Christian women, Complementarianism, Ministry, Sin

Throwback Thursday ~ Women Preaching: It’s Not a Secondary Doctrinal Issue

Originally published August 3, 2018

When it comes to Christianity, are the specifics of what people believe important?

I think most of us would answer a resounding “yes” to that question. Of course, the various concepts we believe are important. You can’t just believe anything you like and still be a Christian. There are certain things you must believe in order to become a Christian at all, and there are certain things you will come to believe because you are a genuinely regenerated Christian. But what are those things, and how do we know which is which?

Maybe you’ve heard the terms “essential doctrines” or “primary, secondary, and tertiary theological issues” or “first, second, and third tier levels of doctrine”? For years, theologians have been attempting to organize beliefs of the Christian faith – all drawn from the Bible, naturally – into nice neat categories in order to make things a little simpler. As someone who thrives on organization and categories, I’m grateful for their efforts. But if you begin to study this categorization of beliefs, you’ll find that we haven’t reached an across the board consensus yet.

Generally speaking, “essential”, “primary”, or “first tier” doctrines are those which you, biblically, have to believe in order to become a Christian and/or be considered a Christian. For example:

✢ Sin is a thing, and I am a sinner.

✢ God exists and is the supreme authority of the universe.

✢ Jesus was God in human flesh.

✢ Jesus rose bodily from the grave.

See how this works? If you don’t believe you’re a sinner, you’re not saved. If you don’t believe in the bodily resurrection of Christ, you’re not saved. Here’s how our friend, Pastor Gabe, briefly outlines essential doctrines:

 

(Gabe later tweaked the acrostic a little and added an “S”, which I think is helpful.)

The vast majority of brand new Christians have only the most basic understanding of most of these tenets at the moment of salvation. But it’s not an issue of fully understanding – or else we’d all have to be theologians in order to get saved – it’s an issue of believing. Someone who is genuinely regenerated may not completely understand how the Trinity works (honestly, no one does), but when she’s introduced to the biblical idea of the Trinity, she believes it, learns more about it, and does not reject it.

There is typically agreement among most reputable theologians regarding what constitutes first tier doctrine. Scripture is clear about these things, and several of these issues were settled long ago by the church fathers in assorted church councils (Nicea, Chalcedon, etc.)

Secondary issues are routinely defined as non-salvific but still extremely biblically important, if not quite as biblically clear-cut as primary issues. Doctrines surrounding baptism (credo versus paedo, affusion versus immersion), for example, are usually cited as a secondary issue. A disagreement on a secondary issue doesn’t mean one person is saved and another isn’t, but it normally prevents close partnership in ministry activities involving these issues. For example, my Presbyterian friends and I can join together in pro-life ministry, but we would most likely not plant a church together.

Tertiary issues are non-salvific, less immediately urgent, biblical issues in which the Bible is even less clear-cut and open to wider (yet still biblical) interpretation. These are issues over which Christians can disagree and still maintain close doctrinal fellowship, even in the same church, if they’re in agreement on first and second tier doctrine. Eschatology – the order and timing of events at Jesus’ second coming – is a doctrine that’s often considered third tier. Someone can hold a different eschatological view than mine, yet it doesn’t affect our ability to worship together, work together, or participate in the ordinances together in the same church.

Some theologians add a fourth category – issues of adiaphora, conscience, or Christian liberty. Usually these are issues of much less importance that the Bible either doesn’t specifically address, or doesn’t give commands about one way or the other. Individual Christians may use biblical principles to inform their consciences and decide for themselves. These would be things like whether or not to take your child trick-or-treating or deciding whether to dress formally or casually for church.

While theologians are largely in agreement about primary doctrines, there is wider spread disagreement on which doctrines are secondary and tertiary (many consider eschatology to be a second tier doctrine, for example) and whether or not there is a need for a category of adiaphora, since such issues are normally not considered to be “doctrinal” issues. In fact, there’s enough space for disagreement that pastors and theologians often wisely refrain from making concrete lists of secondary and tertiary doctrines.

But when we’re talking about the different levels of doctrine, what you won’t find is questions like these: Is murder a first, second, or third tier doctrine? What about gossip? Rape? Adultery? Lying? Gluttony? Pride?

And it’s not because these issues aren’t important or because the Bible doesn’t address them. It’s because they’re in a different category from the other issues: the category of sin. They aren’t doctrines upon which salvation hinges, they aren’t open to interpretation, and the Bible is clear that we are absolutely not to do these things.

In 2005, Dr. Albert Mohler wrote an excellent article about the different levels of doctrine entitled A Call for Theological Triage and Christian Maturity. He carefully explains the importance of each level of doctrine and what it covers in a plea to keep each level’s urgency in its proper place of significance during discussion, debate, and decision-making.

It was a helpful article to which I always refer people who have questions about tiers of doctrine, and I agree with Dr. Mohler’s thoughts wholeheartedly (as I usually do) …except on one point:

“In recent years, the issue of women serving as pastors has emerged as another second-order issue.”

Women serving as pastors, women preaching, women teaching men Scripture in the church, and women exercising authority over men in the church is not a secondary issue. Nor is it a primary or tertiary one. It does not belong in the category of “doctrine” in the same way baptism and eschatology do. It belongs in the category of sin in the same way murder, gossip, and adultery do. Let’s take a look at the reasons for this.

