Never underestimate the power of a word. Words can usher in worlds of unspeakable joy or become the catalyst of immense pain. Whether we know it or not, our life depends on words in order to function. We review instructions for food preparation as we pre-heat the oven, examine a bottle of prescription medication for instructions, review road signs as we navigate the highway, and read a contract before we sign on the dotted line.
Words matter in the world of politics, in military conquest, and in all spheres of life. Perhaps nowhere do we see the importance of words on a higher level than we do in the world of religion. Rightly so, because he who controls the dictionary controls far more than you can imagine.
Words Matter Because Meaning Matters
In recent days, Merriam-Webster unveiled “they” as their 2019 word of the year. It wasn’t a completely random choice. It was based on data from their online searches which revealed something interesting and quite troubling about our world. According to Merriam-Webster:
“Our Word of the Year for 2019 is they. It reflects a surprising fact: even a basic term—a personal pronoun—can rise to the top of our data. Although our lookups are often driven by events in the news, the dictionary is also a primary resource for information about language itself, and the shifting use of they has been the subject of increasing study and commentary in recent years. Lookups for they increased by 313% in 2019 over the previous year.”
The pronoun controversy is indicative of a sick culture, but sadly, we are living in a day where a word can be officially changed in the dictionary in September and by December become the official word of the year. Why is this the case? Because of cultural pressure. People can demand that the actual real meaning of a word be changed to accommodate the desires of a culture. Notice what Merriam-Webster said in explaining their choice of the 2019 word of the year:
“…they has also been used to refer to one person whose gender identity is nonbinary, a sense that is increasingly common in published, edited text, as well as social media and in daily personal interactions between English speakers. There’s no doubt that its use is established in the English language, which is why it was added to the Merriam-Webster.com dictionary this past September.”
We are living in a world where real men are pretending to be real women. In some cases, real people (male and female) are choosing to not identify as either male or female. This transformation culture rejects absolutes and the postmodern framework of rejecting truth and exchanging it for imagination has precipitated a world where words are being changed in order to change the whole society. Just take marriage as an example. This is more than a squabble about words on paper. It literally affects the whole of civilization.
Deconstructing a Denomination
In Jacques Derrida Of Grammatology, the ideas of deconstruction and his method of analyzing human language has led to the deconstruction of the hierarchy of vocabulary. Once again, this is far more than arguing about words. If the meaning of words can be changed—it will lead to change in the world. Make no mistake about it, the liberals and enemies of the gospel are very much interested in changing denominations—and we see this through ongoing scandals and debate on social justice. At the heart of the social justice debate is the battle for the dictionary.
Pronouns and Ministry
Merriam-Webster has made it clear—pronouns matter. We face choices on how we will address people in our culture as well as within our churches. Will we call them by their preferred pronoun or will we address them according to their actual gender? In recent weeks, J.D. Greear who serves as the current president of the Southern Baptist Convention has made a distinction between what he calls, “generosity of spirit vs. telling truth.” Greear goes on to specify that he holds to a “generosity of spirit” position which he explains is much like what Preston Sprinkle refers to as “pronoun hospitality.”
While manners are important and we should demonstrate a love for all mankind based on the imago Dei—no matter how severe the image of God has been broken by sin, the role of the pastor in the local church is to tell the truth and to feed God’s sheep. If our ministries are designed upon a pragmatic foundation seeker sensitive approach, undoubtedly postmodernism will seep through the cracks and influence our methods of ministry. All confused sinners need to hear God’s truth. This goes for the redneck who drank too much beer on Saturday night and decided to commit adultery on his wife and the man who desires to be referred to as “ze” in the church’s foyer after the service.
The gender debate and pronoun controversy is not one that John Knox was having to deal with in Edinburgh. We are living in confusing days, but at all times, we must remember that the Bible is sufficient. If we abandon the regulative principle of worship or turn our backs on the Scripture’s sufficiency in the midst of massive confusion it will only lead to more confusion. A ship on the sea at night in the midst of thick fog needs the radiant beam of the lighthouse to provide clear direction. How is it possible to demonstrate real hospitality and love for sinners without telling the truth? If we adjust our vocabulary in the foyer it will have an impact upon the vocabulary we use in the pulpit.
In 2018 the controversy over the roles and responsibilities of men and women within the SBC erupted through social media leading into the annual SBC meeting in Dallas in June. Today, that controversy has continued to burn and the heat has greatly increased following the release of the Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel.
Bold attempts have been made to advance a firm egalitarian position into the ranks of the SBC, but those attempts have been smaller in nature. The popular trend has been to shift the meaning of complementarianism to embrace a narrow view that centers on the office of pastor alone which supports the function of women preaching in local church settings so long as she is not holding the office of pastor / elder. Other attempts have been made to discredit the term complementarianism altogether by attempting to connect the dots of the recent sexual abuse scandals to the position of complementarianism. Karen Swallow Prior who has recently been hired by Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary has gone on record as stating that she rejects both egalitarianism and complementarianism.
The point is clear—there’s a fight over a word taking place in the SBC. Once again, this is not just a think tank discussion that will have no lasting impact. Make no mistake about it, the future of the SBC is largely hinged upon how this debate is settled. Churches are already leaving the denomination and others are posturing themselves for a departure in the upcoming days.
Moving forward, the words that leaders choose to employ should be evaluated and considered carefully. This is not the time for political posturing nor is it the time for leaders to sit back and pretend that nothing is wrong. There are real attempts being made to deconstruct our denomination and one of the great weapons of war that anyone can use happens to be the way in which we employ words.
