Luke 11:27-28

    PS I LOVE being a mother, but I know that God has given me other skills and has authorised me for other roles too, including the role of a Christian leader.

    • Marg, if you read some of my comments above you might find this odd, but I think you’re absolutely right. First, Jesus did put obedience above motherhood. Elsewhere he said that those who obeyed him were his family, not those who were “blood” relatives. Secondly, you are 100% right to call out us men for putting fatherhood on the back burner while expecting women to put motherhood on the front burner – then stand over the stove all day by yourselves. We’re dead wrong. Finally, when Paul got on his high horse about the roles of women, he was addressing some pretty specific job positions. It could easily be argued that those applied to women who were married (thus “under” rule of a specific man) or because of culture. I don’t think being a leader necessarily has to do with job title or formal rank. Its all about context. Jesus needs all his children to hear and obey. Taking care of our families and raising our children properly is part of obedience, but it doesn’t define obedience in totality. Bless you for your service and your leadership.

  38. Lance, I think when Paul “got on his high horse about the roles of women” (which was very rare), he did so to address certain problems. For example: idle widows (1 Tim 5:13-15) and false teachers in Ephesus (1 Tim 2:12 cf 1 Tim 1:3-4; 6:20-21).

    I am concerned that you think the Bible teaches that a husband is to rule his wife. I don’t know if you’re married, but if you are; Do you rule your wife?

    I do not believe that Adam ruled his wife before the fall. There are no gender roles or any sort of heirarchy mentioned in the creation narratives except that both men and women were commissioned by God to procreate and to rule over his creation on earth (Genesis 1:27-28). Men ruling women came after the fall, as a consequence of sin (Genesis 3:16). Jesus came to deal with sin and its consequences.

    If we see people being exploited with hard labour or injustice, we step in to help where possible; we don’t do nothing and say it’s because of the fall.

    The concept of a husband ruling his wife is never picked up again in Scripture. The Bible never commands a man to rule his wife.

    • Yes, I am married. To say I “rule” my wife would be generous, to say the least. LOL. Look, the plain text says what it says whether we agree or not, whether pay attention to it or not, whether we like it or not. I didn’t make it up.

      1 Cor 11:3 But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God. (ESV)

      Gen 2:18 Then the LORD God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” (ESV)

      Gen 2:18 was before the fall, not after. Not that it matters, we live in a post-fall world.

      If you see the biblical relationship of man and woman as a source of exploitation and injustice you aren’t seeing what God established, you’re seeing human corruption.

      I suspect this pushback is because of some bad personal experience. I’m very sorry about that. My wife was severely abused as a child and by her first husband. That is not what God had in mind for anyone involved. Living in a fallen world is not an excuse, but it does explain. Apart from God our sin stands in judgment of us and we are condemned. God loves us, He forgives, and He regenerates us so that our hearts turn from sin nature to Christ’s nature. Our flesh continues to rebel, but greater is He than our flesh. A man who is a man of Christ should be worthy of his wife’s respect, love, and submission. A woman who is a woman of Christ should find joy in that submission because it is in perfect harmony with submission to Christ. Obedience is not a chore, nor injustice, nor labor, because in Christ we find our rest and peace and joy. This is not a human model, it is a gift from our Lord. I am anything but worthy as man, husband, or father. I pray daily to be the man God created me to be and though I work, it is only through His Spirit that real change is affected.

      • Hi Lance,

        I’m not sure what you meant: “To say I “rule” my wife would be generous, to say the least.”

        I am married to a wonderful Christian man who has never thought of ruling me. We have always led our home together. Neither one of us as been the boss, or had the dominant voice. Moreover, both of us have continually endeavored to selflessly accommodate and help the other person. (I have been married for over 25 years.)

        There are many Greek words used in the New Testament which mean “ruler”, “leader” or “authority” but these words are never used for a husband in relation to his wife.

        As to 1 Corinthians 11:3: The husband is indeed the kephale (head) of the wife, but “head” in the Greek doesn’t necessarily mean the “chief person” as it does metaphorically in the English. The word kephale is never used in the sense of a ruler elsewhere in the New Testament. It has a different sense. (BTW The Greek New Testament is my everyday New Testament.)

