In my last post, there was a concern that a friend brought up that I didn’t get to talking about the biblical texts enough. Well, this is because both egalitarians and complementarians are looking at the same biblical texts. In my own shifts on this issue, the key changes were not “new” Bible verses I found.
Instead (and as these posts have tried to follow), there was first a personal change. I not only met others that thought something different than me and yet didn’t fit the caricature I had been offered, but I also saw that they believed these things for very good reasons. Secondly, there was a contextual change, where new perspectives on the Bible verses in question were offered to me, and my mind had softened to receive these things. My attempt to soften many others of us was my goal in my previous post.
With that hopefully out of the way, I want to briefly take everyone into the first major wrecking balls that were thrown into my wall of strict complementarianism.
home vs. church?
But first a quick side note. For the time-being, I will be sticking to discussing women in formal leadership offices and roles in the church rather than the idea of “headship” in the home or masculine/feminine roles in the family.
This is for several reasons, which I’ll explore in future posts, but I’m mainly trying to find what I can about how similar the Bible expects the structure of families and churches to be. I’ve been raised with the assumptions that husbands are supposed to be the “pastors/elders” of their home.
(I once even heard an–admittedly–amazing sermon that discussed the Ephesians 5 “Husbands love your wives as Christ loves the church” passage by going through the requirements of an elder in 1Timothy 2.)
But I don’t know that this is the case, and I’m finding the connection between Family Structure and Church Structure increasingly weak. If you have any good resources on this to help me out, feel free to send them my way. Okay, side note done.
Thing #1: Baptism
The first thing the blew my mind was this: women could be baptized.
As the New Testament talks about baptism, it’s (admittedly few) passages on the subject use similar language to describe it as the Old Testament uses to describe circumcision. It talks about how baptism “marks” Christians and “identifies” them with the “Body” of Christ. The great Galatians 3 passage about the legalism of circumcision ends with the triumphant statement of baptism as the “new” and “treuer” way that God’s people are now joined to the community.
Now think about this. Jewish men of this day and time would go to synagogue every week and thank God for not making them a woman. For over 1,000 years, the Jewish community had one primary visible, outward mark of being part of God’s people (circumcision), and it was about as exclusively male as you can possibly get.
And then, suddenly, seemingly overnight, this 1,000 year old mark was now something that women were freely able, invited, encouraged, and even commanded to do?
There is no way that we can comprehend how traumatic this would have been to God’s people. The sandal! The offense!
One wonders if the Jewish Christian push-back against doing away with the circumcision requirement was more a function of this long-entrenched patriarchy than it was some expression of Pharisaical legalism.
In fact, in the aforementioned Galatians 3 passage where circumcision is condemned and baptism is exalted, the very next verse after the Paul’s baptism statement is that epic (and over-used) egalitarian prooftext, therefore intimately linking baptism and “engendered-ness” with the discussion of circumcision:
“So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
And so, let me re-state the significane of this discussion: because of what Christ did, and the changes it brought, the most fundamental way of outward, communal, and ecclesial participation in the essential functions of the Church were now wide-open to women after being shut on them for over 1,000 years among Yahweh’s people.
If you take seriously the progressive nature of the history of God’s work and revelation in the world, and believe that this revelation is clearer and closer to the fullest of God’s intentions as time goes on, then, at the very least, this should make you pause and consider.
Thing #2: location, location, location
The second thing that really made me question what I had been taught was seeing that every single word in the New Testament that in any way even seems to limit a woman’s role in any part of the church is only written to cities in which their religious life was absolutely dominated by female goddess cults.
There’s a singular reality you see throughout Christianity: it wants to exalt the downtrodden and humble the powerful, in the hopes that a true expression of God’s communal life would be lived out in the world.
Well, I need to apologize to the feminist critics out there before saying this, but the reality is this: there have been societies in history where different segments of it were ruled by women and men had little place of power.
In the ancient world, this was true of the cities of Ephesus and Corinth, the two cities that are the only recipients of letters that have any critique of women acting and leading in certain ways in the church and church service.
(When I say this, I’m referring to the letters of 1 Corinthians and those to Timothy, who was an elder at Ephesus. I think there is good evidence that the book of Ephesians was a general letter, not written directly to Ephesus, though Ephesus’ copy was the one that survived. And so, when I write here, I’m not referring to Ephesians.)
I’ll go more into specifics in future posts, but at the time that Paul was writing, there was an emergence of a sort of “proto-feminism” in these two cities (especially Ephesus). Rome did not like this and was trying to find ways to quell this so the women might be a bit more “obedient” like they were in Rome.
Could this be why, in letters Paul writes to Corinth and Ephesus, he more or less tells the women to relax and give some space for the men to do stuff, but when he writes to Rome, he talks about Junia, the female apostle (early church-planter) and other women especially important in the early ministry of the church? Could he be trying to humble the powerful and exalt the weak so as to create a vibrant, healthy, loving community?
Could this be why the Roman married couple, Priscilla and Aquila (two church panters and pastors, it seems; the female of which is, strangely, nearly always mentioned first of the two of them), when fleeing Rome under the Edict of Claudius find a suitable home for their potential “crazy” woman-pastoring ways in Ephesus at the end of one of Paul’s missionary journeys in Acts?
And so remember that as we move forward: the only times Paul says anything restricting to a woman’s function, role, or actions in the midst of the church are in letters to two specific cities–none other. He writes to so many other places throughout he New Testament, and yet it’s only to these two cities that he says the “offending” remarks that seem to harshly condemn women in leadership at churches. And these were the two biggest early church cities wherein abusive female religious authority reigned, and men (at least in the religious sector of social life) were demeaned, left out, and alienated.
And so, considering this and the baptism thing above, I ask the reader: should not all of this be considered when we read these texts in question? Does this not begin to give us some pause about how narrowly we may have understood these texts in question? What are your thoughts?
These things were certainly enough for me, several years ago, to continue my journey. Tomorrow, we continue ours as we press all the more deeply into this.
[image credit: Tommaso Laureti, “The Triumph of Christianity” (color edited by myself for effect)]