We Need a New Name

In the 1980s, a new group was formed to combat the rise of egalitarianism in the church and the home. The Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW), in their early meetings, chose a name for their new movement: complementarianism. While there is debate over the origin of the name, the movement defined itself as the conservative answer to egalitarianism. The complementarian movement has done some good things in affirming the complementarity and equality of men and women. It is good to affirm that husbands are to lead their wives sacrificially and that wives are to submit to the leadership of their husbands. It is also good to affirm the ordination of qualified men.

However, over time, there has been increasing concern about some of what is being taught in the name of complementarianism. Many authors, myself included, have spoken out about these abuses. The recent debate over authority and submission in the Trinity has highlighted a very strong rift within the complementarian movement. The doctrine of the Trinity is of such vital importance to the faith that this divide is not a simple matter of agreeing to disagree.

Recently I have begun to wonder if it’s time for a new name and a maybe a new movement. Let me explain my reasoning. Whether or not CMBW came up with the term complementarianism, they are the public face of the movement and have defined what it means to be complementarian. Many of the CBMW leadership have written affirming Eternal Subordination of the Son (ESS/EFS/ERAS) and grounding their view of complementarity in the hierarchy of authority/submission that they see in the Trinity. But they have also gone further than that. As the following quotes illustrate, they believe that ESS is necessary and inextricably linked to complementarianism.

Dorothy Patterson in her essay in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood:

But subordination is also possible among equals: Christ is equal to God the Father and yet subject to Him (Philippians 2:6-8); believers are equal to one another and yet are admonished to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21). In fact, one can be called to subordinate himself to someone who is inferior, as Christ submitted to Pontius Pilate, making “no reply, not even to a single charge” (Matthew 27:11-14). The mere fact that wives are told to be subject to their husbands tells us nothing about their status. It is the comparison of the relationship between husband and wife to the relationship of God the Father with God the Son that settles the matter of status forever. (Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, 379)

Wayne Grudem in the Appendix of Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood:

At this point we must object and insist that authority and submission to authority are not pagan concepts. They are truly divine concepts, rooted in the eternal nature of the Trinity for all eternity and represented in the eternal submission of the Son to the Father and of the Holy Spirit to the Father and the Son.(464)

And,

Such an attempt to shift the understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity as it has been held through the history of the church does not appear to be accidental, however, for the fact that God the Son can be eternally equal to God the Father in deity and in essence, but subordinate to the Father in authority, cuts at the heart of the feminist claim that a subordinate role necessarily implies lesser importance or lesser personhood. (475)

Mary Kassian and Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth in True Woman 201:

Submission is a concept that goes hand in hand with authority. Like two sides of a coin, the two are inseparable. Both find their origin and meaning in the Godhead – in the relationship between God the Father and God the Son. The concepts cannot be properly understood apart from each other, nor apart from the context of this divine relationship. (227)

Mary Kassian in The Feminist Mistake:

The feminist practice of inclusive Trinitarian language obscures the intra-Trinitarian relation between the Son and the Father. The Son was obedient to the Father though He is equal to the Father. The Father, in love, sacrificed the Son. The Son, who had the right to refuse, submitted to the Father. Denial of the Trinitarian relationship denies the concept of equality and hierarchy that is evident in the Godhead and throughout Scripture. (171)

And,

Male-female relationships also teach us something of the inter-Trinitarian relationship within the Godhead itself: Christ submits to and yet is equal to the Father. A wife submits to and yet is equal to her husband. When the male-female relationship functions according to God’s design, it illustrates inherent truths about God. Remember the creation account in Genesis? In the beginning God said, “Let us …” Note the plural “us” – this is a conversation between members of the Godhead: “Let us make man in our image. … So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:26-27, emphasis added.) Ultimately, therefore, who God created us to be as male and female has very little to do with who we are – and very much to do with who God is. That’s why it’s so important that we honor His design. (298)

Elisabeth Elliot quoting Kathy Kristy in Let Me Be a Woman:

We know that this order of rule and submission is descended from the nature of God Himself. Within the Godhead there is both the just and legitimate authority of the Father and the willing and joyful submission of the Son. From the union of the Father and the Son proceeds a third personality, the Holy Spirit. He proceeds from them not as a child proceeds from the union of a man and a woman, but rather as the personality of a marriage proceeds from the one flesh which is established from the union of two separate personalities. Here, in the reflection of the nature of the Trinity in the institution of marriage is the key to the definition of masculinity and femininity. The image of God could not be fully reflected without the elements of rule, submission, and union. (51)

Wayne Grudem in a discussion on Revive Our Hearts:

The equality and differences between men and women reflect the equality and differences in the Trinity. There is much more at stake in this issue of manhood and womanhood than just how we relate as men and women. … The idea of headship and submission began before creation in the relationship between the Father and Son in the Trinity. The Father has a leadership role and authority to initiate and direct that the Son does not have. That means the Father was Father and the Son was Son before the world was created. When did the idea of headship and submission begin? The idea of headship and submission never began. The idea of headship and submission never began. It has existed eternally in the relationship between the Father and Son in the Trinity. It exists in the eternal nature of God himself.

