© Rosemary Bardsley 2017

Our response to the Christological model depends on our existing viewpoint. Both egalitarians and complementarians will agree with some aspects of the Christological model and will disagree with some aspects.

1 If we are egalitarian

1.1 Offense at the concept of ‘hierarchy’ and the term ‘hierarchy’
The use of the concept of hierarchy in the Christological Model has potential to offend us. It is an emotive and loaded term. To some extent this emotional loading is valid. Both inside and outside the Church mutually dysfunctional and damaging expressions of male/female hierarchy are all too evident.

But there does not seem to be any other single word that accurately depicts the respective roles of the Father and the Son. The only apparent alternatives are compound, and therefore cumbersome, phrases – ‘divinely appointed order’, ‘divine arrangement’, ‘appointed structure’.

The challenge for egalitarians is clear: the concept of ‘hierarchy’ is not in itself offensive. It is embedded in the very nature of the Trinity. As such it is good, for God is good; there is nothing negative or undesirable in him. It is only what we humans have done with ‘hierarchy’ that is bad. We have misinterpreted and misapplied ‘headship’. We have misinterpreted and misapplied ‘submission’. We have so corrupted the concept of ‘hierarchy’ that it has become a destructive and alien thing rather than being the divinely appointed structure within which our human (and our Church) potential is maximized.

Both in our original creation [Genesis 1:26,27] and in our re-creation in Christ [2Corinthians 3:18] God’s purpose is that we image him. This is our human glory. This is our divinely appointed maximum human potential. We cannot, therefore, maximize our potential, either individually or corporately as the Church, on a strictly ‘egalitarian’ basis according to the contemporary secular definition of ‘egalitarian’. The removal of all role differentiation from the male/female question automatically reduces our ability/potential to image God, because role differentiation is embedded in the Trinity. Just as dysfunctional hierarchy fails to image God, so also does the removal of hierarchy.

Action: We need to deconstruct defective concepts of ‘hierarchy; to redeem the concept of ‘hierarchy’ from its corrupted state; and to redefine and reconstruct the concept of male/female role differentiation on the Father/Son model, so that the Church reflects this powerful aspect of the nature of God.

1.2 The issue of ‘culture’
1.2.1 It is possible some egalitarians will refer to ‘culture’ to validate their position and to deny the need to consider the Christological model or any other discussion. This reference to culture understands 1Corinthians 14:34,35 and 1Timothy 2:11-13 as applicable to the specific time and culture then current. Some egalitarians include place and circumstances, reducing the application still further. From such a perspective, these texts have no on-going relevance.

Such conclusions ignore three clear biblical truths:

  • the fact that in 1Corinthians 11:3 Paul compares male/female role distinction to the Father/Son role distinction.
  • the fact that in 1Corinhtians 11:3 and Ephesians 5:22ff Paul compares the male/female role distinction to the Christ/Church role distinction.
  • Paul’s grounding of the male/female order in Genesis 2 – that man was created first [1Timothy 2:13] and that woman was created from and for the man [1Corinthians 11:8,9].

These three truths outlaw any discarding of male/female role distinctions on the basis of the argument from ‘culture’.

Action: We need to re-educate our minds regarding the biblical basis of male/female role distinctions and the relative irrelevance of New Testament ‘culture’ [time, culture, place, circumstance] to the question of gender role distinctions.

1.2.2 It is possible that some egalitarians hold their position because of the influence of contemporary twenty-first century culture, without having given any consideration to what the Bible may or may not teach.

Our culture officially/legally outlaws ‘discrimination’ of any kind. ‘Gender hierarchy’ is viewed as ‘discrimination’ and is therefore automatically understood to be bad and wrong.

Action: We need to remember that the Scripture, not contemporary culture, is our final authority in all matters of faith and action; that our position re male/female roles and functions in the Church is to be determined by what the Bible teaches, not what contemporary culture dictates.

1.3 The issue of ‘justice’
For some egalitarians the goal is to achieve ‘justice’ for women, and the Bible certainly identifies with that goal. Equal pay for equal work. Equal human rights to education, safety, protection, health services, etc. Wherever the gospel has been embraced and Christian values have influenced society, it has led to an improvement in the dignity, safety and equality of women. And as Evangelical Christians today, we should fight against injustice to women in our society.

