Both complementarians and egalitarians agree that men and women are equally created in the image of God, and that neither is more or less the image of God than the other. Both agree that men and women are equal in personal dignity, that neither is more or less worthy or of more or less value as human beings. Both insist that men and women should treat each other with kindness and compassion and love, and that any and all forms of abuse or disrespect or dishonor must be denounced as sin and resisted.
I’m a bit hesitant about posting this article, for the simple fact that there are differing versions of what is known as complementarianism. Although there are several foundational truths that all complementarians embrace, differences emerge when it comes to application in the local church and in para-church ministries. So be aware that not all complementarians will necessarily agree with the way I articulate the concept.
(1) I’ll begin with identifying some foundational truths on which both complementarians and egalitarians agree.
Both complementarians and egalitarians agree that men and women are equally created in the image of God, and that neither is more or less the image of God than the other. Both agree that men and women are equal in personal dignity, that neither is more or less worthy or of more or less value as human beings. Both insist that men and women should treat each other with kindness and compassion and love, and that any and all forms of abuse or disrespect or dishonor must be denounced as sin and resisted. Both complementarians and egalitarians believe that women should be actively involved in ministry. Complementarians agree with egalitarians and celebrate the fact that women, for example, served as “co-workers” with Paul and held the office of deacon.
(2) Where complementarians and egalitarians disagree is whether women can serve as the Senior Pastor or as a governing Elder in the local church, what I call senior governmental authority. Egalitarians believe the Bible permits women to hold such positions of leadership, while complementarians do not (1 Timothy 2:12-15; 3:1-7).
(3) I embrace a very flexible form of complementarianism. What this means is that I am extremely reluctant to place restrictions on anyone of either gender or any age in the absence of explicit biblical instruction to that effect. In other words, if I am going to err, it is on the side of freedom. In my opinion, the only restrictions placed on women concern what I call senior governmental authority in the local church. I have in mind, as noted above, (a) the primary authority to expound the Scriptures in the regular, weekly, corporate assembly of a local church, and enforce their doctrinal and ethical truths on the conscience of all God’s people, and (b) the authority to exercise final governmental oversight of the body of Christ.
Therefore, unlike a number of other complementarians, as long as the principle of male headship is honored in the above two respects, I believe women can lead worship, lead small groups, can assist in the celebration of both baptism and the Lord’s Supper, can serve as deacons (or deaconesses), can chair church committees, can lead in evangelistic and church planting outreach, can (and should) be consulted by the local church Eldership when decisions are being made, and can contribute to virtually every other capacity of local church life. Women should be encouraged to pray and prophesy in corporate church meetings (1 Cor. 11) and should be given every opportunity to develop and exercise their spiritual gifts.
One of the things we do at Bridgeway Church here in OKC is to have a group of some ten ladies who rotate each week in the public reading of the Scripture text on which I’m preaching.
(4) That being said, complementarianism asserts that God has created both men and women in his image, of equal value and dignity as human persons, but with a distinction in the roles and responsibilities each is to fulfill in both church and home. All complementarians assert that these two assertions are perfectly and practically compatible with each other. Complementarianism asserts that functional differences between men and women in church and home, as expressed in the biblical terms “headship” and “submission”, do not diminish or jeopardize their ontological equality.
(5) Complementarianism believes that submission to rightful authority, whether wives to husbands or children to parents or Christians to elders in the church or all citizens to the state is a noble and virtuous thing, that it is a privilege, a joy, something good and desirable and consistent with true freedom, and above all honoring and glorifying to God.
(6) My understanding of complementarianism is that male headship in the church and in the home is designed by God to facilitate the spiritual growth of women and wives and to provide the loving and gentle protection and provision that those shaped in God’s image always need.
Male headship does not mean that a wife must sit passively and endure the sin or the abuse of the husband, as if submission means she has no right to stand up for what is true and good or to resist her husband’s evil ways.