For the majority of my Christian life, I was built up in the faith and nourished within conservative Pentecostal and Wesleyan-influenced churches. Within those circles, there were a number of topics that were constantly discussed, almost to the point of obsession (such as spiritual warfare, end time signs, dreams/visions, modesty, etc.). As I began to embrace Reformed theology and began to have more contact with the wider evangelical world, I noticed immediately that those aforementioned topics were hardly ever brought up.
Nowadays, the topic of discussion has invariably focused on biblical manhood and womanhood. When my wife goes on social media, she informs me of the proliferation of “mom blogs”, which seem to spend almost all of their time focusing on the “pink passages”. Along with these blogs are a large collection of books on “gospel-centered motherhood” or “serving God as a single woman”. At times, it has given the impression that Christian women can only really openly discuss the safe topics of biblical womanhood, such as childrearing, submission, or serving God in the home.
From the male perspective, I’ve been introduced to a number of books on biblical manhood in which a Christian father is called to be a prophet, priest, and a king in his home. At various times, this has given me the impression that godliness for a Christian man is very different than godliness for a Christian woman. It has also given the impression that men need to fulfill these roles because women, in general, are delicate, frail, weak-minded, and are prone to deception. After hearing all of these discussions (which can be inconsistent or contradictory to each other), my wife and I asked ourselves the question: Is biblical womanhood and manhood meant to be this difficult? Are we making this a more complex topic than is biblically warranted?
The Marks of Godliness
First, it should be stated that many of the marks of godliness that are geared towards women are also geared towards men elsewhere in Scripture. For example, women are encouraged to adorn themselves with a gentle and humble spirit (cf. 1 Peter 3:3-6), but aren’t these qualities simply the fruit of the Spirit for all believers (cf. Galatians 5:22-23)? Furthermore, Christian women are called to be reverent in behavior, sensible, and pure (cf. Titus 2:3-5). However, the same instruction is given to men within the same passage (cf. Titus 2:2,6-8). On the male side, men are encouraged to be sound in faith and in doctrine, yet Paul says throughout the epistles that believers (men and women) should encourage one another, admonish one another, and teach one another (cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:14, Colossians 3:16). In other words, the mark of biblical manhood and womanhood is simply this: godliness.
Biblical Roles and Culture
Second, I wonder how much of biblical manhood/womanhood is mixed with traditional American values. For example, many of the popular works on biblical womanhood place the identity of Christian women primarily (or solely) in the home. This is perhaps the strangest idea that has been attached to biblical womanhood because it is largely inconsistent with the history of women in the church and very culturally specific. It has also led to a number of speculative questions regarding biblical womanhood in the workplace (such as should a woman hold a position of civic authority). Within the New Testament church, there are numerous examples of women (such as Lydia, Dorcas, and Anna) who are described as doing significantly more than homemaking. I believe that Rachel Miller has said it best:
“But just as men are more than their careers, women are more than their familial responsibilities. We are believers and fellow heirs. We may well be called to serve God in additional ways. Taking care of our families can include discipling others as part of the family of God.”
In this sense, I think there’s an inconsistency on how women and men are treated in this area. Christian men are routinely warned of the danger of finding their identity in their careers, and are exhorted to treat their other callings in life (such as their role as husbands, fathers, and church members) as worthy of their attention. However, the overemphasis of the familial responsibilities for women has given the impression that women are defined primarily based on what on what they do. In other words, Christian men are admonished not to be workaholics in their careers (outside the home), but Christian women are generally encouraged to devote their energy and talents solely in the home. This raises some honest questions: Are women useful outside the home? Are women useful after the season of childrearing is over? Are women actually needed in the functioning and edification of the church (beyond nursery and potluck meals)?
Moreover, historical research has shown that women largely worked outside the home throughout Western history. The reality is that many Christian women work outside of the home not because of the appeal of feminism, but because it is necessary. For the male side, the duties associated with biblical manhood seem to have many similarities with stereotypical American chauvinism where men are characterized as quiet, aloof, and dominant. This may explain why there are few sermons at conferences geared for Christian men on developing gentleness and meekness or addressing gossip among men.
The Need for Older Saints
From my background, the question of biblical manhood and womanhood was rarely discussed because we were raised with “church mothers” and “church fathers”. These older saints knew their role within the church, and they functioned as the gatekeepers of the local church (under the authority of the pastor). They were the individuals who modeled the standard for godliness. Whereas the pastor’s role was primarily teaching and preaching, it was the “church fathers” who gave young men like me clear guidance regarding godly maturity. These men taught me how to be temperate, dignified, and sensible. My wife, like many young Christian women, learned how to be godly through the example of “church mothers”. These older women modeled Christian conduct by exuding self-control (particular with their speech) and through their encouragement and exhortations. They also taught young women how to be teachable, how to be useful within the local church, how to be humble without being passive, and how to be confident without being prideful. For us, biblical womanhood and manhood wasn’t a topic of endless speculation, but it was a modeling of Christian character as demonstrated by older godly saints. It has been my impression that older men and women within broader evangelical churches do not necessarily view themselves in the same light.
Let’s not complicate a matter that is taught in a straightforward manner in Scripture. It is sinful to blur the distinctions that God has made between men and women as if gender/sex is fluid. However, it is also sinful to bind the consciences of men and women based upon extrabiblical hedges and cultural preferences. The pursuit of biblical manhood and womanhood is a pursuit for godliness.