COMMENT: MEN AND WOMEN!

This is more of a comment than a post – it’s in response to a couple of the comment threads below. There has been some rather heated debate on here of late which, let me say, is brilliant. When I started the blog I very much wanted it to be a forum for discussion and I’m glad it’s finally happening. However, it all seems to be centred around one main issue – the way we view the role of women in the church. Two readers – Debbie (who I must also out here as the ‘Ouraged/Mollified RS Teacher’!) and Miranda – have recently declared themselves ‘offended’ and ‘outraged’ by not-entirely-feminist views expressed by Pete (suggesting men should ‘lead’ in the church community) and Phil (pertaining to women’s dress). Debbie has written that, in Christ, we are ‘redeemed’ from a ‘dominant-submissive’ relationship between men and women. Miranda has referred to Pete’s ideas of distinct roles for men and women as ‘blatant sexism’.

I think what is happening here is a reflection of something wider – a clash not so much between individuals as between different churches and interpretations of Christianity. Perhaps even of where we find our ultimate authority. I know both these Christian women and I know they strive to put Christ at the centre of their lives. Miranda was professing and modelling Christianity to my largely non-Christian group of friends back when I was modelling little more than drunkenness and a foul mouth. If she was a little quick below to assume that perceived Christian ‘fundamentalism’ links to homophobia and racism then it’s only because I know sadly that personal experience for her has borne that out. And Debbie has taken responsibility for the Christian development of so many young people over the years… indeed she was trying to organise prayer sessions among our staff at school long before I got my act together enough to attend them. These are good Christian witnesses both. However, whilst I very much respect them, I must question some of the ideas they’ve been expressing and implying here.

After all – the idea of men leading in the church community; the idea that they have a role different to that of women; is not at all the preserve of one ‘much-argued over verse in Ephesians’… it is the stuff of the Bible, over and over again. To feel ‘deeply offended’ by the implication is to feel ‘deeply offended’ by the Bible – it comes down to whether, when the Bible clashes with the world, we take one or the other as our authority. It’s about whether, when we find God’s word unpalatable, we look for the flaw in the word, or in ourselves.

It is perhaps wise to first state that the Bible implies no superiority or inequality between the sexes. He made both in God’s image (Gen 1:27) and he finds no greater favour in ‘male or female’ any more than between ‘Greek and Jew’ (Gal 3:27-28). Under Christ, the prophecy of Joel has been fulfilled meaning that Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days’. Perhaps the greatest passage of equality is found in 1 Corinthians 11:11-12 where we learn that ‘woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. 12For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman’. In fact, in its day, the New Testament was revolutionary in the status it gave to women (building upon the example of Old Testament heroes such as Ruth or Esther), and in the status it gives their role – whether in testifying to Jesus’ resurrection, spreading the gospel (Priscilla in Acts) or, for example, in raising Timothy to know the word (via his mother and grandmother). However, the roles of men and women ARE different within this equality. And men do have a leadership role implying authority (not ‘dominance’) and, gasp, submission.

Just to make clear, the ‘argued-over’ passage cited earlier is Ephesians 5:22-24, saying ‘Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Saviour. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.’ This sets out the idea that the marriage relationship reflects the authority relationship between Christ and his church. 1 Corinthians 11:3 also states that ‘I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God’, further showing that the equal but ordered relationship in the Trinity is played out by relationship in marriage. We could also go to Colossians 3:18 (Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord) or to 1 Peter 3:1 (Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behaviour of their wives) and to many others besides.

You may say this is only true of marriage but, aside from stating the obvious that church IS family, and that what happens there should not be a subversion of what we live out at home, things are again stated quite explicitly. 1 Timothy 2:12 says ‘I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man’, as does 1 Corinthians 14:34 (‘They are not allowed to speak’ – not literally as they’ve been given permission in the same chapter to pray and prophesy… the explicit context cited is ‘submission’). Every apostle is male; eldership instructions are given to men (1 Timothy 3 or Titus 1); all biblical teachers are male. Yes the word ‘submit’ in the New Testament DOES imply authority (same word as creation submitting to Christ, congregations to leaders etc etc). Neither is this just a result of a Fall-era curse. Before that, man was created first, woman as his helper, named by man. God spoke to Adam and held Adam accountable for sin, even when first perpetuated by his wife. The curse corrupted existing roles (men to work, women to bear children etc) not changed them.

