Roles of men and women

In a society that stresses equality between men and women, why do most confessional Lutherans and other conservative churches choose to limit leadership and authority roles in congregations to men?


We do believe and teach that men and women enjoy equal status and importance before God. Both men and women were created in the perfect holiness of the image of God (Genesis 1:27). Although that was lost in the fall into sin when as both men and women we became equally sinful before God (Romans 3:23), yet in Christ's life, death, and resurrection for us God has restored to us our position as his justified and holy children (Romans 3:24). As far as our status and importance before him as dearly loved children and heirs of heaven, whether we are female or male makes absolutely no difference (Galatians 3:26-29).

However, Scripture is also clear that while we are equal in status and importance before him, God has not made us duplicates or clones of each other in how we carry out our various God-given callings. Already in the perfection of the Garden of Eden he assigned unique callings or roles to the man and the woman when God made her to be helper suitable for the man and created her right from the man (Genesis 2:18ff). God gave to the man the unique calling of being a loving head and to his wife the unique calling of being a loving helper to him. In the New Testament, the inspired Apostle Paul assures us that these unique callings were indeed found already in the perfection of Eden when he writes, "Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God" (1 Corinthians 11:3). Later Paul reminds us that what we read in Genesis 2 is indeed where this was established when he says, "For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman but woman for man" (1 Corinthians 11:8-9).

While man's headship is intended by God to be lived out in loving servant humility like Christ for us (Ephesians 5:25), yet headship also includes the God-given authority to lead (Hebrews 13:17). That is why one part of the unique calling of helper is to respect and yield (submit) to that leadership (Ephesians 5:22). 

In the church, one of the places that those charged with leadership in our congregations exercise such authority is in the voters' assembly. There those charged with setting the direction of the congregation set that path in the debate and voting that takes place. Just as Paul reminds us that teaching the Word with authority is an expression of the headship principle (1 Timothy 2:12), so also it is an exercise of authority when the governing bodies of our congregations set the direction for that congregation.

Of course, wise heads know that God has given them helpers for a reason. The wisdom and insights, the questions and concerns of everyone in the congregation, men and women, are important. Especially when a woman may have no husband in her home, it is very important that the congregation look for ways to gain her input.

Does WELS stand out as different among other Lutheran church bodies in so honoring the principle of head and helper? Yes. But does that mean we are closed minded and old fashioned, or does that mean others have been more affected by the culture around them than they may know? The question is never what the culture demands, but what the Scriptures teach.

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