Friday, March 27, 2009

The Gospel OR Complementarianism?: An Unnecessary Dichotomy

"The Gospel OR Complementarianism-- which one are you focused on?" I get asked this sometimes, particularly by eager egalitarians. They'll write something like, "I hear you talking a lot about the role of women but not a lot about the Gospel." Or, "Why spend our energy on the roles of men and women when there are people dying without the Good News?"

These are oversimplistic questions that, in my view, cloud rather than clarify the real issues at stake. We don't have to choose either to focus on the essentials of the faith or to delve into relevant life issues with depth and maturity. It is not an either/or discussion. It wasn't for Christ. It wasn't for the Apostle Paul. It wasn't for Luther. It isn't for Piper. It doesn't have to be for me.

Surely, it is possible to focus on biblical gender roles to the exclusion of the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ. But we could also focus in so specifically on the basic tenets of the Gospel that we leave disciples immature and incapacitated as they seek out practical principles from Scripture in order that they might live biblically and intentionally. Thankfully, the Bible makes it clear that we are not to "go and make converts"... but to go and make disciples. We can do that, even while sharing and living out the gospel, in a way that allows us to act as "iron sharpening iron" with members of the Body of Christ around us.

Who we're talking to, the purpose of the discussion, and giftings all come into play here.

WHO WE'RE TALKING WITH AFFECTS THE SUBJECT
When we're talking with unbelievers, surely we should speak of God's grace, His goodness, and the Good News. If questions about manhood/womanhood arise, we can offer wisdom and guidance from Scripture.

But when we're talking with believers-- particularly when *I'm* speaking with believing women, while lauding God's grace, goodness, and the Gospel, I'm also going to speak more specifically of matters of discipleship-- the way God's Word practically makes a difference in the daily life of a believing woman and her family. We'll talk about how God's Word affects marriage, career, the view of children, and the purpose of the family. We may examine the messages we hear from our culture & the world around us and how those things compare & contrast with the message of the Bible. We'll discuss how to love and serve our family, how to be pure, and how to meditate on God's Word so that we can competently offer wise counsel to the people around us.

Discipleship begins with and is centered on the gospel of Christ, and continues building on that firm foundation with practical, biblical wisdom, so that Christians can not only "Come," as Jesus called out, but also carry out the second part of His call, "Follow Me". The need for practical teaching, particularly for this wayward generation that is "always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth", does not devalue the Good News of our hope in Christ!

THE PURPOSE AFFECTS THE DISCUSSION
When speaking with one who does not know Christ, it is not necessarily essential that I share or speak about specifics about biblical roles in marriage (although it could be something we discuss). What is essential is Christ. His saving power. The way He has conquered death and sin and made it possible for sinners to be reconciled to God.

When speaking with maturing Christian women about our role as wives, mothers, and disciples, though, I don't see how specifics can be avoided for very long.

  • When young moms of my generation ask why they feel so torn or devalued in this new role of "mother", I want to share what I've learned (having walked this road just a few years longer than they may have) about how the things we were told by our society as we grew up are significant factors in not only how we judge these things, but how the people around us view these roles. I try to encourage young women in this position to seek affirmation and encouragement from God's Word rather than from the approval of man. Knowing how God built us and the value HE places on mothers enables us to walk in joy rather than despair, in peace rather than guilt, and free rather than burdened.
  • When a new Christian wife is offended, rather than sharpened, by biblical advice to submit to her own husband, it is evident (to me) that she needs to step back from cultural demands and take on the culture of Christ. We all struggle with the idea that to serve is to be a doormat... but Jesus modeled such a perfect picture of how being a lowly servant of the people around us is honoring to God, and is THE path for the Christian. When we choose to follow Christ, whether we are married are not, we choose the path of servanthood, turning the other cheek, offering the cup of water, and loving even our enemy. The woman who has heard all her life that she needs to "stand up for her rights" needs to remember that Christ made Himself nothing. The woman who has been raised to "demand equality" needs to hear that instead of grasping after equality, Christ modeled humble servanthood.
There is practical, scriptural insight about being a new mom, young wife, and young woman. And it is just as relevant today as it was when it was written, thousands of years ago. I am so grateful for the practical nature of God's Word-- that I can read it and find real answers that help me in my time of need. And for me, I find it impossible to hold in the things that I learn... I am knit together in such a way that I want to share the things God has done & is doing; the things I have learned & am learning... in hopes that it might help others to follow Christ & honor Him more. Which leads me to my next point:

HOW GOD HAS BUILT US AS INDIVIDUALS AFFECTS THE SUBJECT
Whenever I do the spiritual giftings "tests", I always come up very strong in these few areas: exhortation, wisdom, teaching (and sometimes prophecy). The way God has built me plays into my own emphasis on these things. I feel compelled by the Spirit to share these things that have made a difference for me, been impressed on my heart from Scripture, and enable me to live more fully for Christ. It is not that I don't concern myself with the Gospel; not at all! Christ's victory over sin is my only hope; and knowing Christ is the very center of my joy!

And yet, once a woman comes to faith, she still has to grapple with daily discipleship-- following Christ as laid out in His Word. It is my delight (and an area where I hope to continue growing in wisdom and discernment) to encourage and help Christian women to follow Christ with great joy and sobreity, and to know and treasure His Word.

If your giftings are in evangelism, mercy, helps, or similar areas, it may seem as if those who focus in on practical issues of discipleship are not Gospel-centered, because the "four spiritual laws", "Romans Road", or the "plan of salvation" are not clearly outlined in each and every conversation or blogpost. However, the Good News of Christ's death, resurrection, and the grace He offers to each person... these things are foundational for understanding anything I share here. It is not either "the Gospel" or "practical Christian living"; it is both/and.

Absolutely I desire for women to know Christ! And after that, I want them to follow Him. I am burdened for the church. Those who call themselves Christians are, too often, struggling in their marriages, following after the world, chasing money, running after personal satisfaction, and they don't realize that the reason they are unhappy is because they aren't following Christ. It is as if Christian women have come to believe that salvation is a one-time event... and not a life-changing trajectory.

When a woman decides to follow Christ, oh, yes-- that decision is amazing! Celebrated in Heaven! It is an incredible day when she who was once lost chooses Whom she will serve. And yet, that choice is not a one-time event. Each day, she must choose Whom she will serve. Each day, she must decide to follow after Christ. And knowing what Scripture says is critical in that decision. Thus, the need for biblical exhortation and discipleship.

BUT! Discipleship is pointless if you don't know Who or what you're following. Serving your husband joyfully won't get you to Heaven. Being a "stay-at-home" wife & mom, being the consumate homemaker, and doing everything "right" won't merit God's grace. As important as I believe it is to understand how and why God has made us different as men and women, Christ alone is our hope! Knowing everything there is to know about biblical roles won't matter a hill of beans if a woman doesn't first know Christ.

MY HOPE IS BUILT ON NOTHING LESS...
If a young, unbelieving woman comes to me with questions, I don't go buy her a copy of "Biblical Manhood and Womanhood", as though salvation comes through knowing and living out your "role" as a woman. My hope is not in complementarianism. My hope is in Christ and His death in my place and His power to raise those who are dead in sin to new life.

At the same time, complementarianism is a helpful framework that gives language and structure for understanding and discussing the fundamental ways that God has designed men & women as different and yet equal before Him. I hope this post helps those who have asked these questions understand more fully my frame of mind when I discuss women's issues. My hope is in Christ. My trust is in His full payment for my sins. I simply find complementarianism to be a helpful way to think about practical life questions in a biblical, systematic way.

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