Truth, Authority and Roles

Truth, Authority and Roles

“He who begins by loving Christianity, better than truth, will proceed by loving his own sect or church better than Christianity, and end in loving himself better than all.” (Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Aids to Reflection)

Consider this little essay background explanation of why I am against complementarianism and hierarchy in general. Hierarchy, including complementarianism, emphasizes roles and “authority over” and “submission to” based on them. In other words, to put it bluntly, hierarchy is the manner of organization of a social unit (especially the family) so that assigned (or assumed) roles matter more than truth.

Hierarchy is more than an organizational flow chart. Hierarchy exists where a person’s authority over others is independent of truth. A social unit, organization, can have leadership without hierarchy. Hierarchy is when the leadership’s power over those led is independent of accountability to truth. Hierarchy naturally inclines toward abuse because of our fallen nature. Its social structure encourages abuse and subjects truth to power-over.

Christians claim to be concerned with and committed to truth. And yet we betray that concern and commitment when we insist on hierarchy. Hierarchical Christians, like all hierarchical people, show by their organizational theory and behavior a preference for power and control over truth.

Let me illustrate. In 1633 Galileo, a faithful son of the Catholic Church, was brought before the Inquisition and found guilty of being “vehemently suspect of heresy” and was put under house arrest and forbidden to publish. The church hierarchy knew that Galileo was right about the heliocentric solar system. (Technically, they knew Copernicus was right and Galileo was right about agreeing with it!) What Galileo was really punished for was disobeying the church that had ordered him in 1616 to abandon all attempts to demonstrate the Copernican system publicly. (He was allowed to write about it as a mathematical fiction only.) This is a clear case of truth being trumped by power, i.e., hierarchy.

The second illustration is Luther. In this case, the church did not know that Luther was right about justification, but Luther stood up to role power and refused to bow to the authority of those above him in the hierarchy of church and empire. At Worms he clearly believed, however temporarily, that truth mattered more than roles. As a lowly monk he faced off against the pope and the emperor on the ground that truth was on his side.

The irony is that many people who consider Luther a great hero nevertheless talk about hierarchy as if Luther was wrong. During his controversy with the pope and the emperor some of Luther’s counselors strongly advised him to bow to their (the pope’s and emperor’s) authority even if he knew them to be wrong.

This is all very personal to me. Over my years of involvement in Christian organizations I have observed (and been involved in) many situations where truth was put second to role-power (or ignored altogether for the sake of sustaining hierarchy). I taught theology at Oral Roberts University for two years. It was my first full time teaching position. There I observed and heard of many examples of this. (ORU is now under entirely new management and I trust [and hear that] nothing like that is happening now.)

My point in all this is a simple one. When a person in a position of authority is manifestly wrong and a person under his or her authority is manifestly right, true authority belongs, in that instance, with the “underling.” For a Christian, especially, to assert the “rightness” of the authority of the person in the wrong just because he or she holds a position, is a betrayal of truth. It is the job of all lovers of truth to hold others, including those higher in the “chain of command,” accountable to truth. And it is the job of all lovers of truth to bow to it even when it is being communicated by someone lower in the “chain of command.”

When my daughters were children I followed this policy with them. When we disagreed, if they were right and I was wrong, I admitted it and allowed their truth (the truth) to prevail.

This is one reason I am a Baptist; true Baptists have no chain of command. We have leadership, but no hierarchy. There is no Baptist person who has authority over other Baptists simply by virtue of his or her role. There are Baptist persons who are recognized as leaders because of their spiritual depth, higher knowledge and wisdom, education and training, etc. However, only God is considered infallible and always to be obeyed. And just because a person holds a certain position or role in the church or convention does not make him or her automatically “right.” (Note: I am not saying only Baptists have this polity.)

A good biblical example is Peter and Paul at Antioch. Peter was over Paul in the early Christian “flow chart.” And yet Paul stood up to him and criticized him when he refused to eat with gentile converts. The truth was on Paul’s side. In a hierarchy Peter would have been considered functionally right even if truth was on Paul’s side. Another biblical example is from the Old Testament—David and Nathan. The prophet Nathan confronted the king about his sin; truth was on Nathan’s side even though David was most definitely above him in the hierarchy. At that moment, hierarchy was suspended for the sake of truth.

I suspect that many people, including many Christians, prefer hierarchy to truth because hierarchy makes things more orderly, controlled and predictable. Authority-as-truth can be messy. But anything else is a form of idolatry (or at least an opening to idolatry) because God and truth are inseparable. To prefer power to truth is always wrong.

Questions such as “But how do we know the truth?” are irrelevant to the case I’m making unless one denies truth altogether. Then, of course, all we have is power. Whether anyone can know truth as God knows it (completely and perfectly) is not the issue. The issue is simply this: When I believe someone has the truth, I should follow that person in that instance even if it means going against authority. (Of course a person has to take prudence into account.) But even more importantly, the issue is: This holds true even and especially when I am the person “officially” over the person with truth in the organizational flow chart. If I believe he or she is speaking truth, I should bend to that truth even if the person discovering it and presenting it is the lowliest person on the organizational flow chart. To do otherwise is a form of idolatry.

