Lately, it had been interesting to notice that a skirmish of sideways energy has burst out in our society, even within the church. It seems that we are succumbing to the the pressure of the world around us to be at one another’s throats, and to distrust or even dislike each other. This particular battle is raging in several arenas, a noticeable and noisy one being between women and men,
It would be wise for us to recognize that there is much room here for everyone to grow in grace and understanding. It would also be wise to recognize that our enemy would love nothing more than to keep us distracted from the real battle for the souls of men and women by pitting us against one another.
As a woman, I know I am not alone in being absolutely thrilled about the way society has opened up to allow women to thrive over the last several hundred years. Jesus is our great champion, and publicly recognized the God-given worth in women alongside men, in a time and place where women were totally overlooked. His works and words have brought us so far! Never before in the history of the world have there been so many opportunities for females in so many places. In many nations that have been touched by the Bible, we can be educated and in the marketplace right along with our male counterparts, earning the highest degrees in the most challenging fields. Some of the wealthiest and most influential people in the world are women. We sit in the uppermost seats of education, culture, government, and leadership, and the female voice is definitely heard in our own society.
But what should thrill us is suddenly not enough. In society and especially in the church, there is confusion and frustration about the place and leadership of women. My purpose here is not to make any definitive statement about who is right and who is wrong. It is simply to remind us that in Christ, there is always a positive way to move forward.
There are two ways of understanding the relationship between men and women within the church. Of course, both positions are informed by exactly the same scriptures, only with quite different interpretations. Many wonderful, godly people who are followers of Christ land on different places on the spectrum between these two camps. This issue is not and should not be a deal breaker as it pertains to friendship and fellowship. This is absolutely an area that we can agree to disagree. Our fellowships all have their stated positions, and we can all operate within the rails of our denominational movements. No one needs to be completely sidelined in sharing the Good News with others.
In brief, on one side are the egalitarians, who believe that men and women are absolutely equal in God’s sight, with equal ability and opportunity to lead. The other side of the issue are the complementarians, who believe that while women are also made in the image of God and equally valuable, they do and must carry a lesser role and responsibility in the sight of God than men. In the barest terms, the egalitarians look to the preponderance of evidence in scripture and church history which points to women in every arena of church leadership, while the complementarians major on the few specifically instructive verses within the letters from the Apostle Paul.
Of course, I am speaking as a married woman who is an ordained minister in the Assemblies of God. My husband and I came to faith and have spent our whole adult lives as a part of this tribe which affirms women into leadership. Still, I believe I can shed some insight into where the frustration might be coming from on both sides. Having been born, raised, and educated in the United States of America, I can see why many modern women might find it offensive to hear the complementarian take that we are in any way lesser. Certainly, the scriptures that this camp sites for the grounding of their position are clear and thought-provoking. But everyone has seen where abuses and excesses in this line of thinking can take a fellowship, or even a marriage. On the other hand, excessive emphasis on the radically egalitarian side can make a woman very angry at her male peers and leaders, her husband, and ultimately God. A two-headed creature just doesn’t make very much progress - someone has to lead, and it is very easy to get angry and frustrated when that someone is not me.
This particular place is where some of us find ourselves at the moment, and it is not fruitful to remain there. It would be wrong for men to completely shut out women, and it would be just as wrong for women to totally shut out men.
But this is the beauty of Jesus and His gospel. He came to give us - not just some of us, but all of us - abundant life. For Christians, it should never come to Us vs. Them in any way when we are talking about fellow believers. Jesus Himself said that whoever is not against us is for us. We who are in Christ follow His lead, and He is not at all confused or mistaken.
In God’s great design, He created us in His image. First He created Adam from the dust of the earth, breathed His life into Him, and set him to work. Then, because it was not good for this wonderful creation to be alone, God made Eve from Adam’s rib - bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh. God’s image within her, and God’s breath within her, Eve was also set to work. Man and woman, each lovingly created by God, with His purpose, passion, and dreams on their lives. Separately, they are each wondrous and glorious beings. But when man and woman come together, literal magic happens.
