The Promised Follow-up Response to Complementarians (Part 1 of 2)

UnknownBack at the end of November, in an attempt to join in the discussion surrounding the Church of England’s vote to not allow women bishops, I posted an article, mainly interacting with 1) Tom Wright’s response to this vote and 2) some of the responses of varying complementarians to Wright’s response. My chief arguments were that: a) I think many complementarians missed the central point of Tom Wright and b) I agree very much with Wright that the resurrection of Jesus Christ changed everything in regards to the social constructs of human beings, not only with our salvation, but also ministry-gifting and calling.

I also appreciated Jeff Dunn and the Internet Monk blog reposting my article, which provided lots of comments and discussion.

In all of the interaction via my article, the Internet Monk blog, and even Facebook, I had greatly desired to write a follow-up post (or two) in an effort to engage some of the objections to egalitarianism, or that women should be allowed to serve in the role of pastors/elders (or bishops, etc). I had hoped to do this before the year’s end, but such was not possible.

Therefore, here are the two promised follow-up posts. While I know that a) I won’t be able to interact with every challenge raised and b) I am very aware that my thoughts will never stand as the final word on the topic, I do hope these 5 major points will stir complementarians to consider some biblical and theological points which they might have not done so previously. The first 2 points will be in this post, the last 3 points will be in a forthcoming post.

1) Paradigm-Shaping Passages

A paradigm could be described as a distinct thought pattern. It’s basically allowing a foundational concept to determine how we understand more subsidiary, or secondary, concepts.

With regards to theology, at least as far as I can tell, all Christians hold to paradigm-shaping verses and concepts. We give precedence to particular passages to help us understand other parts of Scripture and to help us form a robust theology. For example, evangelicals allow particular statements in Paul’s letters to stand at the forefront in shaping our understanding of salvation and justification. All the while, passages like James 2:14-26 fall under that Pauline paradigm. Salvation is not works-based, it is based upon faith in the faithful work of Jesus Christ.

Another example would be seen through people’s understanding of the gospel. For many, the major starting point is, again, Paul’s epistles, rather than, say, the Gospels themselves. Paul’s letters lay out the gospel in direct propositions; the Gospels mainly tell narrative stories. Therefore, one could take precedence over the other. Or, in developing a theology of the Triune God, passages like John 1, Colossians 1 and Hebrews 1 become ever-important. They help inform how we are to understand other Bible verses that describe the Father as the ‘God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (Rom 15:6; 1 Cor 1:3; 2 Cor 11:31; etc).

And, so, with regards to not only women’s roles, but any social structure, I believe the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the subsequent new creation order which has broken in to our old creation order, becomes the paradigm-shaping truth by which I read and engage with other Bible passages. This is what Tom Wright argued as well.

Thus, texts like Gal 3:26-29, Gal 6:15 and 2 Cor 5:16-17 become very significant in understanding, again, not only the roles of women, but the whole social order. Again, no one would ever argue that only Jews can be leaders, not Gentiles. The resurrection changed this! No one would ever argue that only the free can be leaders, and not slaves. The resurrection changed this! Then why in the world would we argue that only men can be leaders? The resurrection turned this around just as much!

Of course, social constructs still exist. There are men and women, Jews and Gentiles, free and slaves (though, hopefully not the latter). But they matter not in God’s calling and ministry-gifting. No calling or ministry gift is gender-oriented (nor ethnicity-oriented). Again, if one says that a passage like Gal 3:28 is ‘only in regards to salvation’, then I think such a person needs to re-examine their theology of salvation. Our salvation in Christ affects our theology of church, our theology of last things, our theology of the Holy Spirit, etc. It even affects our practical theology of ministry.

Christ is making all things new (Rev 21:5) and we taste of such new creation even now. And I guarantee you there is no social construct of male-only leadership in the age to come (nor was there in the beginning, but I’ll come on to that in my next post). One might argue: Well, does this mean children should have equal leadership with parents in the home or adults in the church? To this, I would only remark such is a bit of a ridiculous argument. It is interesting to note that, a person under 30 was easily considered a youth in the days of the early church. And I’m not against one being in ministry leadership if they are under the age of 30 (I’ve been there). But I think common sense and wisdom before the Lord and the local church says an 8-year old or 13-year old need not be handed the responsibility of pastoring. I’ll leave it at that.

2) Dealing With Clear Passages

A two-fold argument which arose in subsequent discussions was this: There are a) clear passages that do not allow women to be in the role of pastor/elder/bishop and b) we never find a clear example of a woman in such a role.

