Our day is a day of controversy. Our society is plagued with gender dysphoria, the loss of basic human rights, and the total misperception of personal identity. Many of these issues, along with countless others, would have been outrageous to suggest a few decades ago, and while the church largely stands united on many of these fronts, there is one issue that seems to stand out when one considers how many churches today draw up lines of disagreement, especially over the last few months. That issue deals with the role of women in ministry and consequently draws into question the historic mistreatment of women both within and without the church.
The world today calls for empowerment and the removal of hierarchy—dissolving the lines of what differentiates men from women, all the while claiming that “the system is broken.” Generally speaking, we agree with the voices of countless victims and even revolutionaries when they say that ‘things are not as they should be,’ but does that mean everything is up for grabs? Is the real issue with the system, or has history’s injustices occurred in spite of where tradition has brought us? I hope that we all know enough of our own depravity to know that no “perfect system” will ever survive the sinful dealings of man and woman this side of eternity.
I submit that the main argument in seeking a proper understanding of women’s role in church and society is not in empowering them to be someone that they are not, but to celebrate them for who they actually are. This of course calls us to consider a source that speaks definitively on the matter, a standard that fundamentally reveals who we are as people. We need not look any further than the Word of God. Doubtless, my brief post will not satisfy all of your questions that relate to this topic, nor is that my intention. I merely hope to bring an ever-broadening discussion back to the basic argument of Scripture. At the end of the day, either being male or female means something, or it means nothing at all. Thus, I introduce to you some of the main aspects of complementarianism and how Scripture not only supports this view, but actually teaches it.
Why is this View Important?
Complementarianism proposes and embraces that men and women have God ordained differences that are more than just biological; that is, there are distinct aspects of personhood that differ between men and women and that these differences are essential, inherent, and good, and that they should be championed and celebrated rather than disregarded and/or dissolved.
Complementarianism doesn’t call women to give up their strengths, neither does it give men the license to dominate. Scripture advocates that men and women are equal in value as image bearers of God, and each should treat the other as such. The key issue is to embrace the fact that God gives each a distinct role within His Creation Mandate: the man is to work and protect and the woman is to be his helper, completing him as his affirming partner in these roles. Both are equal, but not the same. This flies in the face of “strong, independent” persons that pit the genders against each other, arguing for an upper hand in society.
What does Scripture say?
As is the case in addressing any human identity issue, Scripture constantly, and definitively, directs us to consider God’s created order and how everything was supposed to be; for here we actually see things for what they are meant to be: good.
“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them… And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good… The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it… Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.’” (Gen. 1:27, 31a; 2:15, 18)
A male AND a female were the result of God making ONE race of image bearers. He made man in two parts: male & female. Notice the profoundness of this Scriptural truth: God wasn’t done making “man” until He had specifically crafted woman. We shouldn’t take Genesis chapter 2 to suggest Eve was an embarrassing afterthought of God. No, the reason God gave us Genesis 2 is so that we would fully appreciate the harmonizing role women have in completing their male counterparts. Because of this, they have equal value, however this isn’t to say that they are one in the same. You’d be a fool to believe that there are no differences between men and women, the two are not intrinsically interchangeable: masculinity and femininity are two wonderfully different qualities that have their basis, not in societal constructs, but in the distinct hierarchy that God established when creating Adam & Eve. The man was first, and the woman was second, and thus God instituted a social structure that we should cherish as both proper and fulfilling. God described this creation as “good,” and the Apostle Paul’s reference to this God-given “system” as grounds for addressing specific issues in the New Testament church (1 Cor. 11:11-12; 1 Tim. 2:13) speaks to it’s authority for society today.
Tragically, we do not treasure this God-given structure; the very word “hierarchy” caries almost an evil connotation with it. How could such a loving God possibly instill hierarchy into human relationships? Well, because there is actually nothing inherently wrong with hierarchies, at least ones that don’t tear at the essential worth of another being (unlike sexism, racism, etc.). God created the universe with myriads of examples of hierarchy and systems and structures of dependence and support and we don’t see any issues with these until there is an abuse of power. Hence, the actual root of hierarchical disharmony comes as a result of the events recorded in Genesis 3. In verses 8-19 we read the consequences of man’s fall into sin and how it will breed discord as it relates to male and female relationships and hierarchy (see Gen. 3:16b, "To the woman he said,'...Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you.'”)
This discord has shown its head in many ways, but one alarming example that I feel is pressing the world today is the acceptance by many in the church of having women exercising authority over a congregation. Riding the wave of a social “awakening” by modern feminists, many of our sisters in Christ have bought into the idea that their giftedness as a knowledgeable and articulate follower of Jesus is a license to serve as they feel led. However, the measure of our own perceived giftedness is never a rule for us to violate a clear teaching of Scripture (whether we’re male or female), nor can we ever expect God to “call” someone to do something that goes against what He has ordained in His Word (see the references given above concerning Paul’s use of the Creation order in the New Testament).
What confounds this issue all the more is the rebuttal our ladies have often received when honestly trying to sort this out; women have endured years and years of being relegated/banished/exiled to serve in the children’s ministry or to be a keeper at home, without a sufficient explanation to their worth, as if the serious business of ministry can only be handled by the men. This is a detrimental shame in the church, and generations of women have been bruised by it. Women shouldn’t be dismissed to the children’s ministry or to the home; no, they should be commissioned there! They should be aggrandized, elevated, and preferred in this facet of ministry! Since when was it a disgrace to be entrusted with the precious hearts and souls of Christ’s beloved “little ones?!” Where is the shame in the discipleship of younger women by those who’ve worn the same shoes of motherhood and diligence (Titus 2:3-5). There is no shame. Perhaps our churches have done a poor job of celebrating these vital parts of God’s plan for His church. Perhaps the tone with which men have drafted women into the work of the church have brought us to this surge of restlessness amongst a generation of Jesus-loving ladies. The American church has sown the wind and is reaping the whirlwind.
Where do People Disagree?
The Abuse of Complementarianism
No doubt, the greatest argument people have against complementarianism is that history is filled with failed examples of its proponents. Countless women have suffered under the hand of dominating men who justified their proud and demeaning actions with an erroneous understanding of Scripture’s teaching. So let me end by noting that for all that Scripture says concerning the role of women in the home, church, and society, It emphasizes a far heavier burden for their male counterparts to nourish and protect this crowning jewel of God’s creation week.
Perhaps you’re tired of reading another man’s opinion about the role of women in the church. Perhaps a million examples of exceptional women come to your mind, whose impact still seems to legitimize their accomplishments in positions of ministry that I do not endorse. While my words have been relatively few concerning an ever-broadening dialog on this topic, I hope my voice is one that simply calls us to look aside from all other reasons that society has to offer and to focus in on the inspired and inerrant Word of God; to ponder how God has designed for the ultimate edification of His church. His ways seldom seem to be the popular method. His process rarely coincides with our comforts and/or desires, but we can be confident that His way is always in the ultimate, best interest of His people, both for men and for women.
More to consider:
Michael Conn comes from the corn fields of south-west/central Ohio and is a loyal, home-grown Reds fan. Michael attended Bob Jones University where he finished a BA in Bible and a MA in Ministry. It was also at BJU that Michael met his lovely wife, Irene. God instrumentally brought Michael back to central Ohio while Irene completed a MS degree at the Ohio State University. It is back here in his beloved home state that Michael now serves as the Assistant Pastor of Calvary Bible Church in Columbus, OH.
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