Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Why God’s Church is Feminine with a Feminine Feel, Not Masculine with a Masculine Feel: A Further Response to the Errant Theology of John Piper and His Claim that Christianity was Intended to have a Masculine Feel

In July of this year I posted a brief response to the claim by Neo-Calvinist Bible Teacher, John Piper, that God intended for the church to have a “masculine feel”. Piper’s claim can be found at his own website linked here (Piper does attempt to qualify or justify his "masculine feel"categorization of God's intention of the church with appeals to understanding the feminine side and the role of the bride of Christ. However, Piper remains fundamentally wrong. But this tactic of acquiescing to orthodoxy while asserting heterodoxy and novel concepts by Piper, as if giving credence to orthodoxy makes his foreign doctrine acceptable, is seen in much of Piper's dysfunctional logic and messy theology found in his proprietary effort, "Desiring God: Meditations of A Christian Hedonist" and subsequent publications).
However, in my article I failed to fully explore the issue and came away with deficient arguments for the benefit of my readers. That is to say, I stopped too short of both explaining why Piper erred and allowing myself to discover the very opposite to be essential and true which is that God’s church or as is nicknamed “Christianity”, is emphatically intended by God to be feminine with a feminine feel.

Here it is necessary to plead with my readers to follow, carefully, if they have any immediate objections and listen to the presentation. I am as manly as the next guy. I am one who prefers anthems and ballads and dogmatically believes that the offices of Pastor/Teacher or Elder, Deacon and Evangelist are reserved for certain gifted and qualified men and no woman may fill these divine offices.


The immediate and most obvious consideration regarding the issue of whether God intended the church to have a masculine or feminine feel (I will use Piper’s expression in many places though not necessarily favoring its construct) is found in the word, itself, ekklesia or ecclesia (ἐκκλησία). The word is feminine noun. Let me repeat this fundamental point, it is a feminine noun. Why? Because it is describing a categorically feminine body, both in construct and in operation. And we will see why in a bit.

But what is most critical and what must administer the direction of our thinking is this grammatical fact. In other words, while feminine words are not always intended to represent something exclusively categorically feminine , when other elements affirm its unique feminine categorical view or property, we are not free to ignore it for other intellectual, academic or theological/philosophical pursuits. So we begin with the clarion property of the word, ecclesia, which is that it is a feminine noun.

Theological/Scriptural Treatment

The next thing we must examine is the theological treatment of the church or Christianity in the Scriptures. Is it treated as a masculine or feminine body, does it present a masculine or feminine feel (One cannot divest the church or Christianity of each other, they cannot be dichotomized, they are one in the same. I say this lest some foolish mind be tempted to rationalize a distinction)?

I believe any student of Scripture beyond the first year or two can answer this question. But let us not assume so much and make the argument.

The Bride of Christ. In the Scriptures, repeatedly, the Word of God presents the church as the bride of Christ. In fact, it is rather astounding that Piper or anyone else would make the claim of a masculine feel for Christianity in light of this demonstrative truth.
Ephesians 5:25-27 (ESV)
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.
Revelation 21:2
And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
2 Corinthians 11:2
For I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ.
A bride is categorically and unquestionably feminine. There is no possibility of the role of a bride being fulfilled by a masculine person. The allegory is not merely anecdotal. That is to say, the Holy Scriptures are not simply using a convenient analogy and if they so wished they could flip it and make Christ the bride and the church the groom. In fact, how offensive would it be to those who understand the paramount nature of this order to hear some such claim?

Not only do we have a grammatical precedence but we now have a theological one. But trust me, you will find friends of theological folly still battling with the obvious. Additionally, you will not find a masculine description of the church in Scripture. So again, we have not only a grammatical boundary we now have a theological one where the church or Christianity is dogmatically to be viewed in a feminine context.

The Body of Christ and the Mistake of Transferring the Masculinity of Christ to the Church. One might decide that the above is all well and good but what about “the body of Christ” where it says the church is the body of Christ? If Christ is masculine and the church is his body, wouldn’t the church then be masculine, too? Wouldn't his masculinity be transferred to the church, to Christianity? Let’s first cite a few passages which might be used for such an argument:
1 Corinthians 12:27 (ESV)
Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.
Colossians 1:18 (ESV)
And he is the head of the body, the church.
Remember that this is a description of an analogy with a purpose. What one must ask if the purpose here is to imply that the church is to now be viewed as masculine seeing that they are “the body of Christ” and he is masculine or something else such as the nature of the church’s relationship to Christ?