Words serve as the building blocks of theology. All of our theology is derived from words, sentences, and paragraphs from holy Scripture. This complementarianism debate transcends far higher than whether or not Beth Moore could serve as the president of the SBC or whether or not Lottie Moon should have preached to the people in China. Unless we carefully guard the meaning of words, any thief or robber will be able to steal away words and drastically alter the direction or even the existence of our denomination.
One of the great tragedies of our day has been parade of testimonies of women who have been abused by men within the corporate world, the political world, and yes, even within the Church. These women bear deep wounds as a result of sexual assault, rape, and various other forms of sexual misconduct. Sadly, in some cases, the wounds are inflicted upon girls—who shouldn’t be forced to deal with the horror of such sin. Such men are monsters and deserve to be punished for their crimes. This parade has been long and dark.
Another tragedy has been the confusion that has surrounded this parade. The confusion has erupted, not as a result of an unwillingness to address the problem, but on the basis of how the problem should be addressed. Such controversy has arisen within evangelical circles as social justicians are suggesting that the answer is activism, deconstruction of power structures, and a redefining of key doctrines like complementarainism. This tragedy will only worsen if we continue to take out our frustrations upon complementarianism.
What Is Complementarianism?
At this juncture, we need clear definitions and we need to be sure that throughout this controversy within evangelicalism that we’re working from the same dictionary. It serves little purpose to have an honest conversation without working from the same set of terms.
While The Danvers Statement (1987) deals with the issues of complementarity, it’s not as robust as many would prefer. Bruce Ware has provided a helpful distinction between complementarianism and egalitarianism on the CBMW.org website. In order to discuss these issues, a couple of definitions and distinctions are necessary.
First of all, when discussing the issues of complementarianism, we are referring to the English word complement not compliment.
Complement is defined as “a thing that completes or brings to perfection.” The other word, compliment although similar in spelling, refers to “a polite expression of praise or adoration.” Eve did not speak praises to Adam, but she did complete him as his helper and mate. Eve’s presence drove away Adam’s loneliness, as God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone” (Gen. 2:18).
- Complementarianism = Both men and women were created equal in value and dignity as image bearers of God, but although equal, God has sovereignly designed specific roles and responsibilities for men and women that are distinct, unique, and both are for the glory of God.
- Egalitarianism = Both men and women were created equal in value and dignity as image bearers of God, and since they are both equal, women should be free to do what men do, serve where men serve, and exercise her gifts right alongside men in the spheres of society, home, and the Church.
Within the complementarianism camp, there are a couple of different positions:
- Narrow = The idea that women have distinct roles that differ from men in a narrowly focused area of the home and narrowly focused in relation to the office of elder within the church, however, women should be allowed to exercise her teaching gifts alongside men in the local church and beyond so long as she is not ordained to the teaching and shepherding office of elder.
- Broad = The idea that women have distinct roles and such roles and boundaries are not oppressive nor discriminatory. They are for her good and the glory of God as put on display in a broad sphere including the home, the church, and the society as a whole. Such boundaries in the church would prevent her from ordination to the office of elder as well as the function of preaching and teaching the Word to a mixed audience in the local church and beyond—because of the biblical texts such as 1 Timothy 2:12-13.
As you can see, evangelicals disagree on these matters—some of which derail completely into the world of what has become termed evangelical egalitarianism (which some would argue is not evangelical at all). So, as always, words matter as does our theology.
How Is Complementarianism Under Assault?
The issue here is not centered on worth or value or even the dignity of women. The issue is centered upon what women can—or in some cases, can’t do. The Baptist Faith & Message 2000 would fall into the narrow complementarian camp as it points to the office of pastor in article VI and states, “While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.” In other words, it simply doesn’t go far enough on these issues.
Some popular voices and leaders within evangelicalism are suggesting that by raising women to the highest levels of denominational levels and appointing them to teaching and administrative roles at the seminary and denominational level—that this will reverse the curse regarding the sexual abuse crisis regarding women within the Church. Does this make sense?
In other words, the very clear teaching of complementarianism is being assaulted in order to help prevent women from being assaulted. Consider what Beth Moore said to a cheering audience in Dallas recently at the ERLC’s Caring Well conference:
In much of our world, complementarian theology has been conflated with inerrancy. Case in point: Notice how often our world charges or dismisses egalitarians by saying they have a low view of Scritpure. Because unless you think like us about complementarian theology they do not honor the Word of God.
It seems clear that Beth Moore has an agenda. While she admitted that it wasn’t the fault of complementarian theology, but rather a sin problem that precipitated the sexual abuse scandal, she goes on to open the gates wide to egalitarians on the basis that abused women need other women to turn to within the ranks of SBC churches and seminaries. She went on to say:
Far too many SBC congregations and SBC seminaries so few women are in any visible area of leadership that when women who are being abused by the system itself, or within it, by people who are in places of power, don’t even have a female to turn to. They don’t even know where to go.
Notice the language that she carefully and with great intentionality employs. She points to a system (to imply that it’s corrupt). She points to people of power (to suggest that our current system needs to be deconstructed) and she points to the lack of female leaders (to suggest that we need to raise women up to such levels of leadership). Then in a striking move, she points out that abused women don’t have any women to turn to!
Is the problem male predators or the lack of women leaders? It seems that Beth Moore, like many others, is missing the mark. She is conflating two different issues and drawing misguided conclusions that place a bullseye upon the doctrine of complementarianism.
