Wednesday, September 05, 2012

The Issue Is Authority: Reasons Why Complementarianism and Feminism Are Fungi Harming the Kingdom

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.


Anonymous said...


You said "When we sat down for a Bible study in preparation for our retreat, the issue for us was the gender of the teacher, nor the so-called 'authority' of the teacher. The issue for us was "is she gifted to teach, and is she using her gift under the anointing of the Holy Spirit." The answer to both our questions was a resounding yes."

I believe you may have omitted a key word in the first sentence. Did you mean to write "the issue for us was NOT the gender of the teacher"

Love the post.

JW said...

intriguing post Wade. There is a real war going on in this area and, like politics, it is very heated between those who are traditional and those who are more progressive. Only since I took a women's studies class in college did I begin to somewhat understand the fight and battle with feminism in this country and then also as it involved the religious arena as well.


Joe Blackmon said...

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 accurately interpreting Paul's statement in I Timothy 2:15.

Sorry, noticed you had a typo there. Just trying to help. :-)

Anonymous said...


One thing we surely need in this country is some balance!

Some, in trying to resist unlawful authority, overstep and resist ALL authority.

And some, in trying to restore the authority given in the Bible overstep and try to become all about authority--and of course, somehow God always appointed him or her to the position:)

I so appreciate the focus being on the authority of God, the giftedness He bestows, and the equallity of all believers.

It really isn't a male female battle.

It really is some trying to bring back the intermediary priesthood over the believer.



Victorious said...

Interesting comparison...I've not heard the term “feminism” used among Christian women referring to themselves; only by complimentarians who use it in the most negative manner to elicit fear of the “enemy.” lol

In spite of the negative connotations, women have much to thank “feminists” for:

-Women have the right to an education
~Women have the right to own property
~Women have the right to not be beaten or raped by their husbands
~Women have the right to vote
~Women are credible witnesses
~Women's health issues are now taken more seriously and not a 'figment of their imaginations.'
~Women can now chose the number of children they will have- or even none at all

Dorothea Dix's single-handed efforts changed the practice of warehousing the mentally ill in prisons resulting in the creation of institutions where they were treated with standards of basic humaneness.

Lucretia Mott in 1837 would attend the First Anti-Slavery Convention for American Women and would receive a lot of harsh criticism for speaking out to people that were both men and women

There are many other feminists who suffered greatly in their quest for social justice and not for their own selfish gain, but rather for the well-being of others.

If I am referred to as a Christian feminist, I gladly bear the title and make no apologies for my efforts on behalf of the mistreated and oppressed.

Also of interest...I only hear the word “giftings” used relative to women, but never as a criteria for men in the ministry.

Eric said...

Excellent post, Wade. You're absolutely right about so much of today's church being distracted from the true priorities of the church by these issues that are purely divisive in nature.

Wade Burleson said...


You must have been one of the first to read the post! :)

I caught the typo after only ten people had read it. :)

Wade Burleson said...


Thanks for the help! Laughing.

Wade Burleson said...


My intent was not to insult feminists or complementarians. My intent was to challenge feminists and complementarians to put their focus on serving others as they are empowered by the Spirit and the gifts He gives.

Too many people in both camps are making gender an issue.

Victorious said...

Thanks, Wade, that may not have been your intent and as I know your heart, I'm convinced that's the case.

However, my point was that in placing feminists (secular or Christian) in the same camp as comps (as having a detrimental effect on the body of Christ), it does seem to minimize the importance of their intent. I don't know Christian feminists who want more than what the gospel offers. We wouldn't expect less, for example, from our African American sisters (and brothers) would we? And would we refer to their concerns as being divisive? Or being referred to or compared to "fungi" that's harming the Kingdom? I think not.

As I see it....forgive me if I sound harsh, but being labeled as divisive is getting old. It's actually the Pharisees who are divisive imho.

Headless Unicorn Guy said...

Back in the Seventies there was this satirical(?) SF novel by Norman Spinrad called A World Between. I only read a teaser excerpt in Omni, but this is what I remember of it:

The situation was a colony world isolated among the stars where there was no faster-than-light travel. There was such a thing as Interstellar War, fought by propaganda and media to recruit and indoctrinate local planetary populations to fight the war by proxy.

This isolated colony world had an egalitarian society -- male and female were equal both under the law and by cultural tradition. And one of the Interstellar Wars comes to their world.

The two warring powers are "The Transcendental Scientists", whose Ideology is Total Male Supremacy (to the point they have exterminated everything female and reproduce by cloning) and "The Femocrats" whose Ideology is Total Female Supremacy (with males kept only as lobotomized sperm donors for reproduction).

Ideological Warfare teams from both factions make planetfall simultaneously and start their Propaganda War to Prosletyze males and females in the planetary population. To The Death.

And the world is caught in the middle.

