At a recent conference celebrating his fifty years in ministry, John MacArthur was asked a two-word question: “Beth Moore.” His response: “Go home!” MacArthur is well known for supporting a complementarian doctrine that only males are allowed to lead and teach in the ekklēsia, and so Moore, as a woman found teaching a mixed groups of females and males, stands in stark contrast to such an ideology.
Anyone who has received a broad-based theological education in the past two decades, is aware that there is a strong debate and divide, between complementarians and egalitarians in contemporary evangelicalism—the latter who believe that it is acceptable for females to lead and teach. Frequently, the discussions can remain cordial and respectful, as both complementarians and egalitarians try to understand and probe the original purposes for the creation of man and woman in Eden, the consequences of the Fall, and the redemption for persons of both sexes in Messiah Yeshua. But, accusations can very easily be made from both complementarians and egalitarians, toward those of the opposite side. Tensions can rise, tempers can flare, and misstatements can be made.
I remember several years ago when our ministry was exhibiting at a conference, that someone came up, and asked me what I thought about a particular book (not about men and women). I immediately responded, “Not much!” That was a mistake! I hadn’t read the book, or even flipped through it, in over nine years. Thankfully, I didn’t say, “It’s not worth the paper it’s printed on.” But I made a severe error in what I said. I should have said, “I have the book in my library, but I haven’t looked at it for quite some time. I can’t give you an opinion on it right now.” All of us are capable of speaking before thinking. Forgiveness for our misdeeds is surely available!
There are people who are very upset at John MacArthur, and what they consider to be a highly dismissive and disrespectful tone, in his remark, “Go home!” If, at another conference, someone had asked a two-word question, “John MacArthur?”, and a major spiritual voice responded with, “He needs to retire and be put out to pasture,” his supporters would feel justifiably insulted and be upset.
John MacArthur’s statements did not end with “Go home!” He further asserted, “There is no case that can be made for a woman preacher. Period. Paragraph. End of discussion.” As a Bible teacher myself, I can say that this sort of attitude toward the contemporary theological debate over women in ministry, is not going to facilitate reasoned discussion; it is only going to enflame tensions and make things worse. End of discussion? There are still ongoing discussions over whether Yeshua is God, whether He is the Messiah, new archaeological finds in the Middle East or Mediterranean always have to be evaluated, and new theological perspectives—whether we agree with them or not—have to always be taken into consideration given our ever-changing world. Nothing is going to be entirely closed until the Lord returns to Planet Earth, and Yeshua personally explains to us all of the difficult passages seen in the Holy Scriptures.
MacArthur did not say, “I do not believe that a case can be made for a woman preacher. I have addressed this many times in my publications, as I’m sure you’re aware.” If he had said that, then the tone of the debate would be much different. But he instead declared, “End of discussion.”
To be honest, I have watched interviews with agnostic-atheist scientists, which have shown a little more humility. Even when pummeled, unfairly sometimes, by religious people, figures like Neil deGrasse Tyson, have at least been open having their minds changed, if the evidence leans in favor toward a Supreme Being or God controlling the universe. The late Carl Sagan was quite gracious to hyper-conservative Young Earth Creationists, when being told that if he didn’t accept Jesus as His Savior, He was going to Hell.
I actually don’t have a side to take, when it comes to either John MacArthur or Beth Moore. I have never taken a Beth Moore Bible study. I don’t have a copy of the John MacArthur Study Bible. But I do know a great deal about the contemporary debate between complementarian and egalitarianism, and have written much about it.
Within today’s Messianic community, many of us have encountered Bible teachers and leaders, say things along the lines of—if I can adapt MacArthur’s words—“There is no case that can be made for following the Law of Moses today. Period. Paragraph. End of discussion.” A lot of Messianic people today know that a reasonable, pro-Torah case can be made by reading passages in texts like Galatians, Romans, Ephesians, Colossians, and other Pauline letters, from a slightly different perspective. These may involve delving into incorrect translations from the Greek, various historical and setting issues, or simply considering a different vantage point.
A great many of those, who are favorable to females leading and teaching in the Body of Messiah, have not come to such a conclusion because they have caved to the culture, or that they have been influenced by liberal feminism. Instead, they have had to weigh in different interpretations and perspectives of 1 Timothy 2, Ephesians 5, or 1 Corinthians 11. Some of these involve alternative translations from the Greek, various historical and setting issues, and surely considering a different vantage point. And, some have seen females used and abused from such passages, and were genuinely convicted by the Lord that a better way of approaching such passages had to be out there.
The issue of men and women in the Body of Messiah, and theological discussions and debates between complementarianism and egalitarianism, are definitely on the horizon for today’s broad Messianic movement. While complementarianism is overwhelmingly what one is likely to encounter in a congregation or fellowship, there are egalitarians out there. As a generational shift takes place, that there will be more egalitarians, and more females in positions of leadership and teaching, is guaranteed to be witnessed. Understanding the differences which exist, will only take place if we can talk with one another—instead of at one another.
All of us are human beings, men and women, whom God loves. Even though we may not always agree with one another in matters of theology—let us show a little more respect and honor to one another, when controversial issues need to be evaluated.