Another reason this debate can’t be declared over is the fact that it seems even complementarians can’t give consistent answers to all of the questions their argument raises. In The Conversation Stopper (the article mentioned in my previous post on this topic, from Issue 332 of the Briefing), Claire Smith mentions that the whole congregation would learn from the prophecy of women, despite the fact that she, like many, believes “women ought not to assume an ongoing, authoritative teaching role within mixed congregations” (footnote 1).
Since starting to look into gender roles I’ve grown more and more frustrated by the complementarian qualifiers that muddy an already-cloudy issue. How do you define “ongoing” in this case? If a woman in the congregation has the gift of prophecy, should she only be allowed to offer one per fortnight? Per month? At what stage does it become “ongoing”? And how do you define “authoritative” here? Surely all prophecy is as authoritative as you can get, if it is indeed “God’s truth declared” to his people as Smith says in her article (the emphasis is mine)!
Again, I’m not sure that these are questions the Bible wants us to spend our limited time asking or debating the answers for. And so Grudem has to write up a ‘do/don’t’ list for women to make up for the Bible’s silence, and each church muddles its way along, usually inconsistently, trying to work out how “equal but different” can possibly be logical and practicable. I still don’t understand what the difference is between leading a church service and leading the singing, yet in the Anglican churches I’ve been part of in Sydney, women are only allowed to do the latter. Not only that, at the very least, how many churches have taken the advice Smith gives in her article and taken steps to work out how to encourage those with the gift of prophecy – of course, I’m thinking of the women in particular – to use their gift for the edification of their congregations? I’ve no idea either, but I’ll have a guess: Not enough.
Also, do complementarian men skip over articles by Smith in The Briefing in case they learn something, or is she allowed to teach in writing, just not in speech? If so, is it because writing’s not “church”? Is that the difference? Or is it because The Briefing is edited by a man and she’s therefore under his authority? I don’t know. Are there any complementarians who can answer all of these questions? Perhaps they’re happy not knowing for sure. A few churches and many years ago, a beloved minister emailed me a chapter from Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (by John Piper and Wayne Grudem) in response to some questions I had about a sermon he’d preached on 1 Corinthians 11.
When I confessed later that it didn’t clear everything up for me, we ended up agreeing that our questions (his and mine) were fundamentally about creation and we weren’t sure we’d ever find answers for them. I respected (and still do!) his honesty in those conversations, though I wonder now if he ever searched for answers outside of complementarianism. He never mentioned to me that there were evangelical Christians who offered other explanations that did make sense of the first chapters in Genesis (and, flowing on from there, the passages in 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy).
Basically, in reading the complementarian side of the debate, I can’t help but keep returning to the full list of questions I had when I started this process. I agree with this thought (at least) from a recent CBE blog post:
...there are more radical groups that require their women to not cut their hair, to wear head coverings, to not wear jewellery, men’s pants, etc. I’ve got to give them this: Their exegesis is more consistent than the less radical. This simply makes their errors greater, but they are more logical and more consistent...I draw encouragement from the fact that mainline complementarian thought has reached the current, less logical stance. It’s a movement in the right direction.
I see complementarianism played out in so many different ways that I’m now fairly convinced there’s not too much agreement between those who hold the view outside of believing that a man should always be the leader. Perhaps the reason there are no satisfying answers to be found in complementarian arguments has a lot to do with the fact that the Bible doesn’t give answers to the questions their arguments force us to pose. If it did, we’d have no need for this.