Qualified Ordained Leadership in the Church

In this last excerpt from my book, Beyond Authority and Submission, I want to discuss the importance of our ordained leaders being qualified. While the Bible limits ordination to qualified men, not every man is qualified or called to ministry. What happens when all men are treated as leaders and potential leaders?

Beyond Authority and Submission: Women and Men in Marriage, Church, and Society will be available September 3. You can click the links to pre-order on Amazon or Barnes and Noble. A Kindle version will be available on the release date.

A focus on masculine authority in the church diminishes qualified male ordination rather than promoting it. If churches consider men to be leaders simply because they are male, it can lead to the ordination of unqualified men or of men who haven’t been called to leadership. As we have discussed, the Bible restricts ordination to qualified men, but that doesn’t mean that every man is qualified to lead.

Besides the ordination of unqualified men, other types of damage are done when disqualified church officers aren’t removed and when unordained men do the work that only ordained leaders should do. Certain aspects of church life should be done by our ordained leaders, such as preaching the Word, administering the sacraments, and performing the disciplinary function of the church. The attitude in our churches shouldn’t be “These are roles for the ordained leaders, but any man can do them in a pinch.” When just any man, ordained or not, is allowed to carry out these roles in the church, it undermines the importance of ordination and the ministerial work that ordained leaders should be doing. It also contributes to a masculine culture in the church—one in which men are prioritized over women in the church’s work.

When churches focus on training men, they often pay little attention to what the women are learning. Some think that it doesn’t matter too much—it’s only the women. And so false teaching creeps into the church by way of poorly trained and neglected women.[1]

[1] See Aimee Byrd, No Little Women: Equipping All Women in the Household of God (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2016), 31.

The Victorians Baptized Pagan Ideas

This excerpt from my book, Beyond Authority and Submission, comes from Chapter 4: “Women and Men in the Victorian Era.” Many of our beliefs about women and men come to us from the Greeks and Romans by way of the Victorians. The Victorian era, more than any other, was a unique blend of several streams of thought. Victorians combined the Greco-Roman philosophy of the Renaissance, the technological advancements of the Industrial Revolution, and the evolutionary science of Darwinism. All of this they added to existing Christian religious and moral beliefs.

Beyond Authority and Submission: Women and Men in Marriage, Church, and Society will be available September 3. You can click the links to pre-order on Amazon or Barnes and Noble. A Kindle version will be available on the release date.

The Victorian era is a significant link between ancient Greece and Roman and our society today. Some of the greatest damage the Victorians did was through attempting to incorporate the older pagan ideas with Christianity. After the Victorian era, ancient Greek and Roman beliefs about women and men were taught as if they were biblical.

How did the Victorians combine Christianity with the older pagan ideas about gender? One way was by misapplying Scripture. The authors of Victorian literature and magazines took Bible verses out of context to reinforce their beliefs about the nature of women and men and their proper spheres.

The Victorians found support for their belief that women belonged in the home in Paul’s encouragement that young women be “ at home” (Titus 2:5, KJV). William Alcott, an influential Victorian author and a cousin of Louisa May Alcott, explained that a woman “cannot discharge the duties of a wife, much less those of a mother, unless she prefers home to all other places, and is only led abroad from a sense of duty, and not from choice.”[1]

Staying at home was the duty of a wife—a duty that was owed to God. “Ask not, ‘Why should I keep at home?’ the answer is, because it is your duty to your servant—your children—your husband—your God!”[2] To be a “true woman,” to desire nothing more than to have a husband and children to care for, was the “holiest design a woman can entertain.”[3]

[1] William A. Alcott, The Young Wife, or Duties of Woman in the Marriage Relation, 4th ed. (Boston, 1838), 83.

[2] Arthur Freeling, The Young Bride’s Book: Being Hints for Regulating the Conduct of Married Women (London, 1839), 86.

[3] Fascinating Womanhood, or the Art of Attracting Men: A Practical Course of Lessons in the Underlying Principles by Which Women Attract Men—Leading to the Proposal and Culminating in Marriage (St. Louis: The Psychology Press, 1922), 1:24.