I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. 1 Timothy 2:12

(The preponderance of Scripture supports and affirms this concept, so to keep things simple, we’ll use this verse as an exemplar.)

✢ The prohibition in 1 Timothy 2:12 is a clear command against a certain behavior. And when we behave in a way God has prohibited, that is called “sin”. All of the tenets in the three levels of doctrine are affirmative statements regarding beliefs (you must believe in the resurrection of Christ, we believe in baptism by immersion, etc.). None of them are commands, in the negative, against sinful behavior (Thou shalt not murder, I do not permit a woman to teach… etc.)

✢ Secondary and tertiary doctrines can be open – to varying degrees – to biblical interpretation. Every stripe of non-heretical eschatological thought can provide you with chapter and verse passages that can, depending on the angle from which you approach the subject, be biblically plausible and scripturally supported. There is no biblical support for anything God prohibits. No one can cite a properly handled, in context Bible verse in which God says, “It’s OK to commit adultery,” or “Women are allowed to preach.” There can be multiple views on a secondary or tertiary issue that can all be considered biblical, but there can only be one view of sin that is biblical.

✢ Differing beliefs on true secondary and tertiary issues are not sin. My Presbyterian friends have a different view of baptism than I do. That doesn’t mean either of us is sinning. I may think their interpretations of the verses they believe support paedo baptism are incorrect, but they are not breaking any of God’s commands. Differing behavior (again, we see the distinction between doctrinal belief and sinful behavior) on issues of sin is sin. If someone behaves differently from God’s command about lying, she is sinning. If a woman behaves differently from God’s command in 1 Timothy 2:12, she is sinning.

✢ Differing beliefs on secondary and tertiary issues are not born of disobedience and rebellion toward God. Usually, it’s quite the opposite. When someone has studied a theological issue enough to hold a particular position on it, it’s usually because she is striving to please God and to be biblical in her beliefs. Differing behavior on issues of sin is born out of disobedience and rebellion toward God. Someone who steals has already decided in her heart that her desires are better than God’s command. A woman who knowingly holds improper authority over men in her church is doing so because she has already decided to defy God’s clear command against such.

✢ Because different beliefs on secondary and tertiary issues are not born of rebellion and are not sin, they do not require church discipline. Sin does require church discipline. If someone in your church is openly dishonoring her parents, she is sinning and should be subject to church discipline. If a woman is pursuing a career as a pastor, she is sinning and should be subject to church discipline. 

Since the publication of Dr. Mohler’s article (and perhaps as a result of others teaching the same thing) the idea of the violation of 1 Timothy 2:12 being a “secondary doctrine” has spread in a most unhelpful way, leading many Christians to treat the issue in a c’est la vie, “We can just agree to disagree on this,” manner.

No, we cannot.

We would not say, “We can agree to disagree,” on lying or adultery or homosexuality or abortion, and we cannot say it about women preaching, teaching men, or holding unbiblical authority, either. We disciple and teach a sister in Christ who is unaware of what the Bible says on these matters, and if she is committing any of these sins, we begin the process of church discipline. But it would not be loving toward her, or honoring God, to allow her to continue in biblical ignorance or in willful sin.

Furthermore, the violation of 1 Timothy 2:12 brings with it dangers to the church that true secondary and tertiary issues, and even many sins, do not.

I have mentioned several times when dealing with this issue that women preaching to men is highly correlated with women teaching false doctrine. I have researched scores of women teachers. Every single one of them who unrepentantly teaches men also teaches false doctrine in some other aspect of her theology (usually Word of Faith or New Apostolic Reformation). In other words, if a woman teaches men, you can just about take it to the bank that she also teaches false doctrine. False doctrine and heresy are infecting the church – via female preachers – at an alarming rate.

We dare not simply “agree to disagree” on this.

The violation of God’s command that women are not to instruct men in the Scriptures nor hold improper authority over men is a sin like any other. It is not a doctrinal issue in the same sense that other second and third tier doctrines are. If left undisciplined, however, it can lead to first tier doctrinal issues infiltrating a church and eventually destroying it. It is detrimental to the church to label and treat any sin as a secondary doctrinal issue.

Complementarianism

Putting on the “You Can!” of Complementarianism

It never really hit me until I started teaching the book of 1 Timothy how many instructions in the pastoral epistles pertain to women, and how weighty those instructions are. The pastoral epistles are the “policy and procedure manuals” for the church, and, far from relegating the ministry of women to nothing more than crafts and tea parties while the men do all the “important” stuff, you come away with the impression that a healthy, well-balanced church actually depends on godly women working hard to carry out the ministries that God has uniquely created and gifted us to fulfill, alongside men fulfilling their own ministries.

These epistles don’t view “woman’s work” around the house of God as trivial or menial, but as a high and holy calling. Vital. Necessary. Honorable.

But is that the lofty perspective of the biblical role of women that the local complementarian church is conveying to its female and male members? Are we, especially those of us in women’s ministry, proactively teaching that the calling of motherhood or the task of discipling other women or serving those in need is qualitatively just as imperative and noble as the calling of pastor or elder?

Intentionally or not, the egalitarian movement has maneuvered biblical complementarians into constantly playing defense. Their offensive squad keeps moving the ball forward by offering women a no holds barred buffet of powerful and prestigious ministry positions. Our defensive line correctly and biblically pushes back with, “No, the Bible says women are not to ‘teach or to exercise authority over a man’  in the church setting.” But often, only two or three members of our offensive squad are dressed out to play, and they never get off the bench and into the game. And as any football fan knows, you have to have a good defense and a good offense if you’re playing to win.

