When the Church Authority Debate Goes Bad

Updated: Oct 31, 2019


I'll try to gear my anger down for this post. But I am pretty riled up. You will have to get to the bottom to see why.

I've written two posts that had to do with male authority in the church. It came up when my women's group was taking an online Theology Survey I class and the PhD professor brought it up in his lecture. So we looked into it. We studied what the Bible said.

Women's Proper Roles in the Church dated 2/13/19

Equal, but Not? dated 2/21/19

Complementarianism is this idea that Scripture has established male authority in the church. On the extreme end of complementarianism women are not allowed to teach men, be pastors at a church, be elders or deacons, or lead ministries (except for perhaps children's ministry and other women, but those are still under the authority of the male pastor.)

They came to this conclusion based on:

1 Timothy 2:11-12

A woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet.

1 Corinthians 14:34-35

The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says. If they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church.

And the pattern of several other passages. For instance the creation account where woman was made from man, man named woman Eve, after the Fall when sin entered the world that woman would be ruled by man (Genesis 3:16). The Trinity is one such argument by complementarians. The Son is begotten of the Father and submits to His will. Equal but different roles is modeled for us. The marriage passage in Ephesians 5:22-33 where wives are to be subject to their husbands. All elders in the church are referred to as males in 1 Timothy 5 and Titus 1. Also see 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 (especially verse 11:3), 14:33-35 (especially verse 34), Colossians 3:18-19, etc. They say that the combination of all of these passages clearly establishes a biblical pattern of male authority in the church and this pattern is universal - applicable for all time.

To each point the complementarians make, the egalitarians point to other Scripture which says we are all equal in Christ, etc. It is like point/ counterpoint on both sides.

Before we go any farther, let me point out that complementarians are godly people trying to live by the authority of Scripture. Many women are complementarians too. They have many valid points in their argument for male authority in the church. I just don't agree with the conclusion they draw. But I respect them as I hope they would respect my viewpoint. So don't be thinking complementarians are sexist. If you even sort of think that than you don't understand their side and you need to dig deeper.

However, where the debate between complementarians and egalitarians seems to go bad is that many complementarians appear to believe that egalitarians don't believe in the inerrancy of Scripture. Inerrancy of Scripture means that it is the word of God and without error in its teaching. Believing in the inerrancy of the Bible means it is authoritative for your life. Egalitarians believe that. However they do not believe the Bible teaches male authority in the church.

I believe we are all influenced by our upbringing and the culture we live in right now and right here.

To make this point, let me give you some excerpts from my Believer's Bible Commentary (affiliate link). William MacDonald (1917-2007), past president of Emmaus Bible College and the author of 84 Christian books. He received his MBA degree from Harvard Business School. He served in the Navy during World War II. This man was a godly man, a man who knows his Scripture. Someone to respect and listen to what he has to say. And here is what he says on some of the debatable verses.

On 1 Corinthians 11:3: Secondly, the head of woman is man; the place of headship was given to the man, and the woman is under his authority.

On 1 Corinthians 11:5: ... women should be silent in the assembly (1 Corinthians 14:34), that they are not permitted to teach or to have authority over the man but to be in silence (1 Timothy 2:12). ... since 1 Timothy 2:8 limits public prayer to the men (lit., males).

On 1 Corinthians 11:7: The headship of man and the subjection of woman have been God's order from the very beginning. ... The woman was never given this place of headship; instead she is the glory of man in the sense that she "renders conspicuous the authority of man," as W. E. Vine expresses it.

On 1 Corinthians 14:34: The uniform testimony of the NT is that while women have many valuable ministries, it is not given to them to have a public ministry to the whole church. They are entrusted with the unspeakably important work of the home and of raising children. But they are not allowed to speak publicly in the assembly. Theirs is to be a place of submission to the man.

On 1 Timothy 2:12: ...women should not have a public teaching ministry in the church. The only exceptions to this are that they are permitted to teach children (2 Timothy 3:15) and young women (Titus 2:4). ... Neither is woman to have authority over a man. That means that she must not have dominion over a man, but is to be in silence or quietness. ... It is a fundamental principle in God's dealings with mankind that man has been given the headship and that woman is in the place of subjection.

On 1 Timothy 2:15: Although it is true that no public ministry in the church is assigned to her, she does have an important ministry. God has decreed that woman's place is in the home, and more specifically in the ministry of raising children for the honor and glory of the Lord Jesus Christ.

OK, I can just hear explosions erupting all over the place! Those kinds of comments would NOT fly today! William MacDonald was born in 1917. He first wrote this commentary in 1980. It has been reprinted 8 times between 1980 and 1995. I have the 1995 copyright. It is a very good commentary overall.

When I'm reading his commentary and I see comments like that, I like to think of him as I would my grandfather. Respectful of him and his character and his beliefs.

