The Biblical Doctrine of Headship

In the previous post, I warned of the feminist view of the office and role of pastor that has infested the Southern Baptist Convention. As the Chairwoman of the Credentials Committee mentioned, some in the SBC think the “gifting” of pastor can be distinguished from the “office” of pastor, thus paving the way for ordination of women into the pastorate, or the allowance of women serving in some kind of pastoral functions or roles. This kind of obfuscation of the meaning of words is classic liberal, ignore-the-plain-meaning of the Bible strategy. 

The New Testament never bifurcates or makes any distinction at all between the office of pastor and the role of pastor and the gift of pastor. Everywhere the words pastor, elder, overseer, and shepherd are used, it is always assumed that the man filling the office of pastor is performing the function of pastor and fulfilling the role of pastor according to God’s gifting of him as a pastor. There is no such thing as a pastor in the New Testament who is gifted by God as a pastor and yet somehow cannot ever be biblically qualified to fill the office or serve in the role because of sex/gender. To say God gifts women to be pastors, while also clearly forbidding a woman to teach a man (1 Tim 2:11-15), is to accuse God of double-speak. God is not confused. We are! 

The pastor must be “the husband of one wife” (1 Tim 3:2). No formal qualifications for a female pastor, or even a pastor’s wife, are listed anywhere in the New Testament. When the Apostle Paul corrects the Corinthian Church’s abuse of spiritual gifts, he insists “the women should keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church” (1 Cor 14:34-35). 

In context, Paul is addressing authoritative speaking in the church assembly (prophecy and tongues, which was simply prophecy in a language unknown to the speaker). He doesn’t mean women literally cannot say “hello” to others in the church gathering. Paul assumes women pray in the church (1 Cor 11:1-13), and elsewhere he commands all believers to sing to one another (Col 3:16). So, in context the meaning is clear – in New Testament churches, women are not permitted to speak in authoritative ways in a mixed church assembly. So, then, how does one pastor a church without teaching and speaking in with God-invested authority? It’s impossible, of course! 

The real issue is not whether God’s Word is clear. It’s whether we are embarrassed by what God says. It’s whether we will simply submit to what God says. It’s whether we trust the Lord knows better than we do who should be a pastor, and what husbands should do and wives should do. What a man is and a woman is. What a man is created and called to do and what a woman is created and called to do. Because our culture and churches have been so saturated in feminism for so long, we’re sorely tempted to bend God’s Word to our own ways of thinking. It will make us more “winsome” if we put women with the gift of gab in the pulpit to preach. It will sound better if we say women are better leaders because of their natural compassion and propensity to listen. It will be equitable. Fair. I mean, we don’t want to go back to the Stone Age do we?   

Some seem embarrassed by male headship. I know even conservative Bible teachers who try to make a case that male headship is a result of the fall, and was not a part of God’s original creation design. Well, someone forgot to tell the Apostle Paul that! He makes his argument for male headship in the church via the office of pastor from the creation of Adam and Eve. And in 1 Corinthians 11:3 and Ephesians 5:22-33 he makes the case for male headship, and a woman’s submission to it, by pointing to the relationship of Jesus to His Father, as well as that of Jesus to His Church. 

You see, it’s not a matter of value or dignity or worth. Genesis 1:26-27 settled that long ago. God the Father and God the Son are equal in value, one in essence. But, the Son willingly, joyfully submits to the Father (John 5:19-30; Phil 2:5-11). And the Spirit is sent by them both and submits to them both in the exaltation of the Son (John 16). Men and women are created to image God. Created to mirror God in His Trinitarian Nature. Hierarchy and submission, headship and followership, are good; for they are part of God’s own nature (1 Cor 15:27-28). It is blatant, stubborn sinfulness that insists on subverting and over-turning God’s own nature and God’s own design for humanity, and it is especially heinous for professing Christians to do so in their homes and churches. 

Does sin warp male headship? Yes. Sin warps everything. But I find no evidence that God gave up on male headship after the Fall. Indeed, Paul appeals to the Law in 1 Corinthians 15, as he says women must keep silent in the churches. Apparently, Paul also thinks the Law models God’s good intent here in this matter, and still guides us in the Church in this matter. Male headship was the warp and woof of the structure God established for Israel under the Law (Old Covenant).

God chose Abraham to be the father of His covenantal people. God chose the twelve sons of Jacob as heads of the tribes of Israel. God chose kings, all men (and the one queen was a usurper that brought about swift judgment from God; see 2 Kgs 11). God called out Prophets who were nearly all men, and again, the few exceptions seem to indicate severe judgment upon the people (much like Deborah the Judge). Nations who send women to fight wars in the Old Testament are mocked. Men are heads in the homes (Num 30) and in the assembly (Deut 1:13) and in the Nation (Deut 17:14-15). This is most definitely what we conservative evangelicals today would call “Thick or Broad Complementarianism.” This view holds that God designed men to lead, in every facet of life. It should really be called Godly Patriarchy. This principle of male headship is why it is unwise for Southern Baptists to appoint women to chair committees that are exercising oversight of pastors and who are then put into the awkward position of having to be publicly rebuked by Dr. Albert Mohler. Subverting God’s design for male headship is not loving to women. Caving to the world’s demands never ends up actually honoring women as the Lord desires.    

Is that system or design of Male Headship or Christian Patriarchy subverted or replaced in the New Covenant? Hardly! If anything, it is redeemed in Christ and commended even further among the saints. Jesus chose Twelve Apostles, all men. And it wasn’t because He was constrained by His “misogynistic culture,” because Jesus frequently highlighted women and commended women and blessed women in ways that were radically counter-cultural. And through the Apostles, and the men through whom He breathed out the Scriptures, Jesus commands His people to order their homes under male headship, as well as their churches. 

It does not seem a stretch to me to think that given the obvious Divine design for male leadership in the entirety of the Bible, we ought to pursue such a design in the three primary spheres or realms of society: home, church, government. What does it say about our Nation that the most courageous political leaders are now seemingly all women? And this is true on both sides of the aisle! While I respect courageous, conservative, Bible-loving female politicians, I also lament the pitiful condition of manhood in America that may seem to necessitate these ladies standing in the gap.  

O God give us men who delight in being men. God give us women who delight in being women. God renew a Christ-like Patriarchy, marked by selfless love and protective grace, among us as Your people. Help us stand against this demonic tide of feminism invading our homes and churches and nation, that we might once again radiate Your image and Your light to a dark, dying, demonic world. 

It is not misogynistic to say only men may be pastors, anymore than it is so to say that only men may be husbands and dads.  It is biblical. It is godly. It is Christ-honoring and glorifying.

We Bible-loving believers who submit to the plain teaching of God are not the crazy ones. We are the ones holding to God’s design in creation, and celebrating His re-creation of us in Christ our Lord. 

Preach on, brothers. Lead on brothers. With Biblical courage and sacrificial love. With strong protection of women and consistent provision for women (1 Peter 3:7). Model Christ. He’s worth it. 

Follow on, sisters. With quiet submissive spirits that are precious in the eyes of your Lord (1 Peter 3:1-6). Work on in your homes, sweet sisters. With joy that encourages and enlivens the next generation of strong Christian women (Titus 2:3-4). Model Christ. He’s worth it. 

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by Keith McWhorter