Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Authority and Legalism in the Church

I have just finished reading Wayne Grudem's Countering the Claims of Evangelical Feminism. Dr. Grudem is Research Professor of Bible and Theology at Phoenix, University and a founder of the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Grudem's book is eleven chapters long, but he spends only one chapter articulating his views of manhood and womanhood.

In that one chapter Dr. Grudem lays out 83--count them, eighty-three--things that women can or cannot do within a church, encompassing three areas: (1). Governing authority, (2). Bible teaching, and (3). Public visibility. I found Dr. Grudem's list of 83 do's and dont's more than a little bizarre. In the area of authority, Grudem says that a woman can never have any authority over men. Though Grudem says he has no problem with women exercising influence through voting as a member of the church,  a woman is never to have what Grudem calls governing influence in the home or church. Governing influence is reserved for men, for men are designed by God to lead, and women are designed by God to follow. The illustration Grudem gives to amplify the above principle is found on page 56, footnote 33:
There is a huge difference between exercising influence through voting and exercising authority through governing the congregation. To take an analogy, an-eighteen-year-old American can vote for president of the United States, but cannot be president of the United States, and authority residing in the office of president far exceeds the authority of any individual believer.
The analogy is revealing regarding Grudem's thoughts on women. The Constitution deems an eighteen-year-old to be unqualified to serve as President. Similarly, Grudem believes women are unqualified to lead men. The startling two-fold reason Grudem gives for a woman's inability to lead men is given on pages 38-39. Grudem writes:

(1). Because God gave Adam a leadership role when He created him first and Eve second, and (2). God gave men, in general, a disposition that is better suited to teaching and governing in the church (emphasis mine), a disposition that inclines more to rational, logical analysis of doctrine and a desire to protect the docrinal purity of the church, and God gave women, in general, a disposition that inclines more toward a relational, nurturing emphasis.
Grudem is just flat wrong on many fronts; biblically, historically and morally just to name a few. Biblically, a number of bible-believing, Christ-honoring scholars disagree with Grudem's faulty interpretations of the pertinent scriptural texts (search this blog's search engine with words like "authority," "women," and "gender equality" for examples). Historically, try telling Margaret Thatcher she lacks the 'disposition that inclines toward rational, logical analysis' and cannot lead men. Morally, Grudem is violating women by saying something untrue about them, somethng directly contradicted by Scripture itself (see Galatians 3:26-28).

But the point of this post is to reveal Grudem's legalism. If one rejects the biblical truth that both men and women image God, and if one insists that only men can lead and women should follow, and if one believes that women shall be eternally subordinate to men, then one must come up with a whole series of things that a women can and cannot do, a list that is extra-biblical in nature. In fact, the further you get away from Scripture, the more rules one must employ.

On the other hand, those who receive the simple biblical truth that men and women in Christ are equal in terms of spiritual authority and Kingdom ministry will find that no rules are needed.

"You shall know the Truth, and the Truth shall set you free."



Anonymous said...

Well, ol' Paul was a legalist a times then. He actually used lists on a couple of occasions as well. Pretty sharp too.

We usually dont mention those

Steve Martin said...

There's nothing wrong with Christian admonishment.

But rules so that we are made right with God? No.

"All things are lawful", St. Paul said. "But not all things are expedient".

Paul Burleson said...

When I read what Wayne Grudem and others are saying about women and authority in the Church, I'm reminded of the many in Baptist life who held that slavery was a biblical right and used certain passages [particularly Old Testament ones] to hold that position.

When some Christians disagreed with them those who held to slavery did two things generally. One, they trumpeted the passages they stood firm on as declaring their position to be biblically true and declared their interpretation to be the correct one.

Two, they declared that those Christians who disagreed with them were simply yielding to cultural preferences instead of accepting the infallible Word of God.

But their failure to properly exegete those passages eventually was seen by all.

Any Christian who acts mean-spirited toward those who disagree over issues such as woman and authority in the Church and tries to bully other Christians into believing a certain way, through intimidation with many words, would do well to remember our Christian history and the number of times we have wrongly interpreting the infallible Word of God and had to wind up admitting it.

Someone I read once said, "If you don't see yourself as possibly being wrong in your interpretations, you are precisely the kind of Southern Baptist that would have kept slaves and justified it by claiming God's "infallible, inerrant" Word condones it - without ever questioning that your interpretation could be wrong. A little humility and a great deal of love should characterize all of us as Christians when it comes to our interpreting the infallible Word of God."

I so agree.

Steve said...

Having grown up immersed in legalism I hate what it has done to my own heart/perspective, as well as to many others. I love the balance you show, and have wondered on many different occasions why there is such a quick "label and dismiss" mentality when two sides differ. It seems that we "conservative evangelicals" have never learned how to disagree honorably. And as Wade and others have pointed out, our history is long in 'getting it wrong' and taking forever to admit the wrong (actually this admission hardly ever happens).

