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    Jan 31, 2024

    Class 10: In the Church (Part 2): Equal, Indispensable, and Interdependant

    Series: Man and Woman in Christ

    Category: Core Seminars, Manhood & Womanhood, Marriage, Worldview, Culture

    Detail:

    Man and Woman in Christ Core Seminar

    Week 10 – Man & Woman in the Church: Equal, Indispensable, and Interdependent

    In our last class, Bobby helped us see that the church is a household that has a gendered and generational character. We are brothers and sisters, fathers and sons, mothers and daughters. We are a family. And this has bearing on how we think about leadership in the household of God. One reason why only men may be elders is that elders are spiritual fathers for the whole church. The office has distinctively fatherly characteristics: elders provide for, protect, and represent the whole church. 

    But more needs to be said about God’s family than that it has a particular authority structure. Because see, I’m one of your elders, but that’s not all that I am. In the church, your fathers are also your brothers. And your brothers (and sisters) are also your co-workers.

    Just consider the different ways Paul referred to Timothy.[1]

    “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother.” (Col 1:1) 

    “To Timothy, my true child in the faith: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.” (1 Tim 1:2)

    “Timothy, my fellow worker, greets you.” (Rom 16:21)

    How can my father also be my brother?

     Because 1) men and women are equal in Christ.

    And why is my brother or my mother also my co-worker?

    Because 2) our family has a mission that requires every man and woman’s participation.

    In this class, I want to illustrate these two realities by especially looking at Paul’s teaching and ministry.

    Men & Women in the Church: Equal, Indispensable, and Interdependent

    First, let’s consider the foundation for our life together as a church: our equality.

    Turn to Galatians 3:28:

    There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 

    Men and women are equal in Christ. Paul is not saying that the sexual difference has no bearing on our relationships or on our life as a church. He’s saying it has no bearing on our access to God. Read the context of the verse and you see this more clearly. In Christ, men and women are:  

    • equally justified by faith (v. 24)
    • equally free from the bondage of legalism (v. 25)
    • equally children of God (v. 26)
    • equally clothed with Christ (v. 27)
    • equally possessed by Christ (v. 29)
    • and equally heirs of the promises to Abraham (v. 29).[2]

    We’re joint partakers of all of Christ’s benefits in the gospel. It’s the foundation for our unity.

    And it’s why we as Congregationalists affirm that if men and women equally bear the name of Jesus, then men and women equally bear the responsibility to make decisions regarding the what and who of Jesus’s gospel. In the history of our church, women have always voted. There surely were many women in our church who voted to call their pastorbefore they ever were able to vote to elect their president.

    Men and women are equally capable of protecting the witness of the church because men and women are equally indwelt by the Holy Spirit. And in terms of the sexual difference, the Holy Spirit does not eliminate it or mute its importance, but makes it possible for it to be fruitfully developed for His purposes. I think this is an implication of what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12.

    Let's start at verse 11.

    11 All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.

    12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

    14 For the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.

    21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, 24 which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, 25 that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.

    If we were to synthesize these two texts together we see that in the church, men and women are equal, indispensable, and interdependent. We’ve already seen how they are equal. To take it further: because each equally shares in the Holy Spirit, each is indispensable in the church’s ministry. “To each is given the manifestation of the Holy Spirit, for the common good” (7) And so, the eye cannot say to the hand “I have no need of you.” (V 21)

    So, to have some fun for a moment, women in the church are not like wisdom teeth. Raise your hand if your wisdom teeth have been removed. Sometime in recent centuries, dentists began realizing that some dental problems were associated with impacted wisdom teeth. The way to solve the dental problem was to just remove the wisdom teeth. The current consensus is that wisdom teeth are a kind of vestigial structure – not essential, but not necessarily always problematic. They can be useful if other teeth are lost, you know, under the right set of circumstances.  

    Women in the church are not wisdom teeth. They are essential, just as men are. Men need women and women need men. They are interdependent. Paul says, “If one member suffers, all suffer together. If one member is honored, all rejoice together.” (V 26)

    This is not firstly because of particular physical or psychological qualities or attributes that men or women possess. It goes back to creation, where they were created each in the image of God, together to reflect his character. And because they together display God’s likeness, the church needs men and women equally in order to display God’s glory. 

    But how is this reality practically felt? Let’s go further in thinking about how Christian women as women and Christian men as men are indispensable and interdependent in the life of the church. We’ll do this by keying in on specific virtues or “geniuses” of men and women. Of course we must restate that any particular virtue will typically be a virtue for both men and women. Both men and women will have to cultivate the virtues in their own way and will inevitably inflect the virtues in their own particular way. As a result, there will inevitably be a diversity of expression.

