Christianity Is Not a Boys’ Club (or is it?) by Karen Yates

As Christians called to ‘go and make disciples of all nations’ we are presented with the continuing dilemma of how to share the hope of Jesus Christ in a post-modern culture proven skeptical, resistant, and largely repulsed by modern Christianity.

Recently, I was chatting with a girlfriend when she mentioned John Piper’s statement that “Christianity has a masculine feel.” We talked at length about the ramifications such a statement can have on a woman’s perception of the Church and those of us that call ourselves Christ-followers.

Is Christianity a boys’ club? And if I ask that question, does it make me a feminist?

Piper, speaking at a conference themed “God, Manhood, and Ministry—Building Men for the Body of Christ,” said: “God revealed Himself in the Bible pervasively as king not queen; father not mother. The second person of the Trinity is revealed as the eternal Son not daughter; the Father and the Son create man and woman in His image and give them the name man, the name of the male.

He continued, “God appoints all the priests in the Old Testament to be men; the Son of God came into the world to be a man; He chose 12 men to be His apostles; the apostles appointed that the overseers of the Church be men; and when it came to marriage they taught that the husband should be the head.”

When I say masculine Christianity or masculine ministry or Christianity with a masculine feel, here’s what I mean: Theology and church and mission are marked by an overarching godly male leadership in the spirit of Christ with an ethos of tenderhearted strength, contrite courage, risk-taking decisiveness, and readiness to sacrifice for the sake of leading and protecting and providing for the community. All of which is possible only through the death and resurrection of Jesus.”

And finally, he concludes: “It’s the feel of a great, majestic God who is by His redeeming work in Christ inclining men to humble Christ-exalting initiatives and inclining women to come alongside those men with joyful support, intelligent helpfulness, and fruitful partnership in the work.”

We women know we live in a man’s world. But I’m stunned by the suggestion that I’m worshipping in a man’s Church.

As women, we fight not to be seen as equals, (because no human being is equal in gifts or intelligence or physicality or spirituality), but to be allowed to shine in our uniqueness under God and bring Him glory with our lives. We fight to do this in our professions, our circles of influence, our families, and even, sadly, within our Church. But when the Bride of Christ is labeled as leaning toward masculinity, I ask, “How can a woman then, feel a welcome part of the Church body?”

We know that God created both man and woman in his image. (Genesis 1:27) This means that God Himself is comprised of both masculine and feminine characteristics, and nowhere does it say one is more predominant than the other.

We also know that when Jesus was alive, women were regarded as less than men. The culture of that time meant women shared husbands with maidservants and other wives and women existed for the procreation of the bloodline. Women were required to cover themselves and forbidden to speak publicly and refused education. If Jesus would have come to earth as a woman, nobody would have listened to Him. He needed to be a man in order to speak in the temple courts, to receive a Jewish education, training as a Rabbi, and to share the love of God with a male-dominated, patriarchal culture.

The 12 apostles too were also men, not because Jesus had a preference for men, or because He wanted to build His masculine Church, but because in that society, 12 men could be ‘sent out’ as messengers. Yet if you look at Jesus’ followers, which included the apostles and His disciples, meaning “one who follows a person’s moral teachings” or “student,” we see many women loyal to Jesus who carried forth the early Gospel. Mary Magdalene (who is assigned the task of informing the apostles of the resurrected Christ), Mary the mother of Jesus, Mary Salome, Mary of Bethany, her sister Martha, Miriamne, Arsinoe, Suzanna, Priscilla, Tabitha, Lydia, Phoebe, Julie, Nympha, and Joanna. And the ‘apostle’ Junias, present in jail with Paul, referenced in Romans 16:7, is believed to be one of the founders of the first Christian Church in Rome.

