Exploring the biblical theology of Christian egalitarianism

Grudem women 83 ministries

Ranking the “Authority” and “Influence” of Ministries

Wayne Grudem is a fairly well known Christian theologian and hierarchical complementarian in North America. In an article entitled “But What Should Women Do in the Church?” (his emphasis in italics), Grudem has gone to the trouble of painstakingly listing 83 church ministries in, according to him, decreasing order of the “authority” and “influence” needed to minister and participate in these ministries.

He has categorised these 83 ministries into three lists. List 1 includes ministries that involve “governing authority”; List 2 includes ministries that involve Bible teaching; List 3 includes ministries that involve public visibility and recognition. (See Isaiah 28:10 NIV.)

I have several problems with Grudem’s criteria for ranking these ministries. For example, Grudem ranks evangelistic ministries rather low. He ranks paid ministry positions higher than unpaid ministry positions. He ranks ministries that occur on Sunday mornings more highly than ministries that occur mid-week. The rationale behind the rankings of these ministries, and others in the lists, seems to be based on the prevailing culture of American evangelical churches and has no scriptural basis whatsoever.

There is no doubt that the lists were compiled so that a line could be drawn somewhere, and that women be excluded from the ministries ranking above this arbitrary line. Grudem himself is vague about where exactly this line is to be drawn. The position of this line, in fact, varies from denomination to denomination, and congregation to congregation. Few congregations, however, do not have any line, either explicitly stated or implicitly understood, that excludes women from the “top-ranked” roles and positions.

Women and Men: Equal but Different?

Grudem believes that men and women have different roles and functions in the church and in the home. According to Grudem, and other hierarchical complementarians, it is only men, and not women, who can have the position or function of spiritual authority and leadership in both the church and home. While this certainly sounds very unequal, hierarchical complementarians assure us that men and women are still essentially equal in being.

Grudem’s lists, however, reveal that he does not believe women are equal to men. In list 2, for instance, Grudem lists the ministry of Writing or editing a study Bible [for general use] as number 13. Writing or editing a study Bible intended primarily for women, however, is ranked lower at number 16. In Grudem’s opinion, less “responsibility” and less “influence” (his terms) are needed to write and edit a study Bible for women than a study Bible for general use.

Grudem has ranked Bible teaching to a women’s Sunday school class rather low at number 17. This low ranking is significant when compared with Bible teaching to an adult Sunday school class (both men and women members), ranked at number 8, Bible teaching at a home Bible study (both men and women members), at number 9, Bible teaching to a college age Sunday school class, number 10SD; Bible teaching to a high school Sunday school class, number 11.

Why does Grudem believe that different levels of responsibility and influence are needed for Bible studies with different groups of people? In particular, why does Grudem believe that women require (or should put up with) less responsible ministry than that given to men or high school age students, etc?

It certainly seems that Grudem regards women as not as important as men (or as important as high school age students) as he implies that a second rate Study Bible and second rate Sunday School ministry are adequate for women.

Wayne Grudem’s Wide Open Doors

In the same article, after making his lists, Grudem writes,

I know I speak for the entire membership of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood when I say that it is our sincere desire to “open the doors wide” to all the areas of ministry in the church that God intends for women to have.

Too many doors, however, are tightly shut because of the premise held by the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, and others, that certain ministries and roles are not God’s intention for women. I, for one, do not agree with their premise. Nor do I believe that the members of this council correctly understand, teach, or portray a genuine kind of “biblical manhood or womanhood.” I believe that many of their strongly-held beliefs on gender roles in the church and in the home are based on culture rather than the Bible.

Moreover, despite their protestations to the contrary, I believe many hierarchical complementarians do view men as more important, higher-ranked beings and women as less important, lesser-ranked beings. This is shown in Grudem’s belief that men require a more responsible, higher quality of Bible education than women.

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Footnote

Wayne Grudem’s article “But What Should Women Do In The Church?” was first published in the Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, Volume 1 No.2 (Fall 1995). It was also published by CBMW in a newsletter here. Screenshots of the article can be viewed here.
The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) was started in 1987 by Wayne Grudem, John Piper and others in response to their concern over biblical egalitarianism and the demise of patriarchy. The board of directors of this organisation are seven white men (last checked May 2021).