Egalitarians offer women “you can,” but all too often all we complementarians have offered godly women yearning to serve is, “you can’t.” Where is the big, beautiful, biblical showcase of complementarian “you can”?

Not long ago, I was teaching a group of ladies the biblical process of putting off the old self and putting on the new self in Ephesians 4:20-32. We explored how interesting it was that every “don’t” in the passage was coupled with a “do.” We don’t just put off lying, we put on proactive truth-telling instead, and so on. Nature abhors a vacuum in the physical realm, and it would seem this is true in the spiritual realm as well. When we subtract the ungodly, we must replace it with the godly. If we don’t, something will rush in to fill the void that’s been created, and that “something” isn’t usually biblical or fruitful. 

So how can we shift the perspective in our churches from “you can’t” to “you can,” and create an atmosphere, not merely of “put off,” but also “put on”? How can we get our offensive team suited up, on the field, and moving the ball toward the goalpost while at the same time retaining a strong defense?

We can, so to speak, make complementarianism great again. 

As I studied 1 Timothy 5, I was struck by Paul’s description of women who are “truly widows.” These are women who have spent their lives being busy and intentional about the work of the Lord in their homes and in the church. They adorned themselves with the good works proper for women who profess godliness, and they were honored and revered for it by the church. I didn’t come away from this passage with the feeling that these women were frustrated, oppressed, or seen as “lesser” by the church because they weren’t allowed to teach or exercise authority over men. I came away from this passage thinking, “Those women were awesome. That’s the kind of woman I want to be.

What would the climate in our churches look like if women’s ministries and the church at large recaptured that same reverential posture and purposefulness toward biblical womanhood? If, instead of teaching the biblical role of women strictly as, “You can’t eat the fruit from this apple tree,” we followed that admonition with a grand tour of the Garden, focusing on the delicious fruit of the pear tree, the cherry tree that needs a good pruning, the fig tree just waiting for the right woman to come along, harvest its fruit, and make some preserves, the banana tree that needs an expert in fertilizers, and the orange tree dying for someone to water it?

In my experience, what happens in churches of that climate is that – just like the godly widows of 1 Timothy 5 – women are so busy and fulfilled tending the other trees of the Garden, that they have neither the time nor the desire to go apple picking. 

May our churches strengthen themselves and grow to more robust spiritual health by proactively encouraging Christian women to joyfully throw ourselves into the godly “good works which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” – the biblical “you can” of complementarianism.


Additional Resources

Rock Your Role: Jill in the Pulpit

Let Me Count the Ways: 75 Ways Women Can Biblically Minister to Others

Unforbidden Fruits: 3 Ways Women MUST Lead and Teach the Church

Servanthood

The Servanthood Survey

Complementarianism

Mythbusting Complementarianism: 4 Truths Egalitarians Need to Know About Complementarian Women

I am often frustrated in my role as a complementarian¹ woman. I am not frustrated by what God teaches in the Bible about my roles in the home and the church. I am not frustrated in carrying out those roles. I am not frustrated by complementarian men.

I am frustrated by egalitarians – most of the ones who have crossed my path, anyway – because of the incorrect assumptions they make about me and other complementarian women².

And it’s not just that the assumptions are wrong, it’s that the assumptions are often hypocritically, “log in the eye,” wrong. Then, they turn around and use these false assumptions as reasons to fight against complementarianism. But the reasons don’t exist. They’re shadow boxing. Fighting against a ghost. If you’re going to fight for something, your fight should at least be based on legitimate reasons.

I’m under no delusions that this article will change the hearts and minds of egalitarians, but if I could, here’s what I’d try to help them understand…

1.
It’s a spiritual issue.

I know this isn’t going to be popular. I know I’m going to be called judgmental and harsh and any number of other printable and unprintable names, but I’m going to say this anyway because this is the crucial element on which this entire complementarian vs. egalitarian argument rests.

This is a spiritual issue. It’s not an oppressors versus victims issue, it’s not about power or position or circumstances or legalism or casting off shackles. It’s not about any of those visible, tangible, surface level things we think it’s about. This goes beyond the earthly realm and has its foundation in the invisible, spiritual realm. The reason you hold the positions and opinions you hold as an individual is based on one thing – your relationship with God. This is a me versus God issue. Do you love and obey God as a genuinely regenerated Christian, or do you reject Him and rebel against His commands as someone who is still lost?

The Bible makes crystal clear from Genesis to Revelation that people who genuinely know and love God obey Him, and that if you don’t obey Him, you don’t know Him or love Him. Over and over and over again we see this through Israel’s countless cycles of idolatry and the prophets calling them to repentance in the Old Testament, to John’s near broken-record repetition of the theme in the New Testament. Scripture is clear. Love of God and obedience to God are inextricably and irreducibly intertwined.

And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked. 1 John 2:3-6

Additionally, if you’re not saved – a “natural man” – the things of God are folly to you. It’s not that you’re smarter or enlightened or have a different opinion than those who obey Scripture. It’s that you’re spiritually incapable of accepting, embracing, and obeying what God has told you to do. That’s why you see those of us who do as fools.

