There has been a seismic shift of opinion in the SBC regarding gender issues. In my childhood, the vast majority of Southern Baptists believed that the husband was designed by God to be the head of his home, and that the roles of pastor and deacon (you had a hard time in the 60’s finding a Baptist church with elders) were strictly reserved for men. Now, times have changed. Many Southern Baptists who affirm inerrancy also believe that the traditional teachings on gender roles are contrary to the scriptural teaching and are unhappy with the changes that were made in the 2000 Baptist Faith & Message statement that established the complementarian position as official SBC doctrine.
In my youth, prevailing culture flowed in the same stream as SBC tradition convictions. Ward Cleaver was the unquestioned head of his home. Ricky Ricardo treated Lucy more like a child than as an equal. We shared a commonality with our culture on this subject. Such is no longer the case. The idea that men should be heads of their homes is seen as archaic at best, abusive at worst. Restricting the pulpit and other ministry positions to men is viewed as discriminatory and sexist. Those who hold to the traditional viewpoint are now hopelessly out of step with the progressive views of our modern culture.
But, as Baptists, we are supposed to make our decisions based on what is biblical not what is popular. If the complementarian position is wrong today, it was wrong when the whole culture supported it. And if complementarianism is the biblical position, we cannot compromise it even if it draws disdain, ridicule and horror from our culture. Our convictions need to be based on a sound exposition of Scripture.
Most of the readers are familiar with the terms complementarian and egalitarian, but some might not be. Permit me to offer a definition. In terms of the evangelical debate these terms have fairly standard meanings. Both terms encompass a continuum of viewpoints, but essentially, here is what they mean.
Egalitarians believe that men and women have equal roles at home and at church. They do not believe in male headship or in women submitting to their husbands. They believe the roles of pastor, elder or deacon are equally available to men or women. In general, they assert that assigning women to subordinate roles at home or at church demeans their worth and value and is contrary to Christian ethics.
Complementarians believe that God created men and women with equality of worth, but with different roles at home and at church. They believe that men should be loving leaders in their homes and that wives are required by scripture to submit to the husband’s authority. They believe that the Bible restricts the authoritative leadership roles in the church to men. They assert that people of equal worth can have different roles, different levels of authority without demeaning the worth of the person with the lesser authority.
A Study of Key Biblical Passages
Since I believe that this issue should be solved by exegesis and exposition, I am going to be writing a series of posts on this issue over the coming weeks. I will be asking this question,
“Does the exegesis of the key biblical passages support the complementarian position, or the egalitarian?”
In this post, I am simply going to discuss a few introductory thoughts, primarily focusing on the various positions. In my next post, I will examine Genesis 2-3 to examine the intent of God in creation and the effects of the fall on that creation. Then we will look at the marriage passages (Ephesians 5, Colossians 3, and 1 Peter 3). We will then examine the key passages that define the role of women in the church. We will begin by looking at 1 Corinthians 11, then 1 Corinthians 14, then the passages in the Pastoral Epistles. I will also focus on Galatians 3:28 at some point. I also intend to write a post on the role of women in the earthly ministry of Jesus. I plan to write one post per passage, but that can change.
I hold no hope that mine will be the decisive or final word on this highly volatile subject. I do hope that we can have an instructive discussion based on the biblical text and not on personal opinion or derogation. I am no scholar (you will find no PhD or ThD after my name). But I do want to add my voice. That’s the wonder of the internet, isn’t it? We can all debate key issues of the day.
But my hope is that our debate will not devolve into accusations and name-calling. Lets talk about what the Bible says. I am inviting anyone who is interested to study this subject with me. I will always announce what the next post will cover, so if you are interested, you can read, study and research that passage on your own before I post. What an amazing moment that would be if we shared our knowledge based on Bible study instead of just our opinions!
Al Mohler’s Experience
Al Mohler has recounted how he shifted from being a passionate egalitarian to a complementarian. Noted theologian Carl Henry challenged his views during his student years and he embarked on an in depth study of what the Bible said. Already committed to the authority of scripture, he became convinced that the Bible affirmed a complementarian view. He described the process in a July 19, 2006 article in “Conventional Thinking” called, “Frank Page — Caught in the Act of Changing His Mind.”
“My study of the question led me to a very uncomfortable conclusion – my advocacy of women in the teaching office was wrong, violative of Scripture, inconsistentent with my theological commitments, injurious to the church, unsubstantiated, and just intellectually embarrassing. “
After intense study of the scriptures, he changed his views. He rejected what he had been taught; the dominant mindset at his school. He changed his views based on his study of scripture. Forget for a moment what he changed his view to – that’s not my point. My point is that he had a position which he was passionately committed to. Then, he studied the Bible and found that his view did not match the revelation of scripture. He altered his views.
Isn’t that the way we are supposed to do it? We study the Bible and form our views. We don’t do polls or stick our fingers in the wind to see which way the wind blows. We open a Bible and attempt to figure out what God said. If the whole world hates the conclusions we have come to, we stick with what the Bible says. We are not convinced solely by scholars or cultural analysts, but by exegesis.
Of course, now you are suspicious of my intent in telling this story, since Mohler converted to the position you assume (admittedly correctly) that I hold. But my point is much simpler than that. We need to make sure that every opinion we have is subject to scripture. If you are convinced of the egalitarian viewpoint, make sure that your conviction is biblical, not cultural. If you are complementarian, make sure that you are informed by scriptures, not your own desire for power or dominance. Our motives, actions, convictions and words must always be subject to the revelation God gave us, recorded in his perfect, mistake-free Word.
I’ve been a big fan of Henry Blackaby since the first sermon I heard him preach. He said something years ago that stuck with me.
