Comments from me on the CRC Network Classis Blog on Classes that don’t seat women.
Are you saying complementarianism is cultural?
I don’t know that we can have a conversation that asserts knowledge that transcends culture, not because culture cannot be transcended, but because we cannot transcend it. All of our conversations are within cultures and their mergers and collisions. Likewise the Bible cannot communicate to us outside of culture. Maybe this piece I wrote for a comment on another blog might help explain my idea. I don’t think that means we can’t learn anything or that everything is relative. It means that culture (practices and ways of thinking that frame our perception of the world) are always with us. It also doesn’t mean that things can’t be true for all human cultures or normative for all human cultures. It does mean that expression of those norms might have different appearances and practices.
My understanding of a basic complementarian position is that it asserts than men and women have normative different contributions to make to the body of Christ. More on my position. I am not as convinced that keeping women from holding office is a universal normative mandate for the church. I am not sufficiently convinced of that position to advocate it’s application in our context, in fact my experience has been that having male and female office bearers working together in church leadership has been better than having only one sex at work.
Our current specific cultural application of office bearing, however, is also a cultural construct (hopefully pursuing more universal norms.). I’ve been active in the church in cultures where women did not serve in formal leadership but served in other leadership capacities within the church that exerted power and influence even if not in the structure that we are paying attention to in this debate. Korean congregations often have women called and commissioned (ordained would not be an inappropriate word given the language, ceremony, respect, position, etc.) in their churches. In the DR many churches has “damas misioneras” who preached, taught, led, etc. A similar thing.
If our current cultural location is bringing churches to not use the gift God has given women in the church to exercise them because of a lot of cultural norms about what names and chairs they must exercise leadership from, then we need to do some re-arranging. How elders, deacons and pastors work today continues to change in our culture and others. Despite the language you’re hard pressed to say that our application of the offices is identical to the NT context. That’s OK because the world is different. Again, I’m not advocating for relativism, just application. CRC deacons sometimes give out food but probably not in the same way that it was happening in the Jerusalem church.
In coming to application (as in just about every circumstance) we look to the word of God and the Spirit of God to guide us. Things may look different again 100 years from now and we have no idea how.
I’m comfortable letting the process work its way through. If we look at the history of the church (Alister McGrath’s fine book on Heresy) we find that over time the church figures out what is heresy often by dead ends. It may be that allowing women in office becomes a dead end and Christ’s living church moves beyond it. At this point I doubt that but I could be wrong. The church often takes hundreds of years to work things through. The issues we’re dealing with today will become clear in time, but I don’t know that we know the outcome yet. Best to keep reading God’s word and working with it and doing the work of the church.
But this issue isn’t going away…
Look at the issue of Infant Baptism. How long as this been going on? Neither side has given up, but many have learned to live with the disagreement. I would argue that infant baptism is a more important issue than women in office but clearly many more don’t see it that way. I’m sure some have left the CRC over women in office only to get re-baptized.
This is in my experience (as stated above) not really an issue that has separated the sexes. Many women don’t believe in women in office and many men do. My heart mostly goes out to women (like Dawn and others) who wish to serve but don’t get the chance. That’s very hard. At the same time I’ve known men who very much wanted to serve and were never given the opportunity, not because of their sex but because of other things. Life is full of disappointments and injustices in the church and out of it.
In my experience a small minority post on a forum like this. In my classis where women are allowed to be seated there are a good number of churches that don’t have women elders or don’t permit them. At every classis meeting one church from our classis attaches to their credential their protest over women in office. It is read or noted at each classis meeting. I know that bothers some, but it doesn’t bother me. For the last 5 years I’ve always had a woman elder with me and I’ve seen nothing but graciousness and kindness towards them at classis, even from those who publically oppose it. My elders often are a bit hesitant about what will happen. Even though they are permitted to be there it is very much a majority male environment, out of 50+ delegates only 1-5 women often. I can appreciate their discomfort often. This is the difficult path that both sides are walking now, and on the path we learn to love our “enemies”, which is what a foundational behavior of Christianity.
The longer I ponder the miracle of the gospel, the more I see that love of enemy is not some optional merit badge in advanced, exceptional Christian practice, but rather the very basis itself. We made no greater enemy and no other enemy than God himself and it required the Son of God himself at no lesser expense than the cost of his life to get us back into the family. Why we imagine that we can finesse, negotiate or fudge our way through the inevitable conflicts of life in order to avoid loving our enemy is only attributable to the ever present blinding nature of sin. pvk