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. 1 Corinthians 2:14

Let me say it plainly. If your general trajectory in life is to consistently find yourself angered by, indifferent to, or unable to accept the plain meaning of Scripture, and your heart persists in fighting back against God’s Word even if you’ve been biblically corrected, you are almost certainly not saved.³ That’s not me saying that. That’s a whole lot of Scripture saying that. Regardless of how saved you feel. Despite what you may claim to be. No matter what people have told you about your salvation. God says loving Him equals walking with Him toward embracing, loving, and obeying His commands. And that includes His commands about the roles of men and women.

This is the fundamental reason most egalitarians disagree with most complementarians. It’s usually not that either side doesn’t understand what the other side stands for. It’s that both sides generally do understand what the other side stands for and they reject the other side’s view because of where they are, spiritually.

(Addendum: After I published this article, a few people responded who seemed to misunderstand what I’ve said in this paragraph. Let me see if I can clarify:

1) You’ll notice I’ve used words/phrases (“most egalitarians,” “general trajectory,” “almost certainly,” etc.) indicating that this is a broad, general principle, not something that is universally deterministic about every single individual who has ever had an egalitarian-esque thought cross her mind.

2) I am not saying that holding to an egalitarian viewpoint is what makes someone unsaved. Rejecting the gospel is what makes someone unsaved. What I am saying is that most people who are already false converts gravitate toward the egalitarian viewpoint as a fruit of the pre-existing condition of being unsaved. It is a logical fallacy to turn that statement around and assume I mean the converse to be true.

3) I certainly believe it is possible for genuinely regenerated Christians to have good faith, incorrect interpretations or understandings of Scripture – starting with me. When my husband and I picked out wedding vows 26 years ago, I flatly refused to use any set of vows that said I would “obey” him and only grudgingly agreed to a set that used the word “submit” instead. Embarrassingly, in our wedding video, you can clearly hear me hesitate before repeating that part of the vows. About 10-15 years ago I held a position of local denominational leadership that I’m only now beginning to see I probably, in some respects, shouldn’t have held. One reason for that is that on two or three occasions the position required me to speak to local congregations during their midweek services on a biblical topic which could not be properly addressed without explaining Scripture. Do I think I was unsaved because I thought those things were OK at the time? Of course not. But I’ll tell you this – over time, the Holy Spirit convicted me of those things and I repented. And as I’ve grown in Christ my rebellious attitudes and misunderstandings of those Scriptures and others have increasingly come under submission to God’s Word.

That’s the kind of thing we’re talking about here – the general biblical principle that saved people are on a trajectory of increasing holiness and Christlikeness. Lost people are on a trajectory of increasing disobedience and rebellion (and not strictly with regard to egalitarian ideas). It is possible to be a saved, simul justus et peccator, growing in holiness, desiring to please the Lord, Christian and get some non-soteriological things wrong along the way, in good faith, in the process of growing. What is not possible is for someone to be genuinely regenerated and live in a general attitude of heart-rebellion against God, His Word, and His ways (His ways in general, not strictly egalitarianism) in favor of doing life on her own terms. I don’t know how to make that more clear. That is what the Bible teaches.

4) I clearly made the statement that this article pertains to “most of the [egalitarians] who have crossed my path”. I guess what I did not make clear is that most of the egalitarians who have crossed my path have not been the small minority of genuinely regenerated Christians who have made a good faith error about Scripture’s teaching on the role of women as they’re growing in Christ. That might be your experience, but it has not been mine. Most of the egalitarians who have crossed my path have clearly been of the vast majority of egalitarians who have come to that position, as I explained above, as a result of being false converts. And it shows in their demeanor as they mock the authority of God’s Word in general, lash out in rage, blaspheme, swear, and slander, and generally display the opposite of the Fruit of the Spirit.

5) As I’ve stated many, many times in my articles, the Bible is our authority as Christians, not a pastor or Christian leader who holds a particular position, not your loved ones who are in error but you’re certain they love Jesus, not any church or denominational structure or position that conflicts with Scripture – the Bible. If you are going to argue against a biblical principle, you need to support your argument with rightly handled, in context Scripture, not examples of fallible human beings – however godly or well-intentioned they might be. Scripture is our standard, not people.)


2.
Complementarian women don’t feel
oppressed and downtrodden.

Obviously I can’t speak for every complementarian woman out there, but I can say that of the dozens of women I know personally and the thousands who have followed me online for the last eleven years, and speaking for myself, I have never met a single, genuinely regenerated, complementarian woman who felt diminished, held back, chained up, or walked all over by the role God lays out for us in Scripture.

Do we sometimes sin by thinking and acting selfishly? Yep. Have there been husbands, pastors, and other men who have sinned against us? Of course. Do we have a bad day from time to time? Naturally. But none of that changes our delight in our role itself. Even people who have their dream jobs have nightmare moments, but there’s still nothing on the planet they’d rather do. Nothing that makes them feel more alive and fulfilled. And that’s generally how complementarian women feel about our job – maybe even more so, because it’s not just a job, it’s a calling from God Himself. And nobody has a better Boss than we do.

We don’t need your pity, egalitarians, any more than a kid in a candy store needs to be pitied. And we don’t need to be rescued, just like you wouldn’t think of trying to rescue a child from Disneyland. We’re not sitting around saying, “Woe is me,” and feeling like we’re losing out on life. For us, keeping God’s commands about our role is a delight and a joy, because we love Him:

For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. 1 John 5:3

for I find my delight in your commandments, which I love. Psalm 119:47

No one is happier, more fulfilled, or more content in life than the Christian who is living in the will of God by obeying Him. No one is more miserable than a false convert who is trying to obey God through sheer force of will, or a genuine Christian living in disobedience to God’s commands.