Leslie Basham: That’s Dr. Wayne Grudem, helping us understand that biblical marriages are important. When you accept your role in marriage, you are reflecting the nature of the Trinity.

As the recent Trinitarian debate has shown, ESS/EFS/ERAS is simply not compatible with orthodox, confessional Christianity. I had hopes that CBMW would move to distance itself from the ESS teachings. When Owen Strachan resigned as President of CBMW, I hoped they would take the opportunity to bring in someone who was not a proponent of ESS. With the appointment of Denny Burk this week as Strachan’s replacement, it’s clear that they are not moving away from ESS. This is a shame and a wasted opportunity.

So here’s my argument:

  • CBMW defines complementarianism
  • CBMW leadership teach Eternal Subordination of the Son
  • Confessional Christians explain that ESS is contrary to orthodox, Nicene Trinitarianism
  • CBMW leadership (Owen Strachan) says there is room for both Nicene and ESS views of the Trinity within the complementarian movement
  • CBMW leadership/authors say ESS is the foundation of complementarianism
  • CBMW picks new president who also affirms ESS

Given these points, as a confessional, orthodox, Nicene Christian, I don’t believe the name complementarian defines me or my position on the Trinity or gender roles. We need a new name. We need a name that reflects our beliefs that

  • God made man: male and female in the image of God
  • In Christ, male and female are equal before God
  • Husbands are called to servant, sacrificial leadership of their wives, loving them as Christ loves the church
  • Wives are called to willing submission to their husbands, obeying them as the church obeys Christ
  • Ordination is restricted to qualified males in the church
  • Marriage is between one man and one woman
  • Men and women need each other and depend on each other (1 Cor. 11)

Earlier this week, I read Wendy Alsup’s post on nomenclature and doctrine. What she said really resonated with me and how I’ve been feeling for some time:

Many evangelicals claim the name complementarian. I have myself identified that way since the time I first became aware of the term about fifteen or so years ago. For many who identify as complementarian, they use it simply to mean that they are not egalitarian. They believe that Paul’s instructions to husbands and wives in Ephesians 5 and on male-only elders in I Timothy 3 transcend time or culture and remain relevant for today. However, I have come to realize that the term complementarian was coined by a group of people with a very specific agenda related to evangelical feminism. The outworking of some of their agenda has been seen in the recent debate on the Eternal Submission of the Son. I personally have some big differences with those who founded the conservative complementarian movement and would love for there to be a different word to identify non-egalitarians.

It’s time for a new name. Instead of saying, “I’m not that kind of complementarian,” we need a new name. So, let’s open up the discussion. What name would you choose?

A Year of Biblical Womanhood?

Recently, I read a twitter exchange between Wendy Alsup and Rachel Held Evans on Evans’ interpretation of Leviticus 15. Specifically the discussion started over whether the Bible actually teaches that women should live in a separate tent during their menstrual cycles. You can read much of the exchange as part of Alsup’s post on A Year of Biblical Womanhood (AYOBW).

The discussion intrigued me, and I started researching into both AYOBW and the Leviticus 15 passage that Evans used in her book. First, the description for AYOBW says:

What is “biblical womanhood” . . . really? 

Strong-willed and independent, Rachel Held Evans couldn’t sew a button on a blouse before she embarked on a radical life experiment—a year of biblical womanhood. Intrigued by the traditionalist resurgence that led many of her friends to abandon their careers to assume traditional gender roles in the home, Evans decides to try it for herself, vowing to take all of the Bible’s instructions for women as literally as possible for a year.

And here is what Evans says in her introduction about AYOBW and her methodology:

From the Old Testament to the New Testament, from Genesis to Revelation, from the Levitical code to the letters of Paul, there would be no picking and choosing. (AYOBW, xxi)

Evans states her purpose is “to take all of the Bible’s instructions for women as literally as possible.” She says that “there would be no picking and choosing.”

