This is a very common question I receive, so let's get started by laying the scriptural foundation.
In Galatians 3:28 Paul said this: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female: You are all one in Christ Jesus."
In Christ there is no race, no social status, no gender to differentiate us, for we are all one in Christ Jesus because this is on our spirit-man's level. The power of God is based on our spirit man, which is born of the Father's Spirit. On the level of our spirits we are equal and one in Christ.
But that equality in our spirit is housed in our human body which lives in the natural realm where people are judged based on gender, race, and socio-economic level. The question then: How do we handle equality in Christ in our spirit while we live in societies that do not recognize equality of gender, race, or socio-economic status?
The great question facing the early church as it is now involves to what degree do we walk in our freedoms in Christ, if they run contrary to local culture and customs? Because freedom and equality in Christ are true, do we flaunt our freedom in front of others? Or do we refrain from sharing our freedom to follow local customs that shackle that freedom to one degree or another? Before we can answer that, let's look at how Paul balanced spiritual truth of equality with local customs and culture.
The women in Paul's life
Recognizing there is neither race, social status nor gender in Christ, Paul lived this way in ministry. In Romans 16:2 Paul greets a woman named Phoebe of Cenchrea (a town near Corinth) who he calls a deaconess in the church there. In 16:7 he writes this of a husband and wife: "Greet Andronicus and Junia....who are of note among the apostles, who were also in Christ before me."
(Junia was a well known apostle outside of Romans 16:7. John Chrysostom in the 300's AD wrote of how well known she had been in her day.)
Philip's four daughters are recognized prophets in Acts 21:9, and Lydia, a single woman at the time, was the hostess and leader of the church in Philippi. Though my point here isn't to fully document this truth that in Christ Paul considered men and women, race and social standing equal, but to share just enough to provide a glimpse of the practice of the early church.
Perhaps the most well known example would be Priscilla and Aquila, the husband and wife leaders and (house) church hosts in Rome and then in Ephesus. Tradition says Aquila was one of the original 70 disciples mentioned as being sent out by Jesus in Luke 10:1, and those 70 tradition says, were among the 120 in the upper room at Pentecost. Priscilla is mentioned first 4 of the 6 times Paul writes of them, grammatically indicating she is the main speaker.
Having a woman apostle, a woman 'deacon', and noted female teachers are not exceptions to a rule, for in Colossians 4:15 Paul greets a woman named Nymphas: "Greetings to all the brethren in Laodecia, and to Nymphas and the church that meets in her house." The 'she' was changed to a 'he' in the KJV because they did not agree with women in leadership in the days the King James Version was published.
Women were known as bishops and all the other leadership roles as seen in grave markers via archaeological artifacts unearthed, as well as church history. When the church moved out of homes in the middle 300's and especially into the 400's AD, men took over in the auditorium structure and relegated women to lesser roles, if any.
Paul wrote his letters to men and women together
Paul wrote his general letters to the whole church, men and women together as equals:
"To all that are in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints..." Romans 1:7
"To the church of God at Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ, called to be saints..." I Corinthians 1:2
"To the church of God at Corinth, with all the saints..." II Corinthians 1:1
"To the churches of Galatia..." Galatians 1:2
"...to the saints in Ephesus, to the faithful in Christ Jesus..." Ephesians 1:1
That's enough of the list to understand Paul was writing to both men and women. This is supported by internal evidence in his letters as well. For instance in I Corinthians 14:26 Paul wrote this:
"How is it brethren when you come together? Every one of you has a Psalm, a revelation, a teaching, tongues and interpretation. Let everything be done decently and in order."
Every one of you. Participating, sharing revelation, sharing something learned, moving in the gifts of the Spirit. In case it isn't clear, the word 'brethren' can mean just men, but in general use referred to men and women together, the way we might say 'you guys' but including men and women together. An example would be his closing in Galatians 6:18: "Brethren, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen." He opened by addressing his letter to the churches of Galatia, and he closes in the same inclusive way.
But society doesn't see it that way
This is the principle that is helpful in many areas of life. Though men and women are one in Christ we live in societies and cultures that DO see differences. The cultures in which we live don't recognize equality of the genders, races, or social standing. So we must live among them with this higher knowledge. That is why in ministry and within the church Paul allowed men and women to function equally, but when it came to living in a culture that did not have this higher knowledge, Paul advised caution and adhering to the local customs and traditions.
Once we know men and women in Christ are equal, how does that function in marriage? Paul defers to creation order, that Adam was created first, then Eve. Therefore though equal, the husband is the spiritual head of the union with the understanding he is to lay down his life for his wife as Christ did for the church. While that can mean literally laying down his life if called upon to do so, in day to day life it means honoring her, honoring her opinion as equal to his, and treated her as one in Christ. It is an equality through mutually serving and honoring one another as in Ephesians 5:21: "Submit yourselves one to another."
I'll add this: Submission is a condition of the heart, obedience is an action. A husband or wife can be obedient to one another without being in submission, or can be submitted but not in obedience. The best case is when they are mutually submitted in their hearts, thus both are in obedience to the Lord's guidance in their union. Paul tells husbands and wives to be submitted to one another, but does not say obey one another. He does tell children and 'employees' to obey their parents and bosses however.
And with that we'll stop for today, starting next week about veils, women being told to 'ask their husbands at home', and what about braiding the hair and teaching? Until then, blessings,
www.cwowi.org and email me at firstname.lastname@example.org