Equal Yet Different – Part 2

Part 1 can be found here.

Men and women are different. That was the first thing that we examined on this topic last time, and it remains of utmost importance. Today, we take it a bit farther, and look at Christian churches and roles within the church. Remember, once more, our friends E-ism (egalitarianism) and C-ism (complementarianism). They still vie for the title of “Most Reasonable Way to View the World”.

The egalitarian position on this topic is straightforward. Egalitarians often cite two passages from Scripture. First, in Galatians 3:28:

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

The second is in Romans 16:1-2:

I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae. I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of his people and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been the benefactor of many people, including me.

With the exception of more radical feminists, most egalitarians hold their view with some reservation. After all, we also read in the same Bible (in 1st Timothy 2:11-15) that:

A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.

This is pretty harsh on modern ears – but then, Jesus was crucified for the things he said about Himself, so we can’t take offensiveness to be grounds of dismissal. Still, even egalitarians admit that this verse needs some serious explaining if their position is to have Scriptural support. Some have tried to argue that “a woman” refers to a specific woman, as if Paul were afraid to name her. This theory is difficult to sustain. Others just accept that the situation is, well, complicated – a useful word to use in place of argument.

But what can we make of all of this? What is the complementarian response? Which view makes the most sense? Why is egalitarianism so popular today?

What does it mean to be “All One”?

Egalitarians argue that Galatians 3:28 points us in a direction towards what is perfect and good and true. That is, the closer we come to Christ-likeness in character, the fewer distinctions we will see between each other – ultimately there will be no “male or female” or “Greek or Jew” – just Christians. But is that what this verse means?

It cannot mean that, upon examination. After all, if there are no differences between males and females or Greeks and Jews, we’d have no way to recognize two distinct groups. The difference either precedes our understanding, or it is arbitrary. Yet, it is clear that a male is distinct from a female, and a Greek distinct from a Jew. This verse must mean something else, since it acknowledges different groups as part of making a larger case.

This means that “you are all one” talks more about our Spiritual condition than our physical condition. It speaks of our inheritance, not some metaphysical fact about our nature and essence. Greeks are still Greeks. Jews are still Jews. Men are still men. Women are still women. They just get the same reward if they are Christians.

What does a deaconess do?

Wikipedia is great when it comes to etymology. Here we find the origin of the word “deacon”:

The word “deacon” is derived from the Greek word diakonos (διάκονος), which is a standard ancient Greek word meaning “servant”, “waiting-man”, “minister” or “messenger”. One commonly promulgated speculation as to its etymology is that it literally means ‘through the dust’, referring to the dust raised by the busy servant or messenger.

There’s some speculation, but you get the gist; a deacon is a servant. This doesn’t seem to clash with Paul’s earlier statements regarding women in the church. But what other roles did deacons (male and female) have?

From Grace To You a few duties are enumerated like serving food, prayer, meeting basic physical needs, and generally serving others, with some Scripture to back up the usage (the same Greek term used for all instances). This doesn’t appear to be a teaching or leadership position, so it still seems compatible with what Paul spoke of. Maybe this situation isn’t quite as complicated as it seems. But there is more.

Differences and more differences

The two preceding arguments are actually contradictory. If “you are all one” means that there are no distinctions between men and women, it seems strange then that there would be distinctions between offices or positions in the church, like those that deacons hold. If there are deacons and deaconesses (not to mention evangelists, bishops, elders, missionaries, and apostles), then clearly we are not “one” in the sense that we are to have no distinguishing roles or characteristics.

It is more than that, though. All of those Biblical church positions and roles involve a hierarchy of authority. Authority is a dirty word today, even among Christians, despite an admonition in Romans 13:1-5:

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience.

It appears that authority is entirely consistent with Scripture, and authority implies distinct differences. That Phoebe was a deaconess only helps confirm that “you are all one” cannot mean “you are all the same” in an egalitarian sense. We have the same worth, but not the same jobs or authority.

