Charles Spurgeon began his message on the text "without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins" (Hebrews 9:22) with an illustration of three fools. The first fool, Spurgeon said, is the ship's captain who goes below deck during a ferocious storm to read an encyopledia on the nature of Atlantic winds rather than fighting to keep his ship afloat. The second fool is the wounded soldier on the battlefield who asks the arriving medic all kinds of questions about the size, shape and model of the gun that fired the bullet which wounded the soldier rather than asking the physican if his is able to heal him. The third fool is the religious person who is constantly arguing the subtle philosophical questions about the origin and nature of evil while ignoring the clear and certain truth that Christ's blood is able to cleanse his sins (Hebrews 9:14). Spurgeon said all three fools have one thing in common: They trifle with subtleties while they ignore certainties.
I would add a fourth person to Spurgeon's list. It is that Christian leader who turns the gospel of Jesus Christ into a gender gospel. Last week Tim Challies, pastor of Grace Fellowship Church, wrote a blog entitled Men, Women and the Public Reading of Scripture where he defended his view that only men, and never women, can read Scripture in front of men. Challies' view on this matter is based on what he calls the simple reading of I Timothy 2:11-12. Challies writes:
"It is my conviction that these words (i.e. "I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man" I Tim. 2:11) are meant to be read and understood in the simplest sense. Speaking with God’s authority, Paul is saying that women are not to exercise teaching authority over men. In other words, it is men who are charged with authority in the church and the most important component of this authority is to declare the words of God. Men have been called to exercise headship in the home and in the church while women are called to different and complementary functions."
I am accustomed to reading such nonsensical and isolated interpretations of I Timothy 2:11-12 from fellow Bible-believing pastors and theologians and I disagree sharply with them. However, I have not written much on the gender issue in recent months, believing as I do that the ungodly emphasis on gender distinctions within the church is destined to fail by virtue of the fact it is so anti-biblical and ultimately anti-Christian. But there was a comment in Challies' blog that caused me to flinch and placed in me a desire to write this post. A man in Challies' comment section wrote: God's design is for men to serve and women to receive. The commentor has summed up quite nicely the teaching of the false gospel that has infected some Bible-believing churches and seminaries. A reader of Dee Parson's and Wanda Martin's Wartburg Watch blog has begun calling it "the gender gospel."
Even though I may be dangerously close to violating the biblical precept 'answer not a fool in his folly," I feel a rebuttal to Challies' position is needed because there may be few naive and biblically unknowledgeable Christians who believe the teaching that "men are to serve, teach, lead, and women are to receive, listen and follow" is really from God. Nothing could be further from God's eternal truth.
The Absurdity of Promoting a Gender Gospel
Those who follow Challies' interpretation of I Timothy 2:11-12 are, in Spurgeon's term, "trifling with subtleties while ignoring certainties." The overwhelming New Testament teaching of the Bible regarding men and women in the church is clear and certain--"gender differences are irrelevant in the church of Jesus Christ." Class 101 in proper hermanuetics teaches that you always intepret difficult or isolated texts based on the certain and plain teachings of the rest of the Bible. God's people in the New Covenant are called to serve based upon the giftings given them by the Holy Spirit. "I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy" (Acts 2:17). The Apostle Paul says in Galatians 3:27-28 that "All of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus." Paul is emphatic that there is no room in the body of Jesus Christ for racial distinctions, no room for class distinctions, no room for gender distinctions. To forbid a woman to serve, read, lead, or teach (when men are present) is twisting the gospel of freedom in Christ into a gospel of bondage by gender. To restrict a Holy Spirit gifted and empowered woman from edifying other believers through the free exercise of her Spirit given gifts is to resist the Holy Spirit Himself--and qualifies as a very foolish act indeed. What is even more foolish and absurd, at least for Southern Baptists, is the fact that Condoleezza Rice, our 66th United States Secretary of State, spoke to the annual Southern Baptist Convention in 2006. The audience, predominately Southern Baptist men, stood and applauded when Condoleezza explained how we had bombed the Taliban terrorists in Bora Bora to hell. Thank the Lord she didn't actually read a Scripture text about hell. No telling what the SBC pastors might have done had such a blasphemy occurred in their presence.
An ancient Jewish prayer from the Hebrew Siddur (prayer book) went like this: "Blessed are you, Hashem, King of the Universe, for not having made me a Gentile. Blessed are you, Hashem, King of the Universe, for not having made me a slave. Blessed are you, Hashem, King of the Universe, for not having made me a woman." "Hashem" was a Jewish name for the one true God, a name used by Jews in the days of Christ. The same spirit ancient Jews possessed that caused them to believe that only men were created to lead, rule and serve and that women were born to receive, follow and and be there for men, is the same spirit now at work in more than a few evangelical leaders. Interestingly, the rise of the Siddur coincides with the glory of God departing the Temple of Jerusalem in the days of Ezekiel (see Ezekiel 10). Jewish Temple worship continued, but it was during this Spirit-less intertestamentable time period that you have the rise of the Pharisees, Sadducees, and other male only Jewish orders that were constantly focusing on male "authority," male "leadership," and male "power." A preoccupation and fixation on authority (whether it be conservative patriarchalism or liberal feminism), is a sign that the Spirit of God has departed. Jesus Christ explicitly forbids any one individual assuming authority over other adults in the Christian community (Matthew 20:20-28). In fact, after describing the imperialism of political rulers and the authority fixation of religious rulers, Jesus said to his disciples ... "It shall not be so among you" (Matthew 20:28). I would propose that any portion of the body of Christ that is placing emphasis on male leadership to the exclusion of female leadership (or vice-versa) is void of the Spirit of God.
