A Canary in the Coal Mine

(May 23rd) Note: A previous version of this post was flawed, sinfully so.  Repentance demanded the following rewrite. 

There’s a canary in the coal mine, and it’s gasping for air.  The death of this poor bird doesn’t bode well for the viability of the mine, nor for those working to make it prosper.  If the mine is the otherwise “orthodox” church in the Santa Cruz area – meaning, churches who still hold to the true Gospel according to Scripture – then the canary is our understanding of how men and women should live in marriage and in the body of Christ.  Christians who depart from Scripture in this matter weaken the body of Christ in Santa Cruz.

Why is this matter worthy of attention now?  I’m prompted in part by the prevalence where I live of something called “egalitarianism,” which stands in contradistinction to the biblical standard of “complementarianism.”  Egalitarianism, in short, is the assertion that there are no essential, God-given distinctions between men and women when it comes to their roles in life, especially as those roles pertain to life in the family and in the church.  Men and women are equal, not only in their standing and value before God, but also in matters of authority and ministry.  So says egalitarianism.  Contrary to this position, but faithful to God’s Word, is complementarianism.  To my knowledge, the term complementarianism originated in the early 1990’s with a response to what was then called evangelical feminism (see Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, edited by John Piper and Wayne Grudem). Complementarianism is simply the effort to say well what Scripture teaches; namely that men and women are equal before God, and yet different.  We have different God-given roles and responsibilities in life that complement each other, both in the church, and in the family.  Christians who depart from this standard of equal but different, equal but complementary, do a disservice to themselves, their families, and the church as a whole.

Three Critiques

Because I’m writing here as a critique, I will not take time to state the positive case for biblical complementarianism.  That case will become clear, I hope, in the critique itself.  At the end of this post, I’ll mention a few resources that might prove helpful for those who want to learn more.  I’ll also mention, right now, several sermons I’ve preached in the past that directly address aspects of this question.  The first (available here) has to do with gender roles in the body of Christ, especially as these roles pertain to the ministry of a pastor-elder-overseer (all the same New Testament office).  The others (available hereherehere, and here) have to do with gender in general, based on God’s creation of Adam and Eve as male and female.  Let me encourage you to avail yourself of these resources, even as you consider what follows.

Those who teach contrary to Scripture with respect to God-given distinctions between men and women make at least three errors.  Wanting to be charitable in my critique, I’ve couched these three errors as things such teachers “misunderstand”:

Egalitarianism misunderstands the revelation of creation order across time – The fact that men and women are radically equal, and yet beautifully distinct before God, with distinct roles and responsibilities, appears on the pages of Scripture from the very beginning of creation.  I won’t belabor the point, but for a moment hear the words of God himself: “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him” (Genesis 2:18, ESV).  The result of this resolution on God’s part is Eve.  She is not Adam’s equivalent (though she is his equal in terms of worth and value before God).  She is his helper.  Even the manner in which God creates Eve – out of Adam’s rib, versus out of the dust of the ground – makes this role beautifully clear.  Again, I refer the reader to the sermons noted above.

It is folly to suppose that sin, in Genesis 3, destroyed this “radically equal, beautiful distinct” standard for men and women.  God’s response to sin alone, at the end of Genesis 3, maintains the distinction, not to mention the rest of Scripture.  On multiple occasions, the Apostle Paul reaches back to creation when he teaches about manhood, womanhood, and their expressions in the church and family.  Consider, for example, his words in 1 Corinthians 11, when Paul deals with a matter of role and authority: “But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God…For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man.  For man was not made from woman, but woman from man.  Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man” (1 Cor. 11:3, 7-9, ESV).  Clearly Paul thinks there are important, God-given distinctions between men and women.  That these aren’t a distinction in value becomes clear in verses 11-12: “Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman.  And all things are from God.”  Paul wasn’t a misogynist.  He was a biblicist.  Egalitarianism doesn’t hold the same biblical fidelity that the Apostle Paul displays.  Thus, it concerns me deeply when a pastor-preacher-teacher in the body of Christ articulates an egalitarian understanding of Scripture.

