A conversation that started in the comments of this post lead me to reading the The Blue Parakeet by Scot McKnight.
The book is not directly about the Complementarian/Egalitarian discussion. Predominantly it is about how to read the Bible, but the ‘case study’ he presents as an example of his theory is how to understand the role of women in ministry based on Biblical text – with special reference to 1 Timothy 2:9-15 and 1 Corinthians 14:34-35.
McKnight’s emphasis in the book is that we must read the Bible as Story i.e. it has a plot, characters and many authors who contribute to one overarching story. His claim is that reading the Bible in the context of the Story and understanding each passage as a part of a whole is the key to a correct interpretation of any passage. Basically, he is explaining Biblical Theology. Which I like. I think he is right when he says that you cannot take a few verses and try to understand them as stand-alone sentences. Context is key.
However in his attempt to do this with the issue of women in ministry, he is so determined to locate the verses in the context of the Bible, that he forgets to locate them in the context of the chapter (and book) that they are in. But there are bigger issues than that standing in the way of me agreeing with his book.
The first is what I believe to be a complete illusion in his understanding of Genesis 1 -2. McKnight constantly points to the oneness, unity, equality and mutuality that existed between Adam and Eve in Eden before the fall, at one point referring to man and woman being made for each other. This is simply not what is found in the text of Genesis 2.
15 The LORD God took the man and placed him in the garden of Eden to work it and watch over it. 16 And the LORD God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree of the garden, 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for on the day you eat from it, you will certainly die.” 18 Then the LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper who is like him.” 19 So the LORD God formed out of the ground each wild animal and each bird of the sky, and brought each to the man to see what he would call it. And whatever the man called a living creature, that was its name. 20 The man gave names to all the livestock, to the birds of the sky, and to every wild animal; but for the man no helper was found who was like him. 21 So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to come over the man, and he slept. God took one of his ribs and closed the flesh at that place. 22 Then the LORD God made the rib He had taken from the man into a woman and brought her to the man. 23 And the man said:
This one, at last, is bone of my bone,
and flesh of my flesh;
this one will be called woman,
for she was taken from man.
Yes there is equality, yes there is unity and yes there is oneness – but there is not mutuality. The woman was created as Adam’s helper. In bringing this up I know I open a can of worms that is the discussion regarding the meaning of the word ‘helper’. Right now I am going to ignore that and instead ask how is it possible that they man was made for the woman, when he was created first? He was made, put in the garden with a job to do, and given instructions to follow all before woman was made. SHE was made FOR him and FROM him. There is no mutuality in this – he was not made for her and he was not made from her.
Of course McKnight’s presupposition that mutuality existed before the fall and therefore is the trajectory of male/female relationships now, affects the rest of his understanding of the passages relating to women’s roles.
What also affects his defense of what he calls his ‘Mutuality’ position (as opposed to calling it Egalitarian) is some assumptions he makes about the Complementarian position that I don’t believe are right.
The mistake I believe he makes is this –
‘In writing here about “women in church ministries”, I want to emphasize that I am not talking only about senior pastors and elders and preaching and teaching from pulpits on Sunday mornings, but about anything God calls a woman to do.’
The reason I believe this is a mistake is because the text does not give blanket statements to women about all ministries. Different instructions are given to different ministries. It gives us 2 specific ministries where a woman is directed to silence (weighing of prophecy in 1 Cor 14 & teaching with authority in public worship in 1 Tim 2). It allows (or more correctly expects) women to pray and prophecy in 1 Cor 11 and commands them to teach other women in Titus 2. There is no hard and fast rule to cover all ministries so we mustn’t deal with them all in the same way.
This is seen again as McKnight tells of his mind-changing experience of a conversation with a female professor in which he was driven to
‘the conclusion that anyone who thinks it is wrong for a woman to teach in a church can be consistent with that point of view only if they refuse to read and learn from women scholars. This means not reading their books lest they become teachers.’
Again I would say that if we follow the Biblical text we see that command to silence is not a blanket command, and in fact there are times when a woman is commanded to teach. So if we understand the commands to silence in their context we will see that his conclusion is wrong.
Again we see this issue arise in his statement of Complementarians, that
such persons believe the silencing passages are permanent and there is no place in the local church today for women prophets, apostles, leaders or for women to perform any kind of teaching ministry.’
I believe that the silencing passages are still applicable today AND I believe that there is a massive teaching role for women in the local church. When he writes ‘there is no ground for total silencing of women in the church’ I absolutely could not agree more.
And that brings me to some of the issues I have with his exegesis of the key texts in his case study.
