For the first 15 or so years of my life, like many people in Australia with a Dutch background, I belonged to a church that was part of the Christian Reformed Churches of Australia. All of my relatives attended this church and, until year 4, I even went to a school started by the Dutch Reformed community. Male primacy was continually modelled in church life and family life. We were  taught that authority and leadership was for men only, and I largely believed it. [1]

Early Ministry

When I was about 10 years old, I made the decision to become a Christian. From that moment I knew that I wanted to devote my life to serving God. Nothing else seemed nearly as important or worthwhile. Even though the desire to serve God was (and is) strong and persistent, I never once thought about attending a Bible college or seminary to become a minister. The thought never entered my head—not even for a second. I was a girl, and in the 70s and early 80s I had never seen or heard of a female minister. The only examples I had seen of women in ministry were missionaries in third world countries, and ministers’ wives. Neither of these options seemed appealing or appropriate to me. I often talked to God about how I, as a female, could minister and serve him.

With a compelling and unrelenting desire to serve God, but with no personal ambition for “formal” ministry, I involved myself in whatever ministries were available to me. From my mid-teens I volunteered at camps, taught Sunday School, and played music in church services and small groups. I was also fairly outspoken about my faith at school and work, even though in all other regards I was extremely shy.

Early Married Life

I started attending an Assemblies of God church when I was 21 years old. I met my husband Pete there, and we were married when I was 22. Even in this church we were taught that the husband was “the head of the house” and “the priest of the family”: two phrases that simply do not exist in Scripture.[2] I was perfectly content with these ideas, however, because I believed them to be biblical. And so I entered marriage with the full intention of being a good, submissive wife. I was quite willing forfeit all leadership and decision-making to my future husband.[3]

Ironically, my desire to be a completely submissive wife was tested within hours of making our wedding vows. Our master-of-ceremonies at the wedding reception had brought an axe wrapped in toilet paper. He thought it would be a good joke if Pete and I cut the wedding cake with this axe. Pete also thought it would be a good joke. (We were all very young at the time.)

Our wedding cake had been a gift to us. A lady in our church had made it herself as a loving gesture. The work, the expense, and most importantly her love, hacked into by an axe? I simply couldn’t agree to this. I was so disappointed that as a brand new bride I was already insisting that my husband not go ahead with something he wanted to do. It wasn’t difficult to dissuade him, but I was very disappointed that my plan to submit to my husband “in everything” (Eph. 5:24) had already been tested and I had failed.[4] (I actually find this story quite amusing in retrospect.)

I read lots of books during the first couple of years of marriage about how to be a good, submissive Christian wife, but my husband was not keen on my earnest efforts to be the perfect wife. He just wanted me to be myself. He also wanted to just be himself.

My husband felt the pressure to be the “priest” of the home, and I contributed to this pressure. It was not a role he was comfortable with. On the other hand, I found it easy to pray and read the Bible with our young sons every night, and bring God into our family life. At times I actually felt guilty about doing this because I thought that I might have been usurping my husband’s role. I now realise how ridiculous my guilty feelings were. Everyone in the family benefits when the father and mother share and allocate the responsibilities and chores of family life according to talents, temperaments, and abilities, and not according to rigidly prescribed gender roles.

More Ministry

The Assemblies of God church that we belonged to was very supportive of my ministry as a singer–songwriter. I also began leading a women’s Bible study group there, and I started teaching Religious Education in schools. When my boys were still very young we moved to the Central Coast of New South Wales to help a new congregation that our church had started.

For the next two decades Pete and I ministered at a more leadership level at different churches. Pete was primarily sought out to be an elder or head deacon, and I would usually end up being the music director. I would frequently, as a soloist, sing songs that had messages in them, but I still didn’t think that, being a woman, I should speak or preach messages, or teach or lead men. I turned down invitations to lead Communion because of my gender. It was only later that I realised that my thinking was illogical.

My thinking allowed me to sing and lead worship without any qualms, but it did not allow me to speak in a public setting. Is there a difference between singing a message or speaking a message? I really don’t think so. This confused rationalisation reminds me of people who have allowed women to minister and speak on foreign mission fields but not in their own home church setting.

Reading the New Testament in Greek

When I was in my mid-40s, I began to feel that God was leading me towards a more influential, leadership role in church. My understanding was that this role was not open to women. As I began reading the New Testament in Greek, I started observing that passages which spoke about ministry were gender inclusive, yet these same passages, in English, seemed to exclude women.