And if all of that seems foreign or ridiculous, folly or foolishness to you, unfortunately, you’re bearing out the biblical truth I explained in section 1 of this article.


3.
Complementarian women aren’t brainwashed.

Probably the most hypocritical sexist viewpoint of egalitarians is that they assume that Christian women couldn’t possibly have come to the complementarian worldview via our own study, intellect, will, and choice. We must have been brainwashed into it by sexist, misogynistic, abusive complementarian men. But if we could somehow manage to understand the viewpoint delivered by our egalitarian saviors, we’d see the light, cast off the shackles, and be set free from all that’s holding us back.

I’m not making that up. That’s essentially the diatribe I received from one of Beth Moore’s followers recently (and I’ve heard it plenty of times before). Beth had said on Twitter that the reason she was receiving so much pushback from Christians following her announcement that she would be preaching the Sunday morning service at a local church was because sexist men were just trying to protect their positions and power. To which I responded, “What about the pushback you’re receiving from complementarian women? Are we sexist and trying to protect positions and power, too?” No, her follower angrily replied, you’ve just be brainwashed by those men.

If egalitarians can’t see how arrogant, hypocritical, and sexist it is to stand on a pedestal and declare that they’re the ones who will empower women, ensure that women are heard and valued for their independent ideas and unique contributions, and then turn around and condescendingly assume that women who have used those very independent minds they themselves tout to reach a non-egalitarian conclusion are brainwashed, I’m at a loss as to how to explain it. It’s like trying to prove water exists to someone who’s sitting in a lake while drinking a glass of ice water.

Complementarian women are not brainwashed into our worldview. We are convinced by the study of Scripture and our love for God that His plan for men and women is best, beneficial, and a blessing.


4.
Complementarian women aren’t
limited or lesser, we’re specialists.

Oh, that poor cardiologist! He’s so limited in his profession. If only he could be a General Practitioner!

I just feel terrible for that guy – he only practices civil law! He doesn’t know what he’s missing by not also practicing criminal, personal injury, estate, real estate, corporate, family, and malpractice law!

If you ever had the misfortune of hearing someone say something so ridiculous, you’d probably think she was a little off her nut. In the professional world, we normally regard specialty positions as more prestigious than more generalized positions (not that that’s right – general medicine, law, etc. are equally important). Specialists usually go to school longer and have a unique skill set for a unique segment of the population. General practitioners don’t have the luxury of focusing on a more narrow field of study. They have to be a jack of all trades – all things to all people.

But somehow, for egalitarians, that concept doesn’t translate to complementarianism. In the complementarian church, male pastors, elders, and teachers are the general practitioners. Women are the specialists. We specialize in discipling women and children, because we have a unique, God-given skill set for ministering to that unique segment of the population. God has given us the luxury and freedom to concentrate on this population He has called us to serve without the added burden of also having to teach, disciple, and oversee men.

It’s much the same in the complementarian home. The husband is like the CEO of the family. The buck stops with him. Every. single. buck. The house. The wife. The kids. The car. The yard. The bills. Everybody’s health. The extended family. The spiritual leadership. Church involvement. Provision. Decisions. Everything is ultimately on his shoulders. This leaves the wife free to specialize in being the COO of the family – day to day, boots on the ground operation of the household – an equally important position, which, again, she has a unique, God-given skill set for carrying out. While she and her husband certainly work together, God has given her the freedom and the luxury of passing everything that’s not under her purview up the chain of command for someone else to deal with. If she needs something in order to do her job, she has someone to turn to to provide it.

The egalitarian worldview looks down on women who specialize in discipling women and children in the church and being the chief operating officer in the home. Our teaching only has value if there are men in the audience, which reeks of sexism. As if men are the standard, the high bar to be set, the only ones whose mere bodily presence can validate a woman’s teaching and suddenly make it worthwhile. Who cares about teaching women and children? Men are the important ones. Our role at home is only a worthy and important one if we’re the ones calling all the shots at the macro level. Never mind that things actually have to get done and be overseen at the micro level in order for every member of the household, including the CEO, to live, grow, and flourish.

Specialties aren’t limiting or lesser. There’s an equally prestigious and necessary place for GPs and specialized medicine. For general law and specialty law. For CEOs and COOs. For complementarian men and complementarian women.

 

The egalitarian view does not value women as women. It only values women who are cheap knock-offs of men. Complementarians are the ones who value women as a separate, and equally significant, unique creation of God – not measured by how well we can imitate a man, but measured by how well we live up to all God created us to be as women. And we’re supposed to feel oppressed, limited, and lesser by that? We’d have to be brainwashed to love a worldview that values us for what we are, not for clawing and scraping toward some impossible standard and state of being God never created us to reach?

When you set men up as the standard and tell women they have to measure up to men to have any value, what you are is not egalitarian. What you are is sexist.

No thanks. I’ll take the complement.