When I was growing up in certain Pentecostal circles, a favorite biblical verse quoted often by my parents and mentors was 1 Chronicles 16:22 (echoed in Psalm 105:15): “Touch not mine anointed.” To them it meant “Never criticize or question those ‘in authority’ over you—especially in the church and denomination.” People who dared to criticize or question those “in authority” were labeled “negative” and ostracized. It wasn’t just a matter of how one did it; simply doing it was considered unspiritual. This mentality led to all kinds of abuses in our church and denomination and movement.

This is why I am adamantly opposed to so-called “complementarianism.” No matter how much they say that the husband should love his wife as Christ loves the church, they (the leading complementarian preachers and scholars) are handing husbands the right to ignore truth when it is his wife who has it and he doesn’t—that is, when his wife is right and he is wrong. I am waiting to read or hear a complementarian say to Christian husbands: “When your wife is right, she is right and you must obey the truth.” (I don’t expect them to say “You must obey her;” that would be expecting too much!)

Nothing in the New Testament contradicts this. In fact, I think it is everywhere assumed there. I cannot imagine Paul or any other apostle saying to anyone “I’m right and you’re wrong even though you’re right and I’m wrong.” To Timothy, a young apostle-in-training, he said “Do not let anyone despise your youth.” (1 Timothy 4:12) Clearly what he meant was “Don’t let anyone ignore or oppose your truth, when you are right, just because you’re young.”

In my opinion, “complementarianism” is an open door to abuse and idolatry. (I am not saying it is abuse or idolatry.) At the very least I insist that complementarians admit and teach that truth matters more than role—even outside spiritual matters pertaining to salvation and morality. If the husband believes his wife is right about something, that is, truth is on her side in a disagreement, he ought to let her decide. It shouldn’t even be a matter of “letting her decide.” A mature Christian person should automatically follow the truth wherever it may be found. But when I say “let her decide” I am talking to complementarians in their language (even though to egalitarian ears it sounds patriarchal).

I began this essay with a quote from Samuel Taylor Coleridge. I would very much like to see it displayed on church marquees and carved into the marble above the entrances to Christian organizations. The point it is making is one of the most important points ever made. Truth matters more than anything else—even love. Ephesians 4:15 does not say “Let love over ride truth.” It says “speaking the truth in love….” This does not mean license to hate! It means that love should never allow truth to be denied. Love may hide the truth for a while, depending on how important the truth is. But truth that matters to the well-being of people, whether individuals or communities, must not be set aside but communicated in a spirit of love.

I’m afraid that “complementarians” love authority and roles more than truth. If so, they may end up by loving themselves “better than all.”

 

 

  • Joel M. Ellis

    “In other words, to put it bluntly, hierarchy is the manner of organization of a social unit (especially the family) so that assigned (or assumed) roles matter more than truth.

    “Hierarchy is more than an organizational flow chart. Hierarchy exists where a person’s authority over others is independent of truth. A social unit, organization, can have leadership without hierarchy. Hierarchy is when the leadership’s power over those led is independent of accountability to truth.”

    You are assigning a definition to hierarchy that biblically conservative and responsible complementarians would deny, and you are making a distinction between hierarchy and leadership that such believers would not accept. I am a complementarian, and I don’t believe my authority as husband, father, preacher, or teacher exists “independent of truth.” I understand hierarchy in the family and church to be functional in nature, an orderly chain of command for the purpose of leadership and activity. It is not a hierarchy of value or intrinsic authority, neither is it absolute (cf. 1Ti. 5:17-20) or arbitrary (cf. 1Ti. 3:1-7). Every member of the family/church is subject to truth and accountable for his/her activity in relation to it. And as I affirmed in an earlier comment, even the husband/male’s leadership in the family and church is placed within the context of mutual submission (Eph. 5:21; 1Pe. 5:5).

    “Hierarchical Christians, like all hierarchical people, show by their organizational theory and behavior a preference for power and control over truth.”

    That is an unfair criticism. No doubt some Christians do prefer power and control over truth, but it is unfair to imply that all those who affirm a hierarchical organization in families and churches (complementarians) do so.

    “My point in all this is a simple one. When a person in a position of authority is manifestly wrong and a person under his or her authority is manifestly right, true authority belongs, in that instance, with the ‘underling.’ For a Christian, especially, to assert the ‘rightness’ of the authority of the person in the wrong just because he or she holds a position, is a betrayal of truth. It is the job of all lovers of truth to hold others, including those higher in the “chain of command,” accountable to truth. And it is the job of all lovers of truth to bow to it even when it is being communicated by someone lower in the ‘chain of command.’”

    Amen. Of course, you are correct. But while authoritarians would likely disagree, biblical complementarianism can and should affirm this. No one is right because of his/her position in a society or community. We can respect the authority of a particular role, e.g. the Presidency, while disputing, confronting, and even rebuking the ungodly behavior of one in that role. The same would be true of parent/child, husband/wife, and pastor/saint relationships.

    “This is why I am adamantly opposed to so-called ‘complementarianism.’ No matter how much they say that the husband should love his wife as Christ loves the church, they (the leading complementarian preachers and scholars) are handing husbands the right to ignore truth when it is his wife who has it and he doesn’t—that is, when his wife is right and he is wrong. I am waiting to read or hear a complementarian say to Christian husbands: ‘When your wife is right, she is right and you must obey the truth.’”