Male headship is not a product of the fall. It’s an aspect of God’s blueprint for his people that predates the fall. When we examine the creation account, we see that Adam was created first and then Eve. It was Adam who was given charge of naming all of the animals (Gen. 2:20) and Adam likewise named Eve—his wife (Gen. 2:23). Adam was given charge to work (another responsibility of man that predates the fall). Adam’s headship was God’s plan and we find the commentary on this in various places in the New Testament—such as Ephesians 5:31 where Paul quotes Genesis 2:24 as he describes the mysterious relationship between Christ and his bride the Church. In that passage, Paul drives home the responsibility of the husband to love and lead his wife. Once again, this is not a post-fall responsibility—it predates the fall.
How Is This an Assault upon the Church?
First of all, when complementarianism is attacked, we should see it as an assault upon biblical truth. So, a move away from complementarianism is a move away from the Bible. That’s always dangerous. If we truly care for the little girls and the women within evangelical circles, wouldn’t we want to cling tightly to the text of Scripture instead of promoting a road that’s filled with dangerous potholes that ends in utter disaster? The egalitarian road is unbiblical and harmful to women in the sense that it asks women to do what God never designed them to do. Such burdens are harmful. One of the worst ways to harm the little girls and the women within the Church is to lead them down a path that is simply put—unbiblical.
Secondly, to assault complementarianism and to suggest that people who are committed to a firm (broad) complementarian position are to blame for harming women is to charge God with sin. Who is ultimately responsible for complementarian theology? It’s God’s theology! God created male and female and he created them differently. One of the aspects of God’s good design from the beginning is the way Eve complemented Adam in her differences that were used to be a help to her husband.
God’s design in a broad complementarianism glorifies him with this radiant imagery that points to the relationship between Christ and his bride—the Church (see Ephesians 5 and the idea of headship put on display clearly). To suggest that it’s somehow the catalyst of sexual misconduct, abuse of power, and the assault of women is to charge God with sin. To which Paul, when teaching the hard truths about the doctrine of election, stated pointedly, “Who are you, O man, to answer back to God” (Rom. 9:20)?
We are dealing with ultra sensitive matters at this juncture in this controversial debate. Not only must we use logic, we must be firmly committed to careful biblical hermeneutics and exegesis. In the process, we must come to conclusions on these matters pertaining to sexual abuse scandals, complementarianism, egalitarianism, and leadership boundaries through a God honoring handling of the Bible rather than emotionalism or pragmatism.
To Beth Moore’s point, I would ask an honest question. When she states that abused women in “the system” have no women to turn to, I would ask—why not? Do they not have a local church to turn to? Do they not have faithful women within their local church to care for them? Do they not have biblical elders who desire to shepherd their souls? Have we minimized the importance of the local church?
In the case where false teachers and wolves have sought out victims within the context of a local church, while the abused women may not feel that they have any pastors to turn to (in the immediate context of their abuse within their local church), they will have women who will care for them within their church. Beyond that point, they will have the authorities to turn to (according to Romans 13) who have been instituted by God for the protection of the abused and the process of executing justice in our broken world. Such abusers and wolves should fear the sword.
Placing women into leadership positions will not solve this problem. The reason that assaulting complementarianism assaults the Church is because when people move away from a firm complementarian position—it leads the Church to embrace various forms of egalitarianism which will always be a step in the wrong direction.
Furthermore, it misses the real point altogether. Men who commit crimes of sexual assault and abuse their power with sexual advances and misconduct toward little girls and women within the Church are not true complementarians. They are wolves. Simply put, they are monsters who prey upon the weaker vessel to satisfy their own sinful desires. They do not represent true complementarian theology.
Complementarianism serves to protect women from home intruders and spiritual wolves, heretics, and false prophets. This is God’s plan for both the home, the local church, and the society as a whole. It is God’s design for spiritual men, led by the Spirit of God, would lead in both the physical and spiritual spheres.
We must make sure the whole wide world knows that abusive men are not overly passionate complementarians, zealous complementarians, or aggressive complementarians — they’re not complementarians at all. Such a man has abandoned his post as provider and protector resulting in the abuse of women, and in some tragic cases—little girls.
Stop assaulting God’s truth in order to press a political agenda fueled by social justice which is very sympathetic to the egalitarian position. Any assault upon complementarian theology is an assault upon God’s Church. In many ways, we can look at this theological distinction through a positive lens that focuses upon what women can do. Being equal in value and dignity as image bearers—women can do many things for God’s glory. In fact, women have a high calling within God’s creation. However, we must not view boundaries as a bad thing since such fences in Scripture (1 Timothy 2-3 and elsewhere such as Genesis 1-2 and Ephesians 5) serve for the care of God’s people, God’s Church, and to promote the glory of God.
Any evangelical group, including the Southern Baptist Convention, that desires to open the gates to any form of egalitarianism in the name of caring well for women who have been assaulted are doing nothing more than assaulting the very bride of Christ. Since God has not been silent on this in his Word—we must not sit back and remain silent on such a vitally important theological matter. God’s Church needs faithful men and women who will speak up and tell the truth about God’s good design for men and women—designed and created in both appearance and function for the glory of God.
When Molly Marshall served as the associate dean of the school of theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky she held to unbiblical positions that transcended to a far higher level than her egalitarianism. Upon being forced to resign due to her theological liberalism that contradicted the Bible and the governing documents of the institution, at a candlelight vigil on April 18th 1995, Molly Marshall stated, “The school of theology is without a tenured woman and probably will be as long as the misogynistic forces are unabated.” While we’ve come so far within the SBC, for many, we’ve been moving in the wrong direction. According to Beth Moore:
I am compelled to my bones by the Holy Spirit – I don’t want to be but I am -to draw attention to the sexism & misogyny that is rampant in segments of the SBC, cloaked by piety & bearing the stench of hypocrisy. There are countless godly conservative complementarians. So many.