One major doctrine within the Protestant-evangelical branch of the church is that of the perspicuity, or clarity of Scripture. This basically says that the general meaning of the Bible text can be clear to the ordinary reader. It’s in opposition to a more Roman Catholic understanding, which states that Scripture becomes clear through the teaching and tradition of the leading magisterium of the church of Rome (the Pope and its bishops).

While I do believe that all Christians, leaders or not, should be allowed a copy of the Scriptures to read and study, I don’t think we can make any blanket statement about Scripture’s clarity to just any reader. (As a side note, I am not advocating a Roman Catholic view either.)

Matter of fact, during the time of the Protestant Reformation, the Roman Catholic church argued that, if we allow normal folk to read, study and interpret the Scripture, then we are opening pandora’s box for heresy. And, you know what? They were absolutely correct! Look at the multiple thousands of splits, sects and cults that have arisen over the past 500 years. Still, I would argue that we must not attempt to be so controlling, but to allow the Bible to be in the hands of all Christians, or even non-Christians. As the God-breathed Scripture, it has been the text utilised by God’s Spirit to draw hundreds of millions to know God in Christ.

Yet, I don’t believe this means that Scripture is always so clear. Consider the varying interpretations on subjects like these: the early chapters of Genesis, justification in Paul, the book of Revelation, the Lord’s Supper, water baptism, baptism in the Holy Spirit, spiritual gifts, covenants and dispensations. And that’s to name just a few. Of course, let’s not forget the varying interpretative details regarding passages on women’s roles, ones such as 1 Timothy 2, 1 Corinthians 11, etc.

Scripture’s clarity? Well, yes and no.

It is interesting to see some people approach the ever-debated 1 Tim 2:8-15. The two verses addressing women’s clothing (vs9-10) seem quite clear, right? Yet most Christians (though not all) believe that the passage is not ultimately teaching us that women should never wear gold, pearls or expensive clothing. Rather the point is that women should dress with modesty, decency and wisdom. And I would agree. Still, we move down to vs15 and we recognise a very, very unclear statement: ‘women will be saved through childbearing’.

How about that one for clarity?

So, for most complementarians, why are vs12-14 always so clear about women never being allowed to teach or have a role of authority? Aren’t vs9-10 just as clear? Or maybe, noting the obscurity of vs15, it’s possible that vs12-14 do not communicate exactly what we first thought.

In approaching these words from 1 Tim 2, it might be worth noting the socio-historical context of Ephesus, the city where Timothy was situated. Here was a place that housed one of the seven ancient wonders of the world – the temple to the goddess, Artemis. My study leads me to believe that the correction found in 1 Tim 2:8-15 is more in relation to the wrong doctrine and theology that had arisen from past Artemis worshippers. Some erroneous teaching could have intermingled with proper Christian teaching, thus the need to remind us who was formed first, who was deceived, etc. This might not be about the forbiddance of women in leadership for the next couple thousand years. And this is not about any sense of a ‘creation order’ where man is created as leader over woman (but, again, I’ll address this in the next article).

Another point to arise was, in the direct statements about the character and lifestyle of elders/overseers, we are told that they must be the ‘husband of one wife’ (1 Tim 3:2; Tit 1:6, in versions such as the ESV). But we are never told that they can be the ‘wife of one husband’, thus allowing for women leaders.

There are a few points to consider. Some might argue that these are simply general statements. Whereas in today’s society we tend to distinguish between the two sexes, saying his/her or male/female or son/daughter, in more ancient times, like that of the first century church, the masculine would suffice to include both sexes. This point might be worth considering, but I don’t necessarily think it’s the greatest of arguments.

But what I think is more interesting to examine is how, in 1 Tim 3:12, just a few verses later, we find the same exact statement in regards to deacons – Let deacons each be the husband of one wife (ESV). Yet, I find that most reasonable denominations allow for women deacons. Yet, there it is. As clear as can be, black ink on white paper – deacons must also be the husband of one wife.

To be honest, I was even shocked to find that pastor-theologian, Edmund Clowney, who was part of the strongly reformed Presbyterian Church of America, taught that it was ok for women to be deacons (see his text, The Church, pp231-232). Maybe these denominations allow for women deacons because the Greek of Rom 16:1 speaks of Phoebe as a diakonon, which could simply mean ‘servant of the church’ in general, or specifically some kind of deaconing role. Still, a reformed Presbyterian being open to such a role was eye-opening, at least noting 1 Tim 3:12!

Now, for most church traditions to allow women deacons does not, by any means, make this the correct practice. But, there are lots of Bible-believing and Bible-honouring pastors and theologians who believe that the exact wording of 1 Tim 3:12 does not exclude women from being deacons. If we can consider such for deacons (and for women’s dress when it comes to 1 Tim 2:9-10), then what keeps us from considering such with regards to pastors, elders and overseers?

