A Reformed Baptist Perspective on Public Theology: The Pauline Epistles, Part VII – 1 Corinthians 11

You can read earlier posts in this series by clicking on the links below:


As mentioned in the previous blog, Paul wrote his first letter to the Corinthian church in order to address several issues within the Church. We now move into a section in which Paul address an issue that directly intersects with our society today: gender and sexuality. Within the Church, 1 Corinthians 11:1-16 has been discussed extensively and the text has been central to numerous debates (such as the egalitarian/complementarian debate and the debate regarding head coverings). However, this passage has much to teach us regarding the meaning of gender and the relationship between the sexes.

The Foundational Analogy

We begin with v. 2-3

Now I praise you because you remember me in everything and hold firmly to the traditions, just as I delivered them to you. But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ. (1 Corinthians 11:2-3, NASB)

We begin with the first statement that Christ is the head of every man. This affirms the truth that since Christ is the Creator and Preserver of all men, he must therefore be the head (or master and ruler) of mankind. Christ is the head of all men in that all gifts are derived from him and as the Lord of the nations, all are subject to Him. Moreover, He is the head of all believers since he is the head of the Church. As John Gill writes:

Yea, he is a natural head, or is that to his church, as an human head is to an human body: he is a true and proper head, is of the same nature with his body, is in union to it, communicates life to it, is superior to it, and more excellent than it.

In an analogous way, the head of Christ is God. This is not a reference to the divine nature of Christ because they are one in nature and essence. However, as to the human nature of Christ and the office that He fulfills, Scripture is abundantly clear that Christ hoped in God, believed and trusted in Him, loved Him, and was obedient to Him, even to the point of death. Christ voluntarily performed these tasks as our Mediator and voluntarily submitted to the Father. Therefore, it is proper to say that God is the head of Christ, in His humanity as the Mediator.

The Interdependence of the Sexes

In an analogous way, Paul states that man is the head of woman. Just as God is the head of Christ and Christ is the head of mankind, so is man the head of the two sexes. Paul grounds this argument based not on the Fall, but based on the order of creation. Since the man was formed first (v. 7) and since the woman was made for the man (v. 8), this implies that man must be the head and chief of the mankind.

However, it’s important to note that this statement is an analogy, not an identity. In other words, although man is the head of the two sexes, his headship is not identical to the headship that Christ has over mankind or the headship that God has over Christ. This point should be emphasized in order to prevent the historical error of believing that women are essentially inferior to man in all matters (whether within the Church or within civil society). Man exercises his headship in ways that are analogous to Christ’s headship over mankind. As the head of the woman, man is to provide and care for her, to nourish and cherish her, and to protect and defend her against all insults and threats. Therefore, there is a sense of authority and rule within the context of headship, but the connotation of the term is properly attached to beneficent governance.

It’s also important to note that although man is the head of his own wife , both man and woman are dependent upon each other (v. 11-12). Consider the following commentary on this passage from 19th century pastor F.B. Meyer:

No soul is complete in itself. The man is not complete apart from Christ, as the woman is not complete apart from man… But it is very interesting to notice that while the Gospel so clearly insists on the divine order, it has elevated woman to be man’s true helpmeet, and has caused her to be honored and loved as the glory of man. Neither society, nor family life, nor woman herself, can be happy unless she attains her true position. On the one hand she finds her completion in man; on the other she is his queen and he ministers to her in all gentleness and tenderness and strength.

The Consequences

This statement is worth emphasizing because of the historical error of undervaluing women (within the Church and within civic society). Contrary to popular belief, it was the proclamation and spread of the gospel that liberated women and elevated their worth because it is God who defines and determines the purpose of His creation. Insofar as  we reject God’s intention for the creation both sexes as complements to each other, we diminish and devalue their value.

One of the evidences regarding the growing secularism of our society involves the confusion of God’s purpose for creation. In the 20th century, we saw the rise of early feminism with regards to the fight for woman’s suffrage; however, the influence of second wave and third wave feminism has brought the discussion of biblical sexuality to the steps of the American Church. It was the influence of the second wave feminism of the 1960s that began to associate the “subjugation of women” with broader critiques of patriarchy, normative heterosexuality, and the woman’s role as wife and mother. Furthermore, it was during the second wave of feminism in which sex and gender were differentiated from each other. In the 21st century, we are now in the position of observing the next evolution of third wave feminism. This current wave of feminism stepped onto the public stage as strong and empowered, eschewing victimization, and defining feminine beauty for themselves (not as object of male patriarchy). Whereas second wave feminism separated sex and gender, third-wave feminism has asserted that the very notion of gender discourages experimentation and creative thought. This has led to the commentary from many secular sources that we are creating a society of feminized men and masculine women.


Fortunately, the Word of God has not left us in the dark in addressing this issue. Throughout 1 Corinthians 11:3-16, Paul grounds his argument for headcoverings based on observable realities about the differences between man and woman. This means that Paul assumes that the Corinthian church understood that there are substantive differences between men and women (i.e. differences that extend beyond customs and cultures). Hence, in Paul’s mind, the audience of his letter already knew that sex and the modern concept of gender cannot be separated. Because God is the Creator, He alone has the prerogative to determine the purpose of His creation and this passage clearly teaches that woman was created for man (v. 9) and that woman is the crowning glory of man (v. 7). Hence, the modern idea of blurring the distinctions between men and women is a movement that is in rebellion against God’s original intention for woman to be the complementary pair of the human race.

Not only does God determine the original intention for woman and her relationship to her own husband , but He also determines feminine beauty. Consider Paul’s argument in v.13-15. Paul argues that special revelation is not needed to determine whether or not long hair is a woman’s glory. It is clear to all that long hair adorns a woman and is fitting for her sex. In modern terms, a woman’s biological features are consistent with her identity as a woman. This reiterates the point that it was never God’s intention to separate one’s sex (i.e. the biological construct) with one’s gender. Rather than seeing one’s biological makeup as a potential form of subjugation and oppression (which is becoming a common perspective among third wave feminists), God designed woman in such a way to fulfill her role as her husband’s  helpmeet and complement.

The Lord’s Supper

Paul concludes chapter 11 with a discussion of the Lord’s Supper. In this discussion, Paul gradually begins to return his readers to the discussion of love. He focuses the Corinthian church back on their attitudes toward one another, and he tells them yet again to stop being selfish. They were hosting love feasts but, ironically, they were not conducting them in a loving manner. As a result, Paul told them that they were partaking of the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner. Given that our present this section does not have any immediate implications for our study of Public Theology, we will not explore it further here.

