The Christian Life Is Not One of Minimal Compliance

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In Jacobellis v. Ohio, the Supreme Court was called upon to decide a number of issues, among them whether or not obscene material is protected (by the First Amendment) and what constitutes obscene material. It was in this case that Justice Potter Stewart gave his famous assessment or test:

I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description ["hard-core pornography"], and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that.

Justice Stewart was correct, even if his assessment rests upon a number of (reasonable) assumptions. Morally functional men do know obscenity when they see it. The same holds true in the Church.

Some may contend that women speaking in the Church is merely shameful (1 Corinthians 14), not obscene. To such men I pose the following question: By what standard do you adjudge violations of God’s Law as not morally repugnant? The Word of God is clear: It is an abomination for a woman ‘merely’ to dress as a man. Do you believe it wise to argue that it is less morally repugnant for woman to behave as if she were a man?

Scripture categorically forecloses the teaching office[1] (which is an exercise of authority) to woman. To contend that woman may teach man is prima facie absurd. Does the foot or the hand teach? Does the arm or the leg? Does the torso instruct? No, it is the head that instructs, and man is the head of woman. Thus, Scripture is clear that women are not only to remain silent (1 Corinthians 14, 1 Timothy 2), but that they are to learn from their own men[2] at home (1 Corinthians 14), to submit to their husbands in everything (Ephesians 5, 1 Timothy 2, Titus 2), and to be in submission (1 Corinthians 14, Titus 2).

There are few places where the Word of God is more clear than it is with regard to the woman question. One must wonder if those who would disagree are merely seeking to avoid the clear command that man must rule over woman as one who is in charge by virtue of possession. Egalitarian priors, examined or not, are fatal to sound theology and to faithfulness. If we are to claim that the Scriptural teaching on women is not clear, then we must abandon perspicuity altogether.

As a native of Southern California, I can quite confidently state that I am familiar with the concept of a shoreline. To mistake the direction of the tide, can certainly have consequences (more so for weak swimmers), but a stroll along the strand typically involves no greater danger than wet feet (for what madman is not barefoot on the beach?). Is this true of theological or doctrinal error? Is the potential harm when speaking of obedience and disobedience to God nothing more than whatever the spiritual equivalent of wet feet is?

And so the proper analogy is not the strand, but a cliff. When hiking alongside a cliff, it is not typically wise to stand as close to the edge as possible; rather, you give a healthy buffer between your feet and the abyss. A misstep when ten feet from the edge of a cliff may wound your pride, but a misstep when ten inches from a thousand-foot drop may inflict far more serious wounds.

If our goal is fealty to God’s Word and obedience to His will, then why would we seek a sort of ‘minimal compliance’? Are we not commanded to avoid even the appearance of evil? Those who are attempting to dissect our Lord’s commands and come as close to disobedience as possible are not acting in good faith, and those who enable them by entertaining them are being led astray into asking the wrong questions (cf. Titus 3).

Do not ask may; ask why. When someone asks you ‘may x do y?’, ask him why he is asking. ‘May women teach x in y?’ Why are you asking?

In the aftermath of the world wars, competent men were sometimes in short supply in some places. Under such circumstances, the issue of the role of women in the churches came roaring back to life[3]. They had a clear answer to the why, and so they were forced to deal with the may. We are facing no such crisis today. This issue rages because Satan wishes to subvert, idle men need something to occupy their time, and some (few) faithful men recognize enemy action when they see it.

We are not debating what women may do because Scripture is unclear or we do not know the answer — we are not truly seeking to discover how close to the cliff is optimal; we are debating this issue because our faithless forebears went headlong over the cliff, and some, today, are not willing to admit that. Both we and our fathers have sinned. We should repent and turn from our ways, not debate the contours of unfaithfulness.

Between defending — or, worse, advocating — women teachers (and, yes, writing on these subjects is teaching) and ordaining women exists no difference but time. We can be faithful to God and His clear Word or we can continue to attempt to defend errors of the (recent) past and attempt to appease the world and those with worldly priors.

The choice is the same today as it was for the Israelites under Joshua, because it is always the same choice in this life (even if the names of the false gods may change over the centuries):

Choose you this day whom you will serve.

  • Society, being codified by man, decrees that woman is inferior; she can do away with this inferiority only by destroying the male's superiority.
    — Simone de Beauvoir, ‘First-Wave’ Feminist

  • For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man.
    — the Lord God

But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.

  1. I will be writing more on this specific issue soon. ↩︎

  2. ἀνήρ is not limited to “husbands”. ↩︎

  3. Satan never wastes a good crisis. ↩︎