By Albert Mohler
Anne Eggebroten visited Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California, and what she found there shocked her. As a matter of fact, she was so shocked that she wrote about that experience in the July 2010 edition of Sojourners magazine. Readers of her article are likely to experience a shock of their own — they will be shocked that Eggebroten could actually have been surprised by what she found there.
In “The Persistence of Patriarchy,” Eggebroten writes about “the wide reach” of complementarian views of manhood and womanhood among conservative Christians. Her article is subtitled: “Hard to believe, but some churches are still teaching about male headship.” Hard to believe?
Can anyone really be surprised that this is so? In some sense, it might be surprising to the generally liberal readership of Sojourners, but it can hardly be surprising to anyone with the slightest attachment to evangelical Christianity. Nevertheless, Anne Eggebroten’s article represents what I call a “National Geographic moment” — an example of someone discovering the obvious and thinking it exotic and strange. It is like a reporter returning from travel to far country to explain the strange tribe of people she found there — evangelical Christians believing what the Christian church has for 2,000 years believed the Bible to teach and require. So . . . what is so exotic?
She begins her article at Grace Community Church in California, where, in her words, “God is male, all the pastors, deacons, and elders are male, and women are taught to live in submission to men.” That is a snappy introduction, to be sure, but it requires some unpacking. When Eggebroten says that, at this well-known evangelical church “God is male,” she is echoing the arguments of the late radical feminist Mary Daly, who famously asserted that “if God is male, then male is God.” At Grace Community Church, as in the Bible, references to God are masculine, but God is not claimed to be male. Interestingly, she also missed the fact that Grace considers the role of the deacon in terms of service, rather than authority, so women in fact do serve as deacons with responsibility for particular ministries.
Nevertheless, Eggebroten is certainly onto something here, especially when Grace Community Church is contrasted with the Episcopal congregation visited by her husband on that same Sunday. In that church, a woman is preaching the sermon. We can’t miss the point when Eggebroten writes:
These two different worlds exist side by side: congregations where men and women are equal partners in service of Jesus Christ, and others where gender hierarchy is taught as God’s will and the only truly biblical option. On Sunday morning we all drive past one flavor of gender teaching to worship in another.
Well, on this Sunday Anne Eggebroten did not drive past Grace Community Church. Instead, she heard a sermon by Dr. John MacArthur, who for more than 40 years has served as pastor of the church. Beyond that, MacArthur has become one of the most respected and influential preachers of our times, with perhaps the most widely-disseminated ministry of exposition in the history of the Christian church.
Eggebroten enjoyed the sermon, remarking that MacArthur’s message was “excellent.” She added, “I guess that’s how megachurches get started.” Well, one can hope.
The central part of her report from the trenches at Grace Community Church comes from an experience at a visitors’ reception after the sermon. Eggebroten asks a woman there (a physical therapist with a degree from the school where Eggebroten teaches), “Is women’s submission to their husbands stressed in this church?” The answer, of course, was yes.
It appears that Eggebroten could hardly have been surprised, for she wrote:
At least things aren’t as extreme as they sound on the church Web site. There, I had listened to Anna Sanders lecture women on how to live in submission to their husbands. “We need to beat down our desire to be right and have our own way,” she had said, citing John Piper, Nancy Leigh DeMoss, and Martha Peace—all authors published in the last decade. “It’s his way, his rights, his expectations, and his plans. … Be a helper.”
So, there was little ground for surprise when Eggebroten asked the question at the visitors’ reception. But there was more to come. She writes, “I’m stunned to find that the 300-student Master’s Seminary on the church campus enrolls only men.”
Well, let’s see. The Master’s Seminary, according to it’s own mission statement, “exists to advance the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ by equipping men to be pastors and/or trainers of pastors.” The logic is simple and straight-forward. The church believes that the Bible restricts the office of pastor to men. The Master’s Seminary trains only pastors and trainers of pastors, thus it limits admissions to men. What could possibly be stunning about that?
As Eggebroten acknowledges, seminaries that train for roles beyond the pastorate may enroll women for those programs without compromising this conviction. But Master’s does not offer those programs, so what is possibly shocking?
In the course of her article, Eggebroten continues her reports of conversations with members of the complementarian tribe before getting to the more deeply theological portion of her essay. In this passage she gets to the core issue:
Here’s the question: Is God permanently committed to the kinds of social hierarchy that existed in the first and second millennium B.C.E. and continued until recently, when education and voting were opened to women? Or does the vision of Paul in Galatians 3:28—“There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus”—take precedence?
At this point the agenda becomes clear. Eggebroten argues that the church has simply perpetuated the patriarchal traditions of the Jewish and Greco-Roman cultures that formed the social context for the early Christian church. Against these she contrasts the Apostle Paul’s beautiful declaration in Galations 3:28 — “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”
But this is the kind of sloppy and agenda-driven exegesis that reveals the desperation of those who would reject the New Testament’s limitation of the office of pastor to men. In Galatians 3:28 Paul is clearly speaking of salvation — not of service in the church. Paul is declaring to believers the great good news that “in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith” [verse 26]. He concludes by affirming, “And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise” [verse 29].
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