1 Corinthians 14:34-35
McKnight clearly is working hard to try and consolidate the first glance appearance of a contradiction in Paul’s expectation that women will pray and prophesy in chapter 11, and his command to silence in chapter 14. His theory is that because the silence seems to be related to the asking of questions, Paul is commanding uneducated to women to silence. He says
When these women heard what was being said, they had questions. Paul thinks those sorts of questions should be asked elsewhere, probably because it interrupted the service. This conclusion has significant implications. Paul’s silencing of women at Corinth is then only a temporary silencing. Once the women with questions had been educated, they would be permitted the to ask questions in the gatherings of Christians.
I think this conclusion raises more questions than it answers – Why doesn’t Paul say that after women are educated they can then ask questions? What is it about the first lot of questions they have (pre-education) and the second set (post-education) that means one is permitted and the other isn’t? How do we know if our questions fit into the first or the second category? But my main issue with this is that is assumes a lot of information that isn’t in the text and ignores something that is in the text that I think is important to an understanding of 1 Corinthians.
The command to silence is given 3 times in verses 26 – 40, to 3 different groups of people.
26 How is it then, brothers? Whenever you come together, each one has a psalm, a teaching, a revelation, [another] language, or an interpretation. All things must be done for edification. 27 If any person speaks in [another] language, there should be only two, or at the most three, each in turn, and someone must interpret. 28 But if there is no interpreter, that person should keep silent in the church and speak to himself and to God. 29 Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should evaluate. 30 But if something has been revealed to another person sitting there, the first prophet should be silent. 31 For you can all prophesy one by one, so that everyone may learn and everyone may be encouraged. 32 And the prophets’ spirits are under the control of the prophets, 33 since God is not a God of disorder but of peace.
As in all the churches of the saints, 34 the women should be silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak, but should be submissive, as the law also says. 35 And if they want to learn something, they should ask their own husbands at home, for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church meeting. 36 Did the word of God originate from you, or did it come to you only?
37 If anyone thinks he is a prophet or spiritual, he should recognize that what I write to you is the Lord’s command. 38 But if anyone ignores this, he will be ignored. 39 Therefore, my brothers, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in [other] languages. 40 But everything must be done decently and in order.
Both those who speak in tongues and those who prophesy are also given a command to silence. This is not a reflect on the value of what they have to say, in fact verse 26 acknowledges that each on has something of value to add. The reason for silence in these 3 cases is that God is a God of order (verse 33 & 40). To have some women who can ask questions (the educated ones) and some who can’t (the uneducated ones) contradicts the nature of a God of order and peace.
1 Timothy 2:11-12
McKnight claims of these verses that
The big point Paul is making is not to “keep the women silent” but to “teach the women”. His principle was “learning before teaching”.
I think here the text actually contradicts this conclusion.
11 A woman should learn in silence with full submission. 12 I do not allow a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; instead, she is to be silent.
Verse 11 instructs a woman to learn (something which would have been radically counter-cultural to Paul’s original readers). After Paul tells women to learn he tells them NOT to teach. He does not say learn and then teach, he says learn and do not teach.
These are some of the main issues I find in the book but really I have been convinced all the more that the real issue in this debate has little to do with the exegesis of the text (although clearly that is a problem). The issue is an acceptance that difference (or a lack of mutuality) does not mean inequality. You do not have to be or do the same to be equal. Once this is understood and accepted we no longer need to twist the exegesis to suit our purpose.
… doesn’t mean you should do it.
There’s some great examples of this in 1 Corinthians 14. Paul says
Whenever you come together, each one has a psalm, a teaching, a revelation, another language, or an interpretation. (vs 26)
Each one has an ability to contribute. Each one has something worth while to say. But in the same verse he says –
All things must be done for edification.
Sometimes this will mean being silent. For example, someone may speak in another language
but if there is no-one to interpret, that person should keep silent in the church and speak to himself and God. (vs 28)
If there is no interpreter this gift fails to be done for edification of the church so the speaker, while given this particular gift, must choose not to use it at that time.
A second example is given – that of prophecy. A person may be sharing their word of prophecy
but if something has been revealed to another person sitting there, the first prophet should be silent. (vs 30)
God is not a God of disorder but of peace. (vs 33)
There is something bigger and more important than our own “right” to use our gifts as we please. That is not God’s concern and neither should it be ours. Our concern should be for others. In particular for the edification of the church, and the order and peace of God’s nature. This comes only with love. Love for our God and for others. Without love our gifts are nothing.
If I speak the languages of men and of angels but do not have love, I am a sounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have faith, so that I can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1-2)
This is an interesting article from Archie Poulos on how to leave a church well.
While this article deals with HOW to leave well as opposed to WHY to leave Archie raises some interesting questions
So I have begun quizzing people about why they leave churches. My conversations have raised two questions.
