What’s the Difference?

“Can you ask me that question again?”

That is what the theology professor asked his student. The professor had just finished a lecture on the pastorate; specifically who is qualified for the pastorate, and even more specifically that only men may be called by God to the pastorate. At the end of the lecture, this pastoral studies seminary student raised his hand and asked, “Now, what if you have a man who is lost, who gets a sex change operation and becomes a woman. Then “she” gets saved, and then “she’s” called to preach. Can “she” serve as a pastor, or can “she”, after “she” has had the reverse sex change operation and is now a man again; can he now serve as a pastor of a local church?”

“Can you ask me that question again?”

As King Solomon said, there is nothing new under the sun, but no previous generation of Christians has ever had to answer that question! Solomon may have dealt with harlots arguing over maternity rights, but he never had to grapple with whether or not one of the harlots had, before the operation, fathered the child.

Think for a moment about the concerned student’s question. After one works past the initial shock factor of the inquiry, there comes the realization that this student has assumed that a man can become a woman. Inherent to his question is an underlying assumption that a male can become a female and vice versa. (Click here and here to read more on that subject.) This young man, who is preparing for the pastorate, has unwillingly caved to a cultural consensus which states that the differences between male and female are strictly aesthetic.

This is no isolated incident, nor is this viewpoint restricted to secular opinion. Many who would identify themselves as Christian would hold to the same view. To be sure, many would be repulsed at the idea of a sex-change operation, and many would affirm that Paul was not off base when he wrote that women are not permitted to pastor (many – not all). Once past that, however, most Christians answer the question: “What’s the difference between a man and a woman?” with the lame response of “plumbing and hormones”. In this society, where plumbing can be re-arranged, hormones can be supplemented, and homosexuality is being normalized, that is a dangerous, confusing, inadequate, and unbiblical answer.

It is amazing that gender, the most basic aspect of humanity, has become such a confusing issue? A casual scan of the news will include stories that use phrases such as:

  • “transgender”
  • “unisex”
  • “gender transition”
  • “gender expression”
  • “gender dysphoria”
  • “gender fluidity”, and, the funny but politically incorrect…
  • “gender benders”.

In 2007 the South Florida Sun-Sentinel ran an article entitled “Transgender community works to gain protections in South Florida”. Although this is not a laughing matter, one would be hard pressed to stifle a chuckle after reading the article’s first sentence:

“Transgender is quietly becoming a protected class in South Florida as cities vote to prohibit discrimination against a group that faces challenges fitting in.” (Emphasis added)

It is a bit awkward when “Joe” goes on vacation and returns as “Josephine”!

That type of news story is becoming more and more prevalent, and they are found across a broad spectrum of media outlets. In the July 9, 2007 issue of Sports Illustrated, editorialist Rick Reilly (who currently writes for ESPN) wrote about running into former colleague Mike Penner who he did not, at first, recognize. That is perfectly understandable since Mike Penner had become Christine Daniels. Reilly goes on to wonder why he couldn’t see it coming, and if he can deal with the fact that his old/new buddy is now a “decent-looking babe”. (Note: Mike Penner resumed writing under his original name in 2008, and committed suicide in November of 2009.)

These references establish the fact that, in this culture, gender identity has become confused. This confusion is not restricted to gender identity; it also encompasses gender roles, and this confusion is not isolated to the culture but has infiltrated our churches. The purpose of this post is to serve the reader by asking and answering three questions:

  1. Are there functional or only physical differences between a man and a woman?
  2. If there are functional differences between a man and a woman, does that mean that men and women are not equal?
  3. Why does this matter to me and my church?

The place to look for answers is the scriptures, in particular Galatians 3:26-29:

For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Emphasis added)

At this point it is important to understand that within Christendom in general and within local churches in specific, there exists a debate over gender roles. The opposing positions are the complementarian and the egalitarian view of gender roles in the home and the church. Those particular terms may not be popularly used, but their positions are followed. Here are their definitions.

  • Complementarians believe that men and women are created in the image of God; equal in their essential dignity and personhood. By God’s good and glorious design men and women have distinct, complementary roles in the home and the church. God has assigned to husbands self-sacrificial leadership in the home, and wives a joyful and respectful embrace of that leadership. God has also called qualified men to the burden and responsibility of self-denying leadership in the church, and the entire congregation to respect and submit to their leadership. 
  • Egalitarians believe that God created men and women equal in all respects, and that no functional distinction exists, only physical distinctions. Male and female roles and functions are interchangeable both in the home and in the church. Male hierarchy in the home and church is a result of the Fall.

Basically egalitarians are Christian feminists. The most vocal proponents of egalitarianism cite Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus”; as the primary proof text for their position.

For instance, the web pages of Christians for Biblical Equality states that CBE is an organization of Christians “who believe that the Bible, properly interpreted, teaches the fundamental equality of men and women of all ethnicities and all economic classes, based on the teachings of scripture as reflected in Galatians 3:28.”

Rebecca Groothuis, in her 1997 book Good News for Women: A Biblical Picture of Gender Equality, writes, “Of all the texts that support biblical equality, Galatians 3:26-28 is probably the most important.” David Scholer, professor of NT at Fuller Theological Seminary has written that Galatians 3:28 is “the fundamental Pauline theological basis for the inclusion of women and men as equal and mutual partners in all of the ministries of the church.”

Did Paul use Galatians 3:28 to teach the negation of gender specific roles? Is Paul teaching that there exists no distinct, functional difference between men and women? Come back in two days for my answer. Feel free to chime in until then.


About Travis

Christ follower. Husband of one woman. Father of three young men. Former 11B. Blessed to pastor the Bible Baptist Church of Mount Vernon, KY.
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