Man’s natural wisdom is perpetually pitted against the wisdom of Almighty God. And, this opposition to God’s wisdom is most commonly disguised as pragmatism. In fact, numerous heresies frequently began as ‘pragmatic’ decisions. But, pragmatism is seldom static, it inevitably, however slowly, creeps in the direction of man-centeredness — losing along the way the overarching goal of exalting God and His sovereign and infallible ways. The 20th Century has certainly witnessed this drift away from theo-centricity in the spread of Arminianism and its resultant marketing of the church.
Now, of late, in its continued tangle with social justice issues, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) is faced with yet another pragmatic decision. Should Beth Moore’s prolific ministry be validated and defended in the interest of popularity, profit, and peace? Permit this author to express the question in a more generic manner, without using proper names or denominations:
Since God has commanded women not to preach, will any damage be done if a very “gifted” woman decides to set aside God’s command and preach, despite what Scripture commands?
Dr. Peter Jones has pointed out in a number of his works that the divine order in the economic Trinity is crucial to the doctrine of redemption. God the Father planning redemption and sending the Son is a doctrine essential to the biblical gospel. Yet, as Jones points out, feminism seeks to completely flatten out male authority (‘destroy patriarchy’) in the interest of equality. Will God the Father’s patriarchal authority escape the feminist narrative? Jones believes not. What Jones has recognized is that in terms of our redemption, the ‘division of labor’ within the Godhead; the Father planning redemption, the Son accomplishing redemption, and the Holy Spirit applying redemption (see John Murray’s, Redemption accomplished and Applied) is not only crucial to our salvation but also pivotal in revealing the knowledge of the Persons of the Godhead.
Feminists are not comfortable with this foundational doctrine.
More than 20 years have elapsed since a group of feminist scholars at Fuller Seminary realized that the truths concerning the economic Trinity (the specific roles of the members of the Trinity in our redemption) posed a threat to the assumptions of feminism. In a paper that rocked the seminary, these feminists proposed that any member of the Holy Trinity could have become the incarnate Son of God. In terms of inadvertently exposing their actual agenda, these ‘evangelical feminists’ let the proverbial cat out of the bag by reading the assumptions of feminism back into the Holy Trinity. By means of their proposal concerning the incarnation, in one fell swoop, they descended into the historic error of modalism.
Modalism is the theological doctrine that the members of the Trinity are not three distinct persons but rather three modes or forms of activity (the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) under which God manifests himself (MerriamWebster). Pragmatism within evangelicalism has seldom stooped this low — namely to redefine the Holy Trinity in the interest of promoting feminist ideals. When we hear from Scripture the pronounced differences in the gender roles created by God, our ‘politically correct ears’ tend to hear discrimination, rather than celebration.
The feminists at Fuller Seminary bristled at the ramifications of 1 Corinthians 11. For, in this passage, Scripture ties the order within Christian marriage to the divine order in the economic Trinity. “But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ” (1 Cor 11:3). In this chapter in 1 Corinthians, the Apostle Paul is giving a set of theological reasons why in church and home wives should occupy a support role under the headship of their husbands rather than seeking a place of leadership and authority. Paul goes on to say (within the context of head coverings symbolizing the headship of the husbands over wives) that men and women both comprise the image of God in different but complementary ways. For, the man is the image of God’s authority in ways that a woman is not:
For a man ought not to have his head covered since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man. For man does not originate from woman, but woman from man; for indeed man was not created for the woman’s sake, but woman for the man’s sake. Therefore the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels.1 Cor 11:7-10
There is no escape from what Paul is saying, for the differences in roles he outlines are not cultural differences that can be relegated to historic manners and customs alone. For, Paul gives theological reasons for the differences in gender roles:
- the man was the source of the material of the woman’s creation (his rib) (1 Corinthians 11:8).
- the man was created first, as a vice-regent and steward of creation (1 Corinthians 11:9).