Related Articles

Bible Women with Spiritual Authority
25 Biblical Roles for Biblical Women
Partnering Together: Paul’s Female Coworkers
A Biblical Case for Women Pastors
New Testament Women Church Leaders
Paul’s Qualifications for Church Leaders (1 Timothy 3)
The Complementarian Concept of the Created Order
The ESV Bible’s Men-only Club
Complementarianism: A Traditional Belief of the Church?

A critique of Wayne Grudem’s essay The Myth of Mutual Submission is here.
A critique of Grudem’s Grounds for Divorce is here.
Other articles that feature Grudem’s views are here.

36 thoughts on “Wayne Grudem on What Women Should Do in the Church

  1. Sick! No, not you, the cbmw folks I mean. The perversity of this list and all the ramifications of it are overwhelming to me. I am speechless.

  2. Thanks for writing this review! I feel better informed. Grudem = ridiculous and nonsensical. I am astounded people follow him.

  3. I think Grudem’s list can be reverse engineered.

    Why in the world would he think he needed to spend time to come up with such a list?

    I think the answer is that he had received some requests for help in discernment about exactly what a woman can and cannot do when following comp doctrine. Or perhaps he saw differences in the ways various comp churches allowed women to minister and knew that confusion is not from God. That is, if the rules are not clear, then perhaps the rules are simply made by humans, horrors.

    CBMW tries to be a big tent organization. As long as one subscribes to their central theses of male hierarchy in church and home, you get in. But people in practise allow different things, so how does that work out. One comp church allows women to teach in a home group setting, while another does not, for example.

    Hence the very fine distinctions he makes in his list. This allows any particular church to draw the line where ever they wish, as long as the line does not go too high in the list, no charges of “liberal” etc. need apply. That is, for one’s specific comp church, they can set the line as X and another comp church can set it at Y and we do not need to think of the other as “rejecting the clear counsel of the word of God,”
    rather, they are just a little different in the way they understand some verses.

  4. I find the lists quite bizarre and sexist. I honestly don’t understand why complementarians can’t see the bias.

    If you want to see another sad example of bias, look at the women on the council of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW).

    Even though these women are writers, speakers and university professors, etc, they are given the primary descriptor of “homemaker,” except for one lady whose primary descriptor is “pastor’s wife”.

    Clearly, in the opinion of CBMW, a woman’s identity is closely linked with her role in the home or who she is married too. A woman’s outside interests, talents, skills, titles, ministries or career are not as important as being a having a clean house.

    In contrast, the information on the male council members is restricted to their professional ministry titles.

    Further, there are zero women are on the board of directors even though the council claims to be about womanhood as well as manhood.

  5. Don, I agree that the lists were designed to help different denominations and different congregations (those who subscribe to Comp theology) know where to draw their particular line in regards to women in ministry. (I’ve added a sentence in the article to make that clearer.)

    What is very sad (and inadequate) with Grudem’s approach is that lists and lines do not take into account an individual’s unique calling, abilities and experience. I wonder how Priscilla, Nympha or Junia would have fared in ministry if they were restricted by lists with lines.

    1. And how he lacks imagination for a whole host of ways that Christ might serve a world in need, making good news known broadly. It is at heart, not only sexist, but culturalist/racist. Just 83 ways??!!! Such a small sliver of ministry there. If I am lucky enough not to live in Grudem’s tiny narrow little north american white world, (thank God that I don’t) his limited list is neither helpful or applicable to my community. In another culture – this is all just irrelevant. He is not describing the I find it disturbing that he would make such a big thing of the set up on his own picnic rug. The things that we do to serve and to proclaim the gospel aren’t on his list!
      Secondly, he completely obfuscates that we serve not as individuals with individual gifts, but as a body. It is the body that serves, that proclaims, that suffers, that is martyred, that glorifies.

      1. It’s very unimaginative! How can the ministry of living and breathing body of Christ be summarized in lists and rankings?

