Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Equal, Different, Free to Serve as Called and Equipped

One response to postings below re women in Christian leadership alerted me to (a) the possibility that 'equal but different' is a fairer description of the 'complementarian' approach than 'equal but subordinate', and (b) an organisation based in Sydney called 'Equal But Different'.

A perusal of Equal But Different's website certainly makes interesting reading. It appears to be as clear, as concise and as fair a statement of the so-called 'complementarian' position on men and women in marriage and in church ministry as one might find anywhere.

On the one hand I am struck by the last clause of its statement of faith:

"11. that we unconditionally reject the use of God’s purposes for marriage as an excuse for violence against women, whether physical, emotional or spiritual."

To me that is a bit of a red flag about the complementarian position: does a true biblical understanding of men and women require this kind of health warning? Should not the presence of such a statement flag an urgent need to re-examine what the Bible says? The goodness of marriage as an ordinance of creation given by God, when expressed as a theological position of the church, should not require such a clause. Well, that's what I think, but many notable teachers in North America, Sydney, and England seem comfortable with a position that requires a clause 11.

On the other hand I am struck by the incongruence of the complementarian approach being acclaimed as 'biblical' while intruding into its statement of belief words and phrases which do not come from the Bible.

Consider clause 9:

"9. that men are called to loving, self-denying, humble leadership, and women to intelligent, willing submission within marriage;"

You may read your Bible a thousand times but you will not see submission in marriage qualified by the word 'intelligent'. I presume this is a get out of jail card with respect to the reality of our culture which looks askance at any position in relation to marriage which implied a blind, unquestioning submission. Now recognising the reality of present day culture is a good thing. It's just that the complementarian approach can be very critical of the egalitarian approach on the grounds of the latter, allegedly, being more driven by current culture than by the Bible.

The good news here is that acceptance of the notion of 'intelligent, willing submission' opens the possibility of fruitful dialogue between the two positions. 'Intelligent, willing submission' speaks to me of a relationship in which there is communication, discussion, and negotiation - all elements of the mutuality in marriage which is an important emphasis of the egalitarian approach.

Then there is Clause 10 to consider, but I give it here with preceding clauses which build up to this clause:

"6. that God calls everyone, female and male, to a life of whole-hearted service to Him, and of self-sacrificial ministry to His people and to the world in whatever context He places them;

7. that both men and women are to use their gifts and exercise ministry in a joyful and committed way;

8. that God’s purposes for humanity include complementary relationships between the genders;

9. that men are called to loving, self-denying, humble leadership, and women to intelligent, willing submission within marriage;

10. that within the church, this complementarity is expressed through suitably gifted and appointed men assuming responsibility for authoritative teaching and pastoral oversight;"

Again, you may read your Bible a thousand times but you will not find any statement which straightforwardly makes the connection between complementariness in marriage and complementariness in church ministry. Note carefully that this observation does not make clause 10 invalid in itself. Clause 10 may be true and the final word on the matter but if this is so, then it is because its truth as a theological reflection on biblical material is recognised by the church. But Clause 10 is not a straightforward 'biblical' statement. It is a conclusion reached through the process of theological reflection on the Bible. Such theological reflection is, however, always a matter of contestability. That is, it is not the conclusion all readers of the Bible will reach. It ought not to be described in a manner which implies it is the only standard for 'biblical relationships'.

Here also is good news for the dialogue (and debate) between the complementarian and egalitarian positions. If both can recognise and respect each position as beginning with the Bible but drawing different conclusions, rather than acclaiming one position as 'biblical' and the other as not (as, for example, a notable exponent of complementarianism, Wayne Grudem is wont to do), then it is possible that the process by which each position reaches its conclusions could be brought into discussion for mutual reflection and examination. By 'process' here I mean the logical steps each argument takes on the way from the text of the Bible to the theological conclusions reached. All too often as Christians we do not consider these details and thus miss important matters which affect the positions we reach and the manner in which we make judgements about 'the other side'.

In this case I would be intrigued to hear more about the introduction of the word 'intelligent' and the reasoning why 'complementariness' in marriage also applies to church leadership. I am sure 'complementarians' would like to know more about the reasoning why 'egalitarians' would propose 'Equal, Different, Free to Serve as Called and Equipped' as a biblically-based alternative to 'Equal but Different'.


Anonymous said...

