Mutual Submission and Mutual Humility – the way of women and men

[Christina Allen writes of her journey to understanding the mutual love, submission and humility called for by all who belong to God’s family, women and men alike.]

One obstacle that many observant Christians seem to encounter in accepting feminist or Egalitarian ideals, one that I certainly had to find my way over, was the cognitive dissonance inherent in seeking to empower women in a faith that calls for humility. Indeed, this very argument has been used to silence women: how dare you promote yourself when Jesus did not consider equality with God something to be grasped?

It was in struggling with this that I realized that it was not about elevating anyone at all. I realized that the message of Scripture actually indicates that we are all called to humility and submission, and that the error is that hierarchical theology elevates men in the first place. It was then that my Christian feminism became a call to mutual submission and mutual humility.

Jesus’s ministry was announced by the words,

“Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him. Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. And all people will see God’s salvation.” (Luke 3:4-6.)

This was a revolutionary message. The great and powerful would be brought down low and the low of society would be raised up. The King was coming, and every exalted person would be humbled. Throughout Jesus’s ministry, we also see the low exalted. We see a God who rejected the Pharisee A-team and selected His disciples from amongst the poor, the socially disadvantaged, and the treasonous.

He even allowed women to learn at His feet.

Christ in the House of Martha and Mary, Johannes Vermeer 1654-56 (Wikipedia)

Many see the condescension of Jesus to include the rejected. They don’t see His rejection of the exalted. I begin to wonder if the exalted are capable of receiving Jesus at all. (See the parable of the banquet.) They seem to think that they can, and yet believe they can also retain their position over others. I’m not sure that’s true.

“So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”(Matthew 20:16.)

Jesus delivers this message multiple times, multiple ways across the Gospels. And Gentile men who had heretofore been excluded from the inheritance of Israel rejoiced because they too could now inherit.

But their modern male heirs refuse to extend the inclusion to the fullest extent.

Paul had no difficulty in Galatians 3 citing women as equal co-heirs with Christ in the Holy Spirit of God who inherit the role of Spirit indwelt holy priesthood. Modern men are completely comfortable with the idea that Jesus would make the Jews last, but they fail to recognize that the hills to be leveled off in this day and age are more related to male ecclesiastical and social privilege. They themselves are the hills.

Modern patriarchy and specifically Complementarianism, preach a “created order” of men over women in the church and home. I find it hard to believe that the God who inspired Paul to write the first chapter of First Corinthians would support that thinking.

But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:27-31.)

Deborah [the Judge of Israel] Beneath the Palm Tree, James Tissot 1896-1902 (Wikipedia)

God has never been a God to reinforce any kind of perceived merit or entitlement. Throughout the Bible, God chooses second sons, youngest sons, women judges, women warriors, slaves, and the weakest of nations. Deuteronomy 7:7 says

The LORD did not set His affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples.

He seems to choose whom He chooses in order to spite convention and entitlement.

It is my belief that as long as you still harbor entitlement, indulge privilege, and practice prideful religious hierarchy, you will put increasing distance between yourself and God. Our God was not daily sitting in the palaces and high places entertaining royalty and religious elite. He was in the lowest places wooing those powerless, rejected, downtrodden souls who had already assumed the posture of deep humility. It is not for nothing that long after the Resurrection, the Way continued to attract slaves and women, as the Romans remarked, and held little attraction for the exalted.

Complementarians will readily acknowledge that the Bible is full of calls for humility, but they have a workaround. They call it servant leadership and act as if being in charge of everything and having all power and authority is a huge and terrible burden that men gallantly bear on behalf of women. They may be more right than they know.  So much power and veneration, paired with a lack of accountability, set exalted men up for the fall that comes after pride.

Patriarchal and Complementarian theology have set men up as a privileged and preferred class and has theologically subordinated women. And the stink of that rotten fruit reaches the Heavens themselves. We see it with #metoo and especially with #churchtoo.  Our hierarchies are broken and they are dashing our men on the treacherous rocks of sin, and they are trampling our women underfoot. This was never the way the Body of Christ was meant to be.

Our churches have become often too vertical. One simply can’t have humble hierarchy. And the Complementarian theology’s “separate but equal” gender polity is no equality at all.

We see the rotten fruits of that self-delusion in every woman who has been used and silenced by a system that all too readily lends itself to abuse. We have lost the Spirit filled churches of the New Testament where everyone had a song or testimony, where order was almost lost because men and women both were full of prophecy and fire. We have replaced it with a hierarchy that all too often picks spiritual winners and losers and stunts the growth of a majority of its adherents in order to maintain a clear division between “leadership” and “not leadership”. Little wonder our churches are blighted and dying, most relying on cannibalizing other churches for continued growth. Little wonder that church women often face abuse at home and at the hands of the church. There is not enough humility and not enough purifying light.

