Results tagged “complementarianism” from Reformation21 Blog

[Editorial Note: This is the eleventh post in a series of posts in which we have invited the authors of "The Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel" to expound upon the statement's affirmations and denials. We encourage our readers to take the time to read through our prefatory editorial note at the beginning of the first post prior to reading through subsequent posts in the series.]

Article 11


WE AFFIRM that God created mankind both male and female with inherent biological and personal distinctions between them and that these created differences are good, proper, and beautiful. Though there is no difference between men and women before God's law or as recipients of his saving grace, we affirm that God has designed men and women with distinct traits and to fulfill distinct roles. These differences are most clearly defined in marriage and the church, but are not irrelevant in other spheres of life. In marriage the husband is to lead, love, and safeguard his wife and the wife is to respect and be submissive to her husband in all things lawful. In the church, qualified men alone are to lead as pastors/elders/bishops and preach to and teach the whole congregation. We further affirm that the image of God is expressed most fully and beautifully in human society when men and women walk in obedience to their God-ordained roles and serve according to their God-given gifts.

WE DENY that the God-ordained differences in men's and women's roles disparage the inherent spiritual worth or value of one over the other, nor do those differences in any way inhibit either men or women from flourishing for the glory of God.

As a child, one of my favorite segments on Sesame Street was called, "One of These Things." Several objects would be displayed as the song would play, "One of these things is not like the others. One of these things doesn't belong." At first glance, Article XI of the Statement on Social Justice & the Gospel might seem like "one of the things that is not like the others." What does complementarianism have to do with social justice?

Some have claimed the SJ&G statement was fundamentally about race. However, nothing could be further from the truth. The statement was written to address a variety of issues (e.g. race, homosexuality, complementarianism) that are being defined and discussed not solely by the clear and simple teaching of Scripture, but by the inclusion of worldly concepts of social justice.

The same social justice language and concepts are driving the conversation about the role of women in the church. Consider the words of two different leaders of a prominent evangelical denomination.

"We desperately need a resurgence of women's voices and women's leadership and women's empowerment again. It is way past time."

"Hoping that we are entering a new era where we in the complementarian world take all the Word of God seriously - not just the parts about distinction of roles but also regarding the tearing down of all hierarchy and his gracious distribution of gifts to all his children!"

The rhetoric about "empowerment" and "tearing down of all hierarchy" is consistent with that of critical race theory, but completely inconsistent with a biblical worldview. What is needed is an argument for the roles of men and women that proceeds from a careful analysis of Scripture.

The Impetus Behind the Movement

This conversation surfaced in light of the sad revelation of the mistreatment many women have experienced both in the culture and the church (i.e. what has come to be known as the #metoo and #churchtoo movements). To be clear, there is no justification for the abuse of women and we must take a strong stand against all its forms. In addition, when such abuses come to light, we should look to Scripture to guide both our reactions and proposed solutions. However, emotional reactions and worldly pragmatic solutions have been controlling the conversation rather than ideas rooted in Scripture.

For example, in a panel discussion at the 2018 annual meeting of Southern Baptists in Dallas, solutions were discussed for how to respond to the accusations of mistreatment and marginalization of women. Repeatedly, the call to empower women and give them roles of leadership in the church were echoed. One panelist commented that when situations arise where women have been mistreated in the church, the wisest answer is to "empower women" in leadership to bring about a peaceful solution. At face value, that answer might appear logical, but the issue we must address is whether it is biblical.

The NT Model of Leadership

In Acts 6, the church encounters its first crisis that created a division in the church. Luke writes, "a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution" (6:1). The text does not ascribe the motives behind the marginalization of one group of widows over the other as deliberately sinful. Nevertheless, the unequal distribution among these women was serious and needed to be confronted.

This matter was of such importance that the apostles summoned the entire church to address the problem (6:2). Although it was necessary for the apostles to not be distracted from leading the church in the preaching of the Word, the needs of the widows must not be overlooked. Therefore, the apostles called upon the church to choose individuals from among the body to lead in this important task to assure that these women were cared for and no longer marginalized.

The first recorded problem in the church directly involved the mistreatment of women. The apostles identified the need for individuals to lead in the task of bringing about a peaceful resolution that would result in godly care for these women. If there is any task that it would seem appropriate to place women in positions of authority, surely this would be a perfect case. Yet, the apostles directed the church to "pick out from among you seven men" (6:3).

Considering the arguments being made about empowering women, it should be striking that the apostles did not recommend for even one woman to be enlisted in the oversight of this ministry to the widows. It cannot be that the apostles lacked wisdom, failed to be sensitive, or merely acquiesced to the cultural norms of the day. When the apostles saw the need for oversight of this critical ministry in the church, they set a clear example of God's design for authoritative leadership to be men.

