God is Not Mocked: Exposing the Authority Heresy

You may be wondering why I chose to reference Galatians 6:7 in the title of my series. Here is why:

For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.

Those that sow to the flesh reap corruption. In other words, corruption is proof that someone is ignoring the Spirit and indulging the flesh. And it seems that day by day, more corruption is coming to light in America’s churches. Ministries under investigation for tax fraud. Prominent pastors accused of sexual harassment and assault. Elders exposed for turning a blind eye to pedophiles in the pews. Church discipline that has been flagged as damaging and discriminatory. The scandals continue to pile up.

For decades, many of the leaders embroiled in these scandals have written hundreds of books and preached countless sermons on “spiritual authority.” They have presented themselves as being near the top of a “God-ordained” hierarchy that requires lay believers to submit—unquestioningly—to their direction. They have then used their subsequent success in ministry to “prove” that they have God’s blessing and approval in this system of power and control.

But God is not mocked. The laws of sowing and reaping cannot be subverted. Sowing unto unbiblical authority is sowing unto pride, and pride always reaps corruption. Always. As the Bible says, a good tree bears good fruit and a bad tree bears bad fruit (Matthew 7:17). Unbiblical church authority is churning out bad fruit by the bushels. It is not God’s will for His Church.

A Prescriptive Reading of a Descriptive Text

The heretical model of church authority builds its foundation on complementarianism, a.k.a. “Biblical manhood and womanhood.” Authority advocates often begin their argument with God’s words to Eve in Genesis 3:16:

To the woman he said, “I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.”

Authority advocates claim that with this decree, God established hierarchy in marriage and, by extension, His Church as part of His divine will. The problem is, God’s words here are descriptive rather than prescriptive. In other words, if God intended for men to rule over women as part of His divine will, He would have addressed His words as a command to Adam. What God is really doing in this passage is describing the consequences of the fall. He is outlining the curse of sin. Man’s rulership over woman is part of a curse. It was not part of God’s original design or intent.

Bringing the Curse to Church?

Even though Christ’s death on the cross has freed us from the curse of sin, authority advocates claim that we should continue operating under the consequences of the fall until Christ returns to earth, when he will then establish a new kingdom. Since male rulership over women is a consequence of original sin, it begs to assume that it will not be a part of the new kingdom. Our purpose as Christians is to help establish God’s kingdom on earth. What kingdom are we helping to establish by continuing to operate under a curse? And in what scripture are we admonished to preserve the consequence of original sin in our lives? There is nothing in the gospel to support this way of thinking.

Jesus, The Apostle Paul and 1 Timothy 2 

Authority advocates then turn to 1 Timothy 2 to argue that their view of hierarchy does indeed extend to the Church:

I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner.

On the surface, it looks clear: teaching is exercising authority over another person, and women are not to do so. And the reason is that Adam was created first and Eve was deceived and sinned first.

Except, that makes zero sense.

1. If order of creation determined order of hierarchy, then birds, plants and beasts would be greater than man.

2. God gave dominion over the earth to mankind only after Eve’s creation, and His decree to rule was addressed to she and Adam both (Genesis 1:28).

3. Adam was not deceived but still sinned. His lack of deception did not exempt him from the consequences of sin. His sin was the same as Eve’s and just as egregious.

4. As stated before, Eve’s loss of equality was part of a curse, not a divine prescription. Christ’s atonement has freed us from the curse of sin.

Also, this verse seems to imply that men have either a natural or divine ruling authority that women are not to usurp. But that goes entirely against what Jesus himself said on the subject:

Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.” ~ Matthew 20:24-26

“But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father,and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” ~ Matthew 23:8-12

The Greek word for “authority” in 1 Timothy 2:12 is authentien, and its meanings include to rule, dominate, murder, usurp another’s rights, and claim ownership or authorship over another. So of course Paul would say this is inappropriate for women in the Church. It is inappropriate for everyone in the Church!

