Colin Smothers wrote a piece for CBMW about me speaking during a church service last week and titled it, That Was Then, This Is Now. He pulled up an article I wrote back in 2013 answering a reader’s question about the difference between a woman preaching and a woman writing a blog post. He must have been doing some serious digging! I should thank him for reading through my archives so intently. But he’s right…
That Was Then
That was the good ol’ days when Aimee played by the complementarian rules. She discovered that they hold the subjugation of women higher than orthodox trinitarianism. She found that they value Danvers over Nicene. They demand that she publicly answer questions made by anonymous men, or lose her job. They misrepresent her work in their “academic” reviews. They turn her out of her own denomination by enabling their leaders to openly revile her, leaving her unprotected and traumatized by the whole process of asking for help.
That was then.
This is Now
Now I’m seeing more clearly just how destructive the complementarian system is. It’s all about power and hierarchy under the guise of benevolent care. (Not everyone in it, mind you.) The Bible is read through that lens. I am free from that now. I am free from the label complementarian or egalitarian. I don’t need them. The questions are more complex than that. Relationships are richer. Service and worship in God’s church is more reciprocal. Men and women are gift.
This whole time, I’ve been writing about men and women as disciples. As I said in my talk last Sunday, I struggled to find freedom in belonging as a disciple in the church and the reciprocity that we see all over the New Testament. I wrote freaking books out of my loneliness as a thinking woman. In the church. Many resonated with my struggle.
These vocal complementarian leaders demand me to give my interpretation of 1 Tim. 2:12 as if there is no 1 Cor. 14 or Romans 16. Or Song of Songs. They want us to read all the verses about discipleship in the Bible as if they were only written for the men.
The thing is, biblicism doesn’t get to the heart of the matter in Bible interpretation. We need to read the Bible together with a rich biblical theology. I believe that the Holy Spirit still guides the church to the truth in the unity of faith through our reading of Scripture together (John 16:12-15). The metanarrative of Scripture isn’t that men are in charge and are the only ones we should hear about God and his word from. The Bible closes with the voice of the bride, joined with the Spirit, calling her brothers and sisters to the living waters.
As my friend Anna Anderson puts it:
The prominence of the woman in the Scriptures parallels the Spirit’s. She is present and yet backgrounded. She is visible, yet obscure. However, in the unfolding she comes increasingly into view until she looms as large as day in Revelation, the bride as the final symbol of mankind. Redeemed humanity is a mankind who has become “womankind,” the exalted son’s sister and bride. The final corporate identity of mankind is feminine. So, the woman is obscure in the Scripture not because she is less, but because she is last. She is indicative of things to come, yet she is treasure worth finding as she represents what eye has not seen, what ear has not heard, neither has entered into the heart of man, the things that God has prepared for those that love him.
That’s beautiful, isn’t it? And biblical.
And so the Bridegroom continues to say the woman, “Let me see your face, let me hear your voice; for your voice is sweet and your face is lovely” (Song 2:14). And, “You who dwell in the gardens, companions are listening for your voice; let me hear you!” (Song 8:13).
Biblical Manhood says, “Let me hear your voice.”
This is now.
So What About Preaching?
So, was I even preaching on Sunday? That’s a good question. The pastor who invited me distinguishes the act of preaching from the office of the preacher. And Baptist ecclesiology allows for lay teaching and preaching. Scott Swain wrote something that defines preaching this way:
In preaching, we are heralds of the king, announcing that he has come and that he is coming again. In preaching, we are friends of the bridegroom, wooing the bride to embrace her beloved Lord. In preaching, we are ministers of the new covenant, presenting Jesus Christ, clothed in all the promises of the gospel, and summoning hearers to engage him in covenant union and communion.
I did that. I wouldn’t want to do less during a worship service. But also, I see it as lay teaching, comparable to 1 Cor. 11 &14 worship where women prophesied. I still think there is a lot of confusion in the church about what preaching is. Protestants say that it doesn’t replace the priesthood, as now we have the priesthood of all believers. But complementarians won’t say it replaces prophesying because then women can do it. Some say it’s its own thing but aren’t very clear on what the biblical warrant is for that.
