“You may find yourselves fighting against God.”
“Who said that again… C. S. Lewis?” I thought as I was (finally) cleaning my house between a semester of seminary combined with full family life, and Christmas.
No, it was Gamaliel, the wise rabbi at whose feet young Paul had learned, before breaking off at God’s stark intervention and invitation (Acts 9, 22:3). The warning Gamaliel uttered about the nascent Christian rising still looms today. It hangs heavy over the Christian women’s leadership movement in the church.
“For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop them; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.” Acts 5:38–39
I don’t want to fight against God.
Repeatedly God has reminded me to wait on him, that this is his burden to carry, not mine. Yet I have a desire to share the aspects of my story that may matter to the denominational discussion over where women can serve as Christ’s body. The fulcrum upon which the lever rests of my being for or against God, is love. Truth is easier for me than love, but I’m allowing God to heal past wounds and trusting him into the unmasked terror of vulnerability.
I love those who view this issue of God’s call on women differently than I do and especially those struggling with questions of meaning, purpose, and calling when their intellectual understanding of God’s ways doesn’t match what it seems God is leading her to do and be. This letter is to any with ears to listen because my perception is that God has orchestrated my life to offer unique perspective on this issue. More on that here and here.
I am for women and for men; I am against the spiritual forces and ideologies that combat God’s purposes and blunt human flourishing.
My goal is to present observation and experience from a seasoned journey with God which includes years of exegetical research.
Through my study of biblical Hebrew and Greek I’ve come to realize that the semantics of language can be incredibly difficult to translate well: meaning, sense, implications, conceptual links, and the role of cultural understanding shape just as much as word for word transference. See PART 2 below for links to topics and exegesis, continued text, and recommended resources.
If I do not share my words now, in this crucial moment of decision for the denomination, I feel I would not be faithful to my Lord, Leader, and lifelong Love.
As I see it, as a denomination we are currently discussing the following possibilities:
- Grant the title and respect of “elder” to women who serve as pastors and to faithful laywomen gifted to serve in this capacity.
- Continue to allow the teaching and preaching of Scripture by gifted, called, and certified women (in some locations) but withhold eldership from these women—who have already met the requirements and who are already doing the work—and from faithful laywomen; or
- Leave the decision of how women are allowed to use Holy Spirit’s gifts up to the men of each region.
The way I state the issue betrays my take on it: will God and the scriptural witness be our active leader, or will our comfortable tradition take precedence?
If you are unsure about how to distinguish the line between Complementarian and Egalitarian or see some ideas as “too Egalitarian,” find explanation here.
I have lived 39 years surrounded by a (soft) complementarian worldview at church. For eight of these years I have also been immersed in an egalitarian church culture at college and seminary (and in my marriage). Experience as a woman in both allows me to offer this perspective: I have found that trusting God to overcome my unconscious bias allows me to see people more as God does. Through his eyes I am reaching for the goal of valuing people as the gifted image-bearers God has made them to be.
Here is what I have observed:
- If equal respect is not foundational to individual or institutional theology—the latter, in organizational structure and written policy—human nature, pride or insecurity (those are not mutually exclusive), or simply ignorance, will at times determine behavior. Policy does not dictate such unholy treatment but can allow and even foster it. Hence we see evidence of abuse of different kinds under complementarian ideology. In the C&MA, I have been respected at times and have seen God work mightily. I have also witnessed and experienced emotional and spiritual abuse from men (not my husband) who thought they were being loving, but did not know what they were doing. All abuse scars the soul; only one form is legally accountable.
- I have owned my part in the spiritual abuse done to me—and to my family—and am trusting God as he shows me who I am. I hang in the balance of no longer allowing fear to run my life and growing in emotional maturity; I have forgiven those involved. It has been a slow but steady process of recovery over the past four years.
- Before God opened my eyes to other views, I had no idea about the different lenses people use to read Scripture. I’ve had to learn an entirely new framework, and I link to helpful articles, videos, and books, in PART 2 of this piece.
- I have seen women honored for their insight, preaching, and leadership gifts by egalitarian Christians—treated as capable equals with no gender hierarchies to uphold. I have never heard an egalitarian male professor (some are ordained, too) speak with a derogatory tone, sense of dismissal or one-upmanship, or “joking” stereotype to me, or about a woman colleague (some are ordained, too)—whether she’s in the room, or not. Those are regular occurrences under complementarian theology, subtly and overtly.
- More of my story and experience can be found here and here.
- If spiritual abuse is a new topic to consider click here for explanation.
I have found that the complementarian view of women affects many outliers. Recently I was told that it was a man’s role (not mine) to speak up to defend others. Last month a (disproven) gender stereotype was said to me as a dismissive conversation point.
