Earlier in the week I did a couple of posts on the role of women in the church (here and here) that were spun off of this post by Rhett Smith, whose post was spun off of this statement from the Together for the Gospel folks.
Article XVIWe affirm that the Scripture reveals a pattern of complementary order between men and women, and that this order is itself a testimony to the Gospel, even as it is the gift of our Creator and Redeemer. We also affirm that all Christians are called to service within the body of Christ, and that God has given to both men and women important and strategic roles within the home, the church, and the society. We further affirm that the teaching office of the church is assigned only to those men who are called of God in fulfillment of the biblical teachings and that men are to lead in their homes as husbands and fathers who fear and love God.
We deny that the distinction of roles between men and women revealed in the Bible is evidence of mere cultural conditioning or a manifestation of male oppression or prejudice against women. We also deny that this biblical dinstinction of roles excludes women from meaningful minstry in Christ's kingdom. We further deny that any church can confuse these issues without damaging its witness to the Gospel.
In the first post I did I defended the T4TG statement against Rhett's assertion that this gave evidence of the oppression of women. In the second post I dealt with what I thought was the real issue.
In this post I want to address a different matter, and that is the issue raised in the last sentence of the article 16:
We further deny that any church can confuse these issues without damaging its witness to the Gospel.
There is a huge debate today between complementarians and egalitarians about women's roles in the church. The egalitarians would take issue with the statement as a whole, but that would be just a rehashing of the standard debate that has gone on and is still going on. But this last statement has ratcheted things up a notch because, in the egalitarians view, in tying women's roles to the gospel the T4TG signers seem to be elevating the issue to a top tier issue.
Most Christians will, in one form or another admit that there are some doctrines or issues that take greater precedence than others. Protestants will say that the doctrine of justification by faith is a top tier, non-negotiable issue, but something like eschatology or baptism is a lower tier issue where Christians can disagree.
And that is the crux of the matter here. Whether the signers of these articles meant to do this or not, the last sentence of Article XVI seems to elevate the "women's roles" issue into that top tier.
I gotta say that I am loathe to criticize the T4TG folks - I consider myself to be on the same theological team as these guys in most ways and consider them to be my superiors in every way. Further I think the statement as a whole pushes pretty much all of the right buttons. They have addressed many issues and theological fads that definitely damage the church's witness to the gospel.
And, as I said I am in agreement with the statement as a whole. But I do think this last sentence in Article XVI gives the impression that egalitarianism necessarily damages our witness to the gospel, and I think that states the matter too strongly.
And the way I would state my own position in this regard would be to say that:
Egalitarianism may accompany compromise on the gospel, but it does not necessarily cause the compromise of the gospel.
My impression is that the last sentence of Article XVI implies the latter.
I'll defer toJeremy Pierce for an explanation of how egalitarianism may accompany the compromise of the gospel. In a comment on one of my prior posts he said:
One way it damages the message of the gospel is that egalitarians tend to link egalitarianism to the level of the gospel. They say the gospel removes the distinction entirely except for basic biological differences in who bears children, tying Gal 3:28 to gender roles rather than simply equality in the face of the gospel. It's possible that they just mean that a perspective like that undermines the gospel.
The other thing that it does is it destroys role relations in the Trinity. Part of the gospel is Christ's submission to the Father's will, and part is the self-sacrificial love of Christ for the church as her head and husband. You remove that when you call it "the heresy of hierarchicalism" if you take I Cor 15 seriously and admit that Christ's submission to the Father is eternal, as many egalitarians do.
And I'll defer to Jeremy again for an explanation of how the one doesn't necessarily follow the other -
I do think egalitarians can avoid saying those things, though, and that makes it false to say that egalitarianism always involves something that undermines the gospel. What would be more accurate would be to say that egalitarianism's implications can undermine the gospel if they're clearly seen and accepted, while admitting that not every egalitarian accepts such implications.
Also, any discussion of things like this will lead to some name dropping where it is pointed out that so and so is egalitarian and this person's credentials are impeccable on the gospel. I think that is a weaker argument as it can come perilously close to a fallacious appeal to authority. But though I think this is a weaker argument I do think it has some merit.
In a comment on a prior post, Joel Hunter brought up John Stott and wondered if the T4TG folks think he has damaged his witness to the gospel. I am unaware of Stott's position on this matter but I assume, from what Joel is saying, that Stott must be a complementarian. Of course many folks think Stott has damaged his witness to the gospel because of his position on eternal punishment (and I am not sure if he has changed on that or not), but I doubt anyone would throw him off the boat solely for his position on women's roles.
Also, those of us who studied at RTS-Orlando back in the 90's remember Roger Nicole, the esteemed Reformed Baptist theologian. I once heard R. C. Sproul refer to him as St. Roger or St. Nicole or something like that. To my knowledge his evangelical, conservative and reformed credentials have never been questioned even though he is egalitarian.
As I have read some of the T4TG folks over the years they have written or endorsed some strong polemics against positions that other T4TG people held. Yet they could embrace one another. And I do believe there are more Roger Nicole types out there whose grasp of the gospel we don't want to call into question.
While I do think that the issue of women's roles is an important one on a number of levels, and while I also believe that egalitarians are in error, I think the T4TG folks would serve the body well by offering some rationale, clarification, or revision of the last sentence of Article XVI.
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