Conservative Christian Response to the Sexual Revolution and Second Wave Feminism

The next excerpt I want to share from my upcoming book, Beyond Authority and Submission, is from Chapter 6: “Later Feminism and the Conservative Christian Response.” Part of the history that I cover in the book is the various waves of feminism and how society and the church responded to them. And how the response to feminism has shaped our beliefs about women and men.

Beyond Authority and Submission: Women and Men in Marriage, Church, and Society will be available September 3. You can click the links to pre-order on Amazon or Barnes and Noble. A Kindle version will be available on the release date.

It’s not that conservative Christians believe that the feminist movement didn’t do any good. They do—but they also believe that women were content until the feminist movement. As one complementarian book explains, “Male-dominated culture, or patriarchy, isn’t the problem that feminism made it out to be. It’s not the real reason women were unhappy, if they really were unhappy. Why not? Because if it were, women would be happier after the feminist movements successes, but they aren’t.”[1]

Much of what’s being taught about the nature of women and men and gender roles in marriage, church, and society started out as a response to the feminist movement—or at least to aspects of it. For example, the belief that feminism makes men effeminate and turns women into “‘men’ who happen to be biologically capable of having children”[2] has led to particular definitions of masculinity and femininity.

As the anti-suffrage postcards did, some conservatives today depict feminists as being loud and aggressive, demanding of their own way, ambitious, and career-oriented. This goes against what they believe women were created to be, as we will see in the next chapter. Let’s see how this reaction to feminism has influenced conservative Christian teaching on the nature of women and men.

[1] Mary A. Kassian and Nancy Leigh DeMoss, True Woman 101: Divine Design; An
Eight-Week Study on Biblical Womanhood (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2012), 137, nook.

[2] Voddie Baucham Jr., What He Must Be: . . . If He Wants to Marry My Daughter (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2009), 152.

[3] See Kassian and DeMoss, True Woman 101, 118–20.

Beyond Authority and Submission

This next excerpt from my upcoming book explains the title Beyond Authority and Submission. Authority and submission are important aspects to some of our relationships, but they shouldn’t be the whole of our discussions about women and men. A hyper focus on authority and submission can cause us to lose sight of important biblical themes.

Beyond Authority and Submission: Women and Men in Marriage, Church, and Society will be available September 3. You can click the links to pre-order on Amazon or Barnes and Noble. A Kindle version will be available on the release date.

In conservative Christian circles, many conversations about women and men start and end with authority and submission. Who’s in charge? Who’s allowed to do what? These are reasonable questions to ask. At the same time, the Bible doesn’t start and end with authority and submission—it is Jesus’s story from first to last. If we miss that message, then it doesn’t matter what else we believe. No good deeds or proper understanding of women, men, and gender will save us.

That doesn’t mean that authority and submission aren’t important. We shouldn’t dismiss them—but they aren’t the focus of the Bible. When we concentrate on maintaining a hierarchy—or on overthrowing it—we forget our unity and interdependence and our call to mutual service. Women can become completely dependent on men and devoted to serving their interests; men can forget their need for women and can focus more on enforcing submission than on serving their wives and families.

Contrary to what popular culture states, women and men are not from different planets. We’re complementary—more alike than different. Without denying the differences, we need to stop defining women as the polar opposite of men and vice versa. Such divisive definitions create and encourage unnecessary conflict and set up unrealistic and unbiblical expectations for how women and men should behave.

Paul frequently refers to fellow believers—both men and women—as his co-laborers. The word he uses, sunergos, means “a companion in work.”[2] As we will see in the next sections, co-laborer captures the sense of what we were created to be and what we are called to be in Christ.

[1] Michelle Lee-Barnewall, Neither Complementarian nor Egalitarian: A Kingdom Corrective to the Evangelical Gender Debate (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2016), NOOK, addresses the biblical themes of unity (see 24–25) and leading through service (see 108–9).

[2] Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, s.v. “sunergos,” available online from Bible Hub, accessed June 18, 2018, http://biblehub.com/greek/4904.htm, Strong’s number 4904.

