The Heresy of Male Domination

St. Augustine and the Donatists
St. Augustine and the Donatists

A few days ago, blogger and author Tony Jones called for a Schism in the Church over the role of women, particularly that Christians who uphold an egalitarian view of men and women in the church leave and break fellowship with churches who uphold complementation views, or believe that women should submit to the authority and leadership of me in the home, in relationships and at church.

At the same time. Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Convention and affiliated with the Centre for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, said that, egalitarian couples “preach a false gospel.”

[As a side note, Rachel Held Evans, noted that neither of these two have been called “divise”, one advocates schism, the other accuses a false gospel. She was famously called ‘divisive’ for simply asking why a Christian leadership conference with over 100 speakers only have 4 women.]

It is looks like the issue of the role of women in Christianity in North American, particularly among Evangelicals, is starting to boil.

Today, Tony Jones pulled back and said that schism was perhaps too harsh a word. I think he was right to do so. But I also think I know what he was trying to call for.

The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) did it in 1977 in regards to Apartheid in South Africa. “The 1977 declaration of the Lutheran World Federation that apartheid constitutes a “status confessions,” this meaning that on the basis of faith and in order to manifest the unity of the church, churches should publicly and unequivocally reject existing apartheid systems.”

White South African churches were excluding Black South Africans. For the LWF, this wasn’t simply an issue of civil rights. This was a “gospel” issue. It was a gospel issue because those churches were denying the gospel to a particular group of people based on physical characteristic. The declaration is the only time Lutherans have agreed to add something to our confessions, to our unalterable doctrines of faith.

It just so happens that right around that time, many Lutheran bodies were beginning to ordain women. Co-incidence? I think not.

You see there is an important heresy that informed both the condemnation of Apartheid and the ordination of women.

Donatism.

Donatism was the claim that the moral character of a person affects the proclamation of the gospel and the means of grace. Or that only “good” or “special” or “saintly” or “chosen by God” people could lead worship, preside over the sacraments and proclaim the gospel.

The early church rejected Donatism. Martin Luther and the reformers condemned this heresy in the Augsburg Confession.

Those who advocate complementarianism or the submission of women are, essentially, Donatists. They are claiming that the Gospel is tarnished or diminished if preached by those who are not for “Biblical Manhood and Biblical Womandhood” or by egalitarian couples. This is heresy. The Gospel cannot be and is not affected by the moral character of those who preach it. The gospel is efficacious on its own.

But more importantly, the moral character (or biological character) of those who preach the gospel and administer the sacraments does not affect their efficacy. The sacraments are efficacious on their own. Men are not specially chosen to preach the gospel. Women are not specially prevented from preaching the gospel.

When people, like Russell Moore, make claims that the gospel is affected by the gender views of those who preach it, they are heretics.

That’s right, heretics.

I don’ think Tony Jones wants a schism. He said as much today. I think he, and many of us, are wanting a re-affirmation of orthodox doctrine. We want Christians and the Church to stand up and say that the rejection of complementarianism is a matter of doctrine and faith. It is “status confessionis”.

But what does that look like in practice?

Well, it is like when I go to denominations who practice closed communion, like Roman Catholics or the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (neither of whom allow the ordination of women either), I go up to receive communion anyways. I dare them to excommunicate me, knowing what I consider to be matters of faith.

When I preside at the church I serve, I invite all who believe Christ is present in the meal to receive, even Romans Catholics or Missouri Synod folks (many have received communion from me).

When I work ecumenically, I talk about the ministry of my wife.  I tell my male colleagues from churches that don’t allow women in ministry about the things that she is doing.

And I write here, advocating for things that are good and right for the church.

Naming heresy is not about schism. It about the clear rejection of unorthodox doctrine. But it is also about the invitation to dialogue and the invitation the table.

So here it is. Complentariansim is to be rejected as heresy. And those who uphold it, like Russell Moore, are invited to commune with me… but it will be at a table where both men and women are free to preside.

*** Greg in the comments pointed out that since Ephesians 3:28 does talk about submission of men and women to each other, that a more appropriate title could be “The Heresy of Male Domination”. Good point Greg!***

What do you think? Is Complementarianism a heresy? Share in the comments or on twitter @ParkerErik

More posts on women in ministry:

Putting My Jesus Feminism to the Test

12 Reasons Why Being a Male Pastor is Better

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21 thoughts on “The Heresy of Male Domination”

  1. Much agree, though would love to hear more on what you would consider to be Christian orthodoxy and why you consider it to be more orthodox than other creeds, statement of faith, etc, etc.

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    1. That is a good question. I would claim that orthodox Christianity is one founded in ongoing tradition of the Church (liturgy, episcopal structures, 3 ecumenical creeds, and the theology of early church fathers) along side scripture. Too often North American Christians view the bible and the church in a historical vacuum, as if scripture and theology was created of modern individuals instead of ancient communities.