The New Testament covenant of God's grace through faith in Jesus Christ totally turns the world's concept of authority on its ear. The world is concerned about position, power, authority, prestige, control, and ruling over others. Jesus Christ teaches His followers to serve, to love, to express their spiritual gifts to their fullest for the good of others, and to never fear what any person in so-called "authority" can do to them because "All authority ... has been given to Me" (Matthew 28:20). There is to be a mutual equality, respect, and submission within the home between husband and wife (Ephesians 5:21-33). There is to be a mutual equality, respect and submission of men and women toward one another in the body of Christ based upon the gifts that the Spirit gives to each male and female believer who has been baptized into Christ (Acts 2:15-21; Galatians 3:28). References to the churches' teaching ministry and other gifts are found in Romans 12, I Corinthians 12, and Ephesians 4 and not one of those passages excludes females from being recepients of any one of those gifts. Let me say that again in a different way. The gifts of the Spirit are never differentiated on the basis of gender in the New Testament -- ever.
But What About Paul's Teaching in I Timothy 2:11-12?
Any student of the Word who reads Paul's Timothy text and draws a conclusion that is contrary to the clear and certain teaching of the rest of the Bible, including Paul's other writings, is playing the fool by trifling with subtleties while ignoring certainties. "But," you shout, "These two verses tell all women everywhere to be SILENT in the presence of men, and to LEARN in SUBMISSION under them." No, kind sir, they don't. Not even close. Were that the case, these two verses would contradict everything the Apostle Paul has written in Galatians, Romans, I Corinthians, Ephesians and every other book he contributed to the New Testament, not to mention all the other books written by Peter, John, Luke, Matthew, and other early disciples of Christ. I have written a foreword to a book entitled What's With Paul and Women and would encourage you to take an afternoon to read Jon Zen's book, a detailed exposition and exegesis of these two Timothy verses. You will never again resist speaking out when you hear gender gospel preachers resist the Holy Spirit and restrict women in the home or the church by claiming for themselves ungodly positions of power and authority.
One of the advantages of being the pastor of a New Testament church where the Word of God is respected, believed, and practiced is that both men and women lead, serve, teach, and shepherd based upon their gifts. The concept of some raw position of power in "elders" is foreign to the New Testament. The word elder means "older." Look to your elders for wisdom. The notion of some raw authority in any office of pastor or elder is foreign to the New Testament. Every believer in Christ is a priest. There is no need for any other mediator other than Christ. Our church has a Leadership Team composed of both men and women. I am called the Lead Pastor. There is, however, no inherent authority in me. I serve people. I love people. I lead people only if they are willing to follow--and frankly, if I do a poor job of serving and loving, they ought not follow. One of these days the church of Jesus Christ is going to wake up to the fact that we have so twisted and corrupted the concept of authority and leadership that what we have abandoned the clear and certain teachings of the New Testament.
The ancient Jews kept women in the courtyard and placed a fence around the Temple grounds lest a woman feel compelled to enter the Holy Place. The sacred rituals were performed by male priests. The sacred services were led by male priests. Modern day conservative evangelicals and liberal feminists have absolutely violated the clear and certain teachings of Jesus Christ and seem to wish to resurrect the Old economy of Temple buildings, gender priesthoods, and religious rituals. Jesus abolished all that Old economy stuff in the New agreement. The Temple of God is no longer a building, it is the soul of a believer (see I Corinthians 6:19). The priests of God are no longer just male, they are both male and female (see Galatians 3:28). The rituals of God are no longer holy days, sacrifices, and feasts, but faith in Christ and love for God and our fellow man (see Colossians 2:16; John 13:3). The body of Jesus Christ is to make no distinctions in race, class and gender. The gospel of Jesus Christ is a gospel that sets the captives free to serve as the Holy Spirit gifts. To revoke the privilege of a gifted, believing woman from reading Scripture to men is to violate the clear and certain teaching of the New Testament and risk having the legalism and religious ritualism of Spirit-less religion that marked Temple worship after the days of Ezekiel and before the launch of the New Covenant. If conservative, Bible-believing, Christ-loving, Spirit-filled, graced people do not speak out when our conservative brothers move into error on this issue, then we become enablers of God's people as they turn the powerful gospel of grace into an impotent gospel of gender. God forbid that we continue to trifle with subtleties while we ignore certainties.
Grace and Truth,
P.S. It was my wife's and my privilege to meet these past few days with a couple of remarkable Christian women. Dee and Wanda of Wartburg Watch are from North Carolina. Wanda is graduated from Duke University with an English degree and Dee is a registered nurse. Both women also have an M.B.A. They are both married and have delightful adult children. Rachelle and I were thrilled to be able to spend some time with them. More than a few pastors and Christian leaders ought to listen to what they are saying.