        I’m glad that my church community doesn’t come close to emulating his narrow North American white church world.

  6. Where in the Bible does it say that it takes less “teaching responsibility” to teach certain groups of people than others? Where is the scriptural basis for saying “working as an evangelistic missionary in other cultures” takes less responsibility than, say, “preaching (teaching the Bible)… to the whole church on Sunday mornings”, “teaching Bible or theology in a Christian college”, or “evangelistic speaking to large groups of non-Christians [supposedly in your own culture]”? And how does “teaching children’s Sunday school class” rank fifth to last on the responsibility scale – aren’t they the most impressionable? Even if this article wasn’t directed towards women’s roles, it would still be ridiculous.

  7. Umm, do you mean Wayne Grudem’s article is ridiculous? Or mine?

    Wayne Grudem’s article is wicked (and ridiculous) because he is not only ranking the importance of ministries (according to his opinion), he is also, in effect, ranking the importance of people. So we clearly see that in Wayne Grudem’s mind women are not as important as other people.

    I firmly believe that the criteria of his lists have practically no biblical basis.

  8. I mean Wayne Grudem’s article, sorry for the confusion.

  9. No worries. I just wanted to be sure. 😀

  10. Complementarianism is legalistic to the core and puts God in a box.

    People like Grudem think they have the Holy Spirit mapped down to a mathematical equation. Complementarianism is just another example of man trying to play God. The Holy Spirit is unpredictable, and anyone who dares write a list to limit what the Holy Spirit can do is predicting and restricting the movement of the Holy Spirit and thus falsely prophesying.

    Complementarianism has this “separate but equal” mentality, and we’ve all seen how well “separate but equal” has worked with regard to race. Such a mentality fails just as miserably with regard to gender. “Separate but equal” separates the church. I realize that the complementarian motto is “different but equal,” but ya know, same thing.

    Complementarianism sadly misses the point. It falls into the trap of religion and misses out on the relationship (between Christ and the church).

    It seems like complementarians have developed this math equation: man is to Christ as woman is to the church.

    How flawed is that? If woman represents the church then shouldn’t she be fully included in it? We women (as well as men) are fully included in the Lord’s kingdom, so what makes church any different?

    And what about the whole public vs private thing? That is so hypocritical. The church shouldn’t put on a different face for the public crowd. I mean, what difference should it make if a woman is teaching a private home Bible study vs teaching a public, Sunday church service?

    This whole man vs woman, public vs private, on stage vs in the audience, Sunday vs week day, paid position vs unpaid thing is really legalistic. Complementarianism is so inconsistent.
    The church is so divided.

    And has anyone noticed that Grudem’s article is now unavailable? I wonder if Grudem and his team became embarrassed by it. Shoot, I’m embarrassed FOR them. I hope that the Lord lovingly reveals to Grudem how in error, how inconsistent, how legalistic, how unbiblical, how contradictory his article was.

  11. LOL. I’d be embarassed too.

    The whole CBMW website has been gutted for some reason. It will be interesting to see whether they will repost this ridiculous post from Grudem on their rebuilt site. https://margmowczko.com/equality-and-gender-issues/problems-with-the-cbmw-website/

    And I completely agree that the church, whether it is gathered for a larger planned meeting or scattered into smaller unplanned spontaneous groups, should have the same standards.

  12. Yeah, I realized the CBMW website was down after I made that comment. Oooohhh Welllll Lol!

  13. I’ve just finished Kathy Keller’s ebook entitled “Jesus, Justice and Gender Roles: A Case for Gender Roles”.

    In this book she writes:

    “I am frequently embarrassed by others who use the title “complementarian” but who go beyond Scripture to legislate arbitrary rules about the age of boys when women must not teach Sunday school to them any longer, or whether a female small group leader should have a male co-leader if the group is mixed, and so on.” (Kindle Locations 411-413)

    Does this mean that Kathy Keller is embarrassed of Wayne Grudem?

    Kathy believes that godly, gifted women should be able to speak (including teach and exhort, etc) in church. But she seems to say that women cannot be ordained.

