Nora Allison is the wife of Dr. Gregg Allison, professor of Christian Theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY. They have three grown children, Lauren, Hanell, and Luke, and six grandchildren. She co-leads the Women’s Ministry and is the East Campus Women's Director at Sojourn Community Church.
“It’s time to push.” For women who have ever delivered a baby, that’s very welcome news!
After hours – or even days – of labor in which everyone around you insists you must relax and breeeeeathe during horrific contractions (which admittedly is the best strategy), finally comes the moment when all your strength can be applied to the task at hand: Pushing out that baby! Again, timing is key; you need to work with your body and only push when the time is right. But when that time comes, and each time it comes, there is no holding back. With everything you’ve got, you bear down and PUSH! And then you wait, and with the next contraction, you push some more until you reach the desired result: a visible baby which the whole world can see.
There has been some wonderful teaching and encouragement by outstanding theologians and pastors of our day on the subject of the role of women in the home and in the church and the practical out workings of Biblical Womanhood. Among other truths, the equal worth and standing before God of women and men, despite obvious physical and role differences, have been explained and defended biblically in theology textbooks, in seminary classrooms and from pulpits. Male headship and female submission in the context of marriage and male leadership in the church is not a popular platform to defend, but it is a biblical one and as a Christian woman, I’m extremely grateful to those who have done so.
The difficulty lies in the disconnect between what complementarians* (with whom I whole-heartedly identify) say we believe about the role of women in the church and what our churches actually practice.
We say that a qualified woman can/should have any role in the church outside of the office of elder/pastor, because her prohibition from that role is not due to any insufficiency on her part, but due to God’s creation of us as male and female for his purposes. We say that living out our created masculinity and femininity, as God defines it and intends it, is essential in mirroring the beauty and complexity of our Triune God. We say that we should always be evidence of what we believe by what we practice.
But what does the world see in many of our complementarian churches? Male only elders and pastors (great!), male only worship leaders (if it’s a pastoral position, great!), male only Scripture readers (hmmm), male only announcement-givers (more hmmm), males only leading in prayer (still more hmmm), women discouraged from working outside the home (and why is that?) women who are confused about what it means to be spiritually strong (sad), women who believe that being timid and fearful is feminine (unbiblical), women who watch their husbands and elders make mistakes without offering respectful counsel (unhelpful and possibly disastrous) and women who are afraid to speak up and question the way things are for fear of being misunderstood and labeled “pushy.” (present company included).
I compare all the great work that’s been done to develop the doctrines of manhood and womanhood over the past several decades to the gestation period. A beautiful complementarian baby has been formed. Now it’s time to get that baby out and let the church and the world see it! When we gather as the church, God’s plan for men and women should be visible. If we believe that women should be seen (but not up front) and heard (but only as vocalists) then what we are practicing is fine. But if we believe that it is not only permissible but biblical for women to pray (1 Cor. 11:5) and to speak truth and admonish the church (Col 3:16) and serve as deaconesses (1 Tim. 3:11), then we should see capable, spirit-filled women praying, speaking truth, admonishing and serving using their giftedness to the full within their God-ordained roles.
Personally, I’m comfortable staying in my seat on Sundays and letting the men prepare and do all the upfront ministry. Frankly, it’s easier. But what we do and how we do it has never been about easy and always about exhibiting what we believe to be true.
So to my complementarian friends and leaders, at the risk of being pushy, I think the time is right for the world to see this beautiful baby we call Complementarianism on display in the church. It’s time to push.
*Complementarians believe that God created male and female as complementary expressions of the image of God---male and female are counterparts in reflecting his glory. Having two sexes expands the view. Though both sexes bear God's image fully on their own, each does so in a unique and distinct way. Male and female in relationship reflects truths about Jesus that aren't reflected by male alone or female alone. (Mary Cassian)