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Published Date: January 30, 1990

Published Date: January 30, 1990

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Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: Stressing the differences

A double-paged ad costing thousands of dollars began to appear two months ago in Christianity Today and other Christian magazines in the United States promoting what it alleges to be the “biblical teachings on the relationship between men and women, especially in the home and in the church.”

In answer to the question, “What do you stand for?” the response is given: “We hold that God made men and women to be equal in personhood and in value, but different in roles.” The splashy advertisement goes on to assert that “Scripture affirms male leadership in the home, and that in the church certain governing and teaching roles are restricted to men.”

According to the framers of the “Danvers Statement” – 26 men and 4 women are listed as “Council Members” and 18 men and 3 women, as “Board of Reference” – the idea of “God-given distinctions” between men’s and women’s roles in marriage and the church is under strong attack, not only by the “secular humanists” but also by books, articles and speeches stemming from within the evangelical Christian community.

Their goal is to restore traditional views, and they appeal for the support of the Christian community at large.

Male headship

The text of the “Danvers Statement” lists a ten-point statement of rationale, a five-point statement of purpose, and ten affirmations. The bottom line is “male headship” (which is interpreted as being in charge of making the decisions) in the family and in the church.

Scripture, it is suggested, promotes “the glad harmony…between the loving, humble leadership of redeemed husbands and the intelligent, willing support of that leadership by redeemed wives.”

“Distinctions in masculine and feminine roles are ordained by God as part of the created order….” “Adam’s headship in marriage was established by God before the Fall…” “Sin inclines…women to resist limitations on their roles…”

“Wives should forsake resistance to their husband’s authority and grow in willing, joyful submission to their husband’s leadership.”

Although men and women share equally in the blessings of salvation, “some governing and teaching roles within the church are restricted to men.” In spite of the statement that the CBMW has been established “for the purpose of studying and setting forth biblical teachings on the relationship between men and women,” one has the distinct impression that the authors of the “Danvers Statement” are quite clear about what they are going to find as a result of their studies.

The CBMW calls for the endorsements “from other Christian leaders.” They will likely receive them from many. My hope is that they will also hear from others who not only are unwilling to endorse their statement but who will submit it to searching criticism.

Neither balanced nor helpful

This brief column does not allow space for a detailed critique, but I would like to go on public record as one who does not accept their statement as either biblically balanced or helpful to the cause of Christ at the present time. Quite to the contrary.

Since they announce that they are preparing a book on the subject, I would call the reader’s attention to several recent books written from an evangelical perspective that take what I regard to be a more truly biblical approach.

These include books such as Women in the Bible by Mary J. Evans (InterVarsity), Beyond the Curse: Women Called to Ministry by Aida Besancon Spencer (Nelson), Equal to Serve: Women and Men in the Church and Home by Gretchen Gaebelein Hull (Revell), and Women, Authority and the Bible, edited by Alvera Mickelsen (InterVarsity).

The last volume, written by 26 broadly representative evangelical leaders (equally divided between women and men), is the most comprehensive treatment of the subject, including a careful discussion of the difficult texts (e.g. 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, 14:33-35; Ephesians 5:21-23; 1 Peter 3:1-7; and 1 Timothy 2:11-15) that are purported to offer support to the traditionalist view.

And I might also point out that the recognized dean of evangelical Bible scholars, F. F. Bruce, to invoke only one among many possible names, takes a contrary view from that advocated by CBMW.

Those who have read his many books and commentaries have been aware that he has been a strong supporter of women’s ministry for years, but he has recently gone explicitly public in favor the shared leadership of men and women together in both the home and in the church.

“I could not countenance a position which makes a distinction of principle in church service between men and women,” he said in a recent interview (excerpts from which will appear shortly in Christianity Today and Christian-Week).

Paul’s teaching

“Paul’s teaching is that so far as religious status and function are concerned, there is no difference between men and women…If we have regard to the place that women have in Paul’s circle, he seems to make no distinction at all between men and women among his fellow workers.

“Men receive praise, and women receive praise for the collaboration with him in the gospel ministry, without any suggestion that there is a subtle distinction between the one and the other in respect of status or function.

“Anything in Paul’s writings that might seem to run contrary to this must be viewed in the light of the main thrust of his teaching and should be looked at with quite critical scrutiny.”

Quoting a single authority, even if it is as eminent an authority as Bruce, does not prove a point. But it does make it clear that the evidence of Scripture is not so clear as those who take the traditionalist position on the role of women seem to assume.

Now, I am not at all adverse to the idea that men and women are different, and that their Creator made them for different roles and functions in the world. But I am opposed to the idea that these should be defined in the negative terms that the framers of the “Danvers Statement” seem to suggest.

To use the Scripture to keep “women in their place,” that is, subservient to men, is, so it seems to me, a most perverse handling of the Word of God.

A liberating word

God’s word is a liberating word. Christ died to set men and women free. Therefore, any attempt to bring any segment of the human population into a subservient position of others is a perversion of both Scripture and the gospel of Christ.

In the first century church, some wanted to keep the Christian community, men and women, slaves and free, under the domination of Jewish Christians.

In the nineteenth century church, there were many good evangelical Christians, theologians among them, who argued on the basis of Scripture (e.g. Genesis 9:25-27; Ephesians 6:5-8; 1 Peter 2:18-25; etc.) that it was divinely ordained that some should be enslaved to others. The abolitionist movement was regarded as a movement against the divinely established order.

Prior to mid-nineteenth century America, no university anywhere in the world would accept women students, until finally Oberlin College, under the leadership of the evangelist Charles G. Finney, first opened its door (in 1832) to women students.

It was argued at the time, on the basis of Scripture (the same texts being used in the current debate), that it had been ordained of God that women were to be excluded from leadership on principle – not merely in the church and in the home, as the current argument suggests, but also in society at large! Therefore, it was wrong for women to desire to obtain university educations, which were designed to prepare men for leadership in professions.

Essentially wrongheaded

When I was a child growing up in the southern United States, it was very common for some Christian leaders to use the Bible (e.g. Genesis 9:25-27, again; and texts like Ezra 110:11) to support racial segregation. We do not deny that Negroes (as they were then called) are equal with white people in the sight of God or that they deserve schools that are equal to those that educate white children, it was argued, but God made the white people and the “colored” people different. Therefore, He meant for them to be separate.

Today, nearly everyone agrees that these arguments – each of them the majority opinion among Christians at some time in the past – were essentially wrong-headed. Rather than being based on Scripture they were based on customs that attempted to enshrine the rights and privileges of one group of people in a manner that infringed the rights and privileges of others. In short, a few select texts were used to undermine the clear teaching of much of the rest of the Bible.

Many contemporary evangelical Bible scholars and theologians, not to mention ordinary lay men and women, are convinced that attempts to use the Bible so as to exclude women from positions of leadership for which their Creator has made them and to which their Lord as called them – whether in society, home or church – is equally flawed.

I doubt that the views of the CBMW will carry the day in the evangelical community, but I hate to think how much hurt they will cause to many sensitive women and how they may be used to deny the Christian community of much blessing through the ministry of many of those who have been gifted and equipped by the Spirit.

For the sake of the gospel in our time I urge Christian leaders to seek to affirm and support women in whatever roles they are suited to fill.

(First appeared in Christian Week. Reprinted by permission.)