South Sydney Anglican Church

Christian Articles

Complementarian Practice in Church Life

white sun hat on brown dried leaves

Author Matt Johnson

July 22, 2021

The purpose of this paper is to establish the biblical rightness or otherwise of a suitably gifted and godly woman leading the church service of a mixed congregation in public worship. Or whether a mature Christian woman should lead a mixed Bible study group where suitably qualified men are present? The Bible is clear; “I do not permit a woman to teach or assume authority over a man.” (1Tim.2:12; c.f 1Cor.14:34). Paul is talking about conduct in the church. This provides clear biblical instruction that women should not preach in a mixed Sunday church service. But does a woman leading a church service contradict this instruction. Or does a woman leading a mixed Bible study group of men and women on Wednesday night usurp God’s command?

This is a difficult question to answer for two primary reasons. 1) The nature of what a church service leader is doing is hard to clarify. Are they teaching? Are they exercising authority or are they just a master of ceromonies? 2) Does a Bible study group constitute a smaller gathering of the church or is it something else?

In order to establish a working position for the Parish of South Sydney this paper will first explore the biblical passages that identify gender specific roles for men and women in creation, marriage and the church to establish any underlying biblical principles of headship and submission. Second, the shape of these Christian principles will then be considered within the context of first century Judaism. The patriarchy of Judaism meant that all spiritual leaders, including the synagogue “chazzan” (service leader) were always a male. The absence of specific New Testament instruction overturning the patriarchal norms of Judaism is not insignificant. Third, the 1978 Anglican Prayer Book’s understanding of church’s liturgy and public worship will be considered to determine whether the role of a service leader is primarily that of maintaining order or teaching and authority. Finally, in light of these observations the church’s position will be articulated while acknowledging that many Christians may still deem these things disputable matters.

This paper will endeavor to promote a biblically informed complementarian view of the sexes that neither becomes hierarchical in theology nor egalitarian in practice. The equality of both man and woman in terms of nature, ability and glory will be upheld, while striving to celebrate the male and female distinctives that are revealed in God’s Word. It is worth remembering that God will one day judge whether the church has conducted itself rightly in both dividing Gods word correctly and more importantly, as men and women living together in a way that commends the gospel.

Creation, Genesis & Gender Specific Roles

1.a Adam & Eve in Creation

Gen.1:26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals,[a] and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

27 So God created mankind in his own image,

    in the image of God he created them;

    male and female he created them.

Gen.2:15 The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. 16 And the LORD God commanded the man “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.”

18 The LORD God said, “It is not good for man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him. (Gen.2:15-18)

The general consensus of Christians who hold a complementarian view of the sexes is that both the equality and distinction of men and women are found in the Genesis narrative prior to the fall. The equality of the sexes is clearly seen in Genesis 1:26-27. Man and woman are both made in the image and likeness of God. The dignity of bearing the Imago Dei (image of God in man) is not reserved to man alone, but to woman as well. Trinitarian theology often asserts that man and woman bear the image of God in their relationship together. The implication is that neither man nor woman bears the image of God in their isolation. But in their togetherness, man and woman reflect both the individuality of God’s persons and the Oneness of His being. The true value of this corporate approach to the Imago Dei is that it creates an interdependence between man and woman, where neither can overlook the intrinsic value of the other. It is together they bear the corporate image of God, both in marriage and in the church. 

However, to push this corporate approach to the Imago Dei too far can lead to a diminished view of male and female personhood. It must be kept in mind that in the Christian faith God is worshipped unity in Trinity and Trinity in unity.[1] Therefore it is important to acknowledge that while the Father is not the Son and the Son is not the Holy Spirit, each person is fully God. The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are to be worshiped and adored in person and not just in Trinity, neither confounding the persons nor dividing the substance. Although a Trinitarian approach to the imago Dei upholds the equality and interdependence of men and women, it can at this point undermine the true independent value of male and female personhood in isolation. Scripture teaches that male and female personhood has intrinsic value in its reflection of God’s personhood (1Cor.11:3). It is therefore important that we continue to preach that redeemed persons, male and female, also bear the imago Dei in person irrespective of their marital status.

This intrinsic value of male and female persons begins to be articulated in Genesis 2. God says, “it is not good for man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” (Gen.2:18). The phrase “suitable for him” is literally “like an opposite him”. These words are the basis for what is called complementarian theology. Men have distinctives and women have distinctives that are to be celebrated because together these distinctives complement one another. The distinctives either make us more effective in the purposes of God or more capable to reflect His full glory. This is an important biblical truth that upholds both the distinctives and interdependence of the sexes. Man is different to woman in a complementary way and woman is different to man in a complementary way. But how so?

Man is created first from the dust of the earth. The word “head” as in headship carries the idea of first, source or origin. Adam, apart from Eve and prior to Eve, is instructed by God “you are free to eat from any tree in the graden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die (Gen.2:16-17). Although, it is implied Adam carries the weight of responsibility to pass on this instuction of God’s Word to Eve who is created after this word is given. If Adam truly loves Eve and ares for her spiritually he must pass on God’s Word for the consequences of disobedience are dire. Sadly, Eve’s lack of clarity on God command suggests Adam could have done better (see Gen.3:3, note differences). Adam is also told that he must work and take care of the Garden of Eden (Gen.2:15). Eve is not given this instruction personally. So as part of the human race Adam must lead Eve and even win Eve’s help and support in working and taking care of the Garden of Eden. Consequently, Adam is seen as having some sort of responsibility in God’s world, that is only secondarily related to Eve through Adam.

The phrase “it is not good for man to be alone” (Gen.2:18) is often read in such a way that man’s personhood is presented as being intrinsically deficient without woman. It is often suggested that man needs woman for completion and by inference perhaps woman needs man for completion. But we must be careful how we articulate the purpose of the distinctives and complementarity of the sexes. If we take: “it is not good for man to be alone” as a statement that woman ontologically completes man it begins to suggest that God did not ontologically complete man in Himself. Hence, God has to create woman apart from Himself to complete man. Woman then becomes part of the goal or telos of every man in order to find ontological completion in women. Now such a reading may helpfully elevate the status of woman in complementarian thought, but it is repugnant to wider Scripture.

God alone is the beginning and the end of every man and woman (Rev.1:17). God alone satisfies His people (Ps.145:16; 90:14). Paul can say in the New Testament; “it is good for people to stay unmarried as I am.” (1Cor.7:8) Objection must be made to any theology that makes man and woman’s complementarity an ontological thought, either in creation or in redemption. Further, while God identifies some sort of deficiency in man being alone, Adam seems to be blissfully unaware of this deficiency in his personhood or happiness. In the presence of God and in a world free from sin, Adam was fulfilled in every sense of the word irrespective of his marital status. The same is true in heaven. In heaven we will neither marry or be given in marriage (Matt.22:30). Yet, without marriage men and women will find their ontological completion in God. For this reason, it is important that Christians recognize that our differences as men and women are not primarily about self-completion or fulfillment in marriage. Rather the complementarity of the sexes serves some other purpose for the glory of God.