In Genesis we are told by God that when a man and woman marry they become one.
Genesis 2:24 (ESV)
That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.
Clearly, while they become one flesh they do not lose their masculine or feminine properties. The divine construct of marriage where the husband and wife become one flesh has with its intentions, not an implication that one becomes the other, that gender properties are transferred, rather that in their marital offices functioning together as one unit, still operate with their distinct roles and gender properties in tact.

And the Scriptures make it abundantly clear that the one body of marriage has a head.
Ephesians 5:23 (ESV)
For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.
Neither the wife who has the husband as a head nor the church who has Christ as the head is viewed as having transferred to them the masculine properties of the other. In fact, to assert this would remove both the wife and the church/bride from qualifying as being either seeing they are suddenly masculine.

So when we encounter passages about the body of Christ with Christ being the head, we are to view it as it is presented in Scripture, with the head (Christ) as indeed masculine and the body of Christ (the church/Christianity) as being feminine, responding to the head.

The Nature of Femininity

There is a divine order with regard to creation. Many these days seem to struggle with this but that is due to sin, not due to the divine construct or its failure to consider alleged social emancipation for women in various settings. Human femininity is fundamentally designed to respond to human masculinity. Women are primarily responders, men initiators.

This does not mean women do not initiate in various contexts, far from it but with respect to God’s intention of the administrative order of the relationship between a husband and wife, it is male-initiator, female-respondent. A good husband will be one who concentrates on planning and policy for his family (which does not mean necessarily mean he does it alone, his genius wife as the Executive Officer is a resource many wisely use to the fullest extent in consultation but ultimately he must form the conclusion) and does all he can to set up a system which will insure that such planning and policies can be carried out.

A good wife will accept her responsibilities and respond as the Executive Officer in a marriage. She will either accept this construct or fight against it and be miserable (hint, pay attention before you say “I do”.  Ladies, you are accepting a head and if you ignore what you should pay attention to you might find a head that you are miserable following). And a good Executive Officer seeks to execute the plans and policies of the “one body”. Her authority, responsibility and freedom to accomplish these things is based in the doctrine of her husband.

When you have a husband with no doctrine you have a body or wife that fills it with her own ideas, good, bad or indifferent but ultimately you have an absent Commanding Officer. When you have a husband with abusive doctrines you have a wife that hates her husband and is provoked to undermine him. When you have a husband with good doctrine but a wife with a dysfunctional soul based in rebellion, you have a good head and a disobedient body. But when you have a good head with sound doctrine and a respondent body, you have a healthily functioning relationship.

Christ is our head and possesses perfect doctrine, perfect plans, perfect policies and protocols; we are his body, the bride of Christ. We are to be respondents to Christ, not initiators. We are to carry out his plans and his policies, not our own. We are to concentrate on his wisdom, not ours. We are to identify with him. We, the church are his bride, we are not the groom.

Putting Away Masculine Egotism

I think what disturbs Teachers like John Piper is that for a man to have to consciously view themselves as taking on a feminine role, never mind articulate it in Teaching about the role of the church, is something simply too severe for his ego. Now this may seem uncharitable toward John Piper but along with many of his others demonstrations of bravado and posturing, I believe Mr. Piper provides the profile of a very confused and misled man regarding his own impetus in some areas. But let us lay that aside. 

The fact is, unless he or anyone fully receives the call to be one who receives from Christ, one who is dependent upon Christ, one who is led by Christ, one who must be the submitter, the Executive Officer and not the Commanding Officer, one who carries out policy and does not formulate it and ultimately, one who is the bride and not the groom, the feminine and not the masculine in the nature of the relationship, then you will forever have men whose egos must be tended to in the manner expressed by Piper in claiming the God intended for the church to have a masculine feel. Seeing there is scant cause, if any, in Scripture for such a ludicrous claim leads me to only one conclusion, that it is a personal/ego matter for Mr. Piper and *anyone else staking such a theological claim.