As for “inclining women to come alongside those men with joyful support, intelligent helpfulness, and fruitful partnership in the work,” I gladly come alongside my husband with joyful support because I love him. I love because Christ loves me, and His love enables me to love more sacrificially by ‘laying down my life for my friend.” I help him because he is my family, my best friend, my confidant, my encourager. I respect him deeply. We are partners in raising our children, ministry, work, finances, and living life. We are inclined to one another out of mutual respect, devotion, and love—wanting the very best for one another and looking for ways to build each other up.

Piper, when making these statements, was speaking to a group of men trying to encourage them to step up in their leadership as men in the church and in their homes. I fully support building up and encouraging men in the Church. As a married woman, homeschooling mother of 3, and Christ follower, I sincerely desire my husband to have leadership in our family. I am grateful for strong Christian men who nurture the faith of men in our Church. I just don’t understand why the building up of men needed to result in slighting the Church’s femininity, tearing one part down so as to raise up the other.

In the book, UnChristian, by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons, we read countless pages of data by the Q commissioned Barna Group study identifying what today’s generation of young people believe about the Church. “A huge chunk of a new generation has concluded they want nothing to do with us [Christians].” (39) Why is that? One reason suggested: “Outsiders think Christianity is out of tune with the real-world choices, challenges, and lifestyles they face.” (122)

When today’s culture has come so far in the inclusion and acceptance of the gifts and influence of women, from a female Secretary of State, to a female CEO of Ebay, to a female author of the most popular series of books in the 21st century, what does it say about our Christianity when we suggest it is slanted toward masculinity? How archaic and out of touch is the Church when I can elect a Congresswoman to represent my political views but I cannot elect a female elder to represent my views in my own church (where I tithe and serve regularly)? Moreover, as it relates to evangelism efforts, why would my female friends in today’s culture want to join the Bride of Christ if it is, in reality, a spiritual Elks Club?

Linda Hartz Rump in her article in Christianity Today, “Is Christianity Oppressive to Women?” remarks that sometimes our Christian heritage must be overcome, not celebrated. She addresses the ways Christian leaders have failed in Church history to adequately acknowledge the equality of the sexes as characterized in Jesus’ teachings. And she’s right.

Labeling Christianity with “a masculine feel” takes us two steps backwards. If we look at the revolutionary life of Jesus, He broke all the cultural rules when it came to his interaction with women (and the poor, and the outcast, and the sinner—the marginalized of His time).
At dinner with the Pharisees, a prostitute wets the feet of Christ with tears of repentance, and He explains: “Her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much” (Luke 7:47). Jesus has a very sweet friendship with two sisters, Mary and Martha, and the Gospels recount multiple visits and interactions between them, uncharacteristic for that day and time. Reclining at the table of a leper, a woman bathes Jesus’ hair with an expensive bottle of perfume. (Mark 14:3) Jesus engages a Samaritan woman at a well, revealing for the first time His identity as the Messiah to a woman who had 5 husbands. There He offers her “water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:14) Women are the first to discover Jesus has risen from the dead, and they race to the apostles and other disciples to share the Good News. (Luke 24:10) These are a few examples of Jesus paving the way and breaking cultural boundaries to include women.

Jesus showed us that Christianity is a welcome place for the “Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free” (Colossians 3:11), “nor is there male and female” (Galatians 3:28). We, the members of His Church, are both men and women, redeemed from our brokenness and “baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink” (1 Corinthians 12:13) The Christian faith embraces the sinner, slave, adulterer, addict, corrupt, and complacent because Jesus “desires mercy, not sacrifice, and He came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matthew 9:13). The Christian Church reaches beyond the Israelites to the Romans to the Egyptians to the Ethiopians to the Chinese and Indians and Americans and the wide expanses of every people group in our world. It is raised high above gender, politics, class, society, culture, and language. Christianity is the great, overarching, all-inclusive abundant life (John 10:10) offered to every living person on this planet through a carpenter named Jesus, who died and resurrected for the sins of all. There is no slant—male or female. Only a huge welcome sign for anyone that chooses to receive the grace He offers.