It is more right to read; “it is not good for man to be alone” as a statement of God’s economic purpose, rather than as an ontological statement. God always had the ability to complete Adam’s personhood, irrespective of Eve. However, we know that Gods economic purpose was that man and women would be fruitful, that from their procreation a Messiah would one day come to save His people and that ultimately that man and womans relationship together would point to the Saviours relationship with his church. We know from the New Testament that the mystery of marriage was that it was meant to mirror the gospel of Christ’s love for the church (Eph.5:31-32). This means Adam needed Eve if he was to fulfill God’s purposes in the economy of salvation. The ultimate good that God intended in giving Eve to Adam was that together they would reveal to the world (and to their children), both mans strong sacrificial loving service as a type of Christ and woman’s willingness to accept such loving leadership in God’s kingdom. The New Testament suggests that in Christ this economic purpose for men and women is not only expressed in marriage (Eph.5:31-32), but extends into the wider conduct of men and women in the church (1Tim.2:12-13; 1Cor.11:1-12).

If the words “it is not good for man to be alone” is a divine pronouncement that man alone cannot fulfill God’s economic and christological purpose, we are free to consider how man and woman’s differences may fulfil this economic purpose in contexts other than marriage. God has a good purpose for man as man, irrespective of a wife (Gen.2:15) and God also has a good purpose for woman as woman, irrespective of a husband (Gen.2:18). If Gods good purpose for making complementary sexes is redeemed in Christ, how does this redeemed economic purpose find expression in God’s kingdom when some Christians remain single and do not marry. The fact that God’s purpose for man and woman together is economic and not ontological means that it is not necessarily confined to a certain state of being whether marriage or the corporate gathering of the church. Rather, Gods economic purpose for the sexes should be upheld wherever Jesus is acknowledged as Saviour and Lord.

God says he will make a “helper” suitable for Adam. The general meaning of helper (Heb. – ezer) is one who provides help or assistance to the initiative of another. Modern scholarship often rejects this meaning by focusing on the fact that the word helper is frequently used of God in the Old Testament (ezer – Deut.33:29; Ps.54:4; Isa.50:7). The argument is then made that ezer cannot mean helping the initiative of another because God Himself is always the initiator of all action. Therefore, any inference that helper means to follow the lead or initiative of another, must be incorrect. Although this argument is persuasive it fails to see that God is always called a helper within His covenant relationship with His people. While it is true that God is the initiator of calling Abraham, saving His people from Egypt and establishing the covenant, God then calls for the response of faith and obedience. As God’s people then take proactive steps of faith and obedience, God helps His people. God responds as a helper when His people take the initaitve to put his Word into practice. The Old Testament makes it clear that God helps those who take refuge in Him or dwell with Him (Ps.37:40; Ps.39:12; Deut.33:29).

This demonstrates that when God is spoken of as helper it is often responsive to the logically prior actions of man seeking refuge, crying out or taking steps to live obediently under the covenant. God responds in a helping way only to those who live in covenant relationship with Him. Hosea makes it clear that God does not help those who are against Him (Hos.13:9). Consequently, it is still right to recognize that the word helper carries the idea of assisting a work, rather than initiating a work. Eve’s description as “helper” is to follow the logically prior initiative of Adam to work and take care of the land. Adam has the responsibility to fulfill this covenant obligation before God and as Adam takes the initiative to do so Eve is to help him fulfill this covenant obligation.

Despite God’s good purpose Adam and Eve’s disobedience brought negative consequences for both their corporate togetherness and their individual personhood. As God metes out his judgment both man and woman discover that they are going to find it hard not only to relate together, but also to fulfill that which is unique to their individual personhoods. Adam is now going to find it hard to work the land and take care of it as it produces thorns (Gen.2:15; 3:17-19). Pastorally, this intrinsic difficulty in the work entrusted to Adam now makes him reluctant to take the initiative in fulfilling God’s purpose. Fallen man is a reluctant leader who regularly abdicates his responsibility and selfishly chooses apathy to avoid this pain. Adam also finds it hard because Eve no longer trusts him. Instead of helping Adam she now desires to master and control Adam, as will be explained.

Similarly, Eve discovers that she is going to find it hard helping Adam to be fruitful for she will find pain in child-rearing and labor (Gen.3:16). This inherent difficulty means woman who is meant to be a helper of man now desires to master him (Gen.2:18; 3:16). The words in Genesis 3:16 “your desire will be for your husband” is not a neutral or loving desire. The same word “desire” is used in Genesis 4:7 to describe the sin that desires to master and control Cain. Cain is told “sin is crouching at your door: it desires to have you, but you must rule over it” (Gen.4:7). As sin desires to master Cain, so Eve desires to master Adam. But Eve must control her desire to master her husband and endeavour to remain his helper if she is to fulfill God’s purpose. Pastorally, it is helpful to observe that Eve’s desire to master her husband understandably comes from a lack of trust and fear. Adam can’t be trusted to lead well. Further, the words “he will rule over you” (Gen.3:16) now carry a negative tone. The fall perverts Adam’s leadership from strong Christ-like loving service, to selfish domineering rule of his wife. In the absence of Christ-like leadership woman is then tempted wither 1) to control the man or 2) to help the man by assuming the leadership role. This willingness to help fill the leadership void, while perhaps being well-meaning becomes counterproductive as man further abdicates his responsibility believing he now has no intrinsic value as a man.


1.b Observations on Adam & Eve in Creation

First, it is right to see the divine seeds of male headship and female submission in the Garden of Eden prior to the fall. Second, men having a headship role and women having a helping role is not constrained ontologically or solely to the corporate nature of marriage. This purpose may be fulfilled in the context of marriage. But equally, God’s purpose may be fulfilled in other corporate relationships where men and women reflect that which is intrinsically good in their complementary personhood. Third, the fall frustrates that which is unique to male and female personhood in such a way that a reversal of our persons complementarity is often the unexpected by-product.

Raymond C. Ortlund Jr is right when he speaks of the man-woman relationship revealed in the Garden of Eden in the following way.

In the partnership of two spiritually equal human beings, man and woman, the man bears the primary responsibility to lead the partnership in a God-glorifying direction. [2]


1.c Man & Woman in Marriage

Eph.5:22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. 

Col.3:18 Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. 19 Husbands love your wives and do not be harsh with them.

In the New Testament man’s role as head and woman’s role as helper continues to be upheld in various contexts including marriage and church life. This does not mean they are the only contexts in which headship and submission apply. But insofar as Christian marriage and church life recognize the authority of God’s word, they are two specific contexts where headship and submission should apply. This paper will first explore the context of marriage.

