The inherent dignity and worth of the human being is an underlying premise in the Christian faith. This fundamental feature of creation has always been an unchanging principle with God and was intended to be practiced by man himself. From the initial calling of their name “Adam” (Gen 5:2), God had set the framework upon which all human relationships would be ultimately established – equality. The Lord Jesus Christ further exemplified this doctrine in His own life and teaching, treating the women of His day with the utmost respect and impartiality. Why then the appearance down through the ages (and especially in recent history) of a radical agenda to liberate women from the shackles of oppression? Why the feminist movement with its militant advocating of social, political, and personal rights of women?
The emergence of this unrest has two main causes: 1) the natural tendency of human nature to rebel against the precepts of God, and 2) the reactionary outburst to the man’s failure in carrying out the bedrock principles of God’s Word. Women have recoiled at the abuse of men who have abandoned their God-given roles of Scriptural headship or, as unregenerate, taken advantage of the weaker sex through physical and sexual abuse. Thus, it appears that the failings of both genders have contributed to the rise of feminism in our society.
A Sad Admission
There has been long-standing and devastating abuse and injustice against women down through the centuries, and in many parts of the world that still continues today. Violence against women, poverty, illiteracy, sexual assaults, and exploitation, repression of basic rights, and denial of basic medical health care and education still exist in countries around the world. Even in the best conditions, most women earn less than men doing the same work and are assigned secondary roles of less importance. As one well-known magazine states, “there are precious few female-friendly spots on earth.”1
It is obvious that massive changes have taken place concerning the rights and roles of women, especially in developed countries. We all would support dignity and security in these aspects of social and cultural life, but the arrival of these rights and freedoms also has an underlying and perhaps darker dimension, one which is rendering consequences within the Church of God itself.
A Subtle Attack
From the beginning of man’s creation, God made an important distinction between the sexes, not only physically and mentally, but with regard to purpose in His intended scheme for mankind. The feminist agenda, though it may have some positive aspects, has been instrumental in abetting the intent of the enemy to confuse and thwart the purposes of God. This has been in the area of gender roles and responsibilities. As historian William Manchester points out, “The erasure of distinctions between the sexes is not only the most striking issue of our time; it may be the most profound the race has ever confronted.”2 In view of the feminist ideology, Satan’s strategy of blurring the line of distinctiveness between males and females has undermined the divinely ordained place and role for women in the world.
A Singular Arrangement
The record of creation revealed that man and woman were created equal and yet different. God created the human race male and female (Gen 1:27). Both the man and the woman were made in the image of God (1:26-27) and so both sexes are marked by “nobility, dignity, and eternity.”3 But Genesis 2 introduces some of the distinct differences between man and woman as far as divine role and rule is concerned.
Adam was created first and in fact lived for an undetermined time on his own. His prior creation indicated that he was primary leader with dominion over the created order of earth. Thus, he initially embodied the human race and ruled over his undisputed domain. This authority was a divine establishment put into place from his creation. The import of this divine order is evident in Paul’s reference to Genesis when he gave the exhortation, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man, rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve” (1Tim 2:12, 13 ESV).
Secondly, there was an important difference in origin. God formed woman out of the man and for the man. Her essence indeed was the same as Adam’s, but her role was here specified. Her God-ordained purpose as far as Adam was concerned was that she might be a “help” to him. This was not inferiority but completion or perfection. It was indeed, “not good that man should be alone” (Gen 2:18). He was incomplete. That is, she was made to “complement the man, to help him populate and rule the earth, and to unite with him as a loving companion/partner. This is the first statement in the Bible concerning the woman’s role; she is to be a help for the man.”4
Thirdly, the relative roles of male and female were reinforced in Genesis 3 after Eve’s deception and Adam’s disobedience that marked the entrance of sin into the world. Satan had been successful in bypassing the man’s headship and appealing to the woman to act alone; he had defied the roles that God had ordained to work best for man’s blessing. It is no wonder then that leadership and submission were re-emphasized as God addressed the consequences of man’s first act of rebellion.
Scope of the Attack
The feminist agenda, however, has gone far beyond attempting to re-establish God’s intended equality and distinctive role for women. It has moved on to absolute intolerance of God’s plan for womanhood and taken into its hands issues that far surpass the concerns of women’s dignity. This has included license to do whatever she pleases with her own body, God’s laws notwithstanding. For example, pro-choice advocates have succeeded in obtaining abortion-on-demand. This is causing untold tragic loss of human life. (In the USA alone in 2005, 1.21 million abortions were performed.)5 Also, the changing roles in the home have led to a generation of “latchkey kids,” children who effectively have to raise themselves because both parents are pursuing careers. Women have been duped into believing that fulfillment lies in putting off motherhood and homemaking for the pursuit of corporate ladder-climbing or making a name for themselves. Those who choose more domestic roles are often ridiculed and ostracized. The feminist challenge to male headship and leadership in church ministries has also had far-reaching affects with women taking on prominent roles in the clergy, causing major upheavals in the world’s religious systems and teaching.
A Scriptural Appeal
The challenge for our day is immense. The enemy is feverishly advancing his cause, and the tsunami of change is sweeping the land. As believers, we need to affirm the absolute equality and the equal worth of every brother and sister in the sight of God. Feminists revolt at the concept of submission, but submission as a Biblical truth, and a Christian virtue, is a willing cooperation and yielding to God-ordained leadership. But harmony and fulfillment will only be the result when brethren take their own roles seriously. Are we actively practicing loving leadership both in the assembly and in our homes? Do we show our respect and appreciation for our sisters along with their spiritual abilities? Do we support, encourage, and guide them? What about our homes? Are we encouraging and supporting our wives in their God-given domestic spheres? Do we show our care and dedication to our families and seek to build up our wives as they seek to live out God’s purposes for them? Unhappy and unfulfilled sisters in an assembly will bring down the vitality and productiveness of that assembly. In a world that is fast erasing all gender distinctions, we need to rise to our own God-given responsibility to care for the needs of our sisters, to provide tender guidance and support, and to encourage and appreciate their attempts to follow Scriptural principles. The result will surely be contentment, harmony, and strengthening of the local testimonies as we follow the divine pattern of God for both our personal and public lives.
1. Alexander Strauch, Equal Yet Different, (Littleton, Lewis and Roth, 1999), 12.
2. Ibid., 3.
3. Ibid., 17.
4. Ibid., 23.
5. National Vital Statistics Reports (October 14, 2009), Vol. 58, No. 4.