        As to Genesis 2:18: I find it difficult to believe that you think that God has ordained women to help their husbands, but husbands aren’t obligated to mutually help their wives. This simply doesn’t sound like New Covenant, Christian living to me.

      • Marg, thank you for the thoughtful response.

        I am so thankful for your long and wonderful marriage. I am also thankful that you have such a relationship with your husband.

        It seem to me marriage is a team effort. Somebody has to be the captain of the team tho. Someone has to be quarterback. Ideally since everyone is on the same team it will all work together. That’s what the team understands if the coach is doing it right. I am not a huge fan of sports metaphors, but I hope that makes sense. Does this metaphor make sense in light of your understanding of the Greek for head in 1 Cor? Regarding Gen 2, of course it says they are one flesh. What helps one helps both. That a man would not help his wife is not what I was saying at all. I’m sorry if that’s how I came across.

        I am open to correction, but so far I don’t see my error. All I’ve seen is miscommunication (and I take responsibility for that). I think perhaps I’m talking apples and you’re hearing bananas – not your fault, I’m failing to be clear. I’m just not sure how to be clearer. To use many more words would seem to muddle things.

        It appears there’s little more else for me to say. I seem to be making matters worse.

  39. Hi Lance,

    Not sure that a married couple qualifies as a team. If there are only two people: husband and wife, I can’t see that it is beneficial for one to always be the leader.

    To me, deferring to the other person, helping the other person, and honoring the other person is the Christ-like thing to do, regardless of gender. Ruling doesn’t sound Christ-like at all.

    You sound like a nice person. I find it hard to believe that you rule your wife; or that your wife never leads, even when she is better at something.

    Anyway, I fear I may have strayed from the topic. I do not believe that men are inherently better leaders. Some men are lousy leaders, as are some women. Some men are great leaders, as are some women. And many men and women have almost no leadership instincts or abilities, but are content “to go with the flow”.

    • Thank you, Marg. As I said earlier I think we really do agree (mostly). My off-hand comment about my wife was intended as humor. Unfortunately it doesn’t play well in blog comments.

      Rule is a harsh word in typical English vocabulary. I don’t “rule” her. She does expect me to demonstrate leadership, which I fail at most of the time. She’s a natural leader. I’m very compliant most of the time. Most of our difficulties stem from communication issues – and once again I take responsibility for most of those. Anyway, we each have our own domains so to speak where we take charge. I think you’re a very wise and reasonable person. I’m not too concerned if we do not agree, but I am hopeful that we are sufficiently clear that we understand one another so that we can dialog effectively.

      You said: “Ruling doesn’t sound Christ-like at all.” Pardon me while I giggle. I really don’t think you meant that the way it sounds. Jesus is Lord of Lords and King of Kings. If you do not submit to him in willing and joyful obedience, how then do you respond to him?

      Maybe instead of the sports metaphor I can try a military metaphor. Let’s talk about rank. Even among two service people one must have superior rank. There is always an order to things. God is a God of order. Leadership is not a function of rank. Rank doesn’t make one smarter or right or a better leader. Authority and ultimate responsibility are functions of rank. Also, rank is only as good as it is trusted both by superiors and subordinates. Trust is vital. Finally, legitimate rank is bestowed, not taken. Only in a rank vacuum will a natural leader assume a rank and then only by the consent of the follower. The military has checks and balances, but proper normal operation requires order, trust, and rank to function. Perhaps you do not see the parallel in either a marriage or in a church organization. I don’t know how you see it.

      Like you, I think leadership ability has nothing to do with sex. As for authority and responsibility, perhaps there we will have to agree to disagree. I’m not interested in arguing about the truth of this. I am only interested in clarity. I hope I have answered your questions about my position. Thank you for engaging me in conversation. I expect to learn a great deal more from you. 😀

  40. “Let’s talk about rank. Even among two service people one must have superior rank. There is always an order to things. God is a God of order. Leadership is not a function of rank. Rank doesn’t make one smarter or right or a better leader. Authority and ultimate responsibility are functions of rank.”</blockquote.