According to the apostle Paul the husband is to exercise headship towards his wife, as Christ exercised headship towards the church. Likewise, wives are to respond to their husband’s submissively and respectfully as the church responds to Christ (Eph.5:22-24; 33). Evangelical scholars generally agree that these principles of headship and submission are clearly taught in Scripture. However, it is equally true that the application of these principles is somewhat less clear. What does headship or submission look like in practice? It is in this area of application that most difficulties arise, including the difficulty of whether a wife could potentially lead a church service where her husband is present without usurping his headship? Or whether a woman should lead a mixed Bible study group where capable men are present?

What is evident in Ephesians 5 is that headship does not abdicate responsibility in the face of difficulty. Instead, headship continues to lovingly embrace man’s God-given responsibilities even in the midst of suffering, as Christ did for the church. Although husbands may find it hard or be reluctant to fulfill the role of working and taking care of the land, they should still sacrificially “feed and care for” their wives (Eph.5:29). Now whether this “feeding and caring” is focused on sacrificial physical provision or has wholly moved to sacrificial spiritual provision is not the primary question of this paper. The language of “feeding and caring” has strong echoes of both Genesis 2:18 and Genesis 3:17-19. We know that abdicating the responsibility of physical provision is not something that should be done lightly (1Tim.5:8). However, one cannot dismiss the fact that Christ’s example has now added a new theological richness to man’s headship and provision. Man is to “feed and care” for his wife as Christ does the church (Eph.3:29). Paul states that this includes the washing with water through the word in order to present the wife holy and blameless (Eph.3:26). Man’s responsibility towards woman is now not only physical provision with a view to life in this world, but spiritual provision with a view to a holy and blameless verdict before Christ on the last day.

The sacrificial nature of Christ’s headship has brought a new understanding to the nature of man’s particular responsibilities. Christ’s example makes clear that true headship expressed salvifically will always be costly. Pastorally this means true headship will always be accepted somewhat reluctantly even by godly husbands. Sin and the problem of dying to self will cause men to balk at the sacrifice. But Christ has also upped the ante in terms of man feeding and caring for his wife. The new focus on holiness, washing with the word and with an eye to the eschatological last day means the weight of responsibility is now much greater than simply putting food on the table and a roof over the head. This weight of responsibility gives husbands a great incentive to abdicate what Christ is calling them to do. This must be considered in all husband-wife decisions. In the practcial workings of marriage is the husband abdicating his responsibilities under the pretense of accepting help from his wife or is the wife truly helping him live out his God-given, costly and somewhat daunting responsibilities?

Meanwhile, a wife is to submit to her husband, as the church submits to Christ. First, this means the wife is to respect the God-given, costly and heavy responsibility entrusted to the husband to lead in the marriage. Pastorally, we should assure wives that as their husbands learn to lead in the marriage it will bring the most glory to God and be most satisfying to them. Thus, it is a loving thing to encourage a husband to use his special distinctives to lead.  Pastorally we must also affirm that a loving Christ-like husband will give his wife many opportunities to help him fulfill godly tasks for this too will be a God-glorifying and loving thing to do. The wife will bring glory to God and be satisfied in herself in filling the role of helper. 

Just as Christ empowers the church with His Spirit and invites the church to participate in his work, so a husband should be empowering his wife to help him in every possible way. Naturally, this must always be done in light of God’s Word and being very careful that the supposed empowering of the wife to help is not a personal abdication of the sacrifice or responsibility given to the man to provide, feed and care for his bride. Wives must also be very careful not to step into the void of a husband’s reluctant leadership for it is infinitely easier to assume quasi-leadership and make decisions when the weight of responsibility does not ultimately rest with you.


1.d. Observations of Man & Woman in Marriage

Paul’s teaching in Ephesians 5 about headship and submission in marriage clearly express principles that are hard to clarify in day-to-day application. In the redemption of Christ, the husband still has the responsibility to feed and care for his wife. But Christ has added greater insight into the shape, the sacrificial cost and the significant responsibility of headship. The key things observed are: 1) the husband is to lead his wife as Christ leads the church; 2) this will be costly; 3) it will involve washing through the word; and 4) it will lead in all things towards holiness. In Christian marriage, the husband appears to be free to lead and the wife appears free to help in so far as that leading and helping does not fundamentally involve man’s abdication of his Christ-like sacrifice or leadership. However, within this freedom, it is worth noting that the sacrificial cost and significant responsibility of Christian headship will mean husbands are prone to be reluctant leaders. Whereas, the God-given nature of wives to provide help and assistance without bearing the full responsibility of Christ-like headship means they may find it easier to assume leadership than they should.


1.e Man & Woman in the Christian Church 

1Cor.14:33 As in all the churches of the saints, 34 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. 35 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.

1Tim.2:8 Therefore I want the men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing.I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, 10 but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.

1Tim.2:11 A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve. 

Tit.1:5 This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you— 6 if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. 7 For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach.

There are several passages in the New Testament that make it clear that women’s participation in the local church is limited in a way that man’s participation is not. In 1 Timothy 2:11-12 this limitation is expressed as women being prohibited from teaching or assuming authority over men in the church. Now as this thought is unpacked it is worth keeping in mind that Paul views the church as the gathering of the saints and not simply the Sunday church service. Paul is clear that he is giving his instructions, including that which pertains to men and women, so that people will know how to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God (1Tim.3:14). The language of household tells us that Paul does not just have in mind the formal gathering of God’s people on Sunday. Rather, he expects headship and submission to be modeled throughout the Christian community including what may have taken place in agape meals, Wednesday and Friday gatherings[3], and general life together. 

In 1 Corinthians 14, where women are encouraged to refrain from authoritative teaching in the churches, the instruction seems to be primarily focussed on the formal church gathering. Paul addresses prayer, prophesying and the presence of unbelievers. He also talks about the whole church coming together (1Cor.14:23). But it is still unlikely that the protocol for larger Christian gatherings would change in smaller Christian gatherings. Thus, in the modern church context much of this teaching would naturally extend to larger Christian conferences, seminars and also smaller home bible studies or prayer meetings.

Second, in 1 Timothy 2 it is right to view Paul’s commands, not just as a limitation to wives teaching or assuming authority over their husbands, but more generally to women teaching or assuming authority over men. The reason this general application is to be preferred is that in the immediately preceding verses, Paul talks generally about men and women’s conduct in the church (1Tim.2:8-10). Paul wants “men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands” and “women to dress modestly with decency and propriety”. No one would say that these instructions only apply to husbands and wives. Single men must also pray and single women must also dress modestly. So it is preferable to see Paul’s restriction of women teaching or assuming authority over a man in the following verses to be inclusive of all women over men, and not just wives over husbands. However, this does not mean all men can teach or assume authority in the church body. Paul subsequently explains that teaching and exercising of authority in the church body should be reserved only to godly and suitably gifted men (1Tim.3:1-7).

