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Gender debate: CBMW counters Padgett argument that Christ submits to the church

May 29, 2004

Does Christ submit to His people? A Luther Seminary professor argued that Christ and the church submit to each other in a recent debate with Randy Stinson

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A Luther Seminary professor argued that Christ and the church submit to each other in a recent debate with Randy Stinson, executive director of The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.

Alan Padgett, professor of Systematic Theology at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minn., said that Christ’s submission to the cross points to his submission to the church.

Padgett and Stinson argued their respective positions on gender roles in the home and the church at the Evangelical Press Association’s national convention held May 5 in Minneapolis, Minn.

Arguing the egalitarian case, Padgett said Scripture passages such as Eph. 5 and Matt. 11:28-29 teach that Christ and the church exist in mutual submission.

"As I read the New Testament, it seems to me that Christ does submit to the church," Padgett said.

"You look at Ephesians 5 and what does Christ do for the church? Christ dies for the church. Christ presents the church pure and spotless. Christ gives himself for the church.… I think God does mutually submit through love to human beings." He called the complementarian view a “role-patriarchy perspective of interpretation” of Scripture.

Stinson pointed out that the Greek word in Eph. 5 used for “submit” (hypotasso) means one-way submission to authority and not two-way. Scripture also makes clear the doctrine of Christ’s sovereign headship over the church that explodes the argument of mutual submission which egalitarians commonly make, Stinson said.

“When we talk about the Lordship of Christ, it’s not Christ submitting to the church, it’s Christ loving the church,” Stinson said. “Christ is the head of the church. [He said], ‘I will build my church.’ He is the head of the church and His acts of sacrifice and His acts of love only highlight for us what leadership is.

“So Christ is the authority over the church. He is building the church. He is the head of the church. It is His church and yet, His leadership role requires the ultimate sacrifice and the lowliness and the humility so that we do understand what leadership is.”

Padgett further asserted that definitions of manhood and womanhood are not universal truths but are merely social constructs. Teaching a boy how to be a man is dictated, not by truth, but by culture, he said. Manhood and womanhood is learned behavior, he said.

Stinson argued that manhood and womanhood are ordained by God in the created order. Complementary gender in the home and church are reflective of the intra-Trinitarian relationship between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, he said.

“We (complementarians) believe that the relationship between Father, Son and Holy Spirit is one of equality of essence, equality of personhood,” he said. “This has been affirmed at all the various church councils, which also spoke of a role priority in the Godhead so that the Son does the work of the Father and is sent by the Father.

“The Father is never sent by the Son. The Son submits to the Father, the Father never submits to the Son. The Son and the Father send the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit proceeds from them.

“So what you see even in the Godhead is this co-existence of equality of essence and personhood and still a differentiation between role and function, and we see how that is held up as a model in the New Testament, and we believe that that is an example of how these things co-exist not only in the Godhead, but also in the relationship between men and women.”

There is much at stake for the local church in the debate over gender roles, Stinson said. At stake are the authority, sufficiency, clarity, and inerrancy of Scripture and also an orthodox understanding of God. The issue of gender roles is linked to other doctrines that are central to historic Christianity, he said.

“I think our understanding of the relationship between Christ and the church is at stake,” Stinson said. I think the health of the family and the home is at stake. I think a clear presentation of the Gospel as it is pictured in the husband and wife relationship is at stake.

“I think that this is a test that God has allowed to come into the body of Christ to help us and see if we will stand firm on the authority of God’s Word or whether we will accommodate ourselves to culture or something else.”

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