When I look at contemporary Christianity, I see a lot of vanity, distraction and ignorance. I see a lot of ugly, hard truths that need to be faced that we don’t wanna face. I see plastic smiles and plastic platitudes peddling a plastic Jesus. I see a lot of Band-Aids being applied to mortal wounds. There are many hard, ugly truths that need to be faced in the church, but one which seems to consistently prick at my soul is the ugly, bitter pill of truth that the church is not a fraternity and was never meant to be one.
We must move past the mindset that the church is a fraternity.
The church is a family of brothers and sisters. It is not a club for men who want authority, a title, recognition, power, or an order of brotherhood. If your desire to serve Christ is fueled by bravado and an appeal to your masculinity, then it is a desire rooted in vanity. The answer to liberal feminism is not glorified masculinity. Christ never appealed to the men He chose by telling them that they were destined for greatness because they were men. He never encouraged them in any way by a vain appeal to their gender. Christ spoke to their soul. He taught them to use their minds and hearts as human instruments of God, not as warriors on a God-given conquest. Our identity in Christ isn’t prioritized by how manly or womanly we are, it is prioritized by how pure our heart is and how teachable we are (Matt 5:8; 20:25-28; 23:10-12; Psalm 24:3,4).
There is brotherhood to be found in the church, but it is encompassed in the context of the unity we are to have in Christ (Gal 3:28). Which means that along with brotherhood, there is also sisterhood and both are supposed to work together in unity and in mutual submission toward a mutual goal (Eph 5:21). Recognize it or not, there is latent misogyny in the evangelical church and many are not willing to address it, whether out of ignorance or of fear of being labeled as a progressive feminist Nazi. It is a misogyny that is masked with a veneer of patriarchal self-righteousness and a smug, misguided scriptural purpose. Many churches are filled with gifted, intelligent women, who are systematically discriminated against and ignored simply because they are not men. Don’t waste your breath saying that women are of equal value and importance in the church when your actions speak otherwise. God doesn’t fill women with the gift of leadership to just be the church secretary or run the nurseries. God doesn’t bless a woman with the circumstances and ability to acquire a Master’s Degree in theology to just pick out Sunday School curriculum.
We must apply an even hermeneutic.
How this is worked out in each church will be different, which is why women’s roles in the church are considered a secondary issue and many churches will have different interpretations of the proper application of scripture in our time and culture. The reality is, we don’t apply an even hermeneutic to how we interpret scripture on this issue. Case in point, most of the evangelical church disregards almost all of 1 Corinthians 14 as no longer applicable, except for two verses. Which means that thirty-eight verses are thrown out, except for the two that talk about women being silent in the church. 1 Timothy 2:8 is cast aside into the pen of extinct cultural application, in favor of staunch legalistic adherence to 2:11 & 12 without any regard to context. Paul’s example of Eve’s deception at verse 13 is interpreted as an eternal restriction upon women, even though he uses the same analogy at 2 Cor 11:3 as an example of the susceptibility of deception within the church as a whole. Such inconsistency is reprehensible.
All scripture that is interpreted as restrictive upon women–which is, in actuality, a scant few verses– is didactic in nature. The “letter” genre of scripture–which encompasses all of Paul’s writings– is didactic, which means by nature, it is situational and occasional. It was written to address specific situations during a specific frame of time, which means not only that the theology being discussed was written for the task or situation at hand, but also means that we have to be aware of cultural relativity. Meaning, we must apply good exegesis to determine what applies to the original audience alone, versus what spiritual principles are being taught that transcend culture and are a word to be applied for all seasons. Good exegesis reconstructs the original situation the author was addressing, so that correct context can be determined. Correct context is critical for determining proper application.
This is not a moral issue.
How women function in the church is not a moral issue. And sin is not a cultural issue. Sin is sin and God’s view of sin does not change with the culture. Homosexuality, adultery and fornication are moral issues. They are sins and they will always be sins no matter what the cultural context is. Sin is never a secondary issue because sin affects salvation and the working out thereof. Thus, to put women’s roles in the church in the same category as allowing homosexuality in the church or overlooking adultery and fornication among the men is not only utterly absurd, but also grossly out of context. It is argumentum ad hominem.