Returning to the point at hand Paul tells us in 1 Timothy 2:11-12, a woman is not permitted to teach or assume authority over a man in the gathering of God’s people. The reason Paul gives is that Adam was formed first, then Eve and it was not Adam who was deceived but Eve (1Tim.2:13-14). Although, such speech causes many people consternation, Paul directs his readers to God’s intended order in creation, and God’s re-established order after the fall. The basis for church order is still based in God’s economic purposes for man and woman in creation. The headship role in feeding and caring for the church body is reserved to suitably qualified men who handle God’s Word well. Paul does not prohibit women from teaching or assuming authority because man is ontologically superior or more capable. It is simply that in redemption there remains an order between man and woman that was revealed in creation and redeemed in Christ that should be preserved in the life of the church. In the church the prescribed order of men and women in some sense speaks to headship and submission even within the Trinity (1Cor.11:3). 

In order to circumvent Paul’s prohibition of women teaching men and to make it more palatable to modern sensibilities scholars often focus on the peculiarity of the words “assume authority” (1 Tim, 2:8; auqentein; hapax-legomenon). This word is only used once in all of Scripture. In extra-biblical sources it also often carries a negative connotation. So certain scholars then suggest that Paul is saying women shouldn’t assume domineering or abusive authority over men. It is then argued that Paul is not making a general prohibition of women teaching, but a prohibition of unsuitably qualified women teaching or assuming domineering authority. 

However, there is nothing in the context of 1 Timothy 2 to suggest Paul is forbidding women from assuming negative forms of “authority”. Although, this is the only use of the word “authentein” in Scripture, the wider first century context, suggests that this word could be used positively or negatively.[4] Grudem[5] and Kostenberger[6] have both undertaken extensive studies with varying conclusions as to the relationship between authentein (authority) and the more common word exousia (also authority). The consensus seems to be that exousia is not always used positvely and authentein is not always used negatively. Further, given the close connection between “teaching” and “assuming authority” in 1 Timothy 2 we must conclude that in Paul’s thinking both are either positive in form or negative in form. If Paul is speaking of negative authority, then he must also be speaking of negative teaching. But “teaching” is viewed positively throughout 1 Timothy, except where it is clearly specified as coming from deceiving spirits and hypocritical liars (1Tim.4:1-3). Without a negative modifier it is best then to see Pauls’ prohibition of women teaching and assuming authority in general terms. The logic of Paul’s subsequent argument about Adam and Eve also fails if we assume authentein implies negative authority. Why appeal to Adam being created first? Why not simply appeal to Jezebel or perhaps Miriam as examples of poor female leadership (1Kngs 16:31; Num.12.1-10). Paul’s logic runs counter to the argument of women exercising negative authority. So while it remains difficult to explain why Paul chose the word authentein instead of exousia, the immediate context, suggests that it is still best to read authentein as a general synonym for exousia. 

In the New Testament teaching and authority (exousia) are regularly placed together in a positive light with regard to Jesus teaching with authority (Mk.1:22), Titus teaching with all authority (Tit.2:15) and the disciples receiving authority to make disciples by teaching people to obey everything that Jesus commanded (Matt.28:19). So given that teaching and authority are generally held together in the building of the church, it is perhaps best to see that in 1 Timothy 2:8 it is this very positive teaching and authority that Paul precludes women from exercising over men. It does not just apply to wives or to unsuitably qualified women. It applies to women discipling men. But it does not seem to apply women discipling other women. Older women are encouraged to teach younger women (Tit.2:3-4). 

Various objections are raised to this being a general prohibition. In the context of 1 Timothy 2-3 some scholars have noted that Paul’s exclusion clause most clearly precludes a woman from holding the position of an overseer. This is perhaps correct because an overseer/presbyter must be able to teach (1Tim.3:2) and they bear the authority/responsibility to manage God’s church (1Tim.3:5). But Paul’s restriction to women from teaching and assuming authority is not just ecclesial. It is functional and economic. Whether a woman holds the title of overseer or not, the limitation is from teaching and assuming authority over men in God’s household.

Other scholars endeavor to sidestep Paul’s prohibition by separating teaching and having authority. They suggest that a woman may teach mixed congregations, so long as they don’t teach with authority. That is, they teach under the authority of a male Presbyter or Bishop. The argument is then made that a woman may teach mixed congregations, if oversight of the congregation, is retained by a man. But what the two infinitives in 1 Timothy 2:12 prohibit is the action of teaching and the action of assuming authority, over men, whether official or otherwise. The idea that teaching and authority may be separated in a biblically coherent manner is yet to be demonstrated. Jesus taught as one who had authority (Matt.7:29; Mk.1:22; Lk.4:32). Similarly, Titus is exhorted to teach with all authority (Tit.2:15) and Timothy is told to command and teach these things (1Tim.4:11). So it is perhaps best to see this specific combination of teaching and assuming authority as two-sides of the one coin necessary for making disciples. Jesus conferred “authority” on the apostles to make disciples “by teaching” people to obey everything he had commanded them. 

In the Great Commission Jesus says, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Matt.28:18-20). The Great Commission reveals that Jesus is the one in authority over everything for the establishment and building of the church. But as supreme head over the church, Jesus confers authority on certain people to make disciples by teaching them to obey everything he commanded. If Paul is appealing to this general connection between teaching, authority and the making of disciples his restriction in 1 Timothy 2 may be equal to a command for women not to assume positions where they are discipling men. If this is correct women should not be overseers, but neither should they assume any positions of authority over men where they are teaching men with a view to discipling them.

In 1 Corinthians 14, Paul makes it clear that there is scope for women to prophesy and pray in a mixed-congregation, if they retain a head-covering. The head covering clearly marks them as being under the authority of their husbands and/or fathers. This makes it clear that complete silence or non-participation by women in the church body is not Pauls’ intention. It appears that Paul is trying to retain the same sort of headship and submission principle in the Corinthian church that he is articulating to Timothy in the Ephesian church. But the specific nuances attached to the headcovering and how it may apply in the modern context remains difficult.

In 1 Corinthians 11-14 Paul seems keen to maximize the woman’s involvement in the church in terms of prayer and prophesying (1Cor.11:2-16), so long as she doesn’t assume the man’s responsibility of headship in the process (1Cor.14:34-38). The question as to why prophesying or praying in church is deemed non-teaching or non-authoritative participation is also hard to qualify. Praying is perhaps of a different category, being primarily addressed to God, rather than man. Prophesy, however, is directed towards the church for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort (1Cor.14:3). This sounds very similar to teaching God’s word with a view to making disciples. But again, Paul’s position may be more nuanced, for he talks about the prophets weighing carefully what one another prophesies accepting only what is true (1Cor.14:29; 1Thess.5:19-22). So perhaps it is the non-authoritative and tested nature of prophesy that places it in a different category to the authoritative speaking/teaching that is clearly prohibited (1Tim.2:8; 1 Cor.14:33).