    She believes that complementarian gender roles are biblical and implies that Christians who hold to an egalitarian ideology are being disobedient to God.

    Kathy seems to have a low opinion of egalitarians. She was formerly a feminist who did not believe that the Bible was truly the inspired Word of God. Perhaps Kathy thinks that all Christian egalitarians have the same low opinion of Scripture that she once had. Sadly, she speaks disparagingly of us.

    I’ve written a critique of Kathy Keller’s book here.

  14. I think Grudem’s list will look more and more preposterous as time goes on.

  15. You’d think so, but compism seems so entrenched, even expanding its influence, in some parts of the Church. 🙁

  16. What many people also fail to notice, is the REASON women working as an evangelist to other cultures is lower- it is because Grudem assumes these other cultures are not white eurocentric ones. In other words, he is racist. It is OK in his mind for a white lady to teach in India, Africa, all through Asia …but what if that same woman travels to Canada, UK, Europe to evangelize??? What then, what if in her evangelizing she starts a church? Anyway, all this to say he is a pompous, sexist and racist fool.

  17. I think you may be right, Kay. And this from a well-known scholar and author of a best selling Systematic Theology. Tragic!

  18. In actual fact, the entire premise of Grudem’s and for that matter Piper’s theology about women, is premised on their theology of the Trinity. To accurately address their rather strange need to compile lists for “ministry”, whatever that means, one needs to realise that they have a list not just for God’s church, but in fact for God himself. Just as they say in their convoluted logic that men and women are equal in being but different in function, so they say the three persons of the trinity are equal in being and different in function. Crassly put, the ultimate patriarch is in their theology, the Father. He is more equal than the Son or the Holy Spirit and if you read carefully, he is in fact their generator. Thus you have the rather odd notion that part of God is somehow created (at least two thirds of HIm anyway), and that despite an unlimited relationship in infinity; with the definitions being held that God is omni-everything, apparently only the Father has original thoughts to which the Son and the Holy Spirit necessarily submit. Yup, I wrote this and even I am now confused.

    1. I’ve had a few thoroughly confusing conversations with complementarians. They hold to quite a few beliefs that are illogical and contradictory when looked at carefully.

      The complementarian ideology seems to fall down in regards to single adults, especially single women; it has nothing to say about same-sex friendships; and it focuses on the wife-husband relationship in the New Testament household codes but not on the child-parent relationship (including that of a grown son and his mother) or the slave-master relationship (including that of female masters and male slaves), even though these other relationships are in the very same passages in Ephesians 5-6 and Colossians 3.

      And the analogies some complementarians use to explain their ideology are typically flawed.

      On the other hand, the ideology of Christian egalitarians is straightforward: men and women should be able to contribute their gifts and use their talents regardless of their sex, and we are all to mutually submit to and serve each other. Simple.

      I have written a critique on Wayne Grudem’s article The Myth of Mutual Submission here, in case you’re interested.

    2. I grew up in a patriarchal family that claimed to be complementarian, then gradually became a complementarian as an adult. About two months ago, I accidentally became an egalitarian (I’m serious, it really was an accident. I read a critique of Piper expecting to laugh at it and instead became deeply troubled by the truth I had found.) This whole thing about the trinity, you’re absolutely right! Comps totally believe this weird, confusing stuff about the trinity! I guess their theology of the trinity and men and women explains why the Holy Spirit is expected to be silent in so many comp churches. Anyway, I really need to get my hands on some solid reading material about the trinity that doesn’t have strange theories about the Father having greater authority than the Son or the Holy Spirit. There’s so much i need to relearn!

      1. Hi Christin,

        I became an egalitarian after reading Rediscovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (RBMW), edited by John Piper and Wayne Grudem. I was beginning to explore egalitarianism and thought I should read RBMW. I thought it would convince me that patriarchy was in fact “God’s design”. I was surprised and dismayed to find that the arguments were poor, contrived, and utterly unconvincing. It made me realise that patriarchy, or hierarchical complementarianism, has no valid basis in the New Testament. It has no place among God’s New Covenant people.