    It is unfair to say the leading advocates of complementarianism are “handing husbands the right to ignore the truth when it is the wife who has it.” I respect how carefully and fairly you have handled Calvinism in your objections to it, and I wish you would show the same care on this issue as well. Nevertheless, I am a complementarian and have been in full-time preaching ministry for over 13 years, and I regularly affirm the very sentiments you wished to hear at the end of the above quote. Yes, if my wife is right and I am wrong, I should repent of my mistake, acknowledge the truth she has, and submit to it. There, I said it. :)

    By the way, I read “Against Calvinism” last week and thoroughly enjoyed it. Thank you, sir, for the good work you have done in articulating both biblical objections to high Calvinism and biblical support for Arminianism. I appreciate your work, regardless of our disagreement on this issue.

    • rogereolson

      Thanks for that. But I wish the many complementarians who come here to say I am wrong about complementarianism would cite leading complementarians to demonstrate it. I have known them personally and had conversations with them over the years. I’ve read their writings and heard them speak. If I am wrong about complementarianism–as it is taught by its leading theorists and proponents–I wish someone would quote them to show it. However, so it seems to me, if that is the case, then I think they are really egalitarians in disguise. I would say that about many who have commented here who think they are complementarians.

      • Nick Parsons

        You ask for evidence from leading proponents:

        Here is John Piper, in a sermon entitled, “The Limits of Submission to Man” :

        The context of this quote is in reference to governing authorities, but I firmly believe Piper would maintain the same logic for all relationships in which one party exercises God ordained authority over another, e.g. husbands and wives.

        Unless Piper too is a confused egalitarian, I believe your understanding and/or depiction of complementarianism is incorrect. Your continued obstinacy in this reflects the same refusal to accurately depict the views of others, which you so often accuse Calvinists of. Have you noticed that not a single complementarian commenting here has said this is an accurate depiction of their views?

        For a much fairer portrayal of both the egalitarian and complementarian views, I would highly suggest looking at Bruce Ware’s article at The Counsel of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood’s site: https://www.cbmw.org/Resources/Articles/Summaries-of-the-Egalitarian-and-Complementarian-Positions

        • Nick Parsons

          Here is the quote I mean to post above:

          The ultimate criterion of right and wrong is not whether a ruling authority commands it, but whether God commands it. The fact that God has ordained all authority does not mean all authority should be obeyed. It is right to resist what God has appointed in order to obey what God has commanded.

          • rogereolson

            Is that a quote from Piper? I’m connecting this with your immediately preceding comment where you mentioned a quote from Piper but didn’t offer it. If so, I don’t see how this addresses my hypothetical case or in any way contradicts my post “Truth, Authority and Roles.” Did I even mention Piper in it? I did not. I mentioned Christians I know who argue that Christian wives should obey their husbands and I specifically said that I realize they ALWAYS say something like “unless he asks her to sin or do something immoral.” Piper’s quote (if that’s who the source of your quote in this comment is) does not address the truth issue that I raise in my post. It could be interpreted as agreeing with what I wrote or not. My essay goes far beyond this in arguing that a person with power and authority ought always to bow to truth even when it is being communicated directly contrary to his or her decision in his or her role. I don’t know whether Piper agrees or not. I just know Christians (and others) who don’t agree. And I think what I have read and heard from most complementarians is inconsistent with what I wrote whether they affirm it or not in other contexts.

        • rogereolson

          Well, I know Bruce personally. We talked about this matter in person, face-to-face when we were colleagues. So I know what his view is. My personal view is that he, like other intelligent, sensitive complementarians is inconsistent.

      • Buks

        Have you read “Biblical Foundations for Manhood and Womanhood” edited by Wayne Grudem (Crossway Books)? I consider it overall a good representation of complementarianism.

        • rogereolson

          Years ago I read Piper’s and Grudem’s edited volume on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood and since have read and heard many conservative evangelical complementarians on these subjects. So tell us what Grudem says (or would say) about my hypothetical situation (in the previous post to the current one).

  • http://wesleyanarminian.wordpress.com Kevin Jackson

    I love this post. A couple of thoughts.

    Good authority is not static or permanent. It has the heart of a servant, and is not interested in control. It works for advancement of the “underling”. A good boss encourages her employees to advance in their careers, and does not try keep them from their potential. A good parent raises his child to not always be dependent, but with the goal of eventually having that child as a mature adult who is a friend and peer. Good authority explains actions to the extent that it is possible. For example, if I tell my child “Don’t touch the stove”, and the child asks why, I explain why (rather than just saying “because I said so”). When a good person is in authority over others, his position is used for the purpose of the development, advancement, and maturity of the persons he is responsible for.

    There are also times that God likes to have his authority challenged by truth. Of course this is done in a respectful/relational way, and God is aware of the big picture. Through relationship God desires to develop our character to such an extent that we are actually able to give him input, and he is interested in hearing what we have to say. He likes to challenge us to see if we’re paying attention, and is delighted to have us call him out and to show him when the options he has given us are not what is true and best (even though he is aware of this). Similar to the way professors sometimes challenge theirs students, and are pleased when their students are able call them out. :)

  • Tim Reisdorf

    Roger,

    By saying that “‘complementarians’ love authority and roles more than truth”, you claim to know their hidden agendas. That is simply not fair as a blanket statement. Some are complementarians because they believe that that is the best belief to have. You write verbal inflammation.

