Equal Standing, Different Roles


Rob Bell’s book Love Wins has begun countless conversations in the last month or so concerning myriad topics of faith: salvation, damnation, God’s love vs. God’s wrath, Christian fellowship, heresy… the list could go on and on.

But this morning I came across a blog discussing a portion of Rob’s theology that has not been nationally dissected: his use of describing God in the feminine form. On the blog for the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, Diane Montgomery addresses this portion of Rob’s work in a post entitled Our Mother Who Art in Heaven: Examining Rob Bell’s “She”.

The following paragraph is from Montgomery’s post and includes an excellent illustration of not only a classic misinterpretation of Scripture, but also a simple illustration of the biblical principle accurately portrayed in a modern comparison:
Midway through the video, Bell uses the “banner” verse of egalitarians, Gal. 3:28. Paul writes, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” He goes on to explain what he means by saying in 4:1, “What I am saying is that as long as the heir is a child, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate.” As believers in Christ we are equal, but that does not mean our roles are the same. In Christ, a CEO of a company is equal to one of his employees in a cubicle. However, they have different roles. The employee would not take charge of the CEO and the CEO would not do errands for the employee. They are equal in Christ, but carry out different tasks.

Scripture is clear that God is not into “Jim Crow” segregation of men and women. There is no “separate but equal” in the Kingdom of God. But at the same time, while there is equal standing and equal rights, there are different roles to be filled, much like the above CEO and “pencil pusher” illustration shows.

Along the same lines, in a recent episode of the television show Undercover Boss, the CEO of a shipping company attempted to go to work on one of his packing and assembly lines to see what really goes on in the warehouses he owns. He was fired from the job. Was he an employee of the company? Yes. Does he receive the same benefits of being an employee of that company? Yes. But was he able to equally perform a role for which he was neither suited nor trained? No.

Same thing in the body of Christ, whether that is the corporate body of the Universal church, the local church body where you attend, or your place within your own home. All believers have equal standing and rights before the Father. But all are equipped, gifted, trained and expected to perform different roles so that the overall work of the Kingdom is fulfilled. Like the CEO trying to pack and load shipments, when we attempt to fill a role which we were not meant to fill, something is left to be desired. There is no harmony and continuity to the overall workplace. When the owner botched his packing and loading job, the whole warehouse was affected. When we attempt to fill roles in the church and in the home that we are not meant to fill, the church and the home are negatively impacted as well.

THAT is the message of complementarianism. NOT that men are somehow better than women, nor that women inherently have less worth than men. The message is that we should find that role for which God created us and thrive in it instead of fighting against our Creator and His good plan.

Women and Sexual Sin, Part 1


For many years, sexual sins were addressed almost exclusively from a male perspective. Most of society held the belief that sex was a male-oriented activity in which a woman may or may not be a willing participant (Letha Dawson Scanzoni, Sexuality. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1984, 30). And, with few exceptions, sex was almost never discussed. With the concurrent sexual and feminist revolutions of the 1960s, sex was thrust to the forefront of society, and the repercussions have been enormous. The cultural pendulum concerning sexuality has now swung from the Victorian attitude of shame and silence to the other extreme of exhibitionism and experimentation. This can be seen in the story of Kate Logan, a young woman who, at her high school graduation ceremony disrobed and delivered her valedictory address completely naked. “Afterwards she said it was an effort to express the spirituality of graduation… She believed is made perfect sense and deserved special praise… To Kate Logan, disrobing in front of everyone at graduation made sense because she believed unrestrained sex is the one true path to spiritual life” (Daniel Heimbach, True Sexual Morality, Wheaton: Crossway, 2004, 35). Sex is now the prevailing topic of discussion in secular society. One needs only to pick up a magazine or turn on the television to be completely inundated with sexual images.