I believe in churches and marriages where we heed the scriptural call for mutual submission and mutual humility. Power should not rest with one man or even three. Insofar as we are able while still maintaining order, we should diffuse power. One man should not be the face of our church (unless that man is Christ!). The faces of our churches should be all of our faces.

We must topple the idols that so many of us erect in our hearts that make our church leader something somewhat superhuman…because these abuses happen with all of our consent. It is not usually one man who silences church abuse, but often a plurality of church members. We have lost the sense of “we are the church” and have decided “he (little h) is the church”. Too many of us have abdicated our spiritual calling and traded off our inheritance for comfort. No more.

We should all be listening to what the Holy Spirit is saying to us through others. All of us who are in the Spirit have a word or song or something spiritual to contribute. Many have never been told that, never trusted that or tried it. That needs to end. We need to equip by cultivating the spiritual inheritance in each of us. (And I guarantee that not every woman or even most women are stamped “hospitality” alone, and leadership is not an exclusively male gifting).

There are many men who need to experience repentance and humility, and not just the ones who have done something bad. Any man who has ever secretly thought that his masculinity made him better, more called, closer to God, more spiritually privileged or noble, more qualified to any position or spiritual work than his sisters needs to repent. This is spiritual arrogance and it breeds sin in the heart.  Jesus said:

 The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. (John 6:63.)

We need to embrace that. Our flesh gives us no spiritual advantage whatsoever. And for many, the flesh can be a snare of arrogance that leads to the exploitation of others for the gratification of lusts both fleshly and soul-deep.


Christina Allen is a native of rural Southeast Texas. She attended UT-Dallas and University of Houston–Clear Lake to earn a bachelors degree in Chemistry, and now teaches high school science. She’s passionate about knowing Christ and encouraging others to learn more of Him. You can find her on Facebook and enjoy her insights and conversation.


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24 Responses to Mutual Submission and Mutual Humility – the way of women and men

  1. Jeannie Prinsen says:

    Thanks for these thoughts, Christina. I just love this part: “God has never been a God to reinforce any kind of perceived merit or entitlement. Throughout the Bible, God chooses second sons, youngest sons, women judges, women warriors, slaves, and the weakest of nations.”

  2. Anu Riley says:

    Oh Christina you did such a wonderful job! Thank you for writing this up for Brother TIm. I was so encouraged and blessed. You have such a gift for writing and expressing yourself.

    I posted on Facebook about your blog, but it touched me deeply so I wanted to reach out here, too.

    What’s terribly amusing to me, personally, is how I used to be an attention junkie. I used to be far more obnoxious and in your face and sort of enjoyed shocking people. That came with an outgoing personality, a big mouth and a personality that was a bit too big for my britches, if you catch my meaning.

    The Lord never, ever cushioned such qualities I described (most of them; some of them He just needed to knock off rough corners), because those characteristics are not compatible with Christ. Womanhood aside, He is not tolerant of show boating or someone who has to be in the spotlight. I learned the hard way, and now I shun most of what got me into trouble for a lot of years.

    So it’s amusing to think that God is somehow “forgiving” of men when they behave in the ways you described, that are prideful and arrogant and rather demeaning to others—even to other men who don’t believe they have the right to act that way, and want to include their sisters in Christ.

    He never spoke to me as if to say: look, this pride you have in yourself is all wrong, as a woman. You need to be more humble, as a woman. Stop trying to get all the attention, which is improper for a woman, so that make it all the worse”

    When I was being bullied and broken down by men around me, the message from Him was not: “As men, this is a phase they tend to go through. They’re being shaped into leaders, so must let them grow out of this immaturity. Deep down, men are just little boys in adult bodies. We must coddle and soothe their fragile egos. As a woman, will you please be My tool in this endeavor and not take any of this abuse too personally? That’s My girl!”

    It sounds ridiculous, right? But these are the kinds of messages we are being sent!

    • It doesn’t sound ridiculous at all. We are all sent those messages and their origin is not the Father who made you and loves you. Gendered socialization is so messed up and so far from God’s intention in placing His image in women and men. Don’t let the world tell you that you are too much: God loves your muchness and calls it substance. Don’t let anyone tell you that you exist for men to cut their leadership chops on. You exist for the glory of God, an object of divine love, not spiritual abuse.

