Equal In Value Different In Roles: Is Egalitarianism An Assault On The Gospel?

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God’s Good Design

27  So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.Genesis 1:27 (ESV)

In our postmodern era the most radical statements tend to be the most assertive and absolute ones. It is ok in our day to speak “your truth” so long as it remains just yours. Yet as soon as your truth becomes absolute and binding on all people, we then have a serious problem! Worst still is when you take it up a notch and assert that what you have is in fact, God’s Truth. This is precisely why I am aware that what I am about to argue may well ruffle some feathers, and perhaps make me the target of such titles as “fundamentalist,” “chauvinist,” and perhaps “Misogynist.” Ouch! I certainly intend to speak in love and to convey the highest good for men and women’s roles based upon God’s word. Whether that is well received or resented is purely up to the reader and whether they are open to be challenged or not. We all have presuppositions that we come to the table with some of which are good and true, and others of which we would do well to renounce and seek to change. Needless to say those presuppositions become the lens through which we assess and process all things. My presupposition for expressing the conviction contained herein is that God has spoken to humanity, and his words have been recorded in the canons of the Old and New Testaments of the Holy Bible. God’s word being inspired and inerrant, is useful for teaching, and rebuking, and training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16). Since God doesn’t change neither does his word change. It is from this conviction that I speak assertively knowing that I am not speaking from my own subjective biases, but rather am communicating God’s design and intent as revealed to us in Holy Scripture.

Right from the onset of the biblical testimony in Genesis 1 we see God at work in establishing the created order. It is at the climax of this creation account, that we see in unprecedented fashion the words quoted above: “So God created man in his own image…” Almost undoubtedly we glance over that sentence with a sense of normalcy, never stopping to consider the awesomeness of what God has just done. Of all created order both in heaven and earth, this is the first and last class of creatures that will ever bear the Imago Dei, being made to reflect the image of God upon the earth. What an astonishing reality and a great privilege this is to humanity. Being made in the image of God endues mankind with intrinsic purpose and value, God’s image in us is what upholds the sanctity of human life. We read slightly further in the same sentence the words: “male and female he created them.” What is this that we are witnessing? None other than God’s good design for gender roles among God’s image bearers. God establishes from the inception of humanity complementary relationships for males and females, this is good and finds its proper place within pre-fall humanity. This is to say that gender roles and distinction is not a result of sin; it is in fact God’s good design. Furthermore, we see in this account that God’s greatest intent for gender distinction and complementary roles was the establishment of heterosexual monogamous marriage through the covenantal commitment one to another. This is certainly indicative of the nature of the covenantal God who’s image we were made to reflect. So since this is so clear and presented to us right from the onset of the created order, why is it that today we question the notion that gender even exists and certainly reject the idea that men and women are complementary but rather egalitarian in their relationship to one another? Is egalitarianism God’s design for men and women? More importantly should it be present in his Church? Is it in fact an assault on the Gospel? I will attempt to address these questions below.

Unhappy In Your Own Skin

16 To the woman he said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you.” Genesis 3:16 (ESV)

I received a call one evening from a good friend inviting us to an outing with a group of couples. “Sure, let me talk to the boss and get back to you.” I said jokingly as I got off of the phone. My wife being in the connecting room, almost immediately baulked at the notion that she is my boss. “Please don’t call me the boss.” she said with a defensive demeanor about her. “I’m only joking.” I said, but she was intent that she did not like that title. Sure one could argue that my wife is perhaps “old fashioned,” or “narrow minded,” but a deeper look will reveal that there is far more baggage attached to the title of boss than meets the eye. My wife, whom I highly esteem and hold to be my hero in many ways is a soft spoken, yet strong woman. She’s smart, bold, decisive, competent, and certainly a good leader. However my wife as amazing as she is, gladly defers the leadership of our family to me. She does this not because I’m any more competent than she is, and certainly not because I’m any more valuable than she is, rather she does it because it liberates and empowers her to do so. Every woman, no matter how brilliant, strong willed, or capable she may be will never feel more empowered in her womanhood as when she is under the leadership and protection of a godly, loving, and strong man whether her father, brother, husband or employer. So if this is true than why all this talk in our day of the oppression of women? Why is it that women in 2018 are still expressing that they feel marginalized and undervalued? Well, I could venture off into sesquipedalian theories, but the answer is rather simple, perhaps too simple for most people to even accept. The age old problem of the complementary roles of men and women can be traced back to The Fall of the human race into sin. It is at this point in the account of human history recorded for us in Genesis 3 that we see a reversal take place.

