Christian Feminism? (XVIII)
Just Who is the “Gifted Leader?”
In our last installment, we continued to interact with Rev. John Smed’s article, “The Genius and Joy of Lay Leadership.” We ended last time by listening to his lamentation over those who are gifted leaders, but who are not ordained to any particular office. He is convinced that these congregants—male and female—are frustrated and “Frustration either leads to disconnection or to opposition” (p. 2).
It is clear from Scripture that each congregant should be a living, active member of the church of Christ. That being the case, each is to use his or her gifts for the glory of God and for the good of the whole covenant family. It also seems that members should have their respective gifts discovered within the context of their fellowship with the other members of that covenant community rather than coming into the local church and more or less announcing what those gifts are. This seems a more biblical but less used manner of discovering and using gifts in Christ’s Church.
Besides, anyone who has been around the block a couple of times knows from experience that not everyone who is a “leader” type in the world is an effective biblical leader in the Church. The Church is not IBM or Exxon. It has leaders, but they submit to a higher authority and operate according to God’s revealed will and not according to what Donald Trump or Peter Drucker says. What is considered an asset in the world could very well be a liability in a local congregation. In what I’m describing about the context of the covenant community, for example, a “gifted leader” might be either pleasantly or unpleasantly surprised to have other Christians point him or her in a very different direction vis-à-vis gifts than they had initially imagined. In other words, there might be some surprises and that should be considered a good thing.
We want to begin, therefore, by picking up the thread of Rev. Smed’s arguments. I want to point out again that the quotes are taken from Rev. Smed’s article. These are his words; the commentary is mine. In his article, under the heading of “Women in ministry and Leadership,” he writes, “When it comes to the question of ordaining women as elders, is it not possible that a significant reason for women seeking ordination to the office of elder is that the only alternative is constant frustration.” (Ibid. Italics mine. Actually, there should have been a question mark at the end of his sentence.) I take issue with Rev. Smed’s exclusive language. In some situations there can be more than one alternative and especially in the issue of the role of women in the local church there are more alternatives. Moreover, even though women and some men may be frustrated, they should be able to talk things out with the Session, but it’s a tough sell that their life is one of constant frustration. Less exaggeration would be helpful.
Within the realm of possibilities, I suppose that Rev. Smed’s question/statement could fall within that category—possibility—, but the question is too slanted and naïve to be actually plausible. Why do I say that? Allow me to explain. As I have written in previous issues, there have been concerted efforts made by Feminism in its radical and less radical forms to change our thinking. As often as not, this aim of the feminist movement came to us under the guise of “consciousness raising.” Mary Kassian has aptly chronicled this development. Thus, since the 1960s men and women have been bombarded with feminist ideology. Within the realm of possibility it could also be the case that women have been seeking ordination as elder because both they and the men “bought into” the feminist agenda. Moreover, it is also within the realm of possibility that a significant number of the tenets of Feminism had made enormous inroads into the evangelical community as Wayne Grudem, Rebecca Jones, Mary Kassian, John Piper, the Council on Biblical Manhood & Womanhood, and a host of others have pointed out. In addition, there has been a powerful influx of political correctness into society in general as well as into the evangelical community encouraging and supporting women who teach men on a regular basis.
In short, if we are talking mere “possibilities,” then the reasons why some women seek ordination to the office of elder are “legion”—for they are many. One thing is biblically certain, however, and it is this: for whatever reason/possibility a woman seeks ordination as an elder, it is an unbiblical, unwarranted one. To shore up his “possibility” argument, however, Rev. Smed cites Dr. Bruce Waltke, Old Testament scholar, who “agrees that women are victims of a neglectful power structure in many churches.” (Ibid. Emphases mine.) That is to say, he introduces the language of the victo-crat. Women are victims of a neglectful patriarchal power structure, which seems to be the modus operandi in many churches, which would, it seems, include PCA churches as well. Once again the accusation is that PCA churches do not take Scripture seriously nor does what its Book of Church Order describes concerning the elected church officers. Moreover, women share this frustration (frustrated victo-crats) with men who are leaders but not elders. (Ibid.)