Thinking Critically About Complementarianism

Recently, I’ve finished a 12-part blog series offering, largely, a thoughtful critique on complementarianism. Having been raised as an egalitarian, I had no thought that my inherent disposition toward my role in marriage was ungodly or unbiblical. However, in desiring to have a God-honoring marriage, I spent a lot of time studying the proper role of women and men in marriage, sought advice, read books, etc. I understand and accept that complementarianism is biblically consistent and the God-given design for marriage; however, I still wrestle with some things that complementarians do, generally believe, and sometimes teach.

This blog series largely examines those contestable points from the viewpoint of what Christian egalitarians believe and try to foster in their statement of beliefs, with the hope and intention of promoting more critical thought and precision among complementarians. The latter part of the series offers some very important points that complementarians believe that are absent from egalitarian beliefs, with the hope and intention of also promoting critical thought and self-examination among egalitarians. Finally, the series ends with some lessons that I have learned during my short journey in marriage that may offer some insight and encouragement to other complementarians, mainly women, who are striving to glorify God by fulfilling their own God-given role in marriage.

Part 1: Sliding Into Complementarianism

Part 2: What Do Christian Egalitarians Believe?

Part 3: Egalitarian Beliefs: The Use of Spiritual Gifts

Part 4: Egalitarian Beliefs: Public Recognition

Part 5: Egalitarian Beliefs: Addressing the Sense of Inferiority Among Women

Part 6: Egalitarian Beliefs: Voices in the Home

Part 7: Egalitarian Beliefs: Valuing and Protecting Self in the Marriage

Part 8: Egalitarian Beliefs: Clarifying What We Believe

Part 9: Complementarian Beliefs: Addressing Cultural Influences

Part 10: Complementarian Beliefs: Biblical Consistency

Part 11: Complementarian Beliefs: Tackling the What and Where of the Problem

Part 12: Lessons for the Developing Complementarian Journey




Complementarian Beliefs: Tackling the What and Where of the Problem

I am long overdue for wrapping up this series, and I apologize for the longer than expected delays if you are following this. But in this blog I will offer one more critique for egalitarians, and prayerfully, I will finish up in one more blog with some meaningful suggestions that I can offer to any woman who finds herself struggling between her natural egalitarian tendencies and submitting to the authority of Scripture on the matter.

Now, if you have read Christian’s for Biblical Equality’s statement, you will immediately recognize the emotionally-heavy language this is used throughout the document. You will read about “devices designed to make women feel inferior for being female” and “becoming the perennial loser” and even freedom from what they believe is “unbiblical ‘traditionalism’”. And to think about these things like any normal person, I don’t believe that any woman wants to see herself as being inferior just because of her sex or always feel like she has to give up everything about her life just to fit the mold of what history and tradition say a woman should be. Basically, no woman wants to feel oppressed, and you surely don’t want to feel oppressed by the Bible and its teachings. So the question comes down to this: How do you deal with the thing that is seemingly oppressing you and forcing you to do and become someone you are not?

Short Story

Growing up, I was the middle child sandwiched between two brothers. We lived in the country, and outside of school, we spent most of our days playing outside. I enjoyed most of the adventures my brothers and I went on, and we had a lot of fun. But I HATED being a girl! I couldn’t stand it. I hated wearing dresses, and I especially abhorred the tights my mom made me wear during those hot Virginia summers. I didn’t like ribbons in my hair because I thought they looked stupid. I hated getting my hair done at all, and training bras were the bane of my existence. If you couldn’t figure it out, I just wanted to be a boy like my brothers.

In my opinion, their lives were far better than mine! Haircuts took 10-15 minutes, and all they had to remember was run a brush over their heads in the morning. They got to wear pants or “dress shorts” to church (I despised them for those dress shorts). They never got in trouble for playing or showing up a little dirty. They could play contact sports (my mom wouldn’t let me try out for the football team). And overall, they seemed to have far more freedom in their life than I did as a girl. I hated the difference, and I wanted to be a boy. I even told my mom that one day….I’m guessing she didn’t take that well. But it was how I felt, and I continued to feel that way as I grew up. Even with having crushes on guys, I just hated having to be “feminine”. And I wasn’t sure what it would mean for my future (i.e. would I actually get married, would I want to get married, would I have to change and be more “ladylike” in the future, etc.), but I knew I just didn’t like it at all.

Addressing the Conflict

The internal conflict with my feelings was always there because I was raised in the church. I read the Bible. I saw Christian women, and even as a child, I had a general sense of what was expected of me as a female. I just didn’t like it, and eventually, I realized I had a major problem. Let me bring in this excellent quote from Dr. Al Mohler:

Most Americans believe that their major problem is something that has happened to them, and that their solution is to be found within. In other words, they believe that they have an alien problem that is to be resolved with an inner solution. What the gospel says, however, is that we have an inner problem that demands an alien solution – a righteousness that is not our own.

I soon realized that my problem wasn’t being female and getting the short end of the stick. My problem was that I didn’t like God. I felt like His way of designing and ordering things was really unfair. I didn’t understand why He had to make male and female different and then say that they are of equal value in His sight. I felt like men got all the perks, and I didn’t understand why He would make women deal with periods, childbirth, and not being in charge at all. It just didn’t seem fair to me. But as I would read my Bible, I kept coming across passages like Job 38-41, Isaiah 40:13-17, Isaiah 55:6-9, and my favorite, Jeremiah 17:5-10 (verses 9-10 are below):

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?

I the LORD search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.

Eventually, I realized that my problem was my own sinful heart. I needed to change. And the more I thought about these things, the more I realized that I had always had problems with things I read in the Bible throughout my life. There were lots of things that I didn’t think were always fair, but I knew that they were right to do because God had commanded them. And my reasoning finally came down to the question of what made being a woman and embracing my God-designed role any different than any other command I had ever learned and obeyed from Scripture. I reasoned that there was no difference. Even if my feelings were stronger, there was no difference, and I still needed to obey.

Coming Around Full Circle

So let’s come back around to the question presented at the beginning: How do you deal with the thing that is seemingly oppressing you and forcing you to do and become someone you are not?

First, you must identify the thing that is opposing you. As Christians, one of the main opposing forces we must fight against is sin (aside from Satan and the world). We also know that sin has penetrated to the very heart of our beings, and it affects every single area of our lives, including the way we think about things. Yet, our Christian duty is to strive and fight against sin all the days of our life. This leads me to my critique of the egalitarian position.

