When many Christians think about egalitarianism they often think about a number of things. Foremost is the belief that women also are gifted to serve as pastors and elders in churches, but other people may have more outlandish and extreme thoughts like: worshipping a feminine deity alongside worship with God, referring to God as “She”, rewriting the Bible to make it less oppressive to women (Elizabeth Cady Stanton did that in the early 1900s), accepting egalitarianism automatically causes one to accept homosexuality, and more. However, in my reading and research over the past few days, I’ve realized that like complementarianism, there is a spectrum to egalitarianism that must be kept in mind to approach this topic responsibly. So in my posts, I will draw a lot of my information from Christians for Biblical Equality (CBE) and the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW). I believe that this is probably the most fair and accurate treatment of this topic that I can give because they are both well-established organizations that have existed for over 20 years now.
Let me begin my first post by allowing Christian egalitarians to define themselves, and the best way to understand who they are is to know what they believe. According to CBE, they believe in 12 statements derived from their understanding of the Bible. The entirety of the document can be found here, but the 12 statements are below. For the sake of space, I am not including the Scripture references that they included, but you can see the references in the above link.
- The Bible teaches that both man and woman were created in God’s image, had a direct relationship with God, and shared jointly the responsibilities of bearing and rearing children and having dominion over the created order.
- The Bible teaches that woman and man were created for full and equal partnership. The word “helper” (ezer) used to designate woman in Genesis 2:18 refers to God in most instances of Old Testament usage. Consequently the word conveys no implication whatsoever of female subordination or inferiority.
- The Bible teaches that the forming of woman from man demonstrates the fundamental unity and equality of human beings. In Genesis 2:18, 20 the word “suitable” (kenegdo) denotes equality and adequacy.
- The Bible teaches that man and woman were co-participants in the Fall: Adam was no less culpable than Eve.
- The Bible teaches that the rulership of Adam over Eve resulted from the Fall and was therefore not a part of the original created order. Genesis 3:16 is a prediction of the Fall rather than a prescription of God’s ideal order.
- The Bible teaches that Jesus Christ came to redeem women as well as men. Through faith in Christ we all become children of God, one in Christ, and heirs to the blessings of salvation without reference to racial, social or gender distinctives.
- The Bible teaches that at Pentecost the Holy Spirit came on men and women alike. Without distinction, the Holy Spirit indwells women and men, and sovereignly distributes gifts without preference as to gender.
- The Bible teaches that both women and men are called to develop their spiritual gifts and to use them as stewards of the grace of God. Both men and women are divinely gifted and empowered to minister to the whole Body of Christ, under His authority.
- The Bible teaches that, in the New Testament economy, women as well as men exercise the prophetic, priestly and royal functions. Therefore, the few isolated texts that appear to restrict the full redemptive freedom of women must not be interpreted simplistically and in contradiction to the rest of Scripture, but their interpretation must take into account their relation to the broader teaching of Scripture and their total context.
- The Bible defines the function of leadership as the empowerment of others for service rather than as the exercise of power over them.
- The Bible teaches that husbands and wives are heirs together of the grace of life and that they are bound together in a relationship of mutual submission and responsibility. The husband’s function as “head” (kephale) is to be understood as self-giving love and service within this relationship of mutual submission.
- The Bible teaches that both mothers and father are to exercise leadership in the nurture, training, discipline and teaching of their children.
Now, if you have read the statements the way I have, from the complementarian lens, you probably had a few moments of disbelief, head shaking, and maybe some genuine anger. The most obvious problematic points that stand out are: the reinterpretation of classic Scripture passages, the redefinition of historically understood terms, a novel hermeneutical approach to the Bible, and the misunderstanding of the function and work of the Holy Spirit in accomplishing the purposes of the Godhead. Each of these points deserves a separate blog (maybe several), but before we engage in a critique of the egalitarian movement and their beliefs, I think it is wise to finish understanding what they believe.
In the case that we could understand them the wrong way, CBE does offer another useful section on the application of their beliefs within the same document. I will be bringing up their applications in my next blog and use it as a critique of the complementarian movement. I understand that this may be a bit of a surprising approach for most complementarians, but I don’t mind critiquing my own beliefs. We are all often guilty of over-correcting, under-correcting, over-emphasizing, and under-emphasizing many things in the Christian faith. However, the one thing that will always stand true and free from error is the Word of God. So the critique is headed our way first, and the ball will land in their court soon.