1.f Observations of Man & Woman in the Christian Church

Paul clearly limits woman’s involvement in the church congregation in the areas of teaching and exercising authority, possibly with a view to restricting women from assuming mentoring roles over men. Biblically this prohibition must be taken into account when we consider whether women should lead church services and/or mixed Bible study groups Although, the instruction naturally precludes a woman from being an overseer of a church, the plain reading would also prevent a woman from giving occasional sermons and specific biblical teaching in a seminar or even a mixed small group. However, non-authoritative participation in church in prayer and prophecy seems to be permitted and encouraged. Second, the command for silence or quietness of women in the church body is not an absolute command. It is a command that relates primarily to authoritative teaching. It is a command that is endeavoring to preserve the principle of headship and submission within the church, without becoming overly prescriptive. The scope for women to pray, prophesy and contribute verbally to church life is something that Paul seems to encourage while endeavoring to clearly preserve male headship (1Cor.11:3) 

2.a The Historical Context of the Jewish Synagogue

Patriarchy is generally portrayed as an entirely negative construct of human culture. But it is worth noting that Peter and Paul appeal to Old Testament texts to support male headship in the New Covenant community (1Pet.3:4-6; 1 Tim.2:9-10; 1Cor.14;36). For this reason, it is perhaps best to see patriarchy not as a human construct, but as a divinely revealed, yet incomplete truth about men and women relations in the Kingdom of God. As the Aaronic high priest was the shadow of Christ, so patriarchy was the pale shadow to complementarian theology. In this frame of shadow and fulfilment it is worth considering Jewish male-female relations without automatically assuming the negative connotations that are now latent in the term patriarchy.

Until the C20th orthodox Judaism has always preserved a male spiritual responsibility in the temple and synagogue based on their patriarchal view of the world. The theology and practice of patriarchy differs somewhat among Orthodox Jews, like it does among complementarian Christians. But Jews generally find the basis for patriarchy in creation and the early chapters of Genesis. The word patriarchy comes from patri meaning father and arch’ meaning beginning or ruler. Given that Adam was created first and was given the responsibility to both name Eve and to instruct Eve concerning the tree of life – patriarchy found Scriptural basis.

The priority of the father was then also reinforced by the patrilineal genealogies in Genesis and the patriarchal narratives of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. In the stories of the patriarchs God called the husbands to spiritually lead their wives and children both in covenant faithfulness and towards the Promised Land. The passages in Genesis that Christians might simply read as descriptive, Orthodox Jews tended to read as prescriptive. The fact that A) the Torah was subsequently delivered through Moses and B) the Levitical priesthood was confined to men – the belief that men exercised a leadership responsibility in the home and the community was firmly established. The great Shema of Deuteronomy 6 to “Hear O Israel and be careful to obey” was understood to be a male responsibility within the community (Deut.6:4-5). God said that Torah was to be preserved by the father passing it on to his son, who would pass it on to the grandson (Deut.6:2). Consequently, Jewish patriarchy was not just about headship, but was theologically linked to the hearing and preservation of Torah in Jewish life and conduct.

The belief that the preservation of Torah was a male responsibility in Judaism was retained and upheld in the synagogue. However, in the consideration of Jewish synagogue life, three caveats must be kept in mind. First, the origin and exact practice of the Jewish synagogue is hard to establish in Israel’s history. Second, there is no clear prescription in the Torah for local synagogue gatherings. Third, the Jewish oral law which reveals much about synagogue practice was not finally redacted in the Mishnah until well after the destruction of the Temple in 70AD. For these reasons study of patriarchal leadership in the synagogue must retain a descriptive, rather than prescriptive authority in any conclusions drawn for the church. Yet, many of the descriptions found in the Mishnah do seem to find prescriptive support in Old Testament biblical texts.

The prevailing consensus is that local synagogue gatherings began during the Babylonian exile when the first temple was destroyed. Then, upon return to the land of Israel and even after completion of the second temple, Jewish people continued to meet in local synagogue services each Sabbath for public worship (Lk.4:16; Lk.8:49; Acts 15:21). They would only go to the temple in Jerusalem for the high holidays or when sacrifice was needed for ceremonial uncleaness. The book of Acts reveals that the early Christian church often began in Jewish synagogue services. Whenever Paul evangelized a new city his first preaching platform was usually the synagogue. In Corinth Paul first met in the synagogue and for some time used it to preach Jesus from the Jewish Scriptures (Acts 18:1-4). Subsequently, when Paul moved the Corinthian church into Titius Justus’ house the synagogue ruler and his family were present as converted Jews (Acts 18:7-8). 

It is reasonable to believe that without clear apostolic teaching to the contrary the model for the public gathering of the church would have most likely remained similar to the synagogue service albeit with Christianized elements like baptism, the Lord’s prayer and Lord’s Supper. The biblical book of James is addressed to what is essentially a Christianized synagogue. James writes; “My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your synagogue wearing a gold ring…” (Jam.2:1-2). In this passage James describes the Christian gathering as a synagogue. The word used is a noun. It is not describing the activity of Christians gathering or assembling. Instead, it shows the local place of gathering was still known as a synagogue. For such reasons, consideration of the established norms of a first century synagogue service may be informative of early church practice.

The Bible tells us the synagogue service included readings from the Law and the prophets (Acts 13:15). These readings from the Law and the prophets then provided the basis for the sermons that were preached (Acts 15:21; Lk.4:17). The synagogue was governed by a plurality of synagogue “leaders” who somehow determined the suitability of Paul and Barnabas to preach in the service (Acts 13:15). Yet, within the plurality of elders, there was a lead elder or teacher. Jairus is identified in Luke’s gospel as the synagogue ruler (Lk.8:41). The Greek word is arcisunagwghn; the prefix – arch’ suggesting that he was first or ruler among the synagogue elders. The Hebrew equivalent appears to be “nasi” which means prince or president of the synagogue. The synagogue was governed by a lead elder among a pluarlity of elders. Another significant role in the synagogue that perhaps comes closest in function to a modern-day church service leader is the attendant (Gk; upereth – Lk.4:20; Lk.1:2; Heb. chazzan). The attendant was the one who gave Jesus the Isaiah scroll and was responsible for keeping the service running in an orderly way. The final observation revealed in the New Testament is that women were present in the Sabbath synagogue service. In Luke’s gospel Jesus heals a woman who was present in the synagogue on the Sabbath and she responded by praising God in the midst of the service (Lk.13:10, 13). The synagogue ruler is not indignant about her verbal contribution, but is indignant that Jesus healed her on the Sabbath.

Apart from these observations from the Bible, the Mishnah Megillah reveals that the quorum necessary for forming a synagogue was 10 adult males.[7] Given the patriarchy of Judaism the teaching/leading roles of the President (nasi), the attendant (hazzan) and the elders were all reserved for males. Women were present and involved in the synagogue service in prayers and responses. But there was an ongoing concern to uphold the husbands/mans responsibility to preserve Torah in the synagogue community. This is most clearly seen in the Rabbinic Mishnah debates that surrounded whether a woman could or should participate in the public reading of Scripture.

