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In the conservative evangelical circles I mainly inhabit, there is almost no controversy about whether the Bible allows for women to be ordained as pastors and elders. The people I talk to and listen to are firmly convinced complementarians. That is, they (we) believe that God created men and women equal in worth and dignity but with different roles in the home and in the church. At least very least, this means the office of pastor or elder is to be filled by qualified men. The core of complementarianism is not up for discussion.

How we talk about complementarianism is.

And how we practice complementarianism too.

Is the problem that we lack courage or that we are missing compassion? Have we gotten too soft? Or have we gotten too restrictive? Does complementarianism need a re-branding, a reformation, a revival, or a retrieval?

The conversations can be pointed, the rhetoric heated. And yet, the fact that there is an intra-complementarian discussion taking place is a sign of the relative success of the movement. The complementarian camp is large enough to contain a fairly disparate group of people and personalities. The presence of disagreements and the need for definitions should come as no surprise. Sharpening is not a problem, so long as we are not unnecessarily sharp with each other.

So what does a healthy complementarianism look like? I certainly don't have the last word on the subject. But here are nine important marks.

1. Creation not accommodation. The differences between men and women are rooted in divine design. This is clear from 1 Timothy 2 and from Genesis 1-2. Complementarianism is not about Paul accommodating to a patriarchal first century culture, let alone about us accommodating the expectations of our cultures inside or outside the church. God has something to say about manhood and womanhood. And what God has to say is rooted in what he designed.

2. Function not simply ordination. The first point may seem obvious, like Complementarianism 101, but it's an important foundation for this second point. If men and women are different by creational design, then we can't simply quarantine "ordination" and say that manhood and womanhood have no bearing on church ministry or church roles so long as the pastors and elders are men. The issue is not mainly titles or labels or the laying on of hands. The issue is about function. To be sure, complementarians may not agree on where to draw all the lines concerning home groups and Sunday school classes and public worship, but as a starting place for these discussions we have to remember we are talking about the flourishing of divine design, not adhering to a set of narrow and seemingly arbitrary rules.

3. Warmly embraced not quickly checked off. There's a difference between affirming complementarianism as an act of intellectual throat clearing--"Look, I don't think women should be pastors either, but..."—and joyfully affirming the vision as good and beautiful and best.

4. Convictional not merely traditional. There's also a difference between a thoughtful complementarianism based on the exegesis and application of Scripture and a clumsy complementarianism that is little more than the default position of an overly prescriptive cultural traditionalism.

5. Tender not triumphalistic. No doubt, sometimes the troops need to be rallied. In the sexual insanity of our day, the call to courage is surely appropriate. But we need to realize that all kinds of people can be listening in as we talk about biblical manhood and womanhood. Some of those listening are wavering and some are wolves, but some are hurt and some resonate with broken hearts more than with raised banners. We need to be on guard against rhetoric that is all caps all the time. Let us be persuaders, not just pugilists.

6. Principial not personal. It’s human nature: we personalize when we listen and universalize when we speak. Because we've gone toe to toe with liberals, we think battle mode is the way to go, always. Or because we've had a bad pastor or a brutish boyfriend, we are always slamming the complementarianism we say we believe in. Don't size up the whole complementarian universe based on a couple of your most painful experiences.

7. Bible and theology affirming not wife and motherhood belittling. We want the women in our churches to read the Bible, study the Bible, and help others understand the Bible. I love that the women at URC are eager to go deep, get good theology, and challenge their hearts and minds. Yes and Amen to women who study the Scriptures. Go ahead and talk about Deuteronomy as well as diapers. And yet, let's not ridicule the women for talking about diapers! For most women, at some point in their lives, and often for most of their lives, their identity (after being a child of God created in God's image) will be bound up in being a wife and especially a mother. Moving deeper into the word does not mean moving away from Titus 2.

