Exploring the biblical theology of Christian egalitarianism

Wayne Grudem on What Women Should Do in the Church

Ranking the “Authority” and “Influence” of Ministries

Wayne Grudem is a fairly well known Christian theologian and hierarchical complementarian. In an article entitled “But What Should Women Do in the Church?” (his emphasis in italics), Grudem has gone to the trouble of painstakingly listing 83 church ministries in, according to him, decreasing order of the “authority” and “influence” needed to minister and participate in these ministries. He has categorised these 83 ministries into three lists. List 1 includes ministries that involve “governing authority”; List 2 includes ministries that involve Bible teaching; and List 3 includes ministries that involve public visibility and recognition. (Cf. Isaiah 28:10 NIV.)

I have many problems with Grudem’s criteria for ranking these ministries. For example, Grudem ranks evangelistic ministries rather low. He ranks paid ministry positions higher than unpaid ministry positions. He ranks ministries that occur on Sunday mornings more highly than ministries that occur mid–week. The rationale behind the rankings of these ministries, and others in the lists, seems to be based on the prevailing culture of American evangelical churches and has no scriptural basis whatsoever.

Wayne Grudem on What Women Should Do in the ChurchThere is no doubt that the lists were compiled so that a line could be drawn somewhere, and that women be excluded from the ministries ranking above this somewhat arbitrary line. Grudem himself is very vague about where exactly this line is to be drawn. The position of this line, in fact, varies from denomination to denomination, and congregation to congregation. Few congregations, however, do not have any line, either explicitly stated or implicitly understood, that excludes women from the “top ranked” roles and positions.

Women and Men: Equal but Different?

Grudem believes that men and women have different roles and functions in the church and in the home. According to Grudem, and other hierarchical complementarians, it is only men, and not women, who can have the position or function of spiritual authority and leadership in both the church and home. While this certainly sounds very unequal, hierarchical complementarians assure us that men and women are still essentially equal in being.

Grudem’s lists, however, reveal that he does not really believe that women are equal to men. For instance in list 2, Grudem lists  the ministry of  Writing or editing a study Bible [for general use] as number 13. Writing or editing a study Bible intended primarily for women, however, is ranked lower at number 16. In Grudem’s opinion, less “responsibility” and less “influence” (his terms) are needed to write and edit a study Bible for women than a study Bible for general use.

Amazingly, Grudem has ranked Bible teaching to a women’s Sunday school class rather low at number 17. This low ranking is considerable when compared with Bible teaching to an adult Sunday school class (both men and women members), ranked at number 8, Bible teaching at a home Bible study (both men and women members), number 9, Bible teaching to a college age Sunday school class, number 10; and Bible teaching to a high school Sunday school class, coming in at number 11.

Why does Grudem believe that different levels of responsibility and influence are needed for Bible studies with different groups of people? In particular, why does Grudem believe that women require (or should put up with) less responsible ministry than that given to men or high school age students, etc?

It certainly seems that Grudem regards women as not as important as men (or as important as high school age students for that matter) as he implies that a second rate Study Bible and second rate Sunday School ministry are adequate for women.

Wayne Grudem’s Wide Open Doors

Wayne Grudem on What Women Should Do in the ChurchIn the same article, after making his lists, Grudem writes:

I know I speak for the entire membership of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood when I say that it is our sincere desire to “open the doors wide” to all the areas of ministry in the church that God intends for women to have.

Too many doors, however, are tightly shut because of the premise held by the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, and others, that certain ministries and roles are not God’s intention for women. I, for one, do not agree with their premise. Nor do I believe that the members of this council correctly understand, teach, or portray a genuine kind of “biblical manhood or womanhood“. I believe that many of their strongly-held beliefs on gender roles in the church and in the home are based on culture rather than Scripture.

Moreover, despite their protestations to the contrary, I believe that many hierarchical complementarians do view men as more important, higher-ranked beings and women as less important, lesser-ranked beings. This is shown in Grudem’s belief that men require a more responsible, higher quality of Bible education than women.


Wayne Grudem’s article “But What Should Women Do In The Church?” was first published in the Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, Volume 1 No.2 (Fall 1995). It was also published by CBMW in a newsletter here. Screenshots of the article can be viewed here.

The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) was started in 1987 by Wayne Grudem, John Piper and others in response to their concern over biblical egalitarianism and the demise of patriarchy.

Related Articles

Bible Women with Spiritual Authority
25 Biblical Roles for Biblical Women
The Complementarian Concept of the Created Order
New Testament Women Church Leaders
Paul’s Personal Greetings to Women Ministers
Paul’s (Gender-inclusive) Qualifications for Church Leaders
The ESV Bible’s Men-only Club
Complementarianism: A Traditional Belief of the Church?

A critique of Wayne Grudem’s essay The Myth of Mutual Submission is here.

