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  • Writer's pictureAndrew Fouts

I Thessalonians 5 - The Way Forward: Why I Left Complementarianism & Cessationism Behind

I grew up in the SBC. This means a variety different things to different people, but there are two pieces of theology that almost everyone recognizes that have grown up in this tradition: Complementarianism & Cessationism. These two theologies, along with the conflict I already was facing with the continued history of racism & classism in the SBC, made me truly realize over the past 10 years that I never was truly part of the SBC, nor did I fully understand what it was the SBC had fed me for 20 plus years. So what was it that led to this?

In a basic biological understanding of male & female, Complementarian ideology is not an issue, however, that is not where it stops, even though that is oftentimes the claim. The problem comes though, when instead of recognizing the way God designed men & women to function differently in our biology, it is instead taken into societal & religious functions as well. When this happens, we border on Patriarchy & miss major pieces of what God has designed for His Church, especially when it comes to women’s role in ministry.

The complementarian argument against women ministers is virtually the same whether you are a full-on patriarchy pusher or not. They rely on I Timothy 2:11-15, I Timothy 3:1-5, Titus 1:6, Ephesians 5, I Peter 3:1-6, I Corinthians 11:1-16, & I Corinthians 14:29-38. Most of these arguments never were convincing for me. I Peter & Ephesians 5 were not talking about ministry, I Corinthians 11 & 14 mention the gifting of women & their involvement with the church, I Timothy 2 just was a mess of contradictions based on how it was being interpreted. I Timothy 3 & Titus 1 were the one place where it made sense, especially as Paul gave instructions for females on deaconship, it made sense for Paul to make gendered judgments here. And while I was never given any kind of answer to what we were to do about the marriage requirement in these verses, or anything about I Timothy 3:7 for that matter, I also was not ever given any reason to doubt what I was taught.

A large reason for this was that there were basically no examples for me of what a women pastor might look like. Within SBC culture we had Beth Moore, a woman who was either presented as just a Sunday School teacher & not a minister or was presented as just a prosperity gospel heretic. Both of these things I would later find out to be wrong. So what was it that finally allowed me to see the light in regards to what Paul was & wasn't saying in I Timothy & Titus, actual examples of called & equipped women?

The first real example came from Rachel Hunka. As my family began looking at planting a church, & then needing our own place for rest & shepherding after the loss of Karsyn, Rachel’s influence & fruit of ministry was the final breaking of the theological misdirection I grew up with. Not only in her preaching on Sunday mornings but the way that she ministered in the lives of everyone she came across, whether they were a part of the Church or not. Add to it the detoxing of the lies about Beth Moore & finding other female pastors in our Twitter community who regularly outdo the male pastors online or that I have dealt with in person in showing fruit, there is no doubt in my mind how God equips women to do Kingdom work. But this led me to a new question. Why were these examples, & even the list of examples in Scripture, of faithful women serving hidden from us?

This led me to unpack more of the second theological issue with my SBC upbringing. Cessationism & Pneumatology as a whole. Pneumatology simply put is the Theology of the Holy Spirit. Cessationism is one of these subcategories dealing with the Spiritual Gifts from Romans 12 & I Corinthians 12-14, but most explicitly I Corinthians 14. This belief states that the “greater gifts” of Miracles, Tongues, & Prophecy ceased to be handed out by the Spirit within the first or second generation of the Church.

This affected my faith & ministry journey a ton since as a junior high student I already knew I was gifted in prophetic teaching. It was very discouraging to grow up being told to seek out my gifts & calling while simultaneously being told that the ones the Spirit was showing me, didn't exist & could not be real. The moment I decided to embrace what God was doing was my awakening to power abuse in the church. I was being marginalized by those in my church because the gifts I was equipped with threatened the power of the tradition I was in. Much like the women that I was being told to avoid. The disrespect of women in the church was directly tied to a disrespect of the Spirit. This is where things quickly began to present themselves more clearly.

Complementarianism relies on Cessationism.

In Joel 2:28, we see this:

"After this, I will pour out My Spirit on all humanity; then your sons and your daughters will prophesy, your old men will have dreams, and your young men will see visions."

The Spirit is going to pour out on all humanity & the women will be among those prophesying. It is very hard to argue women are unqualified to preach on Sunday mornings when they are prophesying through the power of the Spirit. So how do you counter that, take away the Spirit’s gifting altogether.

Cessationism is about Power & Control.

Cessationism since the origin of Protestantism has always been about securing or removing power. Beginning with the refuting of false miracles in the Catholic Church, it grew more & more encompassing, & more & more abusive in whom it was aimed to exclude. Not only with women but other male theologians of other cultures who were viewed to be pagan, in order to enslave. Because if there is no prophecy, then a lack of education can cause your theology to be questioned. And when your theology is tied to Slave Holder Theology & Patriarchy, your money & thus your sense of power goes with it.

I Thessalonians 5 & the way forward.

While the weaponization of Paul’s writing has gotten into this mess, the way forward can also be found in Paul’s letter to Thessalonica. The church there in Thessalonica was planted by Paul in Acts 17, after multiple attempts at stopping the message of Christ as King failed. The church was thriving & growing now as Paul was in the middle of his second journey, & he wrote a letter of encouragement & endurance to this church.

The final encouragement comes in chapter 5, where Paul says this:

"12 Now we ask you, brothers, to give recognition to those who labor among you and lead you in the Lord and admonish you, 13 and to regard them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. 14 And we exhort you, brothers: warn those who are irresponsible, comfort the discouraged, help the weak, be patient with everyone. 15 See to it that no one repays evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good for one another and for all.

16 Rejoice always! 17 Pray constantly. 18 Give thanks in everything, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 19 Don’t stifle the Spirit. 20 Don’t despise prophecies, 21 but test all things. Hold on to what is good. 22 Stay away from every kind of evil."

So how are we to respond to the abuse of the Scripture in regard to women & the Spirit?

1. “Give Recognition to those who labor among you, and to regard them very highly in love because of their work.”

We need to honor those who have been faithfully doing the work of Christ, even while being marginalized. Paul recognizes that women were serving alongside & even out-serving him in Romans 15 & Philippians 4, we need to recognize & teach this, rather than try to explain it away as “feminist propaganda.”

2. “comfort the discouraged.”

We need to hear the hurts & concerns of those who have been marginalized. We need to lament where we have caused pain, & we need to honor the faithfulness of those who have continued in the work anyway. This is one reason why we try our best here at Misfits to highlight women & POC wherever possible. Their stories & theological works need to be heard & seen so that others will recognize the work the Spirit is doing.

3. “warn those who are irresponsible”

We have to be more serious about teaching proper theology & hermeneutics in our churches. Especially in these areas that we see weaponized for abuse. If we do this well we may be able to break the cycle earlier over the next few generations.

4. “Don’t stifle the Spirit. Don’t despise prophecies,”

We have to begin actually teaching & embracing Biblical Pneumatology if we want this cycle of Abusive theology to cease. We need to encourage our young called & equipped men & women so that we can disciple them effectively regardless of gender or socioeconomic background.

Ultimately we need to begin to do what Paul was accused of in Acts 17. We must go back to our churches & our theological lenses & defy these Abusive theologies that place one demographic over another, & instead declare “that there is another King — Jesus.”

Jesus is King, & as Paul says in Galatians 3:28 “There is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” If our King has declared us all equal, why should we try & change that?


For more on Slaveholder Theology listen you our discussion with Joash Thomas here:


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