So Nimm Denn Meine Hande...

Thursday, April 20, 2006

My open letter to my church council...

Here's the open letter on the issue of "women in ministry" that today I sent to my church council representatives (I single spaced it for saving space):

To the council of Elders in Christ at (Church Name),

As I have spent the last few weeks reading and re-reading the M.B. Conference articles and Arden Thiessen’s book on the present issue of "Women in Ministry", I find myself in agreement with Doug Heidebrecht's statement in Continuing the conversation: Mennonite Brethren and women in church leadership: “Over the years MB teachers, pastors and conference leaders have consistently pointed out that at the heart of the debate is hermeneutics – how one interprets the Bible.” It is encouraging to see that the root of the issue has not escaped noticed by people on both sides of the debate. Hermeneutics, (the science and art of Biblical interpretation), is the root issue which will determine the outcome of the current dialogue.

Both Egalitarians (those who would like to see men's and women's roles as fully interchangeable and synonymous) and Complimentarians (those who believe the value of each gender is enhanced and the satisfaction of each fulfilled, with the glory of God served, in the two complimenting one another with different, but equally important roles), have a hermeneutic, though their hermeneutics are anything but identical.

I hope to share with you my convictions, I believe given me by the Holy Spirit, of why I believe hermeneutics is the most critical and important issue we can address as a church, as we face this issue together.

I believe that by (1) defining the hermeneutics of both sides of the discussion, (2) showing a couple of examples of how the role biased interpretation attempts to distort the relevant Biblical texts, and finally (3) recommending we embrace the clarity and authority of the scripture, held by the complementarian theologians and derived from traditional hermeneutics, over and above human thinking on this issue, that you will be convinced to prayerfully consider Biblical complimentary roles are the best solution to the discussion.

First Hermeneutics

The debate will not be solved by applying a simple ‘magic argument’ or ‘perfect proof-text’. I agree wholeheartedly with Doug that the community of believers should work together in humility, gentleness, patience and longsuffering to sort through whatever issues arise from our seeking to understand and obey the scripture.

But how can we obey the Scripture if we do not understand it? I would suggest a word of caution to those council members at (church name) who will be making decisions on this pivotal issue. As a conference we profess that:

We believe God has made Himself known to all people. Beginning with creation and culminating in Jesus Christ, God has revealed Himself in the Old and New Testaments. All Scripture is inspired by God, and is the authoritative guide for faith and practice. We interpret the Scripture in the church community as guided by the Holy Spirit.

All Scripture is "profitable for reproof, for correction and instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work" (2 Ti. 3:16,17). According to James all believers are either hearers only, or hearers and doers of the word (James 1:23-25). That is to say, all who read it are morally responsible for their response to it. Scripture, according to the Psalmist, is "Perfect, converting the soul", "Sure making wise the simple", "right", "clear, enlightening the eyes", "True" and "righteous altogether" (Psalm 19:7-11).

God has revealed himself to all men. His Word "makes wise the simple", it is "clear" and "enlightens" us on the issues it addresses. This is why evangelical hermeneutics have been characterized by a belief in the clarity of Scripture. Called by theologians the Perspicuity of Scripture, this doctrine derived from such Scriptures as above (among dozens more), teaches that every believer has access to the word of God on every essential issue of the faith. The term perspicuity means “Plain to the understanding, having clarity and precision of presentation”. Scripture is not a book of hidden secrets and coded utterances that only person with a PhD can unravel. This is the hermeneutic of the complimentarians and historic orthodoxy. The plain meaning of the Scripture, we believe, is the Scripture.

In the last several years, I believe that there has been a paradigm shift in hermeneutics, throughout the evangelical community. It has the effect of taking the simple truths of Scripture away from the average believer, placing Scripture's meaning in the hands of a select few with enough academic credentials to interpret it “properly”. I believe this shift has led to much of the intense struggle that has marked this ongoing debate.

The change, that we are seeing the fruits of today, is this: traditional historical/grammatical hermeneutics (reading Scripture in its plain sense, just like any other piece of literature), has been replaced by various post-modern substitutes.