Reading Romans 12:6-8 in English, and then in Greek, was a real turning point for me. I had read this passage in the NIV (1984 edition) which begins with, “If a man . . .”  It then lists some ministries (including leading and teaching) interspersed with eight masculine pronouns. I looked at this passage in the English and thought, “No. Leadership is for men only, not for women, not for me.” I then looked at the same passage in the Greek and saw that there was no “man” mentioned at all, no masculine pronouns, and that there was no gender preference being asserted here. I was truly shocked and saddened by the gender bias in the NIV (1984 edition) which made this passage seem to exclude women. Romans 12:6-8 is in fact just as gender inclusive as numerous passages which speak about salvation, just as gender inclusive as John 3:16.[5] The NIV 2011 edition translates Romans 12:6-8 more faithfully.

Being able to read the New Testament in Greek was a real eye-opener for me in regards to how I viewed the topic of Women in Ministry.[6] I saw that scripture passages that spoke about spiritual gifts and ministry gifts were gender inclusive in the Greek: that these passages neither preferred men nor disqualified women in regards to leading or teaching, etc.[7]  I saw that the Apostle Paul actually loved and valued women ministers, and that he was not at all the chauvinist that some claimed him to be.[8] I also saw that several women ministers and women house church leaders were even mentioned by name in the New Testament, names that I had previously overlooked, names that are rarely mentioned in most churches.[9] Sadly, I also saw that most English translations of the New Testament are unfairly biased against the concept of women in ministry, and so this gender inclusivity, that is clearer in the Greek, is obscured in many English translations, especially older translations.

Ministry and Marriage Now

The desire to serve God wholeheartedly has never left me, and, with my new understanding of equality in ministry, I decided to study for a degree in theology a few years ago. [Update: I’ve since completed a BTh and an MA in early Christian and Jewish studies.] I hope this will lead to more opportunities to minister.  This may be as a teacher or leader in a congregational setting, or it may not. I am not sure where the next phase of my life’s story will take me. In the meantime I continue to be involved in various ministries. I feel a tremendous amount of freedom and joy as I continue to serve God without the constraints and complications of traditional gender roles.

Our marriage was not especially easy in the first few years, but, over the past decade in particular, our marriage has been very strong and very happy! Both my husband and I believe in complete equality in marriage and we live in mutual submission to each other. Our love, care, and respect is reciprocal. There is a lot of comfort, freedom, and joy in our relationship. I have been very blessed in my husband!

I truly believe that the church[10], and even the world, would be in much better shape if godly Christian men and women could minister together as equals and be treated as equals. If the western, Evangelical Church could embrace the counter–cultural values that Jesus taught, and lead the way in gender equality within the family, church and society, I believe that there will be some overflowing effect that will benefit women of other cultures where the subjugation of women is particularly oppressive and even brutal. I am personally very saddened that the Christian church is not leading the way in demonstrating and promoting the equality of women and men.

Towards Equality - My Story


The following are some of my personal views on topics related to Christian Egalitarianism or “Casteless Christianity”. My views are given as basic snapshots here. Please see my articles for a more indepth look at what I believe on these topics:

Women in Ministry

At this present point in time, as I continue to study the New Testament in Greek, (and after having read numerous books and articles on both sides of the Women in Ministry debate), I can see no scriptural reason for excluding a suitably gifted and called woman from any sort of leadership role, function or office. [My article on 1 Timothy 2:12 in Context here; my article on Interpretations and Applications of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 here.]

Christian Feminism

I avoid the word “feminism” and its unfavourable militant connotations. My greatest desire as a young woman was to be married and have a family, and I am very grateful that I was able to realise this desire at a relatively young age. I am also very grateful that I could be a stay-at-home mum.

Even though my sons are now grown, my family remains the focus of my life, my prayers and my ministry. I have never had strong ambitions career-wise. However, the Bible never makes the case that God desires women to stay at home and not to work for money. [My article Working Women in the New Testament, here.]

I am a feminist, however, in that I believe that God’s ideal is for complete equality, affinity, and unity between men and women, especially between husband and wife.  I much prefer to be labelled as a “Christian Egalitarian” or a “Casteless Christian”.

Submission in Marriage

I believe that God’s ideal in marriage is mutual submission, where both the husband and wife treat each other with mutual love, care, consideration, and respect.  [My article on Submission here.  My article entitled Submission and Respect in 1 Peter 3:1-6 here.]

God’s Gender

I have a problem with some Christian Feminists and Biblical Egalitarians who overemphasise the feminine qualities of God.[11] The God of the Bible is a genderless spirit; he is neither male nor female. Yet it is important to note that both male and female human are made in his image (Genesis 1:27, 5:1-2). (One of my friends describes God as being “gender-full”.  Perhaps he is correct.)

