Both Can’t Be True

On November 16, 2017

I recently went public with my egalitarian beliefs.

I admit, it took a while. Coming from a complementarian tradition, I knew that such a major shift in ideology would not be taken lightly. I expected questions, disapproval, and debates. Needless to say, I was right. It wasn’t taken lightly.

Since publicly changing my views, I’ve had a lot of conversations about egalitarian theology with complementarian Christians. Conversations with a tad more progressive complementarians typically go something like this:

“I believe women can be teachers, like Beth Moore. But they can’t serve in other leadership roles—like as pastors, for example.”

I sometimes respond, “Well, where do you get that?”

They typically respond with something along the lines of, “In 1 Corinthians 14, Paul said that it is disgraceful for women to talk during church—that they shouldn’t lift their voices; they should go home and ask their husbands; that husbands should teach their wives… and so forth” (this is actually close to verbatim).

Maybe you’ve had similar conversations where you were asked to defend an egalitarian interpretation of a hotly debated passage.

My journey towards egalitarianism began with a search for two things: practicality andconsistency. I struggled to reconcile them in the biblical interpretation process, and often felt that one was at odds with the other, particularly in 1 Corinthians 14.

So if you too have struggled to balance practicality and consistency in biblical interpretation of passages like 1 Corinthians 14 (or know someone who has), I invite you to wrestle with a few questions that I wrestled with for some time.

If someone believes that Paul meant what he said about women in church as a universal statement, then why don’t they practice it consistently? Why don’t they forbid all women in every context, at every church, at all times, to speak a word in church; and require all women in every context, at every church, at all times to go home and ask their husbands about anything they don’t understand in church?

Why is it okay for a woman today to share a testimony or talk about a ministry she serves in—in front of the entire congregation at a service gathering? And even further—why is it okay for a woman to lead the church in worship—to stand in front of the congregation and sing and quote Scripture and offer spiritual encouragement if she’s not supposed to speak? Why are women allowed to raise their hands and ask questions in settings where men are present instead of waiting to ask their husbands at home? Why don’t husbands make their wives wear a head covering when they pray?

You can probably guess how they respond to these questions: “We don’t hold to these extreme implications of various passages because we live in a different culture” (again, verbatim).

This response naturally leads me to ask: “Why the inconsistency? Why can complementarians decide what is cultural and what is not in these controversial texts but not egalitarians? If they believe Paul meant exactly what he said, then doesn’t their practice fall far short of their supposedly literal interpretation of that very same text?”

If one truly holds to what Paul said in 1 Cor. 14 as a universal prohibition of women preaching/teaching/leading—and also, speaking—in church, then it is exegetically inconsistent to affirm a woman like Beth Moore, who proclaims the Word loudly and boldly in church settings in front of women and men, and who (I surely assume) doesn’t need to ask her husband to explain what she hears in church.

Either Paul meant that women can pray and prophesy during a gathering (as he said a couple chapters earlier in 1 Corinthians 11), or he didn’t.

Either Scripture is inconsistent, or our interpretation of it is. Both can’t hold true.

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