I felt conflict between what God prompted me to do and these viewpoints, and I no longer internalize that conflict but recognize the harmful nature of ideologies that are not of Christ.
For more read Partnering Together: Jesus and Women as well as Partnering Together: Paul’s Female Coworkers, and The 10 Women of Romans 16 – Apostles, Dear Friends, Deacons, Hard Workers, and Co-Ministers!
While mutual submission can happen with male-only elders to a degree if the men are of such a posture, if the men are not so inclined toward mutuality the system allows (“sanctifies”) human nature: explained here. This structure also works for all of the women who are not called by God into the elder role; for those who are, it causes a spiritual frustration that runs to the essence of their being.
It is my hope that some of what I’ve shared here may become a spark for renewed conversations around issues that are not being addressed.
PART 2: A resource for new voices about God’s call for women and men to co-lead in the home and church.
Arranged as TOPICS – TEXT Part 2 – BOOK LISTS – ONLINE RESOURCES: Save and Share this post, and read in manageable chunks through the year. There is pertinent information below. May the love and truth of Christ be with you. ~K. S. Lassen
MAN IS THE HEAD:
- If Paul’s statement that the man/husband (ἀνήρ) is the head of the woman/wife (γυναικὸς) is your baseline, please read the articles found here about the Greek kephale (head) and it’s meaning to the original audience.
- Is the Husband Priest of the Home?
GREEK PHILOSOPHY AND ANCIENT CULTURE:
- Read Chains of Interence to learn one way that Greek philosophical ideas of women’s lesser status, which are not found in Christ, crept into church thought.
- Here’s a look into the Greek cultural view of women, which influenced many Christians’ views of women.
- This article is a near comprehensive treatment of cultural and early church fathers’ statements on women.
- Translation choices in the Septuagint of Genesis 1-5 (the Greek translation approximately 250 years BC) greatly influenced perception of gender as it was the primary biblical text for many in the early church. See information here.
- Church structure cut women out of leadership in the 3rd and 4th centuries: discussed here. This information is explained in my Church History textbooks (but I can’t link to them).
ACCOMMODATION TO CULTURE, HISTORICAL QUESTIONS: Janette Hassey presents the movement for women’s equality since the mid-nineteenth century as rooted in Scripture and evangelical Christian faith. Her book No Time For Silence includes discussion and quotes from A. B. Simpson. Those who endorsed women’s public ministry were convinced that a literal approach to the Bible, and especially prophecy, demanded such leadership by women.
GOD’S TRINITARIAN ESSENCE: I’ve come to see the roles in Christ’s body as directly related to God’s Trinitarian essence. Please read What Makes God “Other”? for how this is related to women in God’s church.
CHRIST AND WOMEN:
- The risen Christ commissioned women; read Apostles to the Apostles.
- If you’d like a quick read about women leaders in the Bible, find links here.
WOMEN AND MARRIAGE: Find extensive example and exegesis well-organized by topic and reference, from Genesis 1–6 and related Old Testament passages into God’s redemption of relationships throughout the New Testament at Women and Marriage throughout Redemptive History.
PAUL’S HOUSEHOLD CODES (Eph 5, Col 3):
- For more on Paul’s instructions revolving around power and gender, click here.
- What about when someone has to make the final decision in the home? See here, including Dave Ward’s talk on Ephesians 5.
- Dr. Dave Ward on Ephesians 5: Part 1 for app part 1 for desktop.
- Dave Ward Part 2, including the Q&A section—This is especially good for those who have a healthy Complementarian marriage, or, for women who prefer this model.
N. T. WRIGHT: the Biblical Basis for Women’s Service in the Church
THE GOSPEL AND GENDER SHALOM: Consider how this issue of women leading God’s people is not secondary to the gospel itself: more here.
1 TIMOTHY 2:
- See 1 TIMOTHY 2:12 IN CONTEXT: PHRASE BY PHRASE for a brief discussion of scholarly views on this verse by Marg Mowczko.
- The verb translated “to assume authority over” (NIV) is not Paul’s typical word for authority, exousia, but authentein. See AUTHENTEIN (IN 1 TIMOTHY 2:12), IN A NUTSHELL for more.
- The false creation myth and power structure in Ephesus that Paul was likely addressing in 1 Timothy was new to me and is detailed in the following well-referenced article: The Cult of Artemis.
- After a fascinating talk given by expert on Artemis Dr. Sandra Glahn, Dr. Cynthia Long Westfall drew me in to conversation (before I knew who she was!) with her obvious knowledge on authentein, a key word in 1 Timothy 2:12. See page 333 of Paul and Gender for the index of where she addresses it in the book, or google westfall on authentein to find her pdf in the “Journal of Greco-Roman Christianity and Judaism.”
