Egalitarian Beliefs: Clarifying What We Believe

Continuing from the last post, this blog examines the final application from Christians for Biblical Equality. Application #5 states:

In the Christian home, couples who share a lifestyle characterized by the freedom they find in Christ will do so without experiencing feelings of guilt or resorting to hypocrisy. They are freed to emerge from an unbiblical “traditionalism” and can rejoice in their mutual accountability in Christ. In so doing, they will openly express their obedience to Scripture, will model an example for other couples in quest of freedom in Christ, and will stand against patterns of domination and inequality sometimes imposed upon church and family.

In their fifth application, CBE believes that couples who embrace the egalitarian lifestyle will no longer experience guilty feelings or live in hypocrisy because they no longer have to live in biblical “traditionalism.” Thus, married couples will be able to rejoice and hold one another mutually accountability before Christ, and they will be able to model a good marriage relationship for other couples who are looking to avoid patterns of domination and inequality in their own marriages.

To be honest, it has taken me a while to figure out how to adequately critique the complementarian camp with this application, but thank the Lord for husbands who think differently! Considering that this is the last post critiquing complementarianism, this might be one of the more important critiques that we all need to consider. And I will begin with the only affirmation from the Danvers Statement that I believe would be of key importance here, Affirmation #10:

We are convinced that a denial or neglect of these [complementarian] principles will lead to increasingly destructive consequences in our families, our churches, and the culture at large.

As firmly as egalitarians believe that their beliefs and principles are Biblical, complementarians do so to the point that they believe that there will be “destructive consequences in our families, our churches, and the culture at large” if complementarian principles are abandoned. As a complementarian, I agree; however, egalitarians have brought up some valid concerns when they mention “traditionalism” and “patterns of domination and inequality” that are at times imposed upon people in the church and in the family. So let’s think about that more closely.

For the sake of clarity…

  • How much of what we practice as complementarians is truly Biblical?
  • How much of our practices are really passed down traditions?
  • And how much of our practices stem from or attempt to counteract influences from our culture?

I’m not sure how many complementarians have taken the time to consider the questions or even how they live out their complementarianism, but I do believe it is always important to consider the ‘why’ behind what we do for three main reasons. First, it helps us figure out if we are doing things for the right reasons. Second, it helps us figure out how to instruct and encourage other couples who want to have a God-honoring marriage and be obedient to Scripture. Third, it helps us to be more credible and honest to the rest of the world, especially egalitarians. Let’s briefly consider these points.

How we label things

Coming from egalitarianism, having some solid reasons behind why I am doing things the way I do them now is paramount for me to walk and live in unwavering confidence in this world. Yet, I know that I have a very accommodating personality that desires for things to just go ‘smoothly’ even when I have problems with them, so I often find myself having done things for months or years because I never gave it real thought. This experience is the premise behind my first point. As Christians, we have to be careful to distinguish what are doctrinal standards, convictional beliefs, and our own cultural preferences. We clearly believe that complementarianism is Biblical doctrine that is expounded upon clearly in Scripture, but what about other things we practice?

Can husbands wash dishes, take care of the laundry, prepare meals, and/or take care of small children or is that purely the work of women as homemakers? Can wives cut grass, clean out the gutters, work on the car in the garage, and build furniture in the shed or is that stepping into men’s work? If your daughter likes to play with cars or paper towel tube swords, do you tell her to put it down to play with a doll or have a tea party instead? If your son likes to play house or is really interested in baking, do you try to distract him with some sports or other outdoor activities.

Now, I’ve picked the least controversial examples I could think of to drive home the point that we have to be careful what we label as ‘complementarian’ when it could easily be us sliding into ‘traditional roles’ or doing what we’re most comfortable doing. We also have to be careful that we’re not perpetuating traditional gender roles and calling it complementarianism because we’re uncomfortable that playing with trucks just isn’t ‘feminine’ enough for our daughter or baking isn’t ‘masculine’ enough for our son. I have all intentions to teach my daughter how to manage and care for a home properly, but if she wants to pursue a PhD and become a physicist like her daddy, I’m not going to tell her that she is going against God’s design and purpose for her as a woman. Basically, we ought to be certain that we have a solid understanding of what is actually Scriptural and whatever else is only traditional, cultural, or just our own personal preferences.

