Thursday, 20 September 2007

Hmm Bilezikian

Particularly fine points in the conclusion:

  • personal piety cultivated apart from the church leads to legalism
  • strengthening ‘family values’ apart from church community values will fail
  • authentic community living requires each member to go out of his/her way to demonstrate risky love to others in the body

GB runs with an interesting idea [standard evangelical feminist reading] that the churches in Ephesus were in trouble because of false teaching and the pagan cultic background of their leading women (1 Timothy), while the churches in Crete were making a lot more progress toward mutuality, having come through the worst of the false teaching phase (Titus). This suggests to him that in today’s churches there ought to be a continuum from ‘remedial leadership’, which of necessity is (temporarily) hierarchical but which ought to move towards the other end of the continuum, to a normative model of communal involvement (‘total participation in ministry of all the constituency’, p.181). So, congregations should mature towards a situation in which, as believers are built up, they exercise more and more gifts, and the grip of particular leaders becomes progressively less marked.

As a practical point this has a lot to recommend it – crises may require strong leadership, and yet the aim of all churches (specifically the aim of the four types of foundation-leader mentioned in Ephesians 4) is to empower God’s people for works of service. But even in GB’s ideal world at the end of the rainbow-continuum there is not total participation in all ministries by literally every person in the constituency. And in any case, the best complementarian theology and ecclesiology does embrace the priesthood of all believers, and the participation of men, women and children in all ministries. Women are to teach (they are to teach other women and children) and to pray and prophesy publicly. However, they are not to be in the position of ‘overseer’ – this by specific mention in texts to both the allegedly troubled churches of Ephesus (1 Timothy) and the doing better churches of Crete (Titus). That does not exclude women from operational and strategic leadership of particular ministries in the church – so women with leadership gifts can exercise them (contra the claims of egalitarians that it’s an all-or-nothing situation). Full participation talk is a red herring (though it may strike at some conservative one-man-show churches that need to learn about the ministry of all believers) in the logic of the properly conducted gender debate because complementarians restrict just two roles to men but only in relation to the whole congregation – women are to teach and lead.

In the course of this argument he omits a crucial clause found in the New Testament passages alluded to. Can you spot the deliberate mistake?

As unpalatable as they may seem, the purpose for the restrictive measures is to bring dysfunctional congregations back to good health and to enable them to perform their rightful ministry. // The fact that Paul was urging women in the churches of Crete to become teachers (2:3) while the women in Ephesus were still forbidden to teach (1 Tim. 2:12) indicates that the Cretan congregations were moving faster than the Ephesian church away from hierarchy and closer to the normative model of communal participation. The same move toward total participation should characterize all healthy churches. [182]

Yes, that’s right, in Titus 2:3 Paul encourages women to teach women, whereas in 1 Timothy 2:12 he forbids women to teach men. I would say that was a pretty important distinction, neatly ignored so that GB can fit the texts into his continuum model of church maturity. Not to mention the fact that in 1 Timothy, just before the sentence about teaching, in the very same section of practical teaching about worship, women are commanded to focus not on outward beauty but on good deeds: is that also a temporary concession to a bad church situation that we should expect women in Crete to transcend!?

Furthermore, logically speaking, hierarchy and total participation can in fact co-exist [except in pure congregational democracy, which no one is advocating, except maybe the Quakers, and in practice the same distinctions arise between those who feel moved to speak regularly and those who quietly know their place…] as GB lets slip over the page… He inadvertently reveals how difficult it is to leave behind a two-tier Christianity, even for confessing egalitarians. Willow Creek Community Church (where he is theologian-in-residence) apparently offers courses and conferences to those who want to help their churches move down the continuum. After singing the praises of these products, GB notes that

[a] number of these conferences are open not only to members of the clergy but also to laypeople (183).

Wow, how kind. Do they get patted on the head as well for making it along to the conference? Glad to see that no one is stuck with a hierarchical ecclesiology…