Neo-Egalitarianism…Trickle-Down Authority

“Men, we are an egalitarian church. Which means, that we as men have the responsibility to share our God-given authority with the women in the church. The authority that has been given to us by God, we in turn are to give it to the women and our wives and empower them.” —an excerpt paraphrased from a Sunday sermon given by a male senior pastor at a self-proclaimed egalitarian church in the West Coast of the U.S.A.

A dangerous phenomenon occurring in evangelical churches today is the confusion between Egalitarianism and Benevolent Patriarchy, a.k.a. Hierarchical-Complementarianism, which is most commonly referred to as Complementarianism.

I have written about the confusion in the past. In the near future, I plan to publish various short essays describing how authentic egalitarianism has been and continues to be hijacked by Hierarchical-Complementarianism.

The trickle-down authority model is not a biblical model for the empowering of believers in the church or in the home. This model is based on the patriarchal pyramid of leadership borrowed from the Roman form of government prevalent during New Testament times. This form of government became the dominant form of government in the church when the church became institutionalized; that is, when the church became the dominant and accepted religion of the Roman Empire.

The trickle-down authority model is what put in place the Papal leadership structure of the church which is still practiced today in the Roman Catholic Church and practiced by some evangelical churches. This form of authority structure is what put in place the division between the clergy and the congregation; that is, the male clergy have authority and the congregation does not. For the male clergy who have authority, that authority is given based on the trickle-down effect. The trickle-down authority pyramid model is perceived as Christ giving authority to the Pope, the Pope in turn gives authority to the cardinals, the cardinals give authority to their subordinates, and so on.

Hierarchical-Complementarians perceive a similar model: God gives authority to the husband, the husband gives authority to the wife. God gives authority to the men in the church, the men give authority to the women. God gives authority to the senior pastor, the senior pastor gives authority to the other leaders.

In Hierarchical-Complementarian churches that practice the patriarchal trickle-down authority model, the women do not have any authority in the church nor in the home unless that authority is given to them by a man. In extreme patriarchal churches, women and wives have no authority what so ever. In benevolent patriarchal churches women and wives have some authority. But, that authority is given to the women at the discretion of the men. Even though in hierarchical-complementarian churches women have some authority, they are still practicing a patriarchal model of authority since a woman’s authority is dependent on the discretion and decision of a man.

The trickle-down authority model is based on a misapplication of Matthew 28:18-20.

Egalitarian Leadership

Paul describes a community of leaders based on the calling, giftedness, and character of each believer. The calling and giftedness is solely based on God; based on the commandments and instructions given by Christ/God and the spiritual gifts imparted by the Holy Spirit…to each individual. (Ephesians 4:11-13, 1 Corinthians 12, 1 Corinthians 13, 1 Corinthians 1:1, Romans 1:1, Galatians 1:11-12, 1 Timothy 5)

The five-fold ministries in Ephesians 4:11 do reflect a hierarchy, but the hierarchy is not based on the trickle-down effect. It is based solely on God. First the apostle, the apostle is the one sent by God to preach the gospel. The apostle is also the church planter. He or she as the one sent by God and as the one founding a church has the highest authority in the church. Second is the prophet, who speaks to the people on behalf of God. Third is the evangelist, who preaches the gospel. Fourth is the pastor, who provides guidance and spiritual care. And fifth is the teacher, who provides instruction and scriptural understanding.

Authority in the New Testament church resided primarily on the apostles and prophets, and both men and women together served as apostles and prophets. (Romans 16:7, 1 Corinthians 11:5, 1 Corinthians 14:3, Acts 21:9) Each man and woman who served as an apostle or prophet was called and gifted to serve in that capacity directly by God.

Selection of Leaders

A Hierarchical-Complementarian senior pastor once gave an excellent explanation on the selection of leaders. He said that God establishes the leaders and that we as a church are responsible to recognize who those leaders are and what gifs they have been given. We, the church, have the responsibility to recognize those leaders before the church with appropriate and pertinent titles and positions. Keeping in mind their state of character, of course.

Unfortunately, that senior pastor is a Hierarchical-Complementarian, so his selection process of leadership applies only to men. As soon as gender or ethnic or socio-economic exclusions are applied to the selection of leaders elitism is introduced. With elitism, leadership becomes not a source of equipping and building up of the church (Ephesians 4:12) but a structure of power and control. That is the deceptive element of ‘benevolent’ patriarchy. Outwardly, ‘benevolent’ patriarchy is used to explain the empowering of women. But, in actuality, it keeps women down and under the control of men.

Paul’s model of leadership is egalitarian, no elitism. It’s a leadership model of both men and women, of all races and ethnicities, of all socio-economic status.