Most of my ministry life has been lived in what today is called 'complementarianism' with regards to women in life and ministry. This simply means I lived, believed and taught that women were to submit to their husband's leadership in the home and were to do the same in church life. Men ruled. Women submitted. As men we had our place and women had theirs. [Complementary] But ours was at the front of the line. We were to love and provide, to be sure, but always from our place at the front of that line. For years of marriage and ministry I never questioned the biblical basis for this nor did I question the rightness of it in a practical way. How could it be otherwise? The bible said it and that settled it. I was old-school in this you see.
When I faced those situations where it was abused either by a man controlling a wife and robbing her of her person, choices and input [or a pastor robbing people of the same] or a wife refusing to obey a husband by attempting to be herself uniquely by exercising her mind or will on issues I passed it off as them being people who generally messed life up because of strong personality [his] or rebellion. [hers] If they would simply calm down and obey the bible all would be well was my mantra.
There were three basic shifts in my understanding along the way that shook my life and forged a new direction for me that resulted in my now belonging to the new school of thought on this issue. The newness is not that the scriptures or my culture or my convictions about scriptural authority have changed. But my understanding of things as they really are in the purposes of God has changed. What follows is a bit of that journey.
Shift number one was in my own life. I view my marriage as a gift from God as I'm sure most of you do. My marriage partner is a gifted and capable woman who is unique in her person. Her discovery of her giftedness and uniqueness was what caused me to look again at women NOT being able to lead or teach men [or anyone for that matter] as I saw in her one who knew more bible than most preachers [she memorized and quoted over 5oo verses at camp one year] and knew theology [still does] better than most of my bible college buddies.
Our relationship clashed with my old-school thinking as she awakened to her uniqueness and personhood in Christ and I began to see her gifts and abilities as from God for me AND the church. [This was not without it's painful times of struggle for both of us.] It also gave us pause because neither she nor I was willing to violate the scripture because of our experience. So what did this mean for us? The old-school way of thinking wouldn't do. That was a given. But something had to give.
Shift two came as a result of studying the scriptures afresh. Laying aside culture, preconceptions, teachers and theological systems I'd learned, I began searching the text anew for myself. For starters, in 1 Timothy 2:12 I began to see the text is less clear than most complementarians see it and that lack of clarity was NOT there because of our culture imposed on it but because of Paul's language used in the text to address HIS culture. It was understanding his culture that came into play for me as I began to grasp what he was saying.
To take that verse as an absolute universal principle for all women of all times and to impose a standard of silence and no authority over men flew into the face of so many other portions of the text of the New Testament. The Samaritan woman of John 4, Lydia of Acts 16, and Mary of Matthew 28 who seemed to speak the Word of God to all including men seemed contrary to 1 Timothy 2:12 being a principle for all time and places.
The ministry of Jesus seemed to do the same. He taught, commissioned and sent out women as well as men as indicated in the gospels. Add to that others like Phoebe who was a deacon, [there is no Greek word deaconess] Junia whom Paul said was outstanding among the apostles in Romans 16:7 [there are many more that could be given] and I saw there was something about 1 Timothy 2:12 that I needed to examine anew. So I did.
Another passage that gave me pause was the declaration of Peter that the New Covenant era would see our "sons and daughters" and "young men and old men" ministering. This means at least that New Covenant relationships were not based on age, gender or race but on the gifting and empowering of the Holy Spirit. Add to that the Galatians 3:28-29 reference to neither male nor female nor bond nor free and you have a whole different thing in Christianity. I know it refers to salvation but the rest of the book refers to all no longer being slaves but sons [generic] with full rights of sonship with no distinction made to gender or race.
Is New covenant relationships to be based on gender or race or not? If not, then why make it so in the home or the church? Unless Paul said to in 1 Timothy 2:12. Did he? I don't think so.
In short, I now saw Paul referring to "a man and a woman" in 1 Timothy 2:10-12 [language is singular] and I saw the word "authority" as a word that meant disruption and using gender means [sexual]to take control and referring to a specific church situation in Ephesus. In other words, I saw it not as a universal principle for all time in all places but a specific event in that time.
I also had to examine 1 Corinthians 11 and began to see it differently. My final opinion is as I've read one person say, " that Paul was telling women to not flaunt their freedom in Christ to dishonor men." That's spot on in my judgement. A fresh look at the word "Kephale" [head] caused me to question the definition of it being "authority." I began to see it as referring to something totally foreign to that meaning for their culture. My purpose here is not giving the results of my research but my journey. Check out the lexicons up to 1950 and you will see what I mean. If you get bogged down in the "head" thing it would be good to remember [as I read someone say] "that certainly the Son has chosen to submit to the Father but don't forget the Father has put everything under the Son's personal Lordship." [Phil. 2:9] That's interdependence instead of competition and control for sure. What a novel idea for the home and church were we to be Christlike as believers.
The final shift in my thinking came as I examined our culture. There was no problem seeing the cultural standard of man/woman relationships being one of a struggle for control. It was there in Paul the Apostle's day and it is in our day. It is the history of the human race. But from where did it come? My conclusion became that the text of Genesis 3 [the fall]introduced a corrupted male/female control issue that was not in the original created order. It resulted from the fall not creation. God wasn't in to creating a "whose the boss" mentality but a "how can I serve you" way of thinking.
Grace is a recovery of God's purpose in all things and I have concluded that, while we live in a fallen world, the redeemed people of God are to manifest a gracious, helping, mutual submitting and leading way of life that only grace can produce in our families and churches. It would be a shock to our culture and religion in general and it takes the Holy Spirit's empowering to accomplish it but that is ours to experience as believers.
I was old-school in this issue but I'm now of the new-school of thought and, by the grace of God, I wish to live that new school thinking out. It's basis is not my experience, culture or theological systems, but the authoritative text of scripture when properly understood in my humble, personal opinion.
Next time the old-school/new-school styles of worship.