    In any case, I am in complete agreement with your ideas about hierarchy in the Church. That being said, I can’t understand why you hold the views on government that you do. If it is anything, it is a horrible mixture of corruption, power, authority, and roles. Why would you reject hierarchy and abuse on the one hand and embrace it with the other?

    • rogereolson

      I don’t know what “views on government” you think I hold, then. All I am saying is that if/when a person with authority realizes he or she is wrong vis-a-vis a person beneath them on the organizational flow chart, “truth” belongs with the person lower on the flow chart and not with them (in this particular instance) and therefore “authority” (in this particular instance) belongs with that person as well. I think you’re reading much more into what I wrote than I intended. I’m not an anarchist.

  • Brian

    Dr. Olson,

    When you got to addressing the issue of complementarianism, I think you made a rather weak argument. I am a complementarian and I would absolutely welcome my wife speaking all the truth that she knows. I consider it a spiritual mandate to acknowledge that when my “wife is right, she is right and I must obey the truth.”

    When you say that complementarians “love authority and roles more than truth” it seems you are building up a straw man only to shoot it down. For example, our society doesn’t teach that there are different roles within a marriage, so it’s often the very pursuit of truth that leads one to accept the complemantarian view.

    Dr. Olson, you didn’t argue this in this point, but can you provide e an exegetical reason to support your view that women can occupy the eldership in the church? I’m usually not very persuaded by thoughts and opinions (nor when one points out abuses of the opposing view), but am persuaded when one offers a firm exegetical (grammatical-historical) interpretation of the relevant texts.

    Thanks,

    Brian

    • rogereolson

      It’s already been done. See Stanley J. Grenz and Denise Kjesbo, Women in the Church. See also William Webb, Slavery, Women and Homosexuals. I don’t think I’ve created a straw man. That is complementarianism as I have read it and heard it and experienced it over the years. Sure, there are “soft complementarians” who are really egalitarians under the skin.

    • Timothy

      Another book that you might like to consult is
      Women, Authority and the Bible: An Evangelical Breakthrough on the Biblical Debate ed. by A. Mickelsen (Basingstoke: Marshall Pickering, 1987)

      These are the papers from a symposium on the subject and included papers on some of the central relevant passages. One of the contributors (not for an exegetical paper) was Jim Packer. He commented,“while it would be inept euphoria to claim that all the exegetical questions tackled have now been finally resolved, I think the New Testament papers [on 1 Cor, Gal 3 and 1 Tim 2] in particular make it evident that the burden of proof regarding the exclusion of women from the office of teaching and ruling within the congregation now lies on those who maintain the exclusion rather than on those who challenge it.” So he at least was impressed by the exegetical papers.

      • rogereolson

        Alvera is a wonderful person, as was her husband Berkeley. I knew them both.

  • Nick Parsons

    Roger, I am a fan of your historical writings, defense of Arminianism as not being Pelagianism (or Semipelagianism), as well as your encouragement to Calvinists to not misrepresent Arminianism, but this post does not live up to the standards you exhort others to abide by.

    I can’t think of anyone who is in favor or hierarchy, complementarian or not, who would characterize their position as favoring role over truth. The vast majority of those Christians in favor or hierarchy, authority and/or complementarianism would believe that those in positions of authority exercise authority under God. In other words, their authority is delegated to them from God. When such persons of authority are out of line with God, or in your words “truth”, they should not be obeyed. This would be true for governments, church authorities, and in the case of complementarians–husbands and wives.

    You argument is a false dichotomy, unrecognizable and illogical to those you claim hold to these positions.

    In the case of Luther, he disregarded Roman authority because he believed it was illegitimate and that the Bible was a greater authority. Not because he did not believe in church authority.

    You are a better historian than this and might want to reread your own exhortations to Calvinists in regards to how they characterize the positions of those they differ from.

    • rogereolson

      Sorry, but I have observed and experienced this kind of preference for role-authority over truth myself in Christian organizations and families. Of course, the ones with the power never actually admit they prefer their power over truth, but I’ve seen it and experienced it and know it exists.

    • Verity3

      There is a difference between “prefer” as an attitude and “prefer” as an action. I have observed *many* complementarians who may very well cultivate the correct attitude toward truth, but then *consistently* deny it by their actions that give preference to hierarchal roles.

      There is a rampant problem of *equating* power with truth, in behavior if not in belief, in hierarchal congregations. Many simply refuse to take the risk of siding with an underling, even to hear them out. If they don’t *know* the person in authority is wrong, even because they have refused to find out, they can continue to appear to support the “truth” because of its false equation with obeying hierarchy.