This is one statement in her long Twitter response to Owen Strachan’s recent article “Divine Order in a Chaotic Age: On Women Preaching” where he pointed to God’s divine hierarchy rooted in creation and connected to the design of the hierarchy established in God’s church.
In May of 2016, I penned an article titled, “Why Your Pastor Should Say ‘No More’ to Beth Moore” where I communicated several concerns that should be taken seriously regarding Beth Moore’s ministry. Today, I’m publishing a sequel to that article that focuses on why the Southern Baptist Convention should cease partnership with Beth Moore’s ministry on any official level—which would include the ERLC, LifeWay, and local churches who make up the SBC. As I begin, I want to be clear that this is not intended to be a hit piece on Beth Moore personally. I’m sure she’s a great mother, wife, and friend to many people, but her ministry, beliefs, and ideas are problematic and must not be overlooked.
The SBC and Doctrinal Fidelity
Years ago, the Southern Baptist Convention took a plunge into the abyss of liberal theology. During those days, professors were teaching post-mortem salvation opportunities at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. The story of the SBC is one that is quite shocking and a testimony of God’s sovereign mercy. No denomination has ever returned from the abyss of liberal theology with a bright resurgence like the SBC. The story of the Conservative Resurgence (although not without imperfection) is something that all Southern Baptist churches should not forget.
While the SBC has certainly been rescued from theological liberalism—at some point the SBC has become a slave to pragmatism. Sadly, whatever works often trumps what the Bible actually says. This leads people, institutions, and entire denominations away from doctrinal purity. Over time, the SBC learned that a partnership with Beth Moore would be a good decision both pragmatically (due to her popularity among women) and financially (primarily through LifeWay). No amount of financial benefit should warrant a blind eye to Beth Moore’s theological deficiencies.
Charismatic Associations and Gifts
Beth Moore has become more visibly aligned with groups of people who do not align with the convictions and theological positions of the SBC. For instance, in early 2017, Beth Moore was the keynote preacher at a large charismatic conference where she said, “We are settling for woefully less than what Jesus promised us,” She went on to say, “I read my New Testament over and over. I’m not seeing what He [Jesus] promised. I’m unsettled and unsatisfied.” She likewise communicated, “I want holy fire!” The evening ended with many pastors and conference attendees running to the altar where they laid prostrate on the floor weeping and praying for more than an hour. While that may be a mild example, she has likewise appeared on TBN with Joyce Meyer and worshipped in Joel Osteen’s church. The apostle Paul stated plainly that we were to warn the church and avoid those who cause division (Rom. 16:17). Beth Moore chooses to partner with heretics which is a problem the SBC should avoid.
According to the Baptist Faith & Message 2000, the SBC embraces a clear teaching of justification by faith alone in Christ alone. According to Article IV. B., “Justification is God’s gracious and full acquittal upon principles of His righteousness of all sinners who repent and believe in Christ. Justification brings the believer unto a relationship of peace and favor with God.” That is not the position of the Roman Catholic Church which has been denying the material principle of the Reformation (justification by faith alone) for centuries. According to the RCC:
If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema (Council of Trent, Canons on Justification, Canon 9).
Within her teaching ministry, Beth Moore has referred to Roman Catholics as her “brothers and sisters” in Christ. In one video from 2002, Beth Moore stated that God gave her a vision of the unity that God was building among various denominations in which she included both Catholics and charismatics. This ecumenical view of other faiths is problematic and weakens the SBC as a whole. As the SBC looks into the future, it should be obvious that a clear stance on justification by faith alone must be embraced, guarded, and proclaimed. Not only should the SBC be clear on justification, but other doctrinal distinctives must be maintained as well. Unfortunately, many people view distinctives as restrictive or even judgmental in nature. This negative view of doctrinal clarity often leads to the capitulation of God’s Word. Is the SBC interested in remaining in a specific theological lane or is the Convention interested in moving toward a more broad or mainstream protestant position?
The SBC and Women Preachers
When Molly Marshall was serving as a pastor of a local Baptist church, she recounts an incident when the little boys and girls in the church had a disagreement during children’s church. The disagreement was over whether or not little boys could be the preacher when they were “playing church”—to which a children’s worker had to correct the little girls by telling them that the little boys can be preachers too. Molly Marshall stated that the little girls had witnessed her as their example and this was key to their development which is why Marshall believes we develop a specific worldview and read the Bible through that particular lens regarding the roles and responsibilities of women within the church.
In 2017 Barna Research Group pointed out that there was a rise in the number of women pastors. According to their study, “One of every 11 Protestant pastors is a woman—triple as many as 25 years ago.” In a new statistical analysis, “State of Clergywomen in the U.S.: A Statistical Update” the numbers indicate that within “most Mainline denominations, the percentage of clergywomen has doubled or tripled since 1994.”
Dr. Albert Mohler who serves as the president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary has recently weighed in on this issue of complementarianism in an answer to a question during an “Ask Anything” podcast where he stated the following:
If you look at the denominations where women do the preaching, they are also the denominations where people do the leaving. I think there’s just something about the order of creation that means that God intends for the preaching voice to be a male voice.
