Egalitarian Beliefs: The Use of Spiritual Gifts

As I mentioned before, I am attempting to make sure that we understand exactly what Christian egalitarians believe. In my previous blog, I highlighted Christians for Biblical Equality’s 12 statements they believe are truthful interpretations of Bible passages, and now I would like to use their very useful application section to begin a critique on the complementarian movement. In this blog, I will examine their first application point.

Application #1:

In the church, spiritual gifts of women and men are to be recognized, developed and used in serving and teaching ministries at all levels of involvement: as small group leaders, counselors, facilitators, administrators, ushers, communion servers, and board members, and in pastoral care, teaching, preaching, and worship.

In so doing, the church will honor God as the source of spiritual gifts. The church will also fulfill God’s mandate of stewardship without the appalling loss to God’s kingdom that results when half of the church’s members are excluded from positions of responsibility.

In their first application, CBE highlights the need for the spiritual gifts of women and men to be fully utilized within all areas of the church, including preaching, teaching, and worship. Their belief is that by all gifts being fully utilized in all areas, God will be honored, and they will fulfill their “mandate of stewardship without the appalling loss to God’s kingdom that results when half of the church’s members are excluded from positions of responsibility.” Their application presupposes some beliefs about what complementarians believe and practice. Namely, their application asserts the view that complementarianism does not hold that the spiritual gifts of men and women in the church are equally recognized and allowed opportunities to be utilized for the glory of God. As a result, in their view, complementarianism is a real detriment to the kingdom of God by causing a portion of its members to not utilize their spiritual gifts. So let me turn now to the Danvers Statement (published by the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood) that we may consider the beliefs of complementarians as regards the usage of spiritual gifts.

Affirmation #8: In both men and women a heartfelt sense of call to ministry should never be used to set aside Biblical criteria for particular ministries (1 Timothy 2:11-15, 3:1-13; Titus 1:5-9). Rather, Biblical teaching should remain the authority for testing our subjective discernment of God’s will.

Affirmation #9: With half the world’s population outside the reach of indigenous evangelism; with countless other lost people in those societies that have heard the gospel; with the stresses and miseries of sickness, malnutrition, homelessness, illiteracy, ignorance, aging, addiction, crime, incarceration, neuroses, and loneliness, no man or woman who feels a passion from God to make His grace known in word and deed need ever live without a fulfilling ministry for the glory of Christ and the good of this fallen world (1 Corinthians 12:7-21) – bolded text mine

Looking at the facts here, it appears that complementarians do believe that both men and women have spiritual gifts that should be used for the edification of the church. Not only that, they highlight that with all of the ways people are afflicted in this world and need to hear the gospel, there is no reason why any person cannot be engaged in an active ministry at all. However, the obvious point of difference between the two camps is that complementarianism calls for Biblical teaching to remain as “the authority for testing our subjective discernment of God’s will.”

As Christians, everything that we do ought to be founded upon the Word of God. I do not know of a single person who has not experienced desires and passions to do certain things in life, and I have witnessed that far more among Christians desiring to do great things for the Lord than any other group of people. However, when we deviate from Scripture’s teaching on how to use the very things God gave us for the building up of His church and His own glory, I strongly believe and know that we will miss the target every time.

The LBC states in Chapter 1, Paragraph 10 that:

The supreme judge, by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Scripture delivered by the Spirit, into which Scripture so delivered, our faith is finally resolved.

And even in paragraph 6 of the same chapter, you will find:

The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down or necessarily contained in the Holy Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelation of the Spirit, or traditions of men. Nevertheless, we acknowledge the inward illumination of the Spirit of God to be necessary for the saving understanding of such things as are revealed in the Word, and that there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and government of the church, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed.

From our own confession, we see that God’s Word stands as the ultimate authority, the final test, for any new illumination or perceived understanding of God’s Word, and His Word is the one thing that we must test our passions and desires against. Thus, complementarians uphold the authority of God’s Word in the Christian life when we consider the use of spiritual gifts. We know the words of Christ in Mark 3:24: “If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.” By removing the litmus test of God’s Word in their desire to ensure that both men and women are using all of their spiritual gifts, egalitarians are actually putting their churches on very shaky ground, and that is the real “appalling loss to God’s kingdom.”

Now that we know what complementarians assent to, the question is: Do complementarians actually live out their beliefs? I think it is hard to give an accurate answer, but maybe I can ask it in a different way. Do complementarian churches praise the hard work of women as equally as men in the church? Are pastors and church leaders diligent in making sure that women are being discipled and encouraged to utilize their gifts and talents as much as the men are, or is the default assumption that as long as women are taking care of their homes they’re okay? Are we training women to be good teachers of other women and children? Are complementarian churches doing all that they can do to train up men and women in the faith for the glory of God?

