Seeing the Forest for the Trees
Part 7 of a 7-part series on Complementarity & Mutuality This is the final post of a seven-part series on Complementarity & Mutuality. In this post, I talk about some of the ways in which complementarians can miss the forest for the trees, but why it’s still important to keep nailing the Bible’s theses about gender to the church door.
I have a confession to make. Sometimes I get weary of talking about biblical womanhood. Bone weary, in fact. I wish I lived in an era where the theses needing to be nailed to the church door were ones disputing the efficacy of indulgences, and not the meaning of gender.
Sometimes I wish that there were no need for the complementarian label, for organizations like the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW), for documents like the Danvers statement and the True Woman Manifesto, and for biblical manhood and biblical womanhood websites and movements. I wish the controversy of the hour had to do with issues like confession, sacraments, absolution and grace instead of manhood, womanhood, sex and marriage.
Because honestly, sometimes the discussion about gender roles just makes my head hurt.
The Need for Caution
The problem is, whenever the church needs to address and re-calibrate what it believes about a specific doctrine, people have a tendency to view that issue as bigger and more important than everything else. They can lose sight of the forest for the trees. And that can cause the pendulum in some quarters to swing to the opposite and equally dangerous extreme.
For example, grace can become a license to sin, inerrancy can become wooden literalism, a stance against heresy can become a witch hunt, an emphasis on love can become a neglect of truth, and an emphasis on male female differences can become an oppressive list of prescribed rules.
If the Devil can’t get us on one side, he’ll get us on the other.
So does that mean we should cease to uphold what the Bible teaches about manhood, womanhood, sex and gender? Should we deny or ignore male-female differences? No. It just means that we need to be exceedingly cautious not to get so caught up in the discussion of male-female differences that we lose sight of the big picture. We must take care not to miss the forest for the trees.
Keep the Big Picture in View
I believe that we lose sight of the forest for the trees:
- when we uphold complementarity as a matter essential to salvation or as the litmus test for faith.
- when we emphasize male-female differences to the exclusion of our commonalities.
- when we forget that male and female are co-laborers together for the gospel.
- when we shy away from upholding and fighting for the full personhood and equality of women.
- when we shy away from correcting errors in the complementarian camp.
- when we think that role distinctions negate communication, cooperation, and teamwork.
- when we forget that true complementarity draws male and female closer together and not farther apart.
- when we think that complementarity precludes mutuality.
- when we forget that (like in the Godhead) true complementarity fosters deep reciprocity, camaraderie, unity, and harmony.
- when we think that we can reduce complementarity to a prescribed set of rules.
- when we regard complementarity as anything but good and beneficial, and the best context in which both sexes can flourish.
- when we lack grace for those who apply the principle of complementarity in a different manner than us.
- when we forget that complementarity is about shining the spotlight on Jesus.
- when we get obsessive about each tiny step and fail to relax and enjoy the dance.
In sum, we fail to see the forest for the trees whenever we think complementarity is about what male and female legalistically HAVE to do, rather than a grace-soaked, magnificent vision for who we GET to be.
The schwerpunkt for this generation
Sadly, the doctrine of gender is one that is not likely to be settled soon. The meaning of male, female, sex, and marriage is at the epicenter of a fierce spiritual battle. It’s the “schwerpunkt” of the enemy’s assault on our faithfulness to Scripture. Schwerpunkt. Now there’s a good German word for you. Schwer = heavy. Punkt= point. A schwerpunkt is the strategic area towards which an enemy directs its most concentrated military effort.
I believe that gender is Satan’s schwerpunkt for this generation. Without a clear vision for the beauty of God’s design for gender and sexuality, the church will lack the conviction to stave the onslaught, and also lack the means to minister healing and grace to those wounded in the attack.
Nail the theses to the door
God’s design for gender is not only right, but it is also beautiful and good. Knowing Christ gives us the freedom to step into the fullness and joy of who God created us to be. He created us male and female. We cannot know ourselves, experience wholeness of personhood, or truly bring Him glory, outside of this God-ordained context.
It’s true that what we believe about God’s design for gender is neither the only nor the most critical doctrinal matter. But at this point in history, it is undeniably an important one. Given the issues facing us, it’s imperative that we keep nailing our convictions about the Bible’s teaching on gender to the church’s door.
But in the process, let’s be exceedingly careful not to lose sight of the forest for the trees.