  • http://highroadkokko.blogspot.com Bruce Kokko

    Prof. Olson, I feel your pain. Your quotation speaks to the Herodianism I claimed in my Dec. 26 blog to have infiltrated the church. I’m a little worried about separating truth from love. The problem is not with love but the fact that people separate love from holiness, so that you get errant concepts like complementarianism and Herodianism and their sundry variants. Love and holiness must be in tension because it is so at the core of the Divine nature; all of God’s attributes flow out of this tension and are wholly harmonized by it. The tension of love and holiness therefore must also be the basis of truth. All relationships in the kingdom of God will stand in truth, as you rightly demand, when they proceed in Love cradled in holiness. Love cannot be pure without holiness and holiness must always be subject to the standard of Love. As with all true tensions, mitigate or remove one side and both will be lost. I summarize the tension this way: Love is the state of being that is holiness.

    • Verity3

      Thank you for pointing this out. I agree wholeheartedly.

  • Robert

    Roger,
    In a previous post, you said:
    “As a non-inerrantist, I don’t think everything Paul said in his letters was from the Holy Spirit…”

    Similarly, in a recent thread about atheism, you suggested that some of the more difficult-to-swallow “angry God” texts of the OT could be viewed as the imperfect (indeed, distorted) human construals of God rather than of God’s own divine self-disclosure.

    I’m sympathetic to this viewpoint, and I think that recent books like Holy Scripture (Bloesch), Bible Made Impossible, and God’s Word in Human Words are positive developments toward a more nuanced and, dare I say, mature view on the doctrine of scripture.

    I would be interested to see a post from you on your general views on inerrancy and related issues.

    It’s certainly relevant to the issues of “trust” and “authority” on a more fundamental level.

    • rogereolson

      I would say my views on inerrancy generally agree with Bloesch’s in Volume 1 of his Foundations series on The Word of God. I was thrilled as I read that volume. When I talked with Carl Henry about it he labeled Bloesch a “mediating theologian” (as opposed to evangelical) because of his denial of inerrancy. Of course, I disagree with the elderly Henry about that. I think he was drifting toward fundamentalism in his old age. I have a wonderful essay on inerrancy I may post here in the near future. I didn’t write it, but I agree with it. Who the author is would surprise people.

      • Robert

        Indeed, I’d be very interested. Thanks for the reply.

  • http://mikesnow.org Michael Snow

    A pathetic diatribe.

  • http://Whatyouthinkmatters.org/blog Andrew Wilson

    Like (I suspect) the several complementarians who responded to your post the other day, I am a complementarian who does not prefer roles to truth, who obeys the truth when his wife is right (which she usually is!), who loves truth and love more than power and structure, and who is somewhere between perplexed and upset that Christian brothers would think, let alone write, otherwise. I love your blog and I always value your wisdom, but I don’t recognise this portrait of complementarianism in either my marriage or my church (and I’m confident my wife and my church wouldn’t either). Can I make a friendly appeal to discuss exegesis, hermeneutics and application, as you often do, but not to suggest that motives are driven by a preference for power over truth? I’m just not sure it’s helpful to the conversation. (I hope this doesn’t sound unduly combative; as I say, I really value your writings).

    • rogereolson

      The “complementarians” I write do not include all who call themselves complementarians. Just as not all who call themselves inerrantists are really inerrantists (once they’ve killed “inerrancy” with the death of a thousand qualifications which many do just to hold onto the word).

  • Buks

    So my son of 9 years old should follow the guy who promises him unlimited time on the X-box – because he “knows” that is the right thing to do? Silly example, but there is place for authority such as to obey your parents. God placed them over you with good reason since you are perhaps not yet able to discern the truth all too clearly.

    Of course there is inherent danger and never is authority absolute! But there is a place for it and if applied together with all the other prescriptions such as love one another, seek council from others, consider others more important than yourself, etc. Elders are held responsible and are to rule whell – however, they are not to Lord it over people. I think you are building a bit od a straw puppet here :-) Quite ok though, since it is your blog!

    • rogereolson

      Your first question is silly. I didn’t even suggest such a thing. But if you, as his father, tell him his X-box is a telephone and he corrects you, you ought to (and I’m sure YOU would) agree once you discover he’s right. I can’t tell you how many fathers I have known who punish their children for disagreeing with them even when they know their children are right. But more to my point in that essay, there are many Christian organizations where leaders insist on abject submission “without mental reservation” (as one evangelical college president published in his book about evangelical colleges). I have myself worked in some (not my present location). Maybe some day I’ll tell here more about the college I attended!

  • steve rogers

    Serious question in view of the victor’s speech I heard last night from New Hampshire: How would you apply these principles of the relationship between truth, authority and roles to nations and governments? How does hierarchy vs. servanthood play out for nations?

    • rogereolson

      I suspect it is impossible to be a politician in America today and really care about truth.

  • Mikael Stenhammar

    This type of reading is like “leaves of healing” for someone like me who come from a totalitarian type of church background where verses like 1 Chron 16:22 were used to protect the leaders and Bible school teachers from uncomfortable questions. The quote is fantastic!

  • Emelie

    I also grew up in a church where you were not allowed to “touch the Lords anointed”, and in addition to that, in a family where you were to obey your parents no matter what (the length and quality of your life were otherwise at stake). Countless times as I have bent my knees in obedience, I have at the same time clenched my fist at the unfairness of it all. It even affected my view of God in a negative way.
    To me, this post is like breathing fresh air. Thank you!