As a very honest complementarian, I believe the answer is largely no. No doubt, there are complementarian churches that are being diligent in making sure that women are being trained and encouraged to serve in various capacities, but I know that there are many churches that could do a lot more in this capacity. And I think that this is something that any complementarian church leader should carefully consider and take the time to ask about in their congregation. However, I cannot say any of this without encouraging any complementarian women who may be reading this blog to seek out ways to be useful in a ministry. As women, I think we love it when someone opens the door for us, but we may have to open our own door and be diligent in serving the Lord in whatever capacity and opportunity that He providentially sent our way.

Finally, I think that it is best to remind ourselves that it is the Holy Spirit who is building the Church (Ephesians 2:19-22). Yes, He has dispensed many gifts to both men and women in His Church that are to be used for its edification, but it is the Lord who determines what gifts are given, how they are to be used, what will actually glorify Him, what undermines His work, and how His church will grow and endure. Consequently, His Word provides us with guidelines that need to be obeyed. From their first application point, the egalitarian camp missed the mark when they excluded the Word of God. I am happy to say that the complementarian camp did highlight the necessity for the Word to always be our final authority, no matter how strong our desires and sense of calling are. Moreover, they also affirmed that every man and woman should be actively using their spiritual gifts in any number of ways worldwide within the parameters of Scripture. However, complementarians should be mindful to not only be hearers, but doers; otherwise, we undermine the very things that we stand for.

For the sake of the length of this blog, I will pick up my next blog with CBE’s Application #2.

13 thoughts on “Egalitarian Beliefs: The Use of Spiritual Gifts

  1. The question is how? As complementarians, how are women to utilize their gifts? Answer: within Biblical bounds, women may teach, serve, help, lead, etc. Other women, children, and elderly persons. As egalitarians, the how is in accordance with the trajectory set forth by Jesus’ treatment of women, by the examples of Junia, Phoebe, Lydia, and other NT ladies, women may teach, serve, help, lead etc. Just as the men do, without limit and can become pastors if that is their gifting.

    • Jamie, I have just learned about “trajectory hermeneutics” over this past week. It’s definitely a new way of thinking about things in Scripture. I guess the best way I understood it is, instead of living in the “already, but not yet”, egalitarians desire to live in the “not yet as the already”. I do believe that is an erroneous way to interpret Scripture, but I do know that egalitarians believe that the Spirit dispensed gifts irrespective of persons and gender. So, it is a consistent view in that regards. But as William mentioned below, both men and women have boundaries and limitations on the use of their gifts, and that comes from a loving God. But I think the view also tends to cast a shadow on the harmony of the Godhead….that the Spirit functioned independently or under a different mindset than the Father and the Son. Just my thoughts.

      • The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are one in a way that no husband and wife could ever hope to achieve and no human can understand. Since God gave the same gifts to both men and women, I don’t understand why they cannot be used in the same way. I don’t understand what about being female means that she is ineligible to preach the word of God at the pulpit, but it’s okay to stand on the floor behind a music stand to deliver a testimony so long as she doesn’t quote scripture. No two complementarian churches agree just where and how a woman’s gifts should be used in whatever limits exist in Scripture. My former church had a female audio engineer, but forbid women from collecting the offering. Their inconsistency was maddening until I asked them what logic they used to justify that and they said that the woman was in the back of the room and was not visible during the service. Collecting offering involved walking down the aisle and being visible during the collection, so it was not acceptable for women to be doing that. I asked them what Bible verse that came from and they found none. If that was any indication, then any visible gift for women will never be encouraged and there’s no justification for that.

  2. Jamie,
    Let us not elevate Spiritual “gifts” above Spiritual fruits and the testimony of the Spirit in Scripture. Men and women are both liberated and limited in the authority they are given in Scripture. Thus, we don’t rely on a “trajectory” we deduce from Scripture to determine the roles of men and women. Rather, we are free to loose only where Scripture looses and bind only where Scripture binds. On the flip side, where Scripture looses we MUST loose, and where Scripture binds we MUST bind. Cheers.

    • I think the problem is that Christianity fails to strike a balance between men and women, between spiritual gifts and spiritual fruits / testimony of the Spirit in Scripture. If we’re constantly judging whether something is ‘too much’ ‘too little’ then we’ll never find the ‘just right’ that God originally intended. Either God really liked the concept of slavery in general and included it in scripture, or he realized he had to address it as a concession of the culture that existed at the time. God utilized Deborah’s gifts as a leader, as he did with the other NT ladies, so should we.

      • Jamie,

        There are so many hermeneutical assumptions wrapped up in your comments that I simply have no time to deal with them all. I appreciate your passion. I would encourage you to keep reading as Alicia finishes her series and try to do so with patience and grace. Perhaps in doing so, some of your questions and concerns may be answered. God bless.

