Pauline Equality
October 30, 2019

“The religion of our time,” says the writer known as Bronze Age Pervert, “is the unquestioned and absolute worship of human equality.”

That may not be the religion, but it’s certainly one of them, and one that threatens to dissolve the moral and social distinctions and hierarchies on which sane human life is founded.

Equality is a jealous god, and, like most established religions, our religion of Equality is intolerant. It demands that life choice, no matter how perverse, must be affirmed, or else. Raise a moral objection to any choice, and you’ve launched an assault on human dignity.

Beto O’Rourke – he of the unfiltered lips – only says out loud what many believe. Asked if he thinks churches should lose their tax exempt status if they oppose same sex marriage, O’Rourke said, “There can be no reward, no benefit, no tax break for anyone or any institution, any organization in America that denies the full human rights and the full civil rights of every single one of us. . . . we are going to stop those who are infringing upon the human rights of our fellow Americans.”

The church puts up the feeblest resistance to this religion because we’ve more or less embraced it.

That capitulation is most obvious in the abandonment of the traditional view that only men should be ordained. As the recent clash between Beth Moore and John MacArthur shows, many, many Evangelical, Bible-centered churches, ordain women to pastoral ministry.

Dissenters in the Catholic church wish to revolutionize the Roman Catholic priesthood, not only by opening it up to married priests (theologically and practically, a good idea) but to women.

The traditional position is rooted in Scripture. Women play many roles in ancient Israel, including roles at the sanctuary (Exodus 38:8; 1 Samuel 2:22). But women never function as liturgical leaders. Israel has no priestesses.

We might think this is an accident of the old covenant, now overturned by Paul’s declaration that “there is neither male nor female.” But the same Paul (yes, the same Paul) establishes a sexual order in the church and appeals to creation in support (1 Timothy 2:9-14).

Paul’s reading of Genesis 2 isn’t arbitrary. The garden is the original sanctuary, and Adam is placed in it to “guard and serve” it (Genesis 2:15). After Yahweh builds Eve, Adam is called to be a priestly guardian and servant to her as well. Adam isn’t merely the first man, but the original priest and pastor.

According to Paul, the sexual distinction in the Edenic sanctuary persists in the new covenant sanctuary, the church. Ordained men play the Adamic role, standing in the place of Jesus the Bridegroom, called to guard and serve the Bride.

Women aren’t to be ordained ministers of Word and Table. It’s not surprising that many Evangelicals ordain women, since few have much of a concept of liturgical leadership.

Absent an upgrade in liturgical theology, objections about women preaching will continue to look arbitrarily sexist. And the church won’t put up any significant resistance to this pervasive cultural religion until we purge this false faith from our own churches.

Yet, it’s important to remember our sources of authority. Christians aren’t called to be anti-egalitarian. We’re called to be pro-Bible. We can’t let opposition to egalitarianism set our agenda or be our standard, which is only a back-handed way of worshiping the god Equality.

Any view of women’s roles that villainizes Deborah or Huldah the prophetess has to be wrong. Perhaps their ministries were extraordinary, but that simply means the church should be prepared to accept women judges and prophetesses if the Lord raises them.

And any Christian response to the worship of Equality has to be framed with the Bible’s own theology of equality.

The word “equality” appears in only a few texts. Paul uses the Greek word isotes in 2 Corinthians 8, in a discussion of the collection of funds from Gentile churches to provide famine relief for brothers in Jerusalem.

For Paul, material goods should be distributed equitably among believers. Paul doesn’t want to afflict the Corinthians or ease others’ lives. “Equality” is achieved when the Corinthians give from their present abundance to supply their brothers’ need (vv. 14-15). Paul cites Exodus 16, which refers to the distribution of manna: “He who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little did not lack.”

It’s fair enough to point out Paul doesn’t mean everyone has an identical share. “Equal” distribution of manna didn’t have to be mathematically exact, so long as there was no excess or lack. Equality doesn’t mean identity.

But there’s a deeper dimension to this. When Paul speaks elsewhere of the collection, he doesn’t write in terms of “equality” but in terms of reciprocity. The Corinthians enjoy the benefits of the Jews’ spiritual gifts; they should reciprocate by giving material gifts (Romans 15:26-27).

The exchange leads to balance and equity, but this equality depends on the diversity of contribution. There’s equality because Corinthians give material goods in exchange for the Jews’ spiritual goods. There’s equality when, at another level, there’s inequality.

In this sense, the church’s communal life models “equality,” not because everyone has the same gifts and makes the same contributions, but precisely because they don’t. There’s equality in a Pauline sense not when everyone does the same, but when teachers teach, helpers help, healers heal, exhorters exhort.

There’s equality because each contributes to the edification of the whole body in his or her own unique way. There’s equality because of the generous use of diverse, non-identical gifts.

In this way, the church becomes a human image of the communion of Triune Persons, who are “equal in power and glory,” even while being differently divine.

That brings us back to women’s ordination. For those who worship the god Equality, the prohibition of women’s ordination is abominable, an affront to dignity. For churches that embody Pauline equality, women are equal in the church because they gifted by the Spirit to contribute to the body.

Within the church, some men lead, some follow. Some women lead in various capacities, some follow. All, men and women, exercise their gifts. Each gives and each receives; each edifies, and is edified in turn. And so there is equality because all contribute diversely to the edification of the whole, to the common good.

To download Theopolis Lectures, please enter your email.