I was invited to come talk about the stories our bodies tell as men and women because the pastor of that church thought his congregants would be edified by it in worship. I got to speak about the rich typology of our sexuality. It’s evangelical. And I ended my talk saying that in a sense, the bride in Revelation and in the Song of Songs reveals that we are all preachers, revealers, story tellers. Each member of the church is gifted and commissioned to use our gifts within the household of God to be heralds of the King, the Great Bridegroom who has come and who is coming again. Like the Revelation Bride, we are to call our sisters and brothers to perseverance, like the bride in the Song, helping our sacred siblings to long for and delight in the One who is notable among 10,000.
What About 1 Timothy 2:12?
What I’ve come to find with complementarians is that the way they read 1 Tim. 2:12 colors the way they view preaching and teaching. For them, it’s all about authenteo, not authority in its plain sense of being authorized to do something—authorized to give, to love, to speak. Here’s the funny thing. The very definition of the Greek word Paul uses in 1 Tim 2:12 is nowhere else in Scripture and shows up less than a dozen times in recorded ancient Greek language by the first century AD. It’s not the same word used for the authority officers of the church have, or the authority wives and husbands have in 1 Cor. 7. It is a more aggressive taking of power. It seems that some women in Ephesus were dressing ostentatiously, lacking decency and self-control, and domineering over men. They needed to hear that is not permitted by Paul. He seems to be using this rare word for a reason.
And in this, he does appeal to creation. Real authority isn’t something that you put on and take from others. This seems to be part of the deception from the beginning. The first woman abandoned her actual authorization in joining her voice with the Spirit’s, and instead joined it with Satan who offered her an alien glory. Paul is saying, don’t fall for that again.
So Are You an Egalitarian Now?
Some are taking to social media, exclaiming this has been my agenda all along. That not only were they right that I was a wolf in sheep’s clothing, but now I am the naked wolf. The clothing is off. A presbyterian pastor* actually recorded himself and posted his 50-minute talk on this. Give me a break. They turn me out of their spaces and then come after me for moving on.
Like I said, going through what I went through with these people will cause any sane person to reexamine what they are teaching about men and women.
And I am free from these modern, extra-biblical labels. Do I care about rights and equality? Yes. And egalitarians have shown me much more kindness as a whole—and actual public support. I am thankful for my egalitarian friends and the scholarship of those I am still learning from. So I do not take it as an insult to be called an egalitarian. I think the whole soft and hard complementarian categories are silly. Soft is used as an insult and egalitarian is used as a moral category. It isn’t a moral issue, it’s a matter of biblical interpretation on a second-order issue. But it is important. Just like baptism. And yet you don’t see paedo-baptists telling the other side to repent. Or calling them wolves. Just stop.
I don’t fit nicely into these boxes and I am good with that. I am looking at this all more with a typological/theological understanding. I do see something representational in male and female in worship and church government. It’s not about some kind of power that we put on or pretend to have. It’s not so much about equality and rights. But it is not as prescriptive as complementarians want to make it. I do see the bridegroom as masculine. There’s a picture there for us. As Pope John Paul II says, “The symbol of the Bridegroom is masculine.” And as a man, Jesus dignified women. He was the first to love, the first to sacrifice, and the first to give. That authorizes us to reciprocate. What an honor that is. Is the office of pastor or elder representational of the best man of the Groom? Maybe so. But the Groom is all about his sister/bride, his gift from the Father. He isn’t trying to shut her up. Whoever is in leadership, their calling is affirmed in the way they join with the Son in saying, “Let me hear your voice.”
I will continue to explore these matters. But my so-called agenda has been discipleship. Even in 2013. That was then, this is now.
*Earlier I wrote that it was an OPC pastor who recorded the 50 minute video about me and I was wrong about his denominational affiliation. He is not OPC.