This might be a good time to remind you that, while I serve as editor of the Baptist Times, my views do not necessarily reflect those of the entire Global Independent Baptist Fellowship. Likely, all of us agree that gender is important. We might simply weight it differently. The priority we give it would differ broadly among pastors and churches.
As I write this article, I am sitting at the kitchen table of missionaries Mike and Sandie Reap in Manila. The culture of the Philippines is, without question, matriarchal. The women typically rule the average Filipino home, although not the biblical Filipino home. You can argue until the last jeepney bites the dust that it’s just their culture, but it doesn’t alter the fact that God designed both the home and the church to operate on male leadership, regardless of culture. The ladies have just as much to offer as do the men, but they possess different qualities and strengths. Unfortunately, America is walking down the same path as the many matriarchal cultures. Men are absolving their leadership in the home, as well as at church. Men are refusing to be men as God intended them to be. Ladies have, no doubt, shifted their own roles, as well, but this is likely in response to a vacuum of proper male leadership.
How big is the problem of absolution of biblical manliness in America? I have come to view gender as one of the most significant issues we face. I have pastor friends (and they are true friends) who believe I weight it too heavily. They help keep me balanced and aware of the ditches behind me. While we will all stand accountable to God alone, we will do so based on the same criteria—His Word. Our weighting of the issues of gender must bear the weight given to it in Scripture.
Many years ago, I started to feel a real unease with what I saw happening in America concerning gender roles and realized I needed a more biblical philosophy of gender on which to base my own life and ministry. The result of that study is what led me to give gender the weight I am now convinced it demands. I ended up preaching this study on gender as a series and found that it resonated with others, as well, as evidenced by my being invited to preach it at dozens of churches. Two biblical factors led me to conclude that gender is more vital to our understanding of God than is often thought.
First comes Genesis 1:27 where we find two connected thoughts about our creation. We are created in the image of God, and we bear that image through a particular gender. These are connected and can cause great harm when they are separated. Being created in God’s image gives us our value, considering it clarifies that we didn’t evolve from apes. But, the sentence doesn’t stop there. Part of our bearing the image of God involves the gender with which we were born. We can bear the image of God properly only through our gender. A man bears God’s image through masculinity and a woman bears God’s image through femininity. Masculinity and femininity are simply terms that group together the characteristics of each respective gender.
The second biblical factor that should elevate our view of gender comes from Romans 1. Paul’s repeated use of the phrase God gave them up or over issues a warning to every society that reduces gender to zero distinction; men and women become interchangeable, as indicated in verses 26–27. To learn that a patient and longsuffering God would come to the point of giving up or giving over should get our attention. It seems plausible that God’s reason for this goes back to His design in the beginning. When people mess with gender, they are tinkering with the root of our existence in bearing the image of our Creator. If Genesis begins with 100% distinction between man and woman, Romans ends with 0%. Genesis says gender is intricately tied into our image-bearing, while Romans says the end is when a culture decides gender is irrelevant and optional.
Where is America on this scale? It is inarguable that basically every corner of the culture is pushing us towards 0%. America used to illustrate the differences in everyday life, but a series of small steps paved the way for our gender-neutral society. Hollywood bought in a long time ago by portraying less masculine men and more masculine women. It was easier to push the woman toward the man’s position than the other way around, based on the example Eve set. Satan appealed to her desire for more power and equality (with God) before Adam gave up his position to enforce what God had told him. The government has legalized same-sex marriage. Public education teaches gender as whatever you feel you want to be. Once same-sex fell, it didn’t take long for transgender to gain the same acceptance. Only the most naïve refuse to see this as bringing about considerable changes in local churches, mostly through the inevitable loss of tax-exempt status and the need to pay property taxes. Church properties are large enough that funds will have to be diverted from ministries and missions just to cover the tax. Either that, or churches will have to forgo properties altogether, putting a dent in man’s ability to bear the image of God and lessen the impact of local churches, all in one fell swoop. Masterful, wasn’t it?
While a new generation of Americans is growing up indoctrinated into a genderless society, we still have churches and families that can be the salt and light empowered by the timeless truth of God’s Word. Whether we utilize our visibility in their world or they come into our churches, we have plenty of opportunities to illustrate what God intended through gender. They need to see men as strong, loving leaders in their homes and in our churches. They need to hear preaching that applies truth to masculinity. Let them see pews, classrooms, and choir lofts full of men secure in their roles as men. Show them something better than simply macho men, passive men, spineless men, angry men, addicted men, and any number of other traits that mar the man who chooses to follow Christ and the roles God gave him as a man.
If they can’t come into our churches and be convinced that we believe gender is absolutely essential to our existence, turn out the lights—the party’s over. Without real men in the church, the church cannot operate biblically in carrying out the Great Commission, much less demonstrate biblical solutions to issues dealing with family. I hope the articles in this issue of the Baptist Times challenge you to be a Manly Church. Read Romans 1 and Genesis 1 and decide for yourself how important gender should be. Then, read each article in this issue and let God use it to move you to be a more Manly Church.
Will Feminine Dress affect Masculine Dress?
There are few more polarizing issues among independent Baptist churches than the issue of dress. One reason is because many have made it a litmus test of spirituality for women. This not only seems wrong, but unfortunate. I’ve seen many instances in which a church’s view of dress for ladies most closely resembled what Jesus must have fought against with the Pharisees. It becomes an item on a list that, if checked, allows a woman to dress femininely but hide a prideful heart much worse in Christ’s eyes than any particular article of clothing. The dress is a mark of femininity, not spirituality.
While that is clearly a ditch, an overreaction to that abuse reveals another ditch that ultimately impacts the Manly Church. I personally have two reasons I continue encouraging our ladies to embrace the dress. First, dress is the most visible and instant way to promote gender. Our culture itself (not pastors) has chosen one article of clothing to differentiate gender when it matters most, as evidenced by bathroom signs. Since that is the chosen form of distinction, it provides an opportunity for ladies looking for proven ways to emphasize gender to those who may never get to see other, more important characteristics, such as their spirit or their home.
The second reason is one that ultimately impacts masculinity. If dress doesn’t matter for women, then it doesn’t matter for men. If I refuse to encourage our ladies in feminine dress, I will have little ground to stand on once our young guys decide they want to start wearing skirts. Personally, I believe that men in skirts (already a growing trend) won’t help promote a Manly Church. A recent informal poll of our men revealed they would refuse to put on a skirt and they would still refuse even once the culture redefines it as normal. The history of most churches says otherwise. If I’m going to promote and even applaud that position for our men, I struggle telling our ladies it doesn’t matter.
How we’ve handled feminine dress should provide a history lesson on how we’ll likely handle masculine dress. The articles of clothing are not themselves biblical issues, giving pastors plenty of freedom. On the other hand, anyone expecting to encourage their young men not to wear skirts one day might need to be mindful of how they handle the parallel issue with women now. It is my desire that these arguments provide a reasonable way to approach dress issues, while avoiding the spiritual litmus test that has too often hindered the discussion.