1. Grace extends to this area too. A Christian will not be lost if he or she in good conscience violates God’s will regarding women. Such a Christian will be wrong, will have sinned – and will be forgiven. Nowhere does the Bible say that God will not forgive or will apply a stricter standard in this area.
2. The biases we discussed earlier, being the biases that we all have, are particularly strong in this area. The relationship of men and women is very, very strongly influenced by culture, and it is very hard to avoid reading popular culture into our interpretation of the Bible.
I remember reading an article first published in the Gospel Advocate in the early part of this century written during the Women’s Suffrage Movement. The author was convinced that it would be sin for a woman to vote, because submissive women should not be allowed to decide things that may affect men. He then pointed out that a submissive wife would have to vote as her husband voted, and therefore giving the women the vote would only double the votes received by each candidate, but could never change the outcome!
When was the last time you heard a sermon against women voting? Or instructing women to vote as their husbands vote? Has the Bible changed — or our culture?
Similarly, when I was a child the Bible taught that women must wear hats in church. Now it no longer does. Did the Bible change — or did we? Did we change due to closer Bible study, or due to a change in popular fashions? If our reading of the Bible in the 1950’s was influenced by the latest fashions from Paris, why should we suppose that we are now immune from such influences?
3. However, the scriptures are true without regard to culture, and the truths in them can be ascertained. Our difficulty is often not the vagueness of the scriptures, but the fact that we often try to find answers to problems that are not really problems. If we read the Bible looking for the limit on what women can do, we have assumed that there is such a limit! If we read the Bible looking for the rules on how to conduct a Sunday morning assembly, how to handle church funds, or what institutions a church may support, we have assumed that there are such rules.
Do I deny that such rules exist? The answer is that I have no opinion at all — until I read the scriptures. The life of a Christian presents enough problems without us inventing new ones of our own. Let’s please be careful not to assume that there are rules and then go looking for them. The rules that matter are indeed discussed in the Bible, and they are discussed plainly enough. If we can’t find a clear answer to the doctrinal problem, maybe — just maybe — there isn’t a problem.
4. Whatever the Bible teaches about the role of women is a part of the gospel — and not an exception to the gospel. If what we believe about women contradicts the gospel, our beliefs about women are wrong. We should find that the Bible’s teachings on women are a natural, spiritual consequence of God’s good gift of grace and the gospel.
5. Whatever the Bible teaches about the role of women is a natural consequence of the perfect law of love. We must be able to derive our conclusions about women from “Love thy neighbor” (Matt. 29:39-40; Rom. 13:9-10; Gal. 5:13-14; James 2:8). It is not enough to claim that our conclusions are consistent with “Love thy neighbor,” rather they must derive from the command to love. Jesus says that the Law and the Prophets “hang” from the command to love. Paul says that nothing else matters (Gal. 5:6). We cannot add to the Bible.
6. Whatever the Bible teaches about the role of women is a natural consequence of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is mentioned hundreds of times in the New Testament. Paul, especially, repeatedly refers to the Spirit as the basis on many of his teachings. The Bible’s doctrine of women cannot contradict the doctrine of the Spirit.