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  • Jonathan Shumate

Toby Sumpter's Bull, Pt. 2

Updated: Nov 13, 2019

This is Part Two; Part One can be read HERE.

In part one, I addressed the underlying idolatry behind Toby’s clarion call for more “masculine” pastors, and for women to take hold of their “real glory” in the home. In addition to the idolatry he encourages, and not all too surprising in light of it, Toby also displays a remarkable degree of error in his explanation of why men alone are called to preach. He is wrong on at least two fronts: he is wrong empirically (meaning his claims do not match reality), and he is wrong theologically (meaning his claims do not match what God’s Word teaches).

A Man's Strength is Why God Calls Only Men to be Pastors

The first reason he claims God only calls men to preach, noticeably without any Scripture citation, is that men are physically stronger than women. He says, "The reason God calls men to preach is the same reason he requires that only men engage in military combat. And the reason is at least twofold. First, he requires men to go to war because he made them physically strong. This is our glory, and it takes considerable physical strength to preach faithfully, to pastor consistently, and to rule your household all while ruling the people of God."

Due to the physical strength necessary to be a pastor, Toby claims, only men can do it rightly. Empirically, this claim is easily proven false. Many women around the world today, and in the past, have labored in fields requiring the physical, mental, and emotional stamina that would be equal to, or even greater than the typical pastor’s physical exertion. Doctors, teachers, business professionals, engineers, scientists, nurses, homeschool moms, construction workers, and so many more labor fields require just as much, or more physical exertion, mental energy, and emotional stamina as pastoral work, and women serve in all of these fields. Bear in mind, for the sake of this argument, I am not making any claim about whether women should be doing these things (I personally see no problem with it whatsoever), I am simply observing that what Toby claims is false based on observable reality alone. It is empirically wrong, and the only explanation for his claim on this grounds is sexism—he automatically views women as the weaker sex and so translates it over to the physical stamina to be a pastor.

Ability vs. Calling

Some readers might think Toby should be given a pass on this point. After all, men are by nature designed to be physically stronger than women, and shepherding requires a great deal of mental, emotional, and physical energy when rightly done. But the problem with Toby’s argument, beyond the fact that it is plain wrong based on empirically observable data, is that it is indicative of a root belief that is unbiblical. It is the belief that women cannot do something God has not called them to do. This is not true. Calling and ability are two separate things, and we should not conflate them. When we do, we open the door wide open to misogyny and sexism, and steal a woman's real glory as one who is made in God's image.

By What Right?

His argument also leaves the door wide open to egalitarian claims that if women can be proven to be better pastors and elders, why should they not be allowed to do it? How many brilliant women can run theological circles around the average pastor? How many female business executives, counselors, homeschooling moms, or entrepreneurs can perform the tasks of oversight of a church with great skill and wisdom? If it can be shown that women can perform the tasks of a typical pastor, by what right biblically speaking, does Toby have to deny them this calling?

Boasting in Weakness

This claim about physical strength is also directly at odds with what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 12 when he describes a physical ailment he is suffering from. He reports God answering him with the words, “’My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’” Paul then applies God’s words to his physical condition, saying, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

If physical strength is so critical to fulfilling the pastoral calling, how could Paul say that when he is weak, he is strong? He boasts in his weakness. At other places we see him also boasting in physical weakness: Philippians 3:8-11, 1 Corinthians 1:26-30, and 2 Corinthians 4:7-18, to name a few. This paradigm runs directly counter to Toby’s boasting in physical strength as a reason why only men should be pastors.

The Source of the Minister's Power

The most significant reason his claim should be refuted, beyond its lack of biblical support, is that it roots qualifications for ministry within the flesh of the minister. Male strength is not the basis nor instrument of divine activity that is accomplished in ministry. God’s power mediated through the Holy Spirit is. The difference between Toby’s view and Scripture is clear in 2 Corinthians 3:4-6, where Paul says, “Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”

Any time we ground qualifications for ministers in fleshly characteristics, we are ultimately claiming that our flesh is the source of ministerial power and effectiveness. In Toby’s case, he claims male physical strength is a necessary quality for ministers. Someone else could claim it is high levels of cognitive intelligence. Another could claim it is oratory skills. The list could go on and on ad infinitum, and no matter what was on it, it would ground the sufficiency of the minister to serve Christ in his own flesh.

