Today, we have seen numerous heartbreaking stories come to the surface regarding physical abuse within evangelical circles—and specifically the Southern Baptist Convention. Such stories make your heart ache as you read and hear the painful details of how church leaders have been responsible for inflicting harm upon people that they were given charge to protect.
These women bear deep wounds as a result of sexual assault, rape, and various other forms of sexual misconduct. Sadly, in some cases, the wounds are inflicted upon girls—who shouldn’t be forced to deal with the horror of such sin. If anyone should speak up and address these issues, it should be the Church of Jesus Christ. Before the liberal media and long before a broken sinful culture addresses it—the Church should address it.
However, we must remember that there’s another type of abuse that we must care about too, and it’s a form of spiritual abuse.
In the recent documentary released by Founders Ministries titled, “By What Standard?” — I made a statement that has caused some critique. I said the following beginning at the 7:40 mark:
“When we talk about the abuse of women, I would go on record as stating that if we ask a woman to do something spiritually that God did not intend for her to do—that’s abusive.”
I do not intend to apologize for the statement, but in order to explain what I mean, I think it would be helpful to define some terms. The terminology of spiritual abuse is not found specifically in Scripture. However, before we quickly pass it off as an extra-biblical addition or a modern construct, we must remember that sometimes theological terms are used to describe something that the Bible teaches without using that specific term itself.
We see spiritual abuse in the case with false teachers who entered the church as wolves to consume the people, as Paul warned the elders about in Acts 20. We see false teachers leading women astray, and Paul warned about this too in 2 Tim. 3:6-7. As I employ the language of spiritual abuse it is intended to point to the intentional violation of women by asking them to occupy an office or engage in the function of pastoral ministry—something she was never created to do from the very beginning.
We must distinguish spiritual abuse as a category that’s distinct from a difference of theological persuasion on non-essentials—such as matters of eschatology. I cannot charge a pastor with spiritual abuse because he preaches a different eschatological position to his church than I do. However, I can charge a pastor with spiritual abuse for asking a woman to stand in the pulpit and preach holy Scripture.
The Spiritual Abuse of the Woman Preacher
It is crystal clear that God has designed women and men to have distinct characteristics physically and specific roles and responsibilities relationally. God has put on display the clear headship requirement of men from the Genesis of all creation—Adam was to be the head of Eve as Christ would be the head of the Church (Genesis 1-3 and Ephesians 5). We can see this in numerous texts from Genesis to the New Testament epistles. For instance, in 1 Timothy 2, when writing to Timothy about the functionality of the church and the boundaries of women, Paul cites from the creation account when he says, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather she is to remain quiet” (1 Tim. 2:12). To substantiate his theological position, he quotes from Genesis 1:27 and Genesis 2:8 immediately after drawing a distinct line in the sand regarding the pulpit.
This past week, we had all sorts of commercials during the Super Bowl that pressed specific cultural agendas. One such agenda is the empowerment of women. The NFL aired a commercial by Microsoft (featuring the Surface Pro 7) that pointed to the future of women being accepted into the arena of football. The commercial was one minute, and yet, it packed it big message as it featured Katie Sowers, the first female football coach to reach the Super Bowl (an assistant coach for the San Francisco 49ers. In the commercial she said:
People tell me that they are not ready to have a woman lead, but these guys have been learning from women their whole lives—moms, grandmas, teachers—we have all these assumptions about what women do in life and what men do. I’m not trying to be the best female coach, I’m trying to be the best coach. All it takes is one. All it takes is one and it opens the door for so many. 
This is calculated in our social justice fueled culture, and the watching world applauds the NFL for standing up for women. However, they turn right around and design an entire halftime show that is nothing short of pornographic material intended to use women as objects to be sold to consumers. So, it seems that the NFL is playing both ends against the middle, right?
Why is it today that leaders within evangelical circles publicly stand up against physical abuse of women while at the same time promoting an agenda that would allow women to engage in the function of a pastor so long as she’s not occupying the office of pastor? That is hypocritical at best and at worst-case scenario, it’s spiritually abusive to ask women to carry such a burden that God has not designed her to carry. It’s wrong and we should not continue to allow such agendas to permeate their way through denominations, associations, and eventually right into the life of local churches. Katie Sowers is right about one thing, all it takes is one and it opens the door for so many. We need to close the door and prevent this agenda from moving forward.
The modern rage today is fixed on redefining biblical complementarianism. In fact, many have suggested that complmentarianism is a catalyst of physical abuse. I would argue that the term complementarianism is a difficult term indeed and many people do not understand it. However, we can’t charge God’s truth (which is what the term complementarianism is seeking to explain) with being the root cause of sin. That’s simply not true. Complementarianism means to “complement” and is defined as “a thing that completes or brings to perfection.” The other word, compliment although similar in spelling, refers to “a polite expression of praise or adoration.” Eve did not speak praises to Adam, but she did complete him as his helper and mate. Eve’s presence drove away Adam’s loneliness, as God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone” (Gen. 2:18).
Although Russell Moore, the leader of the ERLC of The Southern Baptist Convention has changed his position, it would be good to remember what he once said in an address given to the Evangelical Theological Society on November 17th 2005:
Ironically, a more patriarchal complementarianism will resonate among a generation seeking stability in a family-fractured Western culture in ways that soft-bellied big-tent complementarianism never can… And it will also address the needs of hurting women and children far better, because it is rooted in the primary biblical means for protecting women and children: calling men to responsibility. Patriarchy is good for women, good for children, and good for families.
Furthermore, preventing women from occupying the office or the functional roles of a pastor has nothing to do with the gifts or abilities of women. In many cases, women are quite capable teachers, good speakers, and can communicate the truths of Scripture well. And there is a place for that within the life of the church—specifically for the discipleship of women and children. William Varner, in his excellent book, To Preach or Not To Preach, writes:
The issue involved in 1 Timothy 2 is not an inherent inferiority of woman’s intellectual and spiritual capabilities, but her function in ministry. She is not subordinate in her capability, but she is to be subordinate in her role. Let it also be noted clearly that Paul does not ground his reasoning in the male-dominated culture of his day. He does not write: “Women should not teach because men will not accept them as teachers.” He grounds his teaching in the order of creation and fall. The mores of culture changes with time, while the order of creation is supra-cultural and is valid whatever the time and place. 
The Spiritual Abuse of Jesus’ Bride
Beyond the obvious fact that asking a woman to preach to the church is spiritually abusive, we must address another serious aspect in this discussion that is often overlooked. If the Church is called the bride of Christ and since Jesus laid down his life for his bride (Eph. 5:25), it should go without saying that he cares very much about how his bride is treated. Asking women to preach to local churches is to abuse the very bride of Christ. It’s a form of abusive leadership because it’s opposed to God’s design for the bride of Christ.
When Jesus returns for his bride, it will not go over very well with those who have been abusing his bride whether it be externally through persecution or internally as wolves who have entered with a perverse agenda to harm her. As we have conversations about whether or not women should pastor local churches or be welcomed to engage in the functionality of pastors through preaching—we must not forget that the care of Jesus’ bride is something that God takes seriously.
Abuse on any level should not be tolerate among God’s Church. The Church should pay close attention to the battle for the dictionary and the battle for the pulpit. In both areas, the culture seeks to abuse women, and the Church of Jesus Christ should remain focused as the ancient battle rages onward in this Vanity Fair age.
- Microsoft Super Bowl 2020 Commercial: Be The One / Katie Sowers [accessed 2/4/2020. At the time of this article, the commercial had been watched 14,621,460 times].
- William Varner, To Preach or Not To Preach, (California: 2018), 50.
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