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Dane Skelton is the Pastor of Faith Community Church and the author of Jungle Flight: Spiritual Adventures at the Ends of the Earth, a book of true stories from the ministry of JAARS (formerly Jungle Aviation and Radio Service). His second book, Papua Pilot: Flying the Bible to the Last Lost Peoples, co-authored with the late Paul Westlund, is now available on Amazon.com and Christianbook.com.
Sep8MonSeptember 8, 2014
One by one the mainline Christian denominations have approved or failed to condemn, adultery, immorality, homosexual behavior, homosexual clergy, and most recently, same-sex marriage. Many everyday believers in those churches are shocked and cannot understand how these things came about. From my point of view it was predictable. It began long ago when we began to ignore, or even disavow, God’s created order in the home and in the church. It began when we forgot the nature of things.
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The Apostle Paul presents his case, in 1 Corinthians 11:2-10, for male authority and female respect for that authority in the church and in the home. In that culture one of the ways to do that was to maintain the nature of things, gender distinctions between male and female, by the use of head coverings.
In our cultural setting, twenty-one centuries later, the question is not, “are women wearing head coverings?” The question is, “are men and women in the church maintaining the distinctions between male and female? Are they recognizing and honoring male authority?” How the church does that it isn’t nearly as important as THAT it gets done. Symbols change over time. The essence of the thing does not.
Sadly, in many churches, not only is God’s plan for male authority being ignored, the distinctions between the genders are being overrun.
When we come to verse 11 of 1 Corinthians 11, Paul recognizes that some people might take his teaching in verses 1-10 to an extreme. He doesn’t want anyone to misunderstand him. For example, some people take verses 1-10 as justification for treating women as second class citizens. Paul guards against that by adding verses 11-12.
In the Lord, however, woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. 12 For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God.
In the Lord, and since creation, man and woman are totally interdependent. One is not more important than the other. Neither one can boast over the other. The first woman came from man but ever since then all men come from women. Women are not inferior to men. They are not lesser beings. Some in the world treat them that way. Some in the church still do. Paul says, “Nothing doing.”
“In the Lord…” That’s a wonderful phrase, especially falling right here at the beginning of the sentence. “In the Lord,” that is, in the Church, we are not replacing the created order with a new order. We are redeeming that which was lost, God’s original order of things: that men and women, while having different roles, are mutually dependent on one another. One is not better than the other or independent of the other. Neither one is to exalt him or herself over the other but to serve each other in love.
Paul wants this clarified, but then he comes right back, in verse 13–16, to reassert his main principle.
Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? 14 Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, 15 but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering.
When he asks, “Is it proper…?” The understood answer to that is, “NO.”
In verses 14-15, when Paul says, “…the very nature of things…” he is recognizing that men, because of testosterone, tend to go bald. Women, because of estrogen, almost never do. Paul didn’t know about hormones but the “nature of things” was obvious.
Just as some people take verses 1-10 to an extreme, others take vs. 11-12 to an unsupportable conclusion. “If Paul sees men and women as equal and both created in God’s image, then any role distinctions must be eliminated because they would contradict the affirmation of equality.”
But that is an example of eisogesis – reading into the text something that you want it to say instead of reading out of it what it has to say, or exegesis. We have to let Paul speak for himself. Taking everything in context he is not contradicting what he wrote in verses 1-10. He is balancing it and reaffirming it.
The key phrase is in verse 14: “Does not the very nature of things teach you…?” Just as there are certain natural physical differences between men and women – growth rate of hair for instance – there are also certain mental, emotional and psychological differences that arise from gender. If I worked for Harvard I could get fired for saying that. But I appeal to you, like Paul, “does not the very nature of things teach you” that men and women, for the most part, experience the world, comprehend the world, and live in the world differently? We engage life differently. We value different things and we solve problems differently. We learn differently, and, we connect with God differently. It is a biological certainty.
A prenatal phenomenon known as a testosterone wash in the womb breaks many of the connective links between the two hemispheres of a boy’s brain. This doesn’t happen to girls. Thus, females tend to experience everything holistically, everything relates to everything else.
Males tend to experience life in compartmentalized chunks. Women tend to value relationships and see the relationship ramifications of every decision. Men tend to value function over friendship, purpose over people and goals over feelings. It isn’t right or wrong. It’s the nature of things. God built it into the system when he created us.
In other words, “integration and communion are at the heart of femininity, as separation and differentiation are at the heart of masculinity.”
Now, how does all of that relate to our discussion of male and female leadership in the Church and home? It reflects the nature of God.
God is love. He is the essence of connection and communion. But God is also holy, he differentiates between right and wrong, what is good from what is evil. Jesus was the most compassionate and loving person who ever lived. But he will also “separate the sheep from the goats,” when he comes to judge the earth.
Separation is necessary for moral order. The ability to separate right from wrong and execute justice in families, churches and society is a function of masculine spirituality; the ability to differentiate, the willingness to judge.
My father died the year I turned 16. In spite of Mom’s best efforts, disorder prevailed in my home in the years immediately after his death. Dad saw things in black and white and had no compunction about enforcing the law. “If I ever catch you or your brothers with drugs I will turn you over to the law myself.” Mom couldn’t do that. She was too connected to us.
In the same way, churches that maintain the biblical commitment to healthy and balanced male authority tend to stress the battle between good and evil, are willing to make judgments about right and wrong in congregational behavior, and tend to preserve core doctrines against heresy.
But what happens in the church when we are unable or unwilling – because it isn’t considered loving, or “Christian” – to make those distinctions, to “separate” the good from the bad, what is right from what is wrong, and to maintain a commitment to biblical authority? We end up putting too much emphasis on relationships, on making people feel welcome and good, and not enough on godliness and righteousness. We end up offending the holiness of God by calling evil good and good evil.
The denominations that are now so obviously departing from God’s order of things over this issue began a long time ago to unravel the distinctions between male and female by emphasizing a feminized version of spirituality over the masculine as “more Christian,” and by relegating male authority to a bygone age of the church, and by ordaining women into positions of authority on matters of doctrine and church order. Most importantly, before any of that happened, they changed their approach to interpreting and applying scripture, placing themselves over the text, as the final arbiters of its meaning, instead of under it and accountable to its clear commands. The results were predictable.
God insists that we maintain the distinctions between male and female and maintain his emphasis on male authority in the home and the church. It is the way He designed it, the nature of things.
Editor’s Note: This concludes the series I’ve titled Collaborators or Competitors: Men and Women in Ministry. If you would like to read more on the topic I recommend the following books:
• THE CHURCH IMPOTENT: The Feminization of Christianity. By Leon J. Podles
• RECOVERING BIBLICAL MANHOOD & WOMANHOOD: A Response to Evangelical Feminism. Edited by John Piper and Wayne Grudem.
• EVANGELICAL FEMINISM AND BIBLICAL TRUTH. By Wayne Grudem.
• WOMEN IN THE CHURCH: A Fresh Analysis of I Timothy 2:9-15. By Thomas R. Schreiner.
For the alternative point of view you might want to read: WOMEN IN THE CHURCH: A Biblical Theology of Women in the Ministry. By Stanley J. Grenz with Denise Muir Kjesbo.