Determining what to teach others

One of the obvious results of being able to label things properly is that we will be able to offer more Biblically-sound advice to others. Whether it’s our own children, teenagers at church, or other young couples that we know, we are often put into the position of having to either teach, instruct, exhort, or encourage others about what a God-honoring marriage and family life look like. And these interactions happen either directly or indirectly, but regardless, the interaction will leave an impression upon the hearer.

For instance, most women have probably heard that housework is women’s work in some way or fashion. And from the Bible we know that we are to take care of our homes and our families (Titus 2), so this is perfectly sound to teach. However, if we couple that with something like…The reason you need to make sure that you are taking care of your home is because you really can’t trust a man to do a woman’s job. Men don’t know how to clean the way we do. They aren’t as detailed-oriented as we are, and you know you should never leave your little ones with your husband. God only knows what will happen to them when you’re gone. Really, you just have to learn how to manage it all. And don’t worry, God will give you the grace to be able to handle all of it because He made you a woman, and women are equipped to carry and handle a lot…then we have surely added some things to the Biblical text. But what is worse, the extra traditional and cultural things only cause people to become more burdened down and overwhelmed as they are likely to believe and feel that this is how they are to please the Lord in their roles. Christ told us in Matthew 11:28-30:

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

Let us be diligent to not add to the burden in our own minds and hearts and in the hearts and minds of others who are serious about having a God-honoring marriage and family life. If we are going to teach, exhort, and encourage ourselves and others, let’s be perfectly clear about what is Biblical and what just follows traditional norms, our present-day culture, or what just works for us.

Building some credibility

Finally, all of this leads to us, as complementarians, building up our credibility with egalitarians and others who think the way we live our lives in the face of our culture today is just crazy and outdated.

Now, there will always be some people who will simply be contentious and look for a way out so they don’t have to feel guilty about not obeying Scripture, and honestly, we can only pray for those people. But for the other people who are jaded, ignorant of the truth, or searching for some clarity about their role as a man/woman and a husband/wife, I encourage my fellow complementarians to hold fast to the Bible alone first and foremost. And then be open about what they will have to work out depending on their own circumstances. Talk about the things that complementarians have historically gotten wrong. Even touch on the abuses and sins that have often been committed under the guise of complementarianism or being Biblical. By all means, be forthright, frank, and honest in everything that you have to say because as we know that complementarianism is God’s design and purpose for men and women, we are obligated to represent it rightly, fully, and faithfully so that others will have a proper view of what God requires of all of us and so that we will not be a reason why some will choose to abandon it altogether.

This post concludes my critique of complementarianism, and I will pick up my next blog with taking a closer look at egalitarianism.

3 thoughts on “Egalitarian Beliefs: Clarifying What We Believe

  1. Amen. My wife and I would probably be considered “traditional” according to our culture, and we would probably agree with that label. We are also complementarian in our approach to the Bible’s view of marriage. The difficulty is often in weeding through which is which. Do other couples’ practices bother us because of cultural traditions, or does it bother us because it deviates from biblical mandate? Sometimes avoiding error in answering these questions requires walking a razor’s edge. Ultimately, the answer is to have grace. When in doubt, assume the best and move on. There will always be people who parent different from you, establish marital roles different from you, and generally think differently about the culture than you. If they are not in blatant error, often, the best answer is to let it slide and praise God for the grace He’s shown you for the areas in which you have not attained to perfection. Thanks again for this very helpful series, Alicia.

  2. I think that this is a very important part of this discussion because I think there is a lot of stereotyping when it comes to the role of men and women. I think one of the reasons for this is because our modern view of masculinity seems to be ill-defined. This would probably be a great extension of this topic, but a lot of our discussion on gender roles comes down to what is true masculinity and what is true femininity.

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