    Feminine Genius in the Life of the Church

    Women bring to the church a particular genius. That genius expresses itself in her ability to enhance, beautify, and humanize the realms or relationships she enters. As Edith Stein once put it, “Woman naturally seeks to embrace that which is living, personal, and whole.”[3]

    This is connected to her very origins. In Genesis, woman comes into existence after man. Her first contact with reality, unlike Adam’s, included persons. She knew, from the beginning, that she was made for a relationship.[4] It is also connected to her capacity to welcome life in her own body. Before anyone else in the world knows the needs of her child, she does. Being “sensitive” can often be spoken of as a liability. “Don’t be so sensitive” someone might tell you. But sensitivity can be a huge strength. It’s critical for good leaders to be able to see beyond the exterior to the heart.

    In my 6 years as an elder, I’ve been extremely helped by times we’ve had sisters come to share with us about particular areas of life and ministry we can be more sensitive to. We’ve learned from women in our church on areas such as walking alongside those struggling with mental illness or suicidal ideation, those in abusive relationships, on particular educational challenges families in our church face, on the ways that urban living can stretch mothers and families, on challenges faced by minority sisters in a predominantly white church, and about the real need for elders to make sure women feel safe and confident to come and share burdens with us. That’s just to give a few. Personally I’ve received helpful corrections from sisters on ways my teaching or leadership could be more effective if I were more aware of a particular human need or relational dynamic existing amongst those I’m leading. I’ve needed help to see the ministry I lead not just as a system but as a group of individual persons.

    Just this past week, a sister shared with me about an interaction she recently had with another sister in which, simply by discernment and intuition, by what was unspoken, she gathered there was a particular problem in her marriage. She left the conversation feeling like there was something more there, so she followed up, and sure enough, there was. Immediately she shifted towards helping, coming alongside, listening, and resourcing. I thought to myself: where would we be without you?

    Sensitivity can be a super-power. It can make us better readers of God’s Word, and better readers of God’s people. It can be a natural gift that the Holy Spirit elevates and directs for his gospel purposes. It’s a virtue both men and women must grow in to faithfully follow Christ, but one that often women set the pace in.

    And beyond sensitivity, the Bible seems to particularly highlight generosity as belonging to the feminine genius. In Mark 1:29-31, Jesus enters the house of Simon and Andrew and heals their mother-in–law. I love verse 31: “And he came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her, and she began to serve them.” Generous hospitality was her form of worshipful response to Jesus. Feminine service, not servitude, enhanced the ministry of Jesus and the apostles.

    In Acts 16:11-15, Lydia is converted after listening to Paul and Silas preach the gospel to her. What happens? Verse 15: “after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying ‘If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.’ And she prevailed upon us.” Her generosity and hospitality prevailed. They couldn’t say no.

    We’ve covered in this course how Jesus was financially supported by women. So was Paul, as we’ll see later in Romans 16.

    Lastly, in 1 Timothy 5, when Paul is giving instructions to the church around which widows they should support with their limited resources, he points their attention to the sisters who had most embodied the virtues we’ve described. Look at verses 9-10:

    9 “Let a widow be enrolled if she in less than sixty years of age, having been the wife of one husband, and 10 having a reputation for good works: if she has brought up children, has shown hospitality, has washed the feet of the saints, has cared for the afflicted, and has devoted herself to every good work.”

    Note there what typified these widows: fidelity, maternity, mercy, sensitivity, generosity, hospitality. Let me commend this as a great list for us all to pray through, but especially the sisters in the congregation, even those of you who are unmarried. These virtues are aspirational in a way not unlike the elder qualifications in 1 Timothy 3. 

    Question for the class: How have you seen women enhance, beautify, and humanize our church?

    Masculine Genius in the Life of the Church

    At the same time, men bring to the church a particular genius as well.  To state it again, these virtues need cultivation, and they are not exclusively possessed by men or women. To cultivate this genius, for men, in particular, self-control seems to be especially important. In Titus 2, Paul says that “older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness.” (2) In verse 6, the list gets real short when he addresses young men. “Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled.” (6) That’s it. It’s as if he’s saying if the young men learn self-control, we’re ready to start working.

    With self-control, a man can bring his natural and spiritual gifts to bear in the life of the church. He can lead the body of Christ in embodying virtues needed in every Christian.

    Let’s take one aspect of the masculine genius the Bible clearly refers to: Courage. 