Fast forward to verse 16 of chapter 3. Adam and Eve at this point have already been deceived by the serpent plunging into sin with a single bite of the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil of which God commanded them not to eat. It was Adam’s passivity toward his wife that would become the perpetual default demeanor of men coupled with a forceful unreasonable ruling of women, more specifically their wives. This, not a choice from Adam but rather a curse from God. What’s more revealing perhaps is the curse God places on the woman as regards her husband: “Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you.” The words translated desire and Contrary in English denote a bent toward complete domination of the relationship in Hebrew. This is to say that women have a perpetual natural desire to dominate men, and more specifically their husbands. So you see this is not a new problem only present in the 20th and 21st centuries where there is the battle of the sexes, it has been happening since the garden of Eden. So are women undervalued and marginalized in society? Sure, so long as there are ungodly men under the curse of sin there will be men forcefully and unreasonably attempting to rule women. So are women merely victims? Certainly not! So long as women remain under the curse of sin, they will have an insatiable appetite for domination and usurping any authority that would make them feel inferior to men. So prevalent has this problem become that even the Church has come under pressure and under fire as being the ring leader in the suppression of women. Really? How is this?

Certainly the Church is not exempt from the effects of sin, since it is comprised of sinners, redeemed sinners to be sure, but sinners none the less. I’m not arguing that there may not be some local churches where you will find all manner of ungodliness and perversion of power, their judgement is not idle. However, by and large the problem lies not in the Church since our aim as a people is to honor the Word of God as supreme. The problem lies in the culture who has an ever increasing desire to liberate itself from any notion of ultimate and singular authority. What’s worse is that this kind of thinking has seeped in and become normative among many professing Christians, who take their cue not from the Authority of Scripture, but rather from the influence of popular culture. We see this problem of casting off all restraint heightened here in the United States in the mid 20th century where the effects of the American Enlightenment gave way to the feminist movement and women’s rights movement. It is as this point in America where we see women speaking out and petitioning for equal rights in society. Now, there is a lot right with this, I think women should be given the same opportunities in society as any man, not without exception but certainly without partiality. I mean by this that a woman should not be offered a job based solely on the fact that she is a woman. If there is a man more qualified for a position then he should get that position, but if she is more qualified then she should be offered the position and have the same opportunity as any man within the workforce. I have as I mentioned above, an incredible wife, who is also a Registered Nurse and I’m extremely grateful that she can do what she loves and get well compensated for it in our day. I have daughters who I want to empower and encourage to dream big and do what they love all within the confines of God’s will as revealed in Holy Scripture. In this way, I think it to be right that women be welcomed as an integral part of society to contribute their gifts in a complimentary relationship to the men they work with and for and vice-versa. Where the enlightenment has damaged our thinking and the feminist movement harmed women rather than empower them is in trumpeting this call to egalitarianism. How so you might ask? I’ll attempt to elucidate this thought for you.

“Sir, yes Ma’am!”

Egalitarianism is a view that says men and women are equal in every way and deserve the same opportunities without exception. This sounds nice, but is actually an affront to God’s design for men and women in reflecting his character. Men and women are certainly equal in worth and dignity, no doubt about it. Still they have roles that differ fundamentally from one another. Though these roles can be perhaps imitated by the other gender, they certainly can not be emulated to precise efficacy by the other gender. So damaging has this egalitarian school of thought been to society that every line has been blurred in the realm of gender distinction. Even to the point that we are being told that gender doesn’t exist and that people should be free to identify as whatever pronoun best suits their liking. This is a sad reality that we are seeing unraveled right before our eyes, yet it is the result of refusing to acknowledge that we have a higher and final authority. God through Intelligent Design, determines our anatomy and subsequently our gender roles. Egalitarianism has also done tremendous harm to women by affirming them in their unruly desire to dominate. As a result this has put women in positions to be further abused and ruled by harsh men. These men care nothing for the frailty and elegance of a woman’s frame or emotional construct, but rather view them as more competition to be eliminated rather than a helper and confidant to be respected and embraced. I certainly don’t mean to paint with a broad brush. Obviously not all men are harsh or want to rule the women in their lives, and not all women are rash and want to dominate the men in their lives. However those who aren’t that way are the same ones who tend to uphold and embrace a complementary view of their roles with one another. With all the damage that egalitarianism causes, I find it to be a self-refuting philosophy and frankly unhealthy for society. Many find this to be unchristian and even hateful to say but in its proper context it is actually the most loving thing to say since it is how God designed it. So what about egalitarianism in the Church, is this appropriate? The immediate answer is no. The question then begged is, why?

