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.
[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 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.
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
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