“Roles” – When the Church Uses Fluid Concepts to Define Duties

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The current ubiquity of using the concept of ROLE is as a sign of fluid identities shaped by the Zeitgeist

The word, term and concept of “roles” originates in the stage. The actor plays a “role.” In the Postmodern culture many words have assumed domains of thinking and speaking that they did not have before. The fluidity and the flexibility of such ideas matches quite well to the secular mind. For example, this Quillette article does a fairly good job of showing the confusion of using “roles” ( and “gender”) to define our humanity. In modern discourse and as a consequences in the Church’s contemporary theology and practice that fluid thinking has changed the way we think and talk about humanity.


Notice how the word “role” has risen as if out nowhere to a high rate of use in modern communications.


When a word like this has such a steep rise in usage a more detailed analysis will confirm an initial impression that this word has replaced other words. The word “role” has replaced more precise terms for describing duty, responsibility, position or influence. For example, the word “role” has become a replacement term/concept for “duty” or other nature-function terms that previous generations commonly used. The idea or concept of “role” has become a lazy placeholder for however a group or corporation or individual sees themselves fit in. The idea of “role” is not about the nature of things or persons. The idea of “role” is about fitting in. This changes over time and from group to group and place to place, just like an actor moving from play to play or stage to stage.


On the other hand, the word “duty” has a more typical pattern with peaks and valleys. In this chart it has overall a downward trajectory. Moderns do not like to speak of “duty.”



# of times “role” is used in Scripture translations 

ESV – none 

NIV – none

NASB – none

ASV – none 

KJV – none 

LEB – none

NKJV – none

CSB – once: 1 Cor 3:5 ἔδωκεν, given, placed, assigned (“role” is not a good translation)

The Message – 3Xs



# of times “role” is used in various church docs

Pres: Westminster Larger Catechism – none

Baptist: London Baptist Confession 1689 – none

Congregational: Savoy Confession 1658 – none

Anglican: Thirty-nine Articles 1571, 1801 – none

Lutheran: Formula of Concord – none; Augsburg Confession – none

Danvers Statement 1988 – 6Xs



Role Theory in Secular Culture

“A role (also rôle or social role) is a set of connected behaviors, rights, obligations, beliefs, and norms as conceptualized by people in a social situation. It is an expected or free or continuously changing behavior and may have a given individual social status or social position. It is vital to both functionalist and interactionist understandings of society.”

For more see https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Role


B. J. Biddle. “Recent developments in Role Theory” Annual Review of Sociology. 1986. 12:67-92 Center for Research in Social Behavior, University of Missouri-Columbia, Columbia, Missouri 65211



Role theory is largely based on whatever the current consensus might be which then becomes a social construct. The Bible does not speak in those kinds of ways. The Bible speaks of…

  • Creator/creature
  • nature/command
  • being/office/position/duties
  • faithfulness/reward.


None of these are “roles.”


Words and terms reflect concepts. Concepts reflect truths (or not). If we use the common word or term “role” to describe the Christian and biblical view of the nature of men and women, we have already surrendered to the secular culture because we are – from the start – using the fluid and malleable terms of the postmodern mind.


Ontology or the nature of things and persons is a low priority for the modern mind. This low interest in the nature of things and persons is reiterated in the Church, its teaching and its practices. Churches much prefer to speak of “roles” over duties or responsibilities according to created Nature and/or divine command.


Should we talk about or ask what is the “role” of a father? No. You don’t play the “role” of father. You are a father. The duties of a father come from being a father. Duties follow nature. The same is true of husband, wife, mother, elder, deacon, pastor/bishop, etc. Even conservative Evangelicals assume that external roles are the basic principles of the Complementarian position. On the other hand Scripture never delineates being a man or women as external roles for men or women. Being a woman, man, husband, wife, father or mother, pastor, elder or deacon aren’t “external roles.” The external roles way of talking about persons is the Darwinian tune everything plays to in education, in government, in business and, yes, in our churches.


Added to the pervasive “role” concept currently in use is the word “gender” as another fluid terms/concept from the Pomo dictionary. If we pair “gender” with “roles,” then we see how the cultural mind has cloaked our speech and ways of thinking.

Human cultures have long struggled with 3 leadership extremes:

Authoritarianism (several varieties )



Each one of these leadership extremes uses “role” concepts to plot and navigate through the vicissitudes life on earth. All three eventually bring societies to a fail point because they go against Nature and divine order. In other words, incompetence or decadence is not the only reason societies fail. Leadership patterns (as in “role” reactions) can have a negative influence as well. Scripture gives a better way in what might be called the shepherd-leadership model.