In the book I Suffer Not a Woman, authors Richard and Catherine Kroeger provide the cultural context for Paul’s decree, which was addressed to the church in Ephesus. Ephesus housed the grand temple of the goddess Artemis, who was greatly revered in the region. As a result, myths that worshiped all things feminine were common. Some of these myths involved heretical retellings of the Genesis creation account. In some of these retellings, Eve is said to create or give birth to Adam. Others claimed it was actually Adam who was deceived by the serpent and first ate the forbidden fruit. And certain women were infiltrating the church to spread these doctrines in order to garner the praise and worship of men. The entire context of 1 Timothy is the refutation of false teachers. Therefore, 1 Timothy 2 is addressing a certain kind of false teaching, not all teaching.

I wrote here about 1 Corinthians 14:34, the other scripture used to exclude women from church leadership. And I address the complementarian position on Ephesians 5 here and here.

The Underpinnings of a Heretical Practice

An unbiblical view of male rulership is at the heart of unbiblical church authority. After all, it is very difficult to justify headship and control in the Church without headship and control in the home. A person who believes himself to be the ruling authority in his home will not easily tolerate equality of leadership in his church. These doctrines reinforce each other. Without one, the other crumbles. It’s a house of cards.

Jesus outlined the role of authority for his disciples, and that role involved rejecting titles and positions of lordship. The one who rules is to be like the one who serves (Luke 22:26). Church overseers are to ensure the good work of the church and “encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it” (Titus 1:9). There is nothing–nothing, nothing, nothing–in scripture that supports celebrity pastors and the authoritarian style of leadership that has infiltrated the Church. The exercise of such control has its root in a prideful, worldly mindset that seeks to preserve the curse of sin in our lives. It has nothing to do with God, and it will only lead to more corruption and destruction.

More to come.

26 responses to “God is Not Mocked: Exposing the Authority Heresy

  1. Excellent synopsis of the faulty thinking of complementarianism and the resultant fruit. The patriarchal tree is evil and cannot be reformed.

  2. Part of the reason (finding out I was Jewish like Jesus really made me look at his words) I left the church a long time ago.

  3. Being a member of a mainline Christian church, I cringe every time I see the word “doctrine” because it is like an alien from another planet. Some of what passes for doctrine in the minds of many Christians today is so weird and dumb that I have started describing such items as “docterns,” because someone obviously had to doctor the truth to arrive in such a silly place. It appears to me that April has just blown the lid off another doctern in today’s church. Congratulations and keep up the good work. The real Jesus has got to be down under all of this surficial crap somewhere—and when He is found—the truth will be fairly simple and make more than just a little bit of sense—and love lies there—love always lies there.

    • I have to say I agree. This is a perfect synopsis to serve as a jumping off point for further exploration of women and authority in the bible. I plan to share this widely. Nicely done.

  4. April, thank you. This was a cup of cold water for my soul. I have endured spiritual abuse in a family practicing traditions of men, and tons of hypocritical, misogynist evil, through a very ‘patriarchal’ marriage. I almost commited suicide, and ended up on meds for depression for months. Now I’m free thanks to A Cry for Justice web. Thank you, Jesus. This Psalm hangs above my desk: “..Who redeems your life from destruction, Who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies, Who satisfies your mouth with good things, So that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. The Lord executes righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed.” Psalm 103: 4-6. And He will, dear friends, Hallelujah.
    Thank you for using your gift to articulate and spread the Truth. It always sets the captives free. May God bless you and yours. Can’t wait to read more.

