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My View on Women’s Roles

I had no intention of writing this. It never crossed my mind. Then Sarah’s book hit the blogosphere, and then Ally wrote a post, and my friends linked to this post on Facebook, and I read through Rachel’s old posts.

To be honest, part of the reason I have pretty much avoided writing about this subject is because I have very little desire to debate others about the role of women in the church. Not because I think I’m right or I’ve landed on some eternal truth, but because I often find discussions such as these to be rather fruitless and distracting. Fruitless in that they do not advance the Kingdom and distracting in that they take our eyes, however briefly, off of Jesus Christ as our Head.

However, I’ve had people email me over my three years of blogging with greetings that begin with “As a fellow complementarian…” Or “As another like-minded egalitarian…” These emails make me laugh because never once have I ever referred to myself as either of these titles, nor would I ever.

But, what happens when you have a blog is that people assume they know you. They assume they’ve got you all figured out. If you write about your marriage a few times, they wrongly believe they have been given a full and clear look into its intricacies and intimacies. One post about my sex life a night in my bedroom does not make. Sorry.

My Own Marriage

So what does my marriage look like? Perhaps that’s a good place to start.

Practically speaking and in terms of household duties, my husband and I share a fair amount of them. He’s happy to wash dishes because he knows I despise it. He changes dirty diapers, bathes dirty children, even scrubs dirty toilets. I do the majority of the housework, but I am also the one who is home most of the day–raising and rearing those little beasts precious angels.

Jonathan is about as hands-on of a dad as you get, happily jumping in when I am in pain, or exhausted, or at my wits end. He’s engaged, present, and does a nearly perfect job of making time and spending time with his children. Sometimes, while he’s washing dishes and I’m wiping kitchen counters, I’ll ask, “Hey babe, can you change the baby’s diaper when you’re done, please?” And Jonathan will sharply reply, “No.” And we look at each other and then start laughing at the absurdity of his response. He’ll then say, “Can you believe some men do that? Ridiculous.”

In all of this, he tells me again and again that I am his “number one ministry.” He is fully devoted to me and our marriage. I can see it in the way he serves me, hear it in the way he honors me, and feel it in the way he loves me. I have never once doubted that he sees me as his peer and, really, if you asked him, he’d probably say that I’m “better” than him or “smarter” than him. Which isn’t true, but it’s nice.

In everyday life, the ins and outs, the ebbs and flows, we are equal and happily content to serve and bless one another. From an egalitarian perspective, we are about as egalitarian as it gets…

Except, there’s this…

Jonathan is also the head of our home.

And this is where I’m flippantly disregarded by egalitarians and wrongfully identified as a complementarian.

But, I believe this: For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Ephesians 5:22-24

How does an egalitarian explain this verse or, for that matter, so many others (Col. 3:18; Tit. 2:5; 1 Pet. 3:1-6)? I have never heard an adequate explanation for “the husband is the head of his wife” from an egalitarian. Does this verse mean my husband trumps me in decision-making? Perhaps, but in all truth, we have never had this happen. If there is a big, looming decision to make, God always brings unity.

Spiritual Authority and Non-Hierarchical Leadership

What I do take Ephesians 5:22-24 to mean, however, is that my husband has a certain spiritual authority in our home and over our home. I cannot put it into words exactly. I can only say that I have witnessed it. I have watched the Spirit move or Satan be rebuked because of Jonathan’s spiritual authority.

That is not to say that I lack authority in Christ Jesus! Of course not. I, too, have the very Living God within me, but just as God sees fit to place greater responsibility among some, I believe he also places a greater spiritual authority and, thus, responsibility upon husbands. This argument may make some people uncomfortable because it is neither quantitative nor qualitative. Also because it would cause some to assume that, as a wife, I am less than.

However, God is not opposed to leadership. In fact, God honors leadership. Scripture is ripe with examples of both men and women exercising leadership. I do not believe, however, that God subscribes to a form of hierarchical leadership. There is a distinct difference between a marriage where leadership takes shape naturally and spiritually and a type of hierarchical leadership. Jonathan is not my “boss.” If anyone is our “boss,” it’s Jesus, but Jonathan is still in spiritual authority and, as my husband, reminds me often that “We must both submit to the headship of Jesus Christ.” And in doing so, my husband shows love to me.

Lest we also forget to read on in Ephesians where we are also told that husbands are to love their wives as Christ loves the church, “For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body.”

My Own Church

So, what about my own church? What do women’s roles look like in my local expression of church?

Beyond my home, how do women operate and serve and minister in my church (the church that my husband and I planted, mind you)? It has been jokingly and yet accurately said that our organic church is packed full of powerful, outspoken, and confident women. This is completely true.

The women in this part of the body are actually, in many ways, bolder and more vocal than our male counterparts. Many of the men in our body are the strong silent types, choosing to offer words of wisdom at the most opportune moment. Many of us women, however, are loud, outgoing, even inappropriate at times…choosing to not always censor ourselves for the sake of truth-speaking.

