What the Bible really says about men and women: a 10 point critique of complementarianism (3)

This is number 2 of 10 reasons why I find the complementarian argument unconvincing – with particular dialogue with Claire Smith’s and Howard Marshall’s interpretations of 1 Timothy 2:8-15.

And in outlining these objections, it’s worth repeating that I’m trying to imagine a robust debate with people I know and respect who don’t agree with me, not a war with enemies.

For Christians from both sides can agree on a lot: men and women are different(!); they are equal, both created in the image of God; both sexes are gifted by the Spirit for ministry; and no-one, whether male or female, has any ‘right’ to leadership. Leadership is a gift and calling of God to a life of loving and serving others under the shadow of the cross.

That said, this is not a trivial issue. It fundamentally touches upon understandings of leadership, ministry, Bible interpretation, the dignity and value of women, and whether half of the global church is permanently barred from serving the Lord using their gifts of leading, preaching and pastoring simply because of their gender.

2. Authority

Complementarian-hierarchialism raises questions of what sort of models of authority lie behind such deep concerns over women in leadership. Smith (and others) do not say women can never teach men in all circumstances but only when teaching is linked to positions of ‘authority’ within the local church. Marshall asks, “Why should pastoral counselling and oversight be understood as an exercise of authority and so unacceptable?”

This links back to authentein as a negative and domineering use of authority seeking to control others. This is exactly the sort of authority that Jesus warns his followers NOT to practice (Mk 10:42-3); rather they are to serve.

Smith and others of her opinion seem to place an extraordinary amount of importance in the question of who can exercise authority over others – and locate that authority in the person and in his teaching. It seems to me that this is the wrong focus and the wrong question. The right question that the cross calls believers to is ‘How can we put aside a desire to exercise authority over others so that we can be freed to serve self-sacrificially?’

Authority for ministry in the NT is derived from God. It does not reside in the person – whether male or female. The apostles were Christ’s commissioned witnesses and representatives (cf. Mt. 10:40; Jn. 17:18; 20:21; Acts 1:8; 2 Cor. 5:20). Their authority was derived from Jesus. Junia was an outstanding apostle in her faithful service of the Lord (Roms 16:7). Her gender was irrelevant.

Similarly, every generation of Christians is called to submit its own faith and life to Scripture – which is a record of the Apostle’s authoritative teaching – which originates in Jesus. It is through Scripture that Christ-given apostolic authority over the church has been made a permanent reality.

As Scripture is faithfully taught, God speaks through his word by the power of the Spirit. There is therefore no theological rationale to say a woman should not preach and teach. Men are not somehow ‘more authoritative’ than women. We’ll come back to lack of rationale for complementarianism later.

Comments, as ever, welcome.

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2 thoughts on “What the Bible really says about men and women: a 10 point critique of complementarianism (3)

  1. Wow. I think I’ve subconsciously realised all of this before now, but have never thought it through so clearly. I’m really enjoying this series – thank you!

  2. “Smith and others of her opinion seem to place an extraordinary amount of importance in the question of who can exercise authority over others – and locate that authority in the person and in his teaching. It seems to me that this is the wrong focus and the wrong question. The right question that the cross calls believers to is ‘How can we put aside a desire to exercise authority over others so that we can be freed to serve self-sacrificially?’”

    -Amen!! Appreciate the way you word this!

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