In explaining their position, egalitarians never addressed the root problem of sin. They didn’t address the fact that sin has affected each of us, nor did they consider how sin has affected their own attitudes, predispositions, feelings, and willingness to obey the Word of God on the matter of the roles of men and women in marriage. Egalitarians rightly determine that the whole Bible is “the liberating Word”, but they have failed to rightly identify what the Word is actually liberating them from. As Christians, we cannot get around the fact that sin exists, and we are totally depraved because of it. The difference between us and the rest of the world is that we have been set free from the slavery of sin to become slaves of righteousness (Consider Romans 6 – I would read the whole chapter).

In answering the question, the final thing you must consider is whether or not you should succumb to the thing that is trying to oppose and change you. When it comes to sin, we are obviously exhorted to stand firm against it and not yield to it many times in Scripture. But when it comes to the matter of the roles of men and women in the marriage relationship, the assignment of the roles and the responsibilities attached to the roles were predetermined by God. The Bible is clear on the matter. You only continue to fight against it if you are not willing to accept it. But as Christians, we are called to accept the teaching of the Bible as truth from God for our lives today.

But then you may ask: Why should I allow the Bible to change me when God accepts me for who I am?

And in response, I can only say that you are sadly mistaken. We have a Savior, Jesus Christ, because God no longer accepts us for who we are. He is too holy to accept us poor, miserable, sinful creatures. And Christ came, lived, died, and rose so that we could partake in His perfect righteousness and be able to stand before God while not facing the eternal wrath and judgment that we are due. So yes, the Bible is extremely liberating for the believer, but the thing it liberates us from (that is, the dominion of sin) is not something we naturally want to be freed from (consider Romans 6-7). And yes, the Bible will force you to change, to become someone you are not. By the power of the Holy Spirit, we are being conformed to the image of Christ, as Romans 8:29 tells us. And in the language of Ephesians 4 and Colossians 3, we are constantly exhorted to “put off” our sins and old manner of living and thinking and “put on” the deeds of righteousness, pursuing holiness and godliness in this life. Oh yes, as Christians, we are forced to change all the time, and we do well not to resist the work of the Spirit of God in the matter.

Ultimately, we will all face moments when we have a problem with something we read in Scripture. I mean, the Word of God is offensive. It tells us the truth of our condition…a truth we out rightly reject and often delude ourselves in denying. But it is still the truth. And as Al Mohler pointed out, we can act like the rest of the world and believe that the things outside us, including the Word of God, are the real problems. And we can even make up in our own hearts and minds the proper solutions for remedying these things and ‘liberate’ ourselves from these problems. But ultimately, we have internal problems that can only be remedied by God alone. With these thoughts in mind, I challenge my egalitarian brothers and sisters to consider the weighty problem of sin in their own beliefs and perspectives on the roles of men and women in marriage and in their willingness to accept the plain teachings of Scripture.

Complementarian Beliefs: Biblical Consistency

Picking up from where I left off, the next main point that grabbed my attention were the shifting definitions/words that egalitarians used to defend their position. Formally, this is called the equivocation fallacy, and if you read through Christians for Biblical Equality’s statement, you will see this fallacy a lot. But here is a more formal explanation taken from the book A Pocket Guide to Logic & Faith by Dr. Jason Lisle:

When debating on any topic, it is very important that we pay close attention to the meaning of words and how they are being used in the debate. Most words have more than one meaning, but only one of these meanings will properly fit the given context. When someone shifts from one meaning of a word to another within an argument, he or she has committed the fallacy of equivocation.

Now, my husband likes to call the equivocation fallacy a ‘bait and switch’, and I think that this is a good way of thinking about this fallacy in general and also in considering the egalitarian arguments. For a brief example, consider this tenth point under their Biblical Truths section:

The Bible defines the function of leadership as the empowerment of others for service rather than as the exercise of power over them (Matt 20:25-28, 23:8; Mark 10:42-45; John 13:13-17; Gal 5:13; 1 Peter 5:2-3).

On the surface, it is kind of easy to agree with them. However, you have to consider their word choices and why they used the words in the way they did. For instance, they speak of the “function of leadership”. Does the function of leadership nullify the role of a leader? Or does the function of leadership change the fact that leaders, by definition, have authority and rule over the people they are in charge of? (Why else would you call them your leader?) And if not, why would they say that the function of leadership is meant to empower others for service rather than exercise power over them?

This is just a small example of what you will see as you read through their document, and the matter becomes worse when you actually read the Scripture references they have listed in support of their positions. When you read those Scriptures, I encourage you to read before and after the verses for a better context and understanding of what those verses mean, and then, think about whether those verses are really applicable at all to their point.

Let me look that up…

Ultimately, it is crucial for Christians to recognize how easily people change words or equate the same meaning to different words to further their own arguments. When it comes to what we believe from the Bible, being firm and confident in our understanding of the Scriptures is paramount in living a victorious Christian life, and it keeps us from being “tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes” (Ephesians 4:14). Consequently, as Christians, our only safeguard against this error is to know the Word of God for ourselves and to be willing to tear down faulty arguments that stand against the truth of God’s Word, recognizing that we must be prepared to not only work the defense, but also the offense in this spiritual war (2 Corinthians 10:3-5).

This is also why I commend the complementarians who crafted the Danvers Statement and appreciate the fact that they pointed out this serious concern in their rationale statements:

8. The increasing prevalence and acceptance of hermeneutical oddities devised to reinterpret apparently plain meanings of Biblical texts;

9. The consequent threat to Biblical authority as the clarity of Scripture is jeopardized and the accessibility of its meaning to ordinary people is withdrawn into the restricted realm of technical ingenuity;

The issue that is ultimately at stake is the authority of the Bible over the Christian life. If we say that Scripture is not clear enough, or if we underhandedly change the meaning of scriptures, distort the context, or read things into the text that are not there, then we are undermining the fact that the Word of God was given to us by God Himself to be the “only sufficient, certain and infallible rule of all saving knowledge, faith, and obedience” (LBC 1.1)

Therefore, I encourage all of my egalitarian brothers and sisters to carefully examine the Scriptures again. Consider the fact that God is immutable, His Word is never contradictory, and “the infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself; and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which are not many, but one), it must be searched by other places that speak more clearly.” (LBC 1.9)

My final encouragement for my complementarian brothers and sisters (and all those people who waver or find themselves moderately in the camp) is that you would also carefully study and examine the Scriptures for yourself. Know why you believe what you believe, and be able and ready to give an answer for your beliefs and your choices in living out this Christian life.