Posted April 15th, 2011 . Categories/Tags: Equality and Gender Issues, Equality in Ministry, , , , , , , , , ,

Unkind, judgemental, bizarre, and off-topic comments will be deleted.

33 comments on “Wayne Grudem on What Women Should Do in the Church

  1. Jay says:

    Sick! No, not you, the cbmw folks I mean. The perversity of this list and all the ramifications of it are overwhelming to me. I am speechless.

  2. Thanks for writing this review! I feel better informed. Grudem = ridiculous and nonsensical. I am astounded people follow him.

  3. Don J says:

    I think Grudem’s list can be reverse engineered.

    Why in the world would he think he needed to spend time to come up with such a list?

    I think the answer is that he had received some requests for help in discernment about exactly what a woman can and cannot do when following comp doctrine. Or perhaps he saw differences in the ways various comp churches allowed women to minister and knew that confusion is not from God. That is, if the rules are not clear, then perhaps the rules are simply made by humans, horrors.

    CBMW tries to be a big tent organization. As long as one subscribes to their central theses of male hierarchy in church and home, you get in. But people in practise allow different things, so how does that work out. One comp church allows women to teach in a home group setting, while another does not, for example.

    Hence the very fine distinctions he makes in his list. This allows any particular church to draw the line where ever they wish, as long as the line does not go too high in the list, no charges of “liberal” etc. need apply. That is, for one’s specific comp church, they can set the line as X and another comp church can set it at Y and we do not need to think of the other as “rejecting the clear counsel of the word of God,”
    rather, they are just a little different in the way they understand some verses.

  4. Marg says:

    I find the lists quite bizarre and very sexist. I honestly don’t undertand why Complementarians can’t see the bias.

    If you want to see another sad example of bias, look at the women on the board of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW). http://www.cbmw.org/Council-Members

    Even though these women are writers, speakers and university professors, etc, they are given the primary descriptor of “homemaker” (except for one lady whose primary descriptor is “pastor’s wife”.)

    Clearly, in the opinion of CBMW, a woman’s identity is closely linked with her role in the home, or who she is married too. A woman’s outside interests, talents, skills, titles, ministries or career are not as important as being a homemaker.

    In contrast, the information on the male board members is restricted to their professional ministry titles.

  5. Marg says:

    Don, I agree that the lists were designed to help different denominations and different congregations (those who subscribe to Comp theology) know where to draw their particular line in regards to women in ministry. (I’ve added a sentence in the article to make that clearer.)

    What is very sad (and inadequate) with Grudem’s approach is that lists and lines do not take into account an individual’s unique calling, abilities and experience. I wonder how Priscilla, Nympha or Junia would have fared in ministry if they were restricted by lists with lines.

    • Beth says:

      And how he lacks imagination for a whole host of ways that Christ might serve a world in need, making good news known broadly. It is at heart, not only sexist, but culturalist/racist. Just 83 ways??!!! Such a small sliver of ministry there. If I am lucky enough not to live in Grudem’s tiny narrow little north american white world, (thank God that I don’t) his limited list is neither helpful or applicable to my community. In another culture – this is all just irrelevant. He is not describing the I find it disturbing that he would make such a big thing of the set up on his own picnic rug. The things that we do to serve and to proclaim the gospel aren’t on his list!
      Secondly, he completely obfuscates that we serve not as individuals with individual gifts, but as a body. It is the body that serves, that proclaims, that suffers, that is martyred, that glorifies.

      • Marg says:

        It’s very unimaginative! How can the ministry of living and breathing body of Christ be summarized in lists and rankings?

        I’m glad that my church community doesn’t come close to emulating his narrow North American white church world.

  6. Sarah says:

    Where in the Bible does it say that it takes less “teaching responsibility” to teach certain groups of people than others? Where is the scriptural basis for saying “working as an evangelistic missionary in other cultures” takes less responsibility than, say, “preaching (teaching the Bible)… to the whole church on Sunday mornings”, “teaching Bible or theology in a Christian college”, or “evangelistic speaking to large groups of non-Christians [supposedly in your own culture]”? And how does “teaching children’s Sunday school class” rank fifth to last on the responsibility scale – aren’t they the most impressionable? Even if this article wasn’t directed towards women’s roles, it would still be ridiculous.

  7. Marg says:

    Umm, do you mean Wayne Grudem’s article is ridiculous? Or mine?

    Wayne Grudem’s article is wicked (and ridiculous) because he is not only ranking the importance of ministries (according to his opinion), he is also, in effect, ranking the importance of people. So we clearly see that in Wayne Grudem’s mind women are not as important as other people.

    I firmly believe that the criteria of his lists have practically no biblical basis.

  8. Sarah says:

    I mean Wayne Grudem’s article, sorry for the confusion.

