We are witness to a remarkable, growing trend: the gospel is (re)taking center stage in the conversation about the identity and mission of the Church. Part of the impact of this movement has meant that the phrase ‘gospel-centered’ has become a popular way of framing dialogue on many issues like preaching, small groups, corporate worship, etc. As the Church consistently follows this internal impulse of the Spirit towards gospel-centeredness, we have new eyes to see those pillars in our midst that fail to align with the truth of the gospel. It seems to me that one of the ‘pillars’ in Church life that is moving to the forefront of the discussion is the issue of governance and gender hierarchy.
The ‘gospel-centered movement’, in my opinion, is producing a ground swell of Jesus-people who are revisiting the discussion of gender hierarchy in the Church with new found zeal for freedom and equality. I am aware of the irony that much of the ‘gospel-centered movement’ originates from great men of God who do not yet themselves embrace a strong view of women in ministry. Nevertheless, their unrelenting insistence on the centrality of the gospel is moving many in the Church to challenge ministry cultures dominated by male leadership. This a consistent and natural consequence of the ‘gospel-centered’ emphasis.
Below I have shared ways I see the ‘gospel-centered movement’ causing people to challenge gender hierarchy in the Church:
Missions. The Church is (re)engaging her gospel-centered identity—a people on mission with God. When we consider the gravity and scope of the great commission (everyone-everywhere) we intuitively adopt a philosophy of ministry that prioritizes the empowerment of individuals according to their God-given gifts rather than their God-given gender. The task before us is simply too great for men to accomplish alone. Not surprisingly, the global missions movement is miles ahead of local church modalities when it comes to the empowerment of women in ministry. This is precisely what we see with Barak who told Deborah he would only go into battle if she (a female prophetess and judge of a nation) led with him. Perhaps this kind of gospel-inspired pragmatism is why Paul honored Junia (a woman) among the apostles and Euodia and Syntyche (two women) as ‘fellow laborers in the gospel’? Certainly Jesus demonstrated the empowerment of women in missions when He commissioned Mary as the first witness of His resurrection. Her assignment: go and speak to men!
Justice. The Church is returning to a gospel-centered approach to justice. We are starting to apply the liberating power of salvation to society in a more consistent manner. Our concern for the unborn has launched adoption movements (and, Lord willing, move toward care for teen moms). Our hatred for the sex trade is moving us to confront the pervasive nature of sexual immorality in our own ranks. Confronting the gender hierarchy in the Church is a natural step in the work of justice. This same justice pivot is seen in the life and work of Lucretia Mott, a well-known Quaker and American abolitionist from the 1800s. After attending an abolitionist convention in England in 1840, she redirected her work to focus on women’s rights. Her gospel-inspired writings became the seeds of the early feminist movement and 40 years after her death, women won the right to vote in USA.
Hermeneutics. The Church is adopting a more gospel-centered approach to Bible interpretation. To many it is becoming more apparent that the ‘one new man’ (neither male nor female) message of the gospel seems to cast a contradictory light on the gender specific prohibitions in the Epistles. Many are concluding that if we are to maintain a consistent, gospel-centered hermeneutic, we must necessarily challenge the notion that the gender-specific prohibitions in the Epistles are prescriptive for every church in every generation. To allow a few obscure epistolary passages about women to trump the otherwise clear and consistent teaching of the whole of scripture is akin to the tail wagging to the dog—it ain’t right!
I for one am extremely thankful for ways I see the Church re-aligning to the truth of the gospel. I see God leading His Church down a beautiful path. He is leveraging the buzzing interest of the Church in the Great Commission and justice as well as the growing discussion on hermeneutics to accomplish His high and holy purposes. My prayer is for local churches to keep in step with the Spirit and follow the lead of the many missional leaders who have embraced the ministry of women. As well, that the justice fervor among christian millennials would be directed towards the destruction of chauvinism and male dominated ministry cultures. Finally, may our handling of the scriptures reflect God’s handling of us: with foremost concern for what Jesus has done and who we are as result.