As I have mentioned before, after 25-plus years of pastoral ministry in three different countries it is manifestly clear that not all leaders in secular life make biblically qualified elders and it should also be stated that some (a few) women act less like victims and more like jack-booted brown shirts than they do like godly women. What I have missed to this point in Rev. Smed’s article is an appeal to Scripture to bolster his arguments. Being an elder involves substantially more than mere leadership, although biblical leadership principles should be applied in every case (cf. 1 Tim. 3:1-13; Titus 1:5-9).
In any case, I will respectfully disagree with Dr. Waltke’s assessment that in many churches women are victims of a neglectful power structure. Do I believe that this occurs in some churches? Sure. As one who is on the “front lines” of ministry and who has frequent and good contact with the members that God has entrusted to him, I find the word “many” to be both an improper description and also an exaggeration. In addition, I also strongly disagree with Dr. Waltke that “The feminist perspective has rightly exposed this abuse.” (Ibid.)
The “feminist” perspective in its secular and evangelical forms has produced a number of disgruntled women. It may be said that Feminism shed some light on abuses in society, but when you read about the life of, say, Betty Friedan, then you realize that she is one bitter woman, who quite frequently distorted the truth because to do so served “the cause,” the feminist agenda. Within Christian circles I would say something similar about the PCA’s Carolyn Custis James. When I began reading her book about women becoming good theologians and studying theology I was with her all the way. She lost me, however, about two-thirds of the way through her book when, to my mind, she went on a rant and ended up sounding like a very bitter woman—for whatever reason. The upshot of this is simply that there have been powerful influences in the Church coming from Feminism. And as we well know, any ideology with the suffix “-ism” attached to it is meant to give us a total life and worldview.
Feminism might have exposed some abuses in society and in the Church, but on balance, its net effects have not been positive, but rather negative in both. Feminists have succeeded in driving wedges between men and women and they are guilty of pitting the genders against each other and/or playing the “gender card” at key points. They have even succeeded in some modern churches in getting Christian women to believe that abortion is their “right” and that men are on testosterone overload and their sole goal is—to borrow a phrase from Rebecca Jones—to squash women.
But Rev. Smed points out to us that Dr. Waltke is critical of the designated headship of elder and husbands, “when they focus on ruling rather than loving” (Ibid.) What shall we reply to this?
In the first place, when it comes to being an elder there really isn’t a biblical choice about ruling in a loving manner. Rather than an “either/or” choice being a biblical elder entails a “both/and” proposition.
In the second place, do Dr. Waltke and Rev. Smed want to intimate that if a husband is out of balance at any given time that the wife no longer needs to be biblically submissive? It can be justifiably argued that Christian husbands, by and large, strive to lead their wives biblically although there is admittedly a great deal of room for improvement and, no doubt, some are derelict in their biblical duties. But do we want to build our case and establish our “rules” by the exceptions?
Rev. Smed quotes from Waltke again favorably who states: “We commend feminists for asserting the equality of women with men as equals in nature, dignity, gifts and ministry.” (Ibid.) My question to both Dr. Waltke and Rev. Smed is this: Why should we commend feminists for this when Scripture has already done it? Without a doubt I have an appreciation for Dr. Waltke’s Old Testament scholarship, but his statement would have been far better and would have come with more authority if had given us Old Testament and New Testament examples of how women were the recipients of a God-given nature, dignity, gifts, and ministry rather than appealing to secular feminists who are working from an ideological agenda.
Which feminists in particular are we to commend? Gloria Steinem? Betty Friedan? Lisa Scanzoni? Nancy Hardesty? Virginia Mollenkott? Simone deBeauvoir? Mary Daly? Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, Germaine Greer? Kate Millett? Elaine Pagels? Waltke’s statement is a very unguarded one that creates more confusion and raises more questions than it does resolve matters and give biblical answers. It is equally disturbing that Rev. Smed would use such a general quotation. Truly, I am disappointed that Dr. Waltke would say such a thing and equally disappointed that Rev. Smed would use it favorably, for it detracts from his argument. At the same time, Rev. Smed does tip his hand slightly to let us know where he is heading with his article.