Now it must be pointed out there are two sides to this coin. If man does his job, particularly within marriage, and acts as does Christ to his church – loving sacrificially and perfectly, then submission should be a walk in the park. For him to ‘dominate’, oppress or bully would be sin indeed and would ‘hinder his prayers’ to God (1 Peter 3). Men need then to grow up and take up the gauntlet to sacrificially lead – something they are very often failing even to have a decent stab at. Personally speaking, most reading will be well aware this does not in a million years translate to my wife grovelling after me and awaiting permission to speak – the very thought is laughable. The first step of being loving is to want her to flourish and to respect the fact she generally knows better than me. But she does very much stand by biblical teaching on this matter. And she does know I have ultimate responsibility before God in getting her to heaven before myself.

Right, I hope this hasn’t offended. But if it has, don’t argue from gut reaction or worldly perspective. Show me that I’m wrong in my reading of the Bible. Because I will very much stand by God’s word. And, as a final word, just as I have vouched for the witness of our dissenters above, so I must state that Pete, the original purveyor of this ‘sexism’, has a frankly brilliant relationship with his wife which I just love to be around, such is the sparkle between them. In fact, both our pastors at CCB are married to strong, educated, professional, successful women whom they honour. This word does not limit or oppress. It gives security, freedom and a taste of kingdom living.

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24 comments so far

  1. Debbie on

    Andy I am happy to lend you a decent book on this subject. I love you dearly as you know but I do believe you have made factual and theological errors here. But I have written far too much already on this site and I’d love to show you some thinking from Christian minds far more brilliant than my own!

    • Debbie on

      ps unlucky for you I have been stuck at home for two days!

  2. andybeingachristian on

    Mate – lend me a book and I will certainly read it (although it had better not be Rob Bell 😉 ). I may want to lend you some other ‘brilliant brains’ in return however, whether it be Carson, Stott, Craig, Packer, Driscoll, Grudem, Keller or Piper. Or Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Spurgeon, Edwards or Whitefield before them. The point being, this has always been biblical orthodoxy and new reading of the Bible that finds a way around it would seem to me more a reaction to the feminist revolution of the 1960s that I teach about in History lessons than to anything previously unnoticed lurking in God’s word.
    In short I’ll need convincing that my ‘errors’ equate to something more than taking seriously the repeated teachings of the apostles.
    PS I’m certainly not ‘sorry’ you’re writing this stuff. I don’t choose to head the Debating Club for nothing you know!

  3. Debbie on

    mmm… many of these writers would have considered slavery to be ‘biblically orthodox’ too! don’t assume your view is more ‘biblical’ and mine more ‘trendy’ though! happy to bring in some tomes.

  4. Debbie on

    ok, domestic duties out the way so here goes..!
    you pull in some Christian giants on ‘your side’ – but it makes me wonder how much you have examined their views.
    For instance, do you then agree with Augustine that while man alone is in the image of God, woman isn’t? (also Calvin on this one). Or with Luther that men’s body shape reveals that God gave them intelligence, while women have ‘broad hips and a wide fundement to sit upon, keep house and bear and raise children’? Stott and Packer don’t think this! Wouldn’t you agree that it’s very tempting to pull in scripture to mean what you want it to mean? Be careful! And who is Keller? And no personal comments about my broad hips or wide fundement please!

  5. Debbie on

    I’m guessing for some obscure reason that you don’t mean Katherine Keller! (look her up if you don’t know..)

  6. Tom Stanbury on

    Fairly confident Woody doesn’t mean Catherine Keller.
    There is lots I would like to say but don’t know Debbie, suffice to say ‘wide fundement’ is a phrase to keep.

  7. Pete Matthew on

    Quick addition to this discussion. When talking slavery we mustn’t get confused with what we immediately think of when the word is used. The applaing, always wrong form that Wilberforce et al worked so hard to abolish. And the kind of slavery that was around in biblical times – yes some was explitative and wrong. But the concept of slavery in thsoe times was very different to what we have today. For a brilliant summary of this, listen to the sermon on Ephesians 6:5-9 preached this Sunday at Christ Church, Balham (Andy’s church) by Peter Judkins. It will be online very soon if it isn’t already.

    • Pete Matthew on

      Obviously, applaing should be appaling!