Complementarian Beliefs: Addressing Cultural Influences

I’ve been thinking long and hard about how I could critique egalitarianism in a meaningful way that can actually contribute, rather than repeat statements and conversations that have been made before. And considering the vast amount of resources that you can look at on the topic, I figure that it is best for me to keep this fairly simple and short. In the next few posts, I will be highlighting some key points in egalitarianism that kept screaming at me as I worked my way through the complementarian critiques.

What Culture?

One of the things that I appreciated most about the Danvers Statement was that the council provided a rationale for why they devised the statement in the first place. The influence of the culture was expressly mentioned twice in the rationale:

1. The widespread uncertainty and confusion in our culture regarding the complementary differences between masculinity and femininity;

10. and behind all this the apparent accommodation of some within the church to the spirit of the age at the expense of winsome, radical Biblical authenticity which in the power of the Holy Spirit may reform rather than reflect our ailing culture.

Now you can check out the Christian’s for Biblical Equality statement again, but you will see absolutely no mention or address of the culture or how the culture is influencing Christianity at all. And hearkening back to my college experience where discussing the influences of culture was the norm, this was one of the first things that stood out to me the most about egalitarianism. But let’s get on the same page first and define culture.

Culturethe sum of attitudes, customs, and beliefs that distinguishes one group of people from another. Culture is transmitted, through language, material objects, ritual, institutions, literature, music, and art, from one generation to the next. (The American Heritage New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy)

Learning this definition during my freshman year, I spent the remaining years of college often having internal dialogues about the things that went on around me, and I also asked myself a lot of questions. I knew that our country was founded with some Christian principles in mind, but our culture was far from being Christian or even God-centered. So I wondered if the whole world is not Christian, then what does a real Christian look like today, and should I be making an effort to be different than the rest of the world as a Christian? And if so, to what extent should I be different as a Christian? But, should I reject everything in the culture, or are there some things that can be useful to me as a Christian? Later on, my husband would ask me this question in a new way: How is every area of our lives distinctly Christian?

With this in mind, it has not appeared to me how egalitarians are addressing the influence of culture in their beliefs. Whereas complementarians directly mentioned the influence the culture is having in the hearts and minds of Christians throughout the church, egalitarians have largely remained silent on that particular topic. And it has caused me to wonder if egalitarians are aware that they are being influenced by the culture, and if they see the need to exercise discernment over how these things are influencing them.

As Christians, we have to be able to distinguish and isolate. We have to be able to discern, scrutinize, test, and yes, discriminate. We are called to destroy arguments and lofty opinions that assail the knowledge of God, and we must be able to buffet our own thoughts (as well as the thoughts of others) when they began to fall out of line with what is taught in the Word of God (2 Corinthians 10:3-6). We are engaged in a real spiritual war that has real consequences and real casualties, and I encourage my egalitarian brothers and sisters to consider these questions in light of that battle on their own time:

Do you believe that the culture has or is influencing your views and interpretations of the Bible? If so, is that proper, and should it be allowed to continue? Do you believe that there is a spirit of the age that you need to be aware of? And if so, how are you able to detect it and stand against it?

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.

Egalitarian Beliefs: Valuing and Protecting Self in Marriage

As we move along in this series, the final two applications from Christians for Biblical Equality are similar in nature and intention as the third application that I covered in my last blog. Consequently, you may find some repetitive language as we continue. However, I still want to consider these applications separately because they each emphasis different topics that are important as we look at complementarianism. So, we continue with Application #4:

In the Christian home, spouses are to learn to share the responsibilities of leadership on the basis of gifts, expertise, and availability, with due regard for the partner most affected by the decision under consideration. 

In so doing, spouses will learn to respect their competencies and their complementarity. This will prevent one spouse from becoming the perennial loser, often forced to practice ingratiating or deceitful manipulation to protect self-esteem. By establishing their marriage on a partnership basis, the couple will protect it from joining the tide of dead or broken marriages resulting from marital inequities.

In their fourth application CBE highlights the need for individual spouses to recognize their own unique gifts and talents, recognize the gifts and talents of their spouse, and respectfully work together to “share the responsibilities of leadership.” The intended result is that spouses will learn to see and respect what they each bring to the ‘table’, keep one person from always being the ‘loser’ in the marriage trying to protect their own self-esteem, and protect the marriage from dying and falling apart due to ‘marital inequities.’ More concisely, I would say that this application is focused on how individual spouses view, value, and protect themselves in the marriage relationship.

Now, as a Christian and former Student Affairs professional, I find conversations about preserving and protecting “self” to be very interesting, but not entirely biblical. I do not mean that we should let other people walk all over us, even in marriage, but I do believe that the Christian life is full of “dying to self” moments that the world cannot readily accept. And these moments are so pervasive throughout the Christian life that most, if not all, Christians should be able to identify with the words of Paul in 2 Corinthians 4:7-12. So, this application is very interesting to me, but this is meant to be a critique of complementarianism. As such, I would like to highlight the two affirmations from the Danvers Statement that I believe speak best to this concern.

Affirmation #1:

Both Adam and Eve were created in God’s image, equal before God as persons and distinct in their manhood and womanhood.

Affirmation #2:

Distinctions in masculine and feminine roles are ordained by God as part of the created order, and should find an echo in every human heart.

Now, these affirmations do not speak about gifts or sharing leadership responsibilities, but they do highlight that all people find their identity as bearers of God’s image. Not only that, they say that both men and women are equal before God, but they are distinct by virtue of their masculinity and femininity. We can deduce that this distinction does bring about differences in terms of gifts and abilities, but the distinctions are inherently beautiful and worthy of the recognition and appreciation of every person because they were created by a very intentional God. Outside of this, complementarians do highlight the use of gifts in the Church and in other ministries, but they primarily focus on the heart and mind attitudes of men and women functioning in the home together, while continuing to affirm the place of husbands as heads in the home (consider Affirmations 4 and 6).

Therefore, we can see that complementarians do believe that men and women are of equal value before the Lord, both able to bear His image, but distinct in their gifts and abilities by divine design and purpose. It is a given that complementarians do not believe that men and women should share leadership roles in the home, but they do believe that there should be mutual respect and honor between both spouses. As for the remainder of their application, I do find some things that complementarians should carefully consider in their own marriages.

