Interdependence and the Blessed Alliance
A statement on the roles of men and women in the church.
At Christian Fellowship, we believe that God’s global mission, and our local mission, both rooted in the Great Commandment and the Great Commission, can only be fulfilled when men and women of all generations and ethnicities work together for God’s good in the world.
We believe that our story of interdependence begins in Genesis, where the Bible teaches that men and women were created by God to bear his image together (Genesis 1:27). We believe that God’s design is that it takes both male and female to reflect His image most fully to our world, and that His intention is for us to share oneness and community with one another (Genesis 2:23-24), even as the Godhead experiences this kind of interdependence within the Trinity. We call this relationship between men and women the “blessed alliance.”
We believe that God created men and women to reproduce, fill the earth, and exercise dominion over this creation together. Although God’s perfect plan for his children was broken because of sin, and the struggle to “rule over” one another began, we believe Scripture continues to call us back to this blessed alliance. This call to oneness is illustrated again in Galatians 3:28 – that in God’s Kingdom there is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female. We are all one in Christ Jesus, and we are commanded to love one another as Christ has loved us (John 13:34).
As a church, we also believe that God has given each believer spiritual gifts that we are called to use for the fulfillment of His mission. In the formation of the church at Pentecost, these gifts were poured out by the Holy Spirit to men and women alike, as had been predicted long before the coming of Christ (Joel 2:28; Acts 2:18).
In the New Testament church, we believe that women as well as men exercised prophetic and priestly functions (Acts 2:1-21; 1 Corinthians 11:4-5; I Peter 2:9-10), and the Spirit bestowed gifts on all members of the church sovereignly, without preference given to gender (Acts 2:1-21; I Corinthians 12:7, 11). We live out the belief that every believer is instructed to offer his or her gifts for the benefit of the body of Christ and the world (Romans 12:4-8; I Peter 4:10-11).
As a church, we also believe that the two New Testament verses that appear to limit women’s activities in the church (I Timothy 2:12 and I Corinthians 14:34-35) must be read within their cultural context and alongside Paul’s description of the women he worked with when spreading the gospel. In Romans 16, Paul calls Phoebe a deacon and a leader. A few verses later we read about Priscilla, a teacher of other teachers, and about Mary, Tryphena, Tryphosa, and Persis, whose ministry Paul describes with the same Greek word that he uses to describe his own ministry of preaching and evangelism. Andronicus and Junia (the latter most likely female) are also described as “outstanding among the apostles.” We recognize the significance of Christ directing Mary Magdalene to use her voice as a reliable testimony when he commissioned her in the garden to “go and speak” to his disciples following his resurrection.
As a church, we also believe that while equality and identity of every human being in Christ is a primary doctrine, the specific gender roles of men and women are a secondary theological issue. We acknowledge that there are Bible-believing leaders and churches who hold varying positions on this issue.
In response to the rise of Christian feminism, evangelical theologians separated into two camps in the late 1980s. As a result of this separation, the terms “complementarianism” and “egalitarianism” were introduced. This development has spurred a significant debate on the role of women in the church in recent decades.
While terms and definitions can be helpful, they can also be divisive. As a church, we prefer to talk about what we stand for rather than what we stand against, which is why we talk a lot about interdependence and the blessed alliance. In the case of this debate, we believe that both “camps” fall into the sphere of evangelical orthodoxy. They agree on more than they disagree, and they concur that both Christian feminism and patriarchy fall outside of God’s intention when he created male and female.
So only for the sake of clarity do we draw attention to our theological position on this debate. Our position can best be described as soft complementarianism, which means that as a leadership body, we hold to the practice that women are encouraged and empowered to serve in all areas of ministry in the life of the church, including as leaders and pastors, while reserving for men the offices of lead pastor, elder/overseer, and primary teacher.
Limiting the offices of lead pastor and eldership to men stems from the conviction that elders are called by God to be guardians and protectors. During every period of Biblical history, those charged with protecting and defending the people or the sanctuary of God were men. Adam was put in the garden “to serve it and guard it” in Genesis 2:15. Although women served and followed Jesus during his earthly ministry, he called the 12 male apostles to unique leadership positions. Also, male leadership is implied for eldership (overseers of the church) when Paul exhorts such to be the “husband of one wife” in 1 Timothy 3:2. So, this practice of male eldership stands together with the other beliefs listed above.
Therefore, in our attempts to live together as a Biblically functioning, interdependent community, we are committed to the following values:
- To actively seek and hear the voices of both men and women at every level of leadership.
- To equip and empower both men and women to serve in ministry in their areas of gifting.
- To live out the values for transparency, interdependence, and peacemaking as we work together as men and women for the fulfillment of God’s mission.
- To cultivate opportunities for the congregation to hear and learn from both men and women.
- To use sensitivity in language that reflects the honor and value God desires for maleness and femaleness.
- To be intentional where appropriate in overcoming sexist elements of our culture and to offer encouragement to women in areas where their giftedness has been traditionally discouraged.
- To honor and respect the men who serve as our elders and the men and women who serve as our pastors and in other leadership roles.
- To teach and model these values to members of our community, to the church, and to the world at large.
- To respect the position of women in other churches who may serve as lead pastors or elders.
For further study, we recommend these resources:
- Gender Roles and the People of God by Alice Matthews
- Half the Church by Carolyn Custis James
- Slaves, Women, and Homosexuals by William Webb
- Men and Women in Christ by Andrew Bartlett
- Beautiful Difference: The Complementarity of Male and Female by Andrew Wilson
- Various messages and articles by Sam Storms