    • rogereolson

      It’s a breath of fresh air for me to read appreciate comments like ours. Thanks.

  • Ivan A. Rogers

    Roger: This is among the very best of your writings. Congratulations!

  • Don Johnson

    Very well stated. Thanks.

  • Drew

    I know this is unrelated to this post but I had to send you this. I was dissapointed at his response to you. http://www.patheos.com//Resources/Additional-Resources/Judge-the-Morality-of-God-James-White-01-10-2012.html

    • rogereolson

      Thanks for the heads up, but I won’t be reading that. I have already addressed that issue in conversations with others here.

  • Don Johnson

    Where the rubber meets the road in a comp marriage is exactly when a wife disagrees with her husband. This is the crux, if there is no disagreement, then whatever both agree on will be what is done.

    And it is exactly at that time that the truth for a wife is seen as less than the truth for a husband, in the the husband (supposedly, according to comp doctrine) gets to trump his wife or perhaps a different phrase is used like 51% of the vote, etc. And then (again supposedly, according to comp doctrine) the wife gets to take solace that she does not have the heavy responsibility for the “final decision” her husband had to make.

    As far as I can see as an egal, the only safe “final decision” a husband could make would be to decide in favor of his wife’s preference. If he does not do this, it is tyranny. And love and tyranny do not mix well.

  • Deborah Glasscock

    Good discussion. For proof that “truth over role” was true even in N.T. times, one has only to look at the story of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5). Husband and wife were individually questioned, and each separately struck dead for lying “to the Holy Spirit” (5:3). Were the “role” of “wives, submit to your husbands” more important than truth, Sapphira would have been spared.
    On the other hand, however, Ananias was told, “You have not lied to just human beings, but to God” (5:4) upholding heirarchy of the apostolic structure of the time. One could conclude that heirarchy is upheld unless it deviates from truth. In fact, the religious heirarchy of Jesus’ day was supported by O.T. Scripture, but had become so corrupted that they crucified Truth itself.

  • http://bencarmack.blogspot.com Ben Carmack

    Roger,

    To an extent it may be that you and the complementarians are talking past one another.

    My understanding is that complementarians would say that particular gender roles and characteristics are part of God’s revealed truth, both in Scripture but also as we observe in our day-to-day lives. The argument is that if we disregard these roles in favor of modern notions of complete gender equality, we run the risk of missing truth in order to satisfy modern feminist orthodoxy.

    The cultural authorities in our society have decided mandate that the sexes are essentially equal and may do all of the same things. Women, for instance, now serve in the military is large numbers, and many have been exposed to combat, though this is officially forbidden to my understanding. Thus in a sense, modern feminist orthodoxy, from which many egalitarian ideas spring, also has its own “authority” and relies on this dubious authority regardless of “truth.” I would say that anyone who says that women should be as exposed to combat as men is on the extremes of ideology and is outside “truth.” The only reason that women have come to serve in more roles in the military in which they run a greater risk of seeing combat is that cultural authorities have decreed that it be so, in spite of common sense and common decency, for fear of being accused of “sexism.”

    For example, many of the early feminists were funded by wealthy individuals and families who stood to gain from an increased labor pool whom they could pay less and reduce benefits. Modern feminism (by which I mean from the 1960s onward) had its roots in Marxism, which favored complete gender equality as a means of more effective social control by the State. Authority over truth? You bet.

    Further, in a world in which everyone is interchangeable regardless of gender, and in which jobs pay less and a family MUST now have two incomes to survive, marriage becomes less feasible, sexual frustration more rampant and despair more likely. Dating, as a practical matter, becomes more difficult. As someone in his twenties, I know something about this.

    I think we should be very careful before changing long-held cultural norms relating to gender, because the consequences are often beyond what we can foresee. Sometimes tradition and authority are wrong, but not always.

    • rogereolson

      I don’t see what all that has to do with “conservative evangelical complementarianism.” I have never said I disagree with everything complementarians say. I could very well argue (and have here) that women should not be in combat roles in the military without that in any way conflicting with or being inconsistent with my belief that in marriage husband and wife should not make decisions that affect the family without both agreeing. And I deny any idea that that is influenced by feminism. It is common sense. And I happen to think most complementarians agree with it in spite of what they say in their writings and teachings.

      • Nic

        Hi Roger,
        You’ve stated that you agree that women should not be in combat roles in the military, but you have not stated why. Could you provide an explanation for why you believe this? Assuming that women in the military receive the same training, equipment, and weapons as men, what reason would there be to exclude them from combat? The only time I would see women needing to be reassigned to non-combat roles would be if they are pregnant, as that would place the lives of their unborn children in danger. If a woman is not pregnant, is well-trained in combat, and is willing to sacrifice her personal safety to serve and protect, why should her gender preclude her from that?

        • rogereolson

          I have two daughters and a granddaughter. :)

          • Nic

            While I can certainly appreciate the fact that nobody would relish the thought of their child or grandchild going to war, I was actually hoping for a more thoughtful response to my question. Of course parents are going to fear for the safety of their children who go to war, but nobody is making the case that men should not serve in combat roles because it might upset their families. If this is the only reason that can be given for keeping women out of combat roles, I don’t really think that’s good enough.

