On July 10-13, I enjoyed conversations with those who stopped by the CBE booth at the 2012 NACC conference (Orlando, Florida). Over the years, I have volunteered at many such conferences and have discovered that conversations vary as much as individuals I meet. Discussing biblical equality with people—of differing experiences, personalities, giftings, and circumstances—always challenges me.
Most people are curious about CBE’s mission. One man at the NACC conference agreed as I explained the great need for the body of Christ to open spaces for men and women to exercise gifts of the Spirit without limitations due to gender roles. He commented that the mission organization he works for witnesses the most effective ministry when men and women work interdependently. One woman listened thoughtfully before questioning, “But doesn’t the Bible say a woman cannot have authority over a man?” I appreciated her willingness to discuss that difficult question, and I shared my journey of squaring Paul’s instruction with other passages that affirm public teaching of women within churches (Lydia, Priscilla, Junia, among others). She was interested in knowing that the plain meaning of the original Greek text, within first century Ephesus, differs from the plain meaning of 1 Timothy 2:12 in modern English. Paul does not prohibit a woman’s authority (exousia) over a man since that word is absent from the passage. Rather, Paul prohibits a woman from dominating a man for selfish gain that may involve licentiousness (authentein). I explained that this makes sense given Ephesian cultic practices that were creeping into the church. The woman looked excited, “I had no idea.”
Another question spurred a great discussion with a group of women: “But what about a woman submitting to her husband?” The ground beneath that question always feels shaky to me—I know that it has intimate ramifications and that responses may be emotionally charged. Pointing to Ephesians 4:15-16, I asked them to consider what Christ as Head (kephale) does—holding all things together and causing them to grow. Turning to 5:21, I described what life in the Spirit entails—submitting to one another out of reverence to Christ (hupotasso). Framing instructions within this context, mutual submission between husbands and wives is in order as a husband—functioning as head (kephale)—empowers a wife toward fullness of life in Christ. The women were incredibly receptive.
Reflecting upon the conversations at our CBE booth, I appreciated that God’s Word and Spirit powerfully transform lives and communities. I was reminded of the importance that CBE maintain its presence at conferences like the NACC, so that we may continue to challenge and encourage one another to live more like the body of Christ.