Category Archives: Gender differences

Gender discussions in the church

One thing that seems to be catching many church leaders off guard is the fact that the gender discussions going on in the church are gender discussions, not just male-female discussions. While most churches aren’t having direct discussions about including LGBT individuals in their membership, many of the arguments being presented in conversations about the participation of women in the assembly are also being applied to those who define gender more broadly.

This isn’t a slippery slope argument (but it could lead to one). It’s a recognition that one generation speaks of gender in one way, and the next considers it in a completely different way (If we add additional generations into the mix, we begin to understand the turmoil in many of our congregations).

Some of the arguments that will find a broader application:

  • Argumentation that values experience over written revelation (or assigns equal value to each)
  • Reasoning that limits the value of the biblical record based on the culture or gender of the writers
  • Interpretation that “values Jesus over Paul” (in quotes because the meaning of the words doesn’t match the meaning of the argument)

I could go on, but I hope you’ll think about these and see what I mean. That doesn’t even mean those forms of reasoning are wrong. What it means is that the scope of application is broader than most people are thinking about.

So keep in mind, as we discuss gender in the church… we’re discussion gender, not just men and women.

When we’re just an accident, almost anything goes

The idea that our physical nature is merely an accident of nature affects many different doctrines in our churches. As I’ve noted, one of the teachings at the forefront today is the question of gender roles. Many who espouse some type of egalitarianism downplay the importance of who we are at birth; all that matters is what we become at our new birth.

The gender discussion is a hot topic today, but I don’t think it will be for the next generation. Few churches will hold to a traditional stance about men and women. The raging question in the future will be non-heterosexual orientations. How will the church deal with the LGBT community? (add whatever letters you feel necessary to make that description more complete)

Many of the arguments being used today in favor of egalitarianism will be used to argue for full inclusion of everyone regardless of their sexual orientation. That’s not a slippery slope argument; it’s a recognition of the full implications of the arguments being made.

The concept of “accident of birth” will play an important role in these discussions. It’s easier to dismiss traditional teaching on homosexuality if gender is merely part of the cosmic coincidence of our birth. “I was born a man but should have been a woman” makes sense if our physical makeup comes from chromosome roulette.

I’m not the prophet nor the son of a prophet, but I can see where this is headed. For many, it’s where we should be headed, a natural progression of the church’s understanding of her identity. I disagree. On many issues, the church has led culture to a better place; in these areas, culture is leading the church. Where to? Time will tell.

Proof texts, women judges, and pushing our own agendas

The Old Testament character Deborah is a hero to many who want to expand the role of women in the church. In many ways, she has become to feminist groups what Nadab and Abihu are to legalists; each group uses these stories in ways that the Bible doesn’t, just to promote a certain agenda.

The Bible never points back to Deborah, neither for good nor for bad. When her time is remembered, she isn’t mentioned; Barak is. (1 Samuel 12:11; Hebrews 11:32) That’s really, really significant… and never mentioned by those using Deborah for their own means.

There is no evidence that anyone in Bible times saw Deborah as setting a precedent that should be followed. There don’t seem to have been any female judges after this. When the monarchy is established, the female rulers are not selected by God and are uniformly bad. There’s no clamoring in the book of Acts to name a woman to replace Judas. When there is a problem with food distribution regarding women in the church, men are named to oversee the effort; Acts 6 would be the logical time for the church to embrace the “obvious teachings” about women, but it doesn’t happen.

The book of Judges depicts a chaotic time in the history of Israel; the chief description of the atmosphere is “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.” Judges is full of stories where God works through this chaos, using unlikely people in unlikely ways.

I don’t believe that Balaam’s donkey presents a case for animals participating in our assemblies. I don’t think the witch of Endor appears to lead us to change the Bible’s stance on sorcery. I don’t believe Rahab’s story teaches anything about the acceptability of prostitution, nor does Samson’s frequenting a prostitute justify our doing the same.

If you want to pick out proof texts from the Bible to support a certain agenda, it’s easily done. But just because it’s easy doesn’t make it right.

image courtesy

Why the ad hominem attack on Paul?

We’ve been discussing the concept of “Jesus vs Paul” or “the gospels vs the epistles.” There’s one other observation that I want to make, even though I doubt it will be a popular one. Who is trying to demote Paul’s theology to second class? That is, who wants the words of the epistles to carry less weight than they traditionally have?

In my experience, this view is promoted by basically two groups, who share a common argument (though they rarely admit it). In churches of Christ, it’s primarily those who hold to an egalitarian view. In Christianity at large, it’s also those who no longer see homosexual behavior as a sin.

I rarely hear people saying, “Jesus emphasized baptism more than Paul did; I take Jesus much more seriously.” Seldom is the argument: “Jesus taught a works-based justification while Paul emphasizes grace; I take Jesus much more seriously.” (And yes, those claims are debatable… like the idea that Jesus promoted egalitarianism more than Paul did.)

I’m very open to correction on this point. Feel free to point me to people who are de-emphasizing Paul for reasons other than the ones I’ve mentioned. My experience is naturally limited.

For now, I’m very uncomfortable with any attempt to not take a biblical writer seriously, especially one who wrote as much as Paul did. Yes, many have over-emphasized Paul in the past, many have stripped his words of all context, many have built ridiculous arguments based on proof texts. But none of that calls for us to demote apostolic teaching to a second tier.

Male leadership a consequence of The Fall? Where’s the biblical evidence?

So yesterday’s question was: “Can you think of a New Testament writer who described the current (in their day) state of male-female relations as being a result of The Curse?” I’d still like to hear from anyone who can think of an example. Because I can’t.

There are some references, though largely symbolic, to God’s words to the serpent:

“Then the dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to make war against the rest of her offspring—those who obey God’s commandments and hold to the testimony of Jesus.” (Revelation 12:17)
“He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years.” (Revelation 20:2)
“The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.” (Romans 16:20)
“I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you.” (Luke 10:18–19)

There are references to God’s words to Adam:

“For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” (Romans 8:20–22)
“Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned— for before the law was given, sin was in the world. But sin is not taken into account when there is no law. Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who was a pattern of the one to come.” (Romans 5:12–14)
“For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.” (1 Corinthians 15:21–22)

The New Testament argues that the curse on the ground will be lifted. The punishment of death, that came through Adam’s sin, will be undone. (Will there be a lifting of the curse on the serpent? Maybe, if you take Isaiah 11:6-9 as a description of the fulfilled Kingdom)

What I don’t see is any reference to the creation story followed by an indication that the relationship between men and women should be changed because of it. Sin is said to have come in through one man, as is death. There’s nothing saying that male leadership, male headship, women’s submission, or anything related came about because of the Garden. In fact, I can’t think of any Old Testament passages that make such an argument, either. (Again, with the possible exception of Genesis 3:16, though I find that interpretation to be forced on the text rather than read out of it)

I think anyone wanting to make that argument should do so with caution and humility. At most you have a possible interpretation of one less-than-clear text on your side.