The argument I am making is not that no women could have assisted these men chosen to lead. If they were wise leaders, they would have sought women to assist them in this task. However, the empowerment to lead in resolving this ministry crisis was given exclusively to men. Apparently, male authority in the church is not exclusively resigned to the teaching role of a pastor as some suggest.

It seems unreasonable to believe that the apostles did not deem it appropriate to enlist women to exercise authority in resolving the crisis of the widows, but the SBC should elect a woman as SBC president to address its problems. Perhaps the reason that individuals have not given biblical examples for their argument to "empower" women in the church is because none exist. The apostles were all men; the planting of churches was led by men; the writing of the New Testament was the work of men; and leadership in the churches was given to men.

My ultimate point is not that women should not exercise leadership in the church. They most certainly should. In fact, I contend this push to empower women in unbiblical ways will only serve to minimalize and discourage women from valuing the very leadership God has called upon them to exercise.

Article XI of the Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel affirms that men and women are equal before God's law and as recipients of his saving grace. Any distinction is not due to the superiority of the one and the inferiority of the other. The differences are part of God's created design, and both men and women flourish when they live out those good, proper, and beautiful distinctions. Furthermore, God has given a fulfilling and deeply meaningful role for women to serve in the church.

We Need Women to Biblically Lead

While trying to defend against the onslaught of promoting unbiblical roles for women, it is easy to get entangled in only addressing what women cannot do. Women are wonderful gifts from God and their leadership is needed both in the home and the church.

My experience as a pastor is that we need more women, not less, leading as God calls for in Titus 2:3-5: "Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior... and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled." In other words, God calls women in the church to lead other women in fulfilling the vital role that he has given them. Only in Scripture can God's intended design for women be found.

Paul respected women and worked side by side with them in the work of the gospel (Rom 16). However, the only ministry in which he called upon them to lead was the discipling of children and other women. Mothers in the home should take great joy in the privilege to raise their children in godliness. Women in the church should devote themselves to the crucial role of discipling other women. Women have the unique privilege and responsibility of leading in these significant ways. It is sad and tragic that so many women feel unfulfilled in the beautiful design for which God created them. It is an even greater tragedy when the church cultivates that emotion.

Rather than enticing women with empowerment and cultivating a dissatisfaction towards their God given design, we should call upon churches to equip women to serve in their Titus 2 role. I believe in the radical equality of men and women as image bearers of God. I also know that women have suffered greatly in this world at the hands of sexism. But it is the sin in this world that truly oppresses women, not the role God designed for them or the biblical authority structure of the church. Ever since Satan deceived Eve in the garden, the world has been selling "liberation" for the price of rebelling against God's design. We must reject that idea and start equipping women to lead in their biblical role.

When Everything is a Gender Question

Recently, I was having a discussion with a friend (who happens to be in pastoral ministry) about the gender debates that are raging in our culture and in our churches. In the course of our conversation, my friend said, "I think that part of the difficulty with this discussion is that far too many reduce everything down to a matter of gender, whereas --more often than not--Scripture speaks in terms of social rather than biological constructs." Not fully grasping what my friend was getting at, I asked him for further explanation. He said, "Scripture speaks of fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, friends, politicians, pastors, teachers, elders and deacons, rather than simply answering the questions, "What can a man do?" and "What can a woman do?'" Since that discussion, I've been ruminating over my friend's observations. I believe that he's onto something important. 

So many of the conversations about leadership in the church seems to be framed around the following questions: "What can a man do?" and "What can a woman do?" Instead, we should be asking, "What social constructs has God established in the home, the world and the church," "To what authoritative standards should we look to understand who is to fill the social roles that God has established," and "How are those who are called and qualified by God to carry out these roles once they are given the office?" When we fail to ask the later questions--and we substitute them with the former questions--we do a great disservice to ourselves and to the church. In many respects, both conservative Christians and progressive Christians have erred in replacing the later questions with the former, thereby making almost all leadership questions about gender, rather than about understanding the nature of God-ordained social constructs. Let me explain. 

In socially conservative churches, male only ordination is prized, defended and promoted. The problem? Many of the men who are placed in the office of either elder or deacon are not biblically qualified. How did they manage to get into these offices? It may have had to do with their bank accounts, or their successful business practices, or their heritage as a member of a particularly important family in the church. Whatever the reasons that lay behind biblically unqualified men holding these offices, of this much we can be sure--the church and its leadership put them forward largely because they were men. Gender is the leading qualification for quite a considerable number of conservative churches. To be sure, such men must appear to have their lives together. They obviously couldn't be notorious womanizers, drug addicts or scandalous; but, they also don't have to meet the qualifications set out in Scripture (which is often apparent based on their lack of teaching gifts or spiritual mindedness). The Bible does not teach that just any "good ol' boy" may hold the office of elder or deacon because he happens to be a man. It teaches that only those men whom God has called, gifted and set apart for the work may hold office--which means that there will be plenty of men who are not qualified or gifted to hold office and should not, therefore, hold office. 