First, do you really recognize the gifts and abilities that you bring to the table, and can you recognize what your spouse brings to the table too? Now, I know I’ve posed a similar question before, but I am asking this with a different thought in mind. I wonder do people wholeheartedly believe that they bring something valuable to the ‘marriage table.’ We can easily list all the things that we do day to day, but do we believe that those things are valuable and indispensable to the home and marriage?

I’ve wrestled with this personally over the years. When I left my job to be at home full-time it was very difficult for me to see that what I was doing was really valuable. Honestly, I figured if my husband hired a nanny, maid, and cook he could easily replace what I did in the home. It seemed like grunge work, and I felt like being the wife/mom really sucked compared to my husband’s role. To be honest, for a long while, I really hated it. I did share my thoughts with my husband eventually, and he’s spent many times over the past years showing and reminding me how valuable I am in my home, how much my contributions are not easily replaced, and that I bring a lot to the table, a lot that he can’t bring at all. Now, you may be thinking that he’s just brainwashed me or sprinkled some sugar over the real truth so that I suck it up better, but I have come to realize the truth in what he has said. But more importantly, I’ve had to make sure that my identity and sense of worth and value is found in Christ alone, not in my own abilities and talents. That being said, I do hope that complementarians, especially women, carefully consider that question, but also think about how you view your spouse’s contributions and letting him/her know how much they mean and are worth to you.

Second, are complementarians careful not to overemphasize the importance of the work and role of women in the home and family? As Christians we are often guilty of falling into one ditch, getting back up, and then falling into the ditch on the other side. So I bring up this consideration thinking about all of the women (and men) who are members of our churches or families. Are you constantly pressuring people about marriage or even bringing it up a lot just because they aren’t married? Do you remind people of their age and the ‘biological clock’ that’s ticking all the time? Are you sensitive to the people who have gone through divorce when you bring up marriage conversations? For couples who don’t have children, are you constantly asking them when they’re going to add to the family? Do you inwardly judge or look down on people who only have one or two children because you feel like everyone’s ‘quiver’ should be full and overflowing? Do you express unneeded sorrow and pity over those who are childless or unmarried too often?

My primary point with these questions is to make us think about whether or not we have made stumbling blocks of marriage or motherhood or any other good thing that God has given us to the hurt of our fellow brothers and sisters in the faith. Truly, the highest calling that any person can have in this life is to be a disciple of Christ Jesus alone, and we need to be mindful to exhort and encourage one another with that truth more often.

My final consideration for complementarians is in regards to calling out sin, both in attitudes and actions, in the marriage. Part of the blessing of marriage is to be known by someone else on an intimate and personal level that has your best interests at heart, especially your progressive sanctification. Now, we all know about love and being patient in love, but do we believe that love also means humbly calling out sins in our spouse when we see them? Now, I do not mean walking around with a clipboard telling your spouse every time he/she sins, but when we notice sinful patterns of behavior, do we as complementarians speak up about it? If one spouse is always selfishly getting their way, does the other spouse, whether husband or wife, feel like they have a Christian duty to speak up and call out the sinful behavior in respect and love? If one person is being manipulative every time something doesn’t go their way, is the sin mentioned or even addressed?

Basically, it appears to me that much of the perceived inequalities that egalitarians believe come from complementarian marriages is due to the belief that only one person is ‘in charge’ and the other must submit to everything. In true complementarian marriages, both husband and wife recognize that they are equal in standing before God. Moreover, they recognize in addition to the bond of marriage, they are also brother and sister in the faith, and they strive to help and assist each other in this Christian journey. So, if a wife sees her husband constantly being given over to sin in a particular area, she has a Christian responsibility to bring that up to her husband for his good in the Lord. Likewise, if a husband sees his wife being given over to sin, he should also bring it up to her for her own good in the Lord so that they both diligently strive for holiness in this Christian life. The intimacy in marriage comes with a responsibility to love in sincere truth for that person’s spiritual good, not avoiding things out of convenience or overlooking things because you may be forced to deal with yourself at the same time. As complementarians, husbands and wives may not share leadership responsibilities or be partners in the marriage relationship, but we are called to be genuine brothers and sisters in the faith who dutifully watch over one another so that no one becomes caught in any sin (Galatians 6:1-10).

Egalitarian Beliefs: Voices in the Home

Picking up from where I last left off, here is Christians for Biblical Equality’s Application #3:

In the Christian home, husband and wife are to defer to each other in seeking to fulfill each other’s preferences, desires and aspirations. Neither spouse is to seek to dominate the other but each is to act as servant of the other, in humility considering the other as better than oneself. In case of decisional deadlock they should seek resolution through biblical methods of conflict resolution rather than by one spouse imposing a decision upon the other.

In so doing, husband and wife will help the Christian home stand against improper use of power and authority by spouses and will protect the home from wife and child abuse that sometimes tragically follows a hierarchical interpretation of the husband’s “headship.”

In their third application, CBE highlights their belief that Christian marriage should be characterized by mutual submission as each spouse seeks “to fulfill each other’s preferences, desires and aspirations.” They do not believe that there should be any sort of domination or headship, just a continual deference to each other, even when it comes to decision making. Their intention with this application is to guard against domestic abuse and power-tripping in the Christian home that at times has happened when a hierarchical marriage structure is believed and acted upon.

Now, how people differ in their beliefs about the structure of Christian marriage largely depends on their interpretation of Ephesians 5:22-33, but more importantly, how verse 21 lends to the overall context and understanding of the passage. But this is meant to be a critique of complementarianism, and in an attempt to stay focused, I will turn to the Danvers Statement. Please consider the relevant portions of their affirmations below:

Affirmation #4

The Fall introduced distortions into the relationships between men and women.

-In the home, the husband’s loving, humble headship tends to be replaced by domination or passivity; the wife’s intelligent, willing submission tends to be replaced by usurpation or servility.

Affirmation #6

Redemption in Christ aims at removing the distortions introduced by the curse.

-In the family, husbands should forsake harsh or selfish leadership and grow in love and care for their wives; wives should forsake resistance to their husbands’ authority and grow in willing, joyful submission to their husbands’ leadership.

One thing that I appreciate about the egalitarians is that they did not shy away from a very important issue that is a real problem in the outlying extremes of the complementarian camp, and that issue is domestic abuse. There is no scripture to be found in the Bible that validates or encourages domestic abuse of any kind, and honest Biblical complementarians do not encourage, promote, or condone domestic abuse and violence. Therefore, I am happy to see that the Danvers Statement did recognize that sin has thoroughly distorted the relationship between husbands and wives, and abuse is a part of that distortion.