Wade Burleson said...


I understand. I think you may have a point.

I would hasten to add that I have many friends who are complementarians and a few friends who are feminists. I found all of them wonderful people.

It is their view of authority that is warped, in my opinion. :)

Unknown said...

1 Timothy 2:12 surely has been an abused scripture particularly as it relates to the SBC.

I often if the folks in the pews really know what the plan is for some for the women of the SBC.

Anonymous said...

First you say:

"this new fungus penetrates the brain and eventually kills the ant."

Then you say:

"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."

So those who are complimentarians are killing people by teaching (espousing things that form the killing fungus) a line of authority in the home and church?

Is this an biblical subject you would consider tertiary? If so, why castigate people with comments like you are doing? If not, then can you explain how this is not tertiary?


Anonymous said...

"Too many people in both camps are making gender an issue."

I guess we can stop this when the bible stops this.

Too many people are trying to make this an equality issue when it really has nothing to do with equality but God's way of setting things in working order in the home and the church.


Unknown said...


I am sincere when I ask if one goes word for word by 1 Timothy 2:12--how do you put in place she is to be in silence.

Also how do you interpret 1 Timothy 2:15?

Unknown said...


Just really have to laugh when if we are to believe Joe who does not agree with you on these issues has to come over and read what you wrote. Smiley face.

Wade Burleson said...


It is churches that are dying, not people.

It is a generation that is dying to the things of God, not people.

It is revival in the heart that is dying, not people.

In other words, what is being killed is spiritual life the way it was meant to be lived. What is taking its place is religous traditionalism, human authoritarianism, and extra-biblical legalism.

When the Spirit sets you free to love and serve, you are free indeed.

Unknown said...


You said to Ben:"What is taking its place is religous traditionalism, human authoritarianism, and extra-biblical legalism."

I totally agree and have and continue to believe this will be the ruin of the SBC if the powers to be do not wake up.

Anonymous said...


I'll be glad to put together how I see it contextually and get back to you. This being one of the most difficult verses to explain, I want to write it all out and make sure I have it saying what I mean. Being mid-week it may not get finished until Monday. If you would like me to do this and you commit to come back and discuss it, I will begin working on it. You let me know.

To throw a hint out, I do not see the word "Saved" as meaning from sin for salvation. More on that next week, if you so choose to honestly and politely discuss this.


Anonymous said...

"When the Spirit sets you free to love and serve, you are free indeed."

Here's the problem. (1) We disagree on this subject, with you taking the definition of complementarians much further, maybe harsher is a better word to use, further than I would. (2) You are gracious sounding with words of hopeful kindness which are not found with a tint of love when read by those like me. (3) I am free indeed, more than you could ever imagine. in Christ. Serving and loving others without putting out kind words of what comes across as false and insincere.

I think it best if you not think of people like me (complimentarian) as someone who has not been set free in the Spirit of God because we disagree on this subject. Such is beneath you.


Wade Burleson said...


Good word.

Thanks for the kind rebuke.

Please know that I do not think of you as one whom the Spirit has not set free.

One thing I have learned about myself is this: I get along with everybody, but when I see people push hard against people who disagree with them--even questioning their commitment to Scripture and allegience to the gospel (as the men I mentioned in this post have done)--I push back hard.

For others, like yourself, who seem very gracious to those who disagree, I apologize. I would be honored to have you as a friend, because I see your love for Christ, your allegience to Scriptures, and though we disagree on this issue and Landmarkism, I know you would hold me in the same esteem.

Anonymous said...

'One of these days real revival will come to America."

I predict it will include Chinese women who labored in the undeerground church, were imprisoned and kept the faith. They did not see gender when they were witnessing and teaching. They saw Christ.

Anonymous said...

Sorry Ben, But perhaps you should be concerned that guys like Driscoll, Mahaney, Piper, Burk, Mohler, etc, make this a salvic issue.

Tom, Ben might actually believe that 1 Tim 2 teaches that women must bear children to be saved because mothering is their "role". I have heard this from quite a few SBC preachers in my time. I once even heard it after we took up a Lottie Moon offering. The irony was thick.

Anonymous said...

"Too many people are trying to make this an equality issue when it really has nothing to do with equality but God's way of setting things in working order in the home and the church."

I call this phallic symbol Christianity. The man can be a repobate but becasue he possesses the phallic symbol, he is the "spiritual leader". God's order is about private parts?


The scripture really teaches mutuality. Lots of one anothers in there and a horrible interpretations.

Read Jesus to understand Paul. In fact, based upon comps interpretations, Joanna in Luke 8 was in terrible sin.

Ramesh said...

I call this phallic symbol Christianity.


Have a Penis? Check. Become a boss or authority figure at Church and Home. I guess work places are exempt unless it is a Church.

Ramesh said...