The baraita in Mishnah Megillah 23a states that;  “Everyone can be counted towards the seven [who are called to the Torah on Shabbat], even a child and even a woman, but the Sages said, a woman should not read in the Torah because of the dignity of the congregation (kevod ha-tsibbur).”[8] The standard practice in the synagogue was to have seven readings from the Law and the Prophets to fulfil the covenant obligation that lay upon the Jewish community to always retain God’s Word in their midst (Deut.6:1-7). Rabbi’s Aryeh Frimer and Dov Frimer explain that this covenant obligation lay on the men in the keri’hat ha-Torah and had three main elements. This included 1) a minyan (10 men) is available for a communal Torah reading each Sabbath; 2) such a Torah reading does take place via the appropriate number of readers; and 3) at least ten men are listening attentively to the readings.[9] The point of issue in Megillah 23a was that while the women could meet with the men and help the men fulfil their covenant obligation of retaining the Torah in the community the obligation remained on the men to read the Scriptures. The rabbi’s believed women were capable and could theoretically assist with the reading of the Torah on a voluntary basis. But the concern of the Rabbi’s was that a woman who repeatedly took this voluntary mitsva upon her self, may transform its voluntary status into one that is akin to a compulsory obligation. Not that the women would bear this inherent obligation before God, but because of repeated use would become an assumed obligation on women within the Jewish community.[10] So Megillah 23a upheld a woman’s ability to read the Torah in the synagogue but stated they shouldn’t read in order to retain the responsibility for Torah observance upon the men in the Jewish community.

Within the Old Testament and Mishnaic understanding of the C1st Jewish synagogue the role of the attendant (upereth // hazzan) is perhaps the closest equivalent to a modern-day church service leader. The Jewish encyclopedia, drawing from various mishnaic texts, outlines the role of the hazzan in the following way;

In the Talmud the term “ḥazzan” is used to denote the “overseer”… (4) of the synagogue (“ḥazzan bet ha-keneset“; see Soṭah vii. 7, 8; Suk. iv. 4); he brought out the rolls of the Torah, opened them at the appointed readings for the week, and put them away again (Soṭah vii. 7-8; Yer. Soṭah vii. 21d; Yer. Meg. iv. 15b, 75b); with trumpet-blasts he announced the beginnings of Sabbaths and holy days from the roof of the synagogue (Tosef., Suk. iv.); he attended to the lamps of the synagogue (Yer. Ma’as. Sh. 56a); he accompanied the pilgrims that brought the firstlings to the sanctuary of Jerusalem (Tosef., Bik. ii. 101). His place was in the middle of the synagogue, on the wooden “bimah” (Yer. Suk. v. 55b), and, according to Tosef., Meg. iii., beginning (see Mordecai ad loc.), he might, at the desire of the congregation, read aloud from the Torah, his ordinary duties then devolving temporarily upon another…. A passage in the Jerusalem Talmud (Ber. ix. 12d, beginning), which Kohut considers to have been interpolated after Midr. Teh. to Ps. xix., seems to indicate that the ḥazzan also led the prayers in the synagogue.[11]

Now given the Mishnah’s description it is apparent that the role of hazzan was more than a service leader or conductor of liturgy. The modern Anglican equivalent of the hazzan’s role is somewhere between that of a verger and a service leader. But nonetheless, the hazzan did call God’s people to gather, guided the Bible readings, gave the shema blessing and directed the public prayer. Given that this role was seen as an essential part of Torah observance in the synagogue community it was reserved for a man. In Hebrew the word hazzan derives from hazzanu, which means to oversee, direct or govern. In Greek, it is translated upereth, which generally means to serve or to assist. In the New Testament this word is usually used in a spiritual way whether it be teaching, leading or judging. John Mark may have filled the role of the hazzan in an official capacity when Paul and Barnabas preached in the synagogue of Salamis, where he is called the upereth (Acts 13:5). It is also used to describe Paul as a witness for Christ (Acts 26:16) and a servant of Christ (1Cor.4:1). But the word is also used in the Bible to refer more generally to many different types of assistants around the temple (Mt.5:25; Mk.14:54; Acts 5:22). However, in orthodox Judasim the hazzan was an official role in the synagogue and because of its association with Torah observance was reserved for men. The first women to be appointed as hazzan or cantors or service leaders in a Jewish synagogue were Julie Rosewald in San Francisco in 1884 and subsequently Betty Robbins in New York in 1955.


2.a Observations from Jewish Synagogue and its Influence on Church Conduct

There is little doubt that the first century synagogue had significant influence in shaping the life of the church. Old Testament patriarchy was strongly embedded in the life and worship of Judaism and the first converts to Christianity. Paul and Peter would have first understood the male and female distinctions from a patriarchal perspective, before their Christology began to inform a more complementarian perspective (1Tim.2:11-15; 1Pet.3:5-6). Paul’s demand in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 that order between men and women be preserved in the church, is then followed by the rhetorical question; “did the word of God originate with you?” (1Cor.14:36). Paul may be appealing to his apostolic credentials as a basis for his limitations on women speaking in the churches. But given Paul just spoke about the authority of the law in the previous verses it is perhaps best to see it as an appeal to the Jewish origins of Christianity. Christianity has it origins in Judaism where clear male-female order is revealed in the Torah. Paul may well be appealing to Christian order in the church of Corinth, because of it’s origins in Jewish patriarchy, albeit modified towards complementarianism by the person of Christ (1Cor.11:3).

Further, the Mishnah’s debate about women reading the Torah in the synagogue shows that even in orthodox Jewish circles the debate was not about the ability of women, but the responsibility of men. The woman was functionally able to read the Torah as well as a man. The question was whether she should read the Torah in synagogue given the responsibility placed upon men in the community of faith? The language contained in Megillah 23A is far more affirming and complementarian for women than the stereotypes often attributed to patriarchal Judaism. This is not to say that patriarchy was not abused or used at times to suppress or subjugate women. But in its best forms Jewish patriarchy acknowledged that fathers (husbands/men) had a special spiritual responsibility in the Jewish community to preserve God’s Word, and that responsibility should not be imposed upon women.

It is also worth noting that there is relatively little in the New Testament scriptures pulling the church away from the patriarchy of the Old Testament or the established order in the synagogue. Paul stresses the interdependence of the sexes (1Cor.11:11-12) and Peter stresses the equal status of men and women as co-heirs with Christ (1Pet.3:7). It seems that the equality and complementarity of men and women find greater clarity in the New Testament. But in 1 Corinthians and 1 Peter equality is stressed in the midst of ongoing instructions for male-female order both in marriage and the church. The spiritual responsibility of men to preserve God’s word in the community of faith witnessed in Judaism seems to remain the preserve of man in the New Testament community of Christ.

3.a Anglican Liturgy and Service Leading as Doctrinal Edification

The main question to be addressed under this heading is whether the leading of a church service in the Anglican tradition involves spiritual washing with the word, or is purely that of a master of ceremonies. Without wanting to cause Thomas Cranmer grief by the very nature of the question, it is perhaps best to observe the language of the preface to the Prayer Book.

