This last Saturday was our last week studying the debate about women’s roles. Its hard to summarize both the weeks discussion and the entire 5 week series, and of course different people had different ideas, but here are a few things.
The debate seems to be mostly about whether or not there are universal gender specific roles which determine the structure, decision making, leadership and organization of the family and the church. Piper and Grudem call themselves complementarians, because they think a woman’s role is to complement the man by being his helpmate, submissive partner, and to help primarily in raising children and nurturing. This position is sometimes called the hierarchicalist position, because it seems to hold to a particular hierarchy. They might not like that label, as it may seem to imply that a woman is not equal in worth to a man, and they do believe in equal worth, although not equal function or role.
The other side (groothius et al) are often called egalitarians, because they think that women are equally capable of taking on leadership and decision roles in the church and home. Rather than restricting what a woman can or can’t do based on her gender, they think both that a. women may as women have unique giftings that help them to lead, encourage, or do other things in unique ways men cannot and at the same time b. each woman has particular gifts given to her, just like each man has particular gifts given– on an individual basis. They believe that women can complement men. Egalitarians don’t think women are not different than men– they accept that they each have differing strengths in many cases, although egalitarians are slow to make any universal gender pronouncements: (“all women do things this way– all men do things this other way”) A woman may lead an office or a meeting or a board differently than a man would, and she brings different strengths and weaknesses to the table. So the egalitarians wouldn’t restrict someone from a role simply because of their gender, or expect that they are suited to a role merely due to their gender (in terms of church and family– and of course they do realize women can have babies and men can’t…)
Non-egalitarians often think that egalitarians are bowing to culture and going along with current feminism, and believe that Christians must stand firm against this worldly doctrine.
Egalitarians think that non-egalitarians are merely supporting traditional status quo cultural mores held over from the Greek and Roman culture, and think that Christ has brought redemption from those cultural prejudices. They see the non egalitarians entrenchment on this issue to be similar to the difficulties women face in getting equal pay for equal work, and the challenges faced by women trying to succeed where men have been dominant in society for centuries (corporate world, academia, etc etc)
One of the more interesting points which Gordon Fee brought out in his article this week was that the passage about now there is no Jew nor Gentile, Male nor Female, Slave nor Free is NOT talking about salvation (no one thought males were saved and women werent!) but rather its about Christ upsetting the old world order of prejudices based on race, gender, and economic/political standing. The seeds of this revolution were sown by Jesus, although it took years to fulfill (slavery was not done away with until 1800+ years later in the US civil war)
We noted that the traditionalist complementarian viewpoint truly believes that real freedom will come as we realize our God-given purpose and role through discovering our gender specific parameters. We also noted that the egalitarians desire to seek status for women is often rooted in a genuine desire to not waste or crush the God given gifts with which he has endowed some women. To stiffle giftings which could greatly benefit the church body simply on the basis of gender seems fruitless. Fee says, “And to give continuing significance to a male-authority viewpoint for men and women, whether at home or in the church, is to reject the new creation in favor of the norms of a fallen world. It is to give a significance to being male that in the end usurps the work of the Spirit not onlyin the wife and her relationship to God but also in the church–the expression of the new order and new humanity that is already present, even while it is yet to be.
In examining Ephesians 5:22+ we noted that the context of the passage was that it was about walking in love and mutual submission (v2, v21) Women are asked to submit to husbands as the church does to Christ. That analogy may be read in a skewed way since the church is notoriously imperfect and Christ is God (men aren’t, obviously). But at any rate the point seems to be that women should not be domineering. Husbands are to love their wife both as Christ loved the church and also as the man loves himself. He is the head of the wife, yet they are one flesh, and he loves his wife as himself. This, some egalitarians say, is a subtle directive to help undermine the traditional domination of man over the woman in Jewish and Greek culture. Fee points out “Paul radicalizes this norm in a countercultural way, by insisting that the believing husband love his wife– which had very little to do with marriage in that culture.” Fee goes on to say: “Socrates used to say every day that ‘there were three blessings for which he was grateful to Fortune: first that I was born a human being, not one of the brutes; next that I was born a man, and not a woman; thirdly, a Greek adn not a barbarian.'” Fee points out that “This obviously influenced the famous rabinical prayer “Blessed are you, O God…that I’m not a brute creature, nor a Gentile, nor a woman.” (180)
One of the most powerful things for some of the people in the group was the realization of how radical Jesus interaction with women really was. Once you understand that a rabbi should not have been caught dead speaking alone with a gentile woman, it makes the woman at the well story much more meaningful. When you realize he shouldn’t have been touched by a gentile woman, the story of the woman grabbing his robe is much more powerful. When you realize women’s word would not have been admitted in court in his day, it makes it all the more noticeable that women are the one’s who return from the grave to proclaim Jesus’ resurrection from the dead to the disciples. When you realize that women were in Jesus day considered property, it makes it all the more astonishing that Paul tells husbands to love their wife as themself.
