© Rosemary Bardsley 2005, 2015

The overwhelming perspective of the Bible is that God has assigned to men the responsibility of leadership.

It is not this leadership role that creates and sustains divisions and conflict between men and women, for the Bible also strongly maintains the equality and unity of men and women.

The inequality and divisions exist only because of the sin factor. In the presence of the sin factor man chooses either to rule aggressively, autocratically and with an attitude of superiority rather than with the loving, self-sacrificing leadership exemplified by Christ, or to abdicate his God-given responsibility in part or in whole. In the presence of the sin factor women choose either to rebel against men’s leadership in part or in whole, using their abilities in competition with the man rather than in cooperation, or to express their ‘submission’ in such a servile, simpering and weak-spirited way that male leadership is made more difficult and frustrating, and in which it is difficult for men to sustain recognition of the equality and dignity of women.

The incarnate Christ exemplified in his life both true leadership and true submission. From him we learn that leadership is neither autocratic nor jealous of its power and authority; from him we learn that submission in no way detracts from equality and dignity. We also learn from him that leadership does not mean doing everything yourself and submission does not mean being unable to do what the one in the leadership role does. Although his role as Son was that of submission to the Father, the Father gave incredible authority to the Son, without that authority making the Son independent of the Father.

The redemption factor, again affirming equality and unity between man and woman, also opens the way for us to increasingly express the true Biblical meaning of leadership and submission. Secure in Christ the Christian man is now free to lead without having to gain his significance from his leadership role; he no longer needs to be threatened by women of ability, or afraid of delegating authority to women. Secure in Christ the Christian woman no longer needs to feel threatened by her role of submission, and no longer needs to exert herself to gain significance or recognition.

In addition, the redemption factor liberates both man and woman to bear with and to forgive the others’ inadequate acceptance and fulfilment of the biblical roles and responsibilities.

It is these fundamental Biblical perspectives that give clarity and definition to the leadership/submission question. When we take our focus off this big picture and focus on the four particular verses in question from 1Corinthians and 1Timothy, we are actually jeopardizing this clear Biblical teaching. Without a foundational perspective based on the whole of Scripture anyone who can satisfy themselves that the Corinthian and Timothy verses are not talking about leadership and submission in the church is immediately left with no basis for any role differentiation, which would be a dangerous thing indeed.

The question of authority/submission does not hang on these four verses. Nor does the question of women teaching from the pulpit, although some would like to make it do so. Men are obviously the ones to whom God has entrusted the responsibility of the leadership of his church. But the rest of Scripture indicates that leadership does not mean doing it all yourself. Authority can be delegated. Responsibility can be delegated. Submission does not mean doing nothing in terms of leadership, but doing what the person in authority wants one to do. If that means not teaching from the pulpit in a given setting, fine; if it means teaching from the pulpit in another setting, fine; as long as both the not teaching and the teaching are done with a quiet, submissive spirit that desires not to promote itself but to promote the goals of those in authority.

Above all, in our fulfilling of our roles and responsibilities as men and women in the church we need to be sure that we are expressing leadership/submission as it is in the order of creation and the order of redemption, and not perpetrating and perpetuating the depraved leadership/submission which is the order of the fall, and part of the curse and the condemnation from which Christ has redeemed us.