Being part of one of the relatively few denominations that still ordains to church office only those who meet the Biblical criteria, I sometimes resonate with whoever the comedian or cartoon character was who was noted for saying: “Nobody understands me.” While that is a bit of an overstatement, as I do not stand alone, I do often find that there is need to explain myself; to defend the basis of our practice. This is especially true as it applies to restriction of the office of Elder to men only.
I am not a sexist. So I understand the raised eyebrows implicitly questioning if my church and I are somehow stuck in a time warp. I understand the perplexity when I have the audacity to declare that I believe, and our church believes, in the equality of men and women. If we truly believe in “equality” how can we continue with our traditional practices? I will get to that in a moment.
Compounding the misunderstanding, I am afraid, are those who share our same practice, but have an entirely different attitude behind it. Some even within our denomination. Those to whom I refer are those who embrace a position of patriarchy. (I often refer to these folks as the “He Men Women Haters Club”.) Often such people refer to their position as “Biblical Patriarchy”, but aside from a few anecdotal illustrations they find in the Bible (usually devoid of appropriate context) I would suggest there is little to nothing Biblical about their position. Nevertheless, I find that, because of our practices, many people see little difference between our views and and the patriarchy proponents.
Part of the reason for this misunderstanding is that many people seem to have bought into the premise that there are only two views on the subject: Patriarchal or Egalitarian. In short, Patriarchy is the view that men are created to and commanded to rule. Egalitarianism is the view that not only are men and women equal, they are essentially the same, and therefore interchangeable. While in no way endorsing patriarchy, I suspect the egalitarian view has contributed to the rise of gender confusion, though that is an entirely different subject, and outside the scope of my intent for this post. Nevertheless, if it were true that there are really only these two theoretical options, then it would be reasonable to judge someone on this issue bases upon how close to which he or she stands, or how close church practices stand, in proximity to either of these two poles.
But there is another position; one I believe to reflect the Biblical design for gender. It is the view known as complimentarianism, which declares that men and women, being equal and yet different from one another, are designed by our Creator to live in compliment one another. There is no issue of value, worth, importance. Nor is there, as it pertains to certain roles, as specified in the Bible, any matter of worthiness or capability.
Historic perspective is important here, both to illustrate my assertion, and to explain why some are skeptical that my assertion is indeed Biblical.
First the historical reason for skepticism. This is simple. There is a long history of abuse, of male domination at the expense of women, in both the world and in the church. In fact, there are examples far too numerous to count that would indicate that the church is no better on issues regarding women; and that in some cases in more recent Western history, where women have achieved significant status, that the Church – the Conservative and Fundamentalist church – has been the chief obstacle to the continued advancement of women. I cannot deny this history. Nor can I defend this history. Suffice it to say for the purpose of this post, the only thing I can say in explaining this history is that it validates another point the Bible reveals – one even more central in the teaching of the Bible than the relationship between men and women, and their respective roles – is that all humanity – men and women – are broken, and influenced by the effect of sin. No justification, just a reality.
But while there is this sad history, there is also glorious historical reality. So secondly, I’d like to consider a historic reality that is just as true as the oppression of women, even by – and sometimes, seemingly, especially by – the church. It is this: The only places where women have any rights are those with cultures that have been impacted by the gospel. Think about it, where do women have the closest semblance to equality? It is only in those countries where Christianity (and it’s predecessor, Judaism) has made an imprint upon the cultural DNA. Again, while there is still a long road ahead to true Bibilcal equality, nevertheless, because God has made both men and women after his image, where his Word has shaped culture, women have the greatest opportunities. That is as much a historical reality as is the wide spread oppression.
That still leaves the question of equality and yet different. This is especially true as it includes that pesky Biblical word, submission; and that the Bible calls women to submit within certain relationships. The whole idea of submission seems to negate any pretense of equality. But this must be understood from more than our day to day perspective. It needs to be understood in light of an essential Biblical doctrine – the Trinity.