    • Wayne Shaffer, Jr.

      BC: “My understanding is that complementarians would say that particular gender roles and characteristics are part of God’s revealed truth, both in Scripture but also as we observe in our day-to-day lives. The argument is that if we disregard these roles in favor of modern notions of complete gender equality, we run the risk of missing truth in order to satisfy modern feminist orthodoxy.”

      WS: This position rests on a common (in my experience) complementarian misunderstanding — if not deliberate malicious misstatement — of egalitarian thinking. That is, it assumes that our view comes from importing “modern” views and bending Scripture to fit them, whereas the reality for most of us is that we actually see equality and mutuality taught in Scripture itself.

      BC: “The cultural authorities in our society have decided mandate that the sexes are essentially equal and may do all of the same things. Women, for instance, now serve in the military is large numbers, and many have been exposed to combat, though this is officially forbidden to my understanding. Thus in a sense, modern feminist orthodoxy, from which many egalitarian ideas spring, also has its own ‘authority’ and relies on this dubious authority regardless of ‘truth.’ I would say that anyone who says that women should be as exposed to combat as men is on the extremes of ideology and is outside ‘truth.’ The only reason that women have come to serve in more roles in the military in which they run a greater risk of seeing combat is that cultural authorities have decreed that it be so, in spite of common sense and common decency, for fear of being accused of ‘sexism.’

      WS: Again, the idea that it is from “modern feminist orthodoxy” that “many egalitarian ideas spring” is untrue. Our basic egalitarian beliefs flow from Scripture itself, not “modern feminist orthodoxy.” If we really believe that Scripture teaches that men and women are equal — not identical, but equal — then the challenge is to determine how that applies in real life on a case by case basis. For my part, I am one of the extremists who believe that women should at least be allowed into combat scenarios if they so desire, and if they demonstrate the ability to pass the same qualifying physical tests as males.

      BC: “For example, many of the early feminists were funded by wealthy individuals and families who stood to gain from an increased labor pool whom they could pay less and reduce benefits. Modern feminism (by which I mean from the 1960s onward) had its roots in Marxism, which favored complete gender equality as a means of more effective social control by the State. Authority over truth? You bet.”

      WS: Again, this is irrelevant, because most egalitarians do not say, “Well, the Bible teaches hierarchy, but modernity clearly shows that’s just one more outmoded notion in Scripture.” Our view is that the Bible itself (authority) teaches mutuality and equality as the ideal (truth).

      BC: “Further, in a world in which everyone is interchangeable regardless of gender, and in which jobs pay less and a family MUST now have two incomes to survive, marriage becomes less feasible, sexual frustration more rampant and despair more likely. Dating, as a practical matter, becomes more difficult. As someone in his twenties, I know something about this.”

      WS: Equality, mutuality, and interdependence do not mean “interchangeability.” It’s doubtful any woman could play offensive line in the NFL.

      BC: “I think we should be very careful before changing long-held cultural norms relating to gender, because the consequences are often beyond what we can foresee. Sometimes tradition and authority are wrong, but not always.”

      WS: Let’s try this: “I think we should be very careful before changing long-held cultural norms relating to race, because the consequences are often beyond what we can foresee. Sometimes tradition and authority are wrong, but not always.” Fortunately, the authority of Scripture eventually led people to the truths that all races are equal, and that under the New Covenant, slavery is unacceptable, despite what prevailing cultural “tradition and authority” said. The same holds for hierarchy relative to sex.

  • http://blog.benirwin.net Ben

    I used to be a complementarian, until I heard Stan Gundry tell the story of his journey from complementarianism to egalitarianism. But I’ve not heard anyone put the argument forward quite like you have — namely, that hierarchical systems like complementarianism elevate functional authority over truth. I think this is a profound, smack-your-forehead-and-say-”of course!” insight. Thank you for writing this.

  • http://biblicalpersonhood.wordpress.com/ Retha

    I notice that most (of those who cal themselves) complementarians who answer here, are only denying from one side.

    Complementarianism is a two-sided thing. One side is what men should do, the other is what women should do. Statements about it can only be refuted by refuting both sides

    As such, to refute Roger you need to not just say: “A man should not expect a woman to submit when the man is wrong”, but also what the woman should do. None have said yet: “Complementarians believe no woman should ever submit when the man is wrong.” (Not just so wrong that its directly is against God’s command, for example stealing because he say so, but also wrong as in no-that-will-be-a-waste-of-money and wrong as in if-I-submit-to-this-I-make-you-a-more-selfish-man.)

    Even more important, none have yet quoted a major comp teacher who say that, while I am sure Roger could quote major comps implying the opposite, perhaps saying it right-out.

    (Decide for yourself if this is another topic or the same one: Complementarianism is based on the premise that men should be trusted to not only look at their own interests, but also the women’s. Any male comp defender who argues only from the male side, is evidence against that notion…)

    • http://krwordgazer.blogspot.com Kristen

      Good points, Retha. I imagine the issue the Roman church raised with Luther was not so much about whether or not he was right, but whether or not he was in sin by not submitting to them. Many times when a woman wishes to raise a point in a complementarian church or marriage, this is where the issue gets stuck: not “who has the truth?” but “is she being properly submissive?” It is my experience, as it probably was Luther’s, that it’s not so much that “who has the truth?” is intentionally subordinated to “who’s in charge?” but practically speaking, that’s what tends to happen, because the issue of proper submission is nearly always the first issue raised.