Do you think his words are influenced by his culture? I'd say so! I dare say if he were alive today and still writing, that he would still hold to his complementarian belief, but perhaps word it a little more politically correct, a little softer.

And it is the same with present day complementarians. They truly do believe the Bible is authoritative for their lives and that the Bible establishes male authority in the church. Egalitarians believe also in the authority of the Bible and see where authority has been established in the church. But they don't see it as a male defined thing. The vast majority of people can have a reasonable conversation about it.

We may disagree, but we are respectful.

The women in my Bible study group are intelligent women. They have now or had important jobs equal with men in the workplace. I mentioned in my first post on this subject that I used to be a civil structural Profession Engineer. So our experience is that we are for the most part in this day and age, equal in roles with the men. We did agree that men and women are wired differently and created to be different. But that those differences had nothing to do with our intelligence or ability or value. And definitely not our knowledge and understanding of Scripture, our heart for God, and our willingness to serve Him.

The women were unaware of this debate of male authority in the church. Perhaps I follow different discussions than they do.

After looking at the arguments on both sides we agreed that male authority was established in the church in biblical times. We (I am not sure 100% what they thought - in a group setting people tend to go along with what appears to be the majority viewpoint) could not make the conclusion that it is still applicable in today's world. Meaning it was a cultural thing. We did conclude authority has been established in the church and that was a universal teaching. We did agree that we live right now and right here in this time period and presently the male authority in the church is a real thing and we must submit to that authority. That is just reality and is based on our beliefs of the church having authority over us.

Most churches have softened on the complementarianism side and moved towards egalitarian, but not all the way. The church I used to go to allowed women to teach men, serve and lead on church ministries and even be pastors. However, the senior pastor had to be male because of this male authority which they believe is a universal biblical command. I can't ever imagine the Catholic Church permitting female priests or a Pope!

I see male authority in the church as church tradition not biblically commanded. Some don't agree. I don't have a problem with you disagreeing with me. It is not lost on me that I could be the one in error here. Certainly there are people who have studied Scripture a lot longer than I have who have a different viewpoint. It is a true statement that traditionally and historically men have had authority in the church. Who am I to buck 2000 years of teaching? Yes, I could be wrong.

This topic is somewhat of the elephant in the room. Churches have their doctrine and policy established. It's kind of behind closed doors. It's not like they come out on their websites and say, "Women cannot be pastors at our church. Women cannot teach men at our church." Even though that might be the case.

I told the women now that they are aware of complementarianism and egalitarianism viewpoints, they are going to notice it all over the internet. I don't think they believed me.

People on social media feel the need to express their opinion to the world whether they know what they are talking about or not. And often they feel it is their right to scream at us through cyberspace. To degrade us and resort to name calling. I especially dislike Twitter because people are downright mean and disrespectful on there.

Just a day and a half later after I told the women they would see this online, I see on Twitter where a well-known women's Bible teacher tweeted about women's ministries should offer Bible studies for women or they will go to other churches to join studies. I started reading the comments and came across this one.

Started reading more comments. And this popped up.

To which people commenting agreed with him. Is it clearly written in Scripture?

I started clicking on some people's pages and here is what I came across.

Kind of a bad analogy when you look at who the Bible calls dogs. Ha!

This one was the most shocking.

To which the next day this man tweeted:

Are you kidding me?! My feelings are anger!

"Just be biblical." Why doesn't he try it? How about exhibiting some fruit?

Upon further looking into this guy I see that he works as a CPA and has a masters degree from a Baptist seminary. I think an idiotic statement like he made has to come from an uneducated moron and to find out he is educated and has a seminary degree just makes my anger explode! This man spreads his antagonistic beliefs on a podcast. I want nothing more than for this man's pastor to sit down with him and ream him out! Seriously. I am not joking. I am so offended by him. He does harm to the church and to the spread of the gospel.

Look I want to be very clear here. The majority of men and women who hold to the complementarian viewpoint do not act like this. They are godly men and women who hold to a sincere belief in what they think is biblically commanded. I respect that. Egalitarians, also godly men and women, do not see it as biblically commanded and do not need to be called liberal or feminists.

We need to recognize that both complementarian and egalitarians can believe in the inerrancy of the Bible and that it is authoritative for their lives and still disagree on the application on this topic. There is a reason this is still a hotly debated topic in the church and it is because the Bible does not clearly address it. Neither position is air-tight.

What I'd like to see is people stop instantly assuming that because we do not agree with them on this subject that we do not view Scripture as authoritative or that we are sexist. Quit the mud-slinging!

I just want you to be aware this IS going on in 2019.

I want you to have some knowledge about what people are talking about.

I want you to enter the conversation being kind and respectful of others.

I want you to hold to unity in the church on the essentials.

And I'd like us all to approach this debate with the stance that we will hear what the other side says and that we will respond to them in love and gentleness. That is how the church should respond.

#readtheBible

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© 2015 by Carolyn Hurst