Periodically Grace and Truth to You will offer a doctrinal post for debate and discussion. Many Southern Baptists have little endurance when it comes to doctrinal reading, and even less comprehension of how doctrine affects behavior. This apathy has far reaching consequences. For this reason I challenge you to carefully read the following article as it reveals a doctrinal debate within the Southern Baptist Convention that has direct consequences on our Convention’s attitude and behavior towards women. Let me repeat the last sentence for clarity: There is a current doctrinal debate within the SBC that directly affects our Convention’s attitude and behavior toward women in general.
The Arian Controversy
Arius was a Christian who lived and taught in Alexandria, Egypt (250-336 AD). He became the leading proponent of a heretical teaching that would later be identified with his name. Arianism is the belief that God the Father and the Son did not exist together equally and eternally, but that Jesus was created by God the Father and is eternally subordinate to the Father. In plain English, Arianism teaches Jesus is inherently inferior to God the Father.
Some Christians wrongly confuse Arianism with Aryanism. The latter is the belief that the original speakers of the Indo-European languages and their descendants up to the present day constitute a distinctive, superior race. Hitler was an Aryan, but not an Arian. Aryanism is a belief in human racial superiority. Arianism is a belief in divine patriarchal hierarchy.
In 325 AD, Christian leaders gathered in the city of Nicaea (modern day Iznik,
Turkey) and debated the doctrine of the Trinity. The Council of Nicaea convened on May 20, 325 AD with around 300 pastors present to discuss the Arian Controversy. After meeting for a solid month, these pastors issued on June 20, 325 AD what we now call The Nicene Creed.
The Nicene Creed is the clearest and most accepted statement on the divinity of Christ in the history of the church. The Council declared that the Father and the Son are of the same substance and are co-eternal, believing this to be the biblical and traditional Christian teaching handed down from the Apostles. The Nicaea Council believed that Arianism destroys the unity of the Godhead, and makes the Son unequal to the Father, in contravention of the Scriptures ("The Father and I are one" John 10:30). The Council of Nicaea ended with the pastors declaring Arius and his followers heretics.
A Resurging Semi-Arianism in the Southern Baptist Convention
The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood is composed of many Southern Baptists who are introducing to evangelicalism a novel, if not peculiar, view of Christ which has more in common with Arianism than the historic, orthodox view of Christ’s person. The theologians and teachers who write for the CBMW are teaching what they call “the eternal subordination of the Son to the Father” as a basis for their hierarchal view that the female is to be subordinate to the male. Women’s subordination to man, according to the teachings of CBMW, is not a consequence of sin or a reflection of cultural values, but is built upon the heirachical order God established before the fall as a reflection of the Trinity.
In other words, the man can be equated to God the Father. The woman can be equated to God the Son. Just as the Son is eternally subordinate to the Father, so the woman is to be eternally subordinate to the man. For this reason, the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood proposes that God’s unchanging ideal is the permanent subordination of women.
While there is no denial that there are differences between men and women, to base the “subordination” of women to men on the alleged eternal subordination of the Son to God the Father borders on an Arian view of the nature of Christ. The very word “ordination means “to order by virtue of superior authority.” To say Christ is “subordinate” to the Father means he has lesser (sub) authority, lesser (sub) superiority, lesser (sub) ordination.
There is a great deal that will be said in the Southern Baptist Convention and the evangelical world as a whole in the coming months and years about the role of women in society, the church, and the home. Sadly, there is a tendency for those who hold to the hierarchical view of a man’s authority over women to label those who disagree with them as liberal. They refuse to let a woman teach Hebrew to men because of her lesser authority, and call "liberal" those who disagree with them. They refuse to allow a woman to hold a supervisor’s position in the International Mission Board because of her need to be subordinate to men, and call "liberal" those who disagree with them. They advocate women staying out of the work force because of their subordination to men in society, and call "liberal" those who disagree with them. Women are viewed and treated as the “lesser” in terms of “authority” when compared to men, and he who dares disagree with them is considered "liberal."
It’s time for conservative, evangelical Bible-believing Christians who believe in the equality of men and women to realize that the great error in this debate is not a denial of the sufficiency, authority and infallibility of the Word of God by those who hold to gender equality, but rather, the great error in this debate is the promotion of semi-Arianism by those who wish to force their hierachical views of male authority upon the church, the home and society.
Peter Schemm, a member of the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, argues that there is room within Christian orthodoxy for the belief in "the eternal subordination of Christ." He argues that people like Giles (and me) who oppose "eternal subordination" and view it as semi-Arianism are simply speaking too harshly for "there is room for both views within evangelicalism." It is ironic that those who have an affinity for calling conservative evangelicals who disagree with them "liberal" are now proposing tolerance and acceptance of their unique views of the Trinity. I do believe that we should accept our brothers (and a few sisters) in Christ who are arguing for "eternal subordination," and we should always treat them with Christian love and respect, but we should never be shy to challenge their unorthodox views of the Trinity.
Arius lost the debate in 325 AD, and I predict semi-Arianism will eventually be on the losing side of this current debate.
In His Grace,