        I try to stay out of Trinity debates when they are geared to proving or disproving the subordination of women, because, as you say, it becomes weird. But I have an article here with links to other resources.
        https://margmowczko.com/the-trinity-and-marriage/

        1. Hi Marg. thanks for your reply! The article you linked to was very helpful (and so were *most* of the comments). I loved the point that one commenter made: that in the Godhead, they all share the same will so any sort of submission – hierarchical or mutual – isn’t possible (hopefully I summed that up accurately). I read Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood several years ago and it made me MORE complementarian than I was before. Sometimes, I have no idea how I believed that stuff for so long. But the reality is, I know exactly why I believed it. There are two reasons: 1) the complementarians I listened to (Piper, Grudem, etc., etc) consistently misrepresent egalitarianism in significant ways (egals have a low view of scripture, they don’t believe in the inerrancy of scripture, they believe there are no differences between men and women, etc), thereby making complementarianism the only possible option; 2) I didn’t listen to any egalitarians because I didn’t know who they were, and I was afraid of the supposed theological “slippery slope” that comps so passionately warn about. I thought, to be egalitarian was to be very nearly a heretic. I believed this because people I trusted to preach the truth told me this was so…and I listened to them without challenging them, even when my own heart and mind felt shackled by the teaching. I thought hierarchical complementarianism was the only faithful way to read the scripture, so I swallowed it down and wondered why I felt so much lesser when I was supposedly equal. I confess, it’s hard not to be angry about it. You can’t question submission while in the act of submitting, so good complementarian women can’t ask questions or think for themselves. If I had known the truth sooner, I would have lived my life so much differently. That’s the hardest part. 30 years spent trying to dumb myself down and cram myself into a box that never came close to fitting, all in the name of “biblical femininity”. I am deeply grieved over this. However, I am so grateful to God for opening my eyes so soon after my first daughter was born. I sunk into postpartum depression after her birth partly because I had no idea how I was ever going to explain to her why her world was going to be so much smaller than her brother’s. I just couldn’t imagine raising my perfect, precious daughter with the intention of squelching her ambitions and teaching her about all of the opportunities that were off-limits for her. I couldn’t do it. When she was three months old, I stumbled across an egalitarian blog. There’s been no turning back. I know this comment has been highly personal and emotional, but these truths that you are sharing are life-changing. I could almost say life-saving. I am soaking up egalitarian teaching for hours every day and I can’t get enough of it. I finally see and believe that I am important to God, as a woman. I’ve never before felt that way. I always felt that God loved me in spite of the fact I am a woman. Thank you for being faithful to the gospel and teaching the TRUTH!

  19. indeed the issue of elitism, as opposed to an isolated gender issue is really what underlies such a theology. This exposes not only elitism in relation to gender, but also education, economic status (waged vs unwaged), age (children are of lesser value than youth, who are of lesser value than adults), race (as pointed out above)…the list goes on and on.

    If we were really interested in ensuring a healthy theologically robust and biblically literate culture in churches, our most highly trained teachers would be with our children, instead of bashing their head against a brick wall with adults whose worldviews were set decades ago.

    It is, I think impossible and unhelpful to separate the conversation about gender from the conversation about elitism and exclusion – narrowing the focus on gender, creates a smoke screen for a larger, uglier ethos of privileging certain voices that has wide reaching social and moral implications, dire theological consequences, and let’s be frank, considerable economic and power advantages for a small minority.

    1. Thank you so much for your excellent comment, Beth.

      Lots to think about here. And I completely agree with you.

  20. Grudem’s denials ring false. He says women and men are equal but different, and then he goes and makes a set of lists that puts women on the bottom of each list. Why didn’t he put the things he says women can do at the top of each list and then move down? Because in his heart he thinks the things he allows women to do are not equal to the things he says men can do.

    1. It really does my head in that Wayne Grudem insists that men and women are equal, but then he makes lists and places women at the bottom, so that they rank even lower than high school students. (Of course what he really means is male high school students. Female high school students are probably scraping the bottom of the barrel in Grudem’s estimation of what they can do in their church community.)

      It is troubling how he ranks groups of humanity. Clearly women are less important.

