Half the Church – Part 4 – The One About Submission

I have been reading ‘Half the Church’ by Carolyn Custis James and blogging my thoughts on it. Part 1Part 2 and Part 3 are available here. 

A professor at a well-known, US Christian college expressed concern that the number one quality young men on his campus were seeking in the women they dated was submissiveness. He was alarmed at the potential for abuse, which is all too common when women have been encouraged their whole lives not to stand their ground and be on default mode ‘yes.’

What should submission look like? As I pointed out in my last post on the Trinity and what it communicates about female and male relationships, we are image bearers reflecting God’s image – and should always refer back to that image when we are unsure how to display his glory.

Jesus is God’s true image bearer. His weeping reassures us that God doesn’t keep himself at a safe emotional distance from the sorrows we experience. His heart is bound up with us. He is moved with compassion. He knows how the Story will ultimately end and the heavy cost of the recovery effort – but he enters into our sorrows and weeps with us.

Jesus’ definition of submission isn’t about giving in to others, but about giving out from himself, from the fulfillment and relationship he shares in with his Father and the Spirit. Our own submission should likewise pour out from the completeness that comes from a relationship with him. Jesus models this submission as he brings about the gospel – following God’s purpose, he poured himself out to rescue a lost humanity.

Submission for us follows that same trajectory of putting the interests’ of others ahead of ourselves to complete the rescue mission we have been set on – and this is not easy. It requires strength and courage.

But submission is a word that has been used as a weapon, and then rejected altogether as a result. When it has been (and still is) used as a word that only applies to women (and always applies to women), the results are chilling – look at the situations globally young girls and women find themselves in. Should a child bride embrace the word submission too?

Many would say girls in that situation should not submit. But are they just allowable exceptions, in extreme circumstances? If we follow that this is a command for women, when is it okay to not submit, and when must we? Now we are getting to the heart of the issue: is the gospel’s message for women just a kinder, gentler version of the world’s message? Does the gospel only overturn extreme patriarchal societies, or does it overturn our own, more ‘civilized’ but equally as broken culture? Is the gospel’s message for women consistent across time, space and culture, or does it alter, or worse, only speak to certain women?

This is the key question Half the Church is trying to answer, and it reflects a lot (but not all) of my own questions.

I want to live God’s way, for many reasons. But most of all, because I believe I was created as an image bearer of God, a child of his, who was lost and reflecting all the wrong things, but has been redeemed into his kingdom and his mission. I know that God’s glory is increased and his image is mostly clearly reflected to his world when we do things his way. No matter what answers I find, if they are the ones I want or not, I will follow God’s command. But I will find answers.

Biblical equality, Jesus feminism or whatever term you use, has been accused of selfishness, of being about women wanting more or distracting the church with their own issues. But many women, including those who are leaders in ministry and business are most concerned with how to build bridges with our Christian brothers. Topics like women’s ordination and debated Pauline passages fade into the background compared to this. There’s a deep desire in Christian women to serve God with their heart and soul – alongside their Christian brothers.

For the mission God has set us on is urgent. Passivity or a partial effort is unconscionable. When one half of the church is asked to sit on the sidelines, the bride of Christ limp, the mission slows down and we misrepresent God’s oneness and intentions for humanity.

So what does men and women living out biblical equality look like?

They are mission minded – they are part of something bigger than themselves. This compels and frees them to set aside their personal agendas to embrace God’s mission – and the magnitude and seriousness of this mission outweighs everything else and demands a whole hearted effort from everyone.

They are called to gospel living – which means putting the interests of others ahead of your own interests. Gospel living is displayed for the world see – and they will see lives being poured out for the sake of others and for a greater cause, just like the life Jesus modeled.

They are all mutually flourishing – this isn’t a win for the women and a loss for the men. Instead, by working together, all people flourish and become more like the image of God.

It’s hard to fathom the potential impact this biblical equality could have on our divided, combative, broken world. But it’s how God intended things to be, and without a doubt it will make the church shine like a bright light in the darkness to those who have lost their way.

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