  8. andybeingachristian on

    Debbie – come great quotes there, and a reminder I’m dealing with an Oxbridge RE graduate! However, it’s because you’re an expert that I honestly think you must know you’re being a little disingenuous here??!
    1. I may not agree with everything these guys thought (Luther’s anti-Semitism is well noted)- any more than I agree with everything Tom thinks! – but they loved the Bible and we owe a huge debt to them for pointing us to it. You know my list of ‘giants’ could go on and on too… whether Schaeffer, Lane Craig, Moo, Frame, Roberts, Lloyd Jones, Wilberforce, Newton, Simeon etc etc… because I’m only flagging up basic biblical orthodoxy!! (And it’s Tim Keller – possibly the most popular ‘giant’ at present! Check out his Google lecture… and read ‘The Reason for God’!)
    2. As for ‘pulling in Scripture to mean what I want it to mean’? I’m just reading the thing! I’m reading ‘wives should submit to their husbands’ and taking from it ‘wives should submit to their husbands’. You’re reading it and concluding they shouldn’t. I’m pointing to the Bible, you’re pointing to books about the Bible. If I dare to presume I may seem ‘more biblical’ on the matter thus far it’s because I’m the only one thus far to have quoted the Bible! As far as I can tell it’s what’s there. It may not be convenient or popular, but there it is. I honestly don’t think I’m bending God’s word out of shape to fit my own pre-conceived intentions (by which we mean my famed chauvinism, one presumes?!).

    PS To the general reader: I repeat, Debbie is a friend and she loves a good debate, so I am being more strident here than would normally be the case because she can take it!

  9. Miranda on

    Hi Woody

    Let me point to another couple of verses from Paul’s letters.

    From 1 Corinthians 11.
    “But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is the same as having her head shaved. 6 For if a woman does not cover her head, she might as well have her hair cut off; but if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should cover her head.”

    “Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him”

    And 1 Corinthians 14:
    “…As in all the congregations of the saints, women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.”

    I assume as you seem happy to take Paul’s letters as a blanket blueprint on church life for every church from his until eternity, that at your church all women have their heads covered and are not allowed to speak? Obviously the third verse is a bit limiting for unmarried women who live alone … Do you turn away long haired men at the door? Perhaps you have someone stalking the pews with clippers just in case someone makes it through the welcomers?

    Or has someone decided that it’s no longer culturally relevant?

  10. Debbie on

    exactly my point – Andy you are the one being disingenuous here – I don’t know any Christian who would take even all the commands in the NT as literally relevant for today – Miranda points out some and we could all think of loads more examples. So unless you are going to take them all as literally relevant – or try to make them say what you want them to say (eg slavery is condoned, but it’s ‘nice’ slavery that we would all love) then you have to look at principles of interpretation. Surely we should properly take Paul at his word as you say – all of them, not just the ones we randomly decide as relevant – and then consider thoughtfully and prayerfully how those words should be applied.

  11. Debbie on

    and what I meant about the people you brought in on your argument was that I don’t think you’ve read them all! correct me if I’m wrong… and I’m not claiming to have read their entire works either – I’m not that old! I just meant be more cautious about saying their views support your argument..

  12. andybeingachristian on

    Good work Miranda – I guess, having taken the literal view with Debbie above, I was fully expecting someone to hit me with those verses. And they’re tricky blighters indeed; I know I welcome accusations of double-standards if I now attempt to explain them in any manner other than literally! However all I can say is that I’ve listened to guys on 1 Corinthians who, if they felt the istruction was that women should cover their heads and stay shtum, that’s exactly what they’d be asking them to do. I have spent a lot of time listening to sermons on the passages and it would genuinely seem that the issue in Chapter 11 is immodesty in women and the flouting of cultural norms, as then probably represented by braided hair (clothing regulations for the sake of themselves would be very much in contrast to all other NT teaching relating to our freedom from legalism), and, in Chapter 14, the public undermining of their husbands (it certainly can’t be about literal silence as you can see in Chapter 11 above the normative nature of women praying and prophesying).
    There are isolated verses that are tricky and debatable, but that doesn’t give us permission to throw out all other biblical teaching – that spanning across numerous verses from various authors. It is also worth remembering that 1 Corinthians is a very specific letter to a specific church in a mess (although its still hugely helpful to us!).
    The problem is that progression down this route where every stated biblical truth is up for grabs leads us to our current Anglican point where nothing remains sacrosanct – not even penal substitution or the uniqueness of Christ – and the church eventually stands for very little aside from a woolly idea of ‘love’ as depicted in hippy Jesus…
    And Debbie – fair enough, you got me! I’ve read bits of some but that’s about it!!
    PS I don’t know what you envisage now at CCB but our women to certainly pray and worship from the front, also leading numerous small groups!!
    PPS If you guys are up for it I’m very happy to soon settle upon Miranda’s initial decision to ‘agree to disagree’! Let’s be glad we all love Jesus and can eventually ask him the truth of the matter!

  13. Debbie on

    go on – just to compete with your poem, here’s one from me – composed in a traffic jam from Epsom so it’s obviously a bit rubbish –

    Woody – Beware of the stereotype!