    Paul writes to the Corinthian church in 1 Corinthians 16:13:

    13 Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.

    When Paul tells the church to “act like men,” what is he saying? He’s drawing on a stereotypical connection between masculinity and courage. This connection isn’t crazy. The Carnegie Hero award was founded in 1904 to award people who perform extraordinary acts of heroism in civilian life in the United States and Canada, and to provide financial assistance for those disabled and the dependents of those killed saving or attempting to save others. Over 90% of recipients are men.[5]

    The connection between masculinity and courage isn’t crazy.

    Paul is telling the entire Corinthian church to “act like men.” He’s telling them to be brave, to “man up.”

    He’s not saying that men are supposed to be courageous but women aren’t. This command is given to everyone in the congregation, both men and women. Sometimes women need to man up too! 

    But it’s telling that Paul associates strength and courage with masculinity. This is fitting, given men’s characteristically greater physical strength. Within the church, men will often lead the people of God in that cultivation of courage.

    The masculine genius is seen when a man endures suffering, or persecution, or opposition, particularly to God’s family, and doesn’t back down. He fights heretics. He confronts abusers. He speaks directly. He takes a stand, and lives with the consequences. The masculine genius is often seen most beautifully in the face of opposition.

    I think about when our elders led us as a church to file a lawsuit against the mayor to be able to meet in DC during the COVID lockdown. Understandably, Christians of goodwill in our church were going to disagree with whatever route we went. Some Christians left our church over that decision. And given this church’s prominence and position on the Hill, it was going to bring scrutiny from outsiders, whether Christians or non-Christians.

    In that decision, we as elders had to think according to a different “world horizon.” Whereas women live more in a state of symbiosis with their environment and are more characteristically concerned with the “near world,” men are more strongly oriented towards the “far world,” thinking about unsolved problems that lie beyond the ones right in front of them.[6] That lie beyond, for instance, the immediate reaction a single member had to the decision, or the opinion of a neighbor on the hill, or even sometimes the opinion of the majority of the church. 

    Mark Dever has told the story when he was here as the only elder, and was convinced from Scripture that the church should move towards a plurality of elders. That was a new position in the history of this church. Mark believed there were a number of brothers in the church who met the qualifications, and he desired them to serve alongside him. So at a members meeting, he moved that the church vote on installing the men he nominated. The church voted it down. So what did he do?

    He prayed, sought counsel, listened, but he didn’t change. And the next members meeting, he made the same exact motion again. This time it passed. That’s courage. There could have been consequences from that kind of move. He could have been perceived as prideful, as out of touch, as too insistent, not sensitive enough – but he was trying to think about what was right, not what was popular. That’s courage. That’s resolution, discipline – one could say, manliness.

    Question for the class: How have you benefited from male strength and courage in this church?

    If there is any particular element of the church’s life where this interdependence is spotlighted in Scripture, it’s in regards to missions and evangelism. This brings me to the next big point of this class: Your brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers are also your co-workers because this family has a mission that requires the participation of all of us. We see this most clearly in Paul’s ministry. When he honored Christians in his letters, he did not honor men separately from women. Names are jumbled together. Men and Women co-laboring.

    Men & Women as Co-Laborers 

    Some have wrongly concluded that Paul was sexist or marginalized women.  

    Some have concluded that Paul really did see women in the body kind of like wisdom teeth. Useful, but only sometimes. Useful in the work of producing physical offspring. Less so in the work of producing spiritual offspring. Useful in fulfilling the cultural mandate of being fruitful and multiplying. Less so in fulfilling the Great Commission of making disciples of all nations.

    But look a little closer and I think you’ll find this is far from the truth. Just because Paul taught that the office of elder was reserved for men only did not mean he thought women were inessential. And it does not appear that the early church saw women as inessential either. No, there seemed to be many prominent Christian women in the churches Paul ministered to. We’ll look at just three. 

    In Philippi, Paul had co-laborers. Earlier we mentioned Lydia’s conversion in Acts 16. Later, after causing quite a stir for the gospel, they are asked by the city officials to please leave. When Paul and Silas need to regroup with the believers there and chart their next steps, Acts 16:40 says

    “So they went out of the prison and visited Lydia’s [house]. And when they had seen the brothers, they encouraged them and departed.”

    It seems likely Lydia had the position and means to host the baby church in Philippi. Lydia was a wealthy businesswoman who seems to have immediately put her resources to work for the gospel.  

    In his letter to the Philippians, we learn of other prominent women, Euodia and Syntyche (U-O-Dia & Sin-ti-chee), in chapter 4:

    “2 I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. 3 Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.”