God: The Source of All Authority and Submission

As we get closer to the release date for Beyond Authority and Submission, I want to share a few excerpts. This first excerpt is from Chapter 1: “What Are Authority and Submission?” While it’s clear from the title of my book that I want to move the discussions about women and men beyond an exclusive focus on authority and submission, it’s important that we start with a picture of what God-honoring authority and submission are (and aren’t).

Beyond Authority and Submission: Women and Men in Marriage, Church, and Society will be available September 3. You can click the links to pre-order on Amazon or Barnes and Noble. A Kindle version will be available on the release date.

The foundation of a biblical understanding of authority and submission is the fact that we are humans, male and female, made in the image of God. In the beginning, God made us and gave us authority—the right to command and lead—over the rest of creation. He commanded us to rule over “every living thing that moves on the earth” (Gen. 1:28). This authority is part of the very nature of humanity, and it is good when used appropriately.[1] God-honoring authority protects, cares for, provides for, and promotes the well-being of others.[2] In our fallen world, godly authority also restrains evil and punishes sin and wickedness (see Rom. 13:4). Life without authority is anarchy and chaos.

However, because we are created beings, our authority must be limited.[3] Only God has unlimited authority. He is God and our Creator. We are created and are not God (see Rom. 1:18–25). This contrast lies at the heart of submission and is essential for us to grasp. Submission—voluntarily yielding to the authority of another—isn’t feminine or masculine; it’s characteristic of our human nature.

Each of us has authority in some relationships and owes submission in others. Common sense tells us that we should recognize the situational authority of others. For example, when a doctor tells us that we have an illness and need treatment, it is wise for us to recognize his or her authority and to submit to the treatment. Similarly, we know we should follow the instructions of teachers, counselors, police officers, coaches, and even traffic signs. Additionally, the Bible gives us both general guidance and specific direction regarding authority and submission in particular relationships, as we will discuss.

[1] Andy Crouch, Strong and Weak: Embracing a Life of Love, Risk, and True Flourishing
(Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2016), 37–38.

[2] See Crouch, 111–12.

[3] See Crouch, 36.

Wisdom vs Folly: “Her feet do not remain at home”

As I was writing and editing my book, Beyond Authority and Submission, there were a few sections that didn’t make the final cut. What follows is a section comparing the personifications of wisdom and folly in the Proverbs. As you’ll see, some complementarians have used passages to teach that women working outside the home are examples of folly. But what do the verses actually teach us?

Even though the Bible gives many examples of women working, there are persistent questions about women working in society. One of the biggest concerns is whether or not it’s appropriate for women to work or have a career outside the home. After all, the Bible says that women should be keepers at home, right?

There tends to be two extremes on women working. One extreme says women can and should do anything they want without consideration for the effect this may have on others. While this view is found in our secular society, it’s not as common among believers, especially those who want to be faithful to the Bible.

The other extreme is that women shouldn’t work outside the home or have a career. Those who hold this view argue that women are meant to take care of the home and family. Working outside the home leads to abandoning their responsibilities and going against the created order that God established from the beginning.[1]

Most beliefs about women working fall somewhere between these two extremes, but among conservative Christians staying at home is considered the ideal for women. The reasoning is God created women to be focused on the home whereas men were created to be focused on the outside world. Adam was made outside the garden in the fields where he would work, but Eve was made inside the garden in “the ‘home’ where God had placed her husband.”[2]

Women, therefore, have a natural inclination towards domestic concerns. As Mary Kassian explains: “The Bible teaches that God created woman with a uniquely feminine ‘bent’ for the home. ‘Working at home’ is on its top ten list of important things that older women need to teach to younger ones (Titus 2:5). It encourages young women to ‘manage their households’ (1 Timothy 5:14). It praises her who ‘looks well to the ways of her household’ … (Proverbs 31:27). The Bible casts women whose hearts are inclined away from the home in a negative light (Proverbs 7:11).[3]

The verses Kassian uses here are often referred to in discussions about women working outside the home. The first two verses are from Paul’s advice for women in the church. In Titus 2:5, Paul says that older women should teach younger women “to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so that the word of God will not be dishonored.” In 1 Timothy 5:14, he says, “Therefore, I want younger widows to get married, bear children, keep house, and give the enemy no occasion for reproach.”