While the mainline protestant denominations continue to shift toward an egalitarian position, this movement demonstrates an uptick across the board. When adding totals from American Baptist Churches USA, Disciples of Christ, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Episcopal Church, the United Church of Christ and United Methodist denominations, the numbers indicate 32 percent of clergy from those denominations in 2017. Compare the most recent percentage total (32%) with numbers from 1994 (15%) and 1977 (2.3%) and the trend is easy to follow. The numbers reveal an explosive growth of women serving in the office of pastor.
With the rise of the #MeToo movement, Beth Moore became the focus of many conversations within the Southern Baptist Convention mostly because of her article titled, “A Letter to My Brothers” which was written a few weeks before the SBC gathered in Dallas, Texas in June of 2018. Since then, she has been very outspoken on issues that we can all agree are problematic such as misogyny, sexism, and discrimination against women. However, is preventing women from preaching the Bible oppressive?
Victimology has replaced theology beneath the banner of social justice. To play the victim card in our culture today is like playing the ace of spades in a card game. The victim approach to ladder climbing is both politically correct and extremely powerful. The social justice movement, unfortunately, places a clear reading of 1 Timothy 2-3 and the roles of women that are rooted in creation within the category of misogyny. Beth Moore has clearly twisted the Scriptures and used the social justice movement to fuel her agenda. Suddenly, anyone who speaks out against her and this progressive deconstructionist trend are shouted down and labeled as misogynists.
Not only did Beth Moore take to Twitter to taunt her opposition on these matters in recent days, she likewise took to the pulpit in a SBC church on Mother’s Day to exercise her perceived privilege and calling as a preacher and teacher of God’s Word. Will Beth Moore mobilize her partnerships with Russell Moore (president of the ERLC) and her open door to the churches of the SBC through her ongoing LifeWay publishing agreement to shift the SBC toward an egalitarian position? Will her supporters within the SBC ignore the Bible and cite the mainstream protestant trends while demanding that we need to get up-to-date with the times? What the future holds for the SBC on such issues is uncertain, but if the positions of current leadership such as J.D. Greear and Russell Moore is any indication—it would not be out of the question to see a woman elected as a vice president or even presidential role in the upcoming years. Such a move would press the SBC down a progressive path through a top-down influence upon the local churches of the SBC.
The Russian journalist and philosopher Fyodor Dostoevsky made the famous statement, “If there is no God, then everything is permissible.” This is true, but the problem with this line of thinking is that there is a God and he has established boundaries and hierarchies, and this goes for both the culture, home, and his church. To tamper with God’s design is to go to war with God himself. Beth Moore has made herself very clear on large theological and methodological positions and for that reason, it would be wise for the SBC to be clear where the denomination stands. If Dr. Mohler is accurate in his evaluation, if denominations where women do the preaching are also denominations where people do the leaving—it would be detrimental to the SBC to follow this trend. We must remember, this is not just about losing people—it’s dangerous to find yourself on the opposing side of God on any issue as Israel learned in 1 Samuel 4:21.
The SBC is not charismatic. The SBC is not egalitarian. To say so is not divisive nor is it misogynistic. It’s time for the SBC to say “no more” to Beth Moore.
As our world celebrates “Women’s Day” we are sure to hear many encouraging stories of perseverance and diligence. We will be pointed to many accomplishments of women around the world. From the arts to politics and within the world of business and academics—we will hear stories of women who worked diligently to overcome stigma and discrimination in order to reach goals that were once unattainable in society. While we can certainly recognize progress of women’s equality in many ways in our culture, how should we as followers of Jesus celebrate women and the place of women in our lives, our culture, and our churches?
How to Dishonor Women
We have a long history of dishonoring women—stretching all the way back to the Garden of Eden. Throughout history, it took a long time for women to reach a place of cultural equality with men. Men and women were created equal by God, yet with specific boundaries and roles to fulfill their God ordained purpose. Although times have changed, the rhetoric continues to be negative regarding women’s equality.
This week in Spain, a high school is taking an opportunity to educate little boys about the oppression of women historically by restricting them from recess in order to point out how women historically have been restricted from good freedoms. Our culture continues to beat a drum of victimhood in order to honor women as a minority in many nations—including the United States. The reality is, women number a majority of the total population of America. Yet, we are continuing to hear the need for women’s equality in a day when women occupy nearly every office and position across our great nation—including the halls of academia and corporate America.
One of the most damaging agendas to ever assault women is the women’s liberation movement. It operated with the underpinning and foundational marketing ploy of liberating women from oppression and injustice. Through this agenda, women have been pointed outside of the home to the corporate world to fulfill their goals and flourish with their gifts. The women’s liberation movement has likewise done more to demean motherhood and encourage the murder of babies than any other movement in our world’s history. Motherhood has been traded for corporate success and pregnancy has been turned into a sickness that can be treated at a local clinic through modern day reproductive freedom. Rather than liberating women—the women’s liberation movement led them into a deep and dark dungeon far away from God’s intended purpose for their existence.
Today, we’ve reaped the harvest of the feminist agenda in America. We have officially changed our laws to include the false and contradictory category of gay marriage. Now, we celebrate men who pretend to be women by self identification and surgical procedures. This move is killing women’s sports by allowing men to compete on the same level as women. The things that once caused us to blush are now celebrated with awards. When a cultural figure such as Caitlyn Jenner can receive the “Woman of the Year” award from Glamour Magazine and the “Arthur Ashe Award for Courage” at the 2015 ESPY Awards—we must honestly ask ourselves how far will this agenda go?