  9. Marg says:

    No worries. I just wanted to be sure. 😀

  10. Cynthia Meg says:

    Complementarianism is legalistic to the core and puts God in a box.

    People like Grudem think they have the Holy Spirit mapped down to a mathematical equation. Complementarianism is just another example of man trying to play God. The Holy Spirit is unpredictable, and anyone who dares write a list to limit what the Holy Spirit can do is predicting and restricting the movement of the Holy Spirit and thus falsely prophesying.

    Complementarianism has this “separate but equal” mentality, and we’ve all seen how well “separate but equal” has worked with regard to race. Such a mentality fails just as miserably with regard to gender. “Separate but equal” separates the church. I realize that the complementarian motto is “different but equal,” but ya know, same thing.

    Complementarianism sadly misses the point. It falls into the trap of religion and misses out on the relationship (between Christ and the church).

    It seems like complementarians have developed this math equation: man is to Christ as woman is to the church.

    How flawed is that? If woman represents the church then shouldn’t she be fully included in it? We women (as well as men) are fully included in the Lord’s kingdom, so what makes church any different?

    And what about the whole public vs private thing? That is so hypocritical. The church shouldn’t put on a different face for the public crowd. I mean, what difference should it make if a woman is teaching a private home Bible study vs teaching a public, Sunday church service?

    This whole man vs woman, public vs private, on stage vs in the audience, Sunday vs week day, paid position vs unpaid thing is really legalistic. Complementarianism is so inconsistent.
    The church is so divided.

    And has anyone noticed that Grudem’s article is now unavailable? I wonder if Grudem and his team became embarrassed by it. Shoot, I’m embarrassed FOR them. I hope that the Lord lovingly reveals to Grudem how in error, how inconsistent, how legalistic, how unbiblical, how contradictory his article was.

  11. Marg says:

    LOL. I’d be embarassed too.

    The whole CBMW website has been gutted for some reason. It will be interesting to see whether they will repost this ridiculous post from Grudem on their rebuilt site. http://newlife.id.au/equality-and-gender-issues/problems-with-the-cbmw-website/

    And I completely agree that the church, whether it is gathered for a larger planned meeting or scattered into smaller unplanned spontaneous groups, should have the same standards.

  12. Cynthia Meg says:

    Yeah, I realized the CBMW website was down after I made that comment. Oooohhh Welllll Lol!

  13. Marg says:

    I’ve just finished Kathy Keller’s ebook entitled “Jesus, Justice and Gender Roles: A Case for Gender Roles”.

    In this book she writes:

    “I am frequently embarrassed by others who use the title “complementarian” but who go beyond Scripture to legislate arbitrary rules about the age of boys when women must not teach Sunday school to them any longer, or whether a female small group leader should have a male co-leader if the group is mixed, and so on.” (Kindle Locations 411-413)

    Does this mean that Kathy Keller is embarrassed of Wayne Grudem?

    Kathy believes that godly, gifted women should be able to speak (including teach and exhort, etc) in church. But she seems to say that women cannot be ordained.

    She believes that complementarian gender roles are biblical and implies that Christians who hold to an egalitarian ideology are being disobedient to God.

    Kathy seems to have a low opinion of egalitarians. She was formerly a feminist who did not believe that the Bible was truly the inspired Word of God. Perhaps Kathy thinks that all Christian egalitarians have the same low opinion of Scripture that she once had. Sadly, she speaks disparagingly of us.

    I’ve written a critique of Kathy Keller’s book here.

  14. Don Johnson says:

    I think Grudem’s list will look more and more preposterous as time goes on.

  15. Marg says:

    You’d think so, but compism seems so entrenched, even expanding its influence, in some parts of the Church. 🙁

  16. kay says:

    What many people also fail to notice, is the REASON women working as an evangelist to other cultures is lower- it is because Grudem assumes these other cultures are not white eurocentric ones. In other words, he is racist. It is OK in his mind for a white lady to teach in India, Africa, all through Asia …but what if that same woman travels to Canada, UK, Europe to evangelize??? What then, what if in her evangelizing she starts a church? Anyway, all this to say he is a pompous, sexist and racist fool.

  17. Marg says:

    I think you may be right, Kay. And this from a well-known scholar and author of a best selling Systematic Theology. Tragic!

  18. Dave says:

    In actual fact, the entire premise of Grudem’s and for that matter Piper’s theology about women, is premised on their theology of the Trinity. To accurately address their rather strange need to compile lists for “ministry”, whatever that means, one needs to realise that they have a list not just for God’s church, but in fact for God himself. Just as they say in their convoluted logic that men and women are equal in being but different in function, so they say the three persons of the trinity are equal in being and different in function. Crassly put, the ultimate patriarch is in their theology, the Father. He is more equal than the Son or the Holy Spirit and if you read carefully, he is in fact their generator. Thus you have the rather odd notion that part of God is somehow created (at least two thirds of HIm anyway), and that despite an unlimited relationship in infinity; with the definitions being held that God is omni-everything, apparently only the Father has original thoughts to which the Son and the Holy Spirit necessarily submit. Yup, I wrote this and even I am now confused.