    While we don’t know much about these women, the very fact that Paul calls them out on a disagreement means they had important stature and prominence in the church. It’s because of their influence alongside him for the gospel that their disagreement required a mediator in the church. They had labored side-by-side with him in the work of evangelism, discipling, teaching, and church planting. These were women whose names were known and honored in the book of life. They had real influence, and so the stakes were high if their disagreement persisted.  

    Miles away, in Laodicea, Paul had female co-laborers there. In his letter to the Colossians, Paul tells them in 4:15-16 to:  

    “Give my greetings to the brothers at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house. 16 And when this letter has been read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you also read the letter from Laodicea.”

    Once again, we don’t know much about Nympha, but we do know something: she is mentioned without association with a man. Perhaps she was a widow, or married to a non-Christian. Second, she hosted the church in Laodicea, so she would have implicitly had a prominent role in that community. She was likely the one to receive the letters when they were first delivered, and to make sure they were heard by the church.

    Notice, once again we’re seeing churches hosted in houses. You can see how calling the church a household was not a stretch. Alastair Roberts has pointed out that the more a church has the feel of an organic household the less focus there is on official titles and roles. The more the church is conceptualized as a corporation or organization, the stranger it feels that women would not be in the role of leader, or “CEO” of the church, and the more important the politics of “representation” become.[7] In this Laodicean sister Nympha, we see a woman of means and love for the gospel very practically advancing the gospel. Nympha would have likely possessed significant “soft power” in the church in Laodicea – it was literally in her house! She was also clearly known by the apostles like Paul. A Co-laborer indeed! 

    Paul had co-laborers in Rome as well. Turn to Romans 16:1-16.

    1 I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church at Cenchreae, 2 that you may welcome her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints, and help her in whatever she may need from you, for she has been a patron of many and of myself as well.

    3 Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, 4 who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks but all the churches of the Gentiles give thanks as well. 5 Greet also the church in their house. Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who was the first convert to Christ in Asia. 6 Greet Mary, who has worked hard for you. 7 Greet Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners. They are well known to the apostles, and they were in Christ before me. 8 Greet Ampliatus, my beloved in the Lord. 9 Greet Urbanus, our fellow worker in Christ, and my beloved Stachys. 10 Greet Apelles, who is approved in Christ. Greet those who belong to the family of Aristobulus. 11 Greet my kinsman Herodion. Greet those in the Lord who belong to the family of Narcissus. 12 Greet those workers in the Lord, Tryphaena and Tryphosa. Greet the beloved Persis, who has worked hard in the Lord. 13 Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord; also his mother, who has been a mother to me as well. 14 Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, and the brothers who are with them. 15 Greet Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who are with them. 16 Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you.

    It’s quite a long list. It’s as if Paul was trying to illustrate to the Roman Christians one of the burdens of his letter: that the gospel has the power to reconcile us to God and to one another, and in the process to create an entire new system of honor that is not built on ethnicity or gender or wealth but on gospel grit and service. Paul lists slightly more men than women in this passage, but he seems to especially commend the women comparatively.

    The text starts with Phoebe, a servant, or deaconess of the church, who had generously supported Paul and the apostle’s ministry and was likely the one delivering the letter to the churches.[8] Think about that! Paul must have trusted her a lot to believe that the greatest letter ever written would make it to the most influential city in the world.

    There are also couples ministering alongside each other who were of great importance to Paul. Prisca and Aquila (3), who we met in last class, and Andronicus and Junia (7), who had ended up in prison with Paul and were well known to the apostles.[9] The gospel not only turns brothers and sisters into co-laborers, it turns husbands and wives into them as well! It turns couples into ministry teams.

    In the list there are hard workers like Mary, Tryphaena and Tryphosa, and Persis. There is Ruphus’s mother, who was a mother to Paul, likely one who had provided lodging and hospitality for him, and a model of generosity.

