What Does Equality Mean?

Once, on a bus in Turkey, the police removed a man from the seat in front of me. They stopped the bus, walked up the aisle, and pointed to him. He got off. As the bus pulled away, I asked what it was about and the driver shook his head, drew a finger across his throat and said “Kurd.” I was shocked and scared.

In Galatians, Paul counters different kinds of prejudice in the church with an argument that is still valid today: the principle of equality. Gentiles were being treated as second class because they weren’t Jews. Paul insisted that any racial prejudice violated the essence of the gospel.

Similarly, any expression of social class superiority (the free over the slaves) or gender superiority (men over women) violated the truth of the Gospel. All the divisions and prejudices are abolished in Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (v. 28).

It seems to me that there are only two ways of doing “church.” One is the “law” way. The other is the “grace” way. And according to Galatians, the “law” way is obsolete.

Paul contrasted the past experience of the Jewish people under the Mosaic law (Galatians 3: 23-25) to the privileged position of “grace” people who are all united in Christ (Galatians 3: 26-29).

The new vertical relationship with God results in new horizontal relationships with one another. All racial, economic, and gender barriers and all other inequalities are removed in Christ. This equality and unity is not an add-on or a sideline. It’s centre stage. It’s the very heartbeat of what “Gospel” means.

All racial, economic, and gender barriers and all other inequalities are removed in Christ.

Equality in Christ is the starting point for how we live together. If the church does not express this in its life and ministry, it is not faithful to the Gospel.

There used to be a synagogue prayer that ran like this:

    Blessed are you, Hashem, King of the Universe,
        for not having made me a Gentile.
    Blessed are you, Hashem, King of the Universe,
        for not having made me a slave.
    Blessed are you, Hashem, King of the Universe,
        for not having made me a woman.

The Christian’s radical affirmation of equality in Christ is a deliberate rejection of this attitude. So when men exclude women from significant participation in the life and ministry of the church, they negate the essence of the Gospel.

Some say the equality Paul defends here is only in the “spiritual” sphere: equality before God. But Paul’s argument responds to a social crisis in the church: Gentiles were being forced to become Jews to be fully accepted by Jewish Christians. Paul’s argument is that Gentiles do not have to become Jews to participate fully in the life of the church.

And, of course, neither do females have to become male or one race become another to earn full participation in the life and ministry of the church.

Paul totally equalises the status of male and female, Jew and Gentile, and slave and free in Christ. If a Gentile may exercise spiritual leadership in church as freely as a Jew, or a slave as freely as a citizen, why not a woman as freely as a man?
 

Ken Baker is a writer and pastor living in Bandon, County Cork.