In sum, “this verb should not be used to exclude women from appointment or election to any aspect of church ministry or leadership, because that class of action is never in view in the occurrences of the word,” which is likely addressing a domestic situation in 1 Timothy (Westfall, JGRChJ 10 (2014), 172-173).
The most important conclusion of this paper is that, according to the
60 samples in the data base, when αὐθεντέω occurs with a personal/
animate actor and a personal/animate goal, a negative evaluation is
given unless the actor has a divine or ultimate authority. This appears
to be because it has a destructive force when applied to an animate
goal, and it is an inappropriate action for those who do not have the
authority of life and death. There were no examples in the sample
occurrences where a man did this to another person in a positive way in
the register of church leadership. Forcing a person against their will in
a destructive way is inconsistent with pastoral ministry as practiced in
the first century or as practiced in the twenty-first century.
No person should take this kind of action against another person within a church context, because no one should have the power to harm or force another person in the church, and exercising that sort of power would be abusive by virtually any standards.Westfall, JGRChJ 10 (2014), 171.
LOCAL OR UNIVERSAL APPLICATION IN 1ST & 2ND TIMOTHY: Dr. Craig Keener discusses the historical view of women in the church and particularly addresses local versus universal application of 1st and 2nd Timothy in this video.
1ST CORINTHIANS 14:34–35:
- Mid-Eastern scholar Kenneth Bailey explains the cultural situation 1 Corinthians 14:34–35 is addressing, particularly on pages 6-7 of the pdf found here.
- Philip B. Payne explains the scribal markings on the original manuscripts, here.
- Exegetical giant Katharine Bushnell pioneered this interpretation, that I have read from modern scholars, that 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 was a quotation of societal thought, that Paul then countered. Greek doesn’t have punctuation to make a quotation clear, and given contextual evidence, it’s highly probable.
CHRIST AS THE SECOND ADAM: For how Paul’s reference of Christ as the Second Adam relates to gender relations, read Effects of the Fall Reversed.
MASCULINE PRONOUNS IN ENGLISH BIBLES:
- For grammatical information about pronouns in Hebrew, Greek, and English click here for Marg Mowczko’s research and additional resources.
- Philip B. Payne on “one-woman man” in 1 Timothy 3:2, incorporating the thoughts of Douglas Moo and Thomas Schreiner.
- Read 7 Places Where Gender-Inclusive Bible Translation Really Matters for understanding of how gender-neutral Greek words have been rendered as male in some English translations, written by Jeffrey Miller, New Testament professor at Milligan College and editor of CBE’s academic journal, Priscilla Papers.
BIBLICAL PRECEDENT and EVERY REGION DECIDING: Please consider biblical precedent for who is sacrificed if the current male eldership of each region decides how the Holy Spirit is allowed to manifest in women; in other words, all local men are kept happy.
As a denomination, a time of mourning over past sins of patriarchal policy is needed before new life can sprout and flourish. Are you up for this wild ride of humility and growth, with eyes wide open as we fly down the freeway without a seatbelt and with unclenched fists wide open to receive?
“Be still, and know that I am God!
I am exalted among the nations,
I am exalted in the earth.”
Psalm 46 displays God’s refuge and strength not in a time of ease but amidst vast upheaval. In that context we are invited into the stillness of God’s presence, the God who is and will be exalted above all.
Or, you can take on the Gamaliel challenge with fingers crossed. The choice is each of ours to make. What I write is undoubtedly hard to hear. I mean to say the truth in love, love for those who understand this issue as I used to see it, because
when every part of the body of Christ is not functioning in their gifting, every person loses.
And most utterly I ache for the women who stand to be dismissed or abused if full recognition of equal standing before God is not made in institutional policy. Well-meaning, God-hearted people have misunderstandings; we must all continue to grow. My early worldview was an unfortunate result of the reality of sin; my intellectual understanding even supported it—let us all continue to be transformed in the Lord as our minds are renewed! I did not recognize what was happening with my pastors five years ago as spiritual abuse until later on, but I knew immediately in my spirit that it was wrong.
Is the movement of women stepping boldly in faith a rebellious upstart or the clear direction of the Spirit? Is God a God who upholds human power structures or subverts them? Is the biblical support for women leading God’s people “as strong as an avalanche,” or are Greek scholar Philip Payne and his 36 years of supporting research simply wrong?
