Laura Ortberg Turner has an interesting contribution to CT’s series on women in leadership. In “Too Girly To Lead?,” Turner contends that God doesn’t care about gender when it comes to pastoral leadership. She appeals to 1 Corinthians 12:4-6, which says,
There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.
Turner observes that Paul says nothing about these gifts being gender-specific, and then she concludes that both women and men receive spiritual gifts that make them equally suitable for pastoral ministry. In her own words,
Never does he suggest that spiritual gifts are to be divvied up according to men and women. God, it would seem, is much more concerned with gifts than with gender.
She then issues a sharp condemnation against complementarians who disagree with her view. She writes:
There is something especially pernicious about men and women in the church who use Scripture to tell women they cannot teach but then have a hard time saying what exactly it is about women that makes them unfit for the job.
I think this rhetoric is unfortunate. Is it helpful to accuse complementarians of being “pernicious” simply for exhorting people to do what they believe the Bible teaches? Was Paul being “pernicious” when he penned 1 Timothy 2:12? Was Jesus being “pernicious” when he selected only men to be numbered among the twelve? The Christian life is not a “choose your own adventure.” It’s submission to the Lordship of Christ as he has revealed it to us in the Bible. At the end of the day, this is not a debate about giftedness or equal rights for women. It’s a discussion about what the Bible actually says and then how we are to obey it. And this is precisely where Turner’s argument jumps the tracks. She has mishandled the biblical text even as she mischaracterizes complementarians.
Complementarians agree with egalitarians that God distributes spiritual gifts to both men and women—even the gift of teaching. That is indeed the teaching of 1 Corinthians 12:4-6. But Turner curiously omits the wider context of 1 Corinthians in her argument. In both 1 Corinthians 11 and 14, Paul stipulates gender-based guidelines for the use of gifts in the gathered community. In chapter 11, Paul says that women who pray and prophesy must do so in deference to a principle of male headship (1 Cor. 11:3, 8-10). Likewise in chapter 14, Paul prohibits women from judging prophesies in the gathered community. Again, the issue is framed in gender-specific terms:
34 Let the women keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but let them subject themselves, just as the Law also says. 35 And if they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church (1 Cor. 14:34-35).
Given Paul’s very clear gender-specific instructions in the wider context, it’s just not credible to read 1 Corinthians 12 as Turner does. Paul clearly intends for our understanding of giftedness to fit within the framework of his instructions about gender-roles in the gathered community. That is not a politically correct reading, but it is nevertheless what the text says. When you combine that with what Paul says elsewhere about qualifications for pastoral ministry (e.g., 1 Tim. 2:12; 3:1-7), it is difficult to see how a narrow appeal to 1 Corinthians 12 advances the evangelical gender debate. Indeed, it skirts the key issues that are still unresolved between complementarians and egalitarians.
In that light, there’s nothing at all “pernicious” about calling people to obey what the Bible teaches. On the contrary, it’s the essence of love (1 Cor. 13:6).