Tuesday, September 12, 2017

God on the Hot Seat

Cheryl Schatz on the subject of calling God to account:

“So the question we need to ask is, should we call God to account for gifting women in areas that men say God has ‘disallowed’ or ‘disqualified’ women from using their gifts for the benefit of all?”

Now we all trust Cheryl’s answer is going to be no, right? I mean, the idea of calling God to account for anything at all is actually pretty funny, and it’s especially odd to see a professing Christian use the phrase. After all, those who make the public claim that it is God who created and God who sustains them ought to be the first to recognize our relative place in the universe.

Words Without Knowledge

If this subject sounds vaguely familiar, it’s probable you’ve read the book of Job. Most of us remember how that ends. But long before God finally answers Job out of the whirlwind in chapter 38, and even in the midst of his most acute misery, Job has figured out that a man calling God to account is off the table:
“Only grant me two things, then I will not hide myself from your face: withdraw your hand far from me, and let not dread of you terrify me. Then call, and I will answer; or let me speak, and you reply to me.”
Job understood the only way a man could ever have a dialogue with God about his mysterious ways with mankind is if God graciously props up his accuser. Even the courage to question God comes ... from God.

Hopefully that dispenses with the notion of putting God on the hot seat. We’d be wiser to avoid the phrase “call God to account” entirely.

A Terrible Dilemma

That said, the specific claim that gives rise to Cheryl’s complaint is that God has gifted women as teachers, and that the gift itself is evidence women should be able to teach men in their local churches. She continues:
“After all wouldn’t it mean that God would be guilty of creating a terrible dilemma for women? They either use their gifts for the common good and get God’s wrath for doing so (according to complementarians who determine that using these gifts for the common good is a sin) or they shelve their gifts and withhold them from the common good and get God’s wrath for withholding His gifts from the body Christ which is the intended purpose of all of the gifts.

Does this sound reasonable that God gifts people but He then forbids them from using their gifts? Should anyone be fearful of using their God-given gifts for the benefit of the body of Christ?”
That claim probably merits a short discussion, since placing limitations on the use of spiritual gifts at least initially sounds like a terrible thing.

That is, until we discover the apostle Paul does it to men.

Using Gifts in their Appropriate Context

If there existed no passages in the New Testament that place limits on the use of certain gifts in certain contexts, I might be momentarily tempted to think Schatz has a point. But 1 Corinthians 14 places contextual limits on the use of tongues by the “brothers” (Christian “women” get their instructions starting with v34):
“If there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church and speak to himself and to God.”
Silent men? Wow. But there it is.

Even in a day when this gift was common, tongues were not to be spoken in church meetings in the absence of an interpretation, either by the tongues-speaker himself or by another. Why? Because the gift was never intended for use in the gatherings of believers. It was intended to be a witness to unbelieving Jews in the world.

The “Common Good”

But wait. Aren’t all the gifts given for “the common good”? Absolutely. But it does not follow logically that all spiritual gifts were intended for use in church meetings.

In fact, witnessing to Jews, whether in public or private, was very much for the common good. How else would the Church grow in places like Jerusalem and throughout Judea? How else would the unsaved Jews in places like Corinth or Galatia be reached for Christ? And when the message of salvation was accompanied by miraculous evidence God was speaking, it was even more effective and convicting, as the 3,000 Jews saved at Pentecost demonstrate.

But what were the chances of getting large numbers of unbelieving, orthodox Jews into early Christian gatherings of mixed Jews and Gentiles? Not high, I can assure you. In short, this tongues-speaking was very much given for the “common good”, but the gift wasn’t meant for widespread use in church, and it was not to be used there except subject to strict limitations.

For that matter, other spiritual gifts were also given for “the common good” but intended primarily for use outside church meetings (which, not surprisingly, is where we find them being displayed for us in the book of Acts: on the way to the temple, around the campfire or in the home). Working of miracles comes to mind, or healings, or administration, or acts of mercy, or service, or sharing. All of these gifts were (or are) more effectively exercised in homes or in public rather than behind closed doors. Further, nothing says that even the few gifts useful in church meetings cannot or should not be used outside of them.

The 1.8% Solution

Assuming a woman is truly gifted to teach, a prohibition on teaching men in the context of church meetings creates no “terrible dilemma” for her. It does not force her to “shelve her gift” any more than Corinthian tongues-speaking men who Paul tells to “keep silent in church” were forced to shelve theirs. It simply meant they were to exercise that gift for the common good in its intended setting.

For a woman gifted to teach today, that means “shelving” her gift for a maximum of two to three hours out of every 168, or slightly under 2% of her life. Does that sound so unreasonable really? I would hope not.

Frankly, even if it does, let’s not start talking nonsense about calling God to account for it.


  1. Women are being held back from addressing the entire congregation from the pulpit in a public way. But so, hopefully, are most men. Overlooked in the complaint Cheryl has is this: the teaching gift is a gift that can be expressed in many, many ways outside the formality of a structured meeting. Teaching happens in coffee shops, over kitchen tables, downstairs between meetings, during marathon car trips, on web blog posts, or even on Twitter. In any of those settings, and in many more, the teaching gift is freely expressed, sometimes even unintentionally. Teaching from the pulpit in a scheduled meeting or setting is a variant - and a rare one ideally - of the gift, not the whole of the story. Which is what you've largely pointed out above.

