I shared some of my experiences with the Potter’s House Church in last week’s blog. One of the damaging doctrines in that church, and sadly in some other contemporary churches, includes an emphasis on male headship and women’s submission. These are two traditions that go hand-in-hand.

I find it hard to believe that we’re in 2023 and still having to address such things. Women were allowed to vote a hundred years ago, yet women’s rights are still being fought for, even within the church. And so, let’s investigate these doctrines, how the Bible is used to justify and enforce them, and what I believe the scriptures teach.

What is Headship?

The word headship is not found in the Bible. But to be fair, the word Trinity isn’t in scripture either, but the concept is. The idea of male headship is based on Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 11:3, 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. Other translations, like the ESV, say that the head of the wife is her husband. And there you have it, plain and simple. A teaching that has influenced churches as diverse as Potters House, Mark Driscoll’s Mars Hill Church, and the Amish Community.

Headship is about leadership, control, and authority. And it is very easily abused. In fact, according to a report by the ABC, “Research shows that the men most likely to abuse their wives are evangelical Christians who attend church sporadically.” What an awful indictment on the church.

Context, Context, Context

After his comment about who is the head of who, Paul dictates the proper use of head coverings and hair length for men and women. I find it interesting that the very churches that teach male headship over women don’t enforce head coverings for women (the Amish excepted) or ban long hair for guys. Just look at some of the famous worship leaders. We Christians can be so selective as we cherry-pick our favourite Bible verses and ignore the bits we don’t like.

So, how should we understand Paul’s statement? First Corinthians is composed of five essays. Chapter eleven begins essay four on worship, particularly how men and women lead in worship and teach in church gatherings. Remember that the Corinthian church was full of zeal but lacked wisdom, so Paul is writing to them to bring some order out of their charismatic chaos. The verse in question is in the context of men and women prophesying (lit. divinely inspired teaching). Ah, so women are allowed to preach, then.

Paul is NOT teaching against women in ministry, nor is he against women teaching the word and leading churches. He affirms these things elsewhere in the Scriptures. For example, Acts records that Greek women of high standing were attracted to Paul’s preaching. Such women would not be attracted to a message that didn’t treat men and women as equals (Acts 16:14; 17:4,12,34). Lydia was the leader of the Philippian church (Acts 16:35-40). Phoebe (Romans 16:1-2) is called a deacon (not a deaconess) and a leader.

In Corinth, Paul lived with Priscilla and Aquila (Acts 18:1-4). Priscilla was a teacher of scripture and, along with her husband, taught the famous Apollos (Acts 18:26). This is an example of a woman instructing a man, something that complementarian churches like those mentioned above are dead against.

What did Paul Mean?

In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul is not teaching about male superiority to women or prohibiting women from vocal ministries within church gatherings. So, what does the word “head” mean in this context?

The head of every man is Christ.

The head of the woman is man.

The head of Christ is God.

Complementarians say that “head” relates to authority, but is that correct? The Greek word translated “Head” (kephale) can mean one of three things:

  1. A literal head (cranium, skull).
  2. To have authority or status over (the head of the company).
  3. The source of (e.g. headwaters at the start of a river)

For example, the Jewish New Year is called Rosh Hashanah, meaning “the head of the year.” It doesn’t mean that the first day of the year is more important or “in authority over” the rest of the year. It is the day from which the rest of the year flows. It is the source or origin of the year. With that meaning in mind, we could translate 1 Corinthians 11:3 as follows, I want you to realize that the origin of every man is Christ, and the origin of the woman is man, and the origin of Christ is God. This understanding sits very well with the rest of the scriptures.

It’s all About the Source

The origin of every man is Christ. Jesus is the agent of God’s creation, a truth that Paul affirmed earlier in this letter when writing about Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live. (1 Cor. 8:6).

The origin of the woman is man, a reference to Genesis 2:21-23 when the woman was taken out of the man’s side. The source of Christ is God means that Christ is the Messiah, and the origin of the Messiah is God.

What About Submission?

Those who tout the doctrines of headship and submission love Ephesians chapter five, especially from verse 22: Wives, submit to your own husbands. But they appear to conveniently ignore verse 21, submitting to one another in the fear of God. The apostle writes about mutual submission without room for domination, control, or abuse. The Greek word hupotassó means “to arrange under.” (Hupo, under; Tasso, arrange). We all do this daily for the healthy running of our society. Obeying the speed limit is a good example.

Jesus submitted to the Father for the plan of salvation. The church places itself under Jesus for salvation. Husbands and wives submit to each other through love and respect, but it doesn’t mean one is more significant. Submission implies that we work together for a common purpose, whether in marriage, the church, the workplace, or society.

In Summary

Paul’s teaching on headship and submission has nothing to do with the superiority of men over women. He is not suggesting that men and women are equal but have different roles, as complementarians teach. In fact, in 1 Corinthians 11, he affirms the equal right of both men and women to teach and preach the word and to lead in church gatherings. By excluding women from active ordained leadership and teaching the Bible, some churches make a grave error that restricts women from their God-given place within the body of Christ and exposes women to the dangers of manipulation and abuse.

A few weeks ago, I received an email from a guy who calls himself an Evangelist. He wanted to challenge me about Bayside Church, and other churches, closing down services during the Global Pandemic. He wrote:

What about God’s word “do not forsake the gathering together of the saints and do so more as the day draws nearer”!! We have already obeyed man over God and now discovered it’s all a lie to take. [sic.] Freedom from the people and increase fear and the control of the government to usher in one world order. Please challenge people to fight injustice and choose God Over man including church. Pastors should not have closed their church’s. So many people look to you ??? Don’t be a coward brother !! Set example Expose injustice and ungodly anti christ agenda

I get quite a few kooky messages, most of which I ignore, but I thought I’d address this one as it contains so many fallacies that are being spread around at present. Fortunately, in Australia “there appears to be little or no appetite to go against the various Public Health Orders in each state. Our largest churches such as Hillsong are meeting online, and church leaders have committed their networks to understand and follow the rules, seeking advice from Health Authorities where something is unclear.” (Quoted from Eternity Newspaper).   I believe the Australian church has got it right.

Meanwhile, in the USA

In the USA, there’s been a slightly different approach. Even though most churches have abided by government guidelines, a small, vocal group of pastors has “begun to bristle at government-imposed restrictions on their worship.” (Quoted from The Atlantic). 

Some have reopened; others have sued for their right to gather, claiming the restrictions are unconstitutional and a threat to religious freedom. A few others refused to shut down at all.

History Repeats

Sadly, much of this is history repeating itself. During the 1918-19 Spanish Flu Pandemic, many of the same measures were put into place that we’ve seen during COVID-19. Face masks, social distancing, personal hygiene, and closing of places of public gathering. While most people complied, some saw this as some sort of insidious agenda of State control and bucked the system. It was the second wave of the Spanish Flu that killed the most people. One thing we learn from history is that we rarely learn from history!

Churches that sue for their rights and their religious freedom do nothing to advance the good news of Jesus. The Gospel calls Jesus’ followers to “not [look] to your own interests, but each of you to the interests of the others” (Phil 2:4).

The Spanish Flu wasn’t a threat to religious freedom, it was a threat to public health. COVID-19 is the same. After 1919, churches and other public gathering places were reopened once again, and the world moved into The Roaring Twenties. Closures, wearing masks, and social distancing were temporary measures aimed at bringing communities through a health crisis with as few casualties as possible. Same today!

Some churches bristle because they are not deemed “an essential service” like liquor stores! As a Christian and a pastor, I think the church is essential, but I know I stand with the minority. The closure of church gatherings is not about being essential. It’s about restricting the congregating of people and the spreading of a very contagious virus. Whatever you think of liquor stores, people don’t congregate there.

Church at Walmart

In the US, a church group recently decided to resist the trend and have a service at a Walmart pharmacy to protest that pharmacies were open but churches were closed:

The singing of my African American brothers and sisters is stunning, and I hope no one was infected with COVID-19. Only time will tell. It should be remembered, though, that when people sing (or talk loudly like preaching), they spray out a shower of secretions. According to fluid physics expert Professor Con Doolan, these aerosol particles remain suspended in the air, potentially spreading coronavirus. If you’re standing too close to an infected person when they cough or sing, you could breathe in the particles they have projected into the air (see article). 

And so, while I see so many people cheering on this church, if their actions cause sickness and death are they really singing God’s praises? Would God be pleased or saddened by the behaviour of his children?

Other churches who defied the US Government faced significant backlash from neighbours. One woman stood outside a church and held up a sign that read, “you killed my grandma.” Is this the testimony of the Gospel the church wants to communicate to a world that God loves and for whom Jesus died?

Listening to God not Man

The most well-known church to defy the government is John MacArthur’s Grace Community Church in California. 

Their statement is convincing on the first read with lots of scripture verses to enforce their argument.

Itt’s important to remember that the church is not being restricted by Government unnecessarily. For example, no one is telling churches and Christians not to preach the Gospel as the authorities did to Peter and John: “So they called the apostles back in and commanded them never again to speak or teach in the name of Jesus.”

If the Government ever banned us from speaking and teaching about Jesus, I would respond in the same way the apostles did: “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to listen to you rather than God.”

This not the case today even though Grace Community Church says it is. All churches can preach about Jesus and teach God’s Word. There are no restrictions placed on us in this regard.

So, that’s what we’re doing at Bayside Church, and we’re seeing people come to Jesus and grow in their faith. We’re helping the underprivileged with groceries and cooked food. Church members are keeping in touch with one another and serving one another. The church is alive, healthy, and vibrant.

It’s my opinion that the “evangelist” who wrote to me recently is missing the point. It appears he’s bought into fear and conspiracies about a one-world government and an antichrist agenda. While these beliefs are widely held by many Christians today, they are based more on the Left Behind novels than on God’s Word. I’ll explore that in next week’s blog!

The Near Future

Once this current crisis is over, restrictions will be eased, and small gatherings will once again be safe. Before the resurgence of COVID-19 in Melbourne, Bayside Church was about to restart gatherings of up to 50 people. Many of our Connect Groups were already meeting in-person, and we were looking at doing some meetings outdoors with more significant numbers. If the current restrictions work, we should get back to that in a few weeks.

While church buildings are an incredible asset, we need to remember that the church is people, not buildings. I appreciate the excellent facility that Bayside Church works from and gathers in, but it’s important to remember that the church did very well for the first three centuries with no building at all.

During this pandemic, Christians are blessed with technology that helps us stay in touch with one another. While this ultimately is no substitute for in-person meetings, it’s better than nothing.

During the Spanish Flu pandemic, some pastors wrote letters and Bible studies for their congregations and posted them in letterboxes. Today we meet on Facebook, YouTube, and Zoom. I’ve had Bayside Church people tell me they have never felt so connected with Christie and me and with their church.

The building may be closed, but the church is open!

A few weeks ago, I taught a vital message at Bayside Church titled, “Is the Bible really true?”  I encourage you to listen to the podcast. [1] In this message, I teach that the Bible contains many different kinds of truth ~ truth as fact, truth as meaning and truth as life.  In other words, there are some things in the Bible that, while not factually accurate, are full of meaning. Jesus’ parables are a good example of this.

I believe Paul’s statements in Romans 13:1-7 fall into the category of “Truth as meaning” rather than “Truth as fact.”  If “there is no authority except that which God has established,” we seem to be in deep trouble.  Consider Hitler’s government for example.  Adolf Hitler was Chancellor (and then Fuhrer) of Germany from 1933 to 1945 during which time his reign of terror included the well-known Holocaust of six million Jews.  In addition, Hitler was directly responsible for the murder of “more than five million non-Jews including Gypsies, Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals, blacks, the physically and mentally disabled, political opponents of the Nazis, dissenting clergy, resistance fighters, prisoners of war, Slavic peoples, and many individuals from the artistic communities whose opinions and works Hitler condemned.” [2] Notice the reference to dissenting clergy.  This infers that there were some clergy, and Christians, who did not dissent and were thus complicit in the slaughter of millions. But did the dissenters disobey God and His Word so clearly spelled out in Romans 13?

In the 1930s Germany was a Christian nation. Two-thirds were protestant and one-third Catholic.  Jews accounted for less than 1% of the population.  And yet the Christian community was by and large complicit with Hitler, being persuaded by the Nazi Party’s statement on “positive Christianity” which read: “We demand the freedom of all religious confessions in the state, insofar as they do not jeopardize the state’s existence or conflict with the manners and moral sentiments of the Germanic race.”  [3]

In July 1933, Hitler’s first year in power, a German pastor, Joachim Hossenfelder, preached a sermon in Berlin’s most important church – the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church. His text was Romans 13:1-7 and he reminded the congregation of the importance of obedience to those in authority because “The authorities that exist have been established by God.”  This appeal to the Bible as “Truth as fact” led much of the Christian church to either support Hitler or not to resist him.  This same appeal to Romans 13 was used to back the slave trade and apartheid.  It is still used in support of capital punishment, and was recently quoted by US Attorney General Jeff Sessions to justify the Trump Administration’s immigration policy of separating children from their families.

A few verses later in Romans chapter 13 Paul wrote, “The commandments…are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbour. Therefore, love is the fulfillment of the law.” [4] Love does not condone torture and murder, it doesn’t imprison and starve, and it doesn’t separate children from their parents. True Christian love does no harm to anyone.  So, let me say this loud and clear…

Any time the Bible is used to justify the mistreatment of people in any shape or form, the interpretation of the Scripture is wrong!

So, what is Romans 13 all about?  When we interpret it as “Truth as meaning” rather than “Truth as fact” all becomes clear. The apostle was speaking directly into the political climate of his day.  Emperor Claudius, who was in office from A.D. 41 to 54, ordered all Jews to leave Rome around A.D. 51.  According to the Roman historian Suetonius, Claudius expelled the Jews from Rome because they were rioting on account of someone named Chrestus (Christ) – apparently referring to disputes between Christian and non-Christian Jews.  Luke mentions this historical fact in Acts 18:2, “Claudius had ordered all Jews to leave Rome.”  Claudius allowed the Jews to return around January A.D. 53, and four years later (A.D. 57) Paul wrote his letter to the Roman church while he was spending three months in Corinth.

It’s with this historical backdrop that we can understand what Paul meant by what he wrote in Romans 13.  Nero was now in power, and Paul encouraged the church not to unnerve the political authorities with any more disputes with non-Christian Jews in case they were all ejected once more from Rome.  If this happened, it would have an adverse outcome for the church and the Gospel in the City of Rome, and so Paul encouraged the Roman Christians to do the right thing and not to rebel.  He also taught them to pay their taxes and live lives of respect and honour.

Whilst this encouragement generally holds true today, Romans 13 is not to be used as a justification to mistreat people or to say and do nothing in the case of government injustice.  Christian people are to obey the laws of the land unless they contradict God’s laws.  We are to pray for our government leaders, and respectfully challenge them when they act in a way that brings harm to others.  As Charles Colson wrote many years ago, “If truth retreats, tyranny advances.”



[1] https://baysidechurch.com.au/message/is-the-bible-really-true-ps-rob-buckingham/

[2] https://www.socialstudies.org/sites/default/files/publications/se/5906/590606.html

[3] The Nazi Party’s statement on “positive Christianity” Article 24 of the 1920 Nazi Party Platform: “We demand the freedom of all religious confessions in the state, insofar as they do not jeopardize the state’s existence or conflict with the manners and moral sentiments of the Germanic race. The Party as such upholds the point of view of a positive Christianity without tying itself confessionally to any one confession. It combats the Jewish-materialistic spirit at home and abroad and is convinced that a permanent recovery of our people can only be achieved from within on the basis of the common good before individual good.”

[4] Romans 13:9-10