Clearly, gender differentiation occurs in the process of identifying and electing church officials according to God's revelation. However, when progressive churches give women the functional role of elders (i.e. shepherds), they too are leading with the assumption that leadership in the church is primarily a gender issue rather than a God-ordained and God-defined social construct. When challenged as to why they allow women to teach men in various parts of the worship service, many pastors now commonly respond by saying, "A woman can do anything that a non-ordained man can do." Therein lies our problem. When conservative churches start to give "non-ordained" men the functional leadership roles that God has reserved for ordained officers of the church, they have made leadership a gender issue rather than a God-defined social construct. When progressive churches put non-ordained women into functional leadership roles that God has reserved for ordained officers, they defend their action on the idea that all of this is simply a gender issue. 

Perhaps what the church needs more than anything today is a reassessment of the doctrine of church offices--a revisiting of the great works of ecclesiology that the church has in its historico-theological repository. We need a reconsideration of what arguments we are employing--in order to know whether or not we are asking the right questions. As we go to Scripture (e.g., 1 Timothy 3:1-13; Titus 1:5-9; 1 Tim. 2:12) and to the great ecclesiastical works of church history in order to understand why the stalwarts of the faith believed that God had uniquely entrusted the Keys of the Kingdom to ordained elders--and that they, and only they, are called by God to exercise a faithful and diligent use of them--we might free ourselves of the reductionistic notion that gender equality means equal outcomes in the Church's God-ordained social constitution. 

Complicating Manhood and Womanhood


For the majority of my Christian life, I was built up in the faith and nourished within conservative Pentecostal and Wesleyan-influenced churches. Within those circles, there were a number of topics that were constantly discussed, almost to the point of obsession (such as spiritual warfare, end time signs, dreams/visions, modesty, etc.). As I began to embrace Reformed theology and began to have more contact with the wider evangelical world, I noticed immediately that those aforementioned topics were hardly ever brought up.

Nowadays, the topic of discussion has invariably focused on biblical manhood and womanhood. When my wife goes on social media, she informs me of the proliferation of "mom blogs", which seem to spend almost all of their time focusing on the "pink passages". Along with these blogs are a large collection of books on "gospel-centered motherhood" or "serving God as a single woman". At times, it has given the impression that Christian women can only really openly discuss the safe topics of biblical womanhood, such as childrearing, submission, or serving God in the home.

From the male perspective, I've been introduced to a number of books on biblical manhood in which a Christian father is called to be a prophet, priest, and a king in his home. At various times, this has given me the impression that godliness for a Christian man is very different than godliness for a Christian woman. It has also given the impression that men need to fulfill these roles because women, in general, are delicate, frail, weak-minded, and are prone to deception. After hearing all of these discussions (which can be inconsistent or contradictory to each other), my wife and I asked ourselves the question: Is biblical womanhood and manhood meant to be this difficult? Are we making this a more complex topic than is biblically warranted?

The Marks of Godliness

First, it should be stated that many of the marks of godliness that are geared towards women are also geared towards men elsewhere in Scripture. For example, women are encouraged to adorn themselves with a gentle and humble spirit (cf. 1 Peter 3:3-6), but aren't these qualities simply the fruit of the Spirit for all believers (cf. Galatians 5:22-23)? Furthermore, Christian women are called to be reverent in behavior, sensible, and pure (cf. Titus 2:3-5). However, the same instruction is given to men within the same passage (cf. Titus 2:2,6-8). On the male side, men are encouraged to be sound in faith and in doctrine, yet Paul says throughout the epistles that believers (men and women) should encourage one another, admonish one another, and teach one another (cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:14, Colossians 3:16). In other words, the mark of biblical manhood and womanhood is simply this: godliness.

Biblical Roles and Culture

Second, I wonder how much of biblical manhood/womanhood is mixed with traditional American values. For example, many of the popular works on biblical womanhood place the identity of Christian women primarily (or solely) in the home. This is perhaps the strangest idea that has been attached to biblical womanhood because it is largely inconsistent with the history of women in the church and very culturally specific. It has also led to a number of speculative questions regarding biblical womanhood in the workplace (such as should a woman hold a position of civic authority). Within the New Testament church, there are numerous examples of women (such as Lydia, Dorcas, and Anna) who are described as doing significantly more than homemaking. I believe that Rachel Miller has said it best:

"But just as men are more than their careers, women are more than their familial     responsibilities. We are believers and fellow heirs. We may well be called to serve God in         additional ways. Taking care of our families can include discipling others as part of the family of God."

