If a single woman hosts a dinner for a mixed group, who prays over the food? I ask because it seems to be understood (at least in my community) that the host will ask one of the guys to pray.
Part of me gets it: We want to encourage men to lead, particularly in spiritual areas. If asking them to pray is a step in that direction, awesome. And certainly, if I were married, I would defer to my husband to lead in prayer. Likewise, if a group were eating at a restaurant, I'd wait and give the guys an opportunity to lead in prayer.
But if it's in my own house and I'm the host, I feel like it's my responsibility to pray. After all, if it were only women in the group, I'd naturally say, "OK, ladies, the food's ready. Let's pray." But I feel like it's expected of me to pass that responsibility to a guy in mixed company.
Would it really emasculate all the men if I pray in my own house?
I'm assuming this is a peer group of single men and women. If that's the case, the simple answer is that as hostess, you are in the position to either pray or to ask one of your guests, male or female, to do so. This doesn't mean you should never ask a man to pray (his willingness and ability to do so is an indicator of his faith in Christ) but that such an invitation should be driven by your desire to exercise the gift of hospitality (1 Peter 4:9) with kindness and love of neighbor (Mark 12:30-31).
If you were hosting your pastor and his wife, as well as a group of peers, or your parents and a group of peers, there would be an added reason to ask your pastor or your dad (or mom) to pray, giving them the honor due them as those in authority over you (Exodus 20:12, Romans 13:1, 7).
The more complex answer is that I understand why you would feel confused by this situation. There's a growing desire among many Christians to hold on to a biblical understanding of manhood and womanhood, even as the world tries to encourage women to act like men, or erase distinctions altogether, and some in the church deny that God made men and women equal in personhood and worth, but with different roles and responsibilities.
But in the midst of our efforts to be faithful to God's design, we can over-correct, suggesting that to be biblically feminine, we need to do or wear or say certain things that the Bible doesn't require. God's Word commands that we not eliminate anything from it, calling us to not disregard even the smallest marks.
In Matthew 5:18, Jesus said, "For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished" (ESV). This is essential to remember when you hear people dismiss difficult passages such as those that explain headship and submission in marriage by saying they're out of date, contrary to reason or simply too offensive to believe. Justifications abound for disobedience, just as they have since Adam and Eve doubted God's goodness and trustworthiness in the Garden. Every sin is, at its root, failure to trust God. We're still tempted by the taunt of the snake: "Did God really say…? Did God really say wives must submit to their own husbands? Did God really say husbands should love their wives selflessly — as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her? Did God really say (fill in the blank of whatever it is you doubt about God's Word.)"
Yes, God really did say those things (see Ephesians 5:22-33). And God is good, and His design for us is for our good and His glory. The question we must answer — and our eternal destination hangs on the answer we give — is do we trust Him even when we don't understand or even agree with His Word?
But we must also guard against going to the other extreme of adding things that aren't there. You say it's understood in your community that the women should defer to the men and ask them to pray. But this isn't commanded in the Bible. Scripture is clear that women are not to teach men in church. But nowhere does it say that women are not to pray in the presence of men, whether in the sanctuary or in a home or any other setting (see 1 Corinthians 11:5, 13, 15; Acts 2:17; 21:8-9).
In Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology, he writes:
It seems…pointless to ask, 'Who can pray more effectively, men or women?' or, 'Who can sing praise to God better, men or women?' or, 'Who will have more spiritual sensitivity and depth of relationship with God?' To all of these questions, we simply cannot give an answer. Men and women are equal in their ability to receive the new covenant empowerment of the Holy Spirit. There have been both great men and great women of God throughout the history of the church. Both men and women have been mighty warriors in prayer, prevailing over earthily powers and kingdoms and spiritual strongholds in the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ (458).
One of the hazards of going beyond what Scripture says, adding assignments it doesn't give and prohibitions it does not impose, is that it makes it easier for those who oppose God's Word to caricature us as overzealous and uninformed or ignorant. We must be faithful to the text in both directions — striving to do no more than it requires and no less.
With so much confusion about biblical masculinity and femininity, how can we know what to do? We must believe God's Word. To do that we must first read it, daily, recognizing that it's as important to our life as is physical bread and water. Jesus said, "'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God'" (Matthew 4:4, ESV).
But don't stop there. To begin to understand what we're reading, we must study it. If we are to "rightly handle the word of truth" (2 Timothy 2:15) we must be like the Bereans who, when they heard the Gospel proclaimed by Paul and Silas, "received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so" (Acts 17:11). They didn't merely trust the famed preachers, the ones speaking convincingly at the temple; they compared what they heard to what the Scriptures actually said.
This requires time, effort, work. But it's well worth studying the whole Bible, for "all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work" (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
Listen to just a portion of the longest Psalm. In it David praises God for the gift of His law:
Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes;
and I will keep it to the end.
Give me understanding, that I may keep your law
and observe it with my whole heart.
Lead me in the path of your commandments,
for I delight in it.
Incline my heart to your testimonies,
and not to selfish gain!
Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things;
and give me life in your ways.
Confirm to your servant your promise,
that you may be feared.
Turn away the reproach that I dread,
for your rules are good.
Behold, I long for your precepts;
in your righteousness give me life! (Psalm 119:33-40)
I pray that your desire to know what to do in this situation will motivate you to study the Bible for yourself, to love it the way King David did. May it not be said of us as it was of the religious leaders of Jesus' day, "You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God" (Matthew 22:29).
As you read, pray and ask God to give you wisdom. He has promised that He will.
Copyright 2012 Candice Watters. All right reserved.