    I love how the early Church Father John Crysostom put it: “For the women of those days were more spirited than lions, sharing with the apostles their labors for the Gospel’s sake.”[10]

    So what direction should these examples push us as a church? I’ll leave you with 3 simple applications, one to men, one to women, one to married couples:

    • To the brothers (elders included): see and appreciate the feminine genius in the church. In a church governed by men and with a special focus on raising up men as pastors, we must learn from the sisters God has given us. And not simply in things like showing mercy or empathizing with others. I’m very thankful for the female counselors on staff at the church. There’s much we can learn from women in how they engage in the world, how they evangelize neighbors, and how they understand scripture. There is no Timothy apart from Lois and Eunice, his mother and grandmother who taught him in the faith and made him wise for salvation.
    • To sisters. Consider giving your life to the work of missions and evangelism. Just because you cannot be an elder does not mean you can not give your life to the spread of the gospel, even in a full-time capacity. The gospel expanded in the first century not just because of Paul, but because of Phoebe, Eodia, Syntyche, Junia, and Priscilla. I know in campus ministry our work is greatly enriched by women who have set aside career ambitions, raised their support, and given their lives to evangelizing and discipling women on campus. And that’s just here locally – there are needs everywhere, and especially in those areas of the world where there is little gospel witness. I know Riley Barnes would be encouraged by an uptick in single sisters in the church singing up for the missions reading group. I appreciate how the Danvers Statement puts it:
      • “With half the world’s population outside the reach of indigenous evangelism; with countless other lost people in those societies that have heard the gospel; with the stresses and miseries of sickness, malnutrition, homelessness, illiteracy, ignorance, aging, addiction, crime, incarceration, neuroses, and loneliness, no man or woman who feels a passion from God to make His grace known in word and deed need ever live without a fulfilling ministry for the glory of Christ and the good of this fallen world.”[11]
    • To married couples: Look for opportunities to do ministry In 1 Corinthians 9:5 Paul asks the Corinithians “Do we not have the right to take along a believing wife, as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas?” Apostles took a long with them believing wives. Ministry was in a real way, done together. In your marriage, what does ministry together look like? If Paul were to write a letter to DC, with a list of names at CHBC like this one, would he only say your name, or your husband or wife’s name with you? Does marriage slow down your ministry, or enhance it? What are ways you can lean into one another's giftings or support one another's areas of ministry even more? That would be a great conversation to have together as you enter a new year.

    In the church, men & women are equal, indispensable, and interdependent. And together their ministry and life togetheris how God intends to display and spread his glory over the entire earth. Let’s pray.

    [1] “But you know Timothy’s proven worth, how as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel.” (Philippians 2:22). A verse that combines father/son & co-laboring.

    [2] Wayne Grudem and John Piper, eds., Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2021), 88.

    [3] Edith Stein, Essays on Woman (Washington, DC: ICS Publications, 1959), 45.

    [4] Drawing from Deborah Savage, “Woman and Man: Identity, Genius, and Mission” in The Complementarity of Women and Men: Philosophy, Theology, Psychology, and Art (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 2021), 110-112.

    [5] This was first brought to my attention by Richard Reeves, Of Boys and Men: Why the Modern Male is Struggling, Why it Matters, and What to Do About It (Washington, DC: Brookings Institute Press, 2022), 92. For more on the Carnegie Hero Fund and its award recipients, see here.

    [6] For more, see Savage, “Woman and Man: Identity, Genius, and Mission” in The Complementarity of Women and Men, 89-132.

    [7] Alastair Roberts, “How Has Modernity Shifted the Women’s Ordination Debate” accessed at https://northamanglican.com/how-has-modernity-shifted-the-womens-ordination-debate/

    [8] This was John Calvin’s view in his commentary on Romans. "He first commends to them Phoebe, to whom he gave this Epistle to be brought to them; and, in the first place, he commends her on account of her office, for she performed a most honorable and a most holy function in the Church." accessed at https://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/calcom38.xx.i.html

    [9] We recognize there is considerable debate around verse 7 in particular. Our view is that the ESV translation is basically correct. There is some ambiguity, however.

    1. On Junia: the name is grammatically ambiguous: it could be male (Junias) or female (Junia). We believe it is most likely female, since almost all the references in other literature from the time suggest Junia was a common female name. Junias is far less common.

    1. The phrase “well known to the apostles” is also ambiguous. It could mean “outstanding among the apostles.”

     

    1. If “outstanding among the apostles” is correct, that does not necessarily mean Junia was an apostle in the same sense that Paul was. It is possible Paul is using the word simply to refer to messengers without any special God-appointed status. For example, in 2 Corinthians 8:23, the term ‘apostles’ is translated as “messengers” (i.e. of local churches) in the ESV. Likewise in Philippians 2:25, Epaphroditus is an ‘apostle’, which simply means Paul’s messenger. (This is also the case in John 13:16.)

     

    [10] John Chrysostom’s comments on Romans 16:6 in “Homilies of Chrysostom.” Accessed at https://biblehub.com/commentaries/chrysostom/romans/16.htm

    [11] “The Danvers Statement,” accessed at https://cbmw.org/about/danvers-statement/.