In this sense, I think there's an inconsistency on how women and men are treated in this area. Christian men are routinely warned of the danger of finding their identity in their careers, and are exhorted to treat their other callings in life (such as their role as husbands, fathers, and church members) as worthy of their attention. However, the overemphasis of the familial responsibilities for women has given the impression that women are defined primarily based on what on what they do. In other words, Christian men are admonished not to be workaholics in their careers (outside the home), but Christian women are generally encouraged to devote their energy and talents solely in the home. This raises some honest questions: Are women useful outside the home? Are women useful after the season of childrearing is over? Are women actually needed in the functioning and edification of the church (beyond nursery and potluck meals)?

Moreover, historical research has shown that women largely worked outside the home throughout Western history. The reality is that many Christian women work outside of the home not because of the appeal of feminism, but because it is necessary. For the male side, the duties associated with biblical manhood seem to have many similarities with stereotypical American chauvinism where men are characterized as quiet, aloof, and dominant. This may explain why there are few sermons at conferences geared for Christian men on developing gentleness and meekness or addressing gossip among men.

The Need for Older Saints

From my background, the question of biblical manhood and womanhood was rarely discussed because we were raised with "church mothers" and "church fathers". These older saints knew their role within the church, and they functioned as the gatekeepers of the local church (under the authority of the pastor). They were the individuals who modeled the standard for godliness. Whereas the pastor's role was primarily teaching and preaching, it was the "church fathers" who gave young men like me clear guidance regarding godly maturity. These men taught me how to be temperate, dignified, and sensible. My wife, like many young Christian women, learned how to be godly through the example of "church mothers". These older women modeled Christian conduct by exuding self-control (particular with their speech) and through their encouragement and exhortations. They also taught young women how to be teachable, how to be useful within the local church, how to be humble without being passive, and how to be confident without being prideful. For us, biblical womanhood and manhood wasn't a topic of endless speculation, but it was a modeling of Christian character as demonstrated by older godly saints. It has been my impression that older men and women within broader evangelical churches do not necessarily view themselves in the same light.

Let's not complicate a matter that is taught in a straightforward manner in Scripture. It is sinful to blur the distinctions that God has made between men and women as if gender/sex is fluid. However, it is also sinful to bind the consciences of men and women based upon extrabiblical hedges and cultural preferences. The pursuit of biblical manhood and womanhood is a pursuit for godliness.

In an online context, where conversations move at a breakneck speed, we so often fail to carve out time for proper deliberation and reflection. After the firestorm of one debate has passed, we can swiftly move on to the next dispute, failing to reflect upon the lessons that can be gleaned from the conversation that we have just had. Disciplined and patient retrospection is, however, a rewarding activity and our neglect of it robs us of much of the potential profit of experience.

In this article, I want to offer an unapologetically 'cold take', a reflection at some distance in time upon some of the principal points that we can take forward from the conversations surrounding the eternal subordination of the Son (ESS).


The prominence of the ESS position owes a great deal to a theological preoccupation with the notion of authority and the relations appropriate to it. Authority has long been a prominent category in evangelical thought, not least in debates about the place of Scripture in the Church. However, as a category it has often been attended by many unconsidered assumptions and has also often been at risk of occluding much else. Both the unconsidered assumptions and the narrow preoccupation have implications for conceptions of divine relations, relations between the sexes, and understandings of Scripture's place in the Church. They represent a constriction of the imagination that often produces damaging and stifling understandings and practices.

For instance, authority is overwhelmingly conceived of both as an authority over and as an authority that exists over against others. Yet there are other ways of conceiving of authority. Authority can be an authority for or involve an authorizing of others. Authority is not a zero sum game in which we are weakened by the authority of another in relation to us. For instance, when speaking about the 'authority of Scripture', we may be inclined to think of that authority purely as something exercised over us to which we must be obedient. We may forget that Scripture is a manifestation and exercise of God's authority for the sake of his saving purpose, a dimension of the ministry of the Father's Word in the power of his Spirit to redeem and renew humanity and the creation. We can also forget that Scripture is an authorizing word, a word that commissions, empowers, and equips us to be God's fellow workers. Similar things could be said about gender relations, where so often an emphasis upon the authority of the man has been at the expense of, rather than in service to, the woman.

Complementarian Diversity

The recent ESS debate has exposed significant diversity among complementarians. All too often, the term 'complementarian' has functioned chiefly as a rallying label and shibboleth, serving the purpose of aligning people with one or the other party in gender debates. Indeed, the terms 'complementarian' and 'egalitarian' (and the polarized group dynamics that they fuel) have often so dominated the debate that it has been difficult to discover the actual diversity of positions beneath them.