“God’s Word is always true, God’s ways are always right, and God’s will is always best.”
We should not fear to follow the scriptures wherever they lead us. If the Word of God demands that we change our dearly-held positions, then we must change them. Each of us, regardless of our starting point, must make that commitment.
Just the Facts, Ma’am
I think even the most ardent egalitarian will have to admit that a cursory reading of several key passages in scripture would tend to lead one to the view that husbands are the heads of their homes and wives are to submit to their leadership. Other passages would seem to indicate that the key leadership roles in the church are restricted to men. The Bible seems to teach a complementarian position. But many today (perhaps most by this time) do not agree with the traditional view. On what basis to they challenge the traditional interpretation of the marriage passages or the passages in 1 Corinthians 11 and 14, and 1 Timothy 2 concerning church leadership and authority?
Not all egalitarians are created equal. I have observed three general (and perhaps over-simplified) categories of egalitarianism. I do not know if this is accurate universally, but in my experience, egalitarianism has been evolving. Most of the egalitarians I met in my early days were more liberal (believed that the Bible had errors in it ). Then, I began to encounter cultural explanations for the key biblical passages. It seems to me that there has been an evolution of thought and argument among egalitarians. Perhaps it is just in the ones that I have encountered.
The Liberal Egalitarian
Those who reject the authority and trustworthiness of scripture have little trouble with the biblical passages that seem to teach male headship. They simply assign them to an older, patriarchal mindset and believe that they are wrong. Paul, I was taught, probably had a bad experience with women and developed a “he-man, woman-haters” attitude that is reflected in his writings. We have now grown and evolved past such patriarchal notions and need to leave the sexist views of Paul behind.
They spend little time trying to explain Paul’s teachings or to reinterpret them in a more egalitarian way. They simply believe that Paul reflected his times and tried to foist a male supremacist viewpoint on the church.
Important NOTE: Some bloggers, painting with very broad brush strokes, have claimed that all egalitarians are liberals. While it is true that the early egalitarians I encountered may have tended toward liberalism, it is not fair to say that everyone who holds this view is a liberal. There are those who hold a high view of scripture who have interpreted that scripture to teach an egalitarian view. We can disagree with them on an exegetical basis, but we ought not question their commitment to God’s Word, simply based on the adoption of egalitarianism. There have been a couple of other attempts to combine a higher view of scripture with egalitarian interpretation.
The Cultural-Setting Egalitarian
As I mentioned, the cavalier attitude of more liberal interpreters toward scripture did not satisfy some who held to egalitarianism. Many believe that the admonitions in Corinthians and Timothy about male leadership in the church were not meant as universal principles, but were directed toward happenings in those churches or cultural standards of the day. They do not reject the texts, simply question whether they were meant to apply beyond the specific situation to which they were written.
The prime example of this is the admittedly confusing teaching on women covering their heads (and men having short hair) in 1 Corinthians 11. Since most Christian women today neither wear particularly long hair or wear head coverings in church, it can be assumed that most of us see some level of cultural explanation for that passage.
However, I do not believe that the cultural explanation is fair to the texts themselves. In every one of these passages, Paul references creation or some eternal principle as the basis of his teaching. In 1 Corinthians 11:3, he asserts that his teaching is rooted in the relationship of the Father and the Son. In verses 8 and 9, he references the order of creation as a significant factor. In 1 Corinthians 14:34 he bases his teaching in the Law. In 1 Timothy 2:13-14, he again bases his teaching on the order of creation and the fall. Paul never references a particular situation in the churches or the cultures. He always references more eternal principles.
Paul also makes it clear in these passages that his teaching is a universal and authoritative doctrine. In 1 Corinthians 11:16 he claims that what he advocates there is a universal principle for all the churches. In 1 Corinthians 14:36-37 he demands that everyone “acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord.” Little wiggle room there.
None of these teachings is based in a specific situation at the local church or some cultural sensitivity. In every instance, Paul bases his teaching on the order of creation, or the relationships within the Godhead, or the Law, or some other eternal and unchanging principle. It seems clear that what Paul taught was intended to be universally binding on all churches.
The weakness of the cultural explanation gave rise to a newer trend (at least in my experience). Many today assert that complementarians are not just traditional or old-fashioned. They claim that complementarian hermeneutics are faulty and that their exegesis is skewed. In other words, they advocate that a proper interpretation of scripture will lead one to an egalitarian view.
It is this group which I will engage. Since both sides – Exegetical Egalitarians and Complementarians claim that their views are grounded in sound hermenutics and precise exegesis, there ought to be a basis for an exegetically-based discussion. I have little basis for discussion on this matter with the liberal mindset. If one does not accept the authority of scripture, then an exegetical discussion is ineffective. And, frankly, I think it is simple to demonstrate that the teachings of scripture on this issue cannot be dismissed as culturally specific. They are clearly meant as universal and binding teachings.
It is always interesting that two people who have a high view of scripture can open the Word and come to different positions. But it happens. Most of the commenters here evidently do not agree with what I believe is the solidly biblical position known as premillennial pretribulational eschatology. We have 5-point, 4-point, and no-point views of Calvinism that are represented here. We have different views.
Let’s let the Bible guide our discussion on this matter. Let’s study the scriptures together and discuss what the Bible has to say about Men, Women, Marriage and Ministry.
So, our question is simple –
Does the fair exegesis of scriptures support the egalitarian position, or the complementarian?
Next Time, On an All-New..
In my next post, I will examine the creation narratives and examine whether God created men and women to fill different roles, what the term “helper” means in Genesis 2:18, what the curse of Genesis 3:16 means and other issues. Study up!