    What Cheryl seems to be unhappy about (and in my experience what many men and women who aren't invited to the pulpit are unhappy about) is the lack of public recognition of how truly wonderful they are. Which isn't really the point of having been gifted anyway.

  2. A woman being asked not to teach men in church meetings only becomes a "terrible dilemma" if deep down, she privately believes that teaching men is more meaningful and important than "just" teaching women. And that is both wrong and a tragedy.

    There's a crying need for good, doctrinally sound ministry to women, and many women who would love to study and discuss some of the thornier passages of Scripture about their role and responsibilities as women in the church and in the home. Men often find it difficult and awkward to speak on these subjects (and if they don't find it difficult, they probably shouldn't be doing it): the ideal solution is for the older women to teach the younger as commanded in Titus 2:3-5.

    But in spite of all the rhetoric about women being equal or even superior to men, the argument that a woman's teaching gift is being "stifled" or "repressed" or "undervalued" IF she is not being asked to teach men in addition to women betrays a fundamental problem in feminist views of both men AND women. It means that the issue at stake is not whether the needs of women for spiritual ministry and encouragement are being met, nor is it about giving women more opportunities to study Scripture and exercise their spiritual gifts -- if it were, the agitators would be perfectly happy to focus on teaching women and let the men do their own thing. Rather, it's about proving to men -- specifically and especially to men -- that women's teaching is "just as good" as theirs. (And, presumably, that Paul was a blinkered old misogynist whom God carelessly allowed to write huge chunks of His Word, including some quite specific teaching about the role of women -- are we going to "call God to account" about that as well?)

    If all the women who are currently demanding to be allowed to teach and exercise authority over men were putting their energies into ministering to their fellow women instead -- not merely in church meetings, but throughout the week -- our churches and families would be stronger and healthier for it.

    That being said, it's crucial for male church leaders to put their money (metaphorically speaking, but sometimes literally as well) where their mouth is. If they really believe that women have equal spiritual worth and value to men, then they should be eager to create or at least encourage opportunities for women to study the Scriptures, and exercise their gifts in meaningful ways that are not limited to babysitting infants in the nursery, teaching the younger grades of Sunday School, visiting the sick and housebound and serving food and drink at social events.* Not that those traditional ministries don't have value, but not every woman fits neatly into those roles, and if a woman does have both a teaching gift and the spiritual maturity and discernment to use it well, then she ought to be encouraged to take on some of the "tricky" women's issues in a meeting or Bible study geared to women and endorsed by the male leadership of her church, not ignored or passed over so that male preachers can (often reluctantly) address those topics in a mixed meeting.

    (But the truth is, usually those topics just go unaddressed, or very quickly and apologetically skipped over in a message about the broader context. And then the male leaders wonder why women are confused and unhappy about what they are and aren't supposed to be doing in the church.)

    * Not spiritual events, though, because heaven forbid we should be forced to look at a woman, say, silently handing out a platter of bread during communion or giving an announcement about an upcoming women's conference. That would be too much like... teaching? Exercising authority? Something?

    1. Well, THAT generated some heat! :) Agreed, agreed and agreed.

      Particularly on point is your bit about men teaching women on these subjects by "quickly and apologetically" skipping through the relevant texts. Bernie and I were only just discussing a growing tendency we notice in corrective platform ministry and corrective blog ministry to women, which is to draw unwarranted moral equivalencies.

      In effect, apologizing.

      What I mean is, having corrected an obvious error in faith or practice with respect to women's responsibilities in home or church, male Bible teachers seem to feel an almost overwhelming compulsion to drag their own sex into it and pummel themselves for a few minutes to appear "fair", even if there's little or nothing to do with men's responsibilities in the passage under consideration.

      I've done it, and it's both cowardly and counterproductive. It has the effect of softening the earlier correction rather than supplementing it with a needed word to men. (Perhaps the same happens when women teach women, but of course Bernie and I would have no clue.) It basically begs, "If we fix our flawed performance, will you please fix yours?" when it is clear our responsibilities to the Lord in these areas do not turn on whether our spouses are doing their bit perfectly.

      All to say there is a desperate need to deal more wisely and courageously with these issues in our churches, because the current evangelical "narrative" on roles is far from orthodox.

  3. What I mean is, having corrected an obvious error in faith or practice with respect to women's responsibilities in home or church, male Bible teachers seem to feel an almost overwhelming compulsion to drag their own sex into it and pummel themselves for a few minutes to appear "fair", even if there's little or nothing to do with men's responsibilities in the passage under consideration.

    Frankly, as a woman I'd rather hear that than be left with the impression that the speaker just wants to grind his ax about what women should be doing, something which can be pretty hard to take coming from a man who has no personal experience of the challenges that women in particular face (yes, men have their own challenges, but that's a different issue). At least an apologetic stance assures me that the speaker realizes this stuff isn't easy, and that he realizes this kind of preaching can often come off as men commanding women to behave for their own personal convenience, rather than exhorting them as sisters for the Lord's glory.

    All this would be largely circumvented, however, if we had more (good) teaching of women by women on these controversial issues.