However, the complementarians method of dealing with the distortion is very different than the egalitarian method of dealing with it. Namely, complementarians appeal to the redemptive grace of Christ at work within each believer’s heart to begin removing those distortions and restoring the marriage relationship back to its proper place with the husband offering loving headship and leadership in the home and the wife joyfully submitting to his leadership. The difference in methods between the two camps does bring up a serious question that any person who is looking at either side must consider: What is the real problem that needs to be addressed to fix marital problems: sin or the marital structure itself? How you choose to answer that question will largely land you in either the egalitarian or the complementarian camp.

But moving along, complementarians do not address conflict resolution in the marriage, and I think that is largely due to the fact that they have already appealed to redemptive grace to work out sin in the hearts of believing spouses. Accordingly, well-taught Christian spouses will aspire to handle all matters in their life in a God-honoring way, and that would include how to work out problems with your spouse or how to make decisions when you really disagree. So it appears to me that the complementarian camp has a lot of faith and stake in the ability of the Holy Spirit to thoroughly sanctify and redeem each and every believer, whether man or woman, from their sins and conform them to the image of Christ. They are not attempting to alter the structure to address the abuses we see at times in marriages, but they seem much more dependent upon the ability and will of God to make Christian marriages more and more glorifying to Him as couples spend their lives together.

As such, I honestly cannot critique them further. They appeal and rest on the highest authority there is, the Lord God Almighty. And we know from Numbers 23:19 that:

God is not a man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?

Consequently, I can only change the trajectory of my critique and pose these questions for my complementarian brothers and sisters: Do women have an authentic voice in their homes? And is it possible for a woman to have a legitimate voice in her home without usurping authority?

In considering that the context of these questions is for the home environment, I recognize that there is a real boundary between the church and the home. As a result, we can appeal to the ‘culture’ that surrounds complementarianism. When you are around complementarian couples, do you feel like women have authentic voices that are heard and recognized, or are the women mostly silent and agreeable all the time? With the complementarian women that you see, how do they tend to handle situations when they don’t agree with something? Do you see the women actually speak up to someone, or do you hear sighs and frustrated whispers in private? Do the women act like they have an actual voice that needs to be heard, and do the men act like they need to hear that voice as well?

Now, I could answer these questions from my own personal perspective, but I think that every person needs to consider these things for themselves. I do believe that complementarianism has its own culture, but the culture varies depending on geography and the backgrounds of the people in question. I may be biased here, but I think that a lot of this depends on complementarian women coming to a solid, Biblical understanding of their roles, worth, and value in the body of Christ and in the home. To say that you can’t walk in Biblical womanhood and speak  up about the things that are going on around you at the same time is truly false, and I think that we, as complementarian women, really have to work hard at being all that we are supposed to be in Christ. It takes honest effort and a lot of hard work to “bridle the tongue” while still honestly sharing what is on your heart and mind, especially when you disagree. But it also takes the continuous encouragement of your husband and fellow brothers in Christ to do it as well.

So in conclusion, I like to pose these questions for my complementarian sisters to encourage you to think about yourself. What are you most prone to do? Do you speak up? Why or why not? Do you feel like you’re “overstepping your boundaries” if you say something? And if so, why? Do you actually speak up in ungodly and disrespectful ways at times? And if so, do you think it’s warranted and okay with God? Do you feel like your thoughts and opinions are valuable in your home when conversations are going on and decisions are being made? In your opinion, which is worse: overstepping your boundaries or not being heard at all? How are you walking that balance out right now? How do you handle it when a mutual decision cannot be reached and your husband makes a final decision? Can you accept it and move on, or are you resentful and bitter? How are you moving and growing towards having a better God-honoring marriage? Are you being diligent about it, and do you have any evidence?

For my complementarian brothers, what do you see your wife or your fellow sisters doing? Do you encourage them to speak up? Or do you voice their concerns for them so that they don’t have to say anything? Do you give the impression that their voice, opinions, and thoughts are valuable? Do you believe that it is prudent and wise for you to consider their thoughts and advice? Or do you give the impression that women ought not to concern themselves with the ‘weighty matters’ and let men handle it? For husbands, do you feel like you have the right to make final decisions even if your wife disagrees? Do you feel ashamed or secretly proud to have to do this? How are you moving and growing towards having a better God-honoring marriage? Are you being diligent about it, and do you have any evidence?


Special Note: I understand that some people may find themselves married to an unbelieving spouse due to various circumstances. As a result, it is inherently very difficult to try to live out a Biblical view of marriage, and my only encouragement to you is to continue to be a God-honoring husband or wife to the very best of your abilities. Continue to read the Bible, trusting in the word it proclaims, and be faithful to your marriage. Our God is Sovereign, and He perfectly orchestrates all situations and circumstances in our lives for His own glory and for our good in Him. And if you happen to find yourself in an abusive relationship, I highly encourage you to seek out help and sound advice for how to address your particular situation.

Egalitarian Beliefs: Addressing the Sense of Inferiority Among Women

Dealing with the Sense of Inferiority

As I mentioned before, egalitarians could also be using this emphasis on public recognition in Application #2 to address a different issue: the sense of inferiority that some women have for being females. Now, I do think that this is a serious problem for some women, and let’s consider the Danvers Statement again to see if complementarians have addressed this, especially Affirmations #1, 2, 5, and 6.

Looking at these affirmations from the Danvers Statement, it is safe to conclude that complementarians do believe that women are 1) created in God’s image, 2) equal before God as persons, 3) distinct in their womanhood and 4) of equal high value and dignity as men. Moreover, complementarians do acknowledge that there were serious distortions introduced by the Fall that redemption in Christ aims to remove. In case of any confusion, the Danvers Statement defines the distortions in Affirmation #4.

The Fall introduced distortions into the relationships between men and women.

-In the home, the husband’s loving, humble headship tends to be replaced by domination or passivity; the wife’s intelligent, willing submission tends to be replaced by usurpation or servility.

-In the church, sin inclines men toward a worldly love of power or an abdication of spiritual responsibility, and inclines women to resist limitations on their roles or to neglect the use of their gifts in appropriate ministries.

