Good Monday, and thank you for listening to the Ask Pastor John podcast. Well, male and female roles in the local church are clearly defined in the Bible. We believe those roles are clearly defined in the Bible. But do these roles hold outside the church, and particularly in a parachurch ministry structure? Increasingly, parachurch organizations are saying no. But that’s the open question for you today, Pastor John, who joins us remotely over Zoom.
The question is from a man inside a parachurch right now. “Pastor John, hello. I work for a global parachurch organization which is well-known. Recently our leadership decided that all positions of leadership within the organization will be opened to women. This includes campus leadership, regional leadership, and national leadership. Women will be permitted to teach men from the Scripture, to be in positions of spiritual authority over men, to shape and correct doctrine within the organization, and to mentor men in their ministry roles. Previously, these positions of spiritual authority over men were reserved for men alone. The reason given for this change is that a parachurch organization is not the church. Therefore the commands addressed to churches about the role of men and women in relationship to one another do not apply in this case. How do you see it?”
Well, that’s sad to hear to me, but it’s not surprising and it’s not new. The position that the teachings of the Bible concerning sexuality have no bearing on human relationships outside the church or the home is naive. Actually, to call it naive is perhaps too gentle because it could also be called culturally compromised. In other words, the pressures of our culture to view maleness and femaleness as having no built-in, natural, God-ordained differences that would shape our different relationships and responsibilities, those pressures — those cultural, societal pressures — are so great that many Christians today surrender to them rather than looking like fools in the eyes of the world.
The world today is in a free fall of denial that nature teaches us anything about what maleness and femaleness are for. And that denial used to be — back when I was in the early days of fighting these battles — that male and female personhood teaches us nothing about what God intended our roles to be. But now the denial is that our bodies, not just our persons, teach us nothing about what life should be as male or female. You can cut off breasts; you can cut off the penis; you can cut out the uterus; you can replace estrogen with testosterone; you can grow facial hair on a female cheek.
“The world today is in a free fall of denial that nature teaches us anything about what maleness and femaleness are for.”
So at the root of the rejection that nature teaches us that men and women should relate in certain ways is the absolute refusal in our culture, by and large, to allow our individual freedom to be limited in any way by an authority outside our desires. Whether tradition or God or Bible or nature or instinct or society, we will not let anything infringe upon our autonomy and the sovereignty of our desires. So if God designs women to be women and men to be men, both in their bodies and in every cell of their bodies, and if his designs are written on their hearts, these God-given designs must be absolutely rejected because they infringe so obviously upon the autonomy of my sovereign self.
So at the root of the rejection that nature teaches us that men and women should relate in certain ways and not other ways is the old reality of Romans 8:7–8: “The mind that is set on the flesh” — that is the natural, fallen human mind — “is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law” — whether that law is in the Bible or written on the heart — “indeed, it cannot [submit]. Those who are in the flesh” — that is, who are merely human, apart from regeneration and the work of the Holy Spirit — “cannot please God.” Or 1 Corinthians 2:14: “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly” — they are foolishness — “to him,” which is why the person who holds my understanding today would be regarded as foolish.
Headed for a Fall
The culture as a whole is in a free fall of denial. Nobody in this free fall has on a parachute. It’s all going to end tragically, the evidences of which are all around us. They make you want to weep when you see what’s happening to young people, what’s happening to relationships, the kind of remorse and regret and carnage that is being unleashed on our culture as a penalty for the free fall denial of God and his ways.
And the gravitational pull of this free fall is in almost every movie, every online drama, every advertisement, every newscast, so that a person who stands up and draws attention to God’s word or the teaching of nature and questions the wisdom of undifferentiated sex roles will not only be thought a fool, but also unjust and, very likely, soft on abuse, even though all the while the sex-leveling egalitarian impulses wreak havoc at every level of our culture, mocking and distorting the very kind of strength and responsibility and leadership that we so need from men.
All of that to say, the argument that the biblical teachings on manhood and womanhood don’t have any bearing on roles outside the home and church is both naive and culturally compromised.
God and Nature Teach
Let me offer two reasons for thinking this way. One is that when the apostle Paul gave his instructions that only spiritually qualified men should teach and exercise authority in the church, his argument was not based on culture or on family or church or structures — ecclesiastical structures or any others. It was based on two things: (1) the order of man and woman in creation and (2) the dynamics between man and woman in the fall.
He said, “I do not permit a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.” And here comes the argument: “For Adam was formed first, then Eve.” That’s argument number one. And two, “Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor” (1 Timothy 2:12–14).
So Paul saw in the Genesis account of God’s word that built into creation from the beginning, before the fall, was a peculiar responsibility of men to bear the burden of leadership and care. And he saw in the way Adam was present and silent as Satan drew Eve into deceit that the abandonment of this leadership — in that case, Adam’s passivity and silence — bears very bad fruit. So the fact that Paul gave instructions for how this original design relates to the church in no way implies that it is limited to the church or the home. That was one application of many.
And you can see this again in 1 Corinthians 11, where Paul is helping the church preserve the dynamics of manhood and womanhood. He says at one point, “Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair it is a disgrace for him?” (1 Corinthians 11:14). Now, what I take that to mean is this: “Has not God put in man, by nature, the impulse that to take on culturally feminine symbols is disgraceful?” And we should agree with him. Nature teaches that it is disgraceful. The Bible teaches and nature teaches.
We might say today, “Does not nature teach you that for a man to wear a dress and stockings and high heels and lipstick is a disgrace?” Yes, it is. And nature teaches that. It is written on the heart. Millions are suppressing this truth of nature, but it is there. It is inescapable.
With regard to men and women in parachurch organizations, I think Paul would say, “I have taught, Moses has taught, nature teaches that it goes against man’s and woman’s truest, God-given nature to place a woman in a role of regular, direct, personal leadership over men.”
Now if you wonder, “Well, what do you mean, Piper, by ‘regular, direct, personal’?” then since this is a short podcast, I have to refer you to my little booklet What’s the Difference?. You don’t have to buy it. You can download it for free. And on page 58 and following, I define “regular, direct, personal” so that it will, I hope, make sense.
These are days of great shifting in people’s convictions and alignments on this issue of how men and women should relate to each other. So I pray for our brother who sent us this question, and I pray for myself and all of us, that God would guide us into truth and give us the courage to stand for it.