Does Equality Negate Authority?

A favorite verse for many is Galatians 3.28 which reads, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus."

I love this verse as well. It proclaims the absolute equality in value and worth before the Father that each believer owns in Jesus Christ. Christ’s righteousness is perfect, and if you are in Him, your standing before God cannot be improved upon! The law is fulfilled in Him! And this is deep reality is for anyone who believes, apart from any human distinction of race, economics, culture, or gender. Therefore we are to have a deep unity and oneness in Jesus.

What a glorious truth! But many want to use it as the guiding text for church leadership. So...what does this text say about church leadership? Well, it certainly has implications like, 1) the gospel is for everyone. And that 2) leaders should never be self-righteous or haughty about their position, but should glorify the perfection of Christ for all who believe.

And now for our big question. Many believe that this text opens the office of elder (and therefore pastor) to women. According to such thinking, the equality in Christ described by Galatians 3 negates role and authority distinctions in church leadership. So then, does Galatians 3.28 negate authority? Does equality negate authority?

Well, let's ask this: who is more valuable, a pastor or lay person? According to Gal. 3.28, neither is more valuable. In Christ we each have perfect righteousness. We are equal. And yet Hebrews 13:17 reads, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” Pastor and layperson, though equal in Christ, have different roles and differing authority. Evidently there can and should be equality with distinction - equality and authority.

But here’s the kicker on the issue:

Who is more “God,” the Father or the Son? The answer? They are equal in essence and value – both fully God. And yet 1 Corinthians 11.3 reads, “But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.”

This is amazing - what we see here is that equality with the distinctions of headship and submission are found in the infinite perfection of the Trinity. The Father is the “head” of the Son and the Son joyfully submits to the Father. The Father has authority, and the Son submits to Him.

The Son, equally God, joyfully submits to the Father. He has done so from eternity past (Revelation 13.8), His incarnation (John 14.28), and will for eternity future (1 Corinthians 15.28).

This of course means that equality does not negate authority. As Jesus Christ exemplifies, it is not a dishonor to submit to headship. It is a glory. Equality does not negate authority. It enhances it.

Galatians 3.28, though affirming our equality in Christ, is not prescriptive of church leadership. We have the Apostle's thoughts on the matter in 1 Timothy 2-3 and other places. We ought to follow Scripture's teaching and both affirm and celebrate our differences within our equality. To the glory of God...

1 comment:

Jason De Vries said...


Just wanted to say that I really appreciated your comments at Synod. My wife and were watching via webcast. We felt you were a voice of reason among the many strong feelings.

I've spent the past three years at Western Seminary (Portland) and will be tranferring to Calvin this fall to somplete my M.Div. I look forward to serving the CRC knowing that there are others not unlike my wife and I here.