BTW, my parents are Hindus. They worship Lord Shiva. His idol is a phallic symbol. I do not belittle my parents, for they are devout Hindus, and they do worship this idol daily with prayers and offerings. I did not realize Christians are also like Hindus in this matter.

Ramesh said...

Don'r argue that Christians do not worship the phallic symbol. For the Christians here have made it a "status" symbol. Have Penis? Become a covering for a woman or boss or authority figure at home and church.

Laura said...

Wade, I'd like to say first that I appreciate you very much.

I think people use the word "feminist" about as imprecisely as they do "complementarian". I've read a lot of feminist stuff on the internet, and in real-life books; some of it really radical; and I've never seen it expressed that women ought to have authority over men just because of their genders. Even the rad-fems who assert that women ought not to stay at home to raise their kids don't say that. But I've seen complementarians assert that that is what feminists want. Then when you question why a woman who is a gifted teacher, such as the one you described, can't teach men, YOU MUST BE ONE OF THOSE FEMINISTS.

I don't know if there is a consensus definition of feminism. I've seen it described as "women are people too". That seems facile and overly obvious but when you get down to nuts and bolts it's really not. Back when Sodini shot those women at the gym I asked my husband if he thought Sodini was probably mentally ill as opposed to just an evil person, and if so what kind of illness it was, and he said that "homicidal maniac" worked for him. But then I asked him why he thought Sodini did what he did, and my husband sighed, and then he said:

"Much as it pains me to agree with the people on the left, there is an idea out there that women are things to be acted on. You see it all over TV and the media. Sodini had a grievance he wanted to express, and he viewed women as things he could use to express himself."

That is the kind of thing that feminism is up against. Not Sodini, because he was kind of a bolt out of the blue, but the concept my husband was talking about that would make him think what he was doing was rational.

In church this may play out as men do things and women look on, or men lead and women submit to being led.

Anonymous said...

Pastor Burleson,

Thank you for this. I have felt humiliated in my own church when these passages are shared from the pulpit. To have someone who claims to be my brother in Christ speak of me as someone who is easily deceived and, therefore, can have no credibility when it comes to sharing the Gospel has been more discouraging than I can express.

The part that gets me is, apparently, I can teach my deceptions to women, though. If men are "called by God to be Spiritual Leaders," shouldn't they be protecting women from the deceptive teaching of other women? The whole thing is insulting, divisive and senseless. Most of all, it hurts the Kingdom. My hands are tied in my local church body and it's killing me.

It's good to know there are pastors like you who celebrate all Christians using their talents and gifts for His glory. I hope to find a pastor like you one day.

For now, I'm making time to serve in a parachurch organization in my local community. It's amazing how when you are reaching out to those in need, they don't seem to care what gender you are. Maybe the modern church has become numb to its own neediness.

All the best,


Wade Burleson said...

Thy Peace, Laura and Sooz,

All great insights and comments. I wish you all could be members of the church where I serve.

Laura said...

I wish I could too. I've been wishing that.

Pam said...

Sooz - I love your comment, and I've wondered that myseld. It really does seem contradictory to allow the 'easily deceived' to teach the 'deceived and naive' (i.e. women and children). There's some cognitive dissonance in holding the opinion that women can't be trusted to teach men while at the same time encouraging them to teach children and each other.

Anonymous said...


Thank you. It's a comfort to know I'm not alone in this. For years, I thought I was either going crazy or in "a season of rebellion."

After reading this specific article from Pastor Burleson, I am personally convicted about the bitterness that has been building up in me. Those who disagree with me are still my brothers and sisters in Christ and when I set my hurt feelings and pride ahead of loving my neighbors, that really is rebellion.

I need to bring my emotional pendulum back to the proper middle ground when it comes to interacting with the body of Christ. It's about love, not fairness. I'm learning, even when the lessons are tough.


Unknown said...


You said to me:"Anonymous said...


I'll be glad to put together how I see it contextually and get back to you. This being one of the most difficult verses to explain, I want to write it all out and make sure I have it saying what I mean. Being mid-week it may not get finished until Monday. If you would like me to do this and you commit to come back and discuss it, I will begin working on it. You let me know.

To throw a hint out, I do not see the word "Saved" as meaning from sin for salvation. More on that next week, if you so choose to honestly and politely discuss this.


Thanks, Ben, but I will not ask you to go to all that work. I would be really interested in how you interpret 1 Timothy 2:12, the 2nd half of the verse dealing with the silence of women.

Aletheia said...

Wow. Wade, thank you, again-

"Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the saints...” Philemon 7

What a powerful image, shocking in it’s spiritual import. I have a mare...I named “Autumn Rain”...who, because of the area that she has been grazing, has a cough, that is affecting her breathing, and lungs, that I had only just decided must be due to “fungus.”

“'s what they teach that forms the fungus that is detrimental and ultimately dangerous to the people of God...”

