Thursday, April 26, 2012

Woman, Get Me My Chips Is Not Complementarianism

When I went to Together for the Gospel in 2008 I really appreciated the panel discussions, a group of brothers sitting around and discussing issues with one another rather than standing behind a podium and lecturing. The lectures were great, theologically rich and intellectually deep, but the panels were even better. I have been waiting for this particular panel discussion to come out, Ligon Duncan, John Piper, Russ Moore and Greg Gilbert speaking about complementarianism.

The discussion is set in the context of a traditional local church to be sure but I appreciated the wisdom and the boldness exhibited, especially from Piper who doesn't seem cowed by the prevailing church culture on this issue and yet still impacts millions of young Christians.

I tried embedding the audio file but I don't think it worked. Not sure why blogger lets you embed video but not audio. Anyway.

One of the things that I appreciate is the way that these brothers link how we view Ephesians 5 and the related passages with how we view the rest of the Scriptures. Piper makes the point that the view of the Bible that draws us away from a complementary understanding of the relevant passages in Ephesians 5 is likewise a serious danger to draw us to a place where we get the Gospel wrong. I think we have seen that lived out in the former mainline Protestant denominations that have all embraced an egalitarian view of gender and have all walked the same path toward normalization of sin and abandonment of the Gospel and eventually death. That is why this issue is so crucial and why I bring it up all the time. We start down a dangerous path when we spend more time trying to explain why Scripture doesn't mean what it says rather than trying to submit ourselves to the Word, whether that is counter-cultural teachings on gender or using violence or how we view money.

Greg Gilbert (at around 19 minutes in) makes a great statement, something I am trying to focus on, namely that we come at this the wrong way by focusing on negatives, "what women cannot or should not do in the life of the church". That is exactly right, we should encourage women to serve in the church in every way that God in His wisdom has set it forth. This was just an excellent discussion that pulls no punches.

Now I wish these brothers from T4G would apply the same hermeneutic principle to their understanding of other passages, primarily in the church....


Arlan said...

Nice summary of the issue there. Particularly interesting is the crux of the matter as defined by Piper: the definition of role. He made a great vignette there.

I am genuinely wrestling with this, trying to reconcile to seemingly divergent streams of my own understanding. One of my deepest challenges wouldn't even be intelligible to Piper, though.

Art, if you can explain this it would be very helpful for me. In a context where we both (as I understand it) reject the institutionalized church version of elders, pastors, and offices generally, how do we define roles?

I do not mean that there are no roles. Men can be recognized for their proficiency and gift. But just because a particular man is consistently a good teacher does not mean no other man ever teaches; there is one who teaches proficiently and one who teaches incidentally. The recognition of one man's aptitude does not negate the other man's capability.

Stop there. Do we agree this far? If not I misread you and I am asking the wrong questions.

Assuming we do agree this far, then the concept of differing male/female proficiencies I have no trouble with at all. I recognize it myself.

Equally, I don't have an issue with fundamental male/female differences. Biologically a man is always a man and a woman is always a woman (so constituted); and the rare biological confusions that arise do not trouble me from that principle difference.

Here's what confounds me. In a church structure based on proficiency, recognition, and shared capability, how can that include roles so precisely and exclusively defined, which do not also carry over into the rest of life?

To say the same thing another way: if it is a matter of man and woman, than it is man and woman every where and at all times. If it is a matter of role in the church, then it is by ability and recognition.

The hybrid you form perplexes me, where women cannot speak in the church in a way which they may speak outside of the the church. I cannot see how to consistently arrive at that combination.

Any elucidating thoughts?

Chieftain of Seir said...

It is wrong to think that roles in the church are solely about proficiency.

Jesus did not submit to his parents when he was a child because they were more proficient then he was. Jesus did not submit to the human judges who had him crucified on the cross because they were more proficient than he was.

You might say that Jesus was not submitting to man but to God. And in a sense you would be correct. But if you use that reasoning, you must say that God calls no one to submit to anyone other than himself.

We are not called to submit to governments only if they are considered "proficient". We are not called on to submit to our parents only if they are "proficient". And however you choose to understand gender roles in the New Testament, they are not based on "proficiency."

To be sure, there are things that God expects from Governments, Parents, and Men. But just as David recognized Saul as being the anointed of the Lord even after he stopped being the kind of King that God anointed him to be, so to Governments, Parents, and Men do not have their "anointing" (for lack of a better word) on the basis of their "proficiency".

Ultimately, we will only have a perfectly "proficient" government established by God through his son. Ultimately, we will only have a perfectly "proficient" father. Ultimately, we will all be Eve to Christ Adam (taken out of him to be with him forever).

I think that even some people who would agree with the above statements get confused in the case of Elders because they see a criteria for elders set out in the Bible. They therefore think that being an elder is all about "proficiency".

But this is missing the point. A criteria is laid our for celebrating the Lord's supper, but that does not mean that the Lord's supper is "proficient" in the sense that "Sacramentalist" would have it. One can understand that the Lord's supper is symbolic of what he has done and the feast that we will eat with him without denying that treating the Lord's supper in an unworthy manner is a real offense against God.

In a similar manner, Paul's teaching that woman were not to exercise authority in the church is not based on proficiency but on the created order and the witness of the coming created order to others. This is shown by the fact that he references not some supposed general attribute of "men" but the story of Eve and the witness of the Angles.

Arlan said...

Chief, you took my emphasis to be on proficiency but I meant it to be on role. I see where I was pointing that direction but that wasn't meant to be my focus. I have not brought up "but what if a woman is a really good leader" line of argument because I agree the fundamental question isn't about proficiency.

Your examples of government confirm my point; or rather, my question. Should the relationship of authority in the church be the same as the relationship to authority by which people rule the world?

The arguments I have heard trying to remove all force from Paul's teaching on women fall short because they try to call "culturally limited" what Paul ties to Eden and the Revelation marriage.

But justifications for the contrary view have always (in my experienced) fallen also. On stricter side there is the prohibition of all independent speech by women to Christian men. More generally (and often along with the former) there is the insane restriction on women from certain types of speech on Sunday in Churchy places which they are freely permitted on other days and in other places. To be clear, I don't mean speaking generally; I mean cases such as "Women cannot teach men in our church, but they can teach at Christian retreats" or other variations.

To get to the root of it, my problem is not with the concept of restriction, but how it can be applied outside of a liturgical or official system. If we have not designated one man as Teacher, what is teaching? If one man speaks and then another man speaks, which of them taught? If two men speak and then a woman speaks, which of them taught?

I don't think it's possible to define "authority" and "teaching" without constructing a legal code around it. I am not denying the existence of authority and teaching apart from an institutional formula; but I don't think it can be defined.

People who have left the clergy/laity power coda become so intensely concerned over the matter of women that they institute a new clergy/laity, with only the women in the laity. I am referring to those who don't permit women to speak (and our host, Art, is one). This silence in the assembly of God requires that someone address God / God's people on behalf of the silent (women); men become priests.

Chief, you have only mentioned women not exercising authority, but typically I see the same exegetical methods also requiring that women not speak "for it is shameful for a woman to speak in church." If you think a single consistent exegesis keeps one and discards the other, explaining it would help.

Arlan said...

Chief, backstory:
Comment links back to Art's series

I bring up the concept of priesthood

Two opposing views are presented