“We love Jesus. We’re not in love with Jesus!” he shouted. For over an hour in my office, the fiery deacon warned me about the “greatest threat” facing Christianity today: the feminization of the church. Men wearing tight jeans, overly emotional worship, a lack of male teachers, people expressing their feelings, you name it and Satan was spinning his web of feminine faith. After an hour, it was hard to disagree with him (minus the part about people expressing their feelings). For instance, when 1 Timothy 2:12 clearly prohibits “a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man,” and women are often the only ones volunteering to teach and lead and serve, congregations can adopt a slightly “feminine” feel, often through no fault of their own. This deacon wasn’t pointing the finger at women, but at men. And in Bible-believing churches across America, others are doing the same.
Through the years, I’ve heard the phrase “feminization of the church” over a dozen times from over a dozen different men. Well-meaning men. Men who disciple other men. And they’re not wrong. A church embarrassed by Paul’s commands for husbands to lead their wives is a church which has not only forsaken the Gospel which marriage depicts, it has, in some sense, “feminized” the role ordained by God to represent Christ’s role as Bridegroom to the church. (Eph. 5:22-33) Like Adam, male sin in the “feminized” church is a sin of dereliction, a failure to fulfill responsibilities and privileges delivered by God Himself. (Gen. 3:12) But those sounding the alarm over the “feminization of the church” aren’t addressing the broader, Satanic scheme in American culture. They’re not wrong, but they’re only half-right. The so-called “feminization of the church” is only part of the present American church experience. In truth, the American church isn’t being feminized; it’s being androgenized. And the difference is the integrity of the Gospel itself.
Androgyny is the quality of being neither feminine nor masculine. Similar to the current sexual revolution and LGBTQ movement, the androgynous church is a confused body wherein men not only behave like women, but women also begin fulfilling the role of men. By fading and blending clearly-defined gender roles in the church and in the family, even churches which repudiate homosexuality and transgenderism can begin imitating the principles of popular American culture. The result is sexual uniformity without any real gender distinctions whatsoever, or where “male” and “female” simply denote physical traits and cultural behavior severed from any kind of biblical understanding. From the first entrance of sin into the world, Satan’s goal was never to simply “feminize” God’s creation, but to distort its glory by eliminating its beautiful order and design. The sinister aim of his deception was to collapse God’s careful distinctions, the very distinctions which would foreshadow the Savior of the world. (Gen. 3:15)
By the time Satan was finished with our sinful ancestors, Adam was following Eve’s instruction, Eve was leading Adam, and both were taking their cues from the very created thing they were called by God to rule. The world’s first couple wasn’t feminized, they were confused. They were androgenized. We live in that world today. Amazingly, however, when God eventually confronts Adam and Eve in the garden, their sinful blame-game goes down: “The man said, ‘The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.’ Then the Lord God said to the woman, ‘What is this that you have done?’ The woman said, ‘The serpent deceived me, and I ate.’” (Gen. 3:12-13) When God shows up, and the Creator-creature distinction is reconstituted, gender roles aren’t hard to figure out. And that’s why the Gospel was given to us.
When idolatry entered the world, and worship of the Creator was subordinated to human whim, sexual confusion naturally followed. Paul says that once the world “exchanges” the truth about God for a lie, it also begins to “exchange” natural sexual relations. (Rom. 1:24-26) And the same inevitably occurs whenever a church abandons the Gospel message for worldly values. Without a proper love of God, love of neighbor becomes a jumbled mess. Men and women who love the world more than Jesus don’t know how to love their spouses, and Satan is still hell-bent on destroying biblical marriages because they portray his very demise in the Gospel. Therefore, our faithfulness to the good news, and the way we structure our churches in accordance with that news, is how the blood-bought bride prevails against the gates of Hell.
Pitching the current crisis in the church as merely a “feminization” can sometimes do harm to the very church for which Christ died and to the ones we are trying to heal. With the rise of the #metoo movement and the increasing awareness of abuses against women in the church, our message to the body of Christ should never be to “re-masculinize” the church, as if the scales needed tipping. Manhood and womanhood are not offices to hold, but sacred parts to play in our ultimate goal of presenting the Gospel. Therefore, a call to “masculinize” the church isn’t a call to wear more flannel, stop expressing feelings, and demand more respect. Manhood isn’t about physical strength, just like womanhood isn’t about external beauty. (Col. 3:19, 1 Pet. 3:3) Manhood is actually a call to self-sacrificially love the bride, even when she doesn’t earn our love. It’s a call to serve and lead our spiritual sisters like Christ served and led His church. (Mark 10:45) When so many women are abused in the church, and others attempt to fulfill teaching roles only commanded of men, our message as a church isn’t to feminize or masculinize. It’s to Gospel-ize the church by promoting the very roles which best present the good news of salvation in its most biblically faithful form. The remedy to cultural androgyny isn’t an amorphous church, but a church which celebrates its matrimonial design.