More than that, both men and women in the church are viewed as equals–fellow heirs with Christ–brothers and sisters equally empowered by the same Spirit through the same God. Women teach in our gathering. Men teach. Women prophesy. Men prophesy. Women lay on hands. Men lay on hands. Women instruct, admonish, and equip. Men do the same.

Within my marriage, the same holds true. Jonathan receives from the Lord through me easily and often. I have admonished and corrected my husband and he, the same for me. I may submit to him as the head of our home, but we both submit to the Lordship and sovereignty of Jesus Christ.

The practice and reality of Jonathan as head of our home and me submitting to him is so natural that it is almost never discussed. It just is, like so many things in the Spirit. It simply takes shape and holds its form. Perhaps having children helps further draw out the need for a husband to serve as a spiritual head. Regardless, we move and breathe and live in the truth of Ephesians 5:22-24 in both contentment and peace.

And this is where egalitarians call me a liar. How could that be? How dare I say that our marriage mirrors that of the egalitarian ideal in all areas except that my husband is the head of our home and I’m not afraid of the word submit?

A lack of hierarchical leadership within a marriage, however, does not also mean a lack of leadership as a whole.  Our organic church and marriage for that matter operate much the same way, in that when hierarchical leadership is not present, natural leadership emerges. This leadership is lateral non-hierarchical.

Furthermore, the concept of equality is not a Biblical one. Nowhere in scripture does God elevate or espouse the concept of equality, at least not the “equality” people reference when discussing women’s roles. It is a man-made notion. The Bible says of our Lord, in fact, “…though he was in the form of God, [Jesus] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant…” Philippians 2:6-7

Jesus is not the Great Equator. He is the Great Uniter. Christ doesn’t sell us equality. He offers us Oneness and unity in Him. This may sound like semantics, but it certainly is not. More than that, Jesus came as a servant–to serve not to be served. I also do not believe God ever intended for men to “lord over” their wives or exert their authority as husbands in some controlling or unhealthy manner thereby demoting women to second-class citizens within their own marriages.

This is the example Jesus has given us to model within marriage when He said:

“You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

A Third Way

The caricatures and opponents of both complementarians and egalitarians assume that I must be barefoot and pregnant–squelched and somewhat oppressed–the first delighted, the second disgusted.

But, both are so painfully wrong.

I find a measure of absurdness in both arguments. The Creator of the Universe chose the model of marriage to represent Himself and His love for the church. Of all the things in and upon the earth to symbolize Himself, He chose marriage–to signify His sacrifice, His eternal love, His jewel and treasure–us His bride. And yet we, in our limited, finite, ignorant little minds, deduce that marriages can only look one of two ways: good or bad, depending on your side of the aisle.

The vastness and immeasurable treasures of the Lord do not, and cannot, be forced into a right or left column. Somewhere, in the middle of these two sides is where I believe Jesus is and lives. As has been my experience in following after Christ, all too often, the mystery of Him lies somewhere in the middle–in the gray and the unknown and the beauty that we can taste and feel but cannot fully grasp…at least not yet.

My friend and author Frank Viola references this “middle” when he refers to the “third way” in his book Jesus Manifesto–a place that embraces neither the left or the right, but rather a movement forward. This resonates with me. I’ve always looked upon Christianity and all of its sects, theologies, doctrines, and man-made constructs and thought “There must be more…” And very often, that more is a third way.

It is a different way of seeing what God is doing and who God is. In his book of collected sermons, Strength to Love, Martin Luther King Jr. hints at this this idea when he writes, “…there is and always will be a penumbra of mystery surrounding God.”

Christians want to argue and debate over words like “headship,” “submission,” and “authority.” When I very much doubt that as Paul wrote these words he was idealizing or even referencing either an egalitarian or complementarian form of marriage. It’s preposterous to assume so. Instead, I suspect that Paul was referencing spiritual realities, where headship has little to do with decision-making and chores, but rather much to do with a kind of sacrificial love–you know, the kind Jesus displayed on the cross.

I would even argue that Paul is telling us to be open to something altogether new and different–not a marriage built upon man-made notions and expectations–but instead built upon the Foundation that cannot be shaken. A third way–because as Paul writes:

“‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.”

This mystery, which we can catch glimpses of here and now, but which remains partially cloaked and forces us to reach beyond ourselves and our own ideals to instead seek the face of the One Who Knows. He has a perfect, glorious, and holy picture of marriage for each and every one of us, where His indelible grace abounds and His love abides. A third way…a marriage not bound by the philosophies of man or emotional ideals, but filled with His freedom, reflecting His love to all the world.

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Do you agree or disagree? Where do you stand on this subject? Are you a complementarian, egalitarian, both, or neither? Do you find these discussions helpful or hurtful?

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