Peter, the authors can (and I hope, will) speak for themselves, but let this fool rush in with a quick observation.
1. 'intelligent': no, 'sunetos' etc isn't in the text of Ephesians 5.22-23, 'Wives, submit to your husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.' (ESV)
Should then our submission to Christ be unintelligent (asunetos)? Or should it be marked by the 'renewal of the mind' (Romans 12.1)?
Paul sets two impossible standards: v. 21, to submit to each other (which goes against the grain of the desire for autonomy - submission in marriage is an illustration of the principle in v. 21); and for husbands to be Christ-like in their love and provision (vv. 25, 28). Which tells me that Christian marriage, like life in the church itself, must be grounded continually in grace, not an abstract law, and certainly not a power play.
Submission is a fact of life: to our parents, our teachers, our employers, and our spiritual elders. If we ever formally submit to others, it is always with the proviso (implicit or explicit) 'in all things lawful and honest'. Sounds 'intelligent' to me. We only have to spell this out because there is a history of abuse, ecclesiastical as well as marital, in which headship for one has meant hardship for the other. (I include bishops and priests in this!) That isn't Christ-like at all.
2. 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 do presuppose that episkopoi and presbuteroi are married men ruling their families well, and Paul does explicitly state that the way they manage their households is an indication of how they can lead the church. Sexist? Well, I guess you can anything a bad name by putting 'ist' (or 'phobic') on the end.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Anonymous
The proper qualification of 'submission' with respect to marriage is not (IMHO) 'intelligent' but in terms of the prior command 'submit to one another'. I do not think 'intelligent' conveys anything in particular in the context of the statement. (Why does the statement not require the husband to also be 'intelligent'?)

1 Timothy 3 etc appear to lay down a pattern of male leadership of the church. Yes. Yet two questions arise:
(i) where is an underlying principle of 'complementariness' to be found (other than, say, as a hidden presupposition)? The appearance is more of a chauvinism: men are to be in charge!
(ii) to what extent did the writer go with the grain of general cultural suppositions in writing with only a male in view? (That is, the questions of 2000 years later were not necessarily in the writer's mind! If they had been might he not have said either 'a bishop etc shall be a man and never will there be an exception' or 'I speak as a man of my time, but later their may be a time when a more inclusive understanding could be brought to bear on my words'?

Last night I had the privilege of hearing Bishop Victoria Matthews of Christchurch speak (in Nelson Cathedral). I cannot credit that Scripture means that the church ought not to have ordained her!

Rosemary Behan said...

I hesitate to answer this, but do so because your post is due to the fact that I emailed you.

First, you say that submission with respect to marriage [you give no reasons why you separate submissiveness in marriage to submissiveness in anything other regard] is in terms of the prior command to ‘submit to one another.” Are you trying to tell me you do that without engaging your intellect? How very strange. Our Lord must be very pleased with you Peter, being so obedient without questioning why.

Secondly, you agree that 1 Timothy 3 ‘appears’ [your adjective] to lay down a pattern of male leadership within the church, but you continue .. suggesting that the authors of the Bible did not necessarily have in mind us, 2000 years later. Really? The Son of God, Our Lord Jesus, chose only men .. but didn’t know about us 2000 years later .. I think we’ll have to deduct the ‘good marks’ you got for your ‘blind obedience.’

I’m thrilled you enjoyed listening to Bishop Victoria .. but shame on you for thinking a woman must be ordained before you either will .. or will get the chance to listen to her.


Peter Carrell said...

Intriguingly, Rosemary, Ephesians 5 does not, if read literally, offer the option of questioning why we might submit. So qualifying submission with 'intelligent' is making an intelligent guess as to the appropriateness of this qualification. (That is, we presume that if Paul were here today conversing with us, he would agree that his original words do indeed imply intelligent submission rather than unintelligent submission).

By the same process I am raising the question were Paul addressing the world today, through the power of the Spirit, whether he might offer some specific words which explicitly provided for a more inclusive approach to episcopacy and diaconal ministry. Enlarging the scope of original words in Scripture is a fairly standard hermeneutical move. For example, many readers treat words about 'masters/slaves' as applying, perhaps with necessary modifications, to 'employers/employees'. (Incidentally we also believe that we may diminish the application of some instructions: Does any church strictly follow 1 Timothy 5 on widows?)

Well I have little shame! But I did write ambiguously re Bishop Victoria. A longer version would be this: hearing Bishop Victoria last night (as well as having opportunity to meet her in person during the day she spent in our Diocese) demonstrated to me (to many I believe) that she has gifts of leadership and teaching which the church has properly recognised through ordination. Consequently I cannot credit that the meaning of 1 Timothy 2:12-15 was intended to prohibit such ordination.