We Mennonites, along with many others are in danger of abandoning the system of biblical interpretation that has characterized the Protestants and Anabaptist Churches since the Reformation Era (and actually long before that amongst true believers cf. John Chrysostom's expository sermons on many books of the Bible during the 6th century, or Augustine's On Christian Doctrine, a 5th century treatise on Biblical interpretation that sees this system of hermeneutics spelled out 1600 years ago).

Examples of Bias in Interpretation

This shift is eroding not only the clarity of Scripture, but its value or authority in any given spiritual or theological decision. An example of this can be seen explicitly in a disappointing comment by Arden Thiessen on page 135 of his book when, commenting on the difficulty of fitting 1 Corinthians 11:3, 14:33-34 and 1 Timothy 2:11-15 with his position on the issue, he says: “My conviction now is that the doctrine of equality, as developed here, must be allowed to stand on its own feet. It is not good hermeneutics to start with these “exceptions” and then interpret the rest of the Scriptures to fit them”.

Without meaning disrespect to Thiessen, who has possibly never thought through the meaning of his statement, it appears that he is confused. It is a foundational rule of hermeneutics that “the unclear text is understood in the light of the clear text” (this is otherwise known as the 3rd rule of Hillel). It is important when addressing any issue to use texts that directly address the issue at hand, and then from those clear texts, work out into the less clear texts, general instructions and principles of Scripture.

This foundational hermeneutical rule also effectively shuts down attempts to use theological frameworks (like a “doctrine of equality”) to silence clear texts that otherwise would challenge such frameworks. It is a popular argument of egalitarians to state that Christ is the ‘divine example’ and then, from various observations from his life, to build up a theological framework with which to ‘filter’ challenging biblical texts. If a person seeks to systematize a biblical concept and runs into a group of texts that either challenges or overthrows the desired system, the system needs to be either changed or abandoned.

Doctrine and theology are built from individual biblical texts, not in spite of them. Any attempt to impose a theological understanding upon a clear text, which in its own context directly addresses any given issue, with a general principle from Scripture, is contrary to sound hermeneutics. It is an attack on the authority of the scripture itself and destructive to the faith of the trusting and unlearned layperson.

Beyond the selective alteration or abandoning of hermeneutical rules, the ‘new’ hermeneutics seem to have also abandoned the practical applications of the perspicuity of scripture. In theology, the perspicuity of scripture is spoken of to point to the essential concept that the Bible is clear and straightforward in nature, not inherently cryptic or allegorical. Many of the exegetical arguments given in an effort to give support to the ‘egalitarian’ case are specious and verbose, involving non-normative definitions and the relying on elaborate argumentation to circumvent the seemingly clear meaning of a text.

A classical example of this is the case of a common half truth, presented as a whole truth, which in reality is an untruth. One sees this in a common argument of the egalitarians regarding headship. Thiessen, following many other egalitarians, announces that the Greek noun kephale usually translated "Head" in 1 Corinthians 11:3 can, and most likely does, mean “source” (Thiessen says “origin”, but the meaning is the same). Though he gives several paragraphs of support for his argument, his argument shows a very biased and selective representation of the biblical and historical evidence.

In the first appendix of Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, Wayne Grudem, a highly respected scholar and theologian, reprints a 45 page treatment on the definition of kephale. In that article he clarifies:

All the articles and commentaries depend on only two examples of kephale¯ in

ancient literature: Herodotus 4.91 and Orphic Fragments 21a, both of which come from

more than four hundred years before the time of the New Testament, and both of which

fail to be convincing examples: Herodotus 4.91 simply shows that kephale¯ can refer to

the “end points” of a river—in this case, the sources of a river, but elsewhere, the mouth

of a river—and since “end point” is a commonly recognized and well-attested sense of

kephale¯, we do not have convincing evidence that “source” is the required sense here.