Egalitarianism misunderstands the clear, repeated teaching of the New Testament – In making this point I’m not setting aside the Old Testament, not at all.  But, for the life of Jesus’ church, the New Testament interprets and applies what the Old Testament prepares us for.  Over-and-over again, the New Testament insists on distinct roles for men and women in the family and the church.  These roles have to do with responsibilities of headship and submission; of leadership and following; of speaking (of a certain type) and silence (of a certain type).  I won’t deal with these points and passages extensively, but consider the following:

Jesus came as a man. Why? If my answer is simply, “Well God accommodated himself to the culture of Jesus’ day,” then I’m missing the point (see Romans 5), and I’m also constraining God in a way he will not be constrained.  Again, I’ll refer you to one of those sermons referenced above.

Jesus chose men as his apostles (Matthew 10:1-4, etc). The apostles themselves chose a man to replace Judas in his office, following his betrayal and self-murder (Acts 1:15-26). Please don’t charge Jesus, nor his radical, earth-overturning disciples with merely accommodating themselves (and the church) to culture when they did so!

When the apostles and elders met in Jerusalem in Acts 17, it was a meeting of “brothers” (Acts 17:13).

Paul addresses questions of gender roles in the church and family repeatedly. Consider Scriptures like: 1 Corinthians 7:1-5, 11:1-16, 14:33b-35; Ephesians 5:22-33; Colossians 3:18-19; 1 Timothy 2:8-15; 1 Timothy 3:1-13 (5:17-20); 1 Timothy 5:3-16; Titus 1:5-9; Titus 2:1-8.

As with Paul, so with Peter, who also considers gender distinctions pertinent to his pastoral exhortation in 1 Peter 3:1-7.

Consider Hebrews 13:7, where the author of Hebrews speaks of leaders in the masculine.

Consider the Apostle John, and his noteworthy manner of address in 1 John 2:12-14.

My purpose in noting the above is not to exalt manhood.  It’s just to demonstrate the biblical distinction that egalitarianism sets aside.  It concerns me when someone isn’t willing to hear, consider, and obey the New Testament standard of “radically equal, beautifully distinct” for men and women – particularly in the church and family.

Egalitarianism misunderstands the history of the church and the horrific record of apostasy – My comments here are less well-informed than anything above, but there’s a reason I started with a canary in a coal mine.  I’m convinced that churches and denominations who compromise Scripture’s teaching on gender in the context of the home and family will eventually compromise the entire biblical idea of gender and sexuality.  In short, egalitarian churches prepare themselves to become churches that deny the very idea of gender, affirm wicked sin with respect to human sexuality, and even deny the Gospel proper.  This progression (pun intended) may not happen right away.  It may even take a generation or two (though I suspect in today’s cultural climate a generation or two is too long an estimate).  But it will come, almost inevitably, that a church who ignores Scripture via “egalitarianism” will eventually ignore Scripture in things that stand beneath the egalitarian worldview.  Indeed, we’ve already seen this pattern work itself out in the secular word.  Just ask the traditional feminists of the 60’s and 70’s.  Why would we think things will be different inside the church?

There’s a reason for this slide.  If I interpret Scripture in such a way as to authorize an egalitarian position, then I have no logical recourse for holding an orthodox standard in fundamental questions of gender and sexuality.  If I won’t understand the Bible when it clearly addresses men and women in the context of church and family, then why would I understand the Bible when it clearly addresses homosexuality, or gender as a creational reality, or sex as God’s purpose for a man and woman in lifelong marriage?  Unbiblical compromise breeds apostasy.  That’s how sinful human nature works.  That’s how the Deceiver works.

Again, while I’m not enough a student of history to prove my point here well, let me offer one piece of evidence in this regard: The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), also known as the PCUSA.  The PCUSA today is a denomination that disregards God’s Word regarding things like gender and sexuality.  One need look no further than the denomination’s official documentation to verify this characterization.  But how did the PCUSA arrive at such a point?  I’ll simply observe that well before it turned against God’s Word pertinent to transgenderism and sexuality, the PCUSA turned against God’s Word in the matter of God-given roles for men and women.  The PCUSA ordained its first woman “minister” in October 1956, and its first woman “teaching elder” in 1965 (see the article available here).  Someone may respond at this point, “Yes, but correlation is not causation.”  In other words, just because a denomination begins to allow women to serve as pastor-elder-overseers, or to teach and preach in public mixed-gender settings, doesn’t thereby mean it’s ready to swallow all the LGBTQ+ revolution.  By way of rejoinder, reread the first two paragraphs of this section.  Then consider the story of the American Episcopalian Church, or the British Anglican Church, the United Methodists, and so on.  I’m confident their history will look much the same as the PCUSA.

