Today I did lunch with a dear brother of mine. We had been trying to meet up together all semester, to take some time to discuss our favorite area of discussion--- THEOLOGY! So we finally met up and did a Chinese lunch today. Boy am I so glad to have brothers!!!
Our first topic of conversation involved evangelism and how to present the gospel to someone who does not believe in God and has no concern for learning about this God we believe in at all. But eventually, the conversation took a turn down a road that he and I both knew we would arrive at; and we ended up discussing two issues that seem to really flow together: the issue of Calvinism versus Arminianism (see my blog at CTS regarding the nature of this debate) and...an issue I love here very much: the issue of men and women in the church.
We began by discussing 1 Timothy 2, a passage that, as I’ve established, has been viewed by complementarians as a passage that “decisively” (their own words) kills the issue of whether or not women should lead in the church. I took my dear brother back to 1 Corinthians 11, another passage that talks about some form of creation order. There, I showed him that men and women are BOTH dependent “in the Lord.” The sphere of God’s house is the place where men and women are functionally equal, despite the woman’s functional submission to her husband in the home. Even the husband has no independence from the wife in the church (according to 1 Cor. 11:11-12)!
Then he asked me the question, “Does dependence nullify authority?” I told him that the husband has been given headship in the home, but God holds the headship of the church, and is free to do what He pleases in His House (Eph. 5:23). If Christ is the head of the church, and headship in the church belongs to Christ, then why does the Bride have to argue over which “bride” (member) of the Bride (Church) should lead?
Finally, my brother looked at me and said that he understands the differences between Calvinists (who are also complementarians) and Arminians (egalitarians): those who are Calvinists are more likely to be complementarians because they see that God chooses not only those who will be saved, but also chooses what gender (and as a result of gender, what gifts) a person will have. Arminians, on the other hand, who believe that everything is foreknown but not predetermined (chosen beforehand), see some indeterminate aspects to life itself, that everything is not picked out by God. In his mindset, Arminians, therefore, would choose to argue for women’s equal leadership opportunities in the church.
I think there is some truth to what he is saying regarding theology; however, I don’t think that a theological grid is the most important reason why the line divides along Calvinist (complementarian) and Arminian (egalitarian) lines. The most important factor that creates the divide is the biblical text. For me as both a Classical Arminian and a conservative egalitarian, I see the Bible itself as the dividing line. I cannot agree with complementarian argumentation because ultimately, they draw “inferences” to the biblical text without sufficient biblical proof. If God truly desired to tell women what they could not do in the church, why is it not as clear as the divine command for wives to submit to their husbands (Eph. 5:22; 1 Pet. 3:1; Col. 3:18; Titus 2:5)?? It seems that the Holy Spirit, the Author of Holy Scripture, was not hesitant when He wanted to communicate to wives the need to submit to husbands. If complementarians are so right about women in leadership, why is the Spirit extremely silent on this issue? And why is it that the church has to “draw inferences” instead of drawing from Scripture? If “the simplest answer is often the best explanation,” then the answer to the question is “the Spirit does not make prohibition of woman leadership clear because He does not desire to prohibit women from leadership in the church.
In his chapter on “Human Nature” in the work “A Theology for the Church,” John Hammett writes regarding 1 Timothy 2:
“The passage begins with a call to let women learn, a somewhat revolutionary idea in some parts of the Mediterranean world of that time. But, Paul continues, women should not teach or exercise authority over a man. BUT HOW DOES THIS TEXT RELATE TO ROLES IN THE CHURCH? It seems clear from elsewhere in Scripture that THIS IS NOT A BLANKET PROHIBITION. For example, believers are commanded to teach and admonish one another (Col. 3:16), and Paul gives instructions concerning the praying and prophesying of women (1 Cor. 11:2-16). CONTEXT SEEMS TO INDICATE THAT THE TYPE OF TEACHING AND AUTHORITY PAUL HAS IN MIND IS THAT OF AN ELDER, for the qualifications for that office is the topic Paul turns to in 1 Timothy 3, and the duties of an elder include authoritative teaching and leading. Thus, 1 Timothy 2:11-15 prohibits women from serving in the role of elder or pastor” (John Hammett, “Human Nature,” from “A Theology for the Church” by Daniel L. Akin, editor. Nashville: B&H Academic, 2007, page 359).
But Hammett’s analysis here is rather subjective. Do we even read of women and elder in the same sentence in 1 Timothy 3? No. The issue of women teaching, then, is to first be investigated within the chapter of its location (which is chapter 2). Next, what about chapter 1? Hammett invests time on why women can’t teach according to chapter 3, but overlooks chapter 1 entirely. Hammett does not address the problems Paul does: (1) false teachers (1:3) and false doctrine (1:3), which consisted of “fables and endless genealogies” (1:4), as well as (2) students who desired to teach but were propagating false doctrine ignorantly (1:7). If these problems were to be incorporated into interpretation, then 1 Timothy 2 would be seen as Paul counteracting false teaching, not prohibiting women from serving in leadership roles. Hammett doesn’t address any of these mentionables of chapter 1. Why is this? It’s an interesting question indeed...
Last but not least, there is the question regarding women teaching: if women are ONLY prohibited from the office of elder and pastor (which seems to be Hammett’s conclusion), then are women prohibited from teaching men in a mixed Sunday school class? I find it fascinating that Hammett doesn’t argue against women teaching mixed Sunday school classes, and yet, so many churches prohibit women from so doing. Why is this? If scholars are not prohibiting women teaching, then why are so many churches prohibiting women from teaching? Although Hammett states that “this [1 Tim. 2] is not a blanket prohibition,” the churches sure seem convinced that it is...
Aside from Hammett’s interpretation of 1 Timothy 2, however, Hammett does make a good point about the weak argument from inference:
“Some complementarians think that the order established by God in marriage should also be an argument for a similar order within the church. Thus, just as women cannot be husbands or fathers in the family, so they cannot (or at least should not) be elders or pastors within the larger family, the church. While this view has a good deal of merit, WE ARE NOT LEFT TO SUCH AN INFERENTIAL ARGUMENT” (358).
Even Hammett admits that the above complementarian “consistency” is nothing more than an inference. And if the argument is just an inference, then we are left to Scripture to see what it tells us. And even the evidence against women as pastors (including Hammett’s analysis) is questionable.
Back to the Chinese lunch. At the end of the lunch time, I realized that my brother simply did not have a biblical text for his case. All he had was a collection of inferential arguments with no Scripture as justification. If Scripture provides no evidence against women, then the “traditional” view of complementarianism is nothing more than tradition; and if we believe the Bible to be the ultimate authority in every area of life, then we must either elevate tradition to Scripture or toss tradition out. And I know which one I choose...how about you?