Appropriate Speech-Acts: Thinking Carefully about Who Says What When the Church is Gathered (Part 1)

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*This article has two parts: see Part 2.

A generation ago, debates among egalitarians and complementarians were significant. Eventually, the camps settled into their own (two organizations emerged that generally represent the two sides: Council of Biblical Manhood & Womanhood and Christians for Biblical Equality). Today, however, within the settled camp of complementarianism, there are significant discussions taking place. What is becoming increasingly clear to me is that the divide between narrow and broad complementarianism is a bit larger than we thought. We are not quite as settled as it might have seemed.

Given the reality of the divide, it seems we need more theological work that provides more light in terms of what complementarianism is and what it looks like practically. This will require both polemical and constructive theological effort. That means we cannot merely respond to everything that comes through social media. Pastors and church leaders must think proactively, developing theological conclusions in advance (a good example is provided by The Village Church).

In the spirit of constructive theology, I want to offer a few thoughts on how a complementarian like me, who happens to be a continuationist, is thinking about the current question of women speaking within the context of the gathered church. I am not taking aim at any one person but simply offering the thoughts of a complementarian continuationist who is trying to faithfully apply the Bible.

A Perceived Divine Order

Complementarians of all stripes agree in principle that God has ordained a complementary relationship between men and women. This complementary relationship plays itself in terms of role distinctions. Simply put, men are called to lead at home and in the church. That is, wives are called to honor, affirm, and help carry out the Christ-like leadership of their husbands in the home (Eph 5:22–24). Of course, complementarians have offered nuanced explanations of that idea in numerous places. I trust those reading this article are aware of those attempts to clarify all the relevant details (see these books for help: book and book).

Complementarians also assume role distinctions when it comes to the household of God (i.e. the church). Specifically, the office of elder/pastor is reserved for men who meet the biblical qualifications (1 Tim 3:1–7; Titus 1:5–9). Again, this has been sufficiently nuanced by complementarians in the past and I do not intend to rehash those details here (see the books linked above).

It seems complementarians of every stripe are agreed in principle on the above: there are God-ordained roles within the church and the home. These roles transcend cultures and are rooted in creation (cf. 1 Tim 2:13ff). Yet, complementarians have not agreed on all the details of what this looks like in everyday Christian practice (can a woman preach on Sunday? are men the only ones allowed to teach mixed groups when it comes to Sunday school? should a wife work outside the home?). Some of the questions are more complicated than others. Yet, those debates are within the complementarian house.

Affirming the Divine Order

As a complementarian, I affirm God’s divine design when it comes to male leadership at home and in the church. I do not find this a vestige of an antiquated past. Instead, God’s design for biblical complementarity runs through the pages of Scripture and is, in one sense, the first design the ancient serpent attacked when he arrived in the Garden. Ordering our kingdom outposts (i.e. churches) according to God’s good design is not a retreat to a dark age but a step towards the light of a kingdom that is coming.

However, in our attempts as complementarians to rightly practice biblical manhood and womanhood, it seems we have too often sidelined our sisters in the faith. We have not made it easy for our ladies to find their voice in our congregations. I think this is a mistake. We need to look again at what might be appropriate ways to hear from our ladies when the church is gathered. After all, historically it seems women were given a voice in the church (e.g. 1 Cor 11:5).

What I want to do in my next post is aim at one particular question. When the church gathers for corporate worship, what are appropriate acts of speech for men and women? More narrowly, can a woman prophesy? What about preach?  Those two questions are where I’ll aim most of my efforts in Part 2. For now, as a prelude, I’ll give you a hint of where I’m going: Yes to Prophecy, No to Preaching.

One thought on “Appropriate Speech-Acts: Thinking Carefully about Who Says What When the Church is Gathered (Part 1)

  1. Pingback: Appropriate Speech-Acts: Thinking Carefully about Who Says What When the Church is Gathered (Part 2) | Theology Along the Way

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