      I once read something that John Piper wrote saying that women could minister to disabled men. In his eyes being disabled lowered a man’s intrinsic worth which then allowed a lowly woman to minister to him. Very disturbing.

      This categorizing and ranking of humanity is not something that Jesus ever did on earth, and it flies in the face of his teaching. In Jesus’ kingdom the humble are exalted, the lowly are the greatest, the last are first, and the first are last. In other words, there is equality.

  21. Well, this is a doozie. How thankful I am that God does not need a well-known theologian to rank tasks as more or less influential for the “benefit” of the body of Christ. (If the ranking is not in Scripture, why would we need it now?) God has already, in himself, and through the Spirit, gifted each image-bearer with the personality and spiritual giftedness he intends them to exercise.

    But Grudem’s line of thinking must not go unchallenged, for it destroys the ethos of the Kingdom Jesus ushered in, as so many have reminded us above. It misrepresents the ways of Jesus; my hope and prayer is that as followers of Jesus we would show a different and more excellent way by our example. Because “reasoning” with this type of logic is in itself difficult to do.

    Thank you, Marg, for your faithfulness in bringing this to light.

    1. You are such a beautiful writer, Suzanne. Even in your comments on other people’s websites.

  22. Separate but equal. Yeah, right. The ten-dollar bill in the grass that the dog just peed on is equal in value to the ten-dollar bill in my purse, but I don’t want the bill the dog peed on.

    My husband and I are Southern Baptists, and as a woman, I feel very discouraged by and emotionally distant from our church. I can cook, clean, sew, and change diapers at home. Why would I want to go to church just so I can do the same things all over again?
    Women in Baptist churches can be very easily replaced with babysitters and catering services!

    1. I thought of you when I posted a new article today which contains this quote: “If we put women in the corner we will lose a Kleinod, a jewel.”

      The church loses and misses out when we restrict and confine women.

  23. I just read thru the great comments and have some other thoughts.

    I agree that the male gender privileging idea is certainly a subset of other privileging ideas, such a wealth privileging or race privileging, which should have no place in the church.

    Another aspect is how can one as an individual claim to interpret Scripture for a group to which they do not belong when that interpretation results in that group being “less than”. Trying to do this can result in arrogance. This seems to me to be something that Paul argued against in the Jew/gentile context as well as the master/slave context, and when interpreted correctly in the male/female context. For example, I am a gentile, not a Jew; who am I as a gentile to try to tell a Jew how to interpret Scripture in terms of what a Jew is supposed to do? I am a man, not a woman, who am I to try to tell a woman how to interpret Scripture in terms of what a woman is supposed to do? What privileges my views? I do not even know what it means to be a Jew or a woman.

    1. I take your point, Don. It does seem arrogant.
      Sadly there are many women who convey similar thoughts and rules to Grudem’s.

  24. I had a thought I’ve been pondering:

    Differences in roles do not necessarily equal differences in equality.

    This is most clearly seen in the submissive, yet other-centered, loving relationship of Christ and His Father.

    Jesus is one with His Father. (John10:30)
    Jesus submits to His Father. (1Cor15:28)

    Notice Jesus willingly submits to His Father, yet there is no envy, strife, or abuse in this relationship.

    In this relationship we see:

    The Father loves the Son and has given all into His hands. (John3:35)

    On the other hand…
    The Son can only do what He sees His Father doing. (John5:19)

    Yet…
    The Father loves the Son and shows Him all that He is doing. (John5:20)

    The end goal being:

    I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father. (John 14:31)

    “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” (John17:20-26)

    May God make us all one!
    Blessings,
    -Corey

    1. Hi Corey,

      We all have different roles in life. Most of us have many roles in life and these can change as we go through different phases of life. But this has no bearing on the intrinsic equality that we all share as human beings. Though I guess it depends on what one means by “roles.”

      You may be interested in this article: https://margmowczko.com/25-biblical-roles-for-biblical-women/

      I’ve written about the Trinity here: https://margmowczko.com/tag/the-trinity-and-marriage/

      Amen
      Marg

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