  3. truleeyours says:

    This is an incredibly thought provoking article. Thank you!! Christina, will you consider that Jesus is the head of the Christ, not the Christ ITSELF?? We are all members of IT. (Not a “Him”)

    When Paul says ‘discern the Body’ in 1 Co 11:29&31, is the body a transubstantiated wafer? Probably Paul meant discern that Body which is the communion of all the believers present, all members of the Christ, ‘neither male nor female.’ See 1 Co 10:17 “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one BODY, for we all partake of the one bread.” Paul places great emphasis on receiving ‘worthily’ and ‘discerning’ the Body in 1 Co 11:29&31. A choice must be made between male chauvinism and its opposite — discerning that the Body of Christ is One, that the Body is the members present at the Eucharist, and that everyone should be welcomed equally (11:33). Yes, equally.

  4. Lea says:

    Nice article!

    I should say, I have always found this particular argument incredibly self serving when coming from men: “Indeed, this very argument has been used to silence women: how dare you promote yourself when Jesus did not consider equality with God something to be grasped?”

  5. Marg says:

    Thank you, Christina. Your article really encourages me. There are so many excellent thoughts here, from beginning to end.

  6. Nancy2 says:

    Jesus said, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
    So, is it save to assume that these “Christian” patriarchal men want women to treat the men the same way the men treat the women?

    • Anu Riley says:

      Christina did such a good job debunking the kind of patriarchal thinking you just noted. One of my favorites lines she wrote was: “Complementarians will readily acknowledge that the Bible is full of calls for humility, but they have a workaround.”

      The “workaround” for your verse reference (this is a personal thought) is that men believe they are entitled to be treated a certain way, and women are not. So the “do unto others” verse (which is not gender specified) is touted, but twisted to fit their evil way of thinking.

      There is no way to work with ANYONE (and I mean anyone) who believes they are entitled. They may “humbly” believe their entitlement is God-given, but that is a lie.

      Lies always blind a person to truth. Remember the Pharisees claimed they could see, when they could not. Jesus responded: “Jesus said, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.” (John 9:41)

      • Lea says:

        My favorite bit of nonsense is that ‘there is no male/female’ in Jesus was *just about salvation*. So as long as you can be saved as a male/female, jew/gentile, slave/free, we don’t have to worry about any other equalities or inequalities. Neat trick!

        • Agree. Isn’t it kind of Complementarians to acknowledge that women also may be saved? In all seriousness. Just so long as they can confine Christian equality to something intangible and abstract (and make no mistake: their idea of salvation is both!), it can be rendered harmless against the sin-soaked structural inequalities that those of privilege would preserve. Their inheritance may prove just as illusory as their idea of salvation.

      • I agree. And patriarchal teachings flatter men into believing that they can be partakers in the exaltation of Christ while others image His humiliation. It makes them believe that this schism in the Body is an elegant image of the Godhead. Instead they buy the age-old lie: “ye can be as gods”.

    • I doubt that’s at all what they want. They seem far more interested in segregating genders into mutually exclusive “roles” which preclude entirely any sort of reciprocity.

  7. Pastor Bob says:

    How does one see the two parts to this: Different but Equal with the right balance?
    She has roles that the Bible indicates are important, and he does.
    Often these overlap, yet the roles are not inclusive nor exclusive, but to many as a starting point to deeper understanding. Think of time with the children, he may be better. Think of the work force, she may have a higher paying job.
    WHY NOT?!
    Protection, Submission and Support: different words that blend together to make us better.
    An old song had these words: United we stand, Divided we fall.
    Team work, the body working together ins small teams and larger groups, we will succeed.

  8. Anonymous2 says:

    This phrase hits it on the head: “[S]eparate but equal” gender polity is no equality at all.

    I was at a conference chit-chatting with a clearly intelligent Christian woman in her 60s who said her husband had allowed her to come. It stunned me. It was almost as if he was the parent and she was the child. We talked about complementarianism (which she espoused) and when asked “When was the last time your husband had to cast the tie-breaking vote,” she couldn’t think of one.

    Later in the conversation, again this dignified woman said her husband had “let her” do something. And I thought, “How sad!” This woman had no voice, no volition, no power to go where she wanted to go without permission.

    Once my children turned 18 they didn’t need my permission to do anything.
    But this woman is infantilized all her life.

    • Tim says:

      Infantilized is a good description, Anon2. I wonder what she did with your conversations after she had a while to reflect on them.

    • I’ve noticed that cultural Complementarianism goes largely unnoticed by most. It is considered normal and ubiquitous. Many people don’t examine it any further, whether through fear of heresy, fear of “rocking the boat” or other reasons.

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