What the Bible really says about men and women: a 10 point critique of complementarianism (8)

This is no.7 of a 10 point critique of complementarianism in dialogue with Claire Smith and Howard Marshall’s interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:8-15. 

And in outlining these objections, 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.

7. Law

The overall direction of a complementarian-hierarchical concern to implement ‘law’ leads, in my opinion, towards a legalistic form of continual assessment and evaluation of when ‘headship’ is being usurped or properly acted upon.

I’m not saying that everyone holding to the hierarchial model is legalistic, for  Christians love should be the attitude that shapes all praxis. But the focus is on keeping watch that men and women keep to their divinely ordained ‘roles’. This comes through repeatedly in Claire Smith’s book. Men need to step up and women need to learn to be submissive.

It is worth stepping back a moment to notice the scope of what is being proposed: the imposition of a universal permanent grid of what is supposedly ‘God’s good design’ for female subordination within all marriages and in every church in all cultures globally.

This concern of limiting something good (gospel teaching) and saying something awfully dangerous and wrong is happening when a women expounds and teaches God’s word to the body of Christ sits badly with the liberating ministry of the Spirit.

Might an alternative be possible – that we might have got this deeply wrong? That ironically by insisting on the ban on women teaching and leading that the very thing Paul is most concerned about in his letter to Timothy – the credibility and witness of the gospel – is being damaged?

To use a title of one of the late and great New Testament scholar F. F. Bruce’s most famous books, Paul was an Apostle of the Free Spirit. Complementarianism’s focus on imposing universal law and artificial restrictions within the body of Christ caused Bruce, near the end of his life, to comment that “I think Paul would roll over in his grave if he knew we were turning his letters into torah”.  (this is from a story Scot McKnight tells in The Blue Parakeet)

Comments, as ever, welcome

One thought on “What the Bible really says about men and women: a 10 point critique of complementarianism (8)

  1. “Might an alternative be possible – that we might have got this deeply wrong?”
    I would go back to something that Met. Kallistos Ware dappled on in his section of the book Women and the Priesthood ed. by Fr. Thomas Hopko in regard to the ordination of women–it is analogous to buying a house here on this issue. We step into the house and see that there’s this ugly beam we want to get rid of as soon as we purchase the house–but wait! What if that beam is actually holding the house up? Might we want to assure ourselves that the beam does not need to belong there in the first place?

    Is the Church wrong on this issue of vetoing ordination to women? I don’t really know. The evidence of Tradition suggests strongly against it this seems clear to me and we might never have a reason per se. But at the same time, the Church is also infallible so there may actually be a good reason that we just haven’t quite figured out yet.

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