  3. Alicia,
    To be fair to the egalitarians, when not properly informed by Scripture, I have heard some complementarians (mostly women) say things like, “I don’t understand why more women don’t volunteer for the Nursery. There are so few areas for women to serve in the church. This is their opportunity to serve.” This too is a faulty view. There are very few areas of service within the church that are limited only to men, most of them having to do with the offices. Women are not forbidden in Scripture from being door greeters, helping with the coffee, running audio, playing guitar, setting up schedules, orchestrating potlucks, vacuuming, taking out the trash, etc. We may limit women in these roles due to cultural peeves, but they are not areas in which they are bound by Scripture to “step aside.” It’s interesting, I never hear women complain that complementarians are limiting them from taking out the trash or stacking chairs or vacuuming. It always has something to do with teaching. Funny.

    • William, I would totally agree (and I’ve been guilty of that in the past). Thinking about your response has made me wonder: Does chivalry help or hurt having a proper view of complementarianism? I know a lot of guys in my past few churches would never have me taking the trash out, trying to run audio, or doing set up (at least when it’s not food-related) because they feel like the women should be “taken care of”. And I’ve always thought that it was a kind gesture, but I know I am perfectly able to do those things. So, maybe complementarianism has been influenced by “historical” cultural norms more than we realize, while we can say that egalitarianism has been influenced by current cultural norms.
      Oh, and this lady does not mind running a vacuum or stacking some chairs….maybe except for when I’m trying to keep my toddler from getting in the way. 🙂

      • I’m fully in favor of chivalry. That’s why I have no problem rocking my children to sleep in the lobby so my wife can be in the service on the Sunday’s she’s not serving in the Nursery. That’s also why I think men should be willing to get in the kitchen, run vacuums, help orchestrate potlucks, etc. However, that might step on the toes of some women who see that as their unique gifting.

        In the end, I believe there is wisdom in serving one another in such a way that we are not forcing one another to leave our cultural norms at the door, but also in a way that is honoring to Scripture. So if a man wants to be chivalrous, he should be chivalrous. But call it chivalry, not complementarianism. There is a difference.

  4. Sounds like a good discussion going on here. I will add a small point here.

    A common view held by many people (egalitarians and complementarians alike) is that the only “real” gifts that exist for the Church are those gifts that can be used in public, corporate worship. I think this is a very faulty view that has many ramifications for the life of the church. For some individuals that have visible public gifts (e.g. teaching), they will be tempted to exaggerate their worth within the local church. For some individuals that do not have these types of visible, speaking gifts (e.g. service), they will be tempted not to use their gifts at all. As 1 Corinthians 12 says, God has so composed the body of Christ, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, so that there may be no division in the Body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.

    I think this greatly applies to this discussion. During strongly contested debates on this topic, a view that is often repeated is that if women are not permitted to hold offices in local churches, then they must not have a “real” function and role in the church or that women are somehow inferior to men. As 1 Corinthians 12 says, the parts of the body that seem to be “weaker” are indispensable because God has designed the Body to depend upon each other. In other words, distinct roles and functions within the Body (along with the uneven distribution of gifts within the Body) do not imply inferiority in any sense. I think our discussions on this topic would go a lot further if both sides of the debate understand this point.

    • Great points, Gabe. A couple things I’d like to add…

      1) I can attest to your point about emphasizing the more visible gifts. This often happens unintentionally. A church leader might say something like, “Well, there just aren’t many areas for people to serve. We only have so many teaching opportunities in our small church.” Any deacon hearing such a statement will inevitably cringe.

      2) To support this argument you made: “the parts of the body that seem to be “weaker” are indispensable,” I would simply point out Jesus’ teaching on humility. Jesus taught that those who are last in this world will be first in the kingdom of heaven. Those who are willing to take out trash and take others a meal do so without the right hand knowing what the left hand is doing. Their reward is in heaven, whereas those who do good in order to be seen by men have their reward already.

    • Excellent points dear! I’m reminded of our conversations when we studied the gifts of the Spirit. You can have a church with only one good teacher or elder, but you cannot have a church without those who have grace to serve, to do helps, to do acts of mercy and actually care for the needs of the body.

      Thinking about that and also the women who served Christ while He was here on earth, following Him, providing for Him and the disciples, waiting at the tomb, etc., those women were literally caring for the physical needs of His body while He was here, and they were also caring for the needs of His spiritual body (that is, the disciples who also followed him). So, in a real way, those women were our predecessors when we think about the roles and functions women can have in the church today, and you can also say (just as William stated) that they did receive honor for their humble work because we know of their work in the Scriptures to this day. Just a thought, and I do find that to be highly encouraging to any woman who is struggling with humility and a desire to be recognized now, rather than later.

  5. Pingback: Egalitarian Beliefs: Public Recognition | CredoCovenant

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s