So why does God have different roles for men and women when it comes to church?
The better question to ask might be, why not?
Once we get past the equality/ability issues, why wouldn’t God have different roles for us? Does everyone in your family have the same role? Why not? If this is so, then why wouldn’t we expect it to be the same way in God’s family, the church?
Why does God have different roles for men and women when it comes to church?
We might as well ask why God made so many different kinds of flowers, trees, or birds. Why did He create us as male and female? That’s just who our Father is and what He does. There are psalms written to celebrate His marvelous creativity (Psalm 104, esp. v. 24).
No one asks why God gave some to be apostles, prophets, evangelists, or shepherds—why not? No one asks why the Spirit gives different gifts to people (1 Peter 4:10; 1 Corinthians 12).
Why did God choose the Levites to minister to the tabernacle/temple and the descendants of Aaron to be priests? Why did He chose Moses to lead Israel rather than Aaron or Miriam (see Numbers 12). Why did the temple have different levels of access to God (court of the Gentiles, women, Israel)?
Whether we understand them or not, God is sovereign in regard to His choices (the word is used over 200 times in Ezekiel as he deals with a rebellious Israel). He is under no obligation to meet our 21st century social and political ideals any more than He was under obligation to them in previous centuries. (We would all like it better if we could domesticate God just a bit more, wouldn’t we?). The only thing He must do is be consistent with His holy character. So whether it is His leadership choices, His choice to make everything in six days, or His choice to involve baptism in salvation—it is a huge mistake to try to superimpose our cultural or personal sensibilities on Him. Our thoughts are not His thoughts. We tend to see things as we are; God sees them as they actually are. God is creative, sovereign, and correct is all His choices.
Having said all of that. when we get to the different roles men and women have in the church, God has given us a couple of reasons why He chose the roles He did for men and women in the church. They have to do with creation and the fall.
Men lead in the capacities mentioned because God created man first (1 Timothy 2:13). Again, we return to the sovereign choice of God. He could have created woman first, or created man and woman at the same time, but He didn’t. He chose to create man first. As men lead in the church and women submit, they join together in bearing witness to God’s man-made-first creation. And when our children ask, “Why do the men lead in these ways and the women don’t? It’s okay to say to that’s what the Bible teaches, but it’s even better if we tell them we are bearing witness to God’s creation of humanity.
In the same text we’re also told that it is God’s will that men lead because it expresses an important truth about the fall: Eve stepped out from Adam’s leadership and was deceived by Satan (1 Timothy 2:14). If you go back to the Genesis account, God had told Adam not to eat the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (2:17). This was before Eve had been made (2:18ff). After she was made, Adam was to lead and protect her in his role as first-created (note the difference between what God says to Eve in v. 16 and what He says to Adam in v. 17 and also how He calls out to Adam, not Eve, in v. 9). By eating the fruit, she not only rejected God but also the leadership of Adam. Paul brings this up as part of the reason why God wants men to lead in the church rather than women.
How are we to understand this? Is God being vindictive against all women because the first woman made a bad decision thousands of years ago? I suppose you could choose to look at it that way if you didn’t know God very well. But if you know Him, you know that’s not the case. Our Father’s choices for us are always made out of love and concern for humanity.
What will help us to understand and appreciate Paul’s point about Eve (and Adam being created first for for that matter) is that they were much more than just a man and a woman—they were the only people that everyone who has ever lived on this planet is connected to. So the story of how it all began—the creation and the fall—is to be pictured by men and women of faith whenever they come together to meet. In this way, it’s very much like the bread and juice we take on the first day of the week—we understand it is much more than bread and juice. They represent the powerful reality of Christ breaking into our world and bearing our sin and brokenness through His body and blood. As we take it, we “proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26). In the same way, the roles of men and women picture more than just the way God’s wants us to do things—they picture foundational realities in regard to our creation and redemption.
We would be wise to learn how to look past our cultural sensibilities and see them that way.