  5. Hi there,
    Thanks for our post. I totally agree that men have used position to abuse others. But I struggle with the idea that authority in itself is a gender problem. Authority is needed. Having authority is not wrong. Neither is it wrong for God to entrust to godly men this role. Men being in leadership is not a result of the curse. Abuse of leadership is. Everyone is equal, not everyone called to exercises leadership. At work, my boss is my boss, but he is only a person. He has no greater value than I. Therefore we are equal. Equality never changes. Positions do.
    We must be careful though to recognize that the pattern in scripture is almost exclusively male leadership. Our culture is understandably in a mass reaction agains this because of ungodly men leading in ungodly ways. The problem is not the gender, or that God has clearly appointed men to leadership roles. The problem is sin. I dare say that the greatest problem is that men(especially western men) are either absolute wimps, or narcisitic, abusive megalomaniacs. There will always people that take scripture and twist it in order to take advantage of people. But where are the humble leaders? The men who demand no allegiance, but to whom many choose to follow because they know their God. There are many out there, you don’t see them that often because they don’t care whether their seen or not or whether they gain anything from others.
    If everyone had the same authority everyone would do what was right in his own eyes like the days of Noah(men or women) I heartily agree that authority is abused, more so by men, but also by women..take bloody Mary for example. All who teach or exercise authority will be judged more harshly(James 2)

    • My point is that many pastors and churches are teaching a twisted view of authority that often hangs its hat on unequal gender relations. Spiritual authority is not a ruling authority, and it does not require unquestioning obedience. In fact, the Apostle Paul encouraged lay believers to “test everything.”

      Yes, the biblical pattern had men largely in positions of church leadership. But there were cultural reasons for that. In that time, few women were educated. In fact, it was taboo for a rabbi to teach a woman the Torah. That’s why Paul commanded women to ask questions at home and for their husbands to teach them. Women also had extra responsibilities at home that might have interferred with ministry tasks. So it makes sense that not many women would have qualified for leadership back then.

      Yet we do see women in teaching and leadership positions in the Bible. Read Romans 16. Paul names several women who were instrumental in ministry.

      • Hi April,
        Thanks for your mature response, I respect your position. I think its well thought out and you’ve come to these conclusions honestly. Thanks for listening to my angle. In most churches(western) today the women are often the more qualified for leadership simply on the basis of spiritual maturity alone. Men, sadly, have dropped the ball and women are rightly stepping into the void like Deborah did for Israel in Judges. IF there are qualified men, they should be given the opportunity to fulfill their positions in proportion to their abilities.

        • I think all qualified people should be allowed opportunities to heed God’s call to responsible positions of leadership. I consider myself a feminist, and to me that means promoting equality of opportunity among all people. It would sadden me just as much to see a qualified man excluded from ministry simply on the basis of filling a gender quota. That’s not true equality. But I accept the label of feminist (as loaded and reviled as it often is) knowing that fighting for equality of opportunity will most often mean promoting women who have been shunned and ignored on the basis of their gender.

          Thanks for commenting.

  6. Pingback: Why I’m Fed Up with Conservative Evangelicalism | Revolutionary Faith

  7. April, you are confusing economic and ontologic equality: men and women are equally human and thus made in imago Dei, but both play different divinely-given roles. The best example of this is Jesus who, being equally divine with the Father, was subordinate to him in the role of Savior. Also, given Paul’s restriction of the threefold ministry to qualified men in Timothy and Titus, and that we are to submit to both church and civil rulers, it stands to reason that there is legitimate authority to be submitted to. All rule is not abusive; indeed, review the curse and see how female bucking of legitimate male authority is part of it.

    • Uh, no. The curse is not that women will resist authority. The curse is that men will dominate them. The text in Genesis is very plain on that point. It takes some serious extrapolation to flip that around.

      Also, submission does not equal subordination. Jesus said all authority in heaven and earth had been given unto him. Scripture says he is the one who will judge the world at the end of time. There is no verse that paints Jesus as a subordinate (only says that he was obedient). To suggest that he is subordinate is to deny his power. We say Jesus was fully God and fully man. Can God be subordinate to Himself? That doesn’t make sense.

      And if Jesus is the best example of subordination, why aren’t complementarians giving authority to their wives? Jesus was obedient to the cross, and God raised him up from shame to glory, seating him at His right hand (a position of trust and equality), and imbued him with all authority. So if Christ is redeeming the curse in us, why do you insist that women continue forever under the curse of male domination? When will you teach Jesus as an example of equality as well as submission? Surely both examples are relevant.