Proverbs 31 has several verses about a woman’s care for her household. Verse 27 says, “She looks well to the ways of her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness.” The other passage from Proverbs that Kassian refers to is Proverbs 7:11 which says, “She is boisterous and rebellious, her feet do not remain at home.”

The question we should be asking is if Proverbs 7:11 is really about women working outside the home. Proverbs 7 is about an adulterous woman tempting a man. In context, it’s a warning to men about avoiding sin. Proverbs 7:11 is about her unfaithful ways. The point isn’t that she’s away from home. It’s that she isn’t faithful to her husband.

In contrast, wisdom, personified as a woman, is described in Proverbs 1, 8, and 9. Both wisdom and the adulterous woman are attempting to influence men. In Proverbs 7, the adulterous or foolish woman is disruptive, rebellious, out in the streets, grabbing and kissing men, enticing them to sin. We see her again in Proverbs 9. Here she’s described as foolish, sitting at the doorway or in the high places, calling out to those passing by, inviting them in, encouraging them to eat secret bread and drink stolen water, leading them to sin and death.

In the parallel passages about wisdom, we also see her out in the streets, at the city gates, at the heights of the city, shouting and calling out to men, inviting them into the home she’s built, encouraging them to eat and drink at her feast. The difference is what wisdom is leading men to. Wisdom leads men to knowledge and righteousness. Her goal is to help and encourage, to build up and strengthen, to reprove and counsel.

The wickedness of the foolish woman isn’t that she’s away from her home or that she’s loud or even that she’s influencing men. Her wickedness is that she’s leading men to sin. Her goal is to destroy and tear down. The methods of the two women are similar, but their goals and the end results are very different.

No woman should want to be like the foolish woman, but the danger isn’t in working outside the home. It’s in being faithless and adulterous. We see the same emphasis on the dangers of adultery and faithlessness in a verse about men, “Like a bird that wanders from her nest, so is a man who wanders from his home” (Prov. 27:8).

Just like wisdom and the Proverbs 31 woman, a godly woman can be faithful to the Lord and to her husband while working inside or outside the home. It’s her heart and attitude, not her location, that are essential.

[1] Anna Sofia and Elizabeth Botkin, So Much More (San Antonio: The Vision Forum, Inc, 2005), 111.

[2]Mary A. Kassian and Nancy Leigh DeMoss, True Woman 101: Divine Design (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2012), nook version, 74.

[3]Mary Kassian, Girls Gone Wise in a World Gone Wild (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2010), 76.

Finding Eternal Subordination of the Son in the Oddest Places

As I’ve written before, there are many, many books that teach eternal subordination of the Son (ESS). Books for women, books for children, even notes in a very popular study Bible teach ESS. Most of the time, I’m not surprised when ESS shows up in a book, especially if the author has connections to CBMW, Wayne Grudem, or SBTS (where Bruce Ware teaches).

But every now and then, I’m truly surprised to find ESS being taught. Recently I read Through His Eyes: God’s Perspective on Women in the Bible by Jerram Barrs. Barrs is a professor at Covenant Seminary in St. Louis. In the introduction, Barrs writes about the purpose of the book:

What does God think about women, and how does he treat them? My passionate desire and prayer is that the book will be an encouragement to women and a challenge to men to treat women with the same honor that the Lord himself shows. (9)

Each chapter focuses on a different woman from the Bible and attempts to correct misunderstandings that have gotten in the way of our understanding of what the Bible teaches about women. I was intrigued by the premise and interested to see how Barrs dealt with the topic.

The first three chapters deal with Eve. One of the first things Barrs’ emphasizes is Adam and Eve’s equality in creation. I was pleased that he did. However, when he tries to explain how Adam has a position of authority or leadership over Eve, he introduces classic ESS teaching:

In addition, it is Adam who gives Eve her name, and as we mentioned earlier, this implies a particular significance or authority in the one who does the naming. … This leadership of Adam in relationship with Eve, and her corresponding commitment to him, does not mean that their equality is undermined, for Eve and Adam are like the Trinity in which there is a headship of the Father over the Son, and yet there is also a full equality of Godhead (1 Corinthians 11:, Colossians 1:19; 2:9). (22)

It’s not until the appendix at the end of the book that Barrs develops the ESS theme. The appendix is apparently a wedding sermon that Barrs preached where the couple asked him to speak about headship and submission. Barrs uses the names “Adam” and “Eve” in place of the couple’s actual names.

