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Changing Courses

Beth Moore, the popular Christian speaker and author of numerous Bible studies for women, created a stir two weeks ago by apologizing on Twitter (she has a million followers) for how she “submitted to, supported and taught” complementarianism.

What is Complementarianism?

Complementarianism is the view that, according to the Bible, men and women are equal in dignity and value, but God has assigned each gender a different role within the family and church. These roles complement each other, hence the name “complementarianism.”

With respect to the church, most who ascribe to the complementarian view limit the role of pastor, elder and teacher (of adult men) to men. After 25 years of ascribing to this view, Ms. Moore has now renounced it.

What’s the Alternative?

The alternative is called “egalitarianism.” This view maintains that men and women are equal in all respects, without any distinction as to roles or functions. Churches that ascribe to this view consider women eligible for any and all positions, roles or offices within the church.

While the appropriate role of women in the local church isn’t a core doctrine of Christianity (i.e., one’s salvation doesn’t depend on it), every church must necessarily reach a consensus concerning the matter because the church either will – or won’t -- have women serving in certain roles.

I would describe First Baptist as “leaning complementarian.” This is because, while we’ve had women serve as deacons and teachers of adult men, all of our pastors and moderators have been men.

A young man (not from FBC) told me the other day that “egalitarianism” is the only view he’s ever known. However, from a historical perspective, egalitarianism is relatively new, having emerged in the 19th century, concurrent with the rise of feminism. Until then, virtually every church in the world ascribed to complementarianism.

So, Which View is Correct?

There are arguments on both sides. However, after studying the biblical material, not exhaustively, but thoroughly, I’ve concluded that the complementarian position is much stronger biblically (i.e., has considerably more biblical support).

In my opinion, here are the strongest biblical/theological arguments in favor of the complementarian view:

1.      The “equal in value but subordinate” idea that is central to complementarianism is analogous to the Trinity, where Jesus is equal to but subordinate to the Father. Given that a hierarchy exists in the Trinity, it is difficult to see how a hierarchy per se can be sinful, as egalitarians argue. (It can certainly be practiced in a sinful way.)

2.      No women were among the 12 disciples. While Jesus certainly enhanced the role of women during his public ministry, he stopped short of granting them spiritual authority over men.

3.      Adam clearly had leadership responsibility vis-à-vis Eve and this responsibility existed prior to the Fall. For example, Adam named Eve, which conveys authority over.

4.      I Timothy 2:12 explicitly prohibits women being in spiritual authority over men, saying, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man.” Egalitarians thus have the daunting task of explaining why the prohibition doesn’t apply. In explaining the prohibition, Paul ties it to the creation account (as opposed to the unique situation in Timothy’s church), thus making the prohibition applicable to all churches in all eras.

5.      Ephesians 5:23 declares “the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church.” Male headship in the home necessarily requires male headship in the church because the husband’s headship in the home would be undermined if he were subordinate to his wife in the church (i.e., under her spiritual authority).

For Further Study

The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood – an organization dedicated to the complementarian position.

Christians for Biblical Equality – an organization dedicated to the egalitarian position.

Pastor Dan