11 A woman should learn in silence with full submission. 12 I do not allow a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; instead, she is to be silent. 13 For Adam was created first, then Eve. 14 And Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and transgressed. (1 Timothy 2:11–14) HCSB

I recall many years ago while being a member of a church with a strong egalitarian bent in their ministry philosophy, talking to my pastor about the passage of Scripture above. I asked him; “if this is a command from God, why are we ordaining women as pastors, and why is the senior pastor of our fellowship of churches a woman?” He didn’t address or even attempt to exegete the scripture, rather he went directly into saying that the women they ordain are always ordained with their husbands (which was true) and that although his pastor was a woman, that she really wasn’t “in charge” being that her brother-in-law was the president of the fellowship (also true). Still those answers were unsatisfactory to my questions in light of the Scripture. The fact remained that these women still spoke, taught, and exercised authority over the men in their congregations, which is a clear violation of the apostolic command in Scripture. I pressed him again at a later date being that I couldn’t reconcile what I saw clearly in Scripture and the disregard for those commands I saw at church. This time he at least addressed the Scripture and said that Paul was merely addressing the cultural norm and that it didn’t apply to today. I was grieved with his answer again, but left it alone being that he clearly didn’t intend to change his model of ministry. I thought often of his responses, and sadly he was wrong about the answers he gave me since the answer to Paul’s reason for not allowing women to teach is in verses 13 and 14. Beloved this command has nothing to do with a cultural norm of that day, no, this was a statement even then and was as radical in Paul’s day as it is today. What is the reason Paul gives? “For Adam was created first, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and transgressed.” Paul goes right back to the fall of mankind and says this was God’s order all along, that women should be complementary to men, and this is most importantly upheld in the church. Well perhaps one could argue; surely this was only Paul’s misogyny on full display. However a careful and thoughtful reading of the entirety of Pauline literature we possess and undoubtedly we’ll see that Paul had an extremely high view of women. In fact in the following verse Paul bestows tremendous honor on women by establishing them as the agents through whom the world is filled and influenced. How so you ask? Well what does he say in verse 15: “But she will be saved through childbearing, if she continues in faith, love, and holiness, with good judgment.” Paul gets at the heart of the Gospel here, that though a woman was the perpetrator in The Fall of humanity, a woman would also be the vessel through whom salvation would come to humanity by the birth of Christ. Moreover, Paul asserts that a woman’s honor is upheld by her faithful care to her own home in child rearing and training her children to fear and love the LORD. Women, by way of motherhood are privileged to be the primary influence in the men and women who will inevitably be the future and leaders of society. This is not to say that women can not or should not have positions outside of the home within society, yet those positions can never bestow the same honor on a woman as being the keeper of her own home. As regards her role within the church it is not God’s purpose or design that women should be in positions of authoritative leadership. Paul reasserts this same command to the church in Corinth and makes the command more firm in this way:

33 For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.
As in all the churches of the saints, 34 the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. 35 If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.
36 Or was it from you that the word of God came? Or are you the only ones it has reached? 37 If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord. 38 If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized (1 Corinthians 14:33–38)

Here Paul puts to rest any doubt that this is how God intends all the churches to be governed. He says “as in all the churches” meaning without exception since this is God’s will and design. Again, its important to understand that this was not something that was a mere upholding of cultural traditions and norms, rather it was a radical declaration that the Church as the bride of Christ functions in diametrically opposed fashion from the world. There was all manner of egalitarianism present in Paul’s day and in fact there were religious sects that upheld women as the chief ministers in the temples of their feminine gods. This is not to say that women can have no expression in church, it is fitting and honorable that they teach and train other women and children in the ways of Christ. However, women should be subject to their own husbands as God has ordered, and single women to their own fathers or the elders in the church. These statements appear to the natural mind to be suppressive and unloving, but to those who are truly spiritual and recognize the purpose of the authority God has established these are liberating and God glorifying truths. This is how Paul assures his readers that this isn’t stemming from Paul’s biases rather he says: “If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord. 38 If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized.” This is from God not from man.