8. Careful with words not careless. We all use labels. It's hard to speak of our immeasurably complicated world without them. But if we use negative sounding isms, let's explain what we mean by them. Let's not casually label others as "feminist," "liberal," "patriarchal," or "hierarchical," unless the situation clearly calls for it and we make clear what we mean. A church that has women read the sermon text (a practice I'm not in favor of) is not automatically wed to the spirit of the age, nor is a church which only allows men to teach classes and lead small groups necessarily oppressive and Neanderthal.

9. Leaning against the culture instead of into the culture. The core convictions of complementarianism will not magically seep into our children or into our churches. The cultural breeze is blowing too stiffly against us. Biblical manhood and womanhood must be taught as well as caught. When it comes to the goodness of God's divine design for men and women, unless we are pushing forward against the forces of sports and media and politics and business and entertainment, we will end up drifting in wrong direction.

I remember years ago hearing a pastor describe his position on homosexuality as theologically conservative and socially progressive. I could tell by the way he was speaking that everything in him was leaning with the wind. He was holding on to orthodoxy by a thin string. So I wasn't surprised a few years later when he announced the he had changed his mind on homosexuality and now saw nothing wrong with same-sex sexual relationships. In the same way, we must be careful that our complementarianism is deep, thoughtful, rooted, biblical, and utterly at home with being despised, misunderstood, and counter-cultural. Faithfulness does not mean making as many enemies as possible, but it does mean that for the sake of the good, the true, and the beautiful, we are fine with facing opposition when it is impossible to avoid.


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74 thoughts on “9 Marks of Healthy Biblical Complementarianism”

  1. Floyd says:

    David>>>”Floyd, I believe I have made a very clear case.”

    Then you would be able to refute my preceding counter claims, but you did not. Therefore, you have not made your case.

    >>>”But that meaning has been lost over time and recovery (using the historical-grammatical approach) is not an exact science.”

    Then why are you so adamant that complementarianism is wrong; and why have you continued to attempt a case against it? Why does your evidence against it not rest on ambiguity if the meaning of the authors on which you build your case “has been lost over time…?” If their meaning have been lost over time, then you have no clear text of Scripture on which to rest your position and refute any opposing positions.

    >>>”Hopefully those will be sufficient to indicate that the Bible can be interpreted in different ways, by those with a high view of scripture.”

    Not really. One’s interpretation does not lead to the conclusion that the Bible is not clear to the Church universal. Divergence of interpretation simply suggest that the interpreter may not be approaching the text with a correct hermeneutics. It also suggests that the interpreter must get past his assumptions and have read those assumptions into the text (eisegesis) rather than allow the Scriptures speak for themselves (exegesis). I have mentioned this numerous times, now. Case in point, no able interpreter today believes the Bible teaches slavery.

    >>>”But I guess you are one of those people who believe that your position is correct and everyone else is wrong.”

    Your statement addresses the person and not the argument. This is still another logical fallacy. Besides, I have not stated a position. Therefore, your guess is incorrect.

    Unless you can address the topic without taking rabbit trails, then no more replies will be forthcoming. You have not supported your case from Scripture.

  2. Andrew says:

    I can’t help but wonder why most churches that seem to have gone off the rails allow female pastors. It doesn’t seem to be a coincidence; at least in my reckoning.

  3. David says:

    Floyd,

    Shall I restate my case for egalitarianism in a way that you will hopefully find logical? That might be the best way to proceed…

    But regarding ambiguity of scripture, I accept that certain NT texts on gender roles can be read both ways. I’ve said that all along. However, we use scripture to interpret scripture, and when something is unclear, we must read it in the light of clearer passages and the overall teaching of the Bible. On that basis, I believe the conclusion is clear. The Biblical message is one of equality, not gender-defined hierarchy.