- the woman was created second for the man’s sake, for the purpose of being his helpmate (1 Corinthians 11:9). And,
- in terms of the image of God, the man is ‘the glory of God, and the woman is the glory of man’ (she shines best in her support role) (1 Corinthians 11:7)
(For more information, see Dr. Mark D. Futato’s studies on gender roles in Genesis)
Angels have a special interest in the order of creation since that order redounds to the honor and glory of God. Therefore, the preservation of that order in gender roles in Christian marriage is something that angels are zealous to see fulfilled. Thus, gender role-reversal in Christian marriage is repugnant to angels because it casts aspersion on the honor of God (1 Cor 11:10). A woman preaching is an act of authority. Therefore, it is fraught with potential problems.
Paul alludes to these problems in 1 Timothy 2,
Likewise, I want women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments, but rather by means of good works, as is proper for women making a claim to godliness. A woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. For it was Adam who was first created and then Eve. And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression. But women will be preserved through the bearing of children if they continue in faith and love and sanctity with self-restraint1 Tim 2:10-15
Drawing out the authorial intent of the passage above can be expressed as follows:
- Christian women are called by God to have their character shine brightly rather than seeking to draw attention to themselves through physical attractiveness and accouterments (1 Tim 2:9, 10).
- Rather than seeking a place of spiritual authority and prominence by teaching mixed audiences, Christian women ought to demonstrate that they are under their husband’s authority by respectfully and quietly welcoming his personal biblical teaching with reverence. This is the divine order which both glorifies God and protects the woman (1 Tim 2:11, 12).
- Paul joins this prohibition (women are not to preach) and this command (a wife is to be instructed by her own husband)—to the order of creation of man and woman—’Adam was created first’ (1 Tim 2:13). And, Paul alludes to the fall itself in the Garden, stating that ‘the woman being deceived, fell into transgression’ (1 Tim 2:14). As one theologian commented, women are more easily deceived, and more easily deceive. This is Paul’s point precisely, for when a woman leaves the protective ‘umbrella’ of her husband’s headship and arrogates to herself a position of spiritual authority, she puts both herself and her hearers at risk.
- Thus, states Paul, her preservation and protection will be found in her support role as wife and mother, and by living a consistent Christian life of ‘faith, love, sanctity and self-restraint’ (1 Tim 2:15). In regards to women being more easily deceived, and functioning best under the protection of headship, Dan Doriani notes,
Both sides [feminists and traditionalists] note women tend toward enmeshment, which entails an unwillingness to see and condemn harsh truths about loved ones. Mindful of many individual exceptions to the rule, they [both feminists and traditionalists] sometimes say that women generally have more interest in persons and less interest in detached rational analysis of ideas. But the capacity for detached, critical assessment is absolutely essential for discerning and rooting out heresy and for carrying out discipline in the church. We can also recognize variety in human nature, without labeling anything inferior or superior. In this view, because women generally focus on relationships more than abstract rational analysis, enmeshment in relationships could compromise a woman’s willingness to uproot heresy in the church (Dan Doriani, A History of the Interpretation of 1 Timothy 2, pp. 264-265).
Dr. Jones observes that God’s order in creation is a kind of ‘reflecting pool’. ‘God will be lover and Lord of what He has made.’ The creature will know personal union with the covenant-keeping Creator. Christ loves His church in this way (the divine Husband has his wife, the church). Heterosexuality mirrors the character of a divinely created universe in which oneness is that of the communion of differences (male and female). Marriage reflects on the sexual level the imprint of the Creator’s own nature and character on the things He has made—it is not incidental, but an essential component of the Christian worldview (Peter Jones, God of Sex, pp. 174-175).
