Apparently, a session at the latest Together for the Gospel conference has generated some controversy in the blogosphere on how we talk about the gospel and gender issues. I wasn’t at the conference, and I haven’t listened to the session. I have noticed a lot of criticism, but I haven’t read the criticism in detail. Actually, this last week I mostly just got my boys ready for school, bought groceries, and did laundry all while high on cold medicine. And vacuumed. I did a lot of that. But while doing laundry or vacuuming, I also tend to think and mull over bits and pieces of news I pick up online. And this week, I’ve had that controversy buzzing around in the back of my head (along with the cold medicine).
In my post on Things That Undermine the Complementarian Position, I said this.
“Problem number 1 is calling this debate a gospel issue. Now it’s true that the interplay between husbands and wives in the home is a TESTIMONY of the gospel as it reflects the nature of Christ’s profound love for the church. But being a testimony of the gospel is not the same as being the gospel. I said in another post that the gospel informs everything, but it is not everything. And we start entering dangerous territory quickly when we are not precise in how we talk about the link between the gospel and the complementarian position. The gospel plus anything is not the gospel at all.”
The gospel informs everything, but it is not everything. Perspective helps on this issue. I was raised in a group that followed the teaching of “separation.” The wikipedia article is somewhat helpful if you want to understand the doctrine of separation. The groups with which I was associated also espoused an idea called “secondary separation,” where you separate from those with which you agree on the gospel if they don’t also separate from the people with which you disagree. Extrapolated out by people without common sense, the end result was that my Christian college forbid the attendance of any student or staff at Southern Baptist or Presbyterian Church in America churches. At some point in my early 20’s, I stumbled across John 17 and Ephesians 4 in my own Bible study, and the Spirit started working in my heart on this idea of who could hang with me in fellowship as believers.
John 17 20 “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.”
In terms of the glory of God and furtherance of the gospel, unity is a precious thing according to these words of Christ. There is something about the oneness of believers in Christ that gives testimony of the truth of Christ and His love for the world. And from Ephesians 4,
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
There is only one Body of Christ, and we must be eager to maintain with one another in it unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. The punishment that bought us peace was upon Christ, and that peace binds us together, like ligaments hold a body together. In fact, that same Greek word for bond is used in Colossians 2:19 exactly that way.
Colossians 2 19 and not holding fast to the head, from whom the entire body, being supplied and held together by the joints and ligaments, grows with a growth which is from God.
Putting it all together, we are bound together like ligaments in the Body of Christ by peace. What bought us this peace? His punishment on the cross! It bought us peace with God and therefore peace with one another. So we are held together as the Body of Christ (which gives testimony to the world of His love for them) singularly by the gospel—all Christ’s life, death, and resurrection has accomplished for us before God.
This shows me that there is a gospel testimony that trumps (not sure that is the right word, but you get the idea) the testimony between husbands and wives of Christ and the Church. Or one that supersedes it from which the other flows. And that is the broad unity of all who put their faith in Christ. The question we all must wrestle through is what impact we will let disagreement over the second testimony (which is definitely spoken of in Scripture as a testimony) of husbands and wives, heads and bodies, reflecting Christ and the church, have on that larger testimony of unity among believers. That is a big question. I know in my own heart the answer for myself. But I have lived under the extrapolation of secondary separation to the point that I couldn’t attend a PCA church, and I am extremely wary of the road that sets up secondary issues as a dividing line between Christian fellowship.
In my own life, I don’t see my conservative convictions on gender issues as a gospel issue. I definitely see living them out as something that I can not do apart from the gospel. In my life, it is gospel empowered. There’s no way to do it otherwise. And I want to give testimony of the gospel as my husband and I interact with love and submission as Christ does with His Church. But I’m uncomfortable with language that links my convictions on gender with the gospel. The gospel plus anything is not the gospel at all, and I need to be precise with the words I use to reflect the link between gender and the gospel.
I do however see it as a Scripture issue. I have a core conviction of the perspicuity of Scripture—that Scripture is transparent and can be taken at face value. Paul talks of the mysteries of Scripture that have been revealed. The Greek term for mystery is musterion. It has a slightly different meaning than our English word mystery. In English, we think of a mystery as something dark, puzzling, and hard to be known. In contrast, the Greek word is simply a truth in which someone has been initiated, such as the initiation into a cult in which the mysteries of the cult are revealed. In Christianity according to John Stott, the mysteries are those truths we could not discover on our own but that God has now revealed openly to the whole church.
The mysteries of Scripture have been revealed through Christ, and the Word is transparent. I can read it at face value, and with a little bit of study (and the Spirit’s enabling), take its instructions in a straightforward way. THAT conviction is core to my beliefs on gender issues. If I don’t take Scripture at face value and try to work my way around words like head, submit, or respect, I feel I lose way more of Scripture that is precious to me than I gain in equality. Of course, face value is in the eye of the beholder, and there’s the rub. Yet it is a goal nonetheless.
All that to say, gender issues are not gospel issues. The gospel affects everything, but it is not everything. That distinction has to be CLEARLY made. On the flip side, my convictions on gender stem from my convictions on the perspicuity of Scripture. And if I give up a face value reading of Scripture, at what point does that affect my reading of the very gospel that unifies us?
I do not know the answer to that last question.