Gender Roles In Church: A Shadow Of A Greater Reality

I understand how it could be easy to disregard some of the commands put forward in Scripture as archaic and irrelevant to our day and age. However nothing could be further from the truth or more damaging to the Body of Christ. God’s word is timeless and relevant for each generation and this issue of gender roles in The Church is one of SOLA SCRIPTURA: Scripture Alone. It comes down to either standing over God’s word as judge, or coming under subjection to it in humility as subordinate. There is grave danger in disregarding any command in Scripture, especially in the New Testament which was written exclusively for the Church. Once a church is willing to lay aside a clear command for the sake of appeasing societal pressure or maintaining cultural relevance, they are only few steps away if they haven’t already, from abandoning the Gospel altogether. Once this occurs they open themselves up to a gymnastic biblical hermeneutic. What is that you ask? It is when a church and their members have to become very flexible and acrobatic in their reading of Scripture to make it fit their ministry philosophy. This occurs when they have already excused themselves from being bound to certain clear commands. As a result they need to be circular in their argumentation and Biblical gymnasts in their hermeneutic, bending and flipping the clear meaning of Scripture. Others just disregard it altogether as one such person I spoke to said as being “not the heart of God.” Yet, Paul is clear that if someone disregards or doesn’t recognize the Scriptural command as a command from the LORD then they themselves are not recognized by the LORD. Is this to say that God can not use women in positions of leadership? Of course not, God is free to do as He wills. We see in Scripture that God used Deborah as a Judge over Israel (Judges 4). Yet it must be noted, that this was not a sign of God’s favor or blessing on Israel, rather it was an indictment against the men of Israel. Since the men were so corrupt and full of fear, God raised up a woman to judge them as a nation. Again, this was not a sign of approval rather an act of Judgement. Even so if a church today is run by a woman, or if a woman is acting in a pastoral function, this is not something which the LORD favors or approves of, but he will use as an act of Judgement against that church since their men are behaving with the cowardice of Adam. Moreover it is also a judgement on those women who rather than pleading with their men and calling them to repentance and to biblical leadership are assuming the role of headship which is out of order. Why is this such a serious matter in the Church? Because complementary roles first within marriage and also within the Church are a shadow of the Gospel picture of Christ redeeming His Bride and she coming under full submission to her head which is Christ.

22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. 25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word -(Eph 5:22–26) ESV

Egalitarianism in the church is an assault on the Gospel because it aims to usurp the complementary roles God has established as a means to display the glory of the relationship Christ has with His bride the Church. The reason complementarianism is God’s good design for gender roles is because it shows the world that we don’t rule or govern ourselves, but we have a federal head who is Christ. If women can offer oversight to the men in the Church including their own husbands, then the Church also can usurp authority over Christ and give him oversight. This is a heinous indictment and should cause us to tremble at the thought that we would want to be equal to Christ and even offer him oversight. This may sound like an exaggeration, but the implications are certainly there and are sobering. You need not look far to see the disorder present in any family or church where women, outside of God’s revealed design are exercising authority due to the passivity of men and husbands who refuse to lead as God has called them to. The Church is to stand out from the world, we should be the major influence on culture. However, through a distortion of God’s word, the Church caves in to the pressure of relevance and has become guilty of regarding God’s word as subjective recommendations, rather than objective truth and commands. Egalitarianism is an assault on the gospel, because it distorts the relationship that the Church is called to share with Christ, which is one of humble submission to Him as LORD. I say this all in love, and I pray that if you are in a church where you see egalitarianism praised and upheld, perhaps not in word but certainly in action, that you would not bend under the pressure and assume you can’t speak up. Speak up and be discerning, but ask God for grace and always speak the truth in love seeking the repentance of those whom God has placed in your life. So yes, men and women are absolutely equal in value and dignity, but by God’s good design and grace we have distinct and complementary roles to benefit one another. Embracing this is glorifying to God and upholds the picture of the Gospel between Christ and His bride.

Song For Reflection