Monday, April 17, 2006

Women in Brethren Churches

In January The Brethren Assemby News published for comment a document on Women in the Brethren Churches and I was asked to respond. At first, I felt that I would only offend if I did respond but I later came to understand that the request was genuine.

First, I would like to commend the authors of this document for making it clear that women are not inferior by nature to men. In this document women are recognized as receiving the same spiritual gifts as men and special mention is made of the 'priesthood of all believers.' #6 in particular, is an affirmation that celebrates the role of women in relationship to Christ.
    #6 The Bible teaches the significance of women in the life and ministry of Jesus in that they were friends, supporters and followers (Luke 8:1-3; John 4:1-42; John 20:1-18). It is notable that women were the last at the cross and that the resurrected Lord appeared first to women.

In #16, many of the teachings are summarized. I believe that (1) is within marriage and is of a private nature. Then (2) is the teaching that I am most familiar with. It is a very traditional teaching and I will not argue with it today. (4) is commendable. Now read this paragraph and note (3).

    16. The four over-riding Biblical principles in this issue, in no particular order, are that of (1) "headship" (I Corinthians 11:3-16), (2) "orderliness in the meetings of the church" (I Corinthians 14:40), (3) the responsibility of men to lead and women to respond to that leadership (Ephesians 5:21-24), and (4) the gifting by the Holy Spirit of all believers alike for mutual building up of the body of Christ (I Timothy 2:11ff).

If, as (3) says, it is the responsibility of women to respond to male leadership why did women remain last at the cross, and why did women go first to the empty tomb?

I would be interested in hearing where in the Bible this teaching that women have the responsibility to respond to male leadership is found or even an example is given. In the Bible women respond to God, to Christ and to angels. They relate to God in the same way men do, directly.

If a male is in a legitimate leadership position, then one must believe that either all Christians under his responsibility must respond to him, or none at all. There cannot be a differential in the responding of women and men. That would cause very innapropriate behaviour if women all responded to one man's teaching, leadership and 'strength' (as John Piper puts it) but their husbands did not, because it was not explicitly their responsibility to do so. How would the husbands feel?

If women are only responsible to respond, then who would tell women missionaries who have initiated work without male companions that they have gone byond their biblical responsibility and not remained within their boundaries?

Or is it only when men are around that they must be responded to? Is a woman on her own capable of responding to God, but a woman in the company of a man not capable of this? This two tier system is difficult to disentangle. If women are capable of responding to God on their own, then is it to meet the needs of men that women must respond to them. Is that taught in the Bible?

I do not think that this phrase found in #16 (3) is Biblical. It would be better left out entirely. It is an important teaching in complementarianism and it is one reason that I am committed to demonstrating that complementarianism is not Biblical.

Ultimately, I do not perceive of this teaching as a traditional Brethren teaching. In #16 only (2) "orderliness in the meetings of the church" (I Corinthians 14:40), and 4) the gifting by the Holy Spirit of all believers alike for mutual building up of the body of Christ (I Timothy 2:11ff) are traditional Brethren teaching. (Headship refers to marriage not to behaviour in the assembly.)

These are only my opinions which I am expressing because I was asked to. Thank you for asking me to respond to this document. Please understand that I do not seek to offend.

9 comments:

Ruud Vermeij said...

I know of a Biblical example of mutual responsibility (though in the private sphere.)
1 Cor. 7:3-5

Wayne Leman said...

(Headship refers to marriage not to behaviour in the assembly.)

Sarah Sumner makes this same point in her book, Men and Women In Church. If we read the biblical texts on headship very carefully (and literally), there is no mention of women submitting to any eadship of men in the church, other than their own head, their husband, in their marriage. In fact, there is no mention of headship of men in the church. This has come as something of a surprise to me, but as far as I can tell from the biblical texts, it is true.

Thanks for your helpful post, Suzanne.

MargitG said...

Thanks for responding, Suzanne.

Your response is not in the least bit offensive.

On the contrary.

You made a well-balanced observation/point.

Enjoy reading your blog.

MargitG

s duplessie said...

Hi Suzanne,

Thanks for your thoughtful response to the original article that was published by our elder team at Good News.

Your comments were not in any way offensive.

I should say that we were not trying to in any way conform to "traditional Brethren teaching" but rather to take a fresh look at the Bible and be biblical, not necessarily "Brethren."

While we come from a Brethren heritage, and very much appreciate and respect that heritage, we prefer to be known first and foremost as Bible-believing Christ-followers.

Yes, the idea of submission in Ephesians 5:22f seems to be in the context of the family - husbands and wives.

But the mutual submission spoken of in 5:21 is clearly in the context of meetings of the church. "Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs... (cf. 5:19-21). the tranistion in thought seems to happen at verse 22.

If anything, your comment points out the weakness of the wording of our statement #16-3 that should reflect that all should be willing to submit to the authortity over them, men and women alike, in the church (Heb. 13:17).

I will bring that observation to the elder team for consideration.

I welcome your further comments.

SD

bobbie said...

great, respectful, intuitive thoughts suzanne. i am encouraged at the desire for dialog. please keep interacting, i see light being shed on these topics, and light is always life-giving.

lingamish said...

Suzanne,

Thank you for allowing us to listen in on this process. As I reflected on your post, I thought about how often Paul uses the metaphor of a family to describe the assembly (which is itself a metaphor). While I enjoyed Kenny Pearce's recent explanation of EKKLESIA I wonder if OIKOS was meant to be the guiding metaphor for "church." For example, we talk about "the country of Canada", but when we do, it doesn't call to mind "the countryside" per se but a geo-political entity.

The prime example of this is Paul's instruction to Timothy in 1 Tim. 5:1-2. All his relations to members of the assembly are described in familial terms.

If you compare verses 5&15 in 1 Tim. 3 you'll see that there is quite a bit of free variation in the use of OIKOS and EKKLESIA.

There is a significant mismatch between the EKKLESIA of Paul's writings and the "church" of today. As I mentioned at Better Bibles, Paul never says something like "Assembly submit to your overseer." If he had I think you would be able to strengthen the argument that the Pastor/Church model is biblical. As it is, I wonder...

codepoke said...

That would cause very innapropriate behaviour if women all responded to one man's teaching, leadership and 'strength' (as John Piper puts it) but their husbands did not, because it was not explicitly their responsibility to do so. How would the husbands feel?

A unique perspective, and very cool. Thank you.

Wayne Leman,

In fact, there is no mention of headship of men in the church. This has come as something of a surprise to me, but as far as I can tell from the biblical texts, it is true.

Wow. and ...

Lingamish,

Paul never says something like "Assembly submit to your overseer." If he had I think you would be able to strengthen the argument that the Pastor/Church model is biblical. As it is, I wonder...

Wow again.

Thank you for those two comments. I will file both those responses away!

Ruud Vermeij said...

There is an excellent article on CBE by Gordon Fee.
The cultural contsxt of Ephesians 5:18-6:9

There certainly is no break between vers 21 and 22 as if the previous is about church and the following is about family.

Suzanne McCarthy said...

Thank you, everyone, for great responses.

I notice that the ESV has a very good translation for 1 Cor. 11 that keeps headship in the context of marriage. There the couple can discuss these things privately with reference to the mutuality that is taught in 1 Cor. 7. As in this matter so in every day life, mutual understanding for couples, and recognition that all women are responsible to respond to God, not to 'worthy men' as is taught in Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.