This is true in the most obvious sense when a child is conceived. What a miracle! Parts of our society are trying so hard to make this amazing fact sound so awful and negative that we are in danger of forgetting what an incredible blessing the miracle of life is. When we come together in mutual submission, and ideally in committed love, new life comes. Try as secularists might to change this, it always takes a man and a woman working together for this miracle to occur. Then, also in God’s design, the man and woman must continue working together to protect, nurture, love, and encourage this new life to be the best he or she can be. Of course there are stories of people with awful childhoods who become incredible adults, and the converse of people with great childhoods who become reprobates, but the fact remains that the best way for anyone's life success is to be raised under the loving care of a husband and father + wife and mother + God.
The same magical combination also makes the healthiest homes, churches, and societies. Sure - we can get plenty done when men and women do their separate things, even without acknowledging God in the mix. Society moves forward and things do happen. But when we actually purpose to work together and not individually, and also with God and not without Him, the best and most powerful things can happen.
Thank God that men and women are each created in His image, and that like the Apostle Paul also said, it is actually wonderful for single people to give their full attention to the furthering of the gospel and the work of God’s Kingdom. Historically, it is plain to see that many incredible things happen through the lives of people like Amy Carmichael, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Saint Francis, and Corrie ten Boom. All of us cheer on the myriad single men and women serving in our fellowships.
But how wonderful the fact that so much health and life can come when we work together. Ministry teams of men and women working together can see vibrant spiritual growth in a Christian community. Our differences and unique viewpoints can combine to create a rich culture and a beautiful reflection of the character of God. The richer this "soup" becomes, the more the people within the community can thrive and grow and learn to impact the world around them with their own God-given talents and dreams.
In the same way, a godly husband and wife working together to fulfill a vision and calling can see abundant fruit. Neither person in a marriage partnership can demand all from the other - there must be mutual submission in moving forward in a healthy way. To see maximum results of fruit and health, each has to die to self and actively work and hope for the best for one another. God put dreams and passions and vision into each of us, and even when these might seem conflicting at first glance, He is altogether good and wise enough to be able to see all of those things come to fruition for each partner and within the partnership.
It is so unfortunate the way it seems to have become very fashionable to blame men for just about everything wrong with society. Too many people are doing this. The Bible teaches that all of humanity has sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23), not just the males. For example, big trouble can come when we women get really impatient and think we can make a better way on our own. Just ask the ladies of the Old Testament, Eve and Sarah! Some will try to blame their husbands and say that those particular women had no choice within the societal structure they lived. But in both of those situations, the women seem to have been pretty empowered.
What if either of them had been a little more patient and trusting of God and His Word? We will never know because they weren’t patient or trusting, and took matters into their own hands. The entire world is still reeling from their choices. Talk about power! On the other hand, look at the world-altering repercussions of the choice of Mary, whose humble “yes” to God brought the Savior into the world, even when it surely cost her a good reputation and probably seemed to be the end of all of her own hopes and dreams. The amount of power that God has allowed us to wield as women is sobering. We must use this power to choose with wisdom and grace.
We can trust God. His design is perfect. His will is perfect. He did not make a mistake in the order or method of His creation. He did not think less of any of us or forget anything at all when He set the world into being. Yes, sin has corrupted everything and we must deal with its repercussions in our hearts and in society daily. But instead of getting angry at each other, we can look to Jesus to lead us forward into more abundant life for all of us, no matter our differences.
The work of Jesus on the cross is complete, and He has begun the great and hopeful work of the restoration of all creation. God Himself invites us to work with Him and with one another to see His Kingdom come and His will be done. Instead of joining in the raging chorus of our secular age, demanding and fighting over which of us should be given special recognition and power, we must all follow the lead of our most excellent Savior, who taught us that to be first we must be last, to live we must die, and to be the greatest we must become servant of all. It will be exciting to see what wonderful and unexpected things might happen as we trust and follow Him with humble hearts.
Hi! I'm Mary - mother to two wonderful grown daughters, wife to an incredible husband, and loving our life in the piney woods of Texas... (read more!)
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