In the 60s and 70s the feminists permeated the language of freedom and liberation into the minds and hearts of women seeking to change the direction of women in America—indeed to change the direction of America altogether. Unfortunately, we have allowed their movement to become less offensive, the lines to become blurred, and in some cases, their agenda has spilled over into the church. What was once offensive yesterday is openly celebrated today in America. Sadly the feminist agenda has infiltrated local churches and evangelical denominations. Once again, if anyone in the world should be celebrating the place and purpose of women in our world—it should be the church of Jesus Christ.
Today, through the social justice agenda, we’re hearing the language of gender equality within the church and empowerment. The recent #MeToo movement spawned the #ChurchToo movement and through social justice politics has caused a reactionary response of empowerment and a hyper-focused effort to raise women to the highest levels of leadership. If we continue to teach another generation of women that they’re victims of oppression and that their entire existence is riddled with injustice in the church of Jesus Christ—we will teach women that they haven’t arrived yet and that they need to do something else to fulfill their existence. Has God not made it clear regarding the purpose, beauty, and unique calling of women in this world?
This conversation has reached a fever pitch within the ranks of the Southern Baptist Convention where leaders are posturing their institutions to include women in the highest ranks of their theological faculty and denominational structures—including the highest office of president. This reactionary evangelical culture has now begun to evaluate the current hierarchies with the possibility of tearing them down and rebuilding with a new design and new boundaries. This has raised the eyebrows of many, but the language of soft and broad complementarianism has surfaced once again with some people suggesting that we need to redefine complementarianism altogether. If the feminist agenda of the 60s and 70s rocked our nation and our churches, what will the social justice agenda do to our churches and denominations? How will the United Methodist Church respond to this pressure? What direction will the Southern Baptist Convention take on such matters?
The best way to dishonor a woman is to ask her to do something or be something that God never intended in the first place. Satan asked Eve to reverse her role and to bypass the leadership of Adam. Satan likewise asked Eve to look beyond God’s boundary to the forbidden tree to find purpose in her existence. The women’s liberation movement greatly dishonored women. The modern social justice movement is positioned to do the same thing—and this time with a specific evangelical twist within the church. One of the tragedies of the social justice movement is that we continue to allow the culture to define us as opposed to God who is the sovereign creator and designer.
How to Celebrate Women Rightly
If anyone should see the beauty and acknowledge the value of women in the world it should be the church of Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, as it pertains to the value, purpose, and place of women in the church today—the cultural agenda of social justice seems to be calling the shots as opposed to the sufficient Word of God. If we, as Christians, are to rightly honor women it should be through acknowledging the wonderful purpose of women as articulated in the Word of God.
The church of Jesus Christ should boldly stand against sin and push back against injustice and sinful oppression. If sexism or misogyny exists in specific evangelical circles—it should be confronted properly. If discrimination and injustice exists within the local church, there is a proper way to handle such sin within the context of the church family (Matt. 18:15-20). Likewise, the church of Jesus Christ should not blush nor back down from the God ordained boundaries for men and women and the distinct roles for women should not be redefined for a modern era.
- God created Eve distinct from Adam with a purpose (Genesis 2).
- God used Rahab (Joshua 6:17; Matthew 1:5).
- God chose Mary for a special and unique purpose (Matt. 1:18-20).
- God used women all throughout the early church (Acts 1:12–14; 9:36–42; 16:13–15; 17:1–4, 10–12; 18:1–2, 18, 24–28; Romans 16; 1 Corinthians 16:19; 2 Timothy 1:5; 2:10; 4:19).
While the Talmud stated that it would be better to burn the Torah than to teach it to a woman, Jesus taught the woman at the well (John 4) and even allowed a small band of women to travel with he and his followers (Luke 8:1-3). At the crucifixion, we find women lamenting his death (Matthew 27:55-56). After Jesus’ resurrection, he appeared to Mary Magdalene and she became one of the first witnesses to this wonderful bedrock truth of Christianity (John 20:1-18).
While in the days of the Old Testament no women served among the Levites as a priest. No woman ruled Israel as queen. With the exception of Deborah (who must be viewed as a judgment upon Israel), no woman served God as a prophet. No woman penned one of the sixty-six books of the Bible. No woman served as an apostle. No woman served as an original deacon in Acts 6. No woman is called to serve as an elder as instituted by God in 1 Timothy 3. However, God has always had his place for women and has used women in various and distinct roles for his glory. Paul specifically stated in 1 Timothy 2:10 that women should be able to learn the great truths of God and he made this statement in a time period when women were forbidden from such learning.
Christianity has consistently pointed to the value of women in our culture as a whole and within the church of Jesus Christ. Nearly every leader through church history has been helped along by women. In fact, it’s safe to say that without women, the church of Christ would not be what God intended from the beginning. We must celebrate the God intended purpose for women in our world! From the privileged role of motherhood to the high calling of a wife (Prov. 18:22)—women have a special design by God. When women understand their calling and seek to flourish within God’s intended design, they are to be praised. So, we should pay close attention to the message of the culture that’s consistently pressing women to do what God hasn’t called them to do as a means of fulfillment when there’s so much women can and should be doing for God’s glory?
Proverbs 31:28 — Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her.
Years ago, the Women’s Liberation Movement rolled through America and forced its way into conservative evangelical circles. In 1970, Germaine Greer wrote The Female Eunuch which not only suggested that motherhood was a handicap but it went on to claim pregnancy was an illness. Germaine Greer taught women to be “deliberately promiscuous” and to do everything possible to avoid conceiving children. It was a common thing for the militant feminist to describe the role the mother in nurturing and caring for her children as a form of oppression and slavery.