I am very happy to stick with the biblical metaphors that describe God, both the masculine and feminine ones, and I have no desire to call God “mother”, although I don’t think that this is necessarily wrong. Also, I think it is helpful for English speakers to use feminine pronouns for any of the three persons of the Trinity.  [My article Is God male or masculine? here.]

Equality and Androgyny

One fear that the opponents of Biblical equality have is that if we allow the complete equality between men and women this will lead to gender differences becoming confused or indistinguishable. I personally find this argument ridiculous. I love being a woman. I love being a mother. I love being feminine. And as a woman I see no reason why I can’t be an effective leader and teacher in my family with my husband, or an effective leader and teacher in the church, if that is what God has called me to.

Homosexuality and the Church

The connection of the issue of homosexuals in the church with the issue of women in ministry is something that annoys me no end! There is very little relation between the two issues, except that they seem to have appeared at roughly the same time.[12] The opponents of Biblical equality—hierarchical Complementarians—often bring up the issue of homosexuals in the church and associate it with the issue of women in ministry. This clouds both issues and brings confusion.

Defining Masculinity and Femininity

John Piper, perhaps one of the best known complementarians, has criticised Christian egalitarians for not defining masculinity and femininity. However his definition is extremely narrow, inadequate, and, I believe, inaccurate. Piper has defined masculinity and femininity purely in terms of male leadership and authority, and female responsiveness and submission to male authority.[13] In reality, leadership is not an ability or  quality that is solely tied to the masculine gender. Not all men have leadership ability, whereas some women have obvious leadership ability. Moreover, women can be very effective leaders and still be feminine. [My article on Paul’s Masculine and Feminine Leadership here.]

There is no doubt that, generally speaking, there are some significant differences between the genders. Defining these differences, however, is quite tricky. I like this observation by one of my friends: “Men are more action and role oriented, while women tend to be more intuitive and flexible”. While there are, no doubt, numerous exceptions to this statement,  I think this is just about the best general description of masculinity and femininity that I have come across.

Men and women are different in some ways. That is why it is desirable and beneficial to have both as leaders in the home and in the church. It is important to note, however, that men and women also share many similarities and it is divisive to separate the genders into two distinct categories.  In Christ we are one (Gal 3:28).


Endnotes

[1] I do remember one Sunday morning when the minister was speaking quite adamantly that women should be submissive. I think I was about 9 or 10 years old at the time. I remember looking around at the women in the congregation as the minister spoke. The women were all sitting still, in their “Sunday best”, and looking very well behaved. As the minister kept emphasising submission, I was wondering: What do the men want from these women? How much more submissive can a person be? Of course I had no way of knowing what was going on the privacy of people’s homes, and just how submissive these women really were in daily life, but I was already picking up on the injustice of being coerced into unilateral submission.

[2] Nowhere in Scripture does it say that the husband is to be the head or leader or authority of the house or household. It does, however, say that the husband is the head of the wife. In Hellenistic Greek (of which New Testament Greek is a subset), “head”  rarely has the metaphorical meaning of “leader” or “authority”. There are several Greek words for “leader” or “authority” in the New Testament, yet  these words are never used for husbands. [My article Kephalē and “Male Headship” in Paul’s Letters here.]

[3] I’ve heard some say that Christian wives with overly romantic views of complete, unilateral subordination and service to their husbands are engaging in a form of idolatry. I think they may have a point.

[4] Of course I did the right thing by not going ahead with the ridiculous idea of carving the wedding cake with an axe. I even have to smile that God was showing me a better way right from the very start of our marriage: mutual submission.

[5] In Romans 12:7-8 there is a construction using the masculine article and masculine participle which occurs five times. The masculine article and participle are used numerous times in a generic way throughout the New Testament. John 3:16 contains the same construction: a masculine article and participle (“believing”), plus a masculine adjective (“all”). No one suggests that John 3:16 applies only to men. That is because people who understand Greek know that grammatical gender does not necessarily correspond with actual gender.
This construction of the masculine article and participle can be translated as “he who” but, unless it is used in the context of a specific man (male person) or group of men, it is to be understood in a generic way. This construction can be translated in a variety of ways, such as, “the one who . . .” (e.g. “the one who shows mercy with cheerfulness”).
If Paul has wanted Romans 12:6-8 to be clearly understood as applying to men only he would have had to include the word anēr (“man”). Even though the masculine gender is the default gender for speaking about a generic person, Paul has not used masculine gendered words excessively, unlike the NIV 1984 with its plethora of masculine pronouns and it’s use of the word “man”. The Greek of Romans 12:6-8 is written in a way that shows it applies equally to Christian men and women.