¹Thanks to the advent of everything-but-the-pastoral-office “soft complementarianism” I should probably add an adjective, like “biblical complementarian,” but I’m not ready to concede the term yet. Complementarian means you embrace the full biblical teaching of the roles of women and men. If you compromise on that, you’re a functional egalitarian. We only need two terms.
²Egalitarians make incorrect assumptions about complementarian men, too, the main one being that they’re sexist, misogynistic, even abusive. Please. I’ll let complementarian men speak to that themselves, or this article will be way too long.
³Sometimes people who are genuinely saved worry that they’re not. If you’re concerned about your salvation, I encourage you to work through my study AM I REALLY SAVED?: A 1 JOHN CHECK-UPand make an appointment with your pastor if you need counsel.
Complementarianism, Movies

Movie Tuesday: Battle for the Minds

 

Ladies- did you read yesterday’s Mailbag article, Counter Arguments to Egalitarianism? If not, I would encourage you to read it before watching today’s movie. And if you’re new to the complementarian vs. egalitarian kerfuffle, I would encourage you to read, not only that article, but all of the articles in the “Additional Resources” section of that article as well.

Why?

Because today’s Movie Tuesday movie, Battle for the Minds, approaches the issue from the egalitarian perspective, and you need to be sure you’re firmly grounded in the biblical perspective so that “no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.”

Also, today’s movie is kind of like a homework assignment. How would you apply the complementarian apologetics you learned in yesterday’s article as well as your knowledge of Scripture to the egalitarian arguments and pronouncements being made in this movie?

Battle for the Minds was released on PBS in 1997. It presents the egalitarian viewpoint on the stage of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s transition from theological liberalism to biblical theological conservatism under the then-new leadership of Dr. Albert Mohler, and delves into a bit of the Conservative Resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention around that time as well. (As an aside, I am not familiar with any of the people in the film presented as being on the egalitarian side except for Ann Graham Lotz. I’m only familiar with a few of those on the complementarian side: Albert Mohler, David Miller, and Paige Patterson.)

If you are Southern Baptist, I strongly encourage you to watch and carefully consider these events from our history in light of the battle we are now facing in the SBC concerning the role of women in the church and in the Convention. Because what Nancy Ammerman says at the 37:04 mark is correct. Since all SBC churches are autonomous, many Southern Baptists only concern themselves with their own churches and don’t trouble themselves to worry about what’s going on at the national level. But when you do this, you fail to take into consideration that what’s going on at the national level trickles down to your local church in the form of what’s being taught to your next pastor or staff member at our seminaries; the authors, musicians, and other content creators being sold (and not being sold) at LifeWay; the theology in the Sunday School and VBS curriculum your church uses, etc. It also affects the theology and ecclesiology our IMB and NAMB missionaries and church planters use and teach. And finally, the leadership and issues at the national level are the face the Southern Baptist Convention presents to the world.

But even if you’re not Southern Baptist, you will probably still find this movie informative to the way your own church or denomination is responding to the issue of the biblical role of women in the church.

A couple of things to be on the lookout for, and give consideration to, as you watch Battle for the Minds:

•Notice the amount of Scripture presented in the movie. Is any Scripture presented that backs up the egalitarian view? Is egalitarianism vs. complementarianism presented as a biblical and spiritual issue or an “our position vs. their position” issue?

•Note the sex of each person on the egalitarian side and the sex of each person on the complementarian side. Are any complementarian women presented? Do you think there were absolutely no women on the complementarian side of the issue when these events were transpiring? Do you see how the exclusion of complementarian women in this film gives the subtle illusion that a) all women are egalitarian, and b) the reason men are complementarian is because they’re sexist and trying to protect their power and position – the same argument people like Beth Moore are attempting to make today? Do you think it was sexist to exclude women from the complementarian side?

Complementarianism, Mailbag

The Mailbag: Counter Arguments to Egalitarianism

 

What are some of your favorite counter-arguments to egalitarian theology? 

Such a great question for a plethora of reasons. One important reason is that it’s a hot topic right now that needs to be dealt with biblically in order to silence the lies and to make onlookers aware that the Bible does address this issue with the correct answer. Another reason is that, when you think through an issue via an apologetics, “point-counterpoint” framework, it really helps solidify in your mind, and give you confidence in, what the Bible has to say about the issue.

So let’s start off with some basics…

If “egalitarian” is a new term for you, let’s nail down what egalitarianism is and what complementarianism is. Both have to do with the issue of women’s roles in the church and in the home.

Egalitarianism is the anti-biblical view that women can do anything men can do in the context of the church and home. Women can be pastors, elders, heads of denominations, preach whenever, wherever, and to whomever they want, and they don’t have to submit to their husbands.

Complementarianism is the biblical view that women and men are of equal value and worth in salvation and in the imago dei, but have different, yet equally important roles in marriage and the church. Complementarians embrace the Bible’s teaching that women are privileged to portray the relationship of the church to Christ by graciously and joyfully submitting to our husbands. Complementarians honor and respect the high calling and unique gifting women have to disciple other women and to raise up the next generation of godly men and women by discipling our own, and other, children. Because this is such a weighty and arduous responsibility, we consider it a blessing that God has not also burdened us with the responsibility to preach, teach the Scriptures to men, or exercise authority over men in the context of the gathering of the church. Rather, we encourage the men who have been given this responsibility, leaving godly women free and unfettered to carry out the ministry God has given us.

Currently, there is a movement afoot to establish a third position regarding this issue. It’s often called soft complementarianism – an attempt to straddle the fence, make everybody in both camps happy, and have your cake and eat it too. There are a variety of beliefs among those who choose this label. Many would argue, for example, that a woman may not hold the office of pastor (i.e. she can’t be on staff as the pastor of a church), but it’s perfectly OK for her to guest preach the Sunday morning sermon. At least on Mother’s Day.

