One in Christ: A profound mystery

by Emily McFarlan Miller

Rachel Held Evans’ Week of Mutuality just so happened to fall during the week of the summer mission trip to White Earth Reservation with my nonprofit, Hope for the First Nations. Ironic, as this is a trip that started at a (Missouri Synod) Lutheran high school with a group of women the Anishinaabeg called ogitchidaquag, or “warrior women,” and later became a nonprofit organization after the school dropped it when no man stepped up to lead or sponsor it.

Since then, I haven’t given much thought to the egalitarian v. complementarian debate. (Definitions here [from Evans, an egalitarian] and here [from The Gospel Coalition, a complementarian perspective].) I went on to New York University, where I’m pretty sure even the dorm rooms were co-ed and this simply was not a thing that was debated.

Then I got married, and suddenly, the words became flesh. They weren’t just an abstract theology. They were something that had implications in my life and my relationships.

So I caught up this weekend on all Evans’ posts I had missed while on the reservation, despite my best efforts to catch a signal from the Northwoods air, waving my smartphone around in between serving, cleaning, playing, organizing and loving my Anishinaabe friends. (It’s OK — she went a-week-and-a-day, too.) And I asked my husband, who earned his degree in historical theology, his opinion.

Joel said something like, “Whatever you say, goes.” That way, he reasoned, we’re covered on both egalitarian and complementarian fronts. Which our friend Andy called the Greatest. Answer. EVER.

It kind of is. And I’m not sure my opinion is any more committal. This is mostly because until recently this was a thing for which I was unaware there were words, and, as a journalist, I’m not one to make a sweeping declaration of belief after only one week (and one day) of research, mostly from one side of a debate. But also because I agree with The Gospel Coalition Editor Joe Carter when he references John Piper:

“As John Piper has said, you don’t have to be a complementarian to be saved. But, he adds, when you start resorting to ‘the kind of gymnastics’ needed to find egalitarianism in Scripture, then ‘sooner or later you are going to get the gospel wrong.’”

And I think complementarians do just as much pommel horsing and balancing beaming and ribbon dancing to support their position. (Case in point: Ephesians 5:22-33. Where does it say anything about decision-making?)

Because while the Bible says:

“To the woman he said, ‘… Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you'” (Genesis 3:16). This suggests to me the male-female power struggle is a result of The Fall, not part of God’s design.

“(King Xerxes) sent dispatches to all parts of the kingdom, to each province in its own script and to each people in their own language, proclaiming that every man should be ruler over his own household, using his native tongue” (Esther 1:22). This proclamation comes not from God, but from King Xerxes, the guy who banishes his wife after she refuses to parade around in front of his friends, then sleeps with a huge harem of virgins to find a woman “better than she.”

“But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is the same as having her head shaved” (1 Corinthians 11:5). We usually get stuck on the head covering part, but what’s that? Women are praying and prophesying in public in the early church? And that’s not the part St. Paul is upset about? Hmm.

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). Boom. Roasted. Case closed, right?

It also says:

“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27). This suggests to me men and women each reflect something unique — complementary even? — about the image of God.

“Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord” (Galatians 5:22). I have no problem with this. No Christian, either complementarian or egalitarian, should: While it specifically calls out wives in their relationships with their husbands (perhaps for good reason), it immediately follows St. Paul’s command, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Everybody, submit to everybody. No problem there.

“A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent” (1 Timothy 2:11-12). I am not sure yet how to reconcile this with St. Paul’s other writings, praising Junia as “outstanding among the apostles;” Priscilla, for her work explaining Scripture to Apollos; or Phoebe, a deacon. Or with pretty much anything Christ ever said or did.

“Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with yout of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered” (1 Peter 3:7). Completely stumped on the “weaker vessel” thing.

Maybe that’s why St. Paul calls marriage, the closest of relationships between men and women, “a profound mystery – but I am talking about Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:32).

And I have a great deal of reverence for the mysteries of God: How was Jesus both fully God and fully man? How is Communion both bread and wine and Jesus’ body and blood? How are the three persons of the Trinity different and the same? How are men and women, both created in God’s image, different and the same?

So did John Calvin. And Jonathan Edwards. And, for that matter, Mary, the mother of Christ.

Here’s one thing, though, that is no mystery, that Evans also has noted: We have to learn to love the Bible for what it is, not what we want it to be. That means the passages that don’t fit into our cultural context, either patriarchal or feminist, or our systematic theology, either complementarian or egalitarian. That means the passages that inconvenience us, either as men or women. And that may mean looking through the way Scripture traditionally has been interpreted to us to see the actual words on the page.

“All Scripture is God‑breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

…And maybe even woman.

Read all posts in Rachel Held Evans’ “One in Christ: A Week of Mutuality” series here.

Linking up with:

     Beholding Glory

I also would be linking up with Evans’ Mutuality 2012 Synchroblog, but, alas, I am a day or two too late. Read all those posts here.

Photo credit: Rachel Held Evans.