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The Bait & Switch of Complementarians

On May 15, 2014

Many thanks to David Cramer for his blog, posted earlier this week, commending John Piper’s advocacy for the education and the safe return of 276 Nigerian females. Cramer applauds Piper for declaring Christian discipleship gender inclusive, compelling Christians to educate both male and female, based not on the contested passages related to authority (such as 1 Timothy 2:11-15 or 1 Corinthians 14:34-35), but on a broader and perhaps more egalitarian understanding of Christian discipleship as a whole.

I join David in commending complementarians as they support the education of girls globally. However, there is more to be said. These 276 girls (not to mention the 200 million females missing globally) are never helped by religious teachings (Christian, Muslim, or any other tradition) that devalues females and excludes them from leadership roles over men, whether in the church, the home, or society—because of gender. Ideas have consequences. Though Piper endorses female education, he denies them equal authority because they are female and this places them at great risk, in any corner of the world! To be equal in education but unequal in service is a bait and switch which egalitarians reject as unbiblical.

Happy as I am that complementarians endorse female education, even so, the teachings of complementarians marginalize females from the decision-making tables in their marriages, churches, work places and communities. While girls and women are viewed equal in worth (ontologically), complementarians claim that males and females have different roles or purposes (telos). Of course, by roles they mean males hold authority that females are denied. What is the result? Males and females are equal in being (ontos) but unequal in purpose (telos). Bait and switch!

Complementarians tell girls and women, “Yeah, you have equal worth!” We reply, “Yeah!” We then hear, “But, you cannot serve as senior pastor, or president of a Christian college, or seminary or a denomination. And, in some places you cannot teach, lead or make decisions that impact males over the age of 12. Remember, also, that your husband makes all final decisions. But, don’t be sad or view yourself as inferior, because in God’s eyes you have equal worth!” How can you be equal yet without equal authority? Bait and switch!

Interestingly, Piper defends female education by citing Genesis: “God created adam, both men and women, in God’s own image.” What he fails to note, however, is that Scripture does extend males and females equal authority to rule over Eden (Genesis 1:26, Genesis 1:27-8).  No bait and switch in Genesis. Male and female are created in God’s image—in being (ontos). Therefore, they share equal purpose—(telos)—in caring for the garden as God’s representatives which requires authority. Likewise, in the New Testament, males and females are recreated in the image of Christ, (Ephesians 2:10, Colossians 3:10-11). Born of the Holy Spirit (John 3:5), their new being (ontos) imparts a shared spiritual authority and purpose (telos) John 20:18-23. Equal members of Christ’s new covenant community (a result of Christ’s work on the cross) leads to equal authority in serving the world as Christ’s representatives, regardless of one’s materiality—gender, ethnicity or social status (Acts 18:26, Galatians 3:27-29, Romans 16: 1-7).

While Cramer suggests that Piper “finds the ultimate aim or telos of “Christ-exalting womanhood” as synonymous with the aim or telos of “Christian discipleship,” there is more to be said. Unless the Christ-exalting telos of Christian womanhood and Christian manhood opens equal opportunities to lead and serve with equal authority, regardless of gender, one questions whether they share equally in newness of life (ontos)—the fruit of Calvary. If the purpose (telos) of Christian discipleship is the result of Christ’s work on the cross (soteriology), it is inseparable from men and women sharing authority in the work of the church (ecclesiology), as Gordon Fee notes.

Please do not tell girls or women that they share equally in God’s image; that they are equal at the foot of the cross; that they are equal in the kingdom of God, that they should cultivate their minds equally, unless you are prepared to give them equal authority to use the gifts God has given them. To do otherwise is to bait girls and women with the truth of Scripture as it points to their inheritance in Christ, and then to switch—to deny them the opportunities to walk in newness of life—in using their God-given gifts with equality authority. To advocate for the education of females based on the aims of Christian discipleship is inseparable from God’s aims for men and women created in God’s image—where both shared authority in Eden (Genesis 1:26- 28); and as recreated in the image of Christ who extends equal authority to his disciples, both male and female (John 20:18-23).

We all pray and advocate for the safe return of these 276 girls! We must also challenge any teaching that devalues females or denies them shared authority in any corner. Because they share equally in the image of God with males, we advocate for their education and for equal opportunities to hold any position of service and leadership. Let’s stop the bait and switch of equal but not equal. To be created in God’s image and made new in Christ has a purpose—to serve God, as male and female, with equal authority and equal responsibility. 

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