  4. Krister S says:

    May God forgive us for missing the point, his point. For straining out gnats as we stake out rigid doctrine and restrictive world views. For doggedly choosing to see the world only from the point of view of prosperous, privileged, modernist, male-dominated…rather than from the “bottom up.” There is no difference in the kingdom of God, and certainly not in the eschaton and consummation of all things. Let us not build our house on stretching the word of God to our own advantage, and in the name of Northern European Reformers. Thank God, he surely does forgive our weaknesses, our missing the mark, and doctrinal foibles. For in our weakness he is made strong. Maranatha!

  5. Krister S says:

    May God forgive us for missing the point, his point. For straining out gnats as we stake out rigid doctrine and restrictive world views. For doggedly choosing to see the world only from the point of view of prosperous, privileged, modernist, male-dominated…rather than from the “bottom up.” There is no difference in the kingdom of God, and certainly not in the eschaton and consummation of all things. Let us not build our house on stretching the word of God to our own advantage, and in the name of Northern European Reformers. Thank God, he surely does forgive our weaknesses, our missing the mark, and doctrinal foibles. For in our weakness he is made strong.

  6. Floyd says:

    David>>>”Shall I restate my case for egalitarianism in a way that you will hopefully find logical? That might be the best way to proceed…”

    David, I think you have already restated your restatements of restatements a number of times. I got it, but I find them lacking in sound reasoning and Scriptural interaction. Each time I address your points, you create a restatement and ignore my points in hopes that somehow I would not notice the revisions and your evasiveness. Ignoring a person’s replies and then making restatements is not a good way of carrying on a discussion on a given subject. But thanks anyway.

    By the way, as I said before, I never stated a position one way or another, and I got charged with holding a specific view.

    Kevin wrote a summary, and many in this discussion jumped all over him with pejoratives and other double bit assessments of him and then took numerous rabbit trails and raised a plethora of straw men without much consideration of his summary points or attempt to seek out more detail on his position.

    He has written and spoken quite a bit on the subject, but I see no references to any of his writings or speeches to determine his position and its implications. Rather, he gets pigeon-hold as one of those evil and calloused Reformed people who attempt to suppress women. Straight-jacket Calvinism surfaces in light of this charge without any understanding or reference to any of John Calvin’s publications or knowledge of his theology. I have read and heard many criticize Reformed theology and Calvin without having read or studied the Reformers or John Calvin. Before one speaks or writes about other’s positions and attempts to refute them, one should do the appropriate homework. Otherwise logical fallacies lurk beneath the surface. Do your homework and stay away from logical fallacies and you will do well.

  7. Eve Gleason says:

    What do you mean when you say “function not simply ordination”? What are the universal functional differences between men and women by “creational design”?

  8. Think Krister S has a very valid point. Our modern western world view over scritpture is often distorted and not much like first century working class theology nor how the eastern world sees things today. Sad really. One thing is timeless if you want to know what God is like focus on CHrist and view scripture through Him.

  9. Will Rieske says:

    Could someone provide a link discussing whether women should be allowed to read the sermon passage?

  10. Floyd says:

    Grahame>>>”Think Krister S has a very valid point. Our modern western world view over scritpture [sic} is often distorted and not much like first century working class theology nor how the eastern world sees things today.”

    Please support your claim with specifics. Where does Krista write this? What is “modern western world view?” What exactly is distorted? I am not understanding this point of yours. Cite how this distortion has occurred. How is “our western world view” “not much like first century working class theology?” What is working class theology? Which theological parts of Scripture is this “modern western world view” not “much like first century working class theology?” Can you specify what this theology is. You must have something in mind since you brought it up.

  11. Aaron Clark says:

    As Dr. Scot McKnight has pointed out in “The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible”:

    “In 1551 a certain Stephanus divided the New Testament up into numbered verses…when the publishers provide a Bible where the only divisions are chapters and verses, as if each verse were a new paragraph, reading the Bible as a story is much more difficult”. (Page 45)

    We must realize that “1 Timothy 2:11-15” does not exist. It is not followed by a new chapter 3:1-16. We must recognize that these divisions can create false categories in our minds. If we eliminate these artificial divisions, we might discover that Paul may be making an argument that lasts many more verses.

