Tuesday, 5 February 2008

The controversy

In less than an hour I'll be teaching 1 Timothy 2 at Lancaster University with small group leaders.

I'm keen that this study doesn't get hi-jacked by one particular issue when I think that the rest of the chapter has a lot of good things to say to a CU. But, of course, the interest is likely to fall upon what Paul says about women teachers in the church.

I guess what's particularly struck me as I've prepared this study is the way in which all too easily the proponents of the two viewpoints caricature each other. I remember meeting a church leader about three years ago who labelled those that allowed women to speak in church as 'so-called evangelicals.' It appears to me that both egalitarianism (the position which stresses the equality of men and women in holding roles in church life) and complementarianism (which stresses diversity between men and women, and which precludes women from holding certain roles in church life) can be argued scripturally. I have no reason to believe that those scholars holding these views hold them for anything else other than exegetical reasons, and certainly wouldn't want to tarnish them with the brush of just giving into culture in some respect. What's sad is when a dialogue sinks to the level of jabbing out dogmatic statements without ever giving time or thought to passages that seem to point in other directions.

The other thing that has struck me is that God's goodness very often gets lost in these discussions. 1 John 5:3 has become very precious to me: that God's commands are not burdensome. All too often, particularly from complementarians, their position is taught in a harsh manner. But if the complementarian position is closest to the Biblical model, then we must say that the lack of women teaching in church is for our benefit.

I don't think that this is a comment on the ability of women speakers. Rather, could it be that, just as God invented marriage roles as equal but different (so that the gospel might be modelled in an Ephesians 5:22-33 manner), so God has designed church leadership that men and women might play roles that are equal and different? Could it be that, by male headship in the church and female submission, we are modelling elements of the gospel to each other?

I don't want to trivialise, but could God's design be so that conversations like this happen:

Visitor into church: (to woman) Why aren't women in leadership here? Are women treated as second class?
Woman: No - we are all truly equal. It's more of a case that in our gender roles, we are modelling something of the very nature of God. Just as the Son submits to the leadership of the Father, so as women we submit to the male leadership here. It's not always easy - but points to the Trinitarian nature of God. And the men are called to make decisions that don't just benefit the men of the church, but the women too. As we love and serve each other in different ways, we model the Truine God, whose persons are equal but different, and serve each other in love.

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