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Friday, August 28, 2015

Too Hot to Handle: Oh No, Not Two Guys Talking About the Woman’s Role Again!

In which two or more of our regular writers toss around subjects a little more volatile than usual.

Tom: Immanuel Can is sending me bad things again. And I’m not entirely sure how to respond. This time it’s Moody Publishers’ “Post Sunday”, in which Moody extols one of its new releases. This one is a Hannah Anderson special in which the author holds forth on the “lameness” of the church. Okay, I can’t stop there: the church is lame (according to Hannah) because she has crippled herself. In the words of Ms Anderson, we have failed to equip “Bible women” because we “don’t have a vision for how God could use them for His glory”.

Help me out here: what are “Bible women”?

Immanuel Can: I don’t know … It could be a reference to Eve, or Sarah, or Deborah, or possibly to Michal or Jezebel. Last time I checked, they were all “Bible women”.

But no, that couldn’t be who she means … some of those women were self-starters.

Roles and Rights

Tom: Nope, not who she means, for sure. These “Bible women” are women who don’t worry about their historical and biblical place in the local church. As Anderson says:
“Perhaps it’s time we stop talking to women about their ‘rights’ or their ‘roles’. Perhaps it’s time we start talking to them about their responsibilities.”
Now to be fair, I can’t think of a whole lot written about women’s “rights” in scripture, or about men’s “rights”, for that matter, can you?

IC: There’s certainly warrant for a specific set of human rights in scripture, and there is warrant for distinctive responsibilities or duties for men and women; but so far as I know, there is nothing from which to ground specific rights for men and women. Do you know of any, Tom?

Tom: I think some people infer them, though they are not really there. Some take verses like “Husbands, love your wives” and read them as “A wife has a right to be loved by her Christian husband”. But like you said, I see that as the man’s responsibility rather than anyone’s specific right. Sure, if you have an obedient spouse who is looking to please God, you are bound to reap certain benefits from that. But that’s very different from possessing an inalienable right.

A Vision of Bible Women

IC: As you say, Ms. Anderson also claims that we lack a “vision of how God could use [Bible women] for His glory”. To where do you suppose she expects people to look to have such a “vision”?

Tom: I wish there was a link available to her promotional piece so our readers could see the context in which all this arises. Basically, she’s written a book called “Made for More”, the thesis of which appears to be that women are underutilized in the church. She refers to the church as “one-legged” and seems to think “rights” and “roles” are the problem.

Now in one sense she has a point, in that teaching women doctrine and equipping them to teach and evangelize is not a bad thing. The church does not benefit from ignorance. And women teaching and preaching are not bad things: it’s WHO they’re teaching and WHERE they’re doing it that’s at issue.

IC: Well, I agree that conservative churches generally have tended to believe that all members have spiritual gifts, but also not necessarily to act as if women are gifted. But in the more modern denominations, this tends to be less the case. In fact, if anything, these latter groups are now having difficulty engaging their men, and (at least under the pastorate level) women tend to do almost everything. So I would think her thesis would only hold in some contexts.

Bible Women and Bible Teaching

Tom: Quite so. But regardless of what the current practice is where you live or I live, the fact is that there is zero legitimacy to the term “Bible women” unless the women in question are doing what the Bible teaches them to do, and doing it in the context in which it teaches them to do it. There’s no use talking about teaching women to “show forth the glory and greatness of their God” if we can’t be bothered to first ask in what particular way God has ordained that they show forth his greatness.

Now as far as Anderson’s book is concerned, I haven’t read it, and perhaps this short promotional piece she’s written for it fails to do it justice. But the promo itself has a couple of red flags in just a few short paragraphs, and it makes me rather cautious about the book.

IC: What are you thinking of?

Waving the Red Flag

Tom: Well, Red Flag 1 is the unwarranted leap from something a South Asian national once said to her over lunch about equipping women to “carry the gospel into places that no man can” to the subject of “the place of women in the church”. Nothing wrong with a woman evangelizing. Never has been, never will be. No woman gifted as an evangelist is restricted in any way from exercising that gift. She is, in fact, a gift to the church from the Lord Jesus himself. And even women who lack spiritual gifting in that particular area are not only encouraged but commanded to share the gospel, as we all are.

Nothing about this is new, and nothing about it requires any reassessment of “the place of women in the church”, since evangelism in scripture takes place outside the church.