We must look at the bigger picture and focus on the central Biblical message.
The reality is, that there are scriptural applications which must be interpreted by looking at the overall Biblical witness and message and by applying an even, consistent hermeneutic based on that witness and message. Slavery, which scripture was used to justify, would be included in such an application (1 Cor 7:21; Col 3:22; 4:1; Eph 6:5-9; 1 Tim 6:1,2; Titus 2:9,10; 1 Peter 2:18). Also segregation (1 Kings 11:2; Deut 7:3,4; Joshua 23:12; Ezra 9:2; Nehemiah 13:23-25; Psalm 106:35), not giving women the right to vote (Eph 5:22; 1 Pet 3:1,2; 1 Cor 14:34; Col 3:18), and, believe it or not, even restricting pain prevention during childbirth was once justified by scripture (Gen 3:16). Many times we interpret scripture pursuant to our personal perspective, feelings or opinions, and this is not an appropriate hermeneutic.
The fact of the matter is that half, and in many circumstances, over half the church is composed of women. Yet in most evangelical churches they are woefully underrepresented and many feel that they have no voice. In many evangelical churches, women are completely unrepresented in visible leadership roles and all church decisions are made by men. People are leaving the church in droves and we must take an honest look at ourselves and ask why? And I don’t believe there will be a single answer. But I do believe that part of the answer “why” will include our insistence to continue following vain methodologies and empty traditions rather than the leading of the Spirit, which was the fatal flaw of the Pharisees. I believe that the mentality of “the women serve the men as the men serve Christ” was never Christ’s intention for the church in the first place. I believe that God will bring revival to the church and it is a revival that will be composed of both men and women working together, lifting each other up, encouraging each other, serving each other, doing nothing out of selfish pride or ambition, but in humility considering others more important than themselves, not looking to their own interests but putting other’s needs before their own (Phil 2:3-5). It will be a church without compartmentalization and without division, structured around Christ and Him alone.
I do not covet the pulpit, nor do I desire to have authority over men. Honestly, I have no desire to have authority over anybody because I have four daughters to raise and a farm to maintain and Bible college to finish and a church to serve and I ain’t got that kind of time. But I will say that I am neither complimentarian nor egalitarian because for me to categorize myself into one camp or the other would be to categorize God. It would be for me to assume that God is with one camp and against the other, which would be to further exacerbate the ingroup/outgroup mentality that pervades the church. It would be for me to encourage the “us versus them” attitude. Paul says about secondary issues in the church, to be “fully convinced in your own mind” (Rom 14:5). Which means that churches which interpret scripture one way on the issue should not be condemned or criticized by those who interpret it another way. There are copious amounts of theological pontificating on both sides of the argument, both presenting reasonable arguments, both resolute in their “correctness” of interpretation, both of which should let the other be, until Jesus comes back to sort out the details.
Any form of discrimination not rooted in moral preservation creates, fuels, and fosters division in the church and opens the doors to bitterness, resentment, contempt and needless despondency and discouragement. Regardless of how either side interprets scripture, God is most fully and gloriously represented through both men and women, which is why He created both genders and not just one. He created them both to each be equally dependent upon the other, each voice and each perspective indispensable to the other, which means that each voice and each perspective are also dependent upon each other and indispensable to the other in the church. In every area of the church. Which means that men and women–both faces of God– must work together in unity, rather than in exclusion, and in mutual submission rather than singular submission, toward a mutual goal of sharing the Gospel, making disciples, and building Christ’s kingdom.
“God created mankind in His own image, in the image of God He created them; male and female He created them. God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.'”(Gen 1:27,28)
“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Eph 5:21)
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal 3:28)
“For we are members of His body. For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. This mystery is profound, but I am speaking about Christ and the church.” (Eph 5:30-32)
“…But God has composed the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its members should have mutual concern for one another. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ and each of you is a member of it.” (1 Cor 12:24-27)