    Can two walk together without agreement? Isn't brotherly love better than sexual love? Those are two Scriptural life observations that appear to me to be talking about attitudes of mutual honor and respect without rank, without one leading and the other following. When Jesus said that the world would know us by our love, I believe it was those kind of attitudes He was referring to. Ultimately, we are all brethren, on the same level ground at the foot of the cross.

    The only responsibilities that we have toward one another as brethren are in the realm of loving care. We are to pray for one another, not direct each other how to pray. We are to carry one another's burdens, not direct the other how to carry their burdens. We are to encourage, support and respect one another as believers, spurring one another on toward good works.

    The only discussions of leadership are in reference to ministries of the Holy Spirit giftings. And none of the giftings of the Holy Spirit are ordered by race, social status or gender.

    So, the concept that men and women are on different levels of rankings, with men always outranking women (or husbands always outranking wives) is counter Scriptural IMO.

  41. “You [as in me] said ‘Ruling doesn’t sound Christ-like at all.’ Pardon me while I giggle. I really don’t think you meant that the way it sounds. Jesus is Lord of Lords and King of Kings.”

    He certainly is! What I said was definitely not a correct thing to say. I’m kind of giggling too. :$

    I guess what I meant to say is that the New Testament continually instructs us how to behave and interact with each other: in humility and deference and mutual submission – behaviours often labelled as “Christ-like”.

    I agree: “Ruling” does sound harsh. I thought it was your choice of word; I won’t use it anymore.

    From what I’m hearing, it doesn’t sound that in real life you are the leader of your wife or marriage – which I think is a good thing.

    I believe that the reason God gave families a mother and a father (in the ideal situation) was so that the parents could lead the family together, and that the responsibilities of life could be shared.

    [It was not good that Adam had to do everything on his own. Why do men even want to be the leader and have all the responsibility when they have a capable wife? I still do not know of a scripture reference that clearly states the husband is to be the leader.

    As I’ve said, I don’t think kephale can mean “leader” or “chief person” in the New Testament. If Paul had wanted to say that husbands were leaders he could have used a dozen or so other words that are MUCH clearer.

    And using any verse from 1 Corinthians 11:3-16 as a proof text is very problematic, as no one can really say for sure what Paul’s real meaning and intent was in this passage. Nor can we really ascertain which words are Paul’s own words and which words are quotes from the letter that Paul was replying to.]

    Every person is unique with different skills, talents, temperaments and interests. And differing levels of leadership ability. I think it is a wonderful thing when a married couple can share the responsibilities of life according to their strengths and not according to a hierarchical structure.

    I hope I am not being tedious. Lance, you are helping to me to articulate what I believe. And I am thankful for that.

  42. Lance,

    I think what you are trying to say is that men that lead have authority but, women that lead do not have authority? As you mentioned Esther and the woman at the well as as being leaders (whatever that means for women) but not having authority. I believe that you are sincere about what you believe (that women can lead but without authority), and that is commendable. But, coming out from a complimintarian lifestyle into Egalitarianism your logic (to me) is like Swiss Cheese, full of holes. We reason with the scriptures, as we cannot disconnect the intellect and mind from the heart. Complimintarians believe that women should indeed do this (and do it with a smile.) The Church leadership will tell women to thier face to ‘be all that they can be for the Lord’, But, you have to do this within the peremiters and boundries that we set. Women, there are limitations set by a higher power than yourself (men). All these gender roles and rules for women that are put forth as *ordained by God* are simply done be proof texting scripture, redefining Hebrew and Greek words, and then throw in centuries of male bias against women.

    Complimintarian doctrine is fundamentally flawed. As it tranforms texts that mention women into texts that define women. Or really more accurate, into texts that *redefine* women as creatures (more like the animals) under authority rather than as image-bearers who have authority alongside the man. It is beyond confusing, as you will say man is responsible for the fall, but this does not change his status, authority or power? The fall of the woman goes into different realm though. We have two types of salvation really. One for men that renews, empowers and gives authority. One for women that renews and empowers but it is severed from authority.

    I think we are pretty far apart in our thinking on this topic (from your comment above). 😕

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