The picture to the left is of a Brazilian ant with a fungus growing on its antennas. National Geographic reports that this new fungus penetrates the brain and eventually kills the ant. According to scientists, this fungus takes over the mind of the ant (I didn't know the ant had a mind), and for this reason, it is called "a mind-control fungus." In this post, I am proposing that there are two fungi that do similar things to people who love Christ and are part of His kingdom. The two fungi in question are complementarianism (patriarchy) and feminism. Let me be clear about what I am saying: The people who are Christian complementarians and Christian feminists are not the fungi--it's what they teach that forms the fungus that is detrimental and ultimately dangerous to the people of God. Complementarianism and feminism have much in common. Let me illustrate.
I like Denny Burk. I don't know him, but I can tell by what he writes that he loves Christ. Yet he, John Piper, Wayne Grudem, and a host of other evangelical men seem to be trying to make the gospel hinge on whether or not Christians believe men should lead women and women should follow men. They remind me of radical Christian feminists. Both groups misunderstand kingdom authority.
Complementarians wish for men to have spiritual authority and for women to not usurp men in their God-given role of authority. Feminism wishes to push women into positions of spiritual authority. The problem with both groups is their unbiblical view of authority. Both groups see ordained clergy, be they priests or pastors, as a separate class of people who possess special positions of authority. To a complementarian and a feminist, words associated with leading others spiritually (words like pastor, shepherd, etc...) are nouns conveying positions of special authority and honorary status instead of verbs characterizing spiritual abilities and humble service. To both groups, the ekklesia has become an instution in need of control rather than a body in need of care.
This dysfunctional view of spiritual authority by complementarians and feminists is the antithesis of the teachings of Christ on the subject. Christ inaugurated a kingdom where nobody seeks a position or title of authority, but where everyone is interested in lovingly serving other people out of one's personal spiritual giftedness and the Holy Spirit's anointing. Jesus specifically taught that leadership in the church flows from selfless service in conjunction with spiritual giftedness (Mark 10:42-43). If a Christian is gifted to teach by God, then he or she should teach. If a Christian is gifted to prophesy, then he or she should prophesy. If a Christian is gifted to lead, then he or she should lead. It honors Christ when a man or a woman understands his or her gifts and uses them for God's glory and the good of others.
Let me give an example. A couple of weeks ago our pastoral staff was preparing to go on a two-day staff retreat. We had a special guest from Dallas Theological Seminary with us the day before we left. She is a Th.M. graduate of Dallas and has the gift of teaching. A couple of hours before we left, I asked this young lady to teach the men on our staff (including me) from the Word of God. She taught from the gospels and chose the passage where Peter saw Jesus walking on water and got out of the boat to go meet Jesus. Her style was inductive and Socratic. Her gift of teaching was evident as she brought us face to face with the fear of failure. We left for our staff retreat and over the next two days, all the guys wanted to talk about were the lessons we learned from our teaching session with this young lady. When we sat down for the Bible study prior to our retreat, the issue for us was not the gender of the teacher, nor the so-called 'authority' (or lack thereof) of the teacher. We were simply being edified by the giftings of a fellow believer as she exercised her spiritual gifts under the anointing of the Holy Spirit.
I recently read where someone wrote: "I cannot understand how anyone can read the Bible and say, “I do not permit a woman to teach or have authority over a man” really means, “I DO permit a woman to teach and have authority over a man.” This person was interpreting Paul's statement in I Timothy 2:15 and coming to the conclusion that any Christian who loves the Bible would never have a woman teach a man or put a woman in leadership 'over' men in the church.
I scratch my head when I read something like the above from Christians who should know better. We have dozens of illustrations in the New Testament of women teaching men (Priscilla, Anna, Philip's four unmarried daughters, and many, many more) and dozens more illustrations from both the Old Testament and the New Testament of women leading men. Those of us who believe the Bible know that Paul would not contradict what has already been established in the kingdom of Christ.
So how do we understand Paul? It's simple. Paul was addressing Timothy about a problem with a specific woman who was teaching error to another man (most likely her husband). Timothy had written to Paul for help, and Paul's response is clear - "I do not permit THAT woman to teach and have authority over a man." There are times when problems in the ekklesia have to be addressed, and Timothy was to address the problem of this woman teaching error. The problem was not that this woman was teaching; the problem was that she was teaching eggregious heresy. Because of the errors being taught by this woman, Paul was concerned for her salvation (I Timothy 2:15). He told Timothy that this woman should be forbidden from teaching. For one of the best textual, exegetical and practical interpretations of I Timothy 2:12-15--an interpretation that is consistent with the rest of the New Testament teaching--I direct you to Cheryl Schatz.
One of these days real revival will come to America. But it will only happen when we repent of our unnecessary and gospel distracting emphasis on gender, as illustrated in both complementarianism and feminism and religious traditionalism. I would encourage all my friends who shepherd God's people to focus more on serving and empowering people to fulfill their calling according to their spiritual gifts and the Spirit's anointing. God forbid we get distracted by the pagan focus on titles and positions of authority.