The complementarian view

The complementarian view is simple: men and women are distinct, so there are differences in how we should behave. It isn’t that complementarians think that women can’t behave contrary to feminine behavior, or men can’t behave contrary to masculine behavior, but that by embracing what comes naturally, we can excel instead of lusting for things we want instead. In all of this, complenetarians often attribute egalitarian ideas to a hatred of authority.

Complementarianism, after all, outlines a rigid set of authority – it places husbands at the heads of houses, and men in charge of leadership positions in the church. This is extremely offensive to modern, post-feminist sensibilities. In fact, it is enough that some people reject Christianity just because the Bible contains books like Ephesians. A complementarian, however, just argues that the natural differences in men and women make more sense than an artificial leveling of the playing field. Instead of a view that denies differences when they arise, complemetarianism colors and encourages them.

The complementarian position says that men can’t be mothers, and that’s okay. Women can’t be fathers, and that’s okay. Men have certain aspects that predisposes them to leadership (confidence, assertiveness, diligence, restlessness, etc). There is a reason most generals in history have been men, and before you say “sexism made that happen”, be aware that appealing to an “ism” doesn’t answer the question of “why”. Why were women not generals and business leaders and such? Why didn’t women protest this arrangement? Is it possible that the arrangement was good for women? These are dangerous questions today. People don’t ask them, because asking them betrays a state of mind that is not influenced as fully by popular opinion. They are worthy questions however. GK Chesterton called history the “democracy of the dead”. Shouldn’t the opinions of those who built civilization matter to us? At the very least, a consideration of the history means asking questions like those.

There is one example even more profound than appealing to history and human behavior. God is Trinitarian – that is, he is three persons yet one God; the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Jesus willingly submitted to the Father:

Now when all things are made subject to Him, then the Son Himself will also be subject to Him who put all things under Him, that God may be all in all. 1 Cor 15:28

Jesus Himself states many times that He submits to His Father’s will. That means, even in absolute perfection between the three persons of the God-head, there is a hierarchy of authority and submission. When Jesus Himself submits to the authority of His Father, is it any surprise that God created mankind to have some sort of hierarchy of authority? And if that’s the case, perhaps it is our modern look at things that needs to be questioned where it stands unquestioned now. Maybe we should seek to understand the world in terms of Scripture, instead of Scripture in terms of the world around us. If authority and hierarchy exist in God, who preceded all of Creation and who is perfect, why should we assume that authority and hierarchy are evil, as the modern myth would have us believe?

Women in ministry

Nothing in Scripture indicates that women can’t be involved in church, and we have examples (like Phoebe) that they can even have honorary titles and roles. Nothing in Scripture prevents women from living their lives for God and dedicating their time to serving the church and Christ. But there are prohibitions in Scripture about the roles women can have. Egalitarians argue against these, but the verses commonly cited don’t mean what they are purported to mean. Instead, we find authorities and structures put in place to amplify our strengths and compensate for our weaknesses.

God never violates His own rules. Scripture is that collection of material that Christians for 2000 years have considered authoritative and descriptive of the essence – the what and why – of the Christian faith. If the Bible gives us clear reasons for certain commands and, in context, those commands are applicable to all people (as Paul’s command applies to all of those humans that descend from Adam and Eve), then we should follow them. People have a hard time understanding this in other contexts (this happens often for divorce, but we’ll get there in part 3).

It ultimately comes down to something simple: we human beings love to rebel. We are great at finding excuses. “God wants me to be happy”. “Why would God lead me to do this thing if He didn’t want me to do it?” Projecting your wants and desires on God does not count as following God’s commands, no matter how sincere you are. Even as Christians, we need to be really careful about justifying rebellion. There are all sorts of pious-sounding ways to do it, so we need to be on guard against distorting the truth to our own ends. If we avoid Scriptural commands when we don’t like them, is it really Christianity that we believe?

Next time

Marriage is a huge and hugely important area to consider this topic. The structure of marriage has been changing rapidly in popular culture for a few decades, but it historically has been based on the differences between men and women, as we’ve already looked at. Coming up in part 3, we’ll take one final look at egalitarianism and complementarianism as they relate to marriage. Which makes the most sense for marriage? Once more, stay tuned.