Let’s dispense with soft complementarianism right now. It is a position of compromise between the biblical and the anti-biblical. Compromising with sin has never been a biblical stance for God’s people to take. Ever. The Bible tells us “a little leaven leavens the whole lump.” You don’t have to consider yourself a full-blown egalitarian to infect the church with ungodliness. Just a little compromise, a little leaven, a little dab’ll do ya. And that little dab never makes the church or individual Christians more godly, more biblical, or more Christlike. It always leads to more compromise and greater ungodliness.

Furthermore, we don’t treat other sin and rebellion this way. No one would dream of saying, “I hold to a soft view of adultery. Only actual extra-marital sex is off the table. Kissing, touching, dating other people – that’s all fine.”

For those who would argue that complementarianism vs. egalitarianism is a secondary theological issue, I would argue vehemently that it should not be categorized this way. It is sin. And it is extremely detrimental when high profile complementarians unhelpfully classify it as a “secondary issue”. I know all they mean when they say that is that it is not part of the ordo salutis or a linchpin doctrine of soteriology. But when Christians hear “secondary issue” what they think is, “Oh, this is an issue where both sides have genuine biblical support like pre/post/a- millennialism or credo/paedo baptism. We can just agree to disagree and both sides are biblical.” Nobody thinks that about adultery, murder, gossip, lying or any other sin, and we need to be more careful in our terminology lest we give people an opening to think that way about egalitarianism.

Rebelling against God’s commands regarding the role of women is either a sin or it is not. There is no middle ground, so so-called soft complementarianism is not a biblically legitimate position to take. If you’re a “soft complementarian,” you’re a functional egalitarian. And if you’re a Christian who’s toying with this idea, I urge and encourage you to repent, love Christ and His Word more than you love the world and its ideals, and unashamedly embrace and promote what the Bible says about the role of women.

The next foundational issue we need to explore is whom we’re addressing when we make these apologetic arguments.

There are only two kinds of people in the world: saved people and unsaved people. Which means there are only two kinds of people who hold the egalitarian view: saved people and unsaved people.

The Bible is abundantly clear that saved people have the mind of Christ. That means we think the way Jesus thinks and we view the world and the church the way Jesus views the world and the church. We deny ourselves, putting aside whatever we might want or think, and we submit, as Jesus did, to “It is written…“. Additionally, obedience (or lack thereof) to the commands of Scripture is an indicator of whether or not someone actually belongs to Him. In fact, God says if you claim to be a Christian and you habitually and unrepentantly walk in disobedience to, and rebellion of heart against, His commands, you’re a liar, and you don’t know Christ.

What this means in practical terms when dealing with any biblical issue – egalitarianism, evolution, abortion, homosexuality, etc. – is that a sizable portion of the people on the unbiblical side of the issue are unsaved. Because a saved person has the mind of Christ, she will embrace, believe, and obey God’s Word regarding these issues and come out of these unbiblical camps, and an unsaved person will continue to fight for the unbiblical position. A new or previously poorly discipled Christian may need to be taught what Scripture says about these things, and it may take some time for her to come to grips with God’s commands, but her nature is to fight her flesh to submit to God’s Word, not to make provision for her flesh to fight against God’s Word.

Why do we need to understand this crucial foundational concept in debating this issue? Because people who are unsaved regard the things of God as foolishness and they cannot accept them no matter how much you explain Scripture to them or how much sense you make. This is a spiritual issue that requires a spiritual solution – the Holy Spirit must save the person and open her eyes to the truth of His Word. Often, what the person you’re arguing with needs most is the gospel, not an argument about a theological issue. And you will need to be careful and wise to discern when your apologetics are helpful and effective with someone who truly wants to learn and accept the biblical view, and when it’s time to gather up your pearls, step out of the pigpen, and go home until the Holy Spirit does His good work in her heart.

So I guess all of the above would be my primary apologetic argument against egalitarianism: If you’re truly saved, the fruit of your new nature in Christ will be to forsake and repent of any opinions or positions you hold that conflict with Scripture and submit to, love, and obey God’s commands. If you’re not saved, your opinion doesn’t really matter when it comes to how the church is run because the church is the body of Christ – Believers – not the house of unbelief.

Another argument I’m fond of is what I call the “let’s take a stroll through the Bible” argument, because it addresses so many arguments about 1 Timothy 2:12 that it’s almost a “one size fits all” argument:

But the Bible only says one time that women can’t preach to men!

That was just Paul, as a human, saying women can’t teach men, not God.

That passage is about wives taking authority over their husbands, not about women preaching to or exercising authority over men in the church.

That instruction only applied to the women of the Ephesian church at that particular time.

Look at the overall general pattern of male headship and leadership in Scripture. First human created? A man. The Patriarchs? As the word implies – all men. Priests, Levites, Scribes? Men. Heads of the twelve tribes of Israel? Men. Major and minor prophets? Men. All kings of Israel and Judah? Men. Noahic, Abrahamic, Mosaic, and Davidic Covenants? All established between God and men. Authors of Scripture? Men. The forerunner of Christ? John the Baptist – a man. Messiah? A man. All of the apostles? Men. All of the pastors, elders, and deacons of churches in the New Testament? Men. Founder and head of the church? Christ – a man. Leader and head of the family? Men. Now which fits better with this pattern, women preaching to, teaching, and exercising authority over men in the church, or women not preaching to, teaching, and exercising authority over men in the church?