Tthe preface to the Prayer Book acknowledges that while language alters and the needs of ministry vary, “any change must be governed by the recognition that fundamental doctrines shall not be disturbed.” (p.7) This appeal to the doctrinal and exhortatory nature of leading a church service is not limited to the 39 Articles. The communication of doctrine is recognized as being inherent in the leading of God’s people in worship. “Public worship must also express the fact that the Church is the body of Christ, requiring in its members participation, responsibility and commitment to the gospel it proclaims and by which it professes to live.” (p.8) 

The hope of the Australian Anglican church was that in producing a new prayer book, it may be “a teaching and devotional manual in contemporary language.” (p.13) 

The richness of Anglican liturgy is that not only did it uphold a pattern for constant engagement with Scripture, it also taught people how to engage with God in repentance, faith, listening to the word, confession, prayer and holy communion. The service itself is seen to serve a teaching and discipling role. The role of leading church services in the Anglican tradition has always been more than a master of ceremonies. Whether, modern day church services still provide doctrinal instruction and teaching in less formal ways is not the question in hand. The point is that within the Anglican tradition the ordering of a church service should include elements of doctrinal instruction, authoritative calls for God’s people to repent of sin, an eschatology of coming judgment, a right understanding of the elements in the Lords Supper and a multitude of other things necessary for maturing the disciples of Christ.

For such reasons it is perhaps unwise to denigrate the role of a church leader to simply that of directing traffic. No doubt, that may be the case in some church circles. But in historic Anglicanism service leading was originally preserved to those who were male presbyters or deacons because it was deemed doctrinal and authoritative by nature. The first order of service for the making of deaconesses was produced in 1898. Then, in Lambeth 1920, the conference determined that deaconesses were ordained servants of the church, who were thereafter permitted with the approval of the Bishop and incumbent to lead Morning and Evening prayer.

Subsequently women were ordained in the C20th & C21st to lead services, to preach, to become presbyters and even bishops in the Anglican Church. Yet, those who hold a complementarian view of the Scriptures usually endeavor to set limits for women somewhere along this continuum from lay-person to bishop. The basis of this delineation is usually related to how one understands the teaching and authority prohibition of 1 Timothy 2. Is the woman teaching authoritatively, or is she still under the authority of a male head, whether that is a presbyter, a bishop or an archbishop? But if Paul’s instruction to women about not teaching and assuming authority over men (1 Tim.2:8) applies more functionally to women assuming the role of disciple-maker over men then the leading of an Anglican Church service must fall into this category. The prayer book clearly teaches many doctrines and it applies all sorts of Scriptures authoritatively calling the mixed congregation to repentance and faith.


4.a Observations and Conclusions

The creation accounts in Genesis give us the basis for a complementarian theology that both celebrates the equality of man and woman, yet also recognizes their distinct personhood before God. Man is created to accept responsibility for God’s mandates. Woman is made as a helper suitable for man, but not the same as man. The complementarity of the sexes is most clearly evidenced in marriage in the Garden of Eden and it retains a Christological focus in the seed promised to Eve (Gen.3:15). But to make the complementarity of the sexes unique to marriage raises serious ontological and soteriological questions. The definition of Raymond C Ortlund Jr is helpful when he defines complementarity in terms that are not confined to marriage;

In the partnership of two spiritually equal human beings, man and woman, the man bears the primary responsibility to lead the partnership in a God-glorifying direction.

This leadership responsibility placed upon man appears in the Genesis accounts to be in physical provision and the sustaining of life as he works the land and takes care of it (Gen.2:15; 3:17-19). However, in later Jewish patriarchal thinking this primary responsibility for man to provide and sustain life in the religious community became more word centric. In the Great Shema and that which follows God promised to provide physically (Deut.6:10-11) and to sustain life (Deut.6:24-25), if the men accepted the responsibility to preserve Torah in the Jewish community (Deut.6:2-5). This word-centric focus became the primary patriarchal responsibility in Jewish synagogue and life.

In the coming of Jesus Christ, the patriarchal word centric focus of Judaism remained the Christian responsibility of husbands in family units and men generally in church units. In marriage the husband’s responsibility remained the washing of his spouse with the word (Eph.5:26), and the man’s responsibility in the church remained the authoritative teaching of the word (1Tim.2:12; 3:2; 1 Cor.14:34-35). However, the shadow of Old Covenant patriarchy found new light and led to a more complementarian understanding in Christ. The message of Christianity shifted from Exodus to gospel; the standard for holiness was no longer Torah, but Christology; and the nature of headship was revealed more clearly to be sacrificial, not dictatorial. 

The full revelation of the Trinity in the coming of Christ also raised the bar of male and female equality. As the Father, Son and Holy Spirit were revealed to be equal persons in the Trinity, so men and women were revealed to be fully equal in the church. However, this equality in capacity or dignity did not lead to a more egalitarian approach to church life or male-female responsibility. Although, women’s capacity to help was seen with greater clarity and perhaps more fully encouraged (Rom.16:1-2; Acts 21:9; 1Cor.11:2-8), the apostles continued to find a place for a word-centric male responsibility in both marriage and the church (1Cor.14:34-35; 1 Tim.2:12; Eph.5:26, 1 Pet.3:7). This word-centric male responsibility in the church was expressed as a prohibition of women teaching in the household of God (1Tim.2:12) or speaking  authoritatively in the church (1Cor.14:34). But it is also not unreasonable to conclude that these instructions were generally discouraging women from assuming discipling responsibilities over men (Matt.28:19). Unfortunately, Paul’s use of authentein rather than exousia in 1 Timothy 2 perhaps prevents us from unilaterally reaching this conclusion.

Third, the fact that Jewish practice in the synagogue was profoundly patriarchal in shape leads naturally to the early church continuing in established practice. In the New Covenant, Christology provided a more complementarian view of women. But the overwhelming silence among the apostles when it comes to disparaging patriarchy or established synagogue practice is perhaps telling. If anything, the overwhelming thrust of Paul’s teaching about church structure and conduct, seems to be slight changes to synagogue practice, rather than displacement of synagogue practice altogether (1Cor.14:36).

The debate among the Rabbi’s surrounding the Megillah 23A and whether a woman could read the Torah in synagogue is perhaps a very close parallel to whether a woman should lead a service in the modern church. In a woman’s ability to lead a church service as well as a man, a complementarian would answer an unequivocal yes. In their responsibility as a helper of men to retain a word-centric, Christological focus in the church, a complementarian would answer, yes. But if women regularly fill this role, would it change that which is a voluntary help in the Christian community, into that which is gradually seen as a necessary and expected responsibility of women in the Christian community?

Finally, given man’s natural and selfish reluctance to lead because of the sacrificial nature of headship and the huge weight of responsibility, does a woman regularly leading church cultivate what is likely to become a reversal of personal roles? Given that somewhere in the Christian community a distinction must be made between leading and helping where is that distinction best made? The very language of “leading” a church service exacerbates this problem.

