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Interchangeable Parts or Unique Diversity?

“Anything you can do, I can do, better”. That’s how the saying goes. Or is it a song? Whether or not you can do things better, is it true that anything anyone else can do, you can do? Are we all simply interchangeable parts in this world? The voices of our culture tell us that if we remove all the barriers to opportunity, then anyone can do anything. That is the appeal of talent shows like American Idol. Hordes of people think they can sing as well as anyone, even feeling the right to switch spots with the singers they hear in their earphones. Of course the flipside of such shows is how most of the people are exposed as being unable to switch spots. They can either sing, or they can’t.

But the call for interchangeability is heard in the church too. Often a person in the pew, though lacking the calling of the church, examination by the church, or training for leading the church, will feel the right to have their voice be interchangeable with the pastor’s. This is far more than a ‘Berean spirit’ that seeks to search the Scriptures to confirm what the pastor teaches. It is as if the eye can do the job of the foot simply because they both have equal status. But as chapter 12 in both 1 Corinthians and Romans tells us, the parts of the body are not interchangeable, though they are each valuable, necessary, and having equality within the body.

The Interchangeable View

The spirit of interchangeability is most contentiously expressed over the issue of the role of women in ministry. Specifically the contention is whether or not women can hold the position of pastors, elders or overseers. Those who say that equality of status and unity described in Galatians 4.28 means that church leadership must be open to men and women interchangeably. The problem with this interchangeable view (often called the egalitarian view) is that even though Paul’s language in 1 Tim. 3.2 and Titus 1.6 is clear in limiting the office to qualified men, those texts have to be explained away with a merely local, specific application that doesn’t apply today.

The problem with the interchangeable view is that it trumpets equality, but really thinks almost exclusively in terms of hierarchy. If leadership can only be seen as the top of the ladder, then the push for interchangeability is the only way to bring any kind of equality into practice. So if the role of leadership is one part in the body of Christ, then it has to be as interchangeable as Lego. That is what the interchangeable view teaches, but not the Bible.

The Unity & Diversity View

The biblically consistent view is the unity & diversity view (let’s call it the U/D view for short, though it is often called the complementarian view). Like the interchangeability view, the U/D view affirms the equal status of all Christians under God, by virtue of being created in the image of God, but also by being born again, endowed with the Holy Spirit, covered with the blood and righteousness of Jesus and being co-heirs of glory with him.

But the U/D view says that equality must inform all of the diverse roles that people have in the body of Christ, even roles of leadership. Although the world makes leadership the top of a hierarchy pyramid, the gospel makes leadership merely one more role that assigned servants are commissioned to play. So leadership, like other roles in the body of Christ, is distinct and diverse from other parts. It is not interchangeable with other roles. The marvel of the U/D view is that it reflects the relations in the Trinity, the source of unity and diversity, with differing roles among persons, yet equality of essence.

So whether in the home, or in the church, or in the workplace we all have roles to play. Our roles are unique and diverse. But our roles are unified in equality as we serve our risen Lord. We don’t need to distort our equality into interchangeability. If we do, we are in danger of aspiring to interchange our place with God’s.

We all know how that ends.