This debate has made it more apparent that the term 'complementarian' applies to a diverse range of positions, whose differences are sometimes quite significant. It has also revealed that, on certain issues of deep theological importance with secondary relevance to the gender debates, the actual alignments that matter may cut across our divisions in the gender debates, dividing us from people we may have considered to be in our own camp and joining us with people with whom, in the gender debates, we find ourselves in disagreement.

The need to maintain a unified stance in the face of the external challenges of egalitarianism and the shifting sexual and gender norms of contemporary culture has often led to some degree of a self-imposed stifling of disagreement within the complementarian camp. However, a besieged mentality can produce dangerously brittle and unexamined systems of thought and practice and encourage us to turn a blind eye to serious errors. As the polarizing magnetism of party designations is weakened, a far more complicated picture emerges, along with promising possibilities for progress. Complementarians have always had internal debate, but this and other recent debates further unsettle notions of a shared 'party line' and have thereby expanded the scope of such intramural discussion.

The potential of this space remains ambivalent. It could lead to a fracturing and weakening of the complementarian position in general, as people divide into various squabbling camps. Concerns about this possibility may be heightened by the fact that party mentalities are often still very much in evidence among complementarians on either side of these debates. Alternatively, it could make possible a shared commitment to a challenging conversation among complementarians, through which all of our positions are honed and certain errors are rooted out, even if we do not finally align. Within such a space, it is possible to articulate more developed proposals, as we are no longer primarily concerned with defending a narrow party line.

The Crosswinds of the Gender Debates

Throughout the debate surrounding ESS, it has been concerning to witness the degree to which theological and exegetical argumentation has been caught up in the politics, the antagonisms, and the concerns of the broader gender debates. Reading many egalitarians and complementarian critics of ESS, it has often been difficult to tell what is driving the arguments--genuine concern about the proper handling of the doctrine of the Trinity, or animus against the supposed wrong sort of complementarians. My suspicions that this debate has been peculiarly afflicted by motivated and politicized reasoning have been intensified, as people who have not otherwise shown any interest in or extensive study of the doctrine of the Trinity have exhibited a peculiar concern in this particular case, often while still ignoring related errors in their own contexts. This is a time for all of us to examine our motives, to ask whether we are as alert to error in Trinitarian doctrine when those errors are harnessed to the service of doctrines that we ourselves favour. Is Trinitarian orthodoxy merely being weaponized for our squabbles about the theology of gender?

As I have become more acquainted with the writings in support of ESS in the course of this debate, it has been deeply troubling to see the way in which a framework of authority and submission has become almost programmatic for an understanding of the Trinity for some theologians. While there are instances in which the language of authority and submission is employed of the Trinitarian relation between the Father and the Son in the more recent tradition, the prominence that this has assumed more recently--a prominence that threatens to occlude so much else--is, I believe, unprecedented. It is also, in my assessment, a development that almost certainly has been catalysed by the gender debates.

The intense institutional politics and personal feelings that attend the gender debates make it incredibly difficult to have productive conversations and to reason in a balanced and consistent manner on issues that impinge upon them. It should be a matter of considerable concern that the doctrine of the Trinity has been blown off course in the manner that it has, but also that the integrity of the motives of critics of ESS can so often be in doubt on account of party mentalities. Both this distrust and its corresponding untrustworthiness contribute in their own way to the perpetuation of the problems, as most voices that will be raised against it are compromised or easily dismissed.

The progress that has been made in this debate has primarily occurred as the debate has been removed from a realm dominated by the fickle, capricious, and frequently untrustworthy reasoning of partisan antagonists, and has occurred in contexts sheltered from or opposed to such dynamics. It has also revealed the importance of and need for persons who can stand above partisanship and demonstrate the intellectual integrity necessary to criticize their own colleagues and friends. Where such integrity and courage has been lacking, it is not surprising that even genuine warnings of error have been unheeded.

Masculinity and the Priority of Love

If you were asked to identify the primary quality which defines a true man of God in his specific relation to a true woman of God - distinctively within the marriage relationship - what one-word answer might you give? What if the opposite question were asked: what single quality ought to characterise a woman of God in relation to her husband in particular?

In pondering the answers to those questions, rest assured that I am not having a sly dig at anyone or seeking to make unreasonable or unfair assumptions. I am on record in The New Calvinism Considered (US and UK) as being what is generally now defined as a complementarian, but also as being uncomfortable with some of the excesses that I have perceived, and those in both directions.