    What if “woman” (Gk. gune) actually means “wife” and man (Gk. aner) actually means “husband” and Paul is correcting an actual problem between an elder (or a deacon) and his wife?

    In fact, the Greek word “gune” is the most common word translated “woman” or “wife”. The ESV translates the nine instances of “gune” in 1 Timothy as “women” three times, “woman” (singular) three times, and “wife” three times. “Aner” in the most common word for “husband” but often means “man”.

    We then read of an “overseer” (episcopos) who is the “husband” (aner) of one “wife” (gune). Is there a possibility that the traditional debate is irrelevant to this passage?

    Just food for thought.

  12. Aaron has a good point, we need to take off our tradition formed theological lens and consider what history has done to our current biblical contexts and maybe see things in a more open view. Is PAul talking about husband and wife and is authority really meaning sexual aggression over a male as I mentioned in earlier post all good food for thought and can make the current debate obsolete.

  13. Floyd says:

    Aaron, exactly what is your point concerning the topic at hand. How is what you say even relevant? Is “Food for thought” your conclusion? You fail to make a point related to the subject.

    Besides, I see no analysis of what McKnight says associated with the subject at hand. It has no context, either. One scholar fails to provide substance to an argument.

    In terms of anything else you claim, I see no support. Anyone can make claims, but unless those claims are supported, they have no merit.

    Your post has no relevance.

  14. Floyd says:

    Grahame, you still have not responded to my prior post. You simply go off on a rabbit trail. Do you not have a response or incapable of responding?

  15. Floyd, blogging by its very nature allows people to respond to postings they choose. Provides variety to life. I’m more than capable of responding when I choose. I believe I have already alluded to the historical influences on the modern versions of the bible and how Greek has been interpreted or misinterpreted. We both know that even a , or a . Can influence how a sentence is interpreted let alone a book written in a continuous flow verses breaks and paragraphs hence Aaron’s point. Furthermore if versions and meaning of key scriptural references have changed due to politics and Latin influences not to mention translations from the Greek to German to old English where meanings can change. THis all gives rise to the point in debate role of women in scripture. Other traditions have different views to reformed tradition its doesn’t mean they are wrong as they can support their views with scripture. As reformists do. Hence the division in Christidom, as sad as that it. I’m on a journey out of man created religion to more what Christ described, which relationship building vertically with God and horizontally with people. Gender isolation gets in the way of that from my perspective. hope that answers question at the macro level.

  16. Floyd says:

    Grahame>>>”I believe I have already alluded to the historical influences on the modern versions of the bible and how Greek has been interpreted or misinterpreted.”

    To allude to something and to support what you claim are to different things. So far, you have not supported any of your claims, which makes them invalid and unsupported generalizations.

  17. Aaron Clark says:

    What is my point? 1 Tim. 2:11-15 may not be talking about women and men in general, as complementarians tend to interpret it. Verses 11-15 may be talking about a particular wife and her husband (who wants to teach in the assembly). We know for certain that in what we call 3:2, the same words used in 2:12, “gune” and “aner,” are translated as “wife” and “husband”. There is no exegetical reason to separate 2:11-3:2. The correspondence of these two terms leads us rather to connect 2:11-15 to 3:1-2 and to eliminate the psychological sense of separation which artificial verses and chapters tend to produce.