It is these distortions that complementarians believe that redemption in Christ aims to address and remove, and this work is prayerfully going forth in the Church. Now, I do understand that there are still some complementarians who believe that the ideal Christian wife is the ‘doormat’ type who just looks cute, says nothing, and does whatever she is told. Personally, I would not call those people complementarians at all, but there are some who claim the title for themselves. And it may be that people who hold these views are promoting a sense of ‘inferiority’ among women, but I would at least like to set the record straight that Biblically-sound complementarians do NOT believe that women are inferior in the least bit. They recognize that women serve different God-ordained functions, but a difference in function does not mean that a woman is different in value, especially before God. And they also recognize and appreciate the hard work that their fellow sisters in Christ do for the kingdom of God, whether it is in their own homes, in the church, in the community, or in the world, and encourage them all the more to be faithful and diligent in their labors until that final day.

Circling the Wagons back to the Doormat

Before, I end this blog, I feel like it is necessary to come back to this sense of inferiority that women oftentimes feel. To speak frankly, I’ve often wrestled with feeling inferior as a married woman. No, my husband never told me anything crazy to make me feel that way, but I began to wrestle with those feelings once I left my job and found myself at home with a newborn and nothing to do any more. Then, once I began to experience small moments of joy doing some housekeeping tasks or assisting in a church ministry, I got hit again with ‘You had so much potential. You’re just wasting it being at home like this. Surely the Lord wouldn’t want you to waste your education, skills, and talent to just be at home.’ After having those words marinate in my mind for a while, I became despondent and depressed all over again and found myself struggling with my own sense of worth.

At this point in my life, almost 3 full years of being at home, I have come to recognize that we are fighting a war, dear sisters, and it behooves us not to forget that. We are fighting a spiritual war, and we have a formidable foe that is extremely clever and employs many schemes intended to ultimately cause us to fall away from the faith. 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 tells us:

For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ

This verse tells us that a good deal of our spiritual battle will be fought against thoughts, opinions, and arguments that go against the knowledge of God, the same knowledge we find in the Word of God. Dear sisters (and brothers), Satan will twist the Word of God any way he can to cause us to not understand it properly, to focus on the wrong things, and to ultimately get so frustrated with it, that we walk away from it, and away from God. Consider this passage from Spiritual Warfare: A Biblical and Balanced Perspective by Brian Borgman and Rob Ventura:

Satan can try to persuade us to misapply and misunderstand the Word, and so inoculate people against its proper meaning…The devil twists the Word of God in innumerable ways, and he does this ultimately to get people to reject it. If he can get people to reject the Word outright, he has then made an effective attack on God. But, more often, he twists the Scripture so that God’s character is maligned, the person and work of Christ are distorted, God’s grace is perverted, and man’s sin is misrepresented. Satan also tries to disfigure the Word through false doctrine…Satan’s principal weapon is falsehood…The devil knows how to lie in ways that appeal to our sense of deserving, our sense of worth or lack of worth, and our sense of rights and wrongs. You name it – Satan can lie about it (p. 27-28)

As women, when we’re struggling with those thoughts and feelings of inferiority, not having much value, and uselessness, we must keep in mind that we are fighting a spiritual battle, and we must be clothed with the whole armor of God. We cannot expect to fight and win in these battles with such things like a little public recognition, a few likes on Facebook, a couple of more followers to our blog, and other petty things that merely gloss over the bigger fact that we are at war against thoughts and ideologies that are directly opposed to God.

Now, I do not want to say this to the complete disregard of many who have grossly misunderstood and misapplied the Scripture, causing much harm to many, but every single Christian must realize that we are each called to stand, to “take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm” (Ephesians 6:13). Women are not going to be standing in the shadows of men here, and wives will not be behind the shields of their husbands. No woman will ever hear the Lord say that she is too weak to pick up the sword and fight. But we each have to put on our belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, readying our feet with the gospel of peace, taking up the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, the sword of the Spirit (that is, the word of God), and be diligent in prayer. Everyone of us has to do this because we will be engaged in battle until our dying breath. And when we fail to do this, we will succumb to believing lies, being swayed by erroneous arguments, being led astray by clever ideas, and even falling prey to the deceitfulness of our own hearts.

The egalitarian belief that public recognition will help women not feel inferior and help to keep them within the faith and the church is an optimistic idea and approach, but unfortunately, it does not get to the root of the problem. The complementarian belief that it is redemption in Christ that will remove the distortions introduced by the curse after the Fall is the solid bedrock that all Christians, men and women, should be standing on. Our identity must be found in Christ alone. We must heed the exhortation of Paul found in Romans 12:2:

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Complementarians, appealing to the effects of the redemptive work of Christ, recognize that we must all be transformed by the renewal of our minds to remove the distortions of the roles and functions of men and women in the home and in the church. This renewal will continue throughout our Christian lives as we come to study and understand the Word of God more clearly and as the Spirit applies the Word to our lives. As we are continually renewed, we will grow stronger so that we are able to stand firm against the attacks of the enemy and fight in this war, whether it comes through false doctrine or the overwhelming feelings of inferiority and uselessness.

Special Note: Being transformed by the renewal of our minds is accomplished primarily through the hearing, reading, and studying of the Word of God. But we must also believe that the Word of God is literally the Word of God, from God. When we hold views that the entire Bible is not inspired by God, or that people wrote in their own personal views or preferences, or that the whole Bible is not authoritative to the Christian, then the promise that the Spirit of God will renew our minds is null and void. We cannot be equipped for battle nor can we stand firm and be victorious when these attacks come because we will be lacking in our faith because we failed to believe the truth, that is God’s Word. “Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. For, ‘Yet a little while, and the coming one will come and not delay; but my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him.’ But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.” (Hebrews 10:35-39)

Egalitarian Beliefs: Public Recognition

You can check out my previous blog here, but I want to pick up quickly where I last left off with Christians for Biblical Equality’s (CBE) Application #2.

In the church, public recognition is to be given to both women and men who exercise ministries of service and leadership.

In so doing, the church will model the unity and harmony that should characterize the community of believers. In a world fractured by discrimination and segregation, the church will dissociate itself from worldly or pagan devices designed to make women feel inferior for being female. It will help prevent their departure from the church or their rejection of the Christian faith.

In their second application, CBE highlights the need that all members of the church should be publicly recognized for the work that they do in the ministry. They believe that by doing so, “the church will model the unity and harmony that should characterize the community of believers.” This would also cause the church to distance itself from the ways that the world currently uses to make women feel inferior for being women, and it would help to secure the faith and commitment to the church of these women.

