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.