If you live in America, democracy is ingrained in you. It’s in the air you breathe and the water you drink. In the language of technology, it’s our operating system. We don’t even think about it; which is another way of saying we’re not always aware of how it colors and shapes our thinking. It’s baked into us.
This explains why we often think and act as though the kingdom of God should always conform with democratic principles and why some of the things we struggle with most are areas where they don’t mesh. For example, it doesn’t sit well with us when Peter tells disciples to submit to an oppressive emperor (1 2:13). After all, there wasn’t much about the Roman republic that resembles our 21st century democracies. But when he goes on to tell slaves, “In reverent fear of God submit yourselves to your masters, not only those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh” (1 Peter 2:18), that’s just too much! And, we’re perplexed that Christ made no effort to reform Rome or get involved in the social and political causes of the day. In fact, if you read the gospels discerningly, you’ll see that He actually went out of His way to avoid them. The book of Acts makes it clear that the early church followed in His steps. And while Paul wasn’t above strategically using his Roman citizenship, he gave the same instruction in his letters that Peter did (Romans 13:1-7; Colossians 3:22ff).
The kingdom of Jesus doesn’t operate by the same principles that the kingdom of the world does (John 18:36) whether we’re talking about a democracy, dictatorship, communism, or some other form of government. Our culture has for some time been obsessed with individual rights (often at the expense of community) and allergic to boundaries of any kind. People want to end the life of the unborn whenever they want, end their own life whenever they want, take whatever drugs they want, be whatever gender they want (or the trending non-binary), marry whoever they want, and the list goes on. The basic rationalization behind all of these items is that our democracy (i.e., basic human rights) affords them these “freedoms.”
When we come to gender roles in the kingdom of God, our democratic operating system goes into full alert mode. It has to, doesn’t it? After all, women aren’t to be elders, preachers, or teachers over men—how can that be? And did Peter really say by the inspiration of the Spirit that they were the “weaker vessel” or “weaker partner?” And then there’s Paul’s statement that “the head of the woman is man.” And if all that’s not enough, there are those who (inexcusably) present these truths in an overbearing, obnoxious way. We feel conflicted within and pressure from our culture to do some explaining. This so goes against the individual freedom we celebrate.
If you’re willing to give the biblical witness a brave hearing and do what so many never do—go beneath the surface—you’ll note that:
- Nowhere are women said to be inferior to man—in fact, Scripture is clear from the very beginning that although men and women were created to be quite different—they are both made in the image of God (Genesis 5:1-2).
- Nowhere are women said to lack the ability to lead, share God’s word, or do anything men are tasked with doing.