Complementarianism: What Is It? Why Should I Believe It? Why Should I Delight in It?
In light of some recent controversies in the Reformed Church pertaining to human sexuality the editors of the Herald Blogs solicited a short submission from me on the topic of complementarianism. I hope that you will find this concise post both timely and helpful as you consider the teaching of the Scriptures concerning human sexuality.
Let’s start with the basics: What is complementarianism?
Complementarianism is a belief based on two core truths:
1. God created Adam and Eve, man and woman, equally in his own image.
It cannot be emphasized enough that complementarians believe strongly and unequivocally that men and women are of equal value, dignity, and worth in the sight of our loving Lord.
2. Men and women are given different and equally joyful and significant roles in marriage and the church. These unique roles work together (they complement one another) in such a way that achieves God’s purposes for his people. The complementarian believes the Bible is clear that men are given the weighty responsibility to lead in the home and the church while women are given the joyful duty of submitting to and helping their husbands and male elders as they lead.
So, why should you believe that men and women are created with complementary roles instead of identical or interchangeable roles?
Let’s consider a few brief passages from the Scriptures:
1. Adam and Eve were designed differently and with different roles within God’s good creation. Adam’s role of leadership within the creation is established already before the Fall in a number of ways. Adam was formed first from the dust of the earth while Eve was formed second from Adam’s rib. Adam is given the honor of naming not only the animals (who are not created in God’s image) but Eve as well. (Gen. 2:23) Adam was formed to work the earth while Eve was formed to be Adam’s helper. (Gen.2:15&18)
2. The differences established by God in the beginning are normative patterns for male-female relationships within the church and the home.
It is quite apparent from even a casual reading of the New Testament that men and women maintain distinct roles within marriage and the church.
a. Ephesians 5:22-25 makes this point clearly saying, “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” See also: Colossians 3:18-19.
b. In I Timothy 2:12-13 Paul speaks of the need for male eldership in the church saying, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve.” Notice here that Paul grounds his teaching not on present cultural issues, but in the creation order itself as we saw earlier.
Now, finally, why should I delight in these teachings?
I’m a product of the modern feminist West. I grew up thinking that women could and should be elders and pastors; in fact the very first two people I nominated for the office of elder were women. I was a full-fledged unapologetic believer in women’s ordination and I had a mind to stick it to the knuckle dragging Neanderthals from the dark ages who thought differently than I did. But then something strange happened to me: I met my wife and she was a complementarian and soon thereafter I realized that the Bible is too.
Above all else it should delight us that every godly marriage and every church is a theatre in which God’s gospel--the self-sacrificing love of Christ for his church and the joyful submission of the church to Christ--is to be powerfully proclaimed. Of course what we want most is to glorify God and to proclaim the gospel of Jesus! Embracing the complementarity of man and woman in our homes and churches is a powerful and joyful way in which we can do just that.
Ben Kappers is the pastor of the Baileyville Reformed Church.
For more information on the unique and complementary beauty of manhood and womanhood check out www.cbmw.org, and be sure to check out the Danvers Statement.
Also for a more in-depth analysis of the biblical and wonderful differences between men and women be sure to get your free PDF copy of “What’s the Difference” by Dr. John Piper.
All Scripture references are taken from the English Standard Version (Crossway, 2001)