Interestingly, Barrs brings a twist to ESS that I’ve never seen before. In his formulation, the Father, Son, and Spirit are equal in authority, but there’s still a hierarchy of headship:

This pattern of headship comes from creation itself, or perhaps we should say from God himself. The Lord who made us, the Lord we worship, is a triune God. God is the three persons of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit who have loved and delighted in each other from all eternity. Within the Trinity there is full equalitythe Son and Spirit are just as fully God as is the Father. The Son and the Spirit have just as much authority, are just as powerful, just as holy, just as wise, just as good just as loving, just as glorious as the Father. To deny this full equality of the persons of the Godhead is heresy, a serious departure from the truth. Yet, within the Trinity there is also a hierarchythe Father is over the Son and the Spirit, and the western churches have taught that the Son is over the Spirit. The Son and the Spirit delight to submit themselves always to the Father’s will; and the Spirit delights to submit to the Son and to do his will. (324, emphasis original)

Barrs points out that the hierarchy isn’t demeaning at all. God the Father gives God the Son the “most significant tasks imaginable”!

This headship of the Father is not demeaning to the Son in any way. The Father is pleased to honor the Son always by giving him the most significant tasks imaginable … The Son, for his part, is ever gladly submissive to the Father. He is always eager to do his Father’s will, committed to obeying his Father’s every word, ready to speak whatever the Father wants him to say, pleased to respect and honor his Father in everything he does, devoted to bringing glory to his Father. We look at this eternal relationship of headship and submission, and it is no vision of miseryrather it is an eternally shared glory! (324-325, emphasis added)

So, in addition to ESS (eternal subordination of the Son), EFS (eternal functional submission), and ERAS (eternal relations of authority and submission), we now have ERHS (eternal relationship of headship and submission).

Having explained the origin of headship and submission in the eternal relationships within the Trinity, Barrs applies this equal but hierarchical relationship to marriage. Instead of the Biblical example for marriage, Christ and the church, Barrs focuses on the Father/Son relationship in the “family of the Trinity.”

Adam and Eve, your relationship is to mirror the relationship between the Father and the Son, for the apostle Paul teaches us that your family, just like every other family on earth or in heaven, is named and patterned after the family of our heavenly Father, the family of the Trinity … Eve and Adam, you are to show to the world the beauty of the eternal love between the Son and the Father. (325-326)

In the study questions at the end of the appendix, Barrs asks:

Have you considered before reading this chapter the reality of equality and headship that exists within the Trinity? As you think about this, how would you express the beauty of the relationship between the Father and the Son as it is described for us in the Scriptures? (328)

To answer his questions, no such “reality of equality and headship exists within the Trinity.” And I would describe such a relationship of authority and submission as heretical. Barrs is right that to deny full equality within the Trinity is heretical. But sadly, he doesn’t recognize that he’s doing so here.

When I read the first paragraph in the Eve chapter that taught ESS, I was really surprised, and I honestly hoped that it was somehow a poorly worded section. Maybe something the publisher (Crossway) wanted to include. But give the fully developed ESS (ERHS?) in the appendix, and given that Barrs preached ESS at a wedding, it seems that Barrs is another who teaches and promotes ESS (at least at the time).

Barrs ends his introduction by calling for men to treat women better. Ironically, he says:

Many women experience discrimination and poor treatment in their churches and in their homes. In conservative circles this is sometimes defended and justified by specious appeals to Scripture. (11)

ESS and its application to marriage are part of the “discrimination and poor treatment” that many women experience in the home and in churches. As a popular author and teacher, many men and women have read and will read his book. I hope that in the intervening years, and given the Trinity debate of 2016, that Barrs has changed his mind about ESS. If so, I hope he’ll clarify his position publicly.