    • Marg says:

      I’ve had a few thoroughly confusing conversations with complementarians. They hold to quite a few beliefs that are illogical and contradictory when looked at carefully.

      On the other hand, the ideology of Christian egalitarians is fairly simple: men and women are equal, and we are all to mutually submit to and serve each other. Simple.

      I have written a critique on Wayne Grudem’s article The Myth of Mutual Submission here, in case you’re interested.

  19. Beth says:

    indeed the issue of elitism, as opposed to an isolated gender issue is really what underlies such a theology. This exposes not only elitism in relation to gender, but also education, economic status (waged vs unwaged), age (children are of lesser value than youth, who are of lesser value than adults), race (as pointed out above)…the list goes on and on.

    If we were really interested in ensuring a healthy theologically robust and biblically literate culture in churches, our most highly trained teachers would be with our children, instead of bashing their head against a brick wall with adults whose worldviews were set decades ago.

    It is, I think impossible and unhelpful to separate the conversation about gender from the conversation about elitism and exclusion – narrowing the focus on gender, creates a smoke screen for a larger, uglier ethos of privileging certain voices that has wide reaching social and moral implications, dire theological consequences, and let’s be frank, considerable economic and power advantages for a small minority.

  20. Tim says:

    Grudem’s denials ring false. He says women and men are equal but different, and then he goes and makes a set of lists that puts women on the bottom of each list. Why didn’t he put the things he says women can do at the top of each list and then move down? Because in his heart he thinks the things he allows women to do are not equal to the things he says men can do.

    • Marg says:

      It really does my head in that Wayne Grudem insists that men and women are equal, but then he makes lists and places women at the bottom, so that they rank even lower than high school students. (Of course what he really means is male high school students. Female high school students are probably scraping the bottom of the barrel in Grudem’s estimation of what they can do in their church community.)

      It is troubling how he ranks groups of humanity. Clearly women are less important.

      I once read something that John Piper wrote saying that women could minister to disabled men. In his eyes being disabled lowered a man’s intrinsic worth which then allowed a lowly woman to minister to him. Very disturbing.

      This categorizing and ranking of humanity is not something that Jesus ever did on earth, and it flies in the face of his teaching. In Jesus’ kingdom the humble are exalted, the lowly are the greatest, the last are first, and the first are last. In other words, there is equality.

  21. Well, this is a doozie. How thankful I am that God does not need a well-known theologian to rank tasks as more or less influential for the “benefit” of the body of Christ. (If the ranking is not in Scripture, why would we need it now?) God has already, in himself, and through the Spirit, gifted each image-bearer with the personality and spiritual giftedness he intends them to exercise.

    But Grudem’s line of thinking must not go unchallenged, for it destroys the ethos of the Kingdom Jesus ushered in, as so many have reminded us above. It misrepresents the ways of Jesus; my hope and prayer is that as followers of Jesus we would show a different and more excellent way by our example. Because “reasoning” with this type of logic is in itself difficult to do.

    Thank you, Marg, for your faithfulness in bringing this to light.

  22. Nancy says:

    Separate but equal. Yeah, right. The ten-dollar bill in the grass that the dog just peed on is equal in value to the ten-dollar bill in my purse, but I don’t want the bill the dog peed on.

    My husband and I are Southern Baptists, and as a woman, I feel very discouraged by and emotionally distant from our church. I can cook, clean, sew, and change diapers at home. Why would I want to go to church just so I can do the same things all over again?
    Women in Baptist churches can be very easily replaced with babysitters and catering services!

    • Marg says:

      I thought of you when I posted a new article today which contains this quote: “If we put women in the corner we will lose a Kleinod, a jewel.”

      The church loses and misses out when we restrict and confine women.

  23. Donald Johnson says:

    I just read thru the great comments and have some other thoughts.

    I agree that the male gender privileging idea is certainly a subset of other privileging ideas, such a wealth privileging or race privileging, which should have no place in the church.

    Another aspect is how can one as an individual claim to interpret Scripture for a group to which they do not belong when that interpretation results in that group being “less than”. Trying to do this can result in arrogance. This seems to me to be something that Paul argued against in the Jew/gentile context as well as the master/slave context, and when interpreted correctly in the male/female context. For example, I am a gentile, not a Jew; who am I as a gentile to try to tell a Jew how to interpret Scripture in terms of what a Jew is supposed to do? I am a man, not a woman, who am I to try to tell a woman how to interpret Scripture in terms of what a woman is supposed to do? What privileges my views? I do not even know what it means to be a Jew or a woman.

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