God’s doxology at the end of creation week includes His honoring of the differences He placed into the creation (Gen 1:31). This gives us a window into the purpose for the creation with its binaries of male and female, and structures that honor God the Creator (Ibid, pp. 136-138). The teleology (design and goal) of our creational identity as the image of God is male distinct from female, yet together comprising the image of God. In the fall in the Garden of Eden, disorder enters the creation when Adam abdicates his role as head, protector, provider, and stands passively observing Eve fall for the serpent’s temptation—she, by default becomes a spiritual leader and initiator (Ibid, pp. 147-150). Redemption addresses and reverses the disorder brought in by the fall. Thus, is it any wonder, in view of the primordial invasion of disorder that came with the fall, that God gives us the gender-specific commands of 1 Timothy chapter two?
Well-meaning defenders of women preachers tend to argue as follows:
If the Bible is being taught, and people are being blessed, why on earth should anyone oppose that?
Here is what they are missing; God’s order in the creation of man and woman is inseparable from the gender of the one who is doing the teaching. The gender of the servant cannot be separated from what is being taught. In other words, God’s messenger is not only communicating God’s truth but is also expressing the fulfillment of a calling. Therefore, when women preach, they are by their example, broadcasting confusion about a Christian woman’s calling. And, as a result, they are falling for the primary feminist assumption— namely that a person’s capacity (or giftedness) is primary—and so much so that capacity (ability) trumps biology, it overrules what God says about gender.
Is damage being done by the promotion of female preachers? Yes. Historically, women preachers have tended to stress the sensate and the mystical over and above rational, sound doctrine. In other words, the trend among them has been to emphasize spiritual experience over dogmatic and exegetical theology. And, with this trend has come the suggestion — either tacitly or directly — that spiritual experience itself is self-authenticating, and ought not to be challenged or disbelieved.
When we say that the preaching of women tends to be sensual, sensory, we are not saying that it directly invites experientialism or sensual indulgence. What we are saying is that when we are instructed by them to “hear” God by ‘listening to the heart’ (i.e. fellowship with God not mediated by the Bible), it tends to erode and supplant the authority of Scripture.
In Wayne Grudem’s book, Evangelical Feminism: A New Path to Liberalism, he documents why feminist interpretations of God’s Word ultimately work against the authority of Scripture. By critically examining the writings of egalitarians, Grudem shows that, while egalitarian leaders claim to be subject to Scripture in their thinking, what is increasingly evident in their actual scholarship and practice is an effective rejection of the authority of Scripture. Egalitarianism is heading toward an Adam who is neither male nor female, a Jesus whose manhood is not important, and a God who is both Father and Mother — and then maybe only Mother. The common denominator in all of this is a persistent undermining of the authority of Scripture in our lives. Grudem’s conclusion is that we must choose either evangelical feminism or biblical truth. We can’t have it both ways! (book review on Amazon).
Christ is capable of nurture, but the discourses of Jesus are filled with hard and sharp truths. His messages have a rugged, masculine feel to them. By contrast, female preachers tend to selectively emphasize and major in nurturing and comforting truths. This is not a malicious decision on their part but is very much in keeping with their divine calling of nurturing life (especially children).
When was the last time you heard a woman thundering from a pulpit divine warnings of damnation and the necessity of fearing God? Have you ever heard a woman preacher, with neck veins bulging, speaking of the traumatic, hellish consequences of remaining impenitent?
Admittedly, that would appear to this author as being as much out of place as a woman commanding soldiers to rush up a ridge to face machine gunfire. God has called women to attentively foster life, not to publicly explicate divine wrath, and not to send men into the face of potential slaughter. Women are called to serve in support roles, and to train up children, not to assume authority over men. This is why Paul describes their imaging of God and their gender role as ‘the glory of man’ (1 Cor 11:7).
The opposite of a support role for a woman is the role of authority and leadership. Many women have found a kind of carnal fulfillment in positioning themselves in spiritual leadership as a ‘source person’. In other words, they feel loved, wanted, and valued when they develop a loyal following as an indispensable public Christian figure. Men are capable of the same narcissistic error. But, women who aspire to be a ‘source person’ in a Christian context wind up competing with the very men they should be supporting. The damage done is in the example they set. For the implied message, intended or not, is: men, I am doing a better job than you, and am doing what you ought to be doing, but were unwilling to do.
