Southwestern Seminary conf. examines Biblical Gender roles

FORT WORTH—Marriage is designed to be a living picture of the gospel that God embedded in the creation from the very beginning, stated Russell Moore, dean of theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, in a Sept. 13 sermon at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Emphasizing the importance of following God’s pattern for marriage, Moore said, “If you get this wrong, what you are getting wrong is not just the order of the home, not just a sense of who you are. You are getting wrong the gospel itself.”

The day-long Conference on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood examined definitions and distinctions of gender roles with Moore speaking to a chapel audience and as part of a panel that evening for the College at Southwestern. The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) co-sponsored the event.

“God has designed womanhood in such a way that when a wife honors the leadership of her husband and receives the protection of her husband and follows the direction of a godly husband, she is signifying and pointing to something that is true about the church itself,” Moore explained.

In a culture where women were often viewed as inferior to men, Moore noted that the apostle Paul spoke of them as sisters who were joint heirs with Christ. However, instead of embracing God’s plan for a wife to follow the leadership of a godly husband, women in today’s society are encouraged to be submissive to all men, he said, causing an entire generation of girls and young women to see their value dependent upon their sexual attractiveness and availability to men.

Moore said Paul did not tell women to submit themselves to men, but for wives to submit themselves to their own husbands as to the Lord. 

“The twisting and removing of this understanding of the man and the woman leads to men who prey upon women through physical strength and in various other ways with a devilish kind of tracking down,” he lamented as he worked through the instruction of Ephesians 5:15-33.

Girls in today’s society are being raised up to submit themselves to men in general, he added, citing the practices of pornography and abortion. “Even before you get to that point, you have an entire generation of girls and young women seeing their values, dignity and worth dependent upon their sexual attractiveness and availability to guys,” Moore said.

“That’s not only the case out there in the mall displays, lurking out there in the hidden dregs of pornography. That is the case even in our own Christian literature in which we present to our girls a cultural understanding of what beauty is and what a body type ought to be,” he said, describing an ideal that motivates girls to starve themselves in order to meet the cultural expectations of men in general. “The act of submission is by definition a decision to be unsubmissive in other areas.”

Instead, he encouraged congregations to teach young girls that they are beautiful, glorious, created with dignity and a hidden and quiet beauty.

“She is being raised up to submit herself not to men, but to one man whose face and name she may not know right now, but in the meantime she refuses to submit herself to all of the other men around her who are demanding such submission,” Moore explained.

Moore recalled the need for both Paul and Peter to remind women in the churches that they should not define their beauty on the basis of external adornment, but in “that hidden and quiet beauty and dignity of the heart which in God’s sight is precious.”

“He says, ‘Wives, when you submit yourselves, when you follow the leadership of your own husbands, you are picturing the beauty of that church,’” Moore said, underscoring his main point.

Furthermore, a husband’s self-sacrificial leadership illustrates Christ’s love for the church and should remind men to avoid the extremes of passivity and tyranny, Moore said. “You care for her just as Jesus cared for the church.”

“Husbands, if your wives are refusing to follow after your leadership, it is probably because your wife has seen and observed in your life a kind of leadership that is either absent or self-focused, and what she is saying to you is, ‘I don’t know where you are taking us. I don’t know if I can trust you at all.’”

Speaking to men preparing for ministry, Moore continued, “For some of you in this room, in your rebellion, in your self-serving, in your addiction to pornography, you are showing her she has no reason to trust your leadership because you cannot even exercise headship over your own appetites, much less the family that God has given to you through the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

When marriages in local churches are ripped apart through divorce, Moore said a false gospel is being preached. “When we shift, twist it or turn to something else, we have a different gospel and different mystery.”

In another session, CBMW President Randy Stinson, dean of the school of church ministries at Southern Seminary, amplified the importance of godly leadership in the home, reminding the audience that a husband’s effectiveness is stymied when he fails to live with his wife “in an understanding way.”

Citing 1 Peter 3:7, Stinson said, “The warning is when God turns a deaf ear toward you there is a removal of a level of his presence in your life—his protection. You could be under the discipline of God because you are not living with your wife in an understanding way, showing her honor or treating her as an equal.”

Instead of blaming a “mean old professor” or a “difficult boss,” Stinson encouraged men to consider that “maybe God is bringing your world down around you because you are not treating your wife the way you ought to.” He encouraged every husband to become “a student of his wife” in order to gain understanding. “You can’t coast and make this happen.”

The work of discipling boys to become godly men requires the leadership of fathers and other male leaders in a local church community, Southwestern Seminary ethics professor Evan Lenow said.

Lenow encouraged churches to utilize men as Sunday School teachers of boys by the time they are 10. Expressing appreciation to his own father for having taught that age of boys for over 35 years, Lenow said, “These are young men moving into manhood and they need men in their lives mentoring them,” he said, appealing to the biblical model of older men teaching younger men.

“We’re losing boys because they think this whole thing is about glitter and cotton balls,” Stinson added, describing teaching methods that appeal to girls.

While clearly grateful for women who devote themselves to training children in local churches, Moore affirmed the value of recognizing a difference in how boys and girls are taught.

“It begins with not seeing boys as a problem to be solved. Sin is the problem to be solved,” Moore said.

“Often we equate femininity with holiness in the context of those early years of raising boys and girls,” he added. “Boys are often seen to be bad when in fact they’re not. They’re just boys. They’re just masculine.”

Just as older men have a biblical mandate to teach younger boys, conference leaders noted that women have the distinct assignment of training a younger generation of women. 

“If you don’t have within your church women who are capable of teaching women in that congregation and discipling the next generation of women, you don’t have a biblically functioning church,” Moore said.

During a panel discussion on the roles of a wife and mother in the home, ministry to women in the church and biblically permissible roles of women in the church, Karen Yarnell encouraged ministry in the home as a wife serves as a helper to her husband and nurtures her own children.

The wife of a Southwestern Seminary professor, Yarnell encouraged women to recognize the various seasons in life as they determine how best to serve beyond their family.
“When the children are older you’re released to do more ministry outside the home,” she said, adding, “It’s going to be unique to how God wants to glorify himself in you and in your marriage.”

Terri Stovall, dean of women’s programs, said, “Biblical womanhood is not a box I take off the shelf to apply.” Instead, she advised women’s ministry leaders to start with theological truth out of which practical application will flow. “Instead of trying to fit women into boxes, teach them the biblical principles,” she said, describing the process of discipleship. “We are taking the Word of God and moving it from the head to the heart.”

Other speakers dealt with the biblical foundations for gender roles as defined in Genesis, the rejection through homosexuality of the complementary natures of sex, gender, marriage and the Christ/Church relationship, and the debate over gender roles within the Southern Baptist Convention. Audio files are available at swbts.edu/CBMWaudio/.

In his closing message on the future of the gender debate, Southwestern Seminary President Paige Patterson paid tribute to his own parents for teaching and modeling biblical truth in their home.

“Because I could observe how closely my mother and father walked with God,” Patterson said, “because they knew God, sought his love and submitted to his ways and purposes, I grew up to understand what other adults in any setting could never have successfully communicated to me.”

While appreciative of the influence of the local church, Patterson said the teaching of spiritual disciplines is the responsibility of parents.

“They are God’s chosen prophets to inculcate the knowledge of God’s person, purposes and ways of life for the child. Failure to do so, in most cases, shortchanges the child for life, and maybe for eternity.”

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