The theological frame work about the relationship between man and woman, we’re not going to get it right unless we understand how he himself relates to himself. Because to look and see the relationship between Christ and God, between God the Son and God the Father, it tells us what this must mean and what it can’t mean.
What gender is God? He, himself, Son, Father, his … that’s a lot of masculine language. It’s easy to see how God is the source of Adam’s maleness. But Eve’s femaleness is always something of a mystery. Aside from the grammatically feminine words used to describe the Holy Spirit and a few metaphors in Scripture, there’s not an equivalent or equal usage of feminine language to describe God. She, herself, Daughter, Mother, her … we see God’s “maleness” on public display, but God’s “femaleness” feels like a private matter, a secret attribute that we just don’t talk about. How can we say that God transcends gender when our language and context for describing him is overwhelmingly masculine? Grammatical gender doesn’t always point to the actual gender of a person or thing, the German word for girl, Mädchen, is grammatically masculine. So it doesn’t prove anything that the words used for the Holy Spirit is grammatically feminine. What can we conclude from this? That God’s maleness is prominent, God’s femaleness not so much. Should humanity likewise follow suit, men stepping into prominence and women stepping away from the limelight? Men working in the public sector, women staying at home?
It tells us that we are equal in dignity and in worth and in value, and in person, and in being, and in essence – that’s essential to the Christian faith. If we deny that God the Son and God the Father are not equal in their person being worth value dignity essence, we have actually denied the Christian faith altogether. That’s one of those things that the early church worked hard to understand.
That points to the heresy of subordination-ism, or the eternal subordination of the Son. The early church debated for decades, possibly centuries about the essence and the relationship of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit/Ghost. From it, our trinitarian theology was born, before roughly the year 325 a.d. (Council of Nicaea) there was no consensus on what the verses we use to describe the trinity actually meant. That means for the centuries in between, Christians really didn’t know or agree on what Paul meant by these verses. And yet here we are, having thrown away that verse about Paul being confusing, we’re clearly spelling out these things that even they didn’t know. Lucky us.
To be able to say that God the Son and God the father are of the same being. Equal, and yet different in responsibilities and different in authority. In God there is equality but not equivalence. And God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit are equal but they’re not the same. And so our approach needs to take God himself, the trinity, as our model and it needs to take him as the goal for whom we’re doing this. How we relate as men and women. Because right before these verses, Chapter 10, vs 31: “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” God’s glory is the goal, that’s what matters here. And so Paul uses words like honor, shame, disgrace, dishonor, and glory in these verses to get across this idea that what counts is how it goes to God.
“Are of the same being” or “are one and the same being”? Take your pick. The solution was to say that in terms of authority, Jesus Christ the Son is relation-ally subordinate to God the Father, but aside from that they are completely equal. Since Christians have interpreted the Bible to say that even before Creation The Father was the Father and the Son was the Son, the subordination of Jesus wasn’t for his thirty-three year ministry on earth, but it extends from eternity to past into eternity future – the Son was, is, and forever shall be subordinate to the Father. The Father was, is, and always will be the one in authority over his Son. Using the trinity as the model, can we truly say that husbands were, are, and always will be the authority over their wives? That wives were, are, and always will be in submission under their husbands? So is the Father “maleness” and the Son “femaleness” in this equation? What of the Holy Spirit?
In chapter 11, verse 12: But everything comes from God. All of this relates back to God. How we treat each other as men and women – it reflects on God. And so God’s glory is … I suspect it’s one of those Christian terms that we hear, but if you push we have a hard time defining it. John Frame says that one of the ways to think about is that it’s God’s reputation. It’s how God looks. And our responsibility then is to make God look good. To enhance his reputation. And so the paramount consideration is that God wants the men and women in Corinth and here in our church to have is that how we treat each other, as partners, well that says something about God’s reputation. That our responsibility, our privilege is to make God look good. And so God is the model and he’s the goal for us in our relationships.
So God’s glory, enhancing his reputation, bringing him honor, making him look good – that’s actually a great point to make. In fact, I think the Bible tells how to do just that. Have you ever read the story of how Elijah challenged Baal’s prophets on Mt. Carmel? In short, Elijah helped God to look good, he showed up when Baal didn’t. God looked powerful, Baal looked powerless. And Elijah finished off this feat by having hundreds of Baal’s prophets slain. This false god couldn’t even save his own worshipers. So that’s how we’ll honor God. Wait – that wouldn’t work in our society. We’d call it religious cleansing, and decry it as a violation of human rights and dignity, just like we do the Crusades. In order to make God look good, Christianity would have to clean up it’s act, hire some P.R. people, and change some of it’s fundamental beliefs in order to make it look good again. As it stands, the longer it drags it feet, the more it tries to bring back the golden era of the past, the more dishonorable and disreputable Christianity, and by extension – God becomes. We do have a track record of being behind culture or on the wrong side of history, we have a track record of having the wrong allies, we have not enhanced God’s glory. In recent years, Christianity’s scandals have involved cover-ups of child abuse, protecting abusers, televangelists stunts for money, failed marriages, churches that are known for protesting and picketing, and that’s just the ones that were big enough that the word really got out. So many churches are small enough to escape public notice. Take how women are treated in many churches – what outsider would sign up for being told that they only contribution they can make is to watch nursery or serve food at the pot luck? Who would want to learn everything there is to know but be forbidden from teaching it? Who would sign up for a church that requires women to obey their dress code or be silent because the Bible says it’s the rule? The thing is – what made God look good in the Corinthian church would make God look really bad in the American church. Honoring God, might have to look like disobeying God. Which, one would think, wouldn’t be a problem. After all, women don’t usually wear head coverings anymore. We just have to keep on going toward treating women as equals – even allowing women to teach and preach in order to make God look good. I guess the question is – how good do we want to make God look?