For these reasons, Toby’s claim that male physical strength is a necessary attribute of ministers ought to be rejected as both empirically and theologically false.

Are Women Not Called to Lay Their Lives Down?

Toby’s second argument as to why women cannot be preachers is that there is a code of honor established in Eden and throughout Scripture that men are called to lay their lives down first. This is a distinct call on men, and for this reason women cannot be pastors, since being pastors requires one to lay down his life for the flock. Again, this argument is deeply flawed, both empirically and Scripturally.

Empirically, one only need scan the newspapers over the past fifty years to see stories of Christian women who have born up under incredible suffering, hardship, rape, persecution, and martyrdom to the glory of Christ. It seems that as much XX chromosomal blood has been spilled in the name of Christ as XY.

The recent raid that killed ISIS leader al-Baghdadi was named after Kayla Mueller, the Christian humanitarian worker who was held in various prisons throughout Iraq and forced to endure untold psychological and physical abuse until her death. Women like Gladys Aylward have served as missionaries all over the world in conditions most modern Americans like Toby could barely tolerate and have done so with as much strength and fortitude as their male counterparts. Today, the church in Iran is experiencing incredible growth in the face of indescribable persecution and suffering, and many of the leaders in this movement are women. Whether or not Toby agrees with women serving in ministry does not minimize or negate the empirical evidence that women all over the world since the death and resurrection of Christ have poured out their bodies, blood, and tears for the sake of Christ and His Gospel. To deny it is to be guilty of such arrogance, ignorance, and foolishness as should never be laid upon the feet of a man who considers himself a pastor.

Far exceeding the empirical error is Toby’s characterization that only men are called into warfare for Christ. There is not a single verse in the entire New Testament separating women out from the same kind of warfare, hardship, suffering, and dying as what men are called to, not one. To the contrary, the New Testament is filled with comments, exhortations, and teachings for all Christians to embrace a life of bloody sacrifice for the sake of Christ, His gospel, and His church. Here are just a few:

Matthew 5:11-12

“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Mark 8:34

And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.

Romans 8:35-38

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;

we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Philippians 1:27-30

Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.

2 Timothy 3:10-13

You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra—which persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me. Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.

1 Peter 2:18-21

Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.

All of the passages I just cited are addressed to believers in general, and bear witness to the expectation that every disciple of Christ should expect to endure hardship, persecution, suffering, and even death for the sake of Christ. To be sure, elders bear unique burdens in shepherding the flock that require them to sacrifice much in the name of Christ, but though these burdens are unique, they do not exceed the burdens all believers face who seek to follow Christ in this world. In this respect, women are every bit as capable and called as men to fight the good fight. There is not one verse in the New Testament that puts men on a higher pedestal in this regard than women.

This second claim of Toby’s seems appealing when it is presented as synonymous with typical warfare. What man would ever want to see a woman bloodied on the field of battle? But in reality, and in Scripture, we see that women are indeed called and able to bear the same burdens as men and shed their blood as martyrs for the sake of Christ and His Kingdom. For this reason, to claim that only men are called, “to lose their lives by dying for their flocks, their families, their nations,” is false, however appealing it might sound to a Braveheart-loving readership. This is not what God’s Word teaches or commands.

I want to be clear. I agree with Toby that God only calls men to serve in the office of overseer in His church. However, when teaching why the Scriptures instruct God’s people this way, pastors must be careful to teach what the Bible says and not invent reasons that suit their own personal preferences or agendas. Whenever we teach right doctrine through false paradigms we impugn the Word of God and make it that much harder for the truth to be understood and applied.

In my third and final post, I will look at the Scriptures referenced by Toby that he implies support his position that a woman’s glory is the home in submission to her master/husband.

Part 3 available here