"A woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve. And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression. But women will be preserved through the bearing of children if they continue in faith and love and sanctity with self-restraint." (1 Timothy 2:11-15)This struggle between the sexes for power and authority is an ancient one dating back to man's expulsion from the Garden of Eden. In pronouncing the curses due to their sin, God says to Eve, "Yet your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you." (Genesis 3:16) Prior to this, there was no since that Adam "ruled" over Eve, but after their sin things changed and, while Eve did desire her husband, at times, over the centuries, that desire in women for their husbands has become a desire for their husband's authority and his place as head of the family. This struggle to "be on top" has even extended into the church and in some churches has caused no little disturbance between those who favor male authority and those who seek reform.
It is my understanding, especially in the churches Paul founded, that authority within a church was vested in the elders. These churches were very "flat" in their organization and had few if any "programs" to attend to. The only "program" we find in the scriptures was the distribution of food. After the Agape feast, the deacons would take the left over food and distribute it to the sick and shut-ins so they too could enjoy the communion of the Agape. However, this appears to have been an activity that went on with little or no control or direction from the eldership. "Therefore, brethren, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word." (Acts 6:3-4)
Some of our confusion regarding authority in the church comes from our lack of experience with the role of elders, especially in the west, and our adoption of authority structures that are inconsistent with those modeled in the scriptures. For the early Christians, elders, and elder rule, were understood concepts to them both intellectually and experimentally. However, most of us in the west have never lived in a tribal or national structure lead by elders. Possibly due to this disconnect with our ancient history, we have developed authority structures that are very "top down" and distributed where authority flows from the top to those underneath. For example, we have the Senior Pastor, Assistant Pastor, Ministry Leader, Team Leader, etc. Each step down representing a new layer of authority accountable only to the layers above it. However we do not see these layers of authority existing within the early church, we see only elders. Even given this, the role of the elders was limited and mostly supervisory, operating behind the scene; unnoticed until needed. In fact Paul rarely addresses any of his letters or commands directly to the elders. He simply speaks to the church of which they are a part of.
It is my belief that eldership is reserved for men. The word itself simply means, "old man" in both the Greek and Hebrew. Furthermore, in the scriptures, elders are always refereed to as men. When giving the qualifications of and elder, it is always men who are specified. Paul says. "An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife." (1 Timothy 3:2) "appoint elders in every city as I directed you, namely, if any man is above reproach, the husband of one wife." (Titus 1:5-6) In my opinion, the role of the elder in the early church was limited, especially as it relates to their exercise of authority. Their authority was not for control or dictatorial rule, nor were they the ones who made all the decisions. Their authority was for oversight; to provide for both the protection and correction of the church. They provided protection in identifying those who were among them as "sheep in wolves clothing" and in rebuking those who, as false teachers and prophets, attempted to lead others away from the Christ and His message. They also provided discipline and correction to the body for those who continued in sin with no regard to repentance. For example, the case Paul refers to when he says, "It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and immorality of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles, that someone has his father's wife." (1 Corinthians 5:1)
Paul writes, "if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do." (1 Timothy 3:1) Eldership is a work, not a position. I have had the privilege of serving as a elder is many of the churches I have been a part of and can attest that eldership is certainly a "work" not simply a "position". Its work is service and its goal is to free the people from the burden of oversight that they themselves might blossom into all that God has for them. Life in a church with a well functioning eldership is a blessing because you are simply free to be who God made you to be without worry about what might happen if things go wrong. The elders are always there, overseeing and watching, and willing to step in and set things right if things should ever get out of hand.
Having been an elder at many times in my church life it is hard to see why someone would want to be an elder unless they simply ignorant of the work or truly called to the service. I am also want to understand in what way women are "harmed" or lessened by not having a "seat at the table." The eldership exists for their freedom not their bondage. It is only when elders are functioning contrary to God's designs to them that people are harmed and diminished. However, for elders who openly desire and solicit the thoughts and opinions of all, even women, and those who are cognoscente that their authority is to benefit all, even women, not having to bear the burden of such authority is a blessing and not a curse. Jesus said, "The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who have authority over them are called 'Benefactors.' But it is not this way with you, but the one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant." (Luke 22:25-26) When this is the heart and service of the eldership then there will be none to begrudge them of their authority.
Finally, our problem with male authority, whether within the church or even in the family, is often a problem with a theory more than a problem with a practice. For example, there have been those who saw me as chauvinistic because I believe that husbands are to be the head of their family. However, if they ever realized how little I have had to exercise that authority they may see that the practice of male authority is often different from their fearful imaginations of what male authority might be. After almost thirty years of marriage there have only been a handful of times that I have had to assert my authority, holding firm to a decisions not shared by everyone in our family, because I truly believed was the best decision for us all. If we would take time to get to know the eldership in our church and to understand their hearts and motives, we might just find out that our issues with male/female authority is more abstract than our issues with the people who exercise such authority.