This constant exposure to sexuality has led to many issues almost unheard of in previous decades. Divorce rates have sky-rocketed, the invention of reliable birth control and the legalization of abortion have instilled in youth a no-consequences attitude concerning sexual experimentation. The current sexual activity at the forefront of society is homosexual behavior. Television shows are centered on homosexual relationships, and the topic is even a priority in politics.

One place that has been strangely quiet concerning the issue of sex has been the conservative, evangelical church. Most people raised in church receive this advice concerning sex: “Sex is bad until you get married and then you should only do it with your spouse.” There is little discussion concerning the overwhelming exposure to sex in society, and sex is often still seen as something inappropriate to talk about in a church setting. While commenting on the lack of communication in the church concerning sexual issues, Dr. Paige Patterson wrote,
Indeed, Christians have sometimes failed to address sexual issues in a thoughtful and helpful fashion, giving instead the impression that Christian living is an endless series of prohibitions aimed at preventing any enjoyment in life…[The] secular community has never been seriously challenged to reflect on the claims of Christ and the Bible about the purpose, function, and success of human sexuality. Most simply have no idea what the true basis and purpose of Christian sexual morality is all about (Ibid., 17).

Because of this, many sexual struggles have simply been buried by many in the church. Dietrich Bonhoeffer once commented on this issue in the church: “The pious fellowship permits no one to be a sinner. So everyone must conceal his sin from himself and from their fellowship. Many Christians are unthinkably horrified when a real sinner is suddenly discovered among the righteous. So we live alone in our sin, living in lies and hypocrisy.” Sexual sin is still the greatest taboo in the church, but in recent years, many people have begun breaking the silence concerning sexual strongholds. It is interesting to note that many people breaking their silence are women. The church’s silence concerning sex led a generation of people to seek answers from the world. Now that those answers have proven empty and devastating, many people are turning to the church seeking healing, real answers, true joy, and fulfillment.

In her book Passion and Purity, author Elisabeth Elliot made this statement concerning Christians and sexual desire: “It is a powerful lie that, because sexual desire is natural, healthy, and God given, anything I do because of that desire is natural, healthy, and God given…. Christians who are buying such rubbish today are without honor. They have lost the notions of fidelity, renunciation, and sacrifice, because nothing seems worth all that.” The world has convinced the church of the aforementioned lie, and now, much of the church is scrambling to find a response.

A New Sexual Ethic? Part 5


This is part 5 in a 5 part series of a response to Carter Heyward’s essay “Notes on Historical Grounding: Beyond Sexual Essentialism,” which can be found in Sexuality and the Sacred:Sources for Theological Reflection, edited by James B. Nelson and Sandra P. Longfellow.

Heyward concludes her argument with a rallying cry for change. As is the case throughout her article, her call to change is correct, but the direction in which she desires to enact this change is deadly. The following is Heyward’s proposed solution to the issue of a misunderstanding of sexuality in the church:

If we are to live with our feet on the ground, in touch with reality, we must help one another accept the fact that we who are christian are heirs to a body-despising, woman-fearing, sexually repressive religious tradition. If we are to continue being members of the church, we must challenge and transform it at the root. What is required is more than simply a “reformation.” I am speaking of revolutionary transformation. Nothing less will do (Heyward, 16).

Heyward’s call to recognize the past sins of the church is valid. Only when sins are acknowledged and repented of can true healing take place and forgiveness be granted. A vast number of problems within the Church today would be resolved literally overnight if believers were willing to repent and humbly seek forgiveness from their God and from their fellow believers. God confirms this promise in 2 Chronicles 7.14: “if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” True change occurs not through bitter retribution, as Heyward suggests, but through humble repentance and forgiveness.