It appears that yet another “straw man” is being erected so that an agenda point can be met. Here is what seems to be the underlying thesis of both Waltke and Smed: Men in the PCA and other Christian men are so thick that they cannot understand that men and women are equally created in God’s image, endowing them with a particular nature, worth, dignity, gifts, and ministries that they need secular feminists to inform and enlighten them. Therefore, it is justified to cite secular feminists because they have proven to be so helpful in the past.
Dr. Waltke is convinced that the crux of the problem “is our own failure to interpret the Bible correctly. The mode of leadership is that of a servant.” (Ibid., 3.) I beg your pardon. To whom does the word “our” refer? Does he infer that conservative, orthodox Christian scholars have missed God’s point and that we need the secular feminists to help us out? These words are interesting for a number of reasons. First, much of the weakness I’ve observed in PCA church plants—and this is based on my observations over more than a decade in my own Presbytery as well as visiting other PCA church plants—has been in the area of preaching and teaching. I would call the sermons—at best—watered down. That is to say, in a attempt to engage the culture and reach Christianity’s cultured despisers the gospel message has been “softened”—sometimes substantially—and Presbyterian doctrine and church government completely left off the radar—intentionally. The sermons I’ve heard have been “sermonettes” often void of any real obvious exegesis, but that were “hip” and sounded more like a pep talk from Anthony Robbins than a sermon from Scripture.
Moreover, in the church plants that have gone “belly up” in our Presbytery it has been a rarity rather than the rule that the members of that particular church plant sought out another PCA congregation. In the majority of the cases, they went to something like a Calvary Chapel—and probably noticed little difference. I listened to a sermon at Grace Toronto once where I was told one hundred times in twenty-five ways (yes, there was a lot of repetition) that I needed to engage the culture more; better. Whatever the text was that morning, it was announced, read, and we never came back to it. I’ve also listened to a number of sermons on line dealing ostensibly with what Scripture says about biblical submission that contained long, long apologies that the text even existed. God must have had a bad day. There was a lot of nervous laughter, “spinning,” and “dancing.” My point here is merely this: I would have thought that both Dr. Waltke and Rev. Smed would have recommended the preaching of the whole counsel of God rather than us listening to feminists.
Fine. Let’s return to Dr. Waltke’s assertion that the model of leadership is that of a servant. Certainly, this is a partially true statement. We learn from the life, examples, and mandates of Jesus that we are to be conformed to his image and follow his example (cf. Rom. 8:28-29; 1 Pet. 1:21). This is our model, but must we distil Jesus’ leadership examples down to just one; the model? What Dr. Waltke is saying can be misunderstood in our modern egalitarian context in a wide variety of ways. As I stated in the last issue, in leadership someone is saddled with the final decision. The leader might avail himself or herself of wise counsel, but in the final analysis the decision is his or hers. For example, Gen. Dwight David Eisenhower received all kinds of advice and strategies about the execution of Operation Overlord (D-Day) in World War II, but ultimately the decision to “go” was his.
Leaders must set the example and lead from the front, but all within the context of the fifth commandment. In Rev. Smed’s article and his use of Dr. Waltke there is no mention whatsoever of what, say, the Westminster Larger Catechism teaches about “inferiors,” “superiors,” and “equals.” (cf. Q/A 123-133.) Those statements might not fit into your egalitarian society or in a place where what the culture says, does, and thinks tends to dictate what the message of Scripture is—as in Rev. Downing’s congregation in Rocky Mountain Presbytery—but they are part of our heritage.
Dr. Waltke is correct that Jesus is the (suffering) servant king who loves his queen (bride) and died for her. Yet, when he writes, “The ‘servant’ empowers his wife to use her spiritual gifts to their fullest potential,” I would add a couple of qualifiers: First, I’m not certain that I understand practically how toe “empower” someone to do something. I might encourage them, train them, and provide biblical opportunities for them, but by and large I tend to think of “empower” as a word that is bandied about without it having enough specificity to be helpful. Rather, it tends to be vague such as words like “gravitas” or “charisma.” Second, I do have a little trouble with the phrase “…to their fullest potential.” I would insert the word “biblical” or “scriptural” between “fullest” and “potential.” It would seem, therefore, that our goal is for our wives to be the godliest women they can be, not just to see them reach their “fullest potential.”