Most germane to the purposes of this post are those excesses in which biblical masculinity is celebrated but potentially or actually exaggerated toward a caricature of (Western?) masculinity - "a sort of hairy, Neanderthal, chest-beating machismo." This caricature, it seems, is now being used by some to justify not just a strangely exaggerated form of masculinity but a horribly perverted abuse of it.

I wonder if this can be traced in some instances to a fundamental misunderstanding of what true masculinity looks like in relationship to true femininity? As so often, perhaps there is a danger of reactionary theology: a position formed not from the Word of God but from a response - proper in kind but not in degree - to some opposite aberrance. So, for example, think of someone so (rightly) horrified by the suggestion that the Lord Jesus, in some way, was not fully human that he responds in such a way as actually (wrongly) to undermine his divinity. Such is the skewed reaction to the cultural pressure by which many men have become milk-livered geldings that the goal becomes the embodiment of the rutting stallion. Neither is it a matter of finding some kind of middle ground. The aim should not be some anodyne mean, but a biblical fulness.

But what does that look like with regard to male leadership, especially leading to and in marriage? A simple passage like Ephesians 5 helps us here. I will not go into the substructure of male-female relations, grounded in both being made in the image of God, both being fallen in Adam, both able to be redeemed and restored in Christ. In such a relationship there is a genuine correspondence, a profound cleaving, a total commitment and a joint commission. Furthermore, I am persuaded from the Word of God that there are some distinctive roles within that relationship. In Ephesians 5, the apostle sounds two abiding keynotes, one for the woman and for the man. The primary element for the woman of God is submission, and I recognise that that must be carefully and scripturally defined and worked out. Paul, in this passage, then moves on to the keynote for the man. And what is it? If we make a merely reactionary leap (and I fear this is, in essence, what many are doing) we start looking for the counterpoint to submission. The husband is to be marked by ... what? Authority? Rule? Headship? Leadership? Some other near-synonym for being in charge that emphasises the difference between the sexes?

No, the distinctive feature of masculinity in this relation to femininity is love. Leadership or headship may be implied, but the focus of the apostle is on the motive and nature of the husband's relation to his wife. This love is neither physical lust nor romantic delight, and neither one can or will supply a lack of intelligent and principled love.

Let me briefly spell out several things about this love. Note first its character, for it is Christlike. As such, it must be principled, realistic, intelligent , sweet and - ultimately - sacrificial. Its great pattern is Christ's coming for and dying for his church. This is not a matter of occasional spectacular demonstrations, though it may include them. It is not a notional knight in shining armour who, fortunately for the husband, never actually needs to make an appearance. It is to labour for the good of your wife regardless of the cost to yourself, a daily death of a thousand cuts to male selfishness and laziness.

Secondly, see the quality of this love: it is purposeful. Like Christ's love to his church, it aims not at a wife's slavish subjugation, but at her proper liberation. A husband's love aims to raise his beloved wife to the highest point development and her greatest blessing. He invests in and serves her so as to bring her, by all legitimate means, to the highest pitch of spiritual and moral excellence to which she is able to attain, as defined by God himself. There is a deliberate goal in such love.

Thirdly, consider the anchor of this love: union. Paul grounds this love in the one-flesh union between husband and wife. For the married man, she is one with me. Whatever I would do or have done for my true good and real blessing, by God's estimation, I should pursue for her. As it would be both unnatural and ungodly to ignore, neglect, despise or injure your own flesh, so - if our love is remotely Christlike - it ought to be recognised as unnatural and ungodly to do the same with regard to our wife.

Finally, observe the activity of such love: it is a nourishing and cherishing affection. Whatever the origin of this language, it is clearly not meant to be demeaning, because it refers both to the way in which a man is expected to be caring for himself, and representative of the way in which Christ cares for his church. The words communicate a profound tenderness and principled care, to develop by nurture and to envelope with affection. Some men show more of this toward their car or their home than they do toward their wife - investing more time, energy and money in a hobby than in their God-given wife. The call is for words backed up by deeds, and deeds adorned with words, just as with Christ.

So, brothers, how do you assess your distinctive relationship toward your wife? What ought to lie at the root of your dispositions and actions toward other women who are not your wife? Do you perceive your relationship toward your spiritual sisters (or, indeed, unconverted women), and especially with regard to (but not merely) your wives, to be characterised primarily by rule - by the robust exercise of the authority which has been so largely abandoned by our generation and culture? If so, you are missing the mark. The characteristic quality of the true man of God is a Christlike love, first and primarily with regard to his own wife, and then to other women in appropriate measure and framed by the parameters of a legitimate relationship. If, to paraphrase the apostle elsewhere, you are getting other things right but have not love, you have failed to follow and to show Christ at this point.

