Are women inherently more pious than men? Can a real man find answers to his problems through practicing the religion of the Bible?
I SPENT my childhood in a basically religious community in Canada. Several large churches were within walking distance of my home. Most schools were directed by religious congregations. Even the political mores of the area were shaped by religious teaching and doctrine. Religion was certainly pervasive, a vital aspect of life — especially for women! But men? In general, they gave lip service to the religious teaching that had shaped our lives. They listened dutifully, but it was the women who practiced these principles diligently, tried to live by them and taught them to their children.
The Double Standard
And therein lies the double standard that was one of the causes for my turning off to religion as I grew into adolescence. Although regular church attendance was emphasized as vital and obligatory, I noticed that men rarely attended services except for special events. The pews were filled with women — only here and there a man, often elderly and usually appearing embarrassed and out of place. Why? I remember being told by an elderly neighbor that God had somehow predisposed women to a "special form of piety." Men, she claimed, were more sinful by nature, less sensitive to spiritual matters, far more difficult to convert. Religion, or so it seemed, was mainly for women. Men who went to church a lot, who prayed in times of trial, who attempted to live a good, moral life, were not "real men." Why that double standard in our society? Is religion, in the final analysis, just for women?
Religion Was Once Just for Men
It is significant that many peoples of antiquity viewed religion as mainly for men and not for women! In most of the cults of the pre-Christian era, women were thought of not only as having an inferior status to men but also before the various deities they worshiped. In some circumstances, women were even denied access to the local deity. Virgin sacrifices and temple prostitution were not uncommon. Women for the most part lived secluded lives, untaught, only granted meager rights. In most such societies, religion was for all practical purposes the exclusive domain of men. Women were usually viewed as lacking sensitivity to things spiritual, incapable of understanding deep theological teaching. The type of Judaism practiced at the time of Christ's birth had avoided many of the excesses imposed upon women by the various surrounding pagan cults. But women were nonetheless viewed by many Jews as spiritually, if not intellectually, of a lesser status. Although Jewish women enjoyed freedoms not found in many other societies, education in religious matters was reserved almost exclusively for men.
Christ Taught Men and Women
When Jesus appeared on the scene, he placed new focus on the true meaning of religion. He stressed repentance, conversion and obedience to God for all human beings. Jesus never hinted that men were inherently more religious than women. Nor did he indicate that women are more pious than men a common stereotype of our age. Speaking to mixed groups of men and women, he affirmed with dynamic emphasis: "Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish" (Luke 13:5). The gospel record is clear. Jesus went against the status quo of a society that denied women full access to religious teaching. He spoke openly of spiritual matters to the woman at the well (John 4:7). Of itself, this event takes on no special significance to people of our age. But when you realize that religious teachers in that day did not normally teach women or even speak to women in public, Jesus' action takes on great significance. Even his disciples marveled that he talked with the woman (John 4:27). In a similar instance in the home of two women disciples, Jesus encouraged Mary to listen to his teaching. When Martha complained to Jesus that Mary was not playing the traditional feminine role of preparing and serving food, he indicated that she should be listening to his teaching too (Luke 10:41-42). Clearly, women were just as frequently the recipient of his teachings as were men, both in individual encounters and in large meetings (Matt. 15:38). As the numbers of Jesus' disciples grew, it was natural that it would include large numbers of both men and women.
Glimpse into the Early Church
After the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Church of God slowly began to grow in size and numbers. In the original Jerusalem congregation, even before the day of Pentecost, there were both men and women (Acts 1:14). A little later, describing events in Samaria, we are told: "But when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women" (Acts 8:12). In this context we learn that the original gospel message dealt with the kingdom of God: the restoring of the government of God to this earth at the time of the Second Coming of Jesus Christ (Acts 3:19-21). This strong, dynamic, concrete and practical message inspired and encouraged both men and women. There is absolutely no indication anywhere in the book of Acts or the epistles of Paul that men were harder to convert or women predisposed to piety. The Scripture simply says: "... they were baptized, both men and women." God does not give special consideration to one sex or the other, as far as access to salvation is concerned. Paul said clearly, describing those already baptized: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3:28, Revised Authorized Version). Both men and women have equal access to God. Repentance of sin, faith in the shed blood of Jesus Christ for forgiveness, and baptism — immersion — in a symbolic watery grave, are required of all. "For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:23).
True Church Has Structure
In stating that in Christ there is "neither male nor female," Paul, however, is not teaching that there are no longer any natural or desirable differences between men and women. There are indeed many differences. Even after conversion, women can still bear children — men, no matter how converted they might be, cannot! Many clearly defined differences exist between men and women, physically and in our God — ordained assignments within the family and in marriage. In God — plane marriage, the husband is assigned by God the responsibility of overall leadership (note Ephesians 5:23). He is, however, commanded by God to exercise his leadership with love (Eph. 5:25, 28), without harshness (Col. 3:19) and to treat his wife with dignity (I Pet. 3:7, last part of verse). Note again that husband and wife are equal heirs: "heirs together of the grace of life." Once our minds have been opened, we have equal access to God, equal access to forgiveness of sin, equal access to the Holy Spirit. Yet each has his or her own assigned natural responsibility within the family unit. In the early Church, female members were to develop their personalities and characters, acquiring abilities and talents that would better enable them to fulfill the high calling of wife, mother and homemaker. In I Timothy 5:14 and Titus 2:3-5 we read that women are to be moral and spiritual teachers of their children and grandchildren. Because of the extreme importance placed by God on the rearing of children and the special place given to them in the building of homelife, women were not ordained to administrative or ministerial offices in the Church. They were instructed not to be involved in the public preaching or teaching ministry (I Tim. 2:12). It was not a matter of any innate inferiority or sexist tendencies in Paul or the early Church leaders. God has simply reserved to himself the right to assign to men and women different but equally important responsibilities in life, and he has so designed us in consequence. It should be noted, however, that women were from the beginning a part of the active larger group of disciples who accompanied Jesus when he traveled. They assisted with various jobs as well as providing some financial aid. "And it came to pass... that he went throughout every city and village, preaching and shewing the glad tidings of the kingdom of God: and the twelve were with him, and certain women... Mary called Magdalene... and Joanna the wife of Chuza Herod's steward, and Susanna, and many others, which ministered unto him of their substance" (Luke 8:1-3). Women also played a vital role in all of the early congregations. Although they were not ordained to ministerial offices of leadership, the Scripture indicates that some faithful women were assigned the office of deaconess, the counterpart of the male office of deacon. This office was given to those members of the Church who, through deep conversion, expressed a desire to serve other brethren in largely physical responsibilities. The first deacons were assigned the job of serving and organizing meals for groups of indigent, elderly widows in Jerusalem who needed special assistance (Acts 6:1-5). In the Greek text of Romans 16:1 and I Timothy 3:11 we learn that women were also ordained to that office of service. They served the elderly, helped the sick, opened their own homes and showed hospitality to traveling brethren. The office of deaconess is still assigned w hen needed in the modern era of God's Church.