I personally find that this application causes a lot of questions to arise in the mind of the reader. For instance, does public recognition really promote and model unity and harmony? Will public recognition cause a woman to feel better about herself? What are the ‘worldly or pagan devices’ that they have in mind here? Is the church obligated to publicly recognize the work of all of its members? And will receiving public recognition really cause some women to remain in a church or not leave the faith if they are intent on leaving? I am sure that my complementarian brothers and sisters would ask more penetrating questions, but the point is to see if complementarians have formally addressed this issue or not. However, I am not sure if the emphasis is actually on addressing an overall lack of public recognition or if it is attempting to address and remedy the sense of inferiority that a lot of Christian women feel with public recognition. So, I’m going to address public recognition in this blog and take a look at the Danvers Statement again.

Public Recognition

Looking through the Danvers Statement, I actually did not find any statement addressing the need for the public recognition of the work of men and women in the church. However, to offer some sort of examination of practices that may be found in complementarian churches, I will refer back to my former church homes since I’ve been married.

In our church in Louisiana, I do believe that there was a level of public acknowledgement of the work of women and men in the church; however, this acknowledgement did not come in the middle of the church service or from the pulpit. Oftentimes, if the women and men serving on various ministries needed more help or volunteers, our pastor would stop Sunday school early to make a mention of the important work of the ministries, thank those who already participate and contribute, and encourage others to sign up and help fulfill the needs. In our church in Colorado, women and men served in various capacities throughout the church. Soon after I arrived, the women serving in the kitchen for lunch preparation (and there was lunch every Sunday) began to feel pretty rushed because as soon as church would end, people would come rushing downstairs to eat, and they had not finished with their preparations. So, they appealed to the elders to get people to wait at least 10 more minutes to give them time to finish and breath before the rush. Our elders were highly responsive to their needs, and they made mention of the need before the congregation at the end of service and made everyone wait at least 15 extra minutes just to make sure the women had enough time. Obviously, the women felt appreciated, and we did not have any subsequent problems.

I give these two examples as evidence that there are complementarian church pastors and elders that do recognize the work of women and men in the church and appreciate them for it. No, there were no elaborate announcements of recognition or any special ceremonies, but people were not acting like work got done by itself. Moreover, in these churches, people were individually appreciative for the work of other people. So, it was not surprising to hear about a member sending another member a little note of appreciation, or dropping by a basket of goodies to say thanks. People didn’t mind meeting up with each other to treat one another to coffee or call someone up to just say thank you. Thus, it appears to me that there was a lot of recognition going on, but the recognition was largely personal and private.

That being said, complementarians should look at this application and examine themselves individually to make sure that they are showing appreciation to others for their hard work and also recognizing that it takes committed members to get things done each week. This appreciation and recognition can be displayed genuinely in a multitude of ways, and we should all be striving to heed Paul’s exhortation in Romans 12:10 “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.” Here, we have a series of explicit commands that our love for our fellow brothers and sisters should be genuine and our Christian walk ought to be real. Now, I do understand that some people may take this verse to be a basis for why we should have public recognition in the church, but I believe that the context of this verse is for the individual Christian in his or her life. Paul is always very clear about what should take place in the church throughout all of his epistles, and he did not make any indication here that this “showing honor” should take place in a corporate setting.

What of recognition that is actually public?

Now, remembering my egalitarian upbringing in the Black Baptist church, public recognition for the work of men and women in the church was fairly non-stop. Just to give you an idea, I remember attending these services multiple times through the years: Pastor’s Appreciation, First Lady (the Pastor’s wife) Appreciation, Usher’s Day, Women’s Day, Men’s Day, Youth Day, Church Choir Appreciation, Deacons and Deaconesses Day, and Founder’s Day (which could also be called Church Anniversary or Homecoming Service). Not only that, we had church-wide birthday celebrations for the pastor, for his wife, for the ordained ministers in the church, for the minister of music, and whoever else someone thought was important enough to make an event out of it. But not only that, we also attended the same celebration days at other churches in our county, and we were expected to serve in those other churches for those celebration and appreciation services. Now, this may seem a little extreme to you, but we believed in public recognition for EVERYBODY’s work in our church. And yes, I did spend a lot of time at church each year going to these events.

Being older and considerably more mature, I think that these events were well-intentioned, but considerably over the top. Not only that, it greatly took away the reason why we come to church in the first place! Instead of focusing on the worship of our God and Savior, we were extolling the praises of our fellow brothers and sisters and holding actual church services to honor men.

Final Thoughts on the Complementarian Position

Considering the complementarian emphasis on being grounded in Biblical doctrine and faithfully consistent to it, I believe that the main reason there is no statement on showing public recognition to women and men who serve in ministries in the church is because there is no explicit Biblical basis for that practice (at least I have not come across one yet). Now, there is an explicit command found in 1 Timothy 5:17, and even the context of this verse is largely about making sure that good elders are taken care of as they do their work in the church, aside from receiving respect. But outside of that, the Bible actually charges us not to seek public recognition or praise when we perform good deeds or labor diligently for the Lord. Please consider Colossians 3:17 and verses 23-24 when you get a chance.

Finally, one last important passage that should be considered is 1 Corinthians 12:21-26. I believe that it is this text that mentions the overall harmony and unity that should be present in the church and the attitude that we ought to have for one another. We are told that our weaker parts (or members) are indispensable and that we bestow greater honor on those parts that we think are less honorable because God has composed the church in such a way that greater honor is given to the part that lacks it and for no division to occur. Clearly, this is the manifold wisdom of God on display that the things no one really wants to do in the church (i.e. vacuuming, picking up trash, set up, cleaning bathrooms, etc.) are actually indispensable to the church, whereas the things that people generally want to do (i.e. head up a new ministry, be a small group leader, be an advisory board member, etc.) are really the things that no church absolutely needs to be a good church. Not only that, God Himself gives honor to the less honorable parts, and He does this so that we have a balanced appreciation and high respect for all of the work that our fellow brothers and sisters do within the church, from the pastor to the janitorial staff.

The honor we receive from the Lord should not be expected in this life, although it may at times occur. But, we know with absolute certainty that the honor we will receive from the Lord will come when we behold Him face to face. We are responsible as members of the body of Christ to honor and respect every person within the body and appreciate their contributions to the church, and we need to carefully examine ourselves to make sure that we are being obedient to God’s Word in this area. However, personal appreciation and honor does not necessitate public recognition.

In my next blog, I would like to jump back and deal with the sense of inferiority that this application mentioned.