Why Complementarianism Remains Important

Recent months have seen considerable controversy among conservative Christians around the topic of complementarianism, arising mainly from a false analogy between the subordination of wives to husbands and that of God the Son to God the Father. Depending on your perspective, the complementarian view has been either maligned, discredited, or reformed. My hope is that events will prove that the latter has taken place. I am in complete solidarity with those who reject the eternal subordination of the Son in any form, since no amount of nuance or affirmation of Christ's deity can preserve it from functionally reproducing the Arian position. There are no ends for which a degrading of the Trinity is an excusable means. I am therefore grateful for the way this controversy, though regrettably contentious, has highlighted massively important issues of theology that tend to receive little attention. At the same time, my hope is that this attempt to reform the complementarian position will not truly damage the important stand it takes. To this end, let me offer 3 reasons why complementarianism remains important for Christians and why we should not allow the need for reformation truly to discredit it.

1. Because complementarianism summarizes the Bible's teaching on husbands and wives.   

In speaking to wives, the Bible uses clear and pointed language. Ephesians 5:22 and 1 Peter 3:1 are not "texts of terror," nor are they cultural anachronisms. They are the loving Word of Christ for his people. Moreover, while these and other statements require proper interpretation, they are remarkably clear. The Greek verb hupotassomai means to be subject or subordinate to, teaching a wife's willing embrace of her husband's God-assigned headship (Eph. 5:21-23). To be sure, we should avoid and oppose extra-biblical add-ons or abuses of this teaching. Submission is about marriage: Paul and Peter do not tell all women to submit to all men. Submission does not make a wife the property of her husband. Notice, in this respect, that when Paul later addresses slaves and masters (Eph. 6:5), he uses a different verb for this relationship (hupakuo). Our approach to a wife's subordination should be just as obviously opposed to slavish subjugation as Paul's teaching is. Furthermore, the biblical teaching of male headship is never an excuse for abuse in any form. Rather, the analogy with Christ and the church and Paul's subsequent teaching to husbands (Eph. 5:25-31) make it clear that wives should be showered with nurture and love from husbands. With these necessary protections having been made, the Bible's teaching of the submission of wives to husbands remains crystal clear and authoritative.

2. Because complementarianism bears testimony to the Creator and his design for life. 

I need not belabor the point that pagan secularism has recently aimed its assault against God directly at the male-female identity and relationship. This is not by chance. Having rejected God the Redeemer, replacing the biblical gospel of saving grace with the false hope of progress and pleasure, secularism now aims at God the Creator. What better way to assail the Creator, following the serpent, than to aim for the pinnacle of his creation: man and woman made in the image of God and joined in holy marriage. Facing this anti-Christian strategy, churches that downplay the Bible's teaching on sex and gender for the sake of their witness achieve exactly the opposite. Our generation desperately needs the church's testimony of God as both Redeemer and Creator. Believing, as I do, that there is such a thing as biblical masculinity and femininity, these patterns should be intentionally cultivated by the church. Christian boys and girls should have no doubts about the differences between male and female and how they should relate. The watching world should learn from our practice of human personhood and relationships what God is like and how he has designed human society. This is not to say that our primary witness as evangelicals concerns the submission of wives, in place of Christ in his person and work. Far from it! It is to say, however, that the testimony given to God by our commitment to the Bible's teaching on gender, sex, and marriage is not a side issue in our generation. The questions addressed by complementarianism stand directly at the point of attack by an ungodly secularism and therefore have a high importance for Christians and our witness today.

3. Because complementarianism is a biblical remedy for sin as it strikes the vital institution of marriage. 

Not only is complementarianism important because it is the Bible's teaching and it stands directly in the path of secularism's assault, but its message is also vitally important for the lives of Christian people. In Genesis 3:16, God cursed the woman for her part in the Fall, saying, "Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you" (see Nick Batzig's excellent article on this verse). The context of God's curse makes it plain that this is a problem that mankind is going to face - a big enough problem for God to give it prominence. Complementarianism did not begin with Eve's curse, of course. The creation order of male headship tracks back to Genesis 2:18, where God spoke of his design to make the woman as a helper for the man. It is both because of this creation order and the problem posed by the curse of Genesis 3:16 that priority is given to the submission of wives and the loving headship of husbands in the New Testament. In short, complementarianism upholds the pattern that Christ emphasized as a remedy for the effects of sin within marriage. This means that complementarianism is a pastorally important issue, and our neglect or rejection of the Bible's teaching on this topic will have harmful effects in the lives of Christian people. Unless we are determined to declare the Bible's teaching "muddy" and "complicated" - charges often made without warrant against the complementarian texts - then our love for the church and the people of Christ will urge us to teach and emphasize biblical complementarianism with care, sensitivity, and conviction.

