The concept of the analogy of faith is that the Bible does not contradict itself. It is a unified whole, revealed or guided by the divine authorship of the Spirit who gave to us exactly what God wanted us to have from Him. But the question always comes up how do I understand the significance of God’s Word written thousands of years ago to people that are very different than us and live in a culture that is very dissimilar to our culture?
The way to bridge that gap is the method of extracting principles. A principle is a universal truth that transcends the culture that would be as true for us today as it was for those it was originally written. A dictionary definition would be, “a comprehensive and fundamental law, doctrine or assumption. (Merriam-Webster Dictionary 2019). Discovering a principle means that I have to work through a process of figuring out what is the common ground between our context and the context it was written so that I understand that truth and how it applies to our context. This will be a bit simplistic but here is the basic idea.
For examplewhen the Bible says, “Love your neighbor as yourself” it is relatively easy to figure this out. It is a command from God; it was a responsibility of God’s people; the responsibility to love is directed to our neighbor; and it is to be patterned after how we would like to be treated. All these things are easily transferable to our context because most of those components deal with people, love, neighbors and ourselves. In spite of cultural differences in how love is expressed in their culture compared to ours, nothing in our culture that would excuse or undermine such a command. It transcends culture. Unless there is a mitigating circumstance where this was a very specific command limited to a very special situation we can freely embrace it and obey it without reservation. We are God’s people, we all have neighbors and the command is to love them.
But if we take something a little more complicated – like should women be Elders in the churchthat is a more challenging issue. Here is the reason why people think differently about it.
Arguments for Women Being Elders:
- The first church in Philippi was held in Lydia’s home because she was the first convert (Acts 16:14-15; 40). The argument is that since it was in her home we can conclude that she was the leader of that church.
- God used women in the Old Testament as judges and prophets to lead and deliver God’s people.
- The Bible says there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all (Colossians 3:11).
- Women were clearly involved with Jesus and He did not reject their support or participation in His ministry (Matt. 27:55-56).
- Women are prominent in Jesus lineage and heritage. They had significant roles in Jesus presence on earth, especially Mary who bore the Christ Child and gave birth to him.
Arguments for Women not being Elders:
- The Old Testament priesthood was served only by men
- Jesus chose 12 men to be his disciples and ultimately His apostles. The apostles were the historical foundation of the church (Eph. 2:20).
- Paul’s explicit instruction to the churches was to appoint men in this role of being Elders (1 Tim. 3:1; Titus 1:5-6)
- Women are instructed not to exercise authority over men (1 Tim. 2:12).
There is no way to get into all of this but let me deal with the general positions and then a couple of the texts:
Egalitarian Position: Men and women are partners together in every area of ministry. All positions are open to both men and women. Gender is not a relevant argument to exclude anyone.
Complementarian Position: Men and women can participate and share in all roles and responsibilities in a church with the one exception of being an Elder, which the argument is that God’s Word explicitly says should be filled by a male.
Hierarchical Position: Women and men are created to operate in different spheres of ministry within the church. Women are not permitted to be an elder or deacon, serve communion, teach men, lead worship, pray or speak in services. Women should focus on doing ministry to other women.
All of these positions use the Bible to support their position but they can’t all be correct. It is impossible to deal with all of this but let me give you one example of where I would differ with one part of one argument in this discussion.
“… and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.”
– Colossians 3:10-11
Remember that this is only one small part of a larger argument which means this is not the final word on the topic. The principle that is extracted here is that God makes no distinctions between anyone regardless of culture, education, background or social economic status and even religious differences. The argument then is that there should be no distinctions in roles and responsibilities between men and women. The question then is if the principle says there is no distinctions before God how did it apply then and how does it apply to us?
First, the context, starting back in Colossians 2:20 is talking about our salvation in Christ. If you have died with Christ (2:20) and if you have been raised with Christ (3:1). So the focus of this greater context is our conversion through faith in Christ. The greater context is not focused on roles and responsibilities in the church.
Secondly, our behavior ought to change because we have put on the “new man” (new self) who is being renewed in the image of the One who created it(3:5-10). Everyone who comes to Christ should consider our earthly bodies as dead to old sinful behaviors and we should now walk in godliness. The very same focus picks up in Colossians 3:12-17 when Paul speaks of the community of faith in general; these are characteristics and behaviors everyoneshould embrace. Verse 11 is completely surrounded by verses that speak about our new life in Christ and the ensuing changes in the way the community of faith ought to treat one another. Again there is nothing here that suggest that “no distinction” applies to leadership roles. It means that the gospel eliminates all cultural prejudice, animosity and preferential treatment in the community because God accepts and values everyone on equal terms as His children.
Third, if this text truly eliminated role distinctions, why does Paul tell wives only seven verses later (v. 18) to be subject to their husbands? This actually reinforces distinct roles and responsibilities for men and women even in marriage much less the church.
Consequently, the principle of no distinctionis specifically speaking to how those in a faith community ought to treat one another; we are all equal before God and should treat each other appropriately according to the fact that we are all chosen of God. This principle is not eliminating roles and responsibilities in the church.Principles are not to be extracted and then universally applied to every situation. The context of the Scriptures it came from must shape the boundaries and limits of how it is to be applied. Therefore to use this text to conclude that God sees no distinctions in roles and responsibilities in the church is misapplying this particular principle. It would also clearly contradict clear teaching from Paul about explicitly appointing men to the role of Elders.
This of course is not addressing the other arguments for or against women being Elders, but it is a good example of where one argument falls short of being persuasive because it is misapplying a principle. This happens far more than you think. The moment some extract a principle they think it can apply to any situation and that is simply not true.
In His grace,