In the ’60s and ’70s the feminists permeated that language into the minds and hearts of women seeking to change the direction of women in America. Unfortunately, we have allowed their movement to become less offensive, the lines have become blurred, and in some cases, their agenda has infiltrated the church. What seemed like crazy talk in the ’70s has become the norm today. This has always been the case with liberation movements. In ancient Rome, women would announce their independence from men, leave home, refuse to have children, and deny the responsibilities of a woman in society—including the wife and mother in the home. Similar feminist movements have occurred in American history, but sadly they should never have an impact upon the Christian community because of the true liberation of the gospel.
While we can certainly agree that the equality of women was not granted to women in American society in the past—flowing from the Women’s Liberation Movement came a liberation theology that continues to suggest that evangelicals (across denominational boundaries) have been guilty of systemic oppression. In other words, what was in the culture eventually made it into the church.
The Women’s Liberation Movement was founded upon a Marxist foundation rather than the gospel. Therefore, it sought to elevate women to the highest levels of power and freedom across the culture as a whole. In the process this liberation movement took direct aim upon the sufficiency of Scripture and the complementarian doctrine established by God at the point of creation. The Women’s Liberation Movement suggested that evangelical men simply wanted women to remain “barefoot and in the kitchen” (with a few children clinging to their legs). The question has become a hot topic issue with the current social justice agenda, and now suddenly we’re hearing leaders within denominational structures and academic circles suggesting that we must now apologize for this great error and empower women. In short, evangelicals are being accused of systemic oppression (across denominational lines). According to the social justice leaders—in order to overcome this oppressive culture, we must empower women to the highest levels of leadership in order for women to flourish for God’s glory.
Do women need to be liberated again? Is the liberation of the gospel not enough? Not only is that simply not true—it’s a tragic rebirth of the women’s liberation movement of the past that will have a lasting negative impact upon evangelicalism.
The Sufficiency of Scripture
The battle for the Bible will always involve a battle for the dictionary. We witnessed that reality in our recent battle over the definition of marriage. Anytime a group (even a loud minority population) can convince people to turn their backs on the Bible and the definitions that emerge from the Bible—they can rewrite essential definitions to fit their agenda. That happened with same sex marriage, and it’s now continuing in our day through the social justice agenda as we’re being forced to reconsider and potentially redefine complementarianism.
Do Christians need political strategies and cultural methods such as intersectionality to enable women to flourish? In 2 Timothy 3:16-17, Paul pens these words to Timothy:
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
The Scriptures are sufficient for the work of pastoral shepherding—both reproof and correction. In fact, they are sufficient to deal with the positive and negative – correction and equipping. Therefore, Christian women (of all ages) can learn to flourish as they are equipped by God’s Word through the faithful preaching of Scripture. If Timothy had decided to preach the cultural trends of the day rather than the Scriptures—it would have been a tragic and soul-damning mistake. Paul understood these pressures and that’s why in his final letter before his head was chopped off in the streets of Rome—he pointed his beloved young pastor to the Scriptures.
Far too often liberation theology (social justice is a modern liberation theology) imports baggage into the white spaces between the black text. It’s a movement from culture to Scripture (which is one reason why a presuppositional approach to apologetics and hermeneutics is helpful) and it’s guilty of the tragic sin of eisegesis. Faithful exegesis looks to God’s Word and brings out what’s there while eisegesis inserts ideas and opinions of man into the very Word of God.
Submission, Roles, and Flourishing
In Ephesians 5:22-24, Paul writes the following to the church at Ephesus (and the surrounding cities):
Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.
The Satanic attack on the family has resulted in a reversal of roles in the home. Once upon a time, as in the Garden of Eden, it was God’s design for the husband to be the head of the wife and that headship involves the responsibility of physical provision and spiritual leadership. Eve rebelled against God’s role as she took the leadership role in the Garden – over her husband – taking the advice of Satan and eating the forbidden fruit. Paul points to the design that’s rooted in creation—namely that the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church. Just as the church submits to Jesus, so too must the wife submit to her husband.
The world has taught young girls that submission is equivalent to oppression. William Hendriksen observes, “A home without a head is an invitation to chaos. It spells derangement and disaster worse even than that which results when a nation is without a ruler or an army without a commander.”  The world, we must remember, has many ideas and many paths and they all seem good. However, there are many ways to miss the bullseye—and to deny the roles of God is to miss more than the bullseye—it’s to miss the entire target! R.C. Sproul once stated the following:
It is the Lord’s will that the wife be submissive to her husband, and if she wants to honour Christ, then one of the concrete ways she does this is by being in submission to her husband. If a woman is contentious and refuses to follow the leadership of her husband, she is in rebellion, not simply against him, but also against Christ. 
Remember, the unbelieving world looked at the cross as a foolish thing. The unbelieving Jews had no idea why their long awaited Messiah would surrender himself to the cross without a fight. Quite simply put, the whole redemptive plan of God seemed illogical and was ridiculed openly. In fact, the very oldest picture we have of Jesus is one that was found on a prison wall and it depicted the body of a man on the cross with the head of a donkey. To add to the blasphemy, it depicted a man below the cross bowing down and the whole picture not only mocked Jesus it mocked the man who was a follower of Jesus.
Is the Bible sufficient to teach women how to be faithful mothers and God-honoring wives? Are the Scriptures sufficient to teach women how to disciple their children for the glory of God? Is the gospel of Jesus Christ powerful enough to liberate all Christian women from the sin and to free them to flourish and bloom for the glory of King Jesus? The answer is obvious.