The other text, Orphic Fragments 21a, calls Zeus the “head” of all things but in a context

where it is impossible to tell whether it means “first one, beginning” (an acknowledged

meaning for kephale¯) or “source” (a meaning not otherwise attested).

He also goes on to note that of the 2,336 known usages of kephale from Greek literature in the whole of the Classical and Koine periods, these are the only two usages on record that suggest kephale may be translated as meaning “source”. All other known usages have a meaning along the lines of “a physical head” or “authority over”. Often it is used of military generals or Imperial authority over soldiers. Thiessen, and other of the egalitarian position, mysteriously do not point this out. Instead in his book, Theissen presents his position as if it were a widely accepted, scholarly defensible position. At the end of the day, when kephale appears in the Bible it always means “authority” or “physical head”, not “source/origin”. The scripture is neither inherently cryptic nor allegorical; it means what a straightforward reading suggests it to mean.

Beyond these two examples of some of the hermeneutical changes, I won’t attempt to offer a full series of critiques. A 482 page defense of complimentarianism has already been done. John Piper and Wayne Grudem edited a monumental work with eighteen men (all respected scholars) and three women, all of whom are evangelical leaders: Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood is available in its entirety and at no charge at:

Recommending Complimentarian Hermeneutics

For the sake of the gospel, for the faith of every believer, for the glory of God and so that the "word of God may not be blasphemed" (Ti. 2:5), I want to recommend a complimentarian solution to the current study on Women in Leadership. Women should be a valuable part of the service of the church, through the unique and honorable position assigned to them by God, in many ministries and through various positions. Men should take full responsibility for the leadership God has entrusted to them, even when it is difficult to do so.

I would like to put forth Piper and Grudem's compendium as a resource and a challenge to all who seek to have a serious, biblical position on the issue of Women in Leadership. If one has taken a position and has not read Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, one has most likely only encountered a caricature of the complimentarian position.

Secondly, I would like to make myself available as a resource; if any person has questions about complimentarianism or would like to know more about any part of this entire debate, I would like to submit an open invitation to any and all council members for dialogue.

If we lose the Biblical role of women in the home and in the Church it will not, in my opinion, liberate anyone for service nor be to the benefit of the church, but rather lead to its destruction. Women in their Biblical role are absolutely vital to the health of the body of Christ and we cannot do without them. Should we abandon complimentarianism, through the hermeneutics of the egalitarian theologians; the Church will find itself in serious trouble, having no firm scriptural ground to stand upon and, abandoning our source of spiritual truth for spiritual maturation, be “tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming.” (Eph 4:14)

I hope you have been able to see that the complimentarian position is based on the hermeneutics well established throughout evangelicalism, and the Biblical Church over many centuries. It is held by many evangelical leaders, who are convinced that it is the only position in accordance with obedience to the Scripture. I have sought to give two examples (among many) that the hermeneutics of the egalitarians are often misleading and detrimental to the understanding and the authority of the Scriptural text. I pray that you will carefully consider what hermeneutic you will embrace as you look at the many Scriptures and resources which inform us on this important issue.

Through this all, my prayer is that “the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” (Eph 4:13) May we continually seek the truth of scripture for the purpose of the joy of obedience;

The Armchair Theologian


We'll see what comes of this, if anything. This is more for the two people who were interested in seeing my comments on this issue. I'm also going to post a more extensive critique of Arden Thiessens book A Biblical Case for Equality. We'll just say that I'm not impressed. Until Next Time,

The Armchair Theologian


Blogger Andrew L said...

In the interest of maintaining the anonymity of the organizations concerned, you may want to edit paragraph 6 of the letter in your blog entry.

2:42 PM

Blogger The Armchair Theologian said...

Good call. Thanks dude.

4:46 PM

Blogger Markio said...

I'm afraid it would not take a reporter to find the links that would reveal the organization in question. I figured it out no problem. :)

9:59 AM

Blogger The Armchair Theologian said...

What are you talking about Mark? You know who the organization in question is? Don't tell anyone! It's a secret! (though what 'links' are you talking about? I'm confused there)

11:19 AM


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