T4G and Women in the Church

Over at his blog Euangelion, Michael Bird has written an excellent post about the recent Together For the Gospel conference. This is a must read, and I include it here in its entirety.

Together for the Gospel … Not Quite!

In Reformed circles there has been an explosion of posts about the conference Together for the Gospel (T4G). It sounds like it was an amazing conference featuring C.J. Maheney, Mark Dever, J. Ligon Duncan, Al Mohler, John Piper and John MacArthur – these are some big names in preaching and these guys know how to preach a decent sermon. As a card carrying Calvinist I regularly listen to sermons by these fellas, esp. John Piper and Mark Dever who I have a lot of time for. In fact, the speakers have also started their own blog and the posts are quite inspirational and encouraging. Part of me would really like to have attended the conference, but another part of me wonders if this is the kind of gospel I want to identify with! Whoa! Yes, you heard me right. How so? Well, the conference registration expressly prohibits women from attending. (I did read in the comments section of Tim Challies blog that about 60 women out of 2000 registrants did attend the conference [that's good I guess] presumably because they registered before the restriction was introduced or else because they had special dispensation. But I also read that one woman was asked repeatedly to give up her place so that a man could attend [that's bad]). The reason being that the conference is orientated primarily towards ministers and pastors, and women obviously cannot be pastors. Women cannot attend since places are limited and they might take the place of a pastor/minister who wanted to attend the conference. As the conference is rooted in complementarianism that almost makes sense. I can understand the desire to encourage, train and exhort pastors in gospel ministry. But the conference was not restricted only to pastors, teaching elders and ministers, it was open to men irrespective of what ministerial functions they are currently performing. The men who attended the conference were not vetted as to what ministerial role they had as far as I'm aware. The only group restricted from attending were women. Any man who had an interest in the conference could attend irrespective of whether or not he was actually involved in pastoral ministry. That means that some pew sitting couch potato who wanted to hear some good Bible teaching could go to the conference while a woman who is involved Christian ministry (like university mission, foreign missions, college lecturer, discipleship, women-to-women, etc) was excluded.I'm concerned and confused by this. Why it is wrong for a woman to take the place of a pastor at the conference, while it is okay for a male pew sitting couch potato to take the place of a pastor? The only difference is that one is a woman and one is a man. I think women involved in ministry, especially those women who operate under the aegis of a complementarian ethos, would have benefited enormously from attending the conference. Our female co-workers in the gospel need to be equally equipped, encouraged and exhorted to fulfil their ministry in the Lord as much as men are. I must conclude, with great reluctance, that the word "Together" in Together for the Gospel does not seem to include women. That is a travesty and a tragedy. I want nothing to do with a gospel where "together" does not include my sisters-in-Christ who are partners and co-workers in the gospel.

At this point I will raise another topic. Article 16 of T4G states:

"We deny that the distinction of roles between men and women revealed in the Bible is evidence of mere cultural conditioning or a manifestation of male oppression or prejudice against women. We also deny that this biblical distinction of roles excludes women from meaningful minstry in Christ's kingdom. We further deny that any church can confuse these issues without damaging its witness to the Gospel."

[In fact I am concerned at the constant use of "brothers" in the preamble to the doctrinal statement because it is far from evident that this is meant in the inclusive sense of "brethren" (= brothers and sisters in Christ). There is no effort made to show that this includes the whole church comprising of men and women].

This is not only a strong affirmation of complementarianism but is an allegation that egalitarians undermine the church's witness to the gospel. I have two problems with this: (1) I have some very good friends who are egalitarians and they are among the most faithful proclaimers, practitioners and imitators of the gospel that I know. (2) To me this statement is on par with saying that those who believe in amillenialism, those who practice paedobaptism, and those who speak in tongues are damaging the church's witness to the gospel. Although the subject of women in ministry might not be adiaphora, it is a topic where faithful, Bible-believing, Christ-proclaiming and God-honouring Christians disagree. I will not regard my egalitarian friends as "damaging" to the gospel.

Just over a month ago I spent a week at home, in bed, with chicken pox. I spent my time reading and exegeting Gal. 2.11-14. There Paul objects to the view that Gentiles converts should be forced to judaize, i.e. adopt a Jewish life-style to the point of circumcision. Paul objects to the view that circumcision puts you a little closer to the throne of God. Similarly, I strenuously object to the view that having a pair of testicles means that your ministry matters more to God than those without them [this is strong language I know, but I hope that my rhetoric emphasizes my point all the more]. I do not have a problem with "equal" but "different". But I will fight tooth and nail, with all my strength, with all my heart, energy, and mind against those who say "equal" but "separate". That is what Paul opposed in Antioch. Whenever anyone implies "equal" but "separate" in the Church of Jesus Christ it is not walking towards the truth of the gospel (Gal. 2.14).

