Over at Reformation 21, Dr. Carl Trueman has been writing on complementarianism and whether or not it is a gospel distinctive. If a person holds to an egalitarian position, is that person denying or undermining the gospel?
I completely agree with Dr. Trueman that complementarianism is the most biblically faithful position. I also agree that the hermeneutic that leads one to hold to egalitarianism tends to lead further and further away from orthodoxy. But does that mean that an egalitarian is therefore not a believer? Dr. Trueman answers it this way:
Second, if complementarianism is a gospel issue, then I think one is really saying that it is a matter which touches directly on the credibility or coherence of a simple profession of faith by an ordinary believer and one should act consistent with that view. That surely makes it very hard for complementarians serving with egalitarian colleagues at seminaries which claim to be Christian or evangelical to do so with real integrity. After all, the gospel as they understand it is being compromised in the classroom by their colleagues. Yet I wonder if serving on faculty with the late Roger Nicole would have been so very problematic to many members of the Gospel Coalition. It also seems to press towards a position where church membership must be denied to someone who is an egalitarian. If it is a gospel issue, then it seems that denial of it must in some serious sense be a denial of the gospel. Here, of course, ecclesiology can help us out: one can make a helpful (and I believe biblical) distinction between the qualifications necessary for church membership (a basic, credible profession) and officebearing which defuses some of the practical issues involved. Complementarianism becomes a matter of faithful, biblical ecclesiology rather than an immediate gospel matter.
From what I’ve read this morning, there are a number of Biblical patriarchy guys who are spitting nails over Dr. Trueman’s post. This confirms for me a thought I’ve had. For many of the Biblical patriarchy guys, the issue of the roles of men and women is THE issue. It is the root of all problems in the church and in the world. It is the one issue that holds them together despite pretty significant theological differences.
Which brings me to Dr. Trueman’s final point:
Third, we have to be careful what we decide to make into gospel issues and not simply allow our own immediate context or admittedly important cultural struggles to be decisive. Luther thought affirmation of the presence of the whole Christ, in, with and under the elements of the bread and the wine in communion, was a gospel issue such that those who denied this were ‘of a different Spirit.’ Zwingli thought infant baptism was a gospel distinctive, such that he collaborated with the council in Zurich in the judicial drowning of Anabaptists. Indeed, Baptists have to face the fact that most of their theological heroes throughout history have baptized babies and, indeed, thought it a gospel distinctive. I am not saying that they should therefore become paedobaptists (though they could do a lot worse); but I am saying it should give us pause for thought before we start declaring what are and are not gospel issues and distinctives. This has been a perennially tough question for Protestants and needs to be parsed with care.