Sunday, March 1, 2009

Encountering Church Tradition

Sometime ago, I wrote about the philosophical differences in the debate on women in ministry between the Thomists and the Scotists. While the Thomist believes that God's will is revealed in God's design, Scotists do not-- they believe that, despite God's will, design will not reveal it. By advocating such a theory, they do a major disgrace to God's glory-- for, according to Romans 1, God's glory has been revealed in the things that have been made.

The example Sarah Sumner used regarding a Scotist was the elder who said that his wife would make a better elder in ministry than he was. But Sumner uses this example to go into the bigger issue: while there is a philosophical issue at stake, the issue of women in ministry is deeply rooted in church tradition. Sumner notes church tradition and the clashing response of the elder:

"Church tradition says that she is not to be treated on a par with the men because she, being a woman, stands below. According to tradition, it makes sense for the status of the person to align with the status of the role. Therefore traditionally it has been thought that a woman ought to be assigned a subordinate role since she is an inferior being. This was the rule because this was the logic of tradition.

Counter to tradition, this elder says his wife is not inferior. Her essence, according to him, is EQUAL to his own. Thus there is no correlation in his complementarian logic between his wife's EQUAL essence and her subordinate role. Her equality as a person has no bearing whatsoever on her function. Consider the comparison:
Tradition: women as INFERIORS should always assume SUBORDINATE roles.
Complementarianism: women as EQUALS should always assume SUBORDINATE roles.

Do you see what has happened? Complementarians, in their benevolent intention to be BIBLICAL and LOVING, dumped the traditional premise that women are inferior to men. Unwittingly, however, they continue to maintain the logical conclusion of that premise. It makes good sense to say inferior beings ought to assume subordinate roles; that's why the church fathers said it. But it doesn't make sense to say EQUAL beings should always be SUBORDINATE too. It's more logical to say that equal beings share in equal status"(Sumner, "Men and Women in the Church," pp. 285-86).

I looked up the word "equal" in Webster's dictionary () and I was given one important definition (among others):
(1) Like in quality, nature, or status.
(2) like for each member of a group, class, or society.

Looking at definition number one, we can understand that men and women are made with a unique quality and nature-- for they are both made in the image of God. Remember God's words in Genesis 1:26-27?

26Then God said,(O) "Let us make man[h] in our image,(P) after our likeness. And(Q) let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth." 27So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; (R) male and female he created them.

Both man and woman were made EQUALLY in the image of God, women no less than men (women were considered to be LESS made in the image of God than men in church tradition as well-- read Sumner's chapter on "Is It Better to Be a Man than a Woman?").
Notice however with the first definition, that equality is not just in nature and quality, but also "status."

Merriam-Webster's dictionary also accords us a definition of "status":
(1) position or rank in relation to others.
(2) the condition of a person or thing in the eyes of the law

So, equality does not just involve quality and nature, but also "status"-- which means that no one gender is able to achieve a place of prominence over the other, because both are given the opportunity to achieve and advance.

To some this may seem like just a political definition. But this position is also accorded in Scripture in Galatians 3:

25But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26for in Christ Jesus(AV) you are all sons of God, through faith. 27For as many of you as(AW) were baptized(AX) into Christ have(AY) put on Christ. 28(AZ) There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave[g] nor free,(BA) there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29And(BB) if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring,(BC) heirs according to promise" (Galatians 3:25-28, ESV).

The context of Galatians 3 concerns being "in Christ," or being in the family of Christ. Everyone that professes Jesus as Lord is as EQUALLY a part of the Body of Christ as anyone else, and everyone is EQUAL before the Lord. Everyone is entitled to the spiritual blessings of Christ (Ephesians 1:3-4), as well as the fellowship that believers have together in Christ. No one is to be left out on the basis of whether they are Jew, Gentile, slave, free man, male, or female.

I wanna stop here and involve a counter to church tradition: Complementarians often attack egalitarians because they use Galatians 3:28 so much as basis for why women should be on equal par with men in the church; however, complementarians, as Sumner shows us, have failed to think through their logical system: if God has a will, and He reveals Himself, why wouldn't mankind "see" God's will in creation?

But I wanna take this a step further. Complementarians also fail in their logic with regards to Galatians 3:28. This verse states that someone's ethnic, economic, or gender status is not what "merits" one into the family of Christ-- what brings someone into the family of Christ is because of what Christ did on the cross (Christ's birth, death, and crucifixion being in the will of the Father). If social status of any kind cannot warrant a person into the family of God, what makes the complementarian believe that now, one's social status (whether male or female, for instance), can warrant a person's giftedness in the body of Christ?

How can complementarians espouse a Gospel of Grace, but yet, advocate a Gospel of favoritism with regard to the gifts-- that God gifts only men for certain gifts? The logic doesn't make any sense.

That's the gist of Sumner's argument. Look back at the quotes from the traditional and complementarian views. The traditional view of women as "inferior" has changed to "equal"; but women, no matter how the initial portion of the premise has changed, are still to assume subordinate roles!

It's time for complementarians (such as the elder in Sumner's example) to admit to themselves and the rest of evangelical Christendom that they have a presuppositional gender bias that won't allow them to give women a warm reception into ministry. As I've always heard it said, "the first step to tackling a problem is to ADMIT THAT YOU HAVE ONE...

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