The Kingdom and Gender {Stassen & Gushee Quotable}

There are times when I read something that makes my soul inhale grace deeply and exhale big, big hope. Today it was this:

In terms of church life and work, gender differences are not dissolved but gender as a determinant of roles fades from view in light of the massive goals of aggressive world evangelization and discipling of new believers, doing the healing and delivering and justice-making works of Christ, and practicing the gifts of the Spirit to edify the church, until Christ returns. The criterion for who may pursue these precious kingdom goals is simply the whole body of Christ, with specialization directed by spiritual giftedness. At Pentecost, the Spirit fell upon men and women, as the Old Testament had promised (Acts 2:17-18; Joel 2:28-29). The last thing one wants to do at Pentecost or in the perspective created by the experience of Pentecost is to stifle gifts that might bring advances in the reign of God; too much is at stake. If the goal of the Christ-follower is to seek God’s kingdom, the primary issue is not specifying gender roles but maximizing mission, effectiveness and impact. Again, it must be emphasized that this perspective predates the feminist movement and is grounded not on late-twentieth-century secular egalitarianism but in a gospel and kingdom focus.

Leadership and authority in family life and in the church are to be offered in humility, in mutual submission and in the context of the narrative of how Christ exercised authority. As the glorious Christ-hymn of Philippians 2 put it, in the incarnation and on the cross Jesus was self-emptying, humble, devoted to the needs of others and ultimately obedient to the authority of God the Father (Phil 2:5-11). This connects with Jesus’ virtues of humility, yieldedness to God and justice that we saw in the Beatitudes. All Christians are to imitate this pattern.

Mutual servanthood places limits on the exercise of authority by any Christian in any setting. The model of Christ shapes the perspective within which all authority is employed. Any member of the Christian community can hold any other member, including leaders (or husband or wife), accountable to conformity with Christ’s example. The kingdom or gospel-advancing purpose of the church and the Christian marriage is the goal to which all are committed and thus sets a standard for the exercise of authority. Any use of authority which might stifle spiritual gifts that could advance the kingdom is inappropriate. Meanwhile, with this great freedom to use kingdom gifts comes the responsibility to use such gifts only for the purpose for which they were given. So no merely autonomous or permissive understanding of freedom is envisioned here. Mutual servanthood employs yet constrains freedom, unleashing gifts for responsible use, directs authority, orders Christian community and participates in the kingdom. In love, mutual servanthood creates checks and balances on the exercise both of freedom and of power that preserve and advance justice. This is the best model for all relationships in the body of Christ, including those between men and women, and husbands and wives.

~Glen Stassen and David Gushee, Kingdom Ethics, 2003

Breathe that fresh air in. Exhale hope.