Equality and Submission: Contradictory or Compatible?
Christology — the study of Christ — has suffered theological conflict throughout church history. Lately some Adventists have raised questions about who Jesus is in relation to God the Father. A few on the fringe even believe Christ was derived from God, just as Eve was created from Adam.
Such confused Christology revives the ancient heresy of Arianism: that Jesus, the divine Creator of this earth, was Himself created by the Father. It naturally follows that not only Jesus but women are inherently secondary and subservient: Christ to the Father and women to men.
To resolve this confusion, first we must settle the fact Jesus is not a created being but rather an eternal member of the Godhead. Then we are able to explore how Father, Son and Spirit interact with each other and what that means for us — particularly regarding women in the church.
Equal in Being, Different in Function
Consider the position of Christ with the Father and the Spirit in the Godhead. God exists in the unified plurality of Father, Son and Holy Spirit — three eternal and distinct personalities although one in being and purpose. Yet their roles differ. They are equal in their being but have differing functions within the Godhead.
As His name implies, God the Father is CEO of the Trinity. While on earth, God the Son lived to bring glory to His Father in saving us from sin. Then, resurrected from the dead, Jesus proclaimed that His Father has become our Father and His God our God. Now glorified on high, Christ still lives to glorify the Father as our Representative. Forever He will be the Lamb upon the throne — ever representing the Father to us and us to the Father.
Although inherently our divine Creator, Jesus has become the last Adam, bonded forever with our humanity. This solidarity with His people places Him in voluntary subordination to the Father. But is Jesus somehow diminished in His divinity while eternally bearing our humanity? Not at all. Love expresses itself in humble service.
Women’s Differing Roles
Some Christians join Muslims and conservative Jews in regarding women as inherently inferior to men. Actually, females are as necessary as males in comprising the image of our Creator, since “male and female He created them” (Gen. 1:27). Under God, men and women stand as equals in their common humanity, yet they function in different roles.
According to Scripture, servant leadership exists in the marriage relationship: “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord” (Eph. 5:22). But also, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (verse 25). Without such humble and trustworthy leadership, a woman should never marry a man who disrespects her strengths and feels threatened where her skills are superior. But empowering husbands form a functional team with their wives, modeled after the Godhead.
However, voluntary submission to her trusted life partner does not make a woman subordinate to every man in the church, where “there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). Women who follow their own husband’s home leadership can be pastoral leaders of churches and lay elders as well, according to longstanding General Conference policies of the Adventist Church in harmony with the Scripture just cited.
But wait — what about prohibitions in Paul’s epistles against women teaching in church? We must interpret them in the context of chauvinistic Greco-Roman culture, wherein they were originally expressed. In Palestine and Samaria as well, remember how Christ undermined the social restraints placed upon woman, liberating them to be His witnesses.
Adventists today who promote the “plain reading” of Scripture without cultural interpretation should remember how Ellen White continually preached and taught in church. She even publicly exerted authority over ordained male leaders. Such exercise of her spiritual gifts without gender constraints is consistent with the gospel principles noted above.
- Jesus our eternal Creator, humbled Himself to become Son of Man — not just historically on earth but now in heaven as our Advocate before the Father.
- Christ as our new Adam does not deny or diminish His inherent divinity by submitting Himself to the Father’s leadership role for us.
- Likewise, a wife does not degrade her womanhood when she entrusts herself to the servant leadership of her husband. However, women are not the subjects of men they interact with at church.
- Women can serve as designated leaders and teachers of local congregations, either as pastors or lay elders. Established General Conference policy supports this, and we should comply.
- Scriptures that impose silence upon women in church are best understood as culturally conditioned — or Ellen White herself would have violated her calling.
- We can love and respect each other despite our differences, as members of local churches and the global Adventist community.