Christianity is based upon the declaration that there is only One God, the Living and True God. Yet distinctly Christian is the mystical assertion that the One True God has eternally co-existed in three distinct Persons – Father, Son, Holy Spirit. These Three Persons are One God, and all three Persons have always co-existed from all eternity. It is a mind-boggling revelation, perhaps impossible for our finite minds to comprehend, yet nevertheless an essential of the Christian faith. Scripture affirms all three Persons are God, equal in glory, authority, power, and equally worthy to receive worship. Yet, despite this equality, there is also an interesting relational dynamic between the Three Persons reflected in the Scripture. In short, Jesus says: “I only do what my Father tells me to do”. In other words, despite being himself in very nature God, Jesus submits himself to the Father. At the same time, the Holy Spirit seems to voluntarily take a back seat to Jesus, always pointing to Jesus, always reminding God’s People to remember Jesus. There is a functional submission even between the persons of the Trinity! Some would chalk that up to an example of the Bible containing self-contradictions, but such a view would seem simplistic and shallow. There is another explanation, one that has a bearing on the discussion of gender relationships within Christianity.
While is is understandable that some would consider declarations of equality combined with examples of submission between the persons of the Trinity as contradictory, rhetoric and logic proved another view. Theologians refer to the nature of the Trinity as the ontological Trinity, meaning essentially “the way things really are”. The functional relationships between the Three Persons is referred to as the economic Trinity – the way they function. It is not a contradiction. It is just a logical rhetorical way of understanding the complexity.
Of course, some will not accept that there is a Trinity at all, much less these long-winded theological phrases. But here is my point, which will bring us back to the topic at hand: Christianity rests upon a foundation of God being Three Persons, equal yet having different roles. While many may deny God exists at all, it is logically inconsistent to say that Christians cannot say men and women are both equal and different at the same time. In other words, one may reject Christianity, but one cannot suggest that the concept of complimentarianism is logically inconsistent. To assert that the concept of equal yet submissive is not possible, one must therefore reject one of the most fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith! Of course many will be willing to toss Christianity out, but those who claim to be Christian cannot logically deny the equal-yet-submissive paradigm without denying their own faith.
My point in all this is simply to try to introduce the concept of complimentarianism, and it’s biblical and logical foundations. This also provides somewhat of a context for introduction of the video above.
The video above is taken from a panel discussion at the 2014 Gospel Coalition Women’s Conference. The panelists include Kathleen Nielson, Kathy & Tim Keller, and John Piper. D.A. Carson serves as M.C. Originally titled, Why This Issue Now, it has been appropriately renamed Male & Female He Created Them. It is an excellent and insightful introduction to and discussion of Complimentarianism.
The chief observations I appreciated from the video include:
- Complimentariansim is NOT just a Women’s Issue. Kathleen Nielson challenges the hosts, recognizing that the current discussion is taking place in the context of a National Women’s Conference, but she expect the same kind of discussion to take place at the National Conference, which is attended largely by pastors and church leaders, most of whom are men. And she is right. This is not a “Women’s Issue”. This is a Christian Issue. Both men and women – and perhaps especially men – need to know God’s design; and men need to know we are not created to be Kings of Our Castles, as somehow superior to women, but rather that God has designed we follow the example of the King of Kings, who came and demonstrated the essence of servant leadership not dominance.
- Complimentarianism is NOT Monolithic. In other words, complimentarianism will look different in one home from another. In one home, like mine, it may appear to fit the more traditional stereotypes; in another home the mutually agreed upon roles of the husband and wife may look very different. It is simply a matter of exercising the respective gifts and abilities of each partner, and the mutually agreed roles that result.
This post is already way longer than I origianlly anticipated, so I will stop here. My intent was simply to introduce the concept of Complimentariansism, and to commend the video. The panel discussion takes about an hour, but it is an hour worth investing. For those who prefer, there is a link to download the podcast, so you can take the audio with you on the road, or on your run; wherever.
But for those who are interested in exploring a little more, a good place to start would be an article from CBMW titled: Summaries of the Egalitarian & Complimentarian Positions.