One thing that has puzzled me over the past few years as I’ve wrestled with the topic of complementarianism versus egalitarianism is why Christians are so adamantly opposed to egalitarianism that they won’t even study it carefully and make an informed decision. (And by studying it I mean reading something more than the complementarian manifesto Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.) The truth sets us free and God’s Word can withstand the closest scrutiny so there is no reason to be afraid to study it.
Complementarianism versus Egalitarianism
When boiled down to the basic elements, the two views are basically this.
- Complementarians believe that Christians should function in the body of Christ based on whether they are male or female.
- Egalitarians believe that Christians should function in the body of Christ based on their gifts from the Holy Spirit.
At the most basic, egalitarianism is not this horribly shocking doctrine although it is made out to be so by many who oppose it.
Why Do Christians Fear Egalitarianism?
As David and I have discussed this, I’ve compiled a list of reasons why I think Christians flee in fear from the very idea of egalitarianism.
As the saying goes, follow the money.
There are people who have built livelihoods and mini-empires on the complementarian position. Their income and position in the church are built completely around being right on this very issue. Most of them would not or could not change their views without devastating financial loss.
I think this applies more to men, but I think this is an important factor. While I recognize that many of the women who read here have wonderful husbands who love and serve them, the reality is that the church is full of men who relish power. To accept egalitarianism would bring about a tremendous change in the power structures in denominations, churches, homes, etc.
Never underestimate the tremendous force of power and how it can cloud someone’s ability to think and act clearly when faced with losing that power.
Fear of the Fallout
I think this is a huge issue, especially for women. The reality is that the fallout for many Christians if they made the choice to identify themselves as egalitarian would be significant.
Imagine what a pastor might face if he changed his view on this in the wrong denomination (such as the PCA). How many of them want to lose their church? Their standing in their denomination?
Wade Burleson addresses this in the intro to Jon Zens’ What’s with Paul and Women?. He writes:
My prayer for you is that this vital book will set you free from the fear of being labeled a liberal, or a radical feminist, or a Christian who does not believe the Bible because of your belief in gender equality within the church. I pray that this book will enable you to identify the errant teachings of the institutional church regarding women, to gracefully resist those who seek to force silence upon gifted women, and to remain unaffected by the slanderous attacks of other conservative evangelicals who suggest that those of us who believe in gender equality do not believe the Bible. (page 21)
Fear of the fallout in social circles, at church, or among friends (or blog readers) is a huge part of why many Christians basically live like egalitarians in their homes, but would never admit publicly to accepting the teachings.
Fear of Being Wrong
It is unsettling to face the possibility that a doctrine or view you cherished might not be right.
It also stirs up feelings of, “What else might I be wrong about?” To make such a huge paradigm shift from complementarian to egalitarian is no small thing.
Fear of the Unknown
What would it mean to be an egalitarian and not a complementarian?
How would my life change?
What else would God do and change in my mind or heart or life?
The fear of the unknown is very powerful. It is so much easier to stay with what we know because we perceive it as safe.
Theological Choices Based on Fear
I once had someone defend the use of headcoverings by saying he would rather get to heaven and find out it wasn’t necessary for his wife and daughters to wear them than get to heaven and find out that he was supposed to do it and didn’t. In my opinion, that’s theology and Christian living based on fear not faith.
I would rather free half of the church to freely worship and exercise their gifts and find out we shouldn’t have than suppress them to everyone’s loss.
I don’t believe this is a salvation issue, but there are some who make it paramount to the very end of the existence of the Christian faith. And so in their minds it is imperative to continue to follow the traditional view because what if we gave women more freedom and we were – gasp! – wrong?
Well, what if we gave women more freedom and we were – gasp! – right?
Worst Case Scenario?
What would happen if the church decided to eschew complementarianism and embrace egalitarianism? Seriously. Think about the “worst case” scenario.
Do you really believe there would be chaos and confusion? Honestly?
Do you really think churches would fall apart?
Families would disintegrate?
The gospel wouldn’t be preached?
Or would a wonderful fresh movement of the Holy Spirit possibly sweep through the churches as women were freed up to be who God created them to be? Not who we are allowing them to be, but who God Himself designed them to be?
But I can hear some people saying that women are weaker and emotional beings who couldn’t handle it! The church would be run by emotion! It would just further feminize the church and ruin it!
No woman who makes decisions based purely on emotion should be in leadership.
Neither should any man.
Leadership in the church is supposed to be based on spiritual maturity and the ability to be led by the Holy Spirit. Last I checked, both were available equally to men and women.
So why do Christians flee from the egalitarian position? And why would any woman not want to be free to be led by the Holy Spirit to use her gifts and see other women joyfully functioning in every part of the Body of Christ?
This post is part of the Exploring a Woman’s Freedom in Christ Series.