Anonymous said...

1. A husband's leadership is to be more than 'intelligent'; it is to be Christ-like, self-sacrificing love. An impossible calling, without the daily infusion of grace. Does or should a woman bishop "submit" to her husband?
2. "...the questions of 2000 years later were not necessarily in the writer's mind! If they had been might he not have said..." - careful where you go with that one! You may find yourself agreeing with Gene Robinson that experience trumps Scripture!

Well, I don't want to cross swords endlessly with you because I agree with you on most matters. What I'm really looking for is to see women's ministry within the integrity of Christian marriage. This is an issue for evangelicals striving to be faithful to Scripture, within that Noah's ark that we call Anglicanism. I know things don't have to be that way, but it is impossible to escape the impression that women's ordination has markedly liberalized (and theologically etiolated) the public face of North Atlantic Anglicanism as well as in New Zealand. Why so? Because in these churches some thousands of older women have been ordained in the past generation, most of these on part-time courses that are short on Bible and systematic theology and long on 'pastoral theology' (a lot of this soft sociology, with the usual hangups about patriarchy). There is little or no vision for winning a lost world for Christ (lost? a preposterous notion!), and no time for traditional theology ('cosmic child abuse' etc), just tending an aging church to the grave. There is no fighting spirit in such a church, no challenge at all to the secular liberal spirit that has been steadily effacing Christianity from the public consciousness. Sorry for the rant, but that's how it seems to me - the law of unintended consequences, if you will.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Anonymous
A married woman with a husband should be in an ordered relationship with him (and vice versa). A single bishop has no such obligation!

Experience may always trump revelation as we seek to live life in the 21st century rather than the 1st century - that's the risk we take on every matter we seek to work out according to Scripture. There are some, for instance, who cannot understand Christians living off investments!

Perhaps you should visit NZ sometime. There are ordained women conservative in theology, ordained women who are liberal in theology. Strangely, there are ordained men in both categories! I cannot speak for all married women in ministry but ones I count as friends live in wonderful marriages, with great husbands (i.e. Christian, godly, real men).

I am quite unclear what you are trying to argue: does the presence of ordained women who have contributed to the liberalizing of the church count as a reason not to ordain them? Surely fairness would mean we stopped ordaining men too? No one has contributed more to the liberalizing of the church (in general in NZ) than Lloyd Geering ... a man!

Anonymous said...

"A married woman with a husband should be in an ordered relationship with him (and vice versa). A single bishop has no such obligation!"

But what kind of ordered relationship? Is a married Christian man spiritually responsible before God for his wife? Or is woman priest or bishop her husband's elder?

"Experience may always trump revelation as we seek to live life in the 21st century rather than the 1st century..."

Alas, Peter, that's classical liberalism for you: because 'revelation' that is trumped by 'experience' couldn't be revelation (= divine communication) at all but at best only our mistake-ridden attempts to describe religious experience - which is exactly how classical liberalism understands the Bible.

My last point was admittedly more tangential, along the lines of 'the law of unintended consequences'. WO has meant that the old traditional patristic-Catholic ballast has largely disappeared from Anglicanism, to be replaced by a new liberal 'Catholicism' which is definitely 'Church Lite'. This has been the seedbed of so much therological revisionism in Tec and in Canada. The problem doesn't lie with the sex of these new clergy but their religious/theological formation. The Baptists and some Pentecostalists also ordain women, but you find fewer among thme, and far fewer liberals. It would be interesting to ocnsider why.

Easter blessings to you.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Anonymous

In a healthy Christian marriage each partner should be responsible for the other's spiritual wellbeing, 'joint heirs together' of God's grace.

A husband of a bishop may and should be responsible for his wife and bishop's well being in all regards, just as I would encourage all licensed clergy to bre responsible for their bishop's spiritual well-being.

A female bishop has no direction to give to her husband other than what is 'lawful' according to the canons of the church, thus a husband of a female bishop is not subject to her (in this regard) as his wife but as the one who holds the office of the bishop.

Naturally the husband will be subject to his wife (whether bishop, priest, deacon, or lay) and the wife to her husband (according to Ephesians 5:21 and 1 Corinthians 16:16), as in all good marriages of my experience!

Incidentally, in these conversations one tends tor ecall that Scripture mentioning Priscilla and Aquila tends to mention her before him!!