      This also means seeing the early church in its context, and seeing that some of the questions about scripture that someone like St. Augustine was asking will lead us to new conclusions about faith that helps understand patriarchy as ancient context rather than inspired social system.

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  2. Interesting read. However, as an evangelical, I have never heard anyone say that the efficacy of the Gospel is altered by the gender of the one presenting it…only that we ought to recognize and capitalize on the differences between the genders. I feel like this idea of a Donatist heresy is irrelevant. The real issue as apparent to me is whether Paul was writing from a cultural or inspired standpoint.

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    1. The donatist heresy is very relevant, you have just made the point yourself. If the efficacy of the gospel is not affected by the person preaching it, than there is no reason to limit those who can preach or those can hear a preacher by gender. Paul’s writing is secondary to this first point.

      If the gospel is still efficacious when preached by women, why prevent women from preaching in the church?

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      1. Ah ah ah, gap-in-logic alert! The Donatist heresy is only relevant if the group being labeled as Donatist (or comparable) holds to the view that the efficacy of the gospel is affected by those who teach it. However, complementarianism does not adhere to any such belief. Your necessary course of action should you choose to continue defending your case is either:

        a) demonstrating that complementarianism actually DOES teach such, or

        b) demonstrating that the view that women simply should not preach in the church is illogical or unbiblical, and that complementarians should instead believe that the gospel’s efficacy is diminished when a woman preaches it.

        If you could manage to prove either case or a comparable alternative that I have not presented, then perhaps you could push the relevance of Donatism.

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  3. This makes me sad. You clearly do understand orthodox Christian theology, heresy, the sacraments, nor Christian Charity. The Early church Fathers and the Reformers who rejected Donatism would reject your modernist heresy. Donatism concerned whether apostolically ordained priests in a state of mortal sin could confer valid sacraments. That’s it. These priests were men and always will be men. And, please, do not receive the sacrament while attending a Roman Catholic Church. When you receive the sacraments, you affirm that you are a Catholic in a state of grace, that you believe all that the Catholic Church teaches to be divinely revealed, and that you are eating the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ. To do otherwise would be a scandal and public lie. Thou shalt not lie.

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    1. Johnny, I would encourage you to do some further study. The Donatist heresy was about the state of sin ordained priests conferring valid sacraments, but the consequence of the church’s position on donatism is that the priest is not the one who makes the sacraments efficacious. The logic can therefore be applied in a variety of cases, particularly in the case of Roman theology on women in ministry. It is not the maleness of the priest that makes the sacraments officious, nor is it the maleness of Christ. To claim it be so is heretical, maleness is not a characteristic of the divine. Rather both genders are created in the image of God, or in Christ.

      And you also need to do some study on the sacraments. The sacraments do not belong the the church, they belong to Christ. Receiving the Eucharist does not affirm that anyone is a catholic, in Roman Churches or outside of them. The sacraments confer God’s mercy to those who receive them. Some of what Rome teaches is divinely revealed, but Rome is not the universal church. You are always welcome to commune with us Lutherans, just as the Roman Catholic priests come to lay on hands at Lutheran ordinations are welcome.

      Lastly, the notion that Roman priests will always been men is a fact that was disputed my many of my Roman Catholic theology and ethics professors teaching at a Roman Catholic institution. There is not universal agreement on this fact.

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      1. You misunderstood part of his post: He never claimed that reception of the Eucharist in and of itself confirms membership in the RCC, only that only members of the RCC are allowed to partake of it in the mass, and thus that anyone who partakes tacitly acknowledges their membership.

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  4. I have finally found someone who thinks in the same terms as myself on the subject.

    More on, complementarism/sexism is the twin brother of the apollinarism and monotheletism. Those who cut the humankind into 2 halves of ontological difference are thereby denying Jesus’ humanhood. If there be maleness and femaleness, and if God assumed only the former but forsook the latter, then he cannot save us.

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  5. Jesus loves women. To entrust to them a ministry which was never intended for them is anything but unloving. Donatism is to say that the gospel is diminished by the minister; however, it is not the gospel which is hurt by an inadequate minister, it is the Church. While to hurt the Church may not be a heresy, it is a great evil. Paul clearly stated that women were to be quiet (not silent, but not teaching either) in church, and he stated as support that women were created after men (and as a helper). In fact, God himself said that ‘her desire shall be for her husband, and he shall rule over her’. This shows that gender rules are rooted in the created order, rather than in any sinful expectation of man. So this leaves you with two options. You can recant what you said and say that you were wrong, or you can reject scripture and say that God is wrong. The later seems more likely, given that it is unlikely you are truly ignorant of what scripture says on this issue; rather, you probably just don’t care. If you don’t love the Word of God, you don’t love God.

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