The thing I still struggle with the most is the fact that at some churches you could have a woman member who is a corporate CEO, a woman who is a Federal Judge, and a woman who is Chancellor of a Medical School, and none of those women would be fit to help make elder decisions for the church, but they would be considered ideal candidates for teaching/leading second graders. That does seem inconsistent. It seems like such churches will have a more difficult time keeping our best Christian woman leaders around. But women are used to it I guess. Its the way things have been done for years.
As I try to apply this in my own life, I am begining to think this way more and more: if men often have a role as head over a woman– if that is the default, then they should use that to empower the woman through encouraging her to be more and more used by God in ways outside of her own self-imposed limits. I regularly find that my female students have less self confidence than the guys (when the opposite would be the case in many of those cases if confidence was based on skill and real talent) So if I am culturally looked to to head the situation, I will do whatever I can to serve women as Christ loved the church to help her be everything she can be (spotless, etc). At the same time, as women find themselves more empowered, they need to be sure to not become domineering and oppressive in that way which women can be. I hope this is how my marriage looks when I get married– me supporting and encouraging my wife to step out with confidence into roles she may not have otherwise, and her supporting and respecting me along the way.
Perhaps the most encouraging thing I read this week was from Alice Matthews article where she laid out three things that must be done in the current debate. They were encouraging, because it seems like they were exactly what we have been doing as we did this issue study:
1. First we all must continue to explore honestly the competing paradigms, using the tools of biblical theology, logic and courtesy.
2. Second, we are obligated to explain the competing paradigms at many levels.
3. Third, while the first two steps are being carried out, we must acknowledge the chasm between the paradigms and embrace as fellow believers those on the other side of the chasm.
Hopefully we have done that in our study. One thing we did note, in relation to this last third point, was that you can’t merely say that both sides in practice are basically doing the same thing, and you can’t say within a congregation that you agree to disagree necessarily. Either you disallow women to take on particular leadership roles due to their gender, or you do not disallow them based on their gender. Now obviously if a non-egalitarian went to an egalitarian church, they wouldn’t be told that the woman can’t stay at home with the kids, or that she has to be an elder. In fact most women may not want to be elders in some congregations for whatever reasons. But a church which endorses a traditionalist complementarian viewpoint will not allow women the egalitarian option. So egalitarian fellowships allow one to be complementarian in your family, although they may allow women in church leadership roles which traditional complementarians would consider unbiblical. The fact of the matter is that a lot of women don’t seem to want to be elders or pastors in evangelical churches, although in other conservative churches (like some presbyterian churches or reformed churches I know of) they’ve had female elders for years, and no one thinks twice about it. This makes me think that its more socialized than anything. We have women in our fellowship that have shown great leadership abilities but have never stepped up in church because they’ve never been given the opportunity. Honestly, one of the key considerations we’ve been thinking about is that having female elders would potentially undermine our reputation with other church brothers and sisters in other congregations. So the passage on eating meat sacrificed to idols seems relevant to our decision to have female elders– we feel we are free to do so, but would this go against someone elses weaker faith? But the difference here is that that was about eating delicious meat, while this is about unleashing the God given gifts which we currently do not allow to see the light of day due to our gender specific role guidelines. But again, the people who are non-egalitarians support those specific role guidelines not merely because they don’t like change, but because they honestly feel convicted that that is what Scripture teaches…
May God have mercy on us all as well continue to think through and pray through these things… — Andy Gustafson
If you want to check out the readings for the group, feel free to go look at our group facebook page at: http://www.facebook.com/home.php#/event.php?eid=158015542456&index=1
The books we used were: DISCOVERING BIBLICAL EQUALITY: COMPLEMENTARITY WITHOUT HIERARCHY by Pierce and Groothius and RECOVERING BIBLICAL MANHOOD AND WOMANHOOD by Piper and Grudem
STUDY GROUP ANNOUNCEMENT: we are planning to do two weeks of study on eldership, then switch gears and study evangelicalism in the 20th century. We will be looking at the video series KNOWING YOUR ROOTS and reading from a couple books including J I Packer’s “Fundamentalism and the Word of God” (written in 1958).