On humanity, gender and vocation

When God made Adam and Eve, he placed them into three vocations, or callings, that correspond to the three relationships they had. They had a relationship toward the earth, toward God and toward one another.

Their relationship towards God is what theologians call their ‘priestly’ vocation. They were called, as we are, to commune with God in obedience and love towards him.

Their relationship toward earth, or creation, is what theologians call their ‘kingly’ vocation. They were, as we are, to subdue and care for the earth.

Their relationship towards one another has been called their ‘social’ vocation. Marriage, the first platform of exercising this vocation, fulfils but does not exhaust this vocation. They were to have society, or ‘social interaction’ with people other than themselves.

Note that these vocations are *human* vocations, because all humans live in these 3 relationships. Vocation is not tied to gender but to humanity, because we all live in creation, we all live under God, and with other human beings.

The ‘helping’ of Eve means that Eve plugs into these three relationships, as a human being, alongside Adam. Her gender simply specifies *how* she does them, not whether she does them or not. Her gender serves her humanity, it doesn’t replace it. That she is a different form (woman) of the same thing (human) provides her with a different capacity (‘womanness’) for fulfilling the same God-assigned tasks.

The question must therefore never be whether women should work on creation, worship God or relate with fellow humans, but ‘how’. Our beliefs or theology of gender must not make it a question of ‘if’ they should, but must think hard about ‘how’ they will. If our beliefs or practices explicitly or functionally denies any gender any of these three vocations, then it denies or diminishes their humanity by replacing it with their gender.

At the same time, to insist on complete interchangeability between the genders, such that certain ways in which they do their priestly, kingly and social vacation reflects nothing about their gender, is also abusive (though perhaps less so because gender is secondary and humanity primary to our being). It denies men and women the privilege of being men and women, in the name of their humanity. The fact that Adam was made first and then Eve, introduces an order in their humanity that instructs how they fulfill their shared vocations.

Let’s apply both of these deviations to churches. Jesus has already taught us that (i) one consequence of the fall of man is that we disorder things that God ordered well, and (ii) the gospel promises our restoration or the right ordering of our humanity in the image of the God-man, Jesus Christ. Because of the restorative ministry of the Spirit of Jesus in us, Christians should labour to reflect what it means to have a well-ordered humanity.

One the one hand, we have communities that insist that there should be no difference in how men and women worship, work, or socialise. There is such a stress on their unity that the fact of gender difference is functionally undiscernible, even if propositionally acknowledged. On the other hand you have communities that stress the differences of gender so much that men don’t know how or if to socialize or rest, and women don’t know how or if to work the world, relate with men, or participate in the church. The fact that they are to share together with men the vocations of worship, work or society is, likewise, functionally indiscernible.

One persuasion wants to make humans the same gender. The other persuasion wants to make the different genders different humans.

Finally and quite importantly, these are not two binary positions; there is a spectrum between them. The thing to ask is which way you are more prone to deviate. The answer is not to deviate the opposite way, but to contemplate the three vacations and to desire them for your fellow humans. The Lord died that we would.