Complementarianism Revisited

Families are essential part of society, and even more so of the Church. God created the family and uses it to teach the Gospel. We begin on the foundation of these two truths:

  • God created families- see Genesis 2:15-25
  • God uses the husband and wife relationship to teach the Gospel- see Ephesians 5:22-33

I love to study. Whether it is theology or not, I enjoy learning new things. I love contemplating deep thoughts as well. But one of the aspects of my personality is a drive for practicality. How will this change my life? And as a follower of Jesus, I want to know how this can help me love God more and love my fellow neighbors more?

With this background understanding, I studied the different viewpoints on the husband-wife relationship. In my studies, specifically of the family, I came across a different viewpoint from which I was taught. I attended a small Bible college, and though the name complementarian was not used, a form of it was taught. I think, in general, the view held by this institution and churches associated with it, it was more a radical approach. Perhaps an illustration will be helpful. The husband comes home after a long day at the office. He is tired, wearied by the day’s work. As a result, he desires to come home, sit down in his favorite rocking chair, and eat in silence while he watches the television. Thus his wife is to prepare the meal, have everything prepared for him, and keep the children quiet while the husband unwinds. Whenever the husband desires to have sex, the wife is not to deny him on the basis of 1 Corinthians 7:1-5. This king-of-the-castle approach to marriage is how I was taught the roles of marriage. During my time at this institution (as well as my interactions with other churches) I saw both positive marriages and marriages that functioned to the illustration above.

One thing I came to believe is that there had to be a better way. Why? Because the verse often left out was Ephesians 5:25, “Husbands, love your wives, as Chris loved the church and game himself up for her.” There was this lack of self-sacrificing love from the views of marriage taught by the institution and accompanying churches. As a result, and much to my own blame, I began to seek the opposite view: egalitarianism.

Egalitarianism is the belief of equality in marriage. The husband does not have any specific role to play, nor does the wife. If the wife decides to be the leader, she can be. Likewise with the husband. There are several passages of Scripture that those who teach egalitarianism utilize. Perhaps the most significant one is Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

So, I was taught a radical form of complementarianism, moved to egalitarianism, and am slowly making my way back to a biblical view of complementarianism.

How in the world did this happen?

To begin with, I love to study! You may be thinking, “Didn’t I just read that?” Yes, you did. But it is a matter of importance, the significance of which cannot be overstated. Because I desire to study and seek what Scripture states, I desire to be accurate, to achieve truth. Scripture is an open book, given by God for His glory and our good (see Deuteronomy 29:29). In the effort to be brief, I will provide bullet-points of the most significant reasons for this new transition.

  • Complementarianism pictures the Gospel in Marriage in a way that Egalitarianism cannot.
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    The role of husband and wife has the specific purpose of illustrating the love Jesus has for His Church (see Ephesians 5:29, 32). Complementarianism allows for the unique beauty, worth, and significance of both the husband and wife. Simultaneously, it also allows the headship of the husband (a picture of the headship of Christ) and the submission of the wife (a picture of the submission of the Church to Christ) without debasing either. Certainly, an abuse of the roles is contrary to Scripture as well as a distortion of the Gospel. Egalitarianism, however, is unable to paint the same picture. Mutual submission, yes. And this can be seen in Ephesians 5:21. But mutual submission cannot be a picture of the Gospel, and therefor complementarianism lends itself to the more biblical view.

  • Complementarianism, when properly practiced, is a picture of the Gospel in your home, community, and church.

    Because God ordained marriage between husband and wife to be the living picture of His incredible grace, it is used by God to reach others. I think about my children and hope that the love my wife and I share lead them to God. Our communities, constantly debating what marriage is or how one should define a family, need the rock of certainty found within the family as the Gospel. The Church, the “pillar and buttress of the truth” ( 1 Timothy 3:15), is to be the body of Christ (Romans 12:5, 1 Corinthians 12:12-27). That is, the Church is the Gospel Living. Egalitarianism is a reflection of our society more than of the Gospel. Certain aspects of it are appealing. That is why I was and still drawn to it. I love the teamwork atmosphere. However, Egalitarianism does not picture the Gospel in the way that Complementarianism does.