    We also know, from 2 Tim. 2, that prospective teachers needed training:

    “Thou, therefore, my son, be strong in the grace which [is] in Christ Jesus. And what thou hast heard from me [emphatic] through many witnesses, these things commit to faithful people [anthropois] who will be able to teach others”

    Therefore, the passage would read: (2:11-3:2; my translation):

    “A wife—in quietness let her learn, with all deference. But for a wife to be teaching [present infinitive—ongoing action] I do not permit, nor to be domineering over her husband. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the wife, having been deceived, has come to be in transgression. But she shall be preserved through the childbirth if they remain [third person plural verb, meaning the two antecedents–wife and husband] in faith, and love, and holiness, with self-control. Since someone is eager for the office of an overseer [episkopos. Also, see the first class condition—a statement of fact] a good work he is desiring. It is necessary, therefore, for the overseer to be above reproach, of one wife the husband…”

    Timothy was acting as Paul’s representative in the Ephesian church. Earlier, in the book of Ephesians (5:21-6:9), Paul had inferred several problems and provided their solutions. Slaves should not be disobedient, but obedient to masters. Children should not be disobedient, but be obedient to parents. Husbands should not be unloving, but loving—like Christ—toward their wives. Wives should not be domineering, but should show proper deference to their husbands. Perhaps the problems mentioned in Ephesians 5-6 are linked to the problem in 1 Timothy 2:11—3:2.

  18. Floyd says:

    Aaron>>>” 1 Tim. 2:11-15 may not be talking about women and men in general, as complementarians tend to interpret it.”

    You said in an earlier post that this series of verses do not exist: “We must realize that “1 Timothy 2:11-15” does not exist.”

    How can this set of verses talk about anything if they do not exist? They exist in virtually every translation I have read. They exist in the Greek compendiums from the earliest times. They exist according to the early church fathers. So how can you claim they do not exist?

    I challenge your “may not.” You fail to understand the Greek and context and thereby engage in speculation and the exegetical fallacy to which D. A. Carson refers as “restriction of the semantic field;” that is, a word only has one meaning everywhere it appears in the Bible. To assume that the Greek words for woman and man only have the meaning of wife and husband is an exegetical fallacy. You must pay attention to context that gives rise to the meaning. If you translate these words as wife and husband without regard to how they are translated elsewhere, you stand on very shaky interpretive ground and read into the passage while ignoring what Paul the Apostle meant.

    The Greek word γυνή [gynē] can mean bride (once), woman/women (129 times), or wife/wives (83 times). Every translation (21) I read translate γυνή [gynē] as woman. Are you telling me that all of the scholars translating them are wrong and you are the only one who is right? Please tell me how much Greek you have studied to qualify you to make this claim.

    Besides, if γυνή [gynē] is translated wife, then you need to explain how Paul can make exceptions by excluding married women from being a teacher, pastor, or elder while permitting single women to do so (since Paul would not exclude single women). If Paul did make such a distinction between married and single women, then he would be doing the same thing the Roman Catholic Church did by permitting only single men to be priests. The Catholic Church would be standing on firm interpretive ground according to Paul (if Paul meant that) and you.

    Complementarians accurately translate γυνή [gynē] in this passage. You do not handle the passage accurately. You are wrong.

    The rest of your recent post is irrelevant and unrelated to the topic. You need to do your homework before you write anything.