But when the quest for equality overlooks or discounts the distinctions between men and women it actually does women and men an injustice. Although men and women are equally human with equal value and equal dignity, women are not men, cannot be men, and never will be men; and men are not women, cannot be women, and never will be women. Each is a distinct creation of God. Although there is God-given equality there is also God-given distinction. Each have unique identities, capabilities and roles within God’s creation. The push for the elimination of distinctions is unjust because the elimination of distinctions is impossible. Not only so, it also denies the wholeness and integrity of being ‘woman’. It encourages women to be dissatisfied with their gender distinctives and to strive to be all that ‘man’ is. In doing so it actually overrides God’s creative intention of unity in duality, equality in distinction, clearly evident in Genesis 2. Although the same [‘bone of my bones’, ‘flesh of my flesh’] in terms of equality of humanness, the two are distinct from each other, each complementing the other. God did not make another man as Adam’s counterpart; he made a woman. [The implications of this fact are far broader than homosexual issues.]

Justice is best achieved when we recognize the distinctions and allow woman to be woman and man to be man.

[Note: The egalitarian quest for ‘justice’ for women can result not only in diminishing the value of the functional uniqueness of women, but also in diminishing the functional uniqueness of men, and in doing so result in injustice for, and disempowerment of, men.]

[1] We need to strongly recognize and affirm the functional uniqueness of both women and men.

[2] We need to disempower and discard the concepts/arguments that:

  • State there is a functional equivalence between men and women.
  • State to be equal women need to become like men and do whatever men do.
  • Attempt to erase real gender differences.
  • Privilege traditional male roles over traditional female roles.
    Assume that equality between men and women will only be achieved when men and women are equally represented in various roles.

2 If we are complementarian

2.1 Concern for faithfulness to the Scripture
Our initial response as a complementarian will probably be a fear that the Christological model denies Paul’s instructions to Corinth and Timothy about female submission and silence, and has therefore abandoned faithfulness to the Scripture.

While faithfulness to the Scripture is, in itself, a non-negotiable concern, we must remind ourselves that that holding to a specific interpretation or historical application of a biblical text is not the same thing as faithfulness to the Scripture.

Action: While maintaining our strong affirmation of commitment to the authority of Scripture, we need to recognize that the Christological model also affirms, and is grounded on, that same authority.

2.2 Difficulty in accepting any alternative interpretation of Paul’s instructions
The traditional complementarian interpretation of Paul’s instructions to Corinth and Timothy is so embedded in their minds that even considering the possibility that there are other interpretations of these texts is difficult.

From the traditional complementarian perspective any suggested alternative interpretation will appear to be not a sound exegesis of the texts in context but an invalid re-interpretation forced onto the texts because of a pre-conceived desire/intention to change the historic practice of the Church regarding female roles and functions.

Action: We need to carefully study the meaning of the texts not only in their immediate context [see Appendix 2], but also in the context of the rest of Scripture, which provides us with significant over-arching truths within which to understand these particular verses

2.3 A possible confusion of ‘historic’ interpretation and biblical meaning
The traditional complementarian interpretation of Paul’s instructions in 1Corinthians 14:34,35 and 1Timothy 2:11-13 has been the historic interpretation over many centuries. It was long assumed, with little question, to be the correct interpretation of the texts.

What has happened to bring about the egalitarian/complementarian debate/discussion is that the prevailing secular culture has changed. In previous generations, and still today in some cultures, ‘gender hierarchy’ in which males dominate and females live in unquestioning subjection, was the secular norm. The traditional complementarian interpretation of the texts resonated with this secular norm. There was no reason for Christians to ask if the traditional interpretation of the texts was biblically valid. Very few, secular or Christian, questioned the common expressions of the male/female hierarchy, including impressions of inequality. However,

Pre 1900 women were mostly uneducated or minimally educated. The education of girls has removed all valid doubts about the equal intelligence of women.

Pre 1900 women were extremely limited in occupation. The two world wars precipitated the availability of an ever-increasing range of occupations to women, removing all valid doubts about the equal ability of women [exclusive of some physical/strength abilities].

Pre ‘human rights’ declarations and anti-discrimination laws, the ‘rights’ of women were legally less than those of men. Despite some of its excesses, the ‘human rights’ movement actually has much in common with the male/female equality clearly defined from Genesis 1 onwards. To persist in any conceptual or practical affirmation of inequality in expressions of gender hierarchy is to align oneself with dysfunctional humanity, which reduces the value of some humans, instead of aligning oneself with the biblical view of ‘human’ in which male and female are of equal value and dignity and worthy of equal respect.

[1] We need to keep two things in mind: (a) that historic and contemporary human corruptions of gender hierarchy and denials of gender equality, both secular and ‘Christian’, are not the biblical standard; and (b) that these corruptions must always be seen to be distinct from true biblical equality and true biblical gender role distinctions.

[2] To be true to the Bible, we need to disassociate the biblical texts from historic interpretations which were, in their historic setting, culturally but not biblically valid.