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Why Is Teaching on Gender in Church & Family Important Today?

We’ve heard it often. “Personally, I am good with RENEW.org’s views on gender. But why put it in your faith statement? It’s a secondary issue, after all.”

Great question.

I can resonate with that question. Let’s say I learn about a Christian organization that’s doing some fruitful work, and I want to look into how I might participate. They send me their faith statement, and I align with every line—except for one. So, I bring it up. “Everything looks great,” I explain. “There’s just one issue. It says here, ‘We affirm pretribulational premillennial dispensationalism. We believe that Jesus’ Second Coming will precede the Rapture.’”

I explain, “I respect that view, but it’s not the view I hold. That’s okay, right?”

But let’s say it’s not. Let’s say that they respond with something like, “Please don’t misunderstand. We’re not suggesting that it’s a salvation issue or a fellowship issue. It’s not. We just think this is an important issue for our times.” I might end the call somewhat confused and disappointed.

So, why does RENEW.org put a section in their faith statement about gender in family relationships and church leadership? As a secondary issue, why would it belong in a faith statement? Again, these are great questions, and here are some reasons.

#1 – We’re a theology network (that fuels disciple making).

At first glance, it seems strange that an organization like RENEW.org would take a stand on anything other than essential doctrines (e.g., the existence of God, the resurrection of Jesus, the necessity of placing faith in Jesus). Isn’t it better to cast the widest net possible, so that all who love Jesus feel welcome in the network?

However, RENEW.org Network is a theology network. As such, we’re committed to doing deep dives into tough questions. Yes, we articulate the essentials of the faith, but we aren’t aiming to articulate only the beliefs that all Christians everywhere have held in common. Within our faith statement, you’ll find beliefs about baptism which paedobaptists will reject, beliefs about the Bible which Roman Catholics will reject, emphases which 5-point Calvinists will disagree with, and so on. As a theology network, it shouldn’t be too strange to see a secondary but important issue such as gender roles in the family and church discussed in the faith statement.


“Yes, we articulate the essentials of the faith, but we aren’t aiming to articulate only the beliefs that all Christians everywhere have held in common.”


#2 – It is not essential, but it is still important.

“In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things love” is a statement coined by a German Lutheran theologian named Rupertus Meldenius in the 1500s and often quoted today. Although this is a helpful reminder of the centrality of love in all we do, we at RENEW.org think Christians need to be more precise about what counts as a nonessential. Is it true that, if something isn’t essential, then it’s not important to get right? Scripture actually shows us three types of elements in our faith: essential elements (which are salvation issues), important elements (which don’t save us, but which are important to pursue in order to follow Jesus faithfully), and personal elements (which are matters of personal conviction as well as matters about which there isn’t clear direction in Scripture). That middle category (important-but-not-essential) is too often lacking in our thinking.

Yes, it’s a healthy thing when Christians are able to discern between essentials and nonessentials. When we can’t keep that distinction straight, we can end up trivializing essentials or obsessing over nonessentials.

Here’s what isn’t healthy: Christians assuming that, when something isn’t essential, then it must not be important. Actually, there are many nonessentials which deserve our attention. In 1 Corinthians, the apostle Paul brought up numerous issues which—though the Corinthian Christians were saved—were important for the Corinthians to get correct. For example, church unity, church discipline, use of spiritual gifts, communion, and—you guessed it—gender roles in the church assembly. Were these “essentials” which are a matter of being saved or lost? Nope, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t important. Paul makes that clear.


“In 1 Corinthians, the apostle Paul brought up numerous issues which—though the Corinthian Christians were saved—were important for the Corinthians to get correct.”


Often, when we search Scripture to cultivate our convictions, we won’t find a simple stamp of approval for this or that view. Rather, we will often find ourselves challenged to step it up in important ways, in both beliefs and behavior. At RENEW.org, our “nuanced complementarian” (sometimes called “soft complementarian”) view of gender roles is one which will likely make people on both sides of the debate feel challenged. We don’t aim to be pugnacious; we’re aiming for faithfulness—to essentials first, but also to important-but-not-essential doctrines.

#3 – We’re paying attention to our cultural moment.

But what makes gender in the family and church something worth cultivating conviction about? Why would it deserve a place in a faith statement, instead of, for example, a particular end times perspective?

RENEW.org Network was created, in part, to address cultural issues and trajectories—to renew the teachings of Jesus at the intersection of Scripture and culture—so we can live faithfully for King Jesus. Some doctrines take on greater or less urgency depending on the cultural moment. (This isn’t saying that doctrines become truer or less true—but that not every doctrine takes on the same level of urgency in every season.)

If essential doctrines can take on greater or less urgency depending on the season[1], it would seem this would apply even more so to important-but-not-essential doctrines. And, as students of the times we live in, we believe now is a crucial time to be asking what the Bible teaches about gender and gender roles.


“As students of the times we live in, we believe now is a crucial time to be asking what the Bible teaches about gender and gender roles.”


Let me put it this way: where else are people in our time going to learn what it uniquely means to be a man and what it uniquely means to be a woman? The churches in our network need encouragement to uphold what God teaches for the sake of men, women, husbands, wives, and the church. Disciples of Jesus need a vision of godly masculinity (click here) and godly femininity today (click here). When schools, media, government, and other major institutions of society teach what is contrary to Scripture, they end up discipling the people in our churches in their image when we are silent.

As Martin Luther said, “If I profess with loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except that little point which the world and the Devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ.”

