When the Southern Baptist Convention’s future hung in the balance, the mantra from fundamentalist pulpits was that inerrancy should be defended for the sake of the gospel.
If you didn’t believe in inerrancy, you didn’t believe the Bible.
The fear of having preachers say that you don’t believe the Bible if you don’t believe in inerrancy kept many from discovering that your faith doesn’t crumble like a house of cards if you don’t embrace this belief.
You don’t hear much about inerrancy anymore. There are other front-burning theological issues, like the roles men and women have been given by God, but the same kind of rhetoric is being used.
For example, some preach: “If you don’t embrace sexual complementarity in marriage, you don’t believe the Bible.”
Sexual complementarity is the teaching that men and women are equal before God but created for different roles.
At first, this has a nice ring to it. “Equal before God” sounds good while “created for different roles” could mean that a man is created to be a father and a woman is created to be a mother.
Yet, here is where this concept is loaded with underlying meaning. “Different roles,” according to this marital concept, is hierarchical in nature – men are the head and women are submissive, always. Some now preach that this concept not only applies to the present, but also when we get to heaven.
Can you make a case that there was a male hierarchy in biblical times? Yes.
However, you can also make the case from the New Testament that there was a racial hierarchy and an economic hierarchy, but that does not make them normative for our lives.
Slavery was normative in the New Testament, but we don’t make slavery a part of our society.
Jesus lived in a male-dominated society and yet he worked to break down walls of separation among men and women as men’s hierarchical position led to many abuses of women, just as he worked to break down abuses in racial, social and economic areas.
“Submission” is not a bad word. Jesus was submissive to the Father while the church is to submit to Jesus (Ephesians 5:24a).
There are times a wife should be submissive to her husband, but there are also times a husband should be submissive to his wife.
I was reminded of this as I read a sign in a woodcrafter’s workshop in Gatlinburg, Tenn. “If at first you don’t succeed, do it the way your wife told you to do it in the beginning.”
To set up a hierarchical structure in marriage sets up one sinner as head over another. If a wife is always submissive to her husband, she is being submissive to a sinner.
However, if both husband and wife are mutually submissive to God and to one another, there is much more opportunity for the two to find God’s will and to have a relationship that is truly equal.
There is also less chance that the husband will abuse his role and that the wife will stop seeking her leadership from God.
It’s difficult to do better than Ephesians 5:21 if you want a biblical ethic in the area of husband-wife relationships: “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
Christian couples might say they believe in the complementarity concept of marriage out of respect for the preaching they’ve sat under, but an examination of their marriage will reveal that it functions like an egalitarian model.
Most marriages function better this way.
The Holy Spirit speaks to males and females. We are both created in God’s image and we are given the same Spirit.
While we do have different roles in our marriages, these roles are more naturally based on our gifts and our choices, not on a predetermined path that every husband and wife must follow.
While Jesus was submissive to the Father, he was also “one with the Father.” There is no hierarchy in the Trinity. The same should be true in marriage.
Those who base their marriages on a hierarchical concept may feel it’s biblically based and believe it works for them, yet it is an abuse of authority for preachers to say that husbands and wives who jointly discern God’s will for their families do not believe the Bible.
God can and does speak through a woman as easily as through a man.
I will not say that if you don’t believe this, you don’t believe the Bible. I will say that married men who don’t believe this have a very high opinion of themselves and, as you might expect, a low opinion of their spouses.
If men and women are truly created equally by God, there should be no distinction in our capability of hearing God’s voice in our lives.
Michael Helms is pastor of First Baptist Church in Jefferson, Georgia.