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Can’t We All Just Get Along?

October 11, 2004

"Why can’t we all just get along?" was the final question at a recent gender roles debate in which I opposed Alan Padgett from Luther Seminary.

"Why can’t we all just get along?" was the final question at a recent gender roles debate in which I opposed Alan Padgett from Luther Seminary. It was part of a breakout session at the national convention of the Evangelical Press Association. I know the woman who asked the question meant well. She framed her question in such a way as to emphasize "Christian unity" over "doctrinal unity" with the point that since egalitarians and complementarians can both be Christians, and since committed Christians disagree on the issue, it should not matter which position one holds.

My mind immediately recalled Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus and his constant reminders to hold fast to the Word and to deal decisively with those who undermine sound doctrine. Paul knew that there is a constant fleshly pull that draws human beings to all sorts of arbiters other than the Bible. When we are going through a hardship, we first call a friend instead of turning to the pages of the Psalms. When we doubt God’s provision for us, we turn to our pastor instead of first going to the words of Jesus. When we are angry, we look for one who will justify us instead of looking to the text of Proverbs. In much of evangelicalism today, we would rather give someone another book instead of pointing them to the pages of Scripture where they can read the very words of God.

This fleshly pull has impacted how the current gender discussion is progressing. Over and over, complementarians continue to restate the biblical position and articulate a compelling vision of God’s beautiful design for men and women. Yet much of our time is spent defending God’s design against the seemingly endless onslaught of new interpretations and new definitions and new approaches from the egalitarian subset of evangelicalism.

William Webb claims that we need to look outside of the New Testament for a better ethic regarding the roles of men and women. In other words the NT gives us a trajectory to follow that is realized after the NT was written. Kevin Giles claims that we cannot look to the Bible to settle these types of disputes, but we should look to church history. Alan Padgett, at our debate, argued that not only does the church submit to Christ, but Christ submits to the church by his death for the church. For him, since Christ serves the church, he is submitting to the church. By redefining the word "submit," Padgett potentially has turned the entire Christian life on its head. How then will we understand the lordship of Christ? To whom is our obedience required? Will we speak of Christ obeying us?

These various arguments have at their core a move away from the Scriptures by looking outside of the Bible, looking to history, looking to archaeology, or by redefining words in ways not found in any Greek lexicon. Each is an attack on the precious doctrines of the authority of scripture (look for a better ethic), the sufficiency of Scripture (look to history or archeology), the verbal plenary inspiration of Scripture (redefine the words), and the clarity of Scripture (we cannot really know the answer), and when these areas are undermined, ultimately the inerrancy of Scripture is at stake. In 1978 the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy issued this warning:

We are conscious too that great and grave confusion results from ceasing to maintain the total truth of the Bible whose authority one professes to acknowledge. The result of taking this step is that the Bible that God gave loses its authority, and what has authority instead is a Bible reduced in content according to the demands of one’s critical reasonings and in principle reducible still further once one has started. This means that at bottom independent reason now has authority, as opposed to Scriptural teaching. If this is not seen and if for the time being basic Evangelical doctrines are still held, persons denying the full truth of Scripture may claim an Evangelical identity while methodologically they have moved away from the Evangelical principle of knowledge to an unstable subjectivism, and will find it hard not to move further. 

Many egalitarian leaders continue to profess a high view of Scripture and a trust in the total truthfulness of the Bible while at the same time turning everywhere but the Bible to make their case. Paul’s charge to Timothy to "guard the good deposit" is what keeps CBMW in the battle and gives us the great impetus to come alongside pastors of local churches to help them stand firm. There is a lot at stake in this debate. The health of the home, the health of the church, how we understand the Christ/church paradigm, how we understand the place of God’s Word in the Christian life, and how we will raise masculine sons and feminine daughters, are all impacted by how we understand the biblical roles of men and women.

Paul’s admonition to Timothy reminds us to expect that there will be many more arguments and many more bizarre interpretations of Scripture yet to come. It also helps us explain, with broken hearts for God’s people, that despite the young woman’s highest hopes, we may not all be able to get along.

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