Saturday, August 18, 2012


There is abroad in our land a struggle with the idea of gender, even in the Church. In fact, some have gone so far as to declare that "complementarianism" [Men have roles and women have different roles and they complement each other, but men are at the front of the line in all things concerning authority.] is part of the gospel itself. So if you aren't complementarian in your view of gender you've lost the gospel. What follows will explain why this is so important to me. I cherish the gospel and, if they are correct, I'm guilty of losing the gospel itself, as you will see.

Most of my ministry life has been lived in that 'complementarianism' concerning women in life and ministry mentioned above. 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 certainly 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 probably being people who generally messed life up because of a strong personality [his] or rebellion. [hers] If they would simply "calm down and obey the bible all will be well." That became my mantra for most struggles in marriage.

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 a 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. Not at all! 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 giftedness and uniqueness was what caused me to look again at women NOT being able to lead or teach men [or anyone except children and other women] as I saw in her one who knew more bible than most preachers [she memorized and quoted over 500 verses at camp one year] and knew theology [still does] better than most of my Seminary buddies.

Our relationship clashed with my old-school thinking as she awakened to her uniqueness and person hood in Christ and I began to see her gifts and abilities as from God for me AND the church. [This was not without some painful times of struggle for both of us.] It also gave us pause because neither she nor I were 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 bought into rather easily, I began searching the text anew for myself. For starters, in 1 Timothy 2:12 I began to see the text as less clear than most complementarians saw it and that lack of clarity was NOT there because of what our culture imposed on i,t 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 called a deacon, [there is no Greek word deaconess and where this word is used of men KJV translates it "deacon," but when used of women, KJV translates it "helper."] 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 thru the Spirit. 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 son-ship with no distinction made to gender or race.

Is New covenant relationships to be based on gender or race or not? Did God change His mind since the ascension of Jesus. If not, then why make it so in the home or the local 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 perhaps] to take control and it is, thus, 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, "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 in the time of their culture. Not that it couldn't mean leading, but didn't in a normal use at all.

My purpose here is not to give the results of my research as much as it is to state 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 in the incarnation, 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 answer to that question came from, you guessed it, a fresh study of a passage of scripture. It was after a new look at the text in Genesis 3. [The fall]  There I found 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. It started as a mutual sharing relationship in Genesis 1&2 that became a curseful control issue in Genesis 3. But a graceful [mutually sharing] relationship is re-established in Ephesians 5 by the Holy Spirit.

Grace is a recovery system for 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 where they're gifted 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 a new-school of thought and, by the grace of God, I wish to live out 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 personal opinion. But it doesn't impact my understanding of the gospel nor my belief that is the power of God unto salvation. Of that, I'm unchanged and unashamed.

Paul Burleson


Aussie John said...


Many years ago I was asked to adjudicate in a Baptist church where a woman had long served the church, and truly reflected the meaning of the word 'deacon'. She had no "label", but some, including a couple of men, wanted to recognize her servants heart by electing her as a deacon.

I'm sure you know the kerfuffle that instigated.

I had been well indoctrinated in what tradition taught, but, on this issue I was under strong compulsion to do what I consistently taught congregations to do, to follow the example of the Bereans, so your words, "I began searching the text anew for myself...",are very meaningful to my journey along a similar path.

I would like to live long enough to see the day when people in congregations demonstrate that they are personally responsible for what they believe, and practice, by "Laying aside culture, preconceptions, teachers and theological systems..."

There are thousands of us "bought into" these "rather easily". I for one.

Your last paragraph says it all, especially "by the grace of God,.." for which I'm so thankful.

I trust your peers aren't as free,as many of mine, to shun, and put derogatory labels on those who are persuaded along the lines on which you write.

The Blog bites better than the Bullet. said...

I have been working through this myself, and wish I knew Greek- perhaps I need to learn it- but Bristow has an excellent book entitled "What Paul Really Said About Women", that helped me a lot.

I tend towards a complementarian view, but lately I find it a little too subculturally correct, and the way the church was in its beginnning appears to me to be far more radically equal than what we are experiencing in Evangelicalism today.

Thanks for your thoughts- still working through!

Anonymous said...

Thank you!

Both you and Wade spoke directly to what my husband and I were talking about last night as I finished up reading Scot McKnight's "The Blue Parakeet".

How affirming to us that God used all three of you to say the same thing!


Kristen said...

Well said. Male voices like yours are sorely needed in the church, to help set your sisters free.

Paul Burleson said...

Aussie J,

Many of my peers ARE as free as the ones you mentioned in your journey. The labels keep coming, but I remember, as do you I'm sure, that another far greater than either of us was labeled a glutton and a wine-bibber. We're in good company aren't we!

The B B B than the B,

Your journey is yours and I'm with you in it, whatever the outcome.


I'm delighted but not at all surprised that the Lord would do that. But isn't it fun when He does. Thanks for the gracious comment.


I appreciate that. I'm convinced that more guys are opening up. We'll see.

But there will be no CLEARER voice theologically than is yours and may your tribe increase is my prayer.

I'm proud of and grateful for you my sister.

Kristen said...

Coming back here late to see if there was any response to my last-- and you did it again, brother. I'm so humbled and honored by your words. Thank you.