My Conversion to Egalitarianism (John Frye)

My Conversion to Egalitarianism (John Frye) December 12, 2014

JohnFryeHow “He” became “She”

This is the story of my conversion from the hierarchical view of the role of women in home and church to the egalitarian view.

My seminary training landed me exegetically and theologically in the hierarchical camp. I use hierarchical, not complementarian because the nub of the issue is a functional hierarchy. While competing views of the crux interpretum (1 Timothy 2:12 in context) were acknowledged in seminary, a lot of attention was paid to the pronouns in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 with the multiple use of “he.” It was pointed out, of course, that Paul writes “husband of one wife/ one woman man,” so elders [expanded to mean ordained leaders] clearly had to be men.

Genesis 1 and 2 were probed to establish the creational supremacy of man over woman in view of 1 Timothy 2:13-15. The view held that women were equal in essence with men, but unequal in function, just like the Father, Son, and Spirit are equal in essence, but unequal in function. The stakes were raised when we were taught that to hold any other view than the hierarchical view was to question the inerrancy of the Bible. Added to this was the dreaded slippery slope argument that to buckle on hierarchialism within the home and church was to open the door to countless unsavory consequences.

Years into my pastoral ministry I came across many godly believers and evangelical churches that did not hold to hierarchialism in home and church. These folks had a high view of Scripture, a deep commitment to the Trinity, a Christ-focused faith, and ardent evangelical passion for the lost. How can this be? I wondered.

Thus began my journey into the available literature on all sides of the subject. It became apparent with all the ink spilled on the topic that the one, the only one text that really mattered was 1 Timothy 2:12 in context. Fine scholars made the best cases they could from the verse to support either hierarchialism or egalitarianism all the while marshalling other Scriptures to bolster their views.

I went to Fuller Theological Seminary for D. Min. studies. In my cohort were pastors and church leaders from a variety of traditions—Methodist, Presbyterian, non-denominational, Baptist, Vineyard, Seventh Day Adventist, and Lutheran. Several members of the cohort were ordained female pastors. I still clung to my biblical pronouns.

That is, until I met God powerfully through a female Lutheran pastor as we celebrated the Lord’s Table. This ordained pastor opened the Word and my heart caught fire. She led us beautifully to the Savior, our Risen Host at the Table. She prayed and God’s Spirit maneuvered skillfully in my soul.

I was scrambled: from my point of view, a woman in evident disobedience to the Word of God was God’s agent to renew my life. How can this be?  I faced a crisis. Was I ready to stand before God the Father, Jesus the Son, in the presence of the Spirit and declare that this sister in Christ, an ordained pastor, was serving contrary to the will of God? Was my handful of masculine pronouns sufficient to annul the life transforming work of the Spirit through this pastoral colleague? I wasn’t ready to face God about such an important issue that would disallow 50% of the body of Christ from pastoral and leadership ministries based on only one hotly debated text and a few pronouns. I converted to egalitarianism. Even more, I think I was ushered into egalitarianism.

I can hear someone push back: “You let experience determine your exegesis.” You bet I did. Especially because that experience at the Table was so God-filled that I would have been a fool to deny it. I felt I could no longer strain at a gnat and swallow a camel. Someone may say, “God used that woman in your life in spite of her disobedience.” All I can say to that is, “Get a life.”

One has to make an exegetical decision about 1 Timothy 2:12 in context. Is this contested text an ad hoc teaching or is it timeless truth? Based on exegetical, theological, historical and cultural study, I concluded that the 1 Timothy 2 text is ad hoc, aimed at addressing a particular problem in that particular time in that Ephesian church. Being the recipient of a God-encounter through the ministry of a female pastor is what tipped the scales for me.

How willing are we as pastors to let Spirit-filled life experiences be part of the process of shaping our theological and pastoral conclusions?  

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