      Even Proverbs 31 speaks of a woman who “considers a field and buys it; out of HER earnings, she plants a vinyard. Her husband has full confidence in her and he praises her.”

      Face it: the doctrine of female subordination is based on a very selective and inconsistent reading of scripture, and it’s on shaky ground. You’ll have to do better than this.

      • The Hebrew teshuqah implies urging, which in context implies that Eve will wish to rule over Adam – thereby bucking the creation order. Paul’s use of the creation order in 1 Cor 11.8 and 1 Tim 2:13 buttresses the traditional understanding. God’s calling Adam out for the Fall shows him to have been the federal head rather than a coregent; male headship also means male responsibility, which all too many men wish to dodge.

        Face it: the doctrine of feminism is a reaction to abusive male headship. I don’t know how other homes run, but mine and that of my friends wouldn’t dream of micromanaging our wives, to whose counsel we often repair and whose competence we respect; ie they are true helpmeets in the Prov 31 sense. Your objection to the modern day (faux) patriarchy movement results from a false dichotomy between rad fems and authority-tripping male jerks.

        • No, the Hebrew teshuqah implies longing. Whether that means longing as in “desire” or as in “desire to control” remains a long point of debate among scholars. I refer you to this article for a detailed analysis of the word: http://bit.ly/1Lw0qqC

          “God’s calling Adam out for the Fall shows him to have been the federal head.” No, it doesn’t. You’re reading things into the text that aren’t there, and certainly things that it does not say. God happened to call Adam’s name first. That doesn’t mean anything. Also, Adam means “man” or “mankind,” so it’s far more likely that God was saying, “Come here, humans.” Notice, both Adam and Eve came when God called for “Adam.” And Eve didn’t have her own name until after the Fall. The scriptures record her naming as God is ejecting them from the garden.

          “Paul’s use of the creation order buttresses the traditional understanding.” Only because you’re reading that understanding into the text. 1 Corinthians 11 is a notoriously difficult and confusing passage regarding whether women should wear head coverings in church. Some scholars have described this passage as Paul stating common arguments for coverings in the first part (vs 1-10), then turning the arguments on their head to show that they are ridiculous (vs 11-12), then concluding that women shouldn’t be forced to wear coverings (vs 14-16). Notice what Paul said after that initial order of creation business:

          “Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God.”

          This is not a federal head argument.

          Also, Paul’s restatement of the order of creation in 1 Timothy 2 is in the context of false teachers. There was a false teaching circulating in Ephesus, propagated by female worshipers of Artemis, that made Eve the creator of man and Adam the first sinner. Paul is reminding Timothy of the facts in Genesis so he can combat this teaching in his church. (And also why he commanded the women to learn in silence and submission.) The word “authority” in that passage (authentien) means to claim authorship of, usurp another’s rights, or to murder–in other words, an abusive form of authority that would be inappropriate for anyone to wield, man or woman.

          Spiritual and ruling authority derived from Order of Creation is a cheap, self-serving mangling of the text. It’s simply not there, and the translation of teshuqah needed to affirm it is not clear, not universally agreed upon, and not the most likely to fit the passage. If you have read my posts on marriage and male responsibility, then you know I take a very biblical approach to these matters and counsel men to serve their wives sacrificially and counsel women to be a succor for their husbands. This is not a doctrine of “feminism,” but a doctrine of mutual submission and the destruction of the curse. The truth is, an over-emphasis on male headship has resulted in many unbiblical and extra-biblical doctrines that have only served to inflate egos, increase tensions and oppress everyone.

        • Again, you norm the abuse of male headship rather than seeing such abuse as a violation of it, suggesting your own agenda. As for headship, with whom did God covenant, but Adam? This makes him Eve’s federal (ie covenantal) head, as Christ is ours. Furthermore, centuries of interpretation by those closer to the Postles in culture, time, and space do not see your way clearly, and they weren’t stupid, ignorant, or culturally biased – unless you also have a problem with plenary inspiration. Even cultural isues like the “holy kiss” can have a general equity, so even then the culture canard fails. ISTM you want God on your terms.