  19. Floyd your assertion isn’t valid stating I haven’t addressed scripture. You recall I examined in detail 1 Tim 2 thread earlier for example “Authentein. It cannot be stressed enough how unusual this word is, especially for Paul. Paul writes about authority quite a bit and he never uses authentein as a synonym for legitimate, godly authority. For most mentions of authority, he uses exousia. Louw and Nida’s Lexicon lists 12 common ancient Greek words that are synonyms for routine or legitimate authority, exousia being the most common throughout the new testament. There are 47 words that are synonyms for legitimate “rule” or “governing.” Yet Paul uses none of these words in 1 Timothy 2:11, he chooses the unusual authentein. I can’t find any evidence that authentein, in any of its forms, connotates a routine or legitimate authority until the late third to fourth centuries, far too removed from Paul’s era to provide relevant meanings and contexts. And even once the word took on a less severe meaning in later centuries, THIS passage was ALWAYS been understood as Paul forbidding women to dominate a man, not simply exercise legitimate Christ-like authority. Consider these early translations: Old Latin Version from the second – fourth century translates this verse as “I permit not a woman to teach, neither to dominate a man {neque dominari in viro}”. This alone changes the context of the role of women in church and it shows how reformists use 1 Tim 2 to justify their position, let alone the rest of the Greek I describe in my earlier reply. I suspect this blog thread has reached a impasse, however i have enjoyed the debate. In my profession I help people to consider the consequences of their decisions and actions before they proceed. Unfortunately much of the institutional church doesn’t appear to do that hence the world wide decline in membership across all denominations. Here in Australia the complex church model is dying and being replaced by the simple church model ie no pastor, no elders in a house or hall setting, where Christ is the only head of the church. ITs generational change which will take time. Gender roles are evaporating in this model because scripture when interpreted correctly doesn’t support it. You may disagree with peoples decisions to leave complex church for a variety of reasons they may use however, as I said before 65,000,000 US believers in 10 years leaving church is a stat you can’t ignore even though you may like to. blessings

  20. Floyd says:

    Grahame>>>”Floyd your assertion isn’t valid stating I haven’t addressed scripture. You recall I examined in detail 1 Tim 2 thread earlier for example “Authentein.”

    And you ignored my reply and continue to go off on tangents rather than give direct rebuttals much like David has done.

    If you ignore what other people write and then take rabbit trails, then there is no incentive to interact with you. You do not know the Greek and you continue to ignore context. Unless you reply directly to what I wrote, then you also will be ignored. You have not supported your case in anything you have written and then you slip away from your arguments when someone refutes them and fail to reply. Jehovah Witnesses are masters of doing that. However, when I encounter them, I do not allow them to Scripture hop. You idea hop when you are refuted. That does not work with me. No more unless you can interact directly with rejoinders to your claims.

  21. I can assure you Im not JW. I go to a baptist church. I think this matter is at an end

  22. JR says:

    Finding the comment section poorly organized. Most places allow for response to a particular post as a reply which then organizes it. Difficult for me to follow this format.
    Find one thing I do not understand at all: not allowing women to read the text of the sermon. What is that about?

  23. F.B. T. says:

    Something interesting I read re: the word “quiet” in 1 Timothy 2:12.

    “quiet. ἡσυχίᾳ ēsuchia 2271 stillness from hésuchios”

    Cognate: 2271 hēsyxía (from hēsyxos, “quiet, stillness”) – quietness, implying calm; for the believer, 2271 (hēsyxía) is used of their God-produced calm which includes an inner tranquility that supports appropriate action. This term “does not mean speechlessness, which is more directly indicated by 4602 (sigḗ) (J. Thayer). See 2272 (hēsyxios).

    2271 is also applied to all those “not working, idle, busybodies” which is not “appropriate action” for a believer.

    2272 hēsýxios (an adjective derived from hēsyxos, “quiet, stillness”) – properly, quiet (still), i.e. steady (settled) due to a divinely-inspired inner calmness.

    2272/hēsyxios (“calmly quiet”) describes being “appropriately tranquil” by not misusing (or overusing) words that would stir up needless friction (destructive commotion).

    2272 is also applied to *all* believers in 1 Timothy 2:2.

  24. Floyd says:

    F.B.T.,

    Now you have to interpret the word within the present context, especially with regard to the contrasting coordinating conjunction (ἀλλ’) connecting the clause to the preceding thought associated with teaching and authority to arrive a Paul’s intent. Good start, though..

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Kevin DeYoung


Kevin DeYoung is the senior pastor at Christ Covenant Church in Matthews, North Carolina. He is chairman of the board of The Gospel Coalition, assistant professor of systematic theology at Reformed Theological Seminary (Charlotte), and a PhD candidate at the University of Leicester. Kevin and his wife, Trisha, have seven children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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