    Oh God made me a woman
    I don’t like to sew or cook,
    Don’t watch soaps or ‘chick-flick’ movies
    But I love to read a book

    Yes God made me a woman
    I don’t talk about my feelings
    But I love to watch the football
    And the Reds they leave me reeling *

    The good God made me a woman
    And I have a lovely spouse
    And we choose to share our duties
    with the children and the house.

    Oh God made me a woman
    Can’t be arsed ** with clothes or shoes
    But I like a night out with my mates
    Am quite fond of the booze.

    Yes God made me a woman
    For His will I try to search
    Love leading Bible studies
    And services in church.

    Yes God made me THIS woman
    You may think I am absurd,
    But I want to be like Jesus;
    I’m just not your type of bird!

    * LFC of course
    ** sorry, it just scanned well!

  14. Tom Stanbury on

    Woody,

    Perhaps you should have a guest poetry week? Sadly you wouldn’t get a submission from me.

    Tom

  15. Julian on

    Andy, just to follow up on this (I know I’m a couple of days behind, but Deb has just given me the link..), I would make a couple of points –
    1) while we are on earth, for sure nobody can fully interpret the bible as there are many complicated issues. I think you mentioned the various views already.
    2) I personally find it incredible that Christians (mostly men) still believe that Paul’s letters, written nearly two thousand years ago are taken in such context now. You make the point that Christians were actually ahead of the day then, but fail to see that this seems to have swung completely the opposite way today, where some Christian men see themselves in charge – and excuse it by saying that they have the burden of it all. I don’t see anything in Jesus’ actions that suggested he placed men higher than women, and I exclude having men for apostles, he was already on difficult grounds having tax-collectors, fishermen, etc, it would be impossible to think that at that time in society he could have had women as apostles.
    3) Adam and Eve – part of our views probably come from whether we take this part of Genesis literally or not. If we don’t then it seems that men have ruled for many years because of physical strength (although happily for some of us that is not such an issue now!) and rather left having an equal partnership out of it.

    anyway enough on the subject

    Julian

  16. Tom Stanbury on

    Julian,

    I am reaching the conclusion that blogs are not the best place for such discussions so I will be up front up I probably won’t engage further after this reply.

    For the record we are not right wing fundamentalists, of the kind Channel 4 would make a documentary about, which is a freak show which terrifies the average person and puts them off church, Christ and the bible. But neither are we revisionists. We have to be honest our culture in 2009 shapes our thinking and behaviour more than the bible. I can only speak for myself when I say I am massively a product of living in London. And I love London but we have to admit London people and culture have lots of things wrong.

    Pete, Woody and I would say we hold a complimentarian view of gender. This means men and women are equal but we are different and so are our roles.

    We don’t hate women or have a twee domestic 1950’s view of women. I have a mum (!), 2 sisters, lots of female relatives and even female friends! For the record I love women, they are great, I will hold back from their erotic virtues, if you know what I mean.

    Pete and Woody have super wives, and in both instances punching above their weight, and Pete is a big man. I say all this because I feel our theological position is being as painted as mean, repressive, uncaring and that we personally don’t understand history or culture.

    On point 2 after his resurrection, Jesus first appeared to women this was ground breaking because at the time a womans testimony would not have stood in a court of law.
    I am always touched by Jesus beautiful interaction with the samarian woman at the well, there is no doubt Jesus treated women differently to the culture of his time on earth.

    On point 3 I am not a literal 7 day creationist (can’t speak for Woody and Pete) but the creation account in Genesis was written to teach us about God, his creation, us his created beings and the created order.

    And hear comes the sentence that really will make Debbie think nasty things about me and think I am an unenlightend plum, who is deluded and quite rightly deserves to be single.
    The bible teaches male headship. What I would keen to hear is what this conjures up in peoples heads because it isn’t necessarily the reality.
    In point 3 I agree with you men have consistently treated women appallingly throughout and from what I understand today men are still using their physical strength to intimidate, threaten, rape, hurt women and even their partners.

    Love Tom

  17. Phil C on

    I agree with Andy that the Bible is pretty clear on this.

    But it is true that what the Bible says has been abused and distorted by many to justify and support attitudes and views that are wrong, and have nothing to do with the “complementarian” view.

  18. Debbie on

    Tom I’m sure you’re not mean and I don’t think ‘nasty things about you’ – I think you are wrong!
    Of course I respect you have a different Biblical interpretation on these issues, and I hope you would respect mine – my view is nothing whatsoever to do with living in London!! And I’m not looking to the views of society for my guidance.
    I’m sure as Christians have to do on many issues until we reach heaven – we will have to agree to disagree on this one.