We live in a time where many people inside and outside the church are heavily influenced by a worldview called “intersectional feminism,” according to which churches with male-only elders are seen as misogynistic, churches which perform heterosexual-only marriages are homophobic, churches which discourage gender transitions are transphobic, and churches which champion global missions are colonialist and imperialistic. Intersectional feminism’s oppressor-oppressed framework leaves many people—especially boys—feeling confused and directionless.


“We live in a time where many people inside and outside the church are heavily influenced by a worldview called ‘intersectional feminism.'”


In this climate, is it wiser for churches to disengage from the gender roles question, allow the wider culture to fill in the answers, and hope the next domino doesn’t fall? Or is it wiser to discern the thread throughout all these issues? Each domino is packaged as a justice issue, in which the church needs to acknowledge its complicity in oppressing marginalized people and to reinterpret passages which have been used in that oppression.

Given the season we are in, we believe it’s much wiser to do a deep dive into what Scripture teaches about gender and help people and churches to live out values grounded in Christ, not in the predominant culture. We want our convictions and practices to be rooted in solid theology (and not just flowing with culture), and  we want to disciple people well for their particular cultural moment.

To clarify, although we at RENEW.org see these issues as important to articulate for our time, they aren’t anywhere near essential doctrines or a “test of fellowship.” We want those who lead at RENEW.org to be aligned with our faith statement (so we have anchors and boundaries in what we teach in our cultural moment), but alignment on these issue isn’t necessary for fellowship, joining our Learning Communities, attending our national or regional Gatherings, etc. We also collaborate with “sibling” organizations like Discipleship.org, Spire, and more which do not specify a position on these issues. We acknowledge that godly Christian people disagree with us on these points.

#4 – Things are moving fast (i.e., our position was “liberal” until five minutes ago).

(Okay, five minutes ago might be an exaggeration.) What’s for sure is that a decade ago, a Bible college president advocated for doing a deeper dive into what Scripture taught about gender roles, because churches were too easily leaning on one set of New Testament scriptures relevant to the gender roles debate (e.g., 1 Timothy 2:11-14; 1 Corinthians 11) and neglecting another set (e.g., 1 Corinthians 11:5; 14:34). The college president advocated a form of nuanced complementarianism. The response was mixed, as he was hailed as perceptive from one corner and liberal from another.

Ten years later, nuanced complementarianism is being branded as tone-deaf conservativism and veiled misogyny. And that’s just nuanced complementarianism.

That went fast.

Of course, the number one question to ask is, what is biblical? But again, cultural analysis is important, and it’s unwise not to notice the speed at which what’s biblical and true one moment becomes oppressive and unthinkable the next. Not every church or denomination that becomes egalitarian automatically slides into theological progressivism (e.g., the Bible isn’t uniquely inspired, the New Testament’s sexual ethics need to be reinterpreted for today, faith in Jesus isn’t the only path to heaven, etc.). But historically, we do see churches and denominations that are theologically progressive today which began that slide with egalitarianism. When that slide happens today, it happens quickly—again, because each step is being packaged as a justice issue.


“It’s unwise not to notice the speed at which what’s biblical and true one moment becomes oppressive and unthinkable the next.”


#5 – The conserver is often not the one picking fights.

One final point. Unlike the others, this isn’t a reason we include gender in our faith statement. Rather, it’s clarifying what isn’t one of our reasons: we aren’t wanting to pick fights about gender. We didn’t choose what areas of our Christian belief and practice would become disagreeable to the surrounding culture. We didn’t pick the area of theology in which society would lay on the pressure.

The reality we find ourselves in is that there are many church leaders being slandered (e.g., being called misogynistic) for doing their best to follow what the New Testament teaches about gender. One of the things we’re trying to do is to provide biblical answers and encouragement for these church leaders in the face of pressurized discouragement. Somehow the script gets flipped: that we’re picking fights about gender.

This is similar to claiming that the preacher who preaches a biblical sermon on what the Bible teaches about homosexuality is guilty of being too divisive—that he’s picking fights with LGBTQ communities by preaching about the topics. Wait . . . he’s being divisive? He’s picking fights? The truth is, he’s simply responding to a fight he never asked for, but which ended up at his door. He’s just responding to where the predominant culture is dialing up the pressure.


“He’s just responding to where the predominant culture is dialing up the pressure.”


This point I’m asking you to consider goes far beyond these gender questions. Please, next time you feel like seeing the conserver (the one trying to conserve something he sees as biblical, important, etc.) as the aggressor, pause and ask whether he started the fight, or whether he’s responding to a fight that’s been brought to his door. We at RENEW.org have what we believe are good reasons for including gender roles in our faith statement. Trying to pick a fight is not on our list of reasons. We are simply trying to equip church leaders to respond biblically to unfair accusations which they never asked for.

Thanks for taking time to consider my perspective on these matters; I hope it’s helpful. If you’d like to learn more about RENEW.org’s nuanced complementarian views, you can read a summary HERE.


[1] Here’s an example of when an essential doctrine took on greater urgency in a particular cultural season: Most of us recall when Emperor Constantine called the church together at the Council of Nicaea, where they affirmed that Jesus is fully God. It’s easy to forget that, later, his son Constantius became emperor and tried to undermine this consensus. Constantius saw in Arianism a way of more easily bringing polytheists into the Christian fold, because a less-than-fully-divine Jesus was easier for polytheists to accept. At this season in history, it became especially important for Christians, such as Athanasius, to focus their attention on the biblical doctrine of the deity of Christ.

Hear Daniel talk about “The Disciple’s Mind” at the 2024 RENEW.org Gathering! Register HERE.

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