Dave Bish has been considering the issue of women teaching in student Christian Unions. He says that where CUs are divided on this issue, the majority should lovingly submit to the minority. For example, in a CU where the majority hold to the complementarian position (they believe that women are equal in status but not in role, and believe it is exclusively a man’s role to lead through teaching), they should allow women to teach so that the minority don’t feel oppressed. Or vice versa, in a majority egalitarian CU, the majority should not impose women teachers on the complementarian minority.
Dave distinguishes between the position in a CU, which is an evangelistic organisation with a small shared doctrinal basis, and a church, where decisions have to be made about how to teach about marriage and whether to appoint female elders.
I want to make a couple of points in response.
Firstly, a lot of what Dave is saying seems to be an application of Romans 14, correct?
A quick sample:
As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions.
Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.
An egalitarian CU ought to welcome a complementarian person (whom they would judge weak in faith), by not putting the hinderance of a female speaker in front of the complementarian.
That’s fine, but when we looked at Romans 14 in our small groups earlier this year, we noted that Paul specifically talks to those who are ‘strong’ in faith – those who are happy to eat anything or drink anything. He tells those people not to destroy the work of God by what they eat or drink. So in essence, the strong should love the weak by being willing to give up their bacon sandwiches or their beer so that the weak people don’t feel that they are in sin or unwelcome.
What he doesn’t say is that the weak people should act like the strong to welcome the strong. So if the house church contained a majority of people who felt eating pork was not right, Paul’s not saying they should start serving bacon sandwiches before church just so the people who feel that eating them is ok feel welcome.
No, because for the person who thinks eating bacon sarnies is wrong, eating them really is a sin. Verse 23:
But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.
But for the person who thinks it’s ok to eat bacon sandwiches, it is not a sin for them not to eat them. (NOTE: THIS DOES NOT MEAN THAT ANYTHING YOU THINK IS ‘OK’ IS NOT A SIN!!)
So basically, as well as being loving, Christian communities should default to the “least sin” position. It is the strong who have an obligation to the weak.
I’d argue that in the complementarian/egalitarian debate in CUs, it is the complementarians who are more obviously weak. That’s because everyone agrees that male speakers are ok, it’s just whether female speakers are ok or not.
When a male speaker speaks, both complementarians and egalitarians are happy. No one is sinning. The egalitarians might be thinking it would be great to get that really excellent female speaker in sometime, but like missing out on bacon sandwiches, they’ll just have to put up with it for the sake of their weaker brothers and sisters.
However when a female speaker speaks, often complementarians are sinning. If they really are convinced it is wrong to sit under a woman’s teaching then they are sinning, and we’ve just mucked up our application of Romans 14.
An egalitarian CU leader might feel that he’s sinning by not allowing women to have their God-given right to teach, but I think we can agree that this is a less obvious sin than the complementarian’s.
Ok, that was point 1.
Point 2 is much more brief. Which is to consider how CUs and churches are different in this respect. I think they are, but possibly not for quite the same reason as Dave.
The “minimal doctrinal basis so we can have a shared mission” point is fair enough, but it’s quite a pragmatic argument that is prone to a ‘where do you draw the line?’ response.
I think the reason churches can be a bit more inflexible on this is that they have elders who have authority and responsibility for those decisions. If I’m not sure whether someone should or shouldn’t teach in my local church, I am happy to sit under that teaching regardless, because I defer to the authority of my elders, knowing their God given role is to make those kinds of decisions and to bear the responsibility for them. In a CU it’s not quite the same, because I’m not convinced that a CU leader has quite the same authority to make those kinds of decisions.
Additionally, I would think that a convinced egalitarian church leadership would probably be sinning if they didn’t appoint a woman they considered suitable to the eldership since the nature of church leadership is quite different to an occasional CU speaking engagement. So in a church the egalitarian/complementarian positions become a bit harder to classify into weak/strong.
It’s complicated stuff, and I haven’t had a coffee yet, so please don’t take this as anything other than tentative. If you think what I’ve said is wrong, or has dangerous implications let me know. With that, I’m off for a bacon sarnie!