Anyhow, I just received for Christmas a book entitled "Accidental Pharisee: Avoiding Pride, Exclusivity, and the Other Dangers of Overzealous Faith" by Larry Osborne (Zondervan). I have just begun reading this new book but it looks promising. John Fischer's book "12 Steps for the Recovering Pharisee (Like Me)" is also very good and one I've read multiple times -- deals with the heart.

While perhaps not directly related, I share these resources because I believe this is one of my (our) problems where we must strive to grow and mature -- to be able to claim the "trump card" of unity based upon our one Lord and baptism even when we disagree on other non-essentials. Too many times it appears that our unity in Christ is relegated to the lowest level and we demand "agreement" which is really a truly weak version of unity.

Wade Burleson said...


Loved your comment. I have found that they I can get along with people who need their lists, rules and guidelines, most of those who measure their Christianity by meeting these standards find it difficult, for whatever reason, to get along with me. :)They think I am in sin and wish to "confront" me. I think I am smack dab in the middle of Scriptural truth and will not bend. Impasse.

I'm just grateful that I happen to be pastoring a church that understands the New Covenant, true grace, and the freedom that comes in Christ.

Wade Burleson said...

Paul Burleson,


Victorious said...

I'm just grateful that I happen to be pastoring a church that understands the New Covenant, true grace, and the freedom that comes in Christ

As am I....

I might compare you to the Abraham Lincoln of the church.... smile...

btw, have you seen the movie yet?

Wade Burleson said...



The only thing I objected to was the use of God's name in vain (i.e. the "GD's") by Abraham Lincoln.

I am part of the Surratt Society, a field of experts on Lincoln and his assassination, and I have no primary source--not one--that ever presents Lincoln cursing. I know he may not have been a Christian until he became President and listened to his wife's pastor preach on Sundays from the pastor's balcony office, but even before his conversion, he was a very moral man and would never have dreamed of using God's name in vain--maybe a few hells or damns, but never a GD.

Victorious said...

I LOVED the movie as well. I thought Daniel Day-Lewis was excellent in his portrayal of Lincoln.

The passage of the 13th amendment at the end brought a few unexpected and involuntary tears to my eyes and most of the audience sat quietly for a few moments reflecting most likely.

The writer of this review found it to be pretty much historically accurate.

peter lumpkins said...


Hope you and your family had a gracious Christmas. We've had our differences for sure. But you raise concerns with views within the complementarian community reflecting growing reservations about which I personally must contend. While I agree with much of the complementarian's exegesis, I fail to follow them to many of their conclusions, some conclusions of which you mentioned in your piece. In short, their exegesis does not seem to support their extreme inferences. The complementarianism which now has evolved is hardly the complementarianism of 2 decades ago--at least in my circles...

With that, I am...

Aussie John said...


Spiritual sheriffs do like to polish their badges!

Between your article,and Paul's comment, you said it all.

Thank God for you both.

Bob Cleveland said...

In Old Testament times, God had women as judges, as prophets, as priests, and queens. My question would be what part of the advent of Jesus, and the coming and infilling of the Holy Ghost, would now women less able to serve in such positions now?

Lamar Wadsworth said...

Grudem's illustration that an 18 year old can vote for president but cannot be president is bizarre and fails the test of logic, since every president from Washington to Obama was once 18 years old. Grudem's hypothetical 18 year old, assuming he/she lives long enough, will reach the constitutional minimum age of 35. Grudem's 18 year old can't be president now but could be in a few years. Not unlike the II Timothy 2 restriction on women, clearly addressed to specific women who were teaching a gnostic heresy and a temporary restriction that exists only so long as the reason for it exists, until they can be taught sound doctrine.

Victorious said...

God gave men, in general, a disposition that is better suited to teaching and governing in the church (emphasis mine), a disposition that inclines more to rational, logical analysis of doctrine

Grudem's "list of 83".... so much for his God'given rational, logical analysis of doctrine.

Really, does anyone actually believe these things are supported by scripture? He embarrasses himself.

Jessica said...

Wade, I'm so grateful to read your writings because you tend to open my eyes to the realities of "feminine emotions" I was beginning to have as I spent time in churches that preach and teach Grudem's doctrine. I was beginning to "feel" that I was obsolete and limited by virtue of my Christian faith and femininity...something that I had NEVER felt prior to that point as a Christian.

Seeing that there's a list of 83 (as you said, count em, 83) things that Grudem says I shouldn't be doing, I'd say, "Congratulations, unreliable emotions. You were right! You ARE being limited in this church."

Thanks again for another enlightening and intelligent post, Wade.

Nathaniel Schmidt said...

Woww... 83 “rules” for what women can and cannot do? Let’s just be nice and legalistic and stick to the Ten Commandments only :-) (or not).

It would just seem easier to obey. Although I do agree with some of the conclusions Grudem makes in various places, this is just not right. A good lesson for all of us though: we can all do exactly the same thing in different areas.