Now that being said I am not trying to impute false motives to the organizers, speakers or participants of the conference. All of these men clearly value the place of women in the church as stated in Article 16: "We also affirm that all Christians are called to service within the body of Christ, and that God has given to both men and women important and strategic roles within the home, the church, and the society." They are also committed to a complementarian vision of male-female relationships and I can respect that. Egalitarians need to remember that complementarians do not wake up every morning rejoicing in another day filled with opportunities to thwart and hamper women from exercising their spiritual gifts. T4G are not anti-women, that is clear to me. But just as Peter did not realize that by separating from Gentiles he was endangering the gospel; by restricting only women from the conference I think the organizers did not realize that they were undermining the significance of women in the church and the integrity of the gospel.

My recommendations would be for T4G in the future to do one of the following: (1) Allow women to attend the conference and to receive encouragement, exhortation and edification in the Word of God just as men do. (2) Restrict the conference to only pastors or pastoral ordination candidates so that women are not the only group restricted. Perhaps all attendees should be required to have a letter from their church saying that they are involved in ministry or are being considered for pastoral ministry. That way neither women nor male pew sitting couch potatoes will displace pastors who want to attend the conference. (3) Extend the conference by one day to include special sessions for women involved in ministry.

I am aware that there are men only and women only conferences (e.g. promise keepers), but they usually concern issues that are specific to the challenges facing each gender. In contrast, T4G is conference about the gospel. The Church comprising of Jew and Gentile; male and female; slave and free are the custodians of the gospel and not simply an elite few. In fact, in congregational churches men and women frequently have to vote on matters of faith and order giving us all the more reason to impart a gospel-centred worldview to a wide audience.

I do not habitually pray before blogging, but tonight I prayed. I prayed that I have all the facts right (I welcome correction if my research is misinformed). I prayed that I have not written in anger. I prayed that I have not over reacted. I prayed that I will graciously represent the views of T4G correctly, and I hope that I do not appear uncharitable. My objections should cross bipartisan theological lines as both egalitarians and complementarians can appreciate where I'm coming from. I'm not trying to rebuke anyone, but I have huge alarm bells ringing in my head at the moment and I'm putting up my hand so that I can say, "Hey folks, do you realize what you are implying?" I believe that T4G is a good thing since it gets people energized to gospelize – and I'm all for that. But in trying to hoist high the complementarian flag I wonder if they have (inadvertedly?) lowered the value of women in the process. I believe that "together" in the gospel must include everyone irrespective of race, age, education, social rank, economic status, ethnicity and gender – or else it is not a gospel because the gospel creates a new creation where those distinctions no longer matter in relation to the church's corporate witness (2 Cor 5.21; Gal 3.28; Col 3.11). If my tone sounds overly serious (as opposed to my usual whimsical candour) it is because the gospel is at stake.

I am currently writing a book on Paul (who bequeathed to us our many disputes about the role of women in ministry) and I am dedicating the book to my two daughters: Alexis and Alyssa. This is what I say in the dedication:

For Alexis and Alyssa
In the hope that you will both take your place
together with Phoebe and Priscilla among the churches of Paul.

Posted with fear and trepidation this night for the advance of the gospel, for the sake of my daughters, for the edification of the Church, and for the glory of Jesus Christ.

Soli Deo Gloria

These views are my own and not necessarily those of any church or organization that I am affiliated with.

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4 thoughts on “T4G and Women in the Church

  1. Way to go Mr.Bird. How do they expect women to teach anything more substantial than craft lessons without training? Now it would be interesting to hear a response from the conference leaders. Make sure to post it if they do. (P.S. — He gets extra writing points from me for the “male pew sitting couch potato.”)

  2. I agree with Lori, and applaud Mr. Bird.

    This is something that always bothered me about Dr. Mac…no women allowed at seminary? I can see their point about training men up as shepherds, but women can always benefit from knowledge. Are they afraid women will use this knowledge to usurp male authority?

  3. Well … I was a bit on the defensive when I read the title and first few sentences or so of the post.

    However, after reading it in its entirety, I think you’re criticism is valid.

    As one who went to the conference, I wondered at times who the target audience was. “Brothers” was a common address, but it wasn’t always clear when speaking of preaching if we were talking in the sense of preaching the gospel (i.e., doing evangelism, which would not be limited to men only) or preaching in the sense of pulpit ministry assigned to the (senior/lead) pastor, which I admittedly see limited to males.

    My gut tells me the whole thing was really targeted toward pastors and pastors in training. However, I can assure you there were some jokers there who likely returned to a vegetative state in the pew yesterday.

    I would also like to see the thing limited to pastors and those in training (i.e., those aspiring to meet the demands and fill the role of 1 Tim 3:1-7). Ergo, I would require a letter from their seminary, if enrolled, and their church, without a doubt.

    I don’t think there was any intention to be sexist, but one is certainly setting oneself up for criticism when no other distinguishing factor other than gender can be determined.

    Thanks for a lucid and thought out criticism, which appears bathed in prayer as well.

  4. Thanks everyone (esp. Clif for disseminating my post further) for your kind thoughts. I’m grateful that people appreciate and understand the point I’m making and the recognize the gracious tone I’ve tried to couch my criticisms in.
    Dr. Mike Bird

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