The picture God gives of the body of Christ is one of unity in diversity (1 Corinthians 12:12-27; Romans 12:3-8; Ephesians 4:11-16). I am convinced that this principle applies beyond the limits of the church. This avoids two of the dangerous pitfalls to which our culture is prone. The one is pure individualism, the idea that each individual is to be their own person and to consider others only to the extent they fit in with their purposes. It also leads to the belief that if we just follow our own selfish purposes, it will somehow come together for the greater benefit of all. But one does not see a hand or an eye walking about on its own. The opposite error is seeing people as interchangeable counters. This fits with the concept that equality is the same as interchangeability. Biblical equality is an equality of value that results from being made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26,27; 9:6; James 3:9). This holds regardless of a person’s identity or station in life. Nowhere are the destructive tendencies of these two forces seen more strongly then in the relationship of men and women.
In this are we are frequently handed a false dilemma. We either regard the two sexes as interchangeable, or we claim that one (usually men) is superior. But I am convinced that the idea of unity in diversity gives us another option. But one of the issues that becomes enmeshed in this is the whole issue of authority. Scripture does speak of authority, but it sees it as a position of service (Mark 10:42-45; John 13:3-17; Philippians 2:5-11). This is not an issue of superior versus inferior. The Son, even though He is God (John 1:1-18; Hebrews 1:8; John 20:27-29), is subject to the Father (1 Corinthians 11:3; 15:28; John 5:19). All believers are on the fundamental level equal in Christ (Galatians 3:26-29; Colossians 3:10,11; Ephesians 4:3-6); nonetheless, God has put in place an authority structure (Hebrews 13:17; 1 Thessalonians 5:12,13; 1 Timothy 5:17-20). Authority does not prove the superiority of the person who has it: Nero was the governing authority the apostles said to be subject to and pray for, and he was hardly a good example (Romans 13:1-7; 1 Timothy 2:1-3; 1 Peter 2:13-17).
Now Scripture does say that wives are to be subject to their husbands, but it requires the husbands to be servant leaders who love their wives as Christ loves the church (Ephesians 5:22-30; Colossians 3:18,19; 1 Peter 3:1-7). This does not amount to some type of oppressive authority structure, but is an ingredient of the functioning body of Christ, which weaves together different people to accomplish the will of God in their own lives and to encourage it in the lives of others (Ephesians 2:10; Colossians 1:28,29; Hebrews 10:24,25). How all this shakes out in the details is a complicated and controversial question. But making people into so many cogs in a machine or into self-centered individuals looking out for their own interests are not good alternatives.