Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Biblical Show Stoppers in the Gender/Authority Debate

There is a civil war raging in the Church, a war that has been going on almost since the beginning of the Church. Ironically, most average Janes and Joes sitting in the pews of any given church are not aware that battles are being fought all around them even though the outcomes affect their daily lives. The reason? Because they have been indoctrinated into whatever doctrinal camp their church supports and so they view that doctrine as “normal”. Moreover, they believe that anyone who believes another doctrine is a “radical” and so they sit contentedly and don’t give it another thought. Yet, the war rages on.

And what is this war? What is being contested? It is the war over which sex (or whether any sex) is “in charge” in the church and in the home. I have been an observer and, at times, a warrior in these fights for a number of years now. What I see in the trenches is a perpetual stalemate between the warring factions. I have concluded that this stalemate is the result of either side’s interpretation of but a few biblical passages and concepts. Once those interpretations are firmly entrenched, there is no moving from a person’s conviction about what all of scripture has to say on the subject. In other words, because I believe “x” about passage or concept “y”, I believe “x” is the “truth” in every biblical passage or concept that even remotely touches on the subject.

The intent of this series of 4 posts (plus this introduction) is to attempt to offer proof instead of premise regarding four critical passages or concepts in scripture that drive the whole debate. I call these “show stoppers” because one’s belief about them basically dictates one’s belief about the subject as a whole. They stop the “show”, i.e. any meaningful discussion, and until the Church can come to consensus about what is meant in these show stoppers, any other discussion of gender and authority is just “spinning one’s wheels”.

So, are these passages and concepts some mystical, unknowable truths that won’t be revealed to us until we are with God in Heaven? Certainly not! I believe each of the four show stoppers contain the necessary evidence to not only prove they belong on one side of the argument, but to also prove conclusively that they don’t belong on the other side. The task is to get those on side B, the unsupported side, to discard the dogma and premises of culture and doctrine and see that the conclusions of side A line up with God’s intent in inspiring the biblical text.

Now, lest anyone think that I am simply just another side A dogmatic, restating for the umpteenth time what I have always heard and presumed to be true, I want the reader to know that I have been, at one time or another, on both sides of the debate over each of these four passages/concepts. I have arrived at my conclusions about the show stoppers not because someone has told me what to conclude and not because I simply presume what is true without proof, but because I have both heard and made the arguments for both sides and through that rhetorical process have determined that the truth is quite evident from an informed interpretation of the text. What has been lacking is the informed part of our interpretation. That is what I hope to provide.

And what are the two sides that I speak of? Their self assigned labels are “complementarians” and “egalitarians”. Whether you know it or not, each and every one of us is falls into one of these two groups. The labels, though, are somewhat difficult to wrap our heads around (at least they are for me). So, let me describe each so the reader knows exactly where their starting point is.

“Complementarianism is a term used to describe a conservative theological view held by many in Christianity and other world religions that men and women have different roles and responsibilities, as manifested in marriage, religious leadership, and elsewhere.”
Wikipedia – “Complementarian”

“Christian Egalitarianism holds that all people are equal before God and in Christ. All have equal responsibility to use their gifts and obey their calling to the glory of God. God freely calls believers to roles and ministries without regard to class, gender, or race.”
Wikipedia – “Christian Egalitarianism”

At the center of the debate between these two sides is the allocation of authority. Complementarians believe that in home and church, males have authority over females (to greater or lesser degrees depending on how “hard” or “soft” a complementarian you are). Egalitarians believe that there is no biblical authority granted to one gender over the other, and moreover, that hierarchies of power regardless of how that power is assigned are antithetical to the design of the Church or marriage as presented by Jesus, Paul, and the other biblical writers.

In these posts, I will be focusing on these ideas as applied to marriage. There are three reasons for that. First, marriage is my primary focus in this blog. If one wants to explore these and many other related themes as they apply to leadership and ministry in the church, I recommend you take a couple of months and read everything at Cheryl Schatz’ Women in Ministry blog (or at least browse the topic list for posts directly related to the show stoppers). Second, at least 3 of the 4 show stoppers are either directly or indirectly related to marriage first, and the Church second. Third, the application of doctrine flows in the direction of marriage to church. In other words, you can’t believe a particular viewpoint about church without first believing it about marriage.

Enough prologue! Here are the 4 show stopping passages or concepts that I will be discussing over the next 4 posts.

Genesis 1 and 2 – was their hierarchy or equality in the original marriage design?
Genesis 3 – is “he will rule over you” a description of negative consequences of the fall or a prescriptive remedy for Eve’s sin?
Paul’s head/body texts – Do these metaphors describe “normal” relationships between humans with their hierarchical implications or is Paul using metaphor to explicitly eliminate hierarchy?
1 Timothy 2:11-15 – Is this passage about all women or a particular Ephesian woman?

Stay tuned. Post one – “Show Stoppers – Genesis 1 and 2: Hierarchy or Equality in the Garden?” – will be coming soon. (This post will summarize a prior series of posts on equality in the original marriage design. One may want to read those in preparation for this entry)

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