  • Complementarianism enjoys the breadth of Scriptural support.

    This one is a little more difficult, and one that I am in the process of working through. Scripture is written to individuals in specific places at specific times. The world of Scripture was a heavily male-dominated society. Today we enjoy more equality, with women enjoying many aspects of life previously unattainable. However, something must be said that it is within those times that God decided to provide His truth. From Genesis to Revelation, Scripture consistently places the husband as the head (please note head and not king) of the home. The issues faced by many who object to complementarianism (myself included) are not issues with God’s views, but mankind’s execution of it. The fact that Scripture solely functions within the complementarian view is astounding and must weigh heavily in our understanding.

So where does this leave us? Perhaps I will put together a small series on the topic. Either way, I am constantly thinking, constantly searching the Scriptures. Let us, as we search the Scriptures, seek God’s wisdom on every issue. Likewise, let us seek to practice the Scripture as God intended.

 

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5 Comments

  1. As a single individual in a complementarian-centric church, it often has left me feeling like God had made me half a person where half the lessons didn’t apply and I only got to believe in half of Jesus, etc. At least with egalitarianism, my individual self wasn’t lost or marginalized in any way, shape, or form. As a family of one, I find complementarianism severely inapplicable to my experience and the “picture” it creates unfulfilling and compelling. I read up about Paul and what he says to singles like me – how it’s a good thing that I can devote 100% to God’s kingdom; but I can’t help but feel disqualified by a church that makes marriage a pre-requisite for everything.

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    1. Honestly Jamie those are some of the reasons egalitarian views have and still continue to impress me. Part of the overall rejection of complementariansim is its abuse. My illustration is based on a true event I witnessed. The only difference is that the wife of the husband had surgery, and was recovering when he asked for the food. That is absolutely ridiculous.

      And I agree that the Church at large has really failed singles. I think in general churches are realizing this and attempting to address those failures. The current publishing of literature can attest to that.

      And yes, the Church has and is failing with regards to singles serving in the Church.

      What do you think are some ways churches can address these issues?

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      1. The church … well, it’s got to learn that everyone is unique and you can’t force people into a cookie-cutter life experience. Not everybody is (or should) marry, and not all marriages are (or should) be structured the same way. The most important thing is not that fathers/husbands are heads of their households, but that households are harmonious and it should be acceptable for families to exist in any configuration that works for them.
        Singles shouldn’t be shoe-horned into a mold meant for marriage, but rather allowed and encouraged to follow God in ways that bring out their fullest potential. When the church learns to see people as individuals, not as halves of a whole – then there might be some hope.

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      2. I totally agree with your sentiments on singles. I wonder if that has anything to do with the statistics of younger adults leaving the church?

        How do you think the passage in Ephesians 5 would apply to our current conversation, if at all?

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      3. It applies like passages on idol feasts or head coverings.
        Ephesians 5 tells believers how to live like Christian families in a world controlled by the Roman Empire with it’s own ideas about how families ought to be; in that world, singleness was almost unheard of and most marriages were arranged. When the passage is read in it’s context, in includes how children are to behave and slaves are to submit to their masters – but pretty much nobody ever utilizes the full context of the verses. Marriage and family are perhaps the most cultural institution of all – from Lamech being the first to take two wives, to the patriarchs and kings who took multiple wives and concubines – it changes with each generation. But we’re not that culture – and our marriages are nothing like theirs. Why modern believers feel the need to pattern themselves – take their medicine for their ills – for them rather than deal with our own is beyond me. My whole life, all I’ve heard is how husbands are the head of the family who is to work in public and be the provider and wives have the duty to submit, to stay at home, to home school, and to raise the children, husbands are to love their wives and wives are to respect their husbands, that men are to be the spiritual foundation of the family who teach their wives and children whatever he thinks that they will need to know and that it’s wrong for a wife to be more knowledgeable about spiritual matters than her husband. That makes sense as advice to a first century society whereby men are the only ones who are allowed to work freely in public without causing scandal; but as advice for a twenty-first century society – it’s doing nothing but holding us back. We were never meant to use the Bible this way – to craft a set of rules and use it to punish people who don’t fit those rules.

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