The issue of women in ministry allows us to the opportunity to ask questions about the hard passages of scripture and to work through these passages to discover God’s intended meaning through the inspired context. But in many quarters, questioning is a “sin” that will get a reprimand from a strong authoritarian leader. Is it really a sin to ask questions? The New York Times has produced an article by Molly Worthen called Who Would Jesus Smack Down? In a surprising view of “the cussing pastor”, Mark Driscoll is not only against women pastors and what is called the feminization of the church, but he also refuses to tolerate any opposition to his views. In The New York Times article Molly Worthen writes:
Nowhere is the connection between Driscoll’s hypermasculinity and his Calvinist theology clearer than in his refusal to tolerate opposition at Mars Hill. The Reformed tradition’s resistance to compromise and emphasis on the purity of the worshipping community has always contained the seeds of authoritarianism: John Calvin had heretics burned at the stake and made a man who casually criticized him at a dinner party march through the streets of Geneva, kneeling at every intersection to beg forgiveness. Mars Hill is not 16th-century Geneva, but Driscoll has little patience for dissent. In 2007, two elders protested a plan to reorganize the church that, according to critics, consolidated power in the hands of Driscoll and his closest aides. Driscoll told the congregation that he asked advice on how to handle stubborn subordinates from a “mixed martial artist and Ultimate Fighter, good guy” who attends Mars Hill. “His answer was brilliant,” Driscoll reported. “He said, ‘I break their nose.’ ” When one of the renegade elders refused to repent, the church leadership ordered members to shun him. One member complained on an online message board and instantly found his membership privileges suspended. “They are sinning through questioning,” Driscoll preached. John Calvin couldn’t have said it better himself.
Sinning through questioning – this attitude of leadership has become an epidemic in the hypermasculinity movement. See Cynthia Kunsman’s articles on surviving the Sheperding Movement and All about Authority: the Popularity of Submission Doctrine.
Driscoll is not an “isolated eccentric”, Worthen writes, but is a new breed of “aggressive, mission-minded Calvinism that really believes Calvinism is a transcript of the Gospel”. Not only are those who do not hold to Calvinism seen as rejecting the true gospel, but those who are not complementarian are also seen as holding to a belief that rejects the true “complementarian” gospel which keeps women in their “proper” place.
Like many New Calvinists, Driscoll advocates traditional gender roles, called “complementarianism” in theological parlance.
How do most members deal with the issue of “sinning through questioning”? Worthen writes:
Most members, however, didn’t join Mars Hill in order to ask questions.
Asking questions is not something that should be stifled. Wade Burleson has a post on the same article here titled The Problem of Authoritarianism in the Conservative Pulpits of America and Wade writes:
The Bible tells us that true leadership is found through men who are courageous enough to be questioned. Jesus said that real leaders are servants, not masters. The incredible notion that a member of a church should be shunned, persecuted or disciplined for simply asking questions of the pastor has more in common than the cultic practices of Jim Jones than the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Let me be clear. Those kind of pastors – pastors that advocate an authoritianism inherent in the pulpit, that stifle any and all dissent from the members of their congregations, that humiliate and denigrate the members who for the sake of conscience ask questions – could very well be considered great expositors of the Word of God and doctrinally orthodox. Yet those pastors display a character that is the antithesis of the character of Christ, an ironhandedness that is the opposite of genuine grace, and a disposition that should cause their congregations to realize that their pastors are but one step away from falling over the precipice of moral failure in terms of their church ministries or personal lives.
The problem in conservative pulpits of America is not a denial of the Word of God, the problem in conservative pulpits of America is the preacher acts as if his words are the Word of God.
Wade Burleson has been somewhat of a maverick himself advocating the inclusion of women’s gifts in the church and while a Calvinist himself, he does not hold to either authoritarian leadership or the view that makes the one asking questions to be a person that should be stifled or feared.
One of the commenters on Wade’s blog wrote:
Anyway, accurate or not, here’s something that any pastor can count on:
1 Peter 5:1-3, in pieces [NASB]:”Therefore I exhort the elders among you…shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion…nor yet as lording it over those alloted to your charge but proving to be examples to the flock.” Guess what pastors? You have no right to tell a member to leave just because you don’t get along. God has alloted them to YOU. You have to suck it up and be a good example. And you better get along with fellow elders, too.
Then Titus 1:7: “For the overseer must be above reproach as God’s steward, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not addicted to wine, not pugnacious, not fornd of sordid gain, but hospitable, loving what is good, sensible, just, devout, self-controlled.” Emphasis is mine. NO, you can’t break his nose. You’re sinning against the flock, not just the one. No, you can’t do something just because you think it’s a good idea, especially if other elders think it’s not…that’s what self-willed people do. And you are a steward, not an owner. You protect and keep, not divide and conquer.
The prophet Jeremiah makes it clear that the shepherds are not to divide the sheep:
Jeremiah 23:1 “Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of My pasture!” declares the LORD.
It is time that we think seriously about these issues because some are working hard to divide the flock and are stopping fellow Christians from asking tough questions. One may not believe in women in ministry, but we are still brothers and sisters in Christ. Let’s be willing to speak up without fear, yet with gentleness and meekness if perhaps God may grant them repentance and the divisions and separations may cease.