1. What issues are important enough to leave a church over?
2. What is the best way to deal with unhappiness about a church you are leaving?
I have been thinking a lot lately about what is worth leaving church over. I think the biggest cause of discontent in church is summed up well in this line –
Again, not always, but often the reasons distil down to the fact that we have absorbed the spirit of our age, where we relate to church as consumers not contributors.
I have seen this time and time again, where church becomes about what I can get out of it rather than what I can give. Church is a place of service. Christ, who is the head of the church, himself came not to be served but to serve. So if you are discontent with church I would first make sure you are not asking yourself ‘what am I getting out of this’ but rather asking ‘what am I putting into this’.
Over here Dave is attempting the big task of discussing male/female relationship, and particularly the role of men and women in the church, over a series of short posts.
In one of these posts he says
As complementarians we often speak about men and women being “Equal but Different”, indeed a large women-led organisation here has that name. Here’s the thing, though. The “different” part comes across negatively. “Equal” is good, but then we say “but” and so communicate to some that there’s a contrary, negative assertion coming.
But we believe that the distinct complementary roles that God has designed men and women to have are a good thing! So, my friend encourages me, we should speak of Equal AND Different. Both are good things and we should give no cause to understand otherwise.
Good discussion to have. I particularly enjoyed reading Honoria’s thoughts as she comments –
Well, I’m not sure if I like “Equal but Different” or “Equal and Different”. Feels like we are letting someone else set the agenda. The categories are a hangover from another debate, from a different context at another time.
(Maybe it’s just me and another friend at college, but) “Equal” suggests striving to be counted to be the same. Christianity isn’t about asserting yourself, but humbling yourself, being last, a servant. Emphasising “difference” is okay, but what do we gain from that? And it’s not exactly winsome, is it?
I quite like the connotations of “Complementarianism”, because it recognises the wholeness and “good-fit” of both genders, as given by God. It emphasises the harmony and reciprocity of the two genders. Each sex needs the other for fullness, for oneness.
There is MUCH to gain in thinking hard about how the genders God gives us is a gift, which enriches the church body. It’s sad and bland to press the *Blend* button on gender then say: there’s no difference. So what’s so good about the differences between genders and the fact that we have both genders in unity?
Later she very helpfully points of the need for both men and women to be thinking this issue through.
Both men and women are needed to think about doing this partnership WELL.
Complementarianism can be done badly. Towards developing a fuller Complementarianism, it may be good to see the mutual, reciprocal dynamic of the male-female relationship. How one impacts and enhances the other. (As opposed to segregation, individualism.)
May be fruitful to ask TOGETHER: (Preliminary questions: What are the Biblical distinctives for men? What do women need to understand / know about men?) How can women help men to be more godly men and fulfil their roles as men? What are the gender specific ways that men impact on wider church body? etc.
Then ask the same questions about women, again in a mixed setting.
My experience of college thus far is that women have thought this through much more thoroughly than men (massive generalisation, I know, and apologise to those men who have thought about this). This is an issue that needs much discussion involving both men and women.
Ironically, perhaps, we seem to hear mainly from men on this issue. As Dave helpfully points out
My point was that there’s a perception that when men write on this they are only “reinforcing their status/privilege/subjection of women”.
When intelligent and articulate women write on this topic it has a far more profound impact. Our opponents can write them off as “brainwashed” but it’s a far harder claim to make.
Since I am a woman here is my 2 cents – I believe that Genesis 1-3, 1 Corinthians 11 & 14, Colossians 3, Ephesians 5 & 1 Timothy 2 clearly show the complementary nature of men and women. I believe that the egalitarian position is not only unbiblical, but it in fact takes away a woman’s right to be a woman (and a man’s right to be a man).
I am also more conservative on the issue of gender roles than most men I know. I recently got called a ‘crazy conservative chick’. It was meant as a compliment. I took it as one – proving that the statement is true.
Accuse me of hating women…. I dare you ;-)
After dinner he posed some questions to us to get us thinking about the good and bad of the Anglican communion and about the 2 main things that have put a stress on that communion – namely the ordination of women (as priests/bishops) and the ordination of Gene Robinson.
One of the questions that came up while we were discussing this was whether these two things are different in how they affect us and how we should respond to them.
So this is my question. If you believe (as I do) that the bible is clear on the role of women as it relates to the headship, then isn’t ordination of women disobedience to God’s word? So then how does if differ from the ordination of homosexuals, if there are both a case of unrepentant sin?
I’m having a moment of regret.
Looking back on a moment in time of my ministry experience and wishing, not that I had done it better but that I had done it completely different. And if I’d known back then what I know now I probably would have.
While I feel distress about that moment, I also feel encouraged by the fact that I want a do-over. Because it means that in the last year I have learnt more about God, about myself and about the people I seek to minister to. And it’s amazing how knowledge changes you. I like it.