We must never forget that to follow Jesus will result in great criticism. Therefore, when a woman submits to the leadership of her husband and seeks to make the home her focus—the world will view this as oppressive and backward. The best way to flourish is always to follow Jesus—no matter what the world’s opinion suggests. In fact, it must be stated that to follow the world’s way is to enter into great oppression – no matter how free and liberated the sin makes a person feel. Liberation theology that differs from the gospel of Jesus Christ leads to oppression rather than liberation. Only through the gospel of Jesus can a person experience genuine liberation and only through the gospel can a person flourish with the gifts and roles that God has designed from the beginning.
Is the gospel enough? What is the modern social justice movement trying to communicate?
- William Hendriksen and Simon J. Kistemaker, Exposition of Ephesians, vol. 7, New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1953–2001), 248.
- R. C. Sproul, The Purpose of God: Ephesians (Scotland: Christian Focus Publications, 1994), 135.
Years ago, the evangelical world was abuzz with controversy over inerrancy. This was especially true within the Southern Baptist Convention. You could ask two different people if they believed in the inerrancy of Scripture, and while both answered “yes”—both of them when pressed would provide two different understandings of inerrancy. For the liberal, his view was that the Bible “contains the Word of God” which is quite different from the other individual who was contending for total, verbal, plenary inerrancy.
In short, words matter and definitions lead to the defining of positions. The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (1978) was helpful in defining terms and providing clarity on a very important theological subject. It would take a good number of years before the Southern Baptist Convention would be rerouted back to a historic position on biblical inerrancy—and this move has been labeled the Conservative Resurgence.
Today, there are new winds of controversy blowing in the evangelical world. The winds of controversy are centered on the issue of women serving in leadership. With varying degrees of opinions on this subject—including an eclectic array of interpretations on biblical texts such as 1 Timothy 2:11-15; 3:1-15; Titus 2, we stand in need of clarification on complementarianism. In an age where being soft is in vogue—we must remember that watering down masculinity, beefing up femininity, and redefining biblical roles as designed by God for the home, the church, and society will have a negative result in all areas. We need real men and women again!
As we consider this issue, it’s not one that can be approached without crystal clear definitions. While The Danvers Statement (1987) deals with the issues of complementarity, there are some voices in evangelicalism who are suggesting that The Danvers Statement would permit a woman to serve as the president of the SBC. Others seem to disagree. While the Baptist Faith & Message 2000 is rather broad, it points to the office of pastor in article VI and states, “While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.” Some voices are arguing that this is only in regards to the “senior pastor” within the local church, and does not place the same restrictions on associate pastors and denominational offices.
With all of the opinions blowing around in the wind, we need to clarify positions on the definition of comlementarianism. I propose the following list of questions that need to be seriously reviewed and considered.
1. What does the term complementarianism mean? There is a maximum view and a minimum view, so what exactly should we think when we use the term itself and from what passages do we derive the definition from?
2. Is the theological position of complementarianism oppressive to women in any way?
3. Is the theological position of complementarianism restricting women from doing what God has called them to do?
4. Should we tolerate both minimum and maximum views of complementarianism in the same way we tolerate dispensationalism and amillennialism within the same evangelical circles or local churches?
5. Does the biblical text in regard to authority (1 Tim. 2:12) forbid women from serving as a professor of theology in a seminary setting?
6. Does this passage, as it pertains to teaching and preaching, forbid women from serving as associate pastors in the local church?
7. Does this passage, as it pertains to teaching and preaching, forbid women from speaking to a mixed audience in a conference setting?
8. Does 1 Timothy 2 forbid a woman from serving in a denominational leadership role such as the office of the president of the SBC, ERLC, or similar position?
9. If evangelicals redefine complementarity boundaries for leadership in the church and denominational structures, what affect will this have upon the roles of the home?
10. Will a redefining of complementarianism lead to a redefining of sexual boundaries within evangelicalism?
At one point, The Danvers Statement states the following rationale for the formation of the statement in 1987:
the increasing prevalence and acceptance of hermeneutical oddities devised to reinterpret apparently plain meanings of Biblical texts;
It seems as if history has repeated itself. So it is within the world of theology. It has been stated well there is nothing new under the sun (Ecc. 1:9) and all modern heresy is ancient error retooled for an urbane culture. One of the affirmations (#8) of The Danvers Statement reads as follows:
In both men and women a heartfelt sense of call to ministry should never be used to set aside Biblical criteria for particular ministries (1 Tim 2:11-15, 3:1-13; Tit 1:5-9). Rather, Biblical teaching should remain the authority for testing our subjective discernment of God’s will.
Do we still believe that a subjective calling to serve in ministry should be tested by the biblical texts cited in the above affirmation? These are serious questions that need to be clarified. The women’s liberation movement with its egalitarian approach to life was birthed in the Garden of Eden, it has Satan as its father (Satan is the father of all lies), and it has oppression as its ultimate goal. If we fail to be clear on comlementarianism (as a political move, by neglect, or by mere oversight), we will lead people into the trap of the enemy.
People are asking legitimate questions. While I’m not an alarmist, I do believe many organizations and entities are postured for serious problems if we take a left turn at this juncture. With all of the talk of entering a new era where women can flourish and be respected as fellow image-bearers, we need to evaluate this “new era” through a robust biblical lens to be certain that it’s not a false promise from an ancient serpent. Does complementarianism disrespect women and hold them back from God’s intended purpose and his original design? If not, we need to stand firm and stop apologizing for what God has ordained from the beginning.