Beautiful, Wade.

I had just been meditating on Luke 19 and 20, where Jesus cleanses the temple. What was meant to be a “house of prayer,” (instead of the rebukes in Isaiah of those “loving to slumber” and “turning to their own ways”)...what was meant to be a place where the priests are “clothed in salvation and the poor would be “satisfied” with bread”...Psalm 132:15-16...has become a “den of “robbers.” But it wasn’t simply the “money-changers,” but the chief priests, scribes, principal men of the people, and elders. (Luke 19:47, 20:1) And then Jesus continues to illucidate to those who question His authority, “When the time came, he sent a servant to the tenants so that they would give him some of the “fruit” of the vineyard. But the tenants beat him and sent him away empty-handed...” Likewise, they continue to beat and treat servants “shamefully,” sending them away emptyhanded, some they “wound” and “cast out.” But even “the Son” not respected, but killed.

The servants...and Christ...did not find “fruit” when they came to such places...but were “beaten” and “killed.” the impact of “fungus.” It is not, cannot be life-giving. Thank you...for the life-giving cup of cold water.

Anonymous said...


That is what I was proposing. I don't think such a verse should be interpreted quickly or off the cuff. This verse is too difficult and too deep to handle in such a manner.

I'll still will put something together as I truly want to know.


Anonymous said...

"when I see people push hard against people who disagree with them--even questioning their commitment to Scripture and allegience to the gospel (as the men I mentioned in this post have done)--I push back hard."

So you do to them what you dislike them doing to others? I am not trying to be argumentative but really figure this out in a manner which represents Christ. I am not convinced that what you describe does. I am doing a study on suffering and just went through Psalm 119:65-71 and Romans 8:18. I read the beatitudes and can't justify such a position as you take.

One of the reasons I post so little is because it is difficult to carry on a discussion with so much mud slinging. I prefer to leave that to the politicians since I can't do anything about it as I am not a part of their conversations.

Examples would be comments on this thread which show no desire to speak to each other on the subject.

These are the stamp dates:

Wed Sep 05, 06:15:00 PM 2012

Wed Sep 05, 06:19:00 PM 2012

Then this last one goes on to a few other comments which, to me, are sickening.

I know some say don't read certain comments. Maybe it is better if, someone such as me, would rather deal with subject matter, go to somewhere where it remains that way for most of the conversation.


Wade Burleson said...

Ben, why did Jesus take a whip to the Pharisees and give a cup of cold water to an adulterer?

If Jesus treated some people differently, and did things He normally is not known to do (a whip, lashing out), then I'm not so sure there is a time and a place to push back hard--even though I don't like doing it generally.


Beth Duncan said...

Hmm, I've come to see that pastors and teachers are not so much authority as much as people who have gifts in those areas to help us grow. I do, however, consider myself a Christian feminist because I feel that women who have these gifts should be as able to exercise them as much as men. Maybe a different term applies to us women who feel this way? :-p

Wade Burleson said...


I understand.

Please know that I only use the word "feminist" in the way my conservative evangelical friends use it.

Words do have meaning, and in the manner you define feminist and the way in which you exercise your gifts, you use the word in a totally different way than I'm using it my post. - The good way! :)

Unknown said...


The point I am trying to make about 1 Timothy 2:12 is that the SBC uses the first half of this verse to not allow women to have certain positions, but completely ignore the 2nd half of this verse because IMO they do not know what to do with it.

Ramesh said...

The truly sickening thing is the shackling of HALF the body of Christ and deprive them of their Spirit leading to function fully in the body of Christ. I do have to say majority of the evangelicals have no compunction of describing women's body parts and the forceful intervention of the government into women's body parts, but the bare mention of men's body parts becomes objectionable.

Anonymous said...


"the 2nd half of this verse because IMO they do not know what to do with it."

As I work on this passage can you share how you interpret it? A good resource of what you think could be very helpful.


Richard said...

Dear Mr Burleson

We have never met and I suspect that barring a mutual love of Christ and speaking English we should find that our experience and histories have little in common. I have never previously felt moved to comment on your blog, but have often read it with great interest. But I wanted to thank you for your blog and in particular this post. Your paragraph about seeing leadership as a noun of privilege rather than a verb of service was one of the clearest and most compelling articulations of the failings of complementarianism (beyond its obvious disingenuity) that I have read. It is profoundly helpful to me.

Thank you.

aletheia said...

To clarify-

I thanked you for a cup of cold mentioned giving a cup of cold water to an adulterer...

I've only ever known my husband. To deal with "little foxes that destroy." :-)

But I agree with Richard. I am reading Ezekiel this morning, "They have oppressed the poor and needy, and have extorted from the sojourner without justice."

Ramesh said...

Wiki > Lingam

Elena Johnston said...

Well said.