The essence of the male-female relationship is found in the "blessed alliance" God has ordained in the early chapters of Genesis, Carolyn Custis James told a group of students at the annual Kaleo Conference Feb. 10-11 at Covenant College.
The essence of the male-female relationship is found in the "blessed alliance" God has ordained in the early chapters of Genesis which sees them working together carrying out the cultural mandate, Carolyn Custis James told a group of students at the annual Kaleo Conference Feb. 10-11 at Covenant College.
Calling it "a picture of marriage that is truly glorious," James said this alliance arises out of the creation story and answers the question "Why was it not good that man be alone?"
The "blessed alliance" consists in the woman’s calling as a warrior to help the man carry out the cultural mandate that God gave Adam and Eve in Genesis 2, Mrs. James said. The key to fully understanding a woman’s calling is the Hebrew term "ezer" in Genesis 2:18—usually translated as "helper," she said.
"Ezer" is sometimes used in the Old Testament to depict God as a warrior, thus, Adam’s "helper" is most fully understood as a warrior who is fighting alongside him to fulfill the cultural mandate, Mrs. James says. To interpret the woman’s role as merely a "helper" is reductionistic, demeans the man, and leads to a loss of recognition of the unique giftedness of women, she said.
"If I were a man I would be offended by the way we talk about the man in creation," she said. "If we understand that men are [merely] to provide and protect the woman, it is just making more work for the man."
James says the Garden of Eden was a war zone and so the man and woman were co-warriors fighting together to subdue the creation. This gives contemporary men and women a template for their roles, she said.
"The first team God calls before the fall is man and woman," she said.
A major part of the "warrior" role of a woman is that she is to be a theologian, Mrs. James said. This role as a theologian is a major aspect of a Christian woman’s identity, she said.
Randy Stinson, executive director of The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood agrees that post-Fall humans are certainly in a battle. But prior to the Fall, Eden was not a war zone and thus there would be no use for warrior terminology.
"The fact is that the warrior concept does not reflect the meaning of the Hebrew word, ezer," Stinson said. "Mrs. James may claim that part of the application of the helper role of the female is to fight the battle against sin alongside of her husband, but there is no indicator here, or anywhere else, that the idea of a woman warrior should constitute the "essence" of womanhood.
"The concept of theologian is in the same category. No one would disagree that women and men should be theologically minded, and that if women are going to be adequate helpers of their husbands, they should be able to think theologically. But as in the instance of warrior, there is no indicator here or anywhere else that this should constitute the ‘essence’ of womanhood.
"This just seems to confuse categories and obscure the real issue here which centers on the lack of a clear statement regarding the biblical roles of men and women. I am not sure how this lack of clarity serves the church at this crucial time of gender confusion."
If the blessed alliance is understood to be that which orients the compass of Christians, then women will be "unleashed" to use their gifts more widely within the church, Mrs. James said. James says women across her denomination—the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA—desire greater capacities for ministry within the church.
"Women never talk to me about being ordained as elders," she said. "What they want is to use these gifts that God has given them . . . they are supportive of their church leaders."
In her encounters with PCA women, Mrs. James identified four common areas of concern regarding the state of women in the denomination.
According to Mrs. James:
· Women feel marginalized and believe their gifts and contributions are not needed. There are women gaining a seminary education who have no idea how they will use their degrees, she said. Women believe their gifts are being limited when they are only given opportunities to lead women’s ministries within local church bodies, Mrs. James said. "Women’s ministries tend to wall women off from the church," she said. "One woman told me, ‘I’ve been benched.’ We often see women’s ministry as taking place behind closed doors."
· The history of the PCA "casts a long shadow" over women. The denomination is unwilling to deal with the issue of women’s giftedness, she said.
· Women feel their diversity of gifts are not being recognized and used. "Titus 2 is not the only passage in the Bible that relates to women," Mrs. James said. "[The denomination] doesn’t reflect the diversity of women. Many women have MBA’s and Ph.D’s . . . and some are childless by choice. . . . Women are wanting their ministry gifts unleashed."
· Authority can be used in such a way as to inhibit the conversation. One session leader told a women he wouldn’t give out information (from a meeting) because women would gossip, James said. Another church would not allow women to hand out bulletins because it would look like she was fulfilling the office of deacon, she said.
While there may be isolated incidents in which women are denied service in areas Scripture opens for them, Stinson says he is skeptical that the PCA is purposefully subverting women in the use of their gifts.
"While I am not a member of the PCA I do not believe for a minute that there is any institutional degradation of women," Stinson said.
"I am sure that there are some individual churches that may have unduly restricted women from biblically sanctioned areas of service, but this is not a widespread problem. Why would a woman feel "benched" by serving other women and teaching children?
"How exactly is the PCA failing to deal with the issue of women’s giftedness? Why mention that these women have MBA degrees and business experience, and that they are physicians and lawyers?
"Is someone prohibiting them from offering free prenatal care to expectant mothers in poverty? Is someone keeping them from offering legal services to abused women or the local crisis pregnancy center? Has someone told them that they cannot help to balance the books at the local Christian homeless shelter? Is the anecdotal evidence (women accused of being gossips and prohibitions against handing out bulletins) used by Mrs. James truly representative of a widespread problem?"
Mrs. James said the church is suffering spiritually because it lacks a clear vision of the blessed alliance. At least three things are at stake with the blessed alliance, she said.
First, Mrs. James said, is the issue of stewardship. God has given gifts to both men and women and both genders sense a burden to use them to serve the local church. However, while she was unclear as to how the particulars would work out, Mrs. James said women she has encountered want to do more than teach other women and children.
"Not everybody is gifted to do that," she said. "It is a serious matter to Jesus Christ for women to bury their talents in the ground…The Great Commission falls on the shoulders of women too…One parish minister told me that he will stand before Jesus and give an account for why [he] didn’t allow everybody to use their gifts."
Second, Mrs. James said ecclesiology—the doctrine of the church—is undermined when women do not use their gifts broadly in the church. She pointed to the biblical metaphor of the body in describing the church, "the body of Christ."
"The body of Christ looks like it has had a stroke," she said. "Half of the body is functioning, but half is being dragged along behind. That’s not a healthy body."
Third, Mrs. James said the church doesn’t realize how much it is losing when women are not free to employ their gifts.
While men and women should both employ their gifts for the service of the church, still, clarity is needed as to precisely how those gifts must be used within the local church, Stinson said.
"To declare that the body of Christ looks like it had a stroke is serious indeed," Stinson said. "Yet such serious accusations demand serious solutions. All of this talk about unleashing women, the cloud of the PCA, the dissatisfaction with mere women and children’s ministry, make me suspicious that the freedom ‘to employ gifts’ involves something beyond the standard parameters of complementarianism."
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