In April in her year of Biblical womanhood, Evans addresses the issue of the purity laws in the Old Testament. Using Leviticus 15:19 as her starting point, she lays out her plan of action. This includes camping out in a tent in the front yard during part of her cycle and not touching a man for 12 days.

Camp out in the front yard for first three days of impurity. (Leviticus 15:19) (AYOBW, 146)

And,

Throughout the twelve days, I was forbidden to touch a man in any way; no handshakes, no hugs, no pats on the back, no passing the salt (v. 19). (AYOBW, 165)

From a casual reading, given the reference in both of these quotes to Leviticus 15:19, a reader might think that in Biblical times women lived in a separate tent and were forbidden to touch a man because of their cycle. But what does the passage actually say?

When a woman has a discharge, and the discharge in her body is blood, she shall be in her menstrual impurity for seven days, and whoever touches her shall be unclean until the evening. And everything on which she lies during her menstrual impurity shall be unclean. Everything also on which she sits shall be unclean. And whoever touches her bed shall wash his clothes and bathe himself in water and be unclean until the evening. And whoever touches anything on which she sits shall wash his clothes and bathe himself in water and be unclean until the evening. Whether it is the bed or anything on which she sits, when he touches it he shall be unclean until the evening. And if any man lies with her and her menstrual impurity comes upon him, he shall be unclean seven days, and every bed on which he lies shall be unclean. (Leviticus 15:19-24 ESV)

To summarize, a woman was unclean (unable to participate in sacrifices and religious activities) for seven days during her cycle. Everything she sat or laid on would be unclean during that time. Anyone who touched her or anything she had sat/laid on would be unclean until that evening. And a man who “lies with her” during her cycle would be unclean seven days and also any bed he laid on would be unclean.

Notice that nothing is said about a woman living in a separate tent for the duration of, or any portion of, her “menstrual impurity.” It also doesn’t say that she is unclean for twelve days. And it doesn’t say that she is forbidden to touch a man or that a salt-shaker would become unclean if she touched it.

So, if it’s not in the Bible, why did Evans choose those things to follow in her year of Biblical womanhood? Evans explains in the introduction of AYOBW:

I took my research way too seriously, combing through feminist, conservative, and liberal commentaries, and seeking out Jewish, Catholic, and Protestant perspectives on each issue. I spoke with modern-day women practicing ancient biblical mandates in their own lives – a polygamist, a pastor, a Quiverfull daughter, and Orthodox Jew, an Amish grandmother. (AYOBW, xxii)

While Evans states that there would be “no picking and choosing” regarding what to follow from the Bible, she did pick and choose whose application of the Biblical instructions to follow. The mandate that she mustn’t touch a man for twelve days and even refrain from passing the salt-shaker came from her interactions with an Orthodox Jewish woman:

In communities where the taharat hamishpacha, or “laws of family purity,” are still observed, a husband and wife must avoid the slightest touch during a woman’s period. (AYOBW, 152)

As for sleeping in a tent for the first three days of her cycle, Evans picked that up from a popular novel about the life of Dinah, Jacob’s daughter. She does clarify at this point in AYOBW that there is no Biblical evidence of women living in separate tents during their monthly cycle:

At the more popular level, modern impressions of biblical menstruation are largely informed by the success of Anita Diamant’s best-selling novel, The Red Tent, an imaginative retelling of the story of Jacob’s family through the eyes of Dinah, the daughter of Leah. In The Red Tent, menstruation is portrayed as a time of rest, repose, and female bonding as the women of the house of Jacob gather together each month to mark the new moon and the arrival of their cycles beneath a secluded red tent. While many cultures use huts or tents for the purpose of secluding menstruating women, there is no solid biblical or archaeological evidence to suggest this happened among tent-dwelling family groups in the Bronze Age Mesopotamia, though it is certainly possible. Ahava called the entire book “nonsense,” but I read it anyway and loved it. (AYOBW, 154)

At the end of her month of following the purity laws, Evans writes that the lack of physical touch was difficult. She ponders the effect of such restrictions on women in difficult times, such as the loss of a baby:

No hugging after the birth of a baby? This seemed unreasonable, even cruel. I wondered about women who miscarried and whose blood represented a deeply painful loss. Could the law not be broken to offer them comfort? What kind of God would be offended by that? Orthodox Jews like Ahava adhere to the laws of family purity simply because they are taught in the Torah. (AYOBW, 153, emphasis added)

“What kind of God would be offended by that?” This is the question that Evans comes to, and this is the danger, I think, in Evans’ approach to what it means to live Biblically as a woman. In our culture, women have been conditioned not to make strong, doctrinal, theological, statements of fact. We are encouraged to filter such information through personal experience, to couch our words in softening terms, such as “I feel” or “In my experience.” The result is that women are not taught to appreciate the danger in “Did God really say?” (Gen. 3:1, ESV) type challenges.