      If the authority figure is gentle and humble, as Christ commanded– then he’ll listen to the subordinated one and concede when he perceives truth. If he doesn’t perceive truth, though– her voice is, in a very real sense, much harder to hear. And if he’s not inclined to listen, that’s when you really have problems. Eventually she will get weary and discouraged from not being heard, from having her personhood overridden by his in the name of “submission,” from the injustice of having her truth not seriously considered as to whether or not it may be truth, and she may leave him. And then, of course, she will be the one who gets blamed.

      None of these are intended results of complementarianism. But when you have a system that is inequitable by its very nature, and then you set it up as the divine plan of God– this is what can happen. And no one stops to ask, “are we sure this inequitable system was really being endorsed by God in the Bible, or is it just that the Spirit was helping people already living under an inequitable system in the first-century Roman Empire, to work around it?”

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  • http://www.asmallfaith.org ASF-Brian

    A couple of thoughts here….

    Mr. Olson is taking what complementarians believe and going on to state what he sees as the result of that belief – as in “hierarchy is the manner of organization of a social unit (especially the family) so that assigned (or assumed) roles matter more than truth.” The problem is that no complementarian will ever admit to that being the case and so the conversation gets stalled.

    Also, in matters of objective, Biblical truth, most complementarian couples probably already agree on most things so there should not be a whole lot of truth disagreements. But where I think complementarian authority can go awry is in all the “preference” type decisions. He has been told that he should be the leader of the family and that gets translated into making most of/all the decisions. That could be where to live, where to eat, what clothes his wife should wear, how to spend money, etc. This perpetuates the idea that the husband is superior in some way – be it spiritually, mentally, whatever and I think that it hinders love from flourishing in the marraige.

    • rogereolson

      Good thinking. Feel free to address me directly–as Roger. I’m standing right here. :)

  • Val

    Thanks Dr. Olsen, this is the best overview of human hierarchy vs. servant leadership I have read in a long time.

    I was in Charismatic churches for years and heard the “don’t mess with God’s anointed” warning/threat, esp. regarding any concerns – always construed as criticism – questioning what the leadership was teaching, even if it wasn’t truth.

    Now, I am in a much more bible focused evangelical (but unfortunately Calvinist leaning) church. There is no sense that the leader has a spiritual anointing for his authority, just a Bible-dictated authority. In non-charismatic evangelical churches I find (a person’s interpretation of) the Bible trumps any human authority, so hierarchy can only be challenged by verses from the Bible. Great if everyone agrees, but if not, then the person with “Scripture-ordained” authority is the decision maker for the verse interpretation.

    The worst abuses of authority – lording it over – (even against truth) came from the Charismatics, because God told them (or gifted them) their vision, idea, or whatever was the truth, while in Bible-based churches their hierarchical structure (if there was a disagreement) determined the truth. Both camps were missing the main thing (the truth), because the truth worked against them – but only the Charismatic pulled the “I’m anointed and therefore above reproach” card. The Bible-based leader pulled the “scripture is clear (LOL) on this”, but carefully avoided saying he was above reproach, he just interpreted the Bible say what he wanted.

    I think this is why many Complementarians are so upset with this post – they are from bible-based, non-charismatic churches. They believe the Bible, not humans, are the final authority. What they don’t see, is that Bible interpretation is not straightforwards, and sometimes the biblically mandated leaders get the Bible wrong, yet they and their followers and admirers won’t listen if their misinterpretations are pointed out to them (since the pointer-out doesn’t have the scriptural authority, that is clearly given to the leader in their DNA or something). The latest example of this is; (paraphrase) “dissing my work just shows their own issues with my teaching” as if his take on his bible reading is the right one because he grew a big church from nothing (and obviously has God’s authority).

    So, yes, most Complementarians would never want to put roles over truth, they must own up that Biblical “truth” is not the easiest thing to decipher in scriptures from cold readings of it and random out-of-context verses.

  • http://www.asmallfaith.org ASF-Brian

    Yes sir, Mr. Olson. Uhhh, I mean Roger. :)

  • Verity3

    Excellent post. I’m new here, but I’ll be coming back to read more.

    It seems that everyone here is in agreement that when things are going well, i.e. when both husband and wife are behaving as spiritually mature, compassionate people, complementarianism does not force anyone to give preference to roles over truth. The problem is, many people are selfish.

    People who try not to be selfish toward their spouses may not see themselves as hyperauthoritarian. But encouraging others to follow the same marriage model, regardless of the individuals’ character or spiritual maturity, is recklessness. It does, unfortunately, open the door to idolatry and abuse.

    • Val

      So true. Also, certain (not sure about all) comps. don’t just champion submission in marriage, they expect submission to the church leadership, so the idolatry and abuse that can occur in marriage, can occur in church groups too.

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  • http://inchristus.wordpress.com Inchristus

    BAM! Direct hit, Dr. Olson.
    You’re right because what you say is true, comports with Scripture, and therefore has authority!!

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