This issue of creating idols out of sex and self ultimately stems from a misunderstanding of the person, nature, and work of God. Most claim that their disdain for God’s moral law has little to do with their “personal” relationship with God. They claim to love God. Their problems is with Scripture. Some may think that this type of thinking is extreme and could never be found in the mind of the average church member. But it is creeping into the pews and can be heard in excuses given concerning sexual immorality, divorce, exorbitant debt and a host of other self-gratifying sins. When people make statements like, “I know the Bible says it’s wrong, but God wants me to be happy,” they are judging Scripture through the lens of personal experience—the exact thing sexual pagans do to justify the worship of sex and self.

This idolatrous thinking has made its way into the local church, and it will not be corrected through a “revolutionary transformation,” but only through a humble reformation, by a return to the recognition that the God worthy of service and worship is powerful and sovereign, and He alone ensures that His will and ways have been communicated to His people without error or confusion. Those who think that Scripture is irrelevant today because it has been corrupted throughout time do not have a low view of man or of Scripture. They have a low view of God and his ability to maintain His promise that “the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever” (Is 40.8).

Carter Heyward has so much right in her argument: sexuality can be seen as an aspect of humanity that is fluid and changing. While people (with very rare, medical exceptions) are born biologically heterosexual, through the influence of man’s sinful heart and the impact of the sinful choices of others, some go against the loving and unchanging one, right way of the loving Father and go astray, seeking to do things their own way (Is 53.6). Choosing to follow the sinful desires of the heart is not a liberating way of finding oneself and realizing one’s full potential, as a loving bodyself like Heyward tries so hard to claim. Rather, when man chooses to go his own way, his iniquities are not laid upon the Suffering Servant described in Isaiah 53. By going one’s own way, one is committing to pay the price for sins committed against an infinitely holy God.

For too long the church has silently sat back and uncomfortably watched society claim sex as its own. Before it is too late for the next generation of believers, the church must heed the warning of those who seek to take the good gift of God and further corrupt it in sexual paganism: “Our silence will not protect us…. We are shaping history with our words. Either we speak as best we can or our power… will slip away like a thief in the night” (Heyward, 16). Unlike Heyward, who believes that humanity’s power comes in unity with one’s self and with one another, Christians must remember that God’s grace is sufficient in whatever battle may be faced when standing in the truth of the Word. Christians are called to speak out against those who claim to speak for God but spread lies. Silence will not protect us, but it will most certainly condemn us if we remain silent concerning the increasing attack on biblical sexual morality.

A New Sexual Ethic? Part 4


This is part 4 in a 5 part series of a response to Carter Heyward’s essay “Notes on Historical Grounding: Beyond Sexual Essentialism,” which can be found in Sexuality and the Sacred:Sources for Theological Reflection, edited by James B. Nelson and Sandra P. Longfellow.

Third, Heyward claims that Christianity is isolating and denies community. By setting rigid boundaries concerning sexual behavior and then consequently excluding those who refuse to live by those standards, Heyward states that Christianity is proving itself dated, close-minded, and supportive of “compulsive heterosexuality” (Heyward, 12). Historically, Heyward claims that women were isolated from the Christian community by being declared “as evil, ‘the devil’s gateway’” and then systematically used as scapegoats for the sexual sins of the men around them (Heyward, 14).

What is so interesting about Heyward’s quick dismissal of all things “christian” is that God’s moral law, especially his guidelines concerning sexual relations in general, create and then reinforce exactly the sort of relationality that Heyward claims she is attempting to achieve. Relationship, community, unity in diversity, profound oneness and even wholeness are recurring themes throughout Scripture. Heyward is attempting to achieve the end of spiritual wholeness through the means of sex. Scripture teaches that even the most holy sexual relationship is but a picture of the unity and wholeness experienced in being a member of the bride of Christ (Eph 6.22-33). The foundation of Christianity is found in the words of Christ Himself when He stated, “I am the way the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14.6).

