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Christ’s Permission Above All Else

by Sarabeth Ng | June 05, 2022

My husband and I have been looking for a new church since we got married a few months ago. We decided to leave the complementarian church where I had been a member since before we met. We wanted to find a church closer to our home that also wholly affirms women. It hasn’t been a clean or easy break—the old church feels like home, and I still return once in a while to play bass for the worship team. We celebrated Easter and Mother’s Day at my parents’ complementarian church. And I’ll never forget the Sunday in April when we accidentally found ourselves in a complementarian church because we hadn’t looked at their website close enough beforehand. In all this back and forth, I’m becoming hyperaware of the differences between egalitarian and complementarian churches and their teachings.

There seems to be an aura of hesitancy in complementarian churches where gender—rather than gifting—determines how people can serve. Women have learned not to ask to do certain things, like serve communion, deliver the Gospel reading during worship, stand behind the pulpit, or lead a congregational adult Bible study. At the same time there are also places men hesitate to enter—the nursery, the kitchen, the altar guild. Where women’s roles have been limited, many of us have responded by creating women’s-only spaces. We can’t preach, so we brand ourselves as the best nursery attendants. We commandeer every funeral luncheon, fundraiser, and community dinner. Women find special fellowship in our safe spaces, where no one side-eyes us for “stepping out of line.” 

I praise God for the many ways women have found to serve God and people joyfully and faithfully within the confines of complementarian theology. But what if those confines are not what God wants? What if God is calling women to full service within the church, and we’ve hesitated because we’re waiting for permission from the church—namely, the men in charge there? The articles in this issue of Mutuality help us see that the far-reaching implications of freedom within Galatians 3 mean we don’t need man’s permission to use the gifts God has given us. Our character and gifts—not our physical embodiment—are what qualify us for ministry.

Yet many of my complementarian friends insist that Galatians 3:28 strictly addresses the soteriological—that is, salvation. They believe that God, through this passage, offers redemption for all people, full stop. Christ has justified everyone equally through his work on the cross. Being a free, Jewish male no longer makes you “more saved” than a Gentile slave woman. Yes, it is clear that Galatians 3, including verse 28, teaches us how Christ has freed every one of his followers—including women of any class and race—to embrace the fact that they are children of God, declared righteous by faith in Christ Jesus. All Christians are now equally forgiven. 

But we cannot leave our interpretation of the text here. We must embrace Galatians 3 as a part of the larger narrative of Scripture. Knowing that Galatians 3:28 is speaking to our redemption regardless of gender, race, or class makes me ask, does this change who can approach God on behalf of the people? Before Christ, the only ones allowed to approach God were the supreme religious leaders: the high priests (men from a specific Jewish tribe). On the Day of Atonement, the high priest would pass through the curtain into the Holy of Holies, to stand before God on his throne. There, the high priest would make reconciliation for his own sins and the sins of all the people (Lev. 16). 

But now? Now Jesus is our great high priest (Heb. 4:14–16). The curtain is torn, God the Spirit indwells all of us, and our atonement is complete. Jesus has obliterated the divisions in the temple. Access to God comes through Christ, not through a Jewish-male priesthood with its ritual taboos and temple practices that excluded Gentiles, slaves, and women. These societal divisions died in Christ on the cross at Calvary. But there is more.

Galatians 3:28 is not only applicable to our spiritual renewal before God. Our great high priest, having made us equal in standing before God, now also calls us equally into his work, regardless of our physical nature. Being baptized into Christ and clothing ourselves in Christ ends a dualism that wrongly separates our spiritual status and calling based on our physical, embodied nature.

I beg all Christians then, and especially my complementarian brothers and sisters, to stop creating false divisions between our spiritual standing and our vocational calling. The curtain has been torn. We all may now freely approach the throne of God and minister there. We are the priesthood of all believers. Perhaps it’s time that we stop focusing on whether we are allowed to do something in our church body and instead start focusing on proclaiming the redemption freely given by God through faith in Jesus Christ—in any way God is calling us. 

This article is from "The Fullness of Galatians 3:28," the Summer 2022 issue of Mutuality magazine. Read the full issue here.