Anonymous said...

Grudem's systematic theology, and the selected chapters on Jesus and the Spirit are excellent. We studied the later during the time leading up to Christmas. If you want your church to understand Jesus and his work, you cannot do better than the book on Jesus and the Spirit.

But when it comes to this topic, Grudem has laid an egg.

We don't have women elders at our church, and we find a NT basis for that. Beyond that, however, we have no rule and regulations.

The adoption of 83 rules and regulations does nothing to help the argument about male leadership. It actually undermines it, as Peter Lumpkins has noted.

We have people on various sides of this issue in our congregation. But the ones who call themselves complementarian, are all over this. They question why women can help distribute the elements for communion, why women can teach in Sunday School, why women can read scripture in church. Granted, there are only a couple of folks who have questioned this, but when they do, they always ask "Aren't we a complentarian church, and if so, we are not being complementarian?"

To which we respond - No. We are not a complementarian church for this very reason. When you adopt a name like that, you have to go whole hog, and you put yourself in a box.

We explain that our doctrinal statement doesn't mention the commands of complementarianism, so we don't feel obligated to follow them, nor do we find it is biblical.

We have actually made headway with some who have initially questioned our appraoch.

This is why we do not all ourselves "Reformed" "Conservative" etc. If you do that, you are setting yourself up for a big fat list of extra biblical rules.

And this has the very real potential of undermining the real biblical dictates that we should follow.

So, rush out and get the good stuff that Grudem has done. But leave this turkey of a book on the shelf.


A. Amos Love said...


You write - Thu Dec 27, 12:01:00 PM 2012...
“The only thing I objected to was the use of God's name in vain (i.e. the "GD's") by Abraham Lincoln.”

Since leaving “The Corrupt Religious System” of today I have a little
different take on His Disciples being called “Leaders.” (None did)

And a little different take on - “the use of God's name in vain” (the GD’s)

Ex 20:7
Thou shalt not take “the name” of the LORD thy God in “vain;”

“Name” in Thayers - shem - and means - honor, authority, character:
“Vain” in Thayers - shav’ - and means - idolatry, false, uselessness.

And goes along with - 2 Chron 7:14
If my people, *which are called by my name,* (honor, authority, character)
shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face
and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven,
and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.

Isn’t God asking those **which are called by my name,**
(called by - my honor, my authority, my character)
to humble themselves? Turn from their wicked ways?

Could “their wicked ways” be - being called by Gods Name today?
And - Who are those believers “called” by “God’s Name” today?

What about - Shepherds - Teachers - Leaders - Reverends - ?
Aren’t these **names** that God is called?

1 - God/Jesus is called - Shepherd
The Lord is my *shepherd.* Psalm 23:1.
...returned unto the **Shepherd** and Bishop of your souls. 1Pet 2:25.

2 - God/Jesus calls Himself - Teacher
... for “ONE” is your Teacher, the Christ...Mat 23:8 NKJV.
If I then, your Lord and Teacher... John 13:14 NKJV.

3 - God/Jesus is called - Leader
And do not be called leaders; for “ONE is your **Leader,** that is, Christ.
Mat 23:10 NASB.
God exalted him at his right hand as **Leader** and Savior...
Acts 5:31 ESV

4 - God/Jesus is called - Reverend
...holy and **reverend** is his name. Psalm 111:9 KJV

If my people, *which are called by my name,* (honor, authority, character)
Hmmm? What about - Shepherds - Teachers - Leaders - Reverends - ?
Aren’t these **names** that God is called?

Are they taking “God’s Name” in “Vain?” (as -idolatry, false, uselessness)

Is Jesus really concerened when an un-believer is spouting GD’s?

Or, is Jesus warning us about todays...
Paid - Proffessional - Pastors - in Pulpits - Preaching - to People - in Pews
Who take God’s Name... (honor, authority, character)
In Vain... (idolatry, false, uselessness.)

And come between Jesus and His Sheep?

In my experience...
“Titles” become “Idols” - (“Idols” of the heart Ezek 14:1-11)

Jesus... a name which is above every name...

Nicholas said...

Bob Cleveland, where in the OT do we get female priests?

Nicholas said...

Wade, Dee at TWW wrote an excellent post about Grudem's rules:

Nicholas said...

Grudem ranked leading singing as having more responsibility than counseling a woman.

KayJay said...

I have to say this (Grudem's list) makes me really angry. So glad I met Jesus as a young child and learned to know Him through His word before I was introduced to all the gender nonsense, otherwise, what woman in her right mind would want to be a "Christian" in these circles? Might as well be Mormon or Muslim. Oh yeah, I forget...we have the "correct" Jesus. *snark* Thanks, Wade, for bringing a needed breath of fresh air.

Mabel Yin said...

Nicholas: where in the OT do we get Gentile priests?