  19. Simon on

    I agree with Debbie, because she supports Liverpool!

  20. Simon on

    Hmmmm but Andy is my relation….. a true quandry

  21. Debbie on

    haha! You should agree with me because of my great rationality in supporting Liverpool; Andy being your bro is just an accident of birth!

  22. Simon on

    Well, more an accident of my sister’s judgement!
    Supporting a football team is rarely rational… but to be honest I’m a little bit caught between the two arguments on this gender-post thing.

    I regularly listen to women teaching and preaching and think they have a huge amount to offer and that God will avail himself of whoever might be willing to serve him, be it slave, prostitute, child or donkey. There are so few people truly willing to be used by God, so we shouldn’t restrict the work of God by banning women from teaching men. It would be such foolishness when in England there just aren’t enough people leading and preaching. The problem we have with leadership in the UK is that we don’t choose people because of God’s call on their lives enough, but because people have chosen priesthood as a job, and that is truly mad.

    From the point of view of cultural context it has to be taken into account that in the Greek society of the day, all teachers were men, and women would never have taught men. Perhaps Paul was trying to curtail the new freedom in Christ that was going too far in breaking all societal barriers. Already food rules and holy day rules had been changed, maybe there were people coming into church inappropriately dressed, not covering their heads or women pressing for equality in teaching men, but not having had a formal education like that of a man, so not able to speak from authority.

    On the other hand, the arguments on this blog which refute male headship haven’t been very strong as yet. All that has been argued so far is that the Bible cannot be taken literally in every extreme (eg. I always struggle to carry out 2 Timothy 4:13 but never quite manage it).
    But this, whilst somewhat obvious, is also a vital skill to learn for anyone reading the Bible. Andy and other readers of this blog are also thoughtful enough to be able to evaluate when they are taking a single verse or a few verses as “gospel”, or whether they do constitute a whole principle which can be found throughout the Bible. It might be a hard teaching to accept, but many of the Bible’s teachings are. If it was just 1 Cor 11 we were talking about, it would be a weak argument, but the Complimentary argument is pretty strong when looking at the whole Word of God (unlike the hair/covering arguments which have been mentioned previously – some churches do take this literally from the Bible, but it even says at the end of the passage that “we have no other custom than this” – a clear indication that Paul sees this as a custom rather than a law for all eternity.) The male headship argument is more pervasive throughout scripture.. from Genesis, to Proverbs, to the NT.
    Although it has thus far been brushed over, I think its quite persuasive the Jesus chose only men as disciples/apostles. It has been said on this blog that he did this because it would be too much of a leap to introduce the idea of woman leadership at this point. But surely if he had believed in women as leaders/apostles he would have given them authority. Jesus acted integrally, and didn’t shy away from other potentially shocking cultural statements, such as encouraging consorting with samaritans, talking to women, hanging out with lepers, prostitutes and tax collectors, welcoming gentiles as Jews… he was generally quite controversial.. why not have some woman leaders too, in order to share the gospel with women more effectively? Why not mention it in a teaching to the apostles? “Listen guys, at the moment its just you guys, but pretty soon it’ll be you guys and gals. If you don’t believe me, then here’s a white sheet descending from heaven to prove it.” Did God prioritise telling Peter which food was ok to eat (culturally shocking) over telling Peter that men and women have fundamentally the same role, and that women should be allowed to teach too?

    I’ve shared quite a lot of thoughts here, but they’re not conclusive. I think I’d be happy in a church with either stance, although I think it would be foolish to stop women from teaching and from having authority when God has called them – which in my opinion he has. On the other hand, I think its unnecessary to argue that men and women don’t have different roles. They do – its in our genetic makeup. I say this looking at physical rather than psychological evidence, as women have children and breastfeed, while men are stronger. They definitely have different roles. I believe that men are the head of women, but only as long as this is fulfilled in a loving, freeing and releasing way. I would say that if it is not, a woman is under no obligation. Most loving relationships built on Christ seem to overcome this issue just through love, so having just written lots on it, I have to say I think the whole argument is fairly inconsequential. Men and women will meet in Christ and respect each other, submit and above all love each other. This is done entirely through submitting to Christ. In churches, God will choose people to serve him, and for me, the only mistake is to exclude women from leadership because of those Bible verses when God has actually given those gifts to women. And I believe he does.

    By the Andy, I was only joking in my first line – you’re an ace bro-in-law 😉


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