        • Where exactly does God make a covenant with Adam? The word “covenant” doesn’t even show up until we get to Noah in Genesis 6. God gives Adam some commands, but none of them constitute a covenant.

          Dude, you are reaching.

          If you are having to add to the scriptures (and read things into them that aren’t there) to support your version of male headship, then your view of headship IS abusive and you’re attempting to create a theology that suits YOUR ego. I don’t care how many church leaders, ancient or modern, agree with you. If it’s not in scripture, it’s extra-biblical and a human invention. Yes, Christ is our federal head. But you cannot extrapolate that all the way back to creation to argue that man is the federal head of woman. IT’S SIMPLY NOT IN THE TEXT. You could have made a better case with Ephesians 5. Not a great one, but a better one.

          How can you understand Greek but not understand there’s no covenant with Adam? Who has the agenda, here?

          And the ontological vs economic dichotomy is, frankly, complete hokum. You cannot argue for equal value in design and then say that God only covenanted with men, or that only men can function as oracles of God, or that only men can be spiritual leaders, or that a woman’s spiritual leadership is inferior. That kite doesn’t fly. It suggests that men have some sort of special dispensation, by divine design, that women cannot and never will have. That is not ontological equality. That is ontological inferiority. And that poses major theological problems when it comes to things like redemption, grace and spiritual gifts.

          You are so hostile to anything that smacks of feminism that you cannot see your own inconsistencies.

        • The covenant is made in Gen 2:16f – with Adam; compare with Rom 5:12-20. Eve was created to be Adam’s helpmeet per Gen 2:21f; ie her created purpose was to help him in the execution of his covenantal duties and for companionship. She is equally imago Dei to Adam, but has a complementary role; ie the distinction between economic and ontologic equality. Eph 5:22f bears this interpretation out. NB: Scripture doesn’t contain the word “trinity;” does that mean the idea isn’t there?

          So there is no adding to Scripture here – that is, by me. While you may be a smart chick (you did refer to me as “dude”), perhaps you are not so smart or educated as have been two millennia of churchmen interpreting Scripture. As for interpeting Scripture and exercising authority in the church, it sounds like you have an argument with Paul who restricts the offices to males in 1 Tim 3 and Titus 1. Since teaching Scripture is an exercise of divinely-appointed authority, Paul suffers not a woman to teach in the church. BTW what Biblical language have you formally studied?

          So once again it is you with a feminist agenda bringing to the Scriptures what amounts to rebellion against God’s appointed order; you so hate God’s order that you can’t see your own inconsistencies. As a German Baptist minister once told me, “nur haben die Heiden Priesterinnen (only pagans have priestesses).”

        • There is no covenant in Genesis 2:16. It is a command. A covenant is an agreement between God and man in which God outlines a promise that he will fulfill (sometimes conditional, sometimes unconditional). It is usually preceded by the statement, “I will establish a covenant with you.”

          There is no “Adamic” covenant mentioned in the lists of biblical covenants. Romans 5 makes no mention of a covenant either. (It says that Adam broke a command.) To claim that Genesis 2:16 constitutes a covenant is a complete fabrication. Full stop.

          Seriously, who out there is teaching this?

  8. addendum: the argument about cultural context is merely a canard for dismissing those parts of Scripture that fail to flatter our egos; it is best avided.

  9. Actually, if you want to get all fussy about the covenants and decrees in the creation account, there are two facts more interesting than the fact that Adam is the only one God gave rules to about the snack bar. One is that the actual job they were commanded to do, “Fill the earth and subdue it” was given to both of them (Gen. 1:28), and the other is that when you get to covenantal language about promises for future redemption (often signified by “seed” language), who is the one whose seed will crush the serpent’s head? Who is the the covenantal promise directed towards? Not Adam. It’s the woman’s seed: Eve’s (Gen. 3:15).