You can check out my previous blog here, but I want to pick up quickly where I last left off with Christians for Biblical Equality’s (CBE) Application #2.
In the church, public recognition is to be given to both women and men who exercise ministries of service and leadership.
In so doing, the church will model the unity and harmony that should characterize the community of believers. In a world fractured by discrimination and segregation, the church will dissociate itself from worldly or pagan devices designed to make women feel inferior for being female. It will help prevent their departure from the church or their rejection of the Christian faith.
In their second application, CBE highlights the need that all members of the church should be publicly recognized for the work that they do in the ministry. They believe that by doing so, “the church will model the unity and harmony that should characterize the community of believers.” This would also cause the church to distance itself from the ways that the world currently uses to make women feel inferior for being women, and it would help to secure the faith and commitment to the church of these women.
I personally find that this application causes a lot of questions to arise in the mind of the reader. For instance, does public recognition really promote and model unity and harmony? Will public recognition cause a woman to feel better about herself? What are the ‘worldly or pagan devices’ that they have in mind here? Is the church obligated to publicly recognize the work of all of its members? And will receiving public recognition really cause some women to remain in a church or not leave the faith if they are intent on leaving? I am sure that my complementarian brothers and sisters would ask more penetrating questions, but the point is to see if complementarians have formally addressed this issue or not. However, I am not sure if the emphasis is actually on addressing an overall lack of public recognition or if it is attempting to address and remedy the sense of inferiority that a lot of Christian women feel with public recognition. So, I’m going to address public recognition in this blog and take a look at the Danvers Statement again.
Looking through the Danvers Statement, I actually did not find any statement addressing the need for the public recognition of the work of men and women in the church. However, to offer some sort of examination of practices that may be found in complementarian churches, I will refer back to my former church homes since I’ve been married.
In our church in Louisiana, I do believe that there was a level of public acknowledgement of the work of women and men in the church; however, this acknowledgement did not come in the middle of the church service or from the pulpit. Oftentimes, if the women and men serving on various ministries needed more help or volunteers, our pastor would stop Sunday school early to make a mention of the important work of the ministries, thank those who already participate and contribute, and encourage others to sign up and help fulfill the needs. In our church in Colorado, women and men served in various capacities throughout the church. Soon after I arrived, the women serving in the kitchen for lunch preparation (and there was lunch every Sunday) began to feel pretty rushed because as soon as church would end, people would come rushing downstairs to eat, and they had not finished with their preparations. So, they appealed to the elders to get people to wait at least 10 more minutes to give them time to finish and breath before the rush. Our elders were highly responsive to their needs, and they made mention of the need before the congregation at the end of service and made everyone wait at least 15 extra minutes just to make sure the women had enough time. Obviously, the women felt appreciated, and we did not have any subsequent problems.
I give these two examples as evidence that there are complementarian church pastors and elders that do recognize the work of women and men in the church and appreciate them for it. No, there were no elaborate announcements of recognition or any special ceremonies, but people were not acting like work got done by itself. Moreover, in these churches, people were individually appreciative for the work of other people. So, it was not surprising to hear about a member sending another member a little note of appreciation, or dropping by a basket of goodies to say thanks. People didn’t mind meeting up with each other to treat one another to coffee or call someone up to just say thank you. Thus, it appears to me that there was a lot of recognition going on, but the recognition was largely personal and private.
That being said, complementarians should look at this application and examine themselves individually to make sure that they are showing appreciation to others for their hard work and also recognizing that it takes committed members to get things done each week. This appreciation and recognition can be displayed genuinely in a multitude of ways, and we should all be striving to heed Paul’s exhortation in Romans 12:10 “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.” Here, we have a series of explicit commands that our love for our fellow brothers and sisters should be genuine and our Christian walk ought to be real. Now, I do understand that some people may take this verse to be a basis for why we should have public recognition in the church, but I believe that the context of this verse is for the individual Christian in his or her life. Paul is always very clear about what should take place in the church throughout all of his epistles, and he did not make any indication here that this “showing honor” should take place in a corporate setting.
What of recognition that is actually public?
Now, remembering my egalitarian upbringing in the Black Baptist church, public recognition for the work of men and women in the church was fairly non-stop. Just to give you an idea, I remember attending these services multiple times through the years: Pastor’s Appreciation, First Lady (the Pastor’s wife) Appreciation, Usher’s Day, Women’s Day, Men’s Day, Youth Day, Church Choir Appreciation, Deacons and Deaconesses Day, and Founder’s Day (which could also be called Church Anniversary or Homecoming Service). Not only that, we had church-wide birthday celebrations for the pastor, for his wife, for the ordained ministers in the church, for the minister of music, and whoever else someone thought was important enough to make an event out of it. But not only that, we also attended the same celebration days at other churches in our county, and we were expected to serve in those other churches for those celebration and appreciation services. Now, this may seem a little extreme to you, but we believed in public recognition for EVERYBODY’s work in our church. And yes, I did spend a lot of time at church each year going to these events.
Being older and considerably more mature, I think that these events were well-intentioned, but considerably over the top. Not only that, it greatly took away the reason why we come to church in the first place! Instead of focusing on the worship of our God and Savior, we were extolling the praises of our fellow brothers and sisters and holding actual church services to honor men.
Final Thoughts on the Complementarian Position
Considering the complementarian emphasis on being grounded in Biblical doctrine and faithfully consistent to it, I believe that the main reason there is no statement on showing public recognition to women and men who serve in ministries in the church is because there is no explicit Biblical basis for that practice (at least I have not come across one yet). Now, there is an explicit command found in 1 Timothy 5:17, and even the context of this verse is largely about making sure that good elders are taken care of as they do their work in the church, aside from receiving respect. But outside of that, the Bible actually charges us not to seek public recognition or praise when we perform good deeds or labor diligently for the Lord. Please consider Colossians 3:17 and verses 23-24 when you get a chance.
Finally, one last important passage that should be considered is 1 Corinthians 12:21-26. I believe that it is this text that mentions the overall harmony and unity that should be present in the church and the attitude that we ought to have for one another. We are told that our weaker parts (or members) are indispensable and that we bestow greater honor on those parts that we think are less honorable because God has composed the church in such a way that greater honor is given to the part that lacks it and for no division to occur. Clearly, this is the manifold wisdom of God on display that the things no one really wants to do in the church (i.e. vacuuming, picking up trash, set up, cleaning bathrooms, etc.) are actually indispensable to the church, whereas the things that people generally want to do (i.e. head up a new ministry, be a small group leader, be an advisory board member, etc.) are really the things that no church absolutely needs to be a good church. Not only that, God Himself gives honor to the less honorable parts, and He does this so that we have a balanced appreciation and high respect for all of the work that our fellow brothers and sisters do within the church, from the pastor to the janitorial staff.
The honor we receive from the Lord should not be expected in this life, although it may at times occur. But, we know with absolute certainty that the honor we will receive from the Lord will come when we behold Him face to face. We are responsible as members of the body of Christ to honor and respect every person within the body and appreciate their contributions to the church, and we need to carefully examine ourselves to make sure that we are being obedient to God’s Word in this area. However, personal appreciation and honor does not necessitate public recognition.
In my next blog, I would like to jump back and deal with the sense of inferiority that this application mentioned.