God is not asking you to abandon your human masculinity for goodness sakes; this isn’t about you or your masculinity, John Piper, or any other person who is listening. Your human or anthropological gender, its masculine or feminine properties, has nothing to do with the church’s feminine relationship to Christ, the groom. But the church’s rightful identification as feminine, as the responder to Christ, our head, has everything to do with how the church carries out its responsibilities.

The Mistake of Transferring Human Masculinity from Church Government/Leadership to the Church

The last paragraph in the previous section leads me to a final point before closing comments about the church’s view of itself and the possible argument that if the church is to be viewed as feminine, then why did God order it to be led by men? And if it is led by men isn’t there some kind of transfer of the masculinity to the church?

First, to ignore all that has been presented in order to forward this argument would disqualify anyone from being taken seriously. That is to say, it is abundantly clear by now that language such as Piper’s categorical “I conclude that God has given Christianity a masculine feel”, is theological inept at best and simply overwhelmingly confronted and dismantled by exegetical/grammatical and theological content to the contrary.

But for the sake of entertaining another overreach let’s consider this line of reasoning. Is it possible that there is a conflict in understanding the church to be feminine yet called by God to be led by men? And in that context is there not a masculinizing of the church by default?

No, and I will tell you why.

It is not masculinity which God has assigned to the govern the church, though this property does have a role. God has designated the offices of, Pastor/Teacher or Elder and Deacon for governing the church. These offices have with them requirements based partly in gender (male only) and significantly in spiritual gifting and moral/ethical/dispositional properties in order to be filled.

Their roles are to carry out the protocol plan of Christ, not their own. While it is true that the exercise of their authority, in part,  rests in their masculinity, their authority itself, is not derived from the property or personal expression of their masculinity. Rather in its derived from cooperation with and submission to Christ. In simple terms, they are to lead the church into submission to Christ. It is not to lead the church into masculinity because it is not about masculinity. In fact and rather ironically, their masculinity, if anything, is to guard the church's  femininity. They are to be examples of robust, demonstrative and exemplary submission to Christ. So if I were to appeal to any function of the masculine property of men in church government, I would state it this way.
The masculine property of Church government is for the guardianship of its femininity.
The ironic design of God is to use that masculine strength and guardianship to lead Christianity, the church, into its own masculine demise and to dependence upon Christ, the ultimate feminine yielding to the headship of another, namely Christ.

Final Thoughts

As I said, I prefer ballads and anthems; I like deep voices and robust masculinity. I have no interest, for the most part, in the fragile and dainty. But that is me, my person. However, the church is not about me, my person. In Christ, I am but a fragile man made strong by his might. He is the man, I am his bride. My doctrine and strength are provided by him. He has not called me to enlarge myself but that he be enlarged. God calls us to divest ourselves from our egos when it comes to living a life for him and being the body of Christ.

Do not be mistaken, God has not called anyone to abandon their femininity nor their masculinity where it is intended to stand guard and provide its role as it should. A father and mother, a brother and sister, a grandfather and grandmother and a husband and wife are all involved in other divine institutions which are based, quite explicitly, in their masculine and feminine properties. Those are not to cease.

But if we are going to claim a feminine or masculine property and feel for the church, we and it must understand, we are the bride of Christ. We, the church should understand that God has given, if anything to Christianity, a feminine feel in our submission to Jesus Christ as head.


 *An interesting side bar. If you have not heard of Ellerslie School of Honor you should, it is a growing concern which many believe has taken on cultic kinds of methods to recruit and indoctrinate Evangelical young people. It it is led by a man named Eric Ludy and its doctrine ranges from perfectionism and puritanism to Neo-Reformed. It views itself very exclusively and has a remnant philosophy, us against the world and what they call "namby-pamby" Christianity. The present themselves as a spiritual utopia, in my view. I found the kinds of theological excess, grandiosity and novelty found in John Piper to be present in Eric Ludy, but less tempered.  In fact, almost paralleling John Piper, Eric Ludy made this statement at his school's website on the introductory remarks in the Advanced Training guide in quoting a man named CT Studd about the intent of the training at Ellerslie, Ludy communicates, “we will have a masculine holiness”. It appears they are using the same playbook on this one which isn't the Bible.

1 comment:

Sergius Martin-George said...

Looks like you're back in business.