Admittedly, many mother-led homes and marriages are suffering ultimately from the male abdication of leadership—in essence, a repeat of Adamic passivity. Our heart goes out to women who lead in the home as a default response to male passivity. But, a female assuming spiritual authority can be an act of passive aggression and a symptom of smoldering anger.
In his book, Passive Men, Wild Women, Pierre Mornell observes that it is actually quite common for a woman to secretly fear that her husband is a ‘wet noodle’. And, in response to that fear, the woman may ‘test’ the man to see if he is overly pliant, like a good soldier boy carrying out her every wish, rather than assuming leadership. If he acquiesces, argues Mornell, it only confirms her worst fears—that he is a passive wet noodle! What Dr, Mornell uncovers in his book is that the female response to male passivity is often frustration and anger, manifesting itself in histrionics and over-the-top displays of leadership.
In his book, the author examines the circumstances, incidence, and implications of a problem afflicting more married couples, a problem involving the in-the-home inattentiveness and lethargy of husbands and the resulting frustration and anger of wives (book review, Amazon).
1 Peter 3 is another important and crucial biblical text on gender roles. In this chapter (1 Peter 3:1-9), wives are exhorted to manifest their Christlikeness (1 Peter 2:21-3:7) by honoring their husbands’ authority, EVEN if their husbands are not being obedient to the Lord (1 Peter 3:1). Also in this passage, godly husbands, in their Christ-likeness are to study their wives, with a view to taking into consideration that God has made them ‘weaker vessels’ (1 Peter 3:7). And, that their weakness can be ministered to, and answered by the husband’s honor of her, and tenderness, and understanding behavior toward her (1 Peter 3:7). In addition, the insightful, inspired caution given to wives in this passage is as follows:
Your adornment must not be merely external—braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God. For in this way in former times the holy women also, who hoped in God, used to adorn themselves, being submissive to their own husbands; just as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, and you have become her children if you do what is right without being frightened by any fear.1 Pet 3:3-6
The wisdom in this admonition to Christian wives in 1 Peter 3 answers the major carnal tendencies and temptations a woman faces in her desire to feel secure and loved. Namely, that beauty and charm are more useful and powerful than godly femininity. Not so says Peter, for what is ‘precious in the sight of God’ ‘the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit’ (1 Peter 3:4) is always going to be more influential in the long run.
But, what is the opposite of a ‘gentle and quiet spirit’? The answer is a carnal spirit of manipulation, usurpation, competition, and fearful striving.
The Holy Spirit-inspired logic in 1 Peter 3:1ff. is that women will win their husbands to godly behavior without ever preaching to their husbands, when they exhibit submissive, chaste, and respectful behavior toward them, even when the husband is out of sorts. This, of course, defies natural human logic which reasons, I will respect my husband once he earns my respect.
Why is it that God is able to use submissive, chaste and respectful behavior to win errant husbands? The answer is beautiful. So deeply planted in our psyches is the knowledge of God’s design for gender roles that when one spouse is adhering to that pattern (even as unto the Lord, in Christlikeness), the other spouse will come to see how great their departure has been from God’s blessed pattern (1 Peter 3:1).
Women preachers, rather than currying support in the face of their critics, ought to acknowledge that they cannot have it both ways. They cannot plead that they are ‘weaker vessels’ in need of masculine defense, when at the same time, by their behavior as preachers, are assuming spiritual authority over men; authority which does not belong to them and which God in His Word has forbidden.
Addendum: historically female preachers have tended to emphasize life on a higher plain (note Hannah Whitall Smith, The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life.). Two excellent resources describing the errors of the ‘higher life movement’ and its accompanying quietism (an erroneous hyper-grace doctrine of sanctification stressing passivity) are B. B. Warfield, Perfectionism, P & R, 1980, Samuel G. Craig, editor. And, Henry A. Boardman, The Higher Life Doctrine of Sanctification tried by the Word of God, Sprinkle Pub., Harrisonburg, VA, 1996.