It’s not just one verse. The entirety of Scripture backs up 1 Timothy 2:12. Which means it wasn’t just Paul’s human idea, just for the women of Ephesus, or just about wives and husbands. Male headship and leadership in God’s foundational institutions – family and church – has been God’s idea, God’s plan since the dawn of Creation (as 1 Timothy 2:13-14 clearly explains). It’s much harder for someone claiming to be a Christian to throw out the whole Bible than to sweep one verse aside.

Another argument that often needs to be made is explaining the difference between descriptive and prescriptive passages of Scripture, because one of the most common arguments egalitarians will make is, “Look at Deborah! Look at Priscilla! Look at the women at Jesus’ tomb! Look at the women Paul commends in Romans 16! They were all in some sort of leadership or teaching position, so that means women can do anything in the church that men can do!” No. No it doesn’t.

Broadly speaking, there are two main types of Scripture: descriptive and prescriptive. Descriptive passages describe something that happened: Noah built an ark. Esther became queen. Paul got shipwrecked. These passages simply tell us what happened to somebody. Prescriptive passages are commands or statements to obey. Don’t lie. Share the gospel. Forgive others.

If we wanted to know how to have a godly marriage, for example, we would look at passages like Ephesians 5:22-33, 1 Corinthians 7, and Exodus 20:14,17. These are all passages that clearly tell us what to do and what not to do in order to have a godly marriage.

What we would not do is look at David’s and Solomon’s lives and conclude that polygamy is God’s design for marriage. We would not read about Hosea and assume that God wants Christian men to marry prostitutes. We would not read the story of the woman at the well and think that being married five times and then shacking up with number six is OK with Jesus.

And when looking for instruction about the role of women in the church, we look to clear, prescriptive passages which tell us what to do and what not to do, not descriptive passages about various women in the Bible. Descriptive passages may support, but never trump, the clear instruction of prescriptive passages.

(I’ve addressed each of the women often trotted out in defense of the sin of role-busting in my article Oh No She Di-int! Priscilla Didn’t Preach, Deborah Didn’t Dominate, and Esther Wasn’t an Egalitarian.)

Some try to make the argument that it’s OK for a woman to preach or teach Scripture to men if she’s doing it “under her husband’s/pastor’s authority”.

When God tells us (in context, rightly handled, correct covenant, etc., of course) not to do something and we do it anyway, that is sin, right? Only God has the authority to say what is sin and what is not. No one – not your pastor, your husband, your parents, your best friend, the Pope, nobody – has the authority to tell you that it’s OK to do something God has said is sin. That authority belongs to God alone.

Try inserting any other sin into that situation. Does your husband, pastor, etc., have the authority to tell you it’s OK to lie? Cuss? Covet? Of course not. And why would they even consider doing such a thing?

If you were to ask your husband and pastor to show you from Scripture where God says it’s OK for them to allow you to teach men, they would quickly realize that they are not basing their decision on Scripture (because there is no Scripture that allows them to do this), but on their own opinion that it’s OK.

When God says “no,” no man has the right to say, “yes.” 

And there’s the “You don’t know Greek, so you don’t know what that passage really means. I do.” fallacy.

 

And finally, if a Christian struggles with the biblical argument against egalitarianism, God has graciously given us a real-time, tangible, visible argument against it. Take a look at all the once doctrinally sound Christian churches and denominations that are now apostate – the ones that embrace homosexuality, New Apostolic Reformation heresy, preach morality or liberal politics instead of the gospel, etc. They all followed the same pattern. The very first step they took on the road to apostasy was “soft complementarianism”: letting women teach co-ed Sunday school classes, preach on Mother’s Day, hold committee positions that placed them in biblically improper authority over men, and so on. The next step was full blown egalitarianism: allowing women to be elders, ordaining women as pastors, placing women in unbiblical denominational leadership positions. Next came embracing homosexuality: extending church membership to unrepentant, practicing homosexuals (and now, transgender people), ordaining them, and allowing them to serve in any and every position of church and denominational leadership, including the pastorate. And the final step is abandoning the gospel and the authority and sufficiency of God’s Word altogether. It happened to the Lutherans, the Episcopalians, the Methodists, the Presbyterians, scores of non-denominational churches, and now it’s happening to Southern Baptists. Not a single church or denomination that has embraced egalitarianism has become holier, truer to God’s Word, or more spiritually healthy. They have all ended up dead eventually, and the true Christians in those churches and denominations have left to form biblical churches and denominations.

Egalitarianism is anti-biblical, harmful to men, women, and the church, and dishonoring to God. We may not be able to convince every egalitarian to repent and embrace what God’s Word says about the role of women, but it’s important to think through this issue in a biblical way, and using an apologetic framework is a great way to do that.

Additional Resources:

Rock Your Role Series

Jill in the Pulpit

Oh No She Di-int! Priscilla Didn’t Preach, Deborah Didn’t Dominate, and Esther Wasn’t an Egalitarian

Women Preaching: It’s Not a Secondary Doctrinal Issue

All Things Being Equal

Rock Your Role FAQs

Fencing off the Forbidden Fruit Tree

The Mother of All Rebellions: Having a Woman Preach on Mother’s Day


If you have a question about: a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.