Desiring to Rule Over Genesis 3:16

There are a number of reasons why I have been following with great interest the debate over the ESV's recent change of translation of Genesis 3:16 (see this and this). First, it is clear that the complementarianism debate will necessarily push exegetical considerations to the forefront of disagreements (something for which we should all be thankful and from which we should all be the beneficiaries); and, second, the meaning of Genesis 3:16c-d has been one of the most highly disagreed upon by biblical scholars throughout all of church history. It is the second of these reasons to which I wish to give consideration. 

In his excellent book Flame of Yahweh, Richard M. Davidson posits that biblical scholars have put forth six major interpretations of the short trophe at the end of Gen. 3:16. The first of these views proposes that the later part of verse 16 teaches the following:

"The subordination/submission of woman and the supremacy/leadership of man are a creation ordinance, God's ideal from the beginning (Gen. 1-2) and part of the fall consisted in the violation of this ordinance when Eve sought to get out from under Adam's supremacy/leadership and Adam failed to restrain her (Gen 3). God describes in 3:16 the results of sin in the continued distortion of God's original design for ontological hierarchy or functional leadership/submission between the sexes--with the man's exploitive subjugation of woman and/or woman's desire to control the man (or her "diseased" desire to submit to his exploitations )"1

Davidson goes on to make the important observation that among proponents of this view there are "liberal-critical" and "evangelical" distinctions to be made. He explains:

"Liberal-critical scholars tend to use the terms 'supremacy' and 'subordination' to describe the relative status of Adam and Eve respectively, arguing that in the understanding of the narrator there existed a divinely ordained ontological hierarchy between the sexes. Most evangelicals who hold this view, on the other hand, argue for an equality of ontological status between Adam and Eve at creation but propose that the text presents a divinely ordained functional hierarchy (their preferred term is that it is a "complementarian" relationship) consisting of the roles of male leadership (or "headship," as many hierarchical complementarians prefer) and female submission respectively."2

The second major view "also understands the hierarchical relationship between the sexes (submission of woman to the leadership of man) as a creation ordinance (Gen 1-2) and agrees that at the fall this creation ordinance was violated (Gen 3); 3:16 is viewed as a divine prescription that the man must 'rule' that is, exercise his 'godly headship'--to restrain the woman's desire, that is, her urge get out from under his leadership and control/manipulate him."3 This was clearly the view of John Calvin who wrote: "The woman, who had perversely exceeded her proper bounds, is forced back to her own position. She had, indeed, previously been subject to her husband, but that was a liberal and gentle subjection; now, however, she is cast into servitude."4

The third major view of the passage suggests that "Genesis 3:16 is seen as a divine reaffirmation of the subordination/submission of woman to the supremacy/leadership of man as it was in the beginning."5 Davidson further explains this reading when he says:

"According to the evangelical version of this view, Eve at the fall had broken loose from her role of submission to Adam and is now redirected to her former position under the leadership of Adam, not as a punishment but as a continued blessing and comfort to her in her difficulties as a mother. The meaning of v. 16c-d may be paraphrased, "you will have labor and difficulty in your motherhood, yet you will be eager for your husband and he will rule over you (in the sense of a servant leadership to care for and help and not in the sense of domination and oppression)."6

This is no novel interpretation. A form of it was also taught by Aquinas in the section titled "Man Made to God's Image" in Thomas' Summa Theologiae, as well as by Ambrose in Hexameron, Paradise, and Cain and Abel

A fourth major interpretation involves the idea that "the subordination or subjection of woman to man did not exist before the fall but the original egalitarian relationship between the sexes as designed by God was disrupted at the fall."7 Davidson explains that, according to this view, "the mention of such a subordination/subjection in Gen 3:16 is only a description of the evil consequences of sin--the usurpation of authority by the man and/ or the woman's desire to rule or be ruled (to be removed by the gospel)--and not a permanent description of man-woman relations after sin."8 This view is almost wholly espoused by feminist scholars. Davidson further observes that "proponents of this position underscore the culturally conditioned nature of this passage and vigorously deny that it represents a divinely ordained normative position for sexual relationships after the fall."9

The fifth interpretation of this verse "concurs with the fourth view that God's original design was for an egalitarian relationship between the sexes(Gen 1-2) and the fall brought a rupture in their relationships."10 According to proponents of this view, "this verse presents husband leadership and wife submission as God's normative pattern for the marriage relationship 'after the fall.'"Interestingly, Martin Luther supported a similar reading of Genesis 3:16. In his lectures on Genesis, he wrote: "If Eve had persisted in the truth, she would not only not have been subjected to the rule of her husband, but she herself would also have been partner in the rule which is now entirