Can women serve equally with men in the church?
Admittedly, the question is multi-faceted and the issues are complex. The complexities include at the most basic level whether or not women can teach in the church at all (including the teaching of children; youth; or, adults—whether that be women only, or both women and men), and whether or not women can have authority in the church and at what level (including authority over children; youth; adults—whether it be women only, or both women and men).
I will argue over this series of posts that with the coming of Christ, his life, death, and resurrection, and the coming of the Spirit, the new creation has begun. This is why Paul can say, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come” (2 Cor 5:17). Now, since the new creation is understood in terms of a new Eden, then, just as there was equality of gender, ethnicity, and socio-economics in Eden, so, also, shall there be in the new creation. This is stated explicitly in Galatians 3:28-29 says, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.”
But, and this will be my main point, if the new creation has already begun in the present, then should we not begin to implement the new creation in the life of the church today? Paul exhorts the church in Colosse to do just that when he says, “Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above” (Col 3:1). I don’t suspect anyone would object to the assertion that the key ethic of the kingdom is love and this ethic is to characterize the people of God in the present. Love is indeed eternal (1 Cor 13:4-13). Love is not simply an ideal that is awaiting a future fulfillment. Love is an ethic that must be implemented in the present. The question, then, becomes: should we not do the same when it come to the role of women in the church and in society?
Now, I realize that complementarians (those who believe that men should continue to have authority over women in the church and home) will simply respond that the Bible says so (citing 1 Tim 2:12-14 as the primary text). I will address this passage also. First, however, I will expand on the argument that the NT is clearly moving us towards a new creation reality in which men and women are equals in the kingdom.
Before I venture down that path, I will briefly relate my experiences that caused me to begin to question my long held convictions.
Why I began to reconsider matters
I came to faith in Christ in a wonderful, but very conservative, church environment. As a result the Bible was read as very black and white (aside from the red letters of course!). When it came to women in ministry, I was convinced that the Bible lays it out very concretely: women cannot “teach or have authority over a man” (1 Tim 2:12). Now, I understood this verse allowed women to teach children and other women, but not men. Over the years, in addition to my coming to understand the Scriptures in light of the new creation, the Lord used several experiences that began to nudged me look at things afresh.
First, I had several encounters with women in higher education. In my post-graduate studies I came across numerous articles and books written by women. I wondered to myself at the oddity of it all. These female scholars were great writers and gifted communicators. And their writings reflected a deep passion for the Lord. I thought that it was ironic that I, as a man, could take what they wrote and use it in teaching and preaching, but they themselves, simply because they were women, were not be permitted to do so. I began to wonder why women could teach our emerging pastors in the colleges and seminaries Monday through Friday, but those same women were not allowed to teach our congregations on Sunday? I was puzzled by the reality that their students, who were not as equipped as they were, could preach, but they couldn’t.
A second key factor that caused me to delve more deeply into the Scriptures was the fact that there are many gifted women in our churches. Some of these women are high level leaders, teachers, and even executives in the workplace. Yet, their leadership, teaching, and management skills are suppressed in today’s churches simply because of their gender. If God has gifted them, then why are they not able to use those gifts in the local church?
In a society in which women’s rights are suppressed, should not the church be at the forefront of advocacy for equality? How can we read Gal 3:28 and still advocate for the superiority of one gender above another? The answer is that we can do so only by failing to read Gal 3:28 in regards to the coming of the kingdom.
 The NAU (cited here) says “new creature.” Most English translations (including the ESV, NET, NIV, and NRS) read, “new creation.”