Gender Authority -- By: Del Birkey

Journal: Priscilla Papers
Volume: PP 015:1 (Winter 2001)
Article: Gender Authority
Author: Del Birkey


Gender Authority

Del Birkey

Great peril lurks when gender is identified with authority
and incorporated into hierarchical models for Christian relationships.

Editor’s note: This article has been in preparation for Priscilla Papers by the author for approximately two years. Because of its length, we plan to publish it in three parts, though each part is intended to stand alone. The outline is as follows:

Part 1, presented here, focuses on the radical redefinition of authority Jesus taught and set in motion for his church; it considers the complementarians’ circuitous idea of gender authority.

Part 2 will critique the use and abuse of complementarians’ concept of authority as formulated in their “theology of roles.”

Part 3 will delineate the New Testament limits of authority and the scandal of hierarchical power in Christian ministry. These biblical standards that Jesus put into action and that apostolic missionaries established for the servant leaders of the New Testament house churches will be contrasted to the complementarians’ authority thesis, with final summary implications.

Authority is a word bearing power and pointing to the most fundamental issue in ordered human life. Among the words associated with Christian relationships and leadership, authority (Gr: exousia) is the most problematic. Encumbered with social and cultural weight, the parameters of authority become blurred when introduced into New Testament ecclesiology. But the greatest peril lurks when gender is identified with authority and incorporated into hierarchical models for Christian relationships.

The two major positions concerning male-female relationships are the “hierarchical” (or “traditional”) view and the “egalitarian” view. Representatives of the first viewpoint, however, have expressed discomfort with these labels. Intending to soften undesirable connotations of these terms, John Piper and Wayne Grudem propose the new label “complementarity,” believing this designation suggests equality as well as crucial role differences between the sexes.

But this new label is not an appropriate description of their real view, because “complementarity” denotes the need for two parts in order to make a complete whole, or unity. While complementarians affirm “equality” of personhood between males and females, they deny that this translates into equality of function. In other words, “complementarity” is not really at the center of their argument. Rather, at the center is a unique “hierarchical” male leadership, in contrast to an “egalitarian” shared leadership.1 This article wi...

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