The other danger is that we, as women, then have difficulty in separating critique of ideas from personal attacks. When women write about theology by way of experiences, to criticize the author is to criticize her as a person. And it shouldn’t be that way. Women should be taught how to be Berean and how to think critically about what authors and speakers are teaching. My critique here of AYOBW is in no way a criticism of Rachel Held Evans. I do not know her personally, and I’m sure she’s a perfectly lovely person. I have no animosity towards her in the least. But I do disagree with her methodology and conclusions.

Back to the the book, Evans’ asks “What kind of God would be offended by that?” Evans’ experiential approach has led her to draw conclusions about God and His law that don’t reflect what God actually said and what He required in the Old Testament laws. No hugging or touching a woman after the birth or loss of a baby is not in the Bible. It’s a hedge built around a law. God never said not to touch a woman who was bleeding. It only says that a woman was ceremonially unclean (unable to participate in sacrifices and in the tabernacle/temple worship) and that those who touched her or her bedding (things she sat on) would be unclean until evening.

What is interesting to me is that the same chapter in Leviticus also deals men and their discharges of fluid. A man with a discharge, either from disease/illness or natural bodily functions, was also unclean until evening or until the discharge stopped. His bedding was unclean too, and the uncleanliness could spread to anyone who touched him or his bedding. The passage goes on to say that a couple who have intercourse are unclean until evening:

If a man lies with a woman and has an emission of semen, both of them shall bathe themselves in water and be unclean until the evening. (Leviticus 15:18 ESV)

If the application of Leviticus 15:19 is that a woman cannot touch a man while she’s unclean, why isn’t the application of Leviticus 15:18, men don’t sleep with your wives? In the Biblical application of these laws, both men and women faced situations regularly which would make them unclean. But the Bible never says a woman can’t touch a man when she’s unclean. So to answer Evans’ question, “What kind of God would be offended by that?” Not the God of the Bible.

So moving away from experientialism, I want to consider the question Evans’ research should have lead her to. Why did the purity laws exist and what application do they have on us today as New Testament Christians?

First, the laws do not exist for us to create hedges around them so that we can attempt to keep them all by never getting close to disobeying them. Jesus warned about these extra-Biblical additions to the law, these Pharisaical burdens in Matthew 23:4:

 They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. (Matthew 23:4, ESV)

We know that no one could keep the law perfectly, no one except Jesus. And that is the answer to my question. The purity laws existed to set apart God’s people, to teach us about the pervasive nature of sin, and to show us our need for a Savior. The law should drive us all to our knees to say there is no way we could ever obey it all. Without Christ, there is no hope.

We need to understand that sin is not a little thing. Sin invades every aspect of our being, thoughts, actions, and words. We are by no means as bad as we could be. Thanks be to God for His restraining Hand. But sin contaminates us and makes us unable to come into the presence of a holy God. But God, in His great mercy, didn’t leave us in our sin and separation. He sent His Son to live for us, obey for us, die for us, and rise for us. Christ bridged the chasm between God and man, and now we can have peace with God. This is no small thing. We demean the work of Christ in our redemption when we treat sin lightly. God forgive us for failing to appreciate the magnitude of what Christ has done for us.

Ultimately, I think that Evans’ book is the result of the experientialism so common in the Church today. Despite her claims that she would follow the Bible’s instructions for women without picking and choosing, she does exactly that. She picks and chooses how to apply those instructions by deciding which extra-Biblical sources she will follow. She then draws conclusions about God and the Bible based on her experiences living “a year of Biblical womanhood.” These conclusions find fault with God and with the Bible instead of with her sources or her own interpretations. This is a very dangerous.

Women reading Evans’ book may come away with a distrust of the Bible and with animosity towards God for “requiring” things He never required. And that makes me very sad. There are plenty of hard sayings in the Bible that are difficult to understand. There are many passages that theologians and scholars have debated and will continue to debate. But the Bible is abundantly clear about those things that we have to know to be saved. And that is a great blessing, because Christ is the only Way to salvation, and the Bible is how Christ is revealed to us.

Instead of looking for ways to dismiss what the Bible teaches, we should all seek to understand what we must do to be saved and how we must live in light of our salvation. Without Christ, as revealed in the Bible, we are without hope in this life or the next.

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
(2 Timothy 3:16-17 ESV)