The Lost Century
During the middle part of the first century after Christ's death, momentous changes began to occur within the congregations founded by the early apostles. Paul clearly states that some false teachers were already perverting the gospel (Gal. 1:7). In II Corinthians 11:13, Paul spoke of "false apostles... transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ." Speaking of the frightening prospect of massive apostasy, Paul also said: "For if he that cometh preacheth another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or if ye receive another spirit, which ye have not received, or another gospel, which ye have not accepted, ye might well bear with him" (II Cor. 11:4). The New Testament writings are replete with warnings of impending apostasy. Soon a century of turmoil, change and confusion descended upon the Church that Christ had built. When the curtain finally rose a century later, historians found tiny groups here and there still clinging to the original practices, now labeled Jewish. But the majority, now viewed as traditional Christianity, retained only rudimentary elements of the gospel' and the way of God. Many began to preach a diluted, weak, basically sentimental gospel that dealt primarily with Christ's person and events in his life, rather than his message. Obviously, one should be familiar with such events. But, from that point on, little was said or taught about the power of God, the rule of the living God in our lives, now, and the truth that ultimately. Jesus Christ would return to establish here below at "the time of the end" the very kingdom of God. A false perception of Christ began to develop — one that slowly deemphasized the masculine side of Christ's nature and personality. A weak, diluted gospel gave rise to a "Christ" that was weak, soft and ineffective. Men, in general, felt uncomfortable and unmotivated by this portrayal of a savior with gentle eyes, uttering vague platitudes with little substance. The result was the slow but gradual diminution of the masculine element in the local congregations. During the Middle Ages, the Christ painted by many of the great masters became visibly. more effeminate in appearance. He was usually depicted as a sickly young man, with a frail, unmuscled body, wearing unusually long hair, sad eyed and vulnerable in appearance. It is a sad commentary on the society of the time and the polarization of the sexes that many women did find such an image of Christ appealing. Most men did not. So, the church congregations came to be predominantly made up of women.
The Truth Restored
In the end of the age, in a time of world crisis, Jesus foretold that the true gospel would be restored and preached to the entire world as a witness (see Matthew 24:14). With an understanding of the true gospel would come a renewed understanding of the man who first preached it, Jesus Christ of Nazareth. Millions today are learning what Christ was really like! Worldly Christianity has in general stressed those qualities in Jesus Christ that we, in our human perception, view as feminine and have lost sight of his masculine side. We know that Christ was loving and nurturing (Matt. 23:37), gentle (Matt. 11:29) and full of compassion for people (Mark 1:41 ) — all of which are perceived in today's society — as feminine traits. Not so — they are traits both men and women must develop. In Christ's case, his love, gentleness and compassion were expressed through a strong masculine personality. He publicly rebuked the religious leaders of his day. Yet he was compassionate in a manly way. On one occasion, we are told that Jesus wept (John 11:35), not from weakness, but from strength. A strong, dynamic — looking male, with a face sunburned from outdoor work, with arms sinewed with muscle, does not look feminine when he weeps! Many professing Christians have forgotten that Christ, for much of his earthly life, was involved in a family construction business, founded by his human stepfather, Joseph. For years, he was a carpenter (tekton in Greek, better translated "stonemason" or "artisan"). During Christ's time, carpentry included much more than just the fabrication of wooden dwellings. Most homes in the Middle East were a combination of heavy stone, mud and clay, hewn beams and lumber. Christ consequently spent much of his teenage and adult years lifting, tugging, carrying construction material and enjoying hard work out of doors. Therefore, he was well muscled, in radiant health and masculine in appearance. And contrary to the stereotype, he did not have long hair (note I Corinthians 11:14)! Christ, as a human being, elicited respect and a strong response from both men and women. He was a kind, good, balanced, dynamic, strong person. And ultimately at the end of his life he died for the sins of all humanity.
Religion for Whom?
The great God reveals himself as a Father. He tells us that Jesus Christ is his Son — these are not our terms or stereotypes based on the so-called sexism of the early gospel writers. Our perception of God must come from God himself, describing himself. And God, in inspired Scripture, clearly describes himself as a Father who has "sons and daughters" in this earthly realm (II Cor. 6:17-18). It would be illogical for the Creator to divide the entire human race into almost equal numbers of men and women and then call mainly women to his truth, or mainly men. God is logical and consistent. In our age, as in the days of the apostles, men and women are both called to the truth, in almost equal numbers. "For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; who will have all men [meaning in Greek: human beings] to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth" (I Tim. 2:3-4).