Dangerous Ground

For just a moment, let me enter dangerous ground.  It’s dangerous because it’s fraught with landmines of pride and self-deception.  While trying not to impugn motives, for a moment I’m going to be directly critical of pastors who teach egalitarian thinking.  I mean what follows for men who are true brothers in Christ, and yet for some reason depart from Scripture in these important matters.  Why do they do it?  Of course, I don’t know for sure.  The reasons are undoubtedly as varied as the pastor in question.  I can imagine reasons, but instead let me note words and warnings from the Apostle Paul:

Some pastors walk contrary to God’s Word because it’s popular.  Paul says in 2 Timothy 4:3 (ESV), “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” 

Some pastors set aside the Bible because they’re captured by worldly arguments that are not sound, and worldly logic that is not godly.  Paul writes in Colossians 2:8 (ESV), “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elementary spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.” 

Some pastors deny Scripture because they’ve become puffed up with conceit (which relates to the two warnings already given).  Paul exhorts Timothy, “Teach and urge these things.  If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing.” (1 Timothy 2:2b-4a, ESV).

Now, I need to be charitable to my brothers whose lives and testimonies don’t otherwise warrant words like these from Paul.  Some preach and teach an egalitarian message because they’re truly convinced it’s consistent with the Word of God.  In this they’re mistaken, but perhaps with the best of intentions.  They’re mistaken not because I say so, but because God’s Word is clear, and it’s clearly not consistent with egalitarianism.  In such cases, I hope these men might receive the sort of correction that Apollos received from Priscilla and Aquila in Acts 18 and turn in response.  I hope where my life and doctrine run contrary to Scripture, I too will receive and hear such correction.  It’s a beautiful thing when our lives are reformed and transformed by the truth of God’s revelation.  When we don’t listen, it’s sad.  The words of James are apropos to all of us: “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness” (James 3:1, ESV).

Since I’m on dangerous ground here, let me end this section with a prayer for myself from Galatians 6:1 (ESV): “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.  Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.”  Lord, help me to keep watch over myself; my life and my teaching (2 Timothy 4:16).  

Concluding Thoughts and Resources

I’ll close with seven statements, and then a list of resources.

When a husband isn’t actively loving his wife in worship of Jesus Christ, he’s not being faithful to the Bible’s complementarian truth.

When a wife isn’t actively submitting to her husband as unto the Lord, she’s not being faithful to the Bible’s complementarian truth.

When qualified and called men fail to serve the body of Christ as pastor-elder-overseers, they disregard the Bible’s complementarian vision for the church.

When gifted and called men fail to faithfully preach and teach God’s Word in the body of Christ, they disregard the Bible’s complementarian vision for the church.

When women function as pastor-elder-overseers (or anything equivalent), they disregard the Bible’s complementarian vision for the church.

When women exercise authority over men, especially in the public preaching and teaching of Scripture, they disregard the Bible’s complementarian vision for the church.

When the spiritual gifts of women and men alike aren’t fostered, appreciated, and mobilized, the local church disregards the Bible’s complementarian vision for the body of Christ.

For those compelled to consider this issue further, I’ll end with a few helpful resources you may want to consult in addition to your Bible (because they’ll help you as a hearer of God’s Word):

The website of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.

The Danvers Statement. This statement was first published in 1988. Notice the sobering last words: “We are convinced that a denial or neglect of these principles will lead to increasingly destructive consequences in our families, our churches, and the culture at large.”  Hasn’t history since 1988 proven this statement, tragically, correct?

A book by Kevin DeYoung titled Men and Women in the Church: A Short, Biblical, Practical Introduction. I haven’t read this book personally, but I trust DeYoung. He’s biblically sound, pastorally kind, and accessible as a writer and thinker.

If you want the heftier response to egalitarianism, consider the classic work already referenced: Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism.  Or, pick up a copy of Wayne Grudem’s Evangelical Feminism & Biblical Truth.

May God bless you as you seek to faithfully follow Jesus.

In Christ,

P.J.

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