Remember, we have plenty examples of women in leading ministry roles within Scripture. Here are 8 to name a few:

  • Miriam was a prophetess (Ex 15:20-21)
  • Deborah was the leader of Israel and a prophetess (Judg 4-5, specifically 4:4)
  • Huldah was a prophetess, who prophesied with some authority (2 Kgs 22:14-20)
  • Anna was a prophetess (Luke 2:36-38)
  • Priscilla/Prisca had a lead teaching role (Acts 18:24-28; 2 Tim 4:19; It is interesting to note that, in the six times the couple are mentioned together, four of the times Priscilla is mentioned first. This probably points to her stronger measure of gifting.)
  • Phoebe had some significant ministry, probably greater than children’s ministry (Rom 16:1)
  • Euodia & Syntyche were described by Paul as having ‘laboured side by side’ with him (Phil 4:2-3)
  • Junia, whom, along with her husband, Andronicus, had some kind of apostolic ministry (Rom 16:7)

Are any mentioned as elders or pastors? No. But I simply ask us to consider what these women were involved with. Were these women not teaching and carrying authority in some form or manner? Did people, including men, not perk up their ears when they spoke, to learn from these called and gifted women?

That shall be enough for now. I have 3 more points I want to take up in my next article, which I hope to post within a week’s time. Those points are as follows:

  • The Beginning Passages (i.e., the first 2 chapters of Genesis)
  • Trajectory Theology (such a hermeneutic must be considered)
  • Gender Really Does Matter (some practical considerations)

4 thoughts on “The Promised Follow-up Response to Complementarians (Part 1 of 2)

    • Carl –

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I’m not sure Deborah was specifically identified as an ‘elder’. It’s not conclusive enough in the text, though she was a prophetess and leading Israel. If anything, she had a very important ‘lead role’, holding ‘authority’.

      When you ask about making a case for more than a handful in the OT, do you mean in general or women? Sorry, just wanted to clarify on what you were asking.


  1. I’m not really sure whether women should be bishops, or whatever. But I don’t think that’s the important question here. What annoys me about this debate is the idea that women have to be bishop material, or whatever, to be equal in Christ. (Actually more annoying is the implication that I have to be bishop material. That’s insidious.) That’s how the world thinks, but I am not sure it’s Christian.

    For one thing, I’m not convinced that our idea of bishops, or even pastors, is quite the same as the NT. Certainly Paul does feel that he has immense authority to encourage and correct congregations: you can see that in his letters. But he doesn’t seem like the idea of having a group of churches that belong to him or are beholden to him. His goal is always to equip, empower, challenge, encourage and focus people on Jesus. Jesus himself took great care to establish a leadership based on service rather than title (Luke 22:24-28, John 13:1-17).

    Perhaps instead of debating whether to allow women bishops, we should be debating whether to disallow male bishops, in their current form. 🙂 Likewise pastors, preachers etc.

    If we see leaders more as those who use spiritual gifts to serve and equip the church and less as authority titles, then we have less need to debate what women can do. After all, as a man, I seldom object to a woman serving people (until I am eventually embarrassed into helping out myself, of course). So women can exercise all sorts of spiritual gifts like this. Scott has lots of good examples here, however you badge them.

    I’m not suggesting that we abolish all church leadership and authority asap. The flip-side of what I am saying is that none of us should feel we have to gain our rightful equality. Women (and men) do not need to push for equal rights. That’s how the world thinks. But:

    ‘Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing …’ Phil 2:5-7 (1984 NIV)

    • Duncan –

      These are excellent thoughts. Thank you for sharing them. It’s a good reminder that women will serve (have a ‘ministry’) whether they receive recognition or not. Same with those who are shepherds or apostles. I know plenty who don’t have a ‘title’, but they serve the body in these ways.

      Now, there is a case for appointing people into such roles, to bring a sense of peaceful order and togetherness. That’s what it means to ‘ordain’ – to appoint. And it seems such was done through the recognition of ministry gifts. But, again, your reminder that we are called to get on with serving the body of Christ, washing their feet, is very helpful.

      As a side note, for me to believe that women can be considered for lead ministry roles, I don’t think it wise AT ALL to simply appoint people, female or male, into a recognised role just for the sake of making a point. That would be absolutely disastrous! It is recognising the servant heart, gift and ministry of people by other leaders and the body, before the Lord, that encourages us to more officially appoint people.

      Thanks again!

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