[6] I have had a long-held ambition to read the New Testament in Koine Greek. About 10 years ago I started teaching myself Koine slowly—very slowly. When free courses came on the internet, I did them. In the past three years I have studied Koine and Classical Greek through tertiary institutions. Plus I annually attend a summer school on advanced Biblical and Patristic Greek run by the Macquarie Ancient Languages School, held at Macquarie University.

[7] Verses which mention Spiritual giftings: Acts 2:17-18; Rom 12:6-8; 1 Cor 12:7-11&27-28; 1 Cor 14:26-33; Eph 4:11-12; Heb 2:4; and 1 Pet 4:9-11. These verses do not exclude women. Even 1 Tim 3:1ff is remarkably gender neutral, especially when compared to many English translations. This passage begins with: “If anyone . . . ”  [My article on Paul’s Qualifications for Church Leaders here.]

[8] Paul mentions many women in his letters, often with fondness: Apphia (Phm. 1:2), Chloe (1 Cor. 1:11), Claudia (2 Tim. 4:21),  Euodia (Phil. 4:2-3), Julia (Rom. 16:15), Junia (Rom. 16:7 NIV), Lois and Eunice (2 Tim. 1:5), Mary (Rom. 16:6), Nereus’ sister (Rom. 16:15), Nympha (Col. 4:15), Persis (Rom. 16:12), Phoebe (Rom. 16:1-2 NIV), Priscilla (Rom. 16:3-5;1 Cor. 16:19; 2 Tim. 4:19 cf Acts 18:1-3, 18-19, 26), Rufus’ mother (Rom. 16:13), Syntyche (Phil. 4:2-3), Tryphena and Tryphosa (Rom. 16:12). These women were actively involved in significant ministry, some as leaders. [My article on Paul’s Personal Greetings to Women Ministers here.]

[9] The following women are all church leaders mentioned in the New Testament: Philip’s four daughters (Ac 21:9), Priscilla (Ac 18:26; Ro 16:3-5, etc), Phoebe (Ro 16:1-2), Junia (Ro 16:7), possibly Chloe (1 Cor 1:11), Nympha (Col 4:15), Apphia (Phlm 2), “the chosen lady” (2 Jn 1), “the chosen sister” (2 John 13), Euodia and Syntyche (Php 4:2-3), and possibly Lydia (Acts 16:13-15, 40), etc.  Just as there have been good and bad male leaders, there were good and bad female leaders. Sadly, the church in Thyatira was being corrupted by the teachings and false prophecies of a wicked and immoral female leader (Rev 2:20-24 KJV), as was, it seems, the church in Ephesus (1 Tim 1:3-4 cf. 2:12)

[10] I believe that the issue of equality has tremendous importance for the church and for individuals. By greatly restricting ministry opportunities for women, the church has effectively halved the available personnel for its mission in the local community and in the world. And by hindering (instead of encouraging) the efforts of women who have been called and equipped by God to minister as leaders, all women have felt constrained to remain in a limited, subjugated position within most churches. Very few Christian women see beyond the boundaries prescribed for them by church leaders and denominations who have viewed New Testament teaching on women and ministry with a restrictive bias based on culture and tradition.

[11] In the Bible, the triune God is sometimes described with qualities that we associate more with masculinity (warrior, father, king) and at other times he is described with qualities that we associate more with femininity (midwife, a mother hen, the woman looking for her lost coin). However God is neither male nor female, he is simply described in Scripture in ways that we can relate to, for our benefit.

[12] Throughout church history, whenever there has been a new move of God, women have been prominent in ministry along with men. It is only when each new movement has become settled, institutionalised and conservative that women are deterred or removed from leadership roles.  Women in ministry is not a new phenomenon.

[13] John Piper and Wayne Grudem (editors), Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (Westchester, Il: Crossway Books, 2006)

© 18th of June, 2010; Margaret Mowczko


Related Articles

Brief overviews of Christian Egalitarianism:

My Perspective of Christian Egalitarianism
How Christian Egalitarians understand “Equality”

Equality in Marriage:

Leading Together in the Home
Submission
A Suitable Helper
Power Struggles in Christian Marriage?

Equality in Ministry:

The Means of Ministry: Gifts, Grace, Faith . . .  Gender?
New Testament Women Church Leaders

1 Timothy 2:12 in Context
Questions about how to implement 1 Timothy 2:12
Interpretations and Applications of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35
Paul’s Qualifications for Church Leaders