Such arguments that treat each piece of opposing argument in isolation are like a person caught in an avalanche thinking, “I will jump out of the way of each rock or clump of snow as it comes, and none of it will hit me.” But in an avalanche the rocks and snow do not come in isolation. Just as the totality of the avalanche is inescapable, so the totality of the Scriptures’ affirmations of women leading God’s people is inescapable.Philip B. Payne, Man and Women, One in Christ, p. 462
At age 33 I was seeking God fully and trusting him well beyond my comfort zone. Numerous factors led to spiritual abuse; this is not the space for details. Reading Philip Payne’s work as I tried to figure out what God was doing in my life, brought joy to replace the inner dissonance I’d felt over my previous intellectual understanding of God’s design for gender, when reading through the Bible at age 10. The Holy Spirit was telling me that though my high regard for Scripture was right, my understanding of what select passages said, was wrong.
The question is not if God-through-women will continue to lead God’s people; those snowballs were formed thousands of years before Christ with Deborah, Huldah, Miriam, etc., and women are faithfully serving as leaders in many places.
The question is if the Christian and Missionary Alliance will grab a snowboard, be buried, or simply miss out on the opportunity to join in.
Choose wisely. ❄
Consider reading some of the following:
- How I Changed My Mind about Women in Leadership: Compelling Stories from Prominent Evangelicals, Edited by Alan Johnson – ZONDERVAN / 2010
- Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity Without Hierarchy, Edited By: Ronald W. Pierce, Rebecca Merrill Groothuis, Gordon D. Fee – IVP / 2005
- Man and Woman, One in Christ: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Paul’s Letters, by Philip Barton Payne – ZONDERVAN / 2009 — Philip faithfully and respectfully presents all major viewpoints on passages before explaining why and what he finds most convincing based on the evidence. Dr. Payne began his research intending to prove the complementarian position.
- Women in the Church: A Biblical Theology of Ministry, by Stanley J. Grenz – IVP / 1995
- Rediscovering Scripture’s Vision for Women: Fresh Perspectives on Disputed Texts, by Lucy Peppiatt,
- Men and Women in Christ: Fresh Light from the Biblical Texts, by Andrew Bartlett Here’s a review.
- Paul and Gender: Reclaiming the Apostle’s Vision for Men and Women in Christ, by Cynthia Westfall Here’s a review.
- The Blue Parakeet, by Scot McKnight: The first half is “how to read the bible” and the second half is an argument for women in ministry.
- Why Not Women by Cunningham.
- Beyond Sex Roles, 3rd edition, by Gilbert Bilezikian – BAKER BOOKS / 2006
- Slavery, Sabbath, War, & Women, by Willard M. Swartley – HERALD PRESS / 1983
- More here:https://www.cbeinternational.org/blogs/15-books-seekers-and-new-egalitarians
In response to MacArthur read this from Todd Still, from Truett Theological Seminary (whom I met and learned much about 1 Corinthians 11 from, at CBE last August… scholars are sort of like rock stars, to me).
And my thoughts on MacArthur’s statement here.
Some Additional Online Resources:
- Dr. Craig Keener discusses the historical view of women in the church and particularly addresses local versus universal application of important texts: in this video.
- https://www.cbeinternational.org – free articles and other resources, including online bookstore
- In this piece Philip Payne addresses the high importance of Phoebe called a deacon by Paul: Is It True That In The NT No Women, Only Men, Are Identified By Name As Elders, Overseers, Or Pastors, And That Consequently Women Must Not Be Elders, Overseers, Or Pastors?
- Junia in Romans 16:17 discusses Paul’s identification of Junia as an apostle.
- Click here for more about Andrizomai literally “act like men” or “be courageous” in 1 Corinthians 16:13 and the ESV translation.
- Click on Her Desire—Did the boys (and Susan Foh) get it right? for my studied and experiential words about teshuqah “her desire” from Genesis 3:16.
- For biblical examples of ministry partnerships of men and women see Apphia of Colossae: Philemon’s Wife or Another Phoebe? by Marg Mowczko
- As referenced throughout, Marg Mowczko and Denise Murphy Plichta‘s blogs are treasure troves of exegetical scholarship.
- Christians for Biblical Equality Statement on Men, Women and Biblical Equality*
- * Endorsed by: Carl E. Armerding, Stuart Briscoe, F. F. Bruce, Gary W. Demarest, Gordon D. Fee, Kevin Giles, Vernon Grounds, Richard C. Halverson, Arthur F. Holmes, David Allan Hubbard, Alan F. Johnson, Kenneth S. Kantzer, Walter L. Liefeld, Richard N. Longenecker, Richard J. Mouw, Grant R. Osborne, Cornelius Plantinga, Jr., and many more.
If you run out of things to read, I can send you more. Please ask!
“See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ” (Col. 2:8).