Should women teach? Only if we don't tell anyone!

Take a cursory glance at the subject of complementarianism and you would be excused for making the assumption that it represents a single set of beliefs regarding the role of men and women in the church.

Begin a dialogue with church leaders who claim to hold to this theology, however, and you will see that behind the united front there are a myriad of views on offer.

Here is the problem as I see it:

Most of the key teachers on the subject (Gruden et al) speak of the bible prohibiting women in three main areas: senior church leadership, teaching ministry, and government within the home.

For sure Grudem's supplementary explanations hold less and less water the further you probe*, but at a surface level the teaching is firm: women cannot be elders/pastors/ministers, they cannot teach the main body of the church, and they cannot usurp the 'natural' order of male leadership in the home.

Judging from the dialogue I have had with leaders in local churches the situation is not quite so well defined.

Most of these local church leaders talk of the limitation to women as only being in the area of eldership.

Teaching, evangelism, small group leadership, youth work, it seems are all open to both sexes.

Given that the complementarian position is primarily a theological one it seems somewhat disingenuous of local church leaders to pay lip service to such teaching by maintaining male elderships, whilst in practice 'using' women to fulfil much of the churches ministry on the ground.

I have repeatedly tried to put this point to leaders (male) only for it to be dismissed as not important because, in their view at least, women have enough freedom within which to fulfil their destiny.

So here is the problem:

When pressed on why they hold to the limitation of women the call is always made to scripture.

When pressed, however, about how women might fulfil their gifts/calling we are offered examples of how women are released in the local church: in essence saying that there is no cause for concern.

Now correct me if I am wrong but is this not an example of male leaders wanting to have their ecclesiological cake and eating it.

On the one hand the theological position is that women should not lead or teach but at a local level they can do so given the right set of circumstances.

And what are those circumstances:

1. We don't call her an elder

2. She only teaches young people, kids, women, or the unchurched (apparently evangelists and missionaries can be female).

Or (I suspect this is probably the truth in most cases)

3. Nobody in head office gets to hear about it.

Either way the situation seems untenable and plain wrong at so many levels.

If you are going to say that women should not teach then don't pretend that the bible somehow means it is ok if she is speaking to kids or if she is on the mission field.

If you are saying that women should not lead then don't fudge the issue by saying that she can lead when it is convenient for the church to do so but not otherwise.

If, however, you are going to view these scriptures as having some contextual meaning (which in practice you obviously do) don't condemn us egalitarians for daring see a wider more liberating context for all of God's children.

My concern is that church leaders find such things too inconvenient to consider at the moment so they give a theological nod to the theology whilst adopting a more pragmatic approach on the the ground.

My hope is that the continued presentation of an egalitarian position will eventually make the issue impossible to ignore.

* Wayne Grudem agrees that it is ok for women to write books but he prefers to see that as having a chat over coffee rather than teaching.