I’m baffled when I read egalitarians who think that functional hierarchy presupposes disunity or the prospect of it.
Take, for example, this statement by Gilbert Bilezikian:
One of the weirdest heresies that has been generated in the last century pertains to the postulation of a hierarchical order within the members of the Trinity—as if there ever could exist a threat of discord or of misconduct that would require the exercise of authority within the oneness of the Godhead.1
Kevin Giles is guilty of this fallacious reasoning as well:
What seems to have happened is that contemporary conservative evangelicals who are opposed to women’s liberation in the church and the home have read back into the Trinity their understanding of the subordination of women: God the Father has become the eternal “head” of Christ, and the differences among the divine persons have been redefined in terms of differing roles or functions. Rather than working as one, the divine persons have been set in opposition—with the Father commanding and the Son obeying.2
I see three possible ways to account for statements like these:
- These men genuinely cannot comprehend how functional hierarchy can exist without sin.
- These men have intentionally used fallacious argumentation to defeat their opponents.
- These men have unintentionally conflated unrelated ideas in their zeal to disprove what they consider erroneous.3
That functional hierarchy can exist without disunity seems so obvious as not to need any defense, but perhaps it does. So here are a few lines of evidence:
- Hierarchy existed prior to the fall when opposition and disunity were nonexistent.
- Hierarchy will exist in the new earth, where there will be no disunity nor even the possibility of it.
- Hierarchy exists among the elect and sinless angelical beings. The term ἀρχάγγελος (1 Thes 4:16; Jude 9) refers to “a member of the higher ranks in the celestial hierarchy.”4 Would anyone think that this hierarchy presupposes “a threat of discord or of misconduct” and results in the angels being “set in opposition” to each other?
- During the incarnation there was clearly a relationship of authority and submission between the Father and the Son,5 and there wasn’t a hint of opposition or “a threat of discord or of misconduct.” If hierarchy and perfect unity can coexist for a time, they can coexist for all eternity as well.
I highly doubt that Bilezikian and Giles have never taken the time to think about how functional hierarchy does not in any way necessitate disunity. Men of their intelligence would certainly realize something so obvious. So #1 is unlikely. In love (1 Cor 13:7) I’m inclined to give these men the benefit of the doubt and not charge them with intentionally using fallacious argumentation. So #2 is out. That leaves explanation #3: perhaps they have made some unguarded statements that unintentionally create straw men of their opponents’ position. This kind of thing is easy to do, and I’ve been guilty of it plenty of times myself. I hope it serves as a reminder that will help me to strive to be fair with my opponents in the same way that I want them to be fair with me (Mat 7:12).
What am I missing here? Is the point that I think is so obvious really not that obvious? Or is this just another example of Christian argumentation falling short of what it should be, even if unintentionally so?
- Kevin Giles, Jesus and the Father (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006), 1, emphasis mine. ↩
- The Trinity and Subordinationism (Downers Grove: IVP, 2002), 16, emphasis mine. ↩
- In all fairness, a fourth option might be that they are correct in their contention that hierarchy necessities disunity. But even if they are correct, this is clearly not what egalitarians maintain, though both Bilezikian and Giles make it sound otherwise. ↩
- BDAG, 137. ↩
- Complementarians and egalitarians agree on this much. ↩