IC: Yes, and this brings up my point about being self-starters: what keeps “Bible women” from taking their own opportunities to use their gifts? Is it not better (for both men and women) to seek out those areas of service for which they will not be rewarded on earth, and to leave official recognition to chance? Why would “Bible women” need other people to “catch a vision” of their alleged potential before they could be of any use to anyone? I’m not seeing that. Now, if Ms Anderson is complaining of the lack of encouragement of women to use their gifts, I think that’s at least partially legitimate; but if she’s complaining that without recognition or offices women cannot serve at all, then the same would surely apply to unrecognized men — and she’d be quite wrong. For recognition is no necessary part of service.

Tom: Quite so. Gifts are given “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ”, so we all have a responsibility to encourage and support one another in doing all the things the Lord has called us to do in his service. Is the church failing to do that? In many instances, perhaps. But as you say, what keeps us as individuals from stepping up and simply doing the work we have been equipped to do?

Stop Talking About Roles

The second red flag in Ms Anderson’s little promotional blurb is her gentle suggestion that the church stop talking to women about their roles. But there are very clear differences in male and female responsibilities in both home and church as delineated by the apostles. So either she is assuming women already know their biblical roles and don’t need to be regularly bludgeoned with the teaching of the New Testament or, far more likely, she would simply like to be rid of New Testament roles in the church.

IC: She doesn’t seem to give any place to that concern. Whether the “vision” is biblical or not does not form part of her pitch, it seems. I think there are quite a lot of complainants whose main beef is that their own particular “vision” is not being caught and realized within their own church.

An Unrealized Vision

Tom: That’s a song I’ve heard many times, and it’s a very normal problem to arise in the church. When your spiritual gift lies in a particular area of service, you tend to be very attuned to those sorts of needs and may tend to feel that everyone else should be involved in that particular area of service too — if they’re really spiritual people. It’s kind of a “Martha complex”, and with maturity we hopefully learn to rein it in a bit. People dignify their concerns a bit by calling them “visions”, but they are really just perceived needs.

IC: I’ve noted the same phenomenon. People have a natural tendency to claim their particular gifts — or age group, or gender, or preferred activity — are not receiving sufficient honour, and to believe that rectifying that is most pressing need of the local congregation. But this is almost always expressed from somewhat myopic perspective.

But this I will say on Ms Anderson’s behalf: that if all believers are indeed gifted, as our theology teaches, then do we not have to be deliberate about recognizing and encouraging the employment of the gifts of our women, youth and children? Or is it merely the adult males and elders that should be our focus? I think the answer to that has to be pretty obvious. And in the current political environment, being deliberate about giving some priority to those members that tend to receive less honour is not just biblical but is also a good way to defuse discontent. A caution, though: in so doing, we must be careful not to follow the spirit of the day, giving honour for people for things to which they have not been biblically appointed or spiritually gifted. So there’s a balance to be struck there.

Finding a Balance

Tom: Agreed. I think the balance is something like this: As men in the church, we should surely give honour and preference to our sisters in Christ, and ensure that they have the tools they need to develop the gifts the Holy Spirit has given them.

But it’s like I mentioned earlier about turning someone else’s responsibility into my perceived “right”: if I am a woman in the church, my willingness to use my gift and to serve as best I can should not depend on whether I am receiving the honour, preference or attention I would like. If the men in my church or its leadership lack the “vision” to help me develop and use my gift, that should not hold me back. There are all kinds of resources out there, and the Lord can use servants, whether or not we get recognized.

IC: Yes. And if you cannot get started without the vision, support and enthusiasm of your peers, then it’s quite likely you have misjudged your own gift. You probably are no good at what you imagine you want to do, since you cannot do it without a lot of help, and are not inclined to undertake it without recognition.

A Biblical Vision

Tom: Good point. In the end, each of us stands or falls to his or her own Master. Where judgment of our work is concerned, there is no such thing as corporate responsibility to fall back on. When we say, “The church has failed” at something, what we really mean is that a bunch of people have failed, each of whom is individually accountable to the Head of the Church.

Still, we’ve reached a sad state in the church’s history if we’re all out there going it alone in the service of Christ.

IC: No, we’re not alone, since our gifts are to be used for one another, and since we all have responsibility to care for one another. In fact, all members contributing through the proper working of the gifts is the thing that is supposed to bring us up to where we should be … that is, to the biblical vision, called “maturity” and “the fullness of Christ”.

Meanwhile, if we’re waiting for the church to come up to some other “vision” we have for it before we feel we can pitch in, we’ll wait a long time. And if Ms Anderson has a different kind of “vision” and wants the church to satisfy her personal desire to be valued as a “Bible woman” before she’ll exercise her gifts, then frankly, I think she hasn’t got a leg to stand on.

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