However, while the apostles forbade women from teaching mixed congregations or holding the role of overseer, the Bible does remain silent on whether they should lead services. We know women could read the Bible in synagogue and we know women could prophesy and pray in the early church with a headcovering. It is also a reasonable conclusion that women held the office of deaconesses (Rom.16:1). This makes it hard to unreservedly come down against women leading church services. But given the historic background of the synagogue and the discipleship shape of teaching with authority (1Tim.2:8; Matt.28:19-20), it is hard to unreservedly come down in favor of women leading church services either.

In many ways the historic Anglican liturgy is more akin to a sermon than a Bible reading. It is teaching Christian doctrine and calling people to respond in repentance and faith. While the Bible readings verbally publish the word of God and prayers respond to the Word of God, the liturgy and the sermon verbally apply the word of God. Whether service leading still fills this function in a modern contemporary service or not, the Anglican tradition in which we stand suggests it should. If the restriction on women from teaching with authority in the church is general and not simply precluding the role of preaching, leading a church service that is full of doctrine should perhaps be included under this restriction.

5.a South Sydney Anglican Church’s established Practice

The basic teaching of Scripture is that in the Christian church men are to continue exercising a leadership role that is particularly focused on applying God’s word and making disciples through the authoritative calling for repentance and faith. What’s more, given man’s reluctance to accept this sacrificial responsibility in the church or in the home, our church is committed to encouraging men and modeling men clearly standing in such leadership roles (even if they find it hard). For these reasons, this paper concludes that where suitable godly men are present in the church, women should abstain from preaching, leading church services or Bible studies in contexts where suitable godly men are present, on the grounds that these activities includes an authoritative teaching element.

However, given that women hold equal ability and dignity to men in the area of teaching with authority, we are determined to train and equip women to this end. The Bible is clear that older women should teach and disiciple younger women. This is an important part of healthy church life. So we are committed to recognizing and training godly women to teach with authority, so that they may call people to repentance and faith in the appropriate contexts. We are also committed to including women in the life, worship and administration of our church in every way possible, that does not contradict the Bible’s instruction about women teaching or having authority over men. This must include opportunity for women to lead worship, read the Bible, pray and prophesy in non-authoritative ways in the church on Sundays.

Each year, the Anglican Church also elects a Church Council at its annual general meeting that helps the pastor govern the local church. Given that the Church Council’s role is primarily administrative and not the teaching of God’s Word it is open to all mature, godly men and women. Women can hold both the role of a church warden or church councillor who help the pastor make significant decisions in the life of the church. In so far as we can – South Sydney Anglican Church is committed to demonstrating the wonderful complementarity of men and women both in marriage and church life, that honors both without confounding our persons.

6.a The Weak and the Strong in Disputable Matters

In Romans 14 Paul speaks specifically to the weak and the strong in the church of Rome about what are deemed disputable matters. The particular issues of contention most probably relate to the Jewish law regarding clean and unclean food (Rom.14:2-3) and the observance of special holy days (Rom.14:5-6). It seems that genuine Christians in Rome had differing views about the application of these Old Testament principles. The weak thought they should in some sense still be observed and the strong were confident that they could be discarded. Paul himself is fully convinced that food laws and ceremonial days amount to nothing under Christ. But he nonetheless outlines two important principles for when Christians disagree (Rom.14:14-15). First, he acknowledges the importance of being true to conscience before God (Rom.14:14, 22-23). Second, he acknowledges that no Christian should cause their brother or sister to stumble by expecting them to do or participate in something that they cannot support in full faith (Rom.14:15, 20-21).

Although, women preaching/teaching a mixed congregation is best regarded as a direct violation of Scripture (1Tim.2:8; 1Cor.14:34), a woman leading a church service or even a Bible study group is probably more akin to a disputable matter (Rom.14:1). In this regard it is conceivable that a complementarian Christian may be fully convinced in their mind that a woman acting as a service leader or Bible study leader is a good and right thing before God. But it is also conceivable that a complementarian Christian may be fully convinced in their mind that a woman acting as a church service leader or Bible study leader is a violation of the broader principles in 1 Timothy 2:8. So given a genuine desire not to cause any brother or sister to stumble we have adopted what is a more conservative position in our church practice. We understand that this position may cause problems for some people’s conscience believing that we are constraining women too much. If this is the case there are many other good biblical churches in Sydney that draw the complementarian structures in different places that may be more suitable to some people’s convictions. But at present the leadership of South Sydney Anglican Church has determined that they would like suitably qualified men to preach in Sunday services, lead the service and oversee the teaching in mixed Bible study groups.


Abridged Bibliography

1) John Piper & Wayne Grudem (eds).; Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood., Crossway Books, Illinois, 2006.

2) George W Knight III, The Pastoral Epistles, NIGTC; Eerdmans, Paternoster Press, 1992.

3) Wayne Grudem, Evangelical Feminism and Biblical Truth; Multnomah Publishers, Colorado Springs, 2004.

4) Al Wolters, “The Meaning of Authetew”; in “Women in the Church”; ed Kostenberger & Schreiner, Crossway, Wheaton, 2016.

5) Rabbi Aryeh Frimer and Dov Frimer, Tradition, “Women, Keri’at Torah and Aliyot,” A Journal of Orthodox Jewish Thought, 80. (



[1] The Creed of St Athanasius.

[2] Raymond C. Ortlund, Jr “Male-Female Equality and Male Headship” in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Ed. John Piper & Wayne Grudem, Crossway Books, Illinois, 2006; 95.

[3] Didache, 8.1. The Jews used to gather on fast days and it is possible that the early Christian church did as well, but on different days.

[4] George W Knight III, The Pastoral Epistles, NIGTC; Eerdmans, Paternoster Press, 1992; 141.

[5] Grudem, Wayne. Evangelical Feminism and Biblical Truth, Multnomah Publishers, Colorado Springs, 2004.

[6] Al Wolters, “The Meaning of Authetew”; in “Women in the Church”; ed Kostenberger & Schreiner, Crossway, Wheaton, 2016.

[7] Mishnah Megillah iv. 3): “They do not [1] ‘divide’ over the Shema’ [Hear, O Israel], [2] nor pass before the Ark, [3] nor lift their hands, [4] nor read from the Law, [5] nor conclude with the Prophets, [6] nor arrange the standing and sitting, [7] nor say the benedictions of the mourners or the consolation of the mourners, [8] nor the benedictions of the bridegrooms, [9] nor use God’s name in preparing for grace after meals, with less than ten.”

[8] Mishnah Megillah 23a; cf Talmud Tosefta, 3.5

[9] Rabbi Aryeh Frimer and Dov Frimer, Tradition, “Women, Keri’at Torah and Aliyot,” A Journal of Orthodox Jewish Thought, 80.

[10] Frimer and Frimer, 71.


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