Throughout the epistles of the New Testament, believers in churches across Europe and Asia Minor are exhorted to live as a unified, healthy body (1 Cor 12), as a well jointed building (Eph 2); they are told to lay aside petty differences (Phil 4) and to pray for one another and for their common goal (1 Thes 5). These instructions for community are plentiful, and they center on the common love of God and the common call of spreading His glory among the nations. There is one part of living in community that Heyward seems to miss—justice and love are not relative terms that can be interpreted to mean that believers should turn a blind eye to those things which Scripture condemns as going against the nature of God. Justice and love are characteristics of the nature of God, and God declares to His people, “For I the Lord do not change” (Mal 3.6). If God does not change, the characteristics of His nature are fixed and unchanging as well. Therefore, the principles of spurring one another on to love and good deeds (Heb 10) and of confronting one another when fellow believers are entrenched in sin (Mt 18; Gal 6; 1 Cor 5) apply to all things described in Scripture as moral laws which reflect the character of God. So long as desires are allowed to reign unchecked and people continue to seek fulfillment in things other than a relationship with God through Jesus, true spiritual wholeness will not be realized.

C.S. Lewis described this spiritual wholeness of Christ as Joy, and upon contemplating this matter of desire and pleasure made the following observation: “Joy is not a substitute for sex; sex is very often a substitute for Joy. I sometimes wonder whether all pleasures are not substitutes for Joy.” Heyward and her intellectual companions have attempted to substitute pleasure for Joy by completely freeing human sexuality from all encumbrances of law and discipline, but they have yet to achieve the wholeness and fulfillment for which they so desperately search. The struggle to find wholeness through the creation instead of the Creator (Rom 1. 25) is a confirmation of Lewis’ belief that physical pleasure is an unsatisfactory attempt to fill the “God-shaped void” in the lives of people.

This God-shaped void brings Heyward to the natural end of seeking God in God’s created order—Heyward describes sex in divine terms, completing the move from a supposedly “christian” sexual ethic to a glorification and worship of sex that is essentially pagan sex worship. In her discussion of this new christian ethic of sex, Heyward draws upon the work of Freud, who described the eroticism of sex as the “life force.” Heyward also quotes Audre Lorde’s description of the erotic as “the source of our creativity, the wellspring of our joy, the energy of our poems, music, lovemaking, dancing, meditation, friendships, and meaningful work.” For the Christian believer, this description could very well be used to describe God. In the Psalms, it is the glory and worship of Yahweh that inspires David and the other psalmists to write and dance and meditate. The entire book of the Song of Songs describes the fruition of a sexual relationship between a husband and wife when that relationship is rightly focused upon God and upon one another. Paul tells the church in Corinth, “So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor 10.31).

The focus of the life of the believer is not self pleasure or self glorification. Rather, the believer is to focus on the glory and worship of God. To give creative or inspirational credit or worship to anything other than God Himself is to commit an act of idolatry. Heyward attempts to explain this usurpation of God by declaring, “Theologically, we are speaking of our power in right relation; from a christian perspective, the power of God” (Heyward, 15). She claims that the power of God is reached and realized through the act of sex, but God himself prohibits worshiping him through sex acts (Lev 18, 20).

These major themes—the role reversals of men and women, the search for false community, the replacement of God with an idol—work together to show that while Heyward claims that her work, heritage, and ideas are Christian, she is actually committing the very sin that she exposes in the Church; she is further removing herself from the authority of the Bible and establishing her own ethic based upon tradition and personal experience. Heyward has taken Wesley’s quadrilateral of interpretation and reversed it; instead of beginning with Scripture and clarifying it through tradition, philosophy, and personal experience, Heyward begins with personal experience and reinterprets or discounts philosophy, tradition, and Scripture. Those ideals and absolutes which go against personal experience and desire are laid aside and explained away as being culturally irrelevant. This is precisely the place that Heyward envisions: “A historical perspective on sexuality is important… because such a view enables us to envision and perhaps experience our own possibilities…. We are involved in shaping our own dreams.” By using sex as a means to channel the power of God, Heyward argues that personal, sexual realization enables humanity to make its own destiny—humanity becomes god.