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Apr 26, 2007

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Travis Prinzi

I can agree with the statement, "We should be modeling the complementary equality envisaged in the Word." But a couple things in response:

"Complementary equality" can include at least some variety in opinions amongst Christians as to the differences between men and women and God's intentions for the church and family.

But more than that, I just have difficulty with this kind of thinking that I hear over and over: the church couldn't do anything about the evil of patriarchy; it had to wait for society to change to finally do something about it...which, it appears, is just to follow society.

To believe this, we have to believe that the church was willing to stand up against a low view of human life; infanticide; violence; the gods; the mystery religions; the lordship of caesar; the mistreatment of slaves/servants; sexual immorality in all its forms; and many other issues, most of which got them killed. But when it came to patriarchy, the church just couldn't and wouldn't do anything. It couldn't obey God on this one, because it was just too much a part of the culture. They had to wait for secular humanism to come along almost 2,000 years later, so it could finally obey God.

That just doesn't work for me.

Michael Kruse

“"Complementary equality" can include at least some variety in opinions amongst Christians as to the differences between men and women and God's intentions for the church and family.”

Men and women are different but all are qualified to receive the gifts of the spirit, including leading, teaching, and preaching. There is no gender specific gifting.

There are no God ordained gender roles given in the Bible! No doubt you will raise the various household codes like Ephesians 5-6. These are about relational postures not roles. The roles are merely taken for granted but how the various parties are to relate to each other is mutual submission.

The primary agent of social order in Greco-Roman society was the household. There was no police force or other on-going order maintaining institution. Disrupting the nature of the household was a direct assault on the social order of the empire. Apart from refusal to bow to Caesar (which did emerge until late in the NT era until after 70 AD) all the other issues you raise could be dealt with without directly confronting the social order. To challenge the makeup of the household was a direct assault on the social order that would have brought swift persecution by Roman powers. Paul’s primary agenda was not restructuring Roman culture but giving evidence of the New Creation. (It is clear that the NT folks were expecting a swift return from Christ.) People living within mutual submission within the structures would draw others into the kingdom. Insisting on a social arrangement that maximized their ideas of freedom would hinder the witness of the gospel. This is implicit throughout the NT writings and in some cases explicit:

1 Peter 3:1-2

“Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands….” Why? Because this is the Patriarchal order established by God? No! “…so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, …”

Titus 2:4-5

“Then they can train the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands,” Why? Because this is the Patriarchal order established by God? No! “…so that no one will malign the word of God.”

Why? Because this is the Patriarchal order established by God? No!

1 Cor 10:31-11:1

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God- even as I try to please everybody in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.

The pervasive argument encountered when dealing with specific cultural applications is to use your freedom in ways that advance the kingdom. Just like we don’t find the abolition of slavery in the NT neither do we find the abolition of patriarchy. Just like we can discern from a more distant perspective that social order can be adapted to exclude slavery so can we also look back and see that the social order can be adapted to exclude patriarchal subordination. These issues were not central in the early decades of the church but after greater time in a different context we can see the implications of the ultimate ethic taught in scripture.

“They had to wait for secular humanism to come along almost 2,000 years later, so it could finally obey God.”

What about slavery? That took us a while to get right.

Biblical equality for women (gifted for every type of service in the church), as a serious movement, predates the rise of secular humanism in recent decades by at least a century. The church I was raised in was ordaining women in the late 19th Century. It is categorically false that this issue springs from secular humanism.

But this introduction of secular humanism into the conversation is instructive. The Complementarian movement is a response to secular humanism. That is the lens through which everything is weighed. Secular feminism, as an offshoot of secular humanism, ironically took what has been associated with male behavior, made it the standard for equality, and then made that the standard that women should achieve. Biblical feminism recognizes that there we are sexual beings whose proclivities and differences intermix with each other to give a full expression of humanity. That is why it is essential to have that full humanity expressed in all avenues of work and ministry in the world. It embraces those differences and recognizes that God gifts us all for all types of service.

In the complementarian rush to resist the secular humanism (and rightly so) they have embraced a lower standard tolerated in the New Testament as the gold standard. Neither the secular humanism of the religious left or the retrograde patriarchy of the complementarians gets it as they engage in their culture wars. And the church’s witness suffers for it.

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