Then Dr. Waltke adds this zinger: “I am a member of a church where I submit to women leaders because I’m called upon to endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit until we come to the full knowledge of Christ (Eph. 4:1-13).” (Ibid.) I don’t know of which church Dr. Waltke is a member, but if he “…supports the designated headship of elders and husbands, and questions those who disregard this” (Ibid., 2.), then it seems that Dr. Waltke has a problem. If, on the one hand, he supports the designated headship of elders, then that must mean that he is in a church that has women elders. Otherwise, what he wrote would be a contradiction. In light of what he says later, as he is quoted by Rev. Smed, I’m convinced that it’s the former.
That is probably why he asks his church “and others like it,” which he is fully persuaded sincerely want to follow Ephesians 5:10 “to reassess whether their practice of ordaining women to rule them has been impacted by the feminist perspective or by the biblical.” (Ibid., 3.) So where are we in this article about the genius and joy of lay leadership? Rev. Smed is not in favor of ordaining women elders and yet he cites rather extensively from someone (Dr. Waltke), who is apparently in a church that does ordain women and who submits to their rule and authority.
For Dr. Waltke’s part, he praises certain aspects of secular Feminism (or perhaps even of so-called Evangelical Feminism), but then turns around and asks other churches to reassess their positions to ascertain whether they are motivated by feminist ideology or biblical truth. This is, at best, quite confusing.
In our next installment, we’ll attempt to follow Rev. Smed’s argument as he begins a new section entitled “A biblical and historical argument for reappraising the relation between elders and lay leaders.” What we shall encounter in this section are two more men who are pro-women’s ordination: John Stackhouse and his book Finally Feminist and Miroslav Volf, who according to Rev. Smed, has written a very influential book called After Our Likeness. Stackhouse concludes that “After examining the scriptures and looking at both sides of the argument…we have no sound reason to exclude them from office.” (Ibid.). Dr. Volf, who is a student of Jürgen Moltmann’s and director of the Center for Faith and Culture at Yale Divinity School, also believes that women should be ordained. “Volf exegetes key New Testament passages (Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4:1-6) to show that the church in [sic] ‘charismatically constituted’. This is an exciting and valid insight (see below). He differentiates between office holders and laity. However, he still advocates for women’s ordination to the episcopacy/eldership, arguing that office is a gift of the Spirit.” (Ibid., 3-4.)
It remains to be seen if Rev. Smed ever intends to get around to discussing, in a favorable light, those who oppose women’s ordination. And although he tells us that he is personally opposed to the ordination of women to the office of either Teaching Elder or Ruling Elder to this point in his article he has cited only men who are in favor of it. We shall have to wait and see if he can make good on his position. I promise that I will not spend much more time on this because I believe there is a much more positive way to view this issue. My own approach will be to take a look at a number of Reformed confessions and then examine one very trusted Reformed theologian: Dr. Herman Bavinck.
 Cf. 1 John 3:14, 19-21; John 10:27-28; 1 Cor. 1:4-9; 1 Pet. 1:3-5; Rom. 12:4-8; 1 Cor. 12:20-27; 13:1-7; Phil. 2:4-8; & the Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 21, Q/A 54 & 55.
 See Mary Kassian, The Feminist Gospel, The Movement to Unite Feminism With the Church, (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1992). Also, compare Wayne Grudem, Evangelical Feminism, A New Path to Liberalism? (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2006).
 Carolyn Custis James, When Life and Beliefs Collide, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001). I also disagree with Mrs. James’ assertion that the Hebrew word translated “helper” in Genesis 2:18 (Hebrew: rz<[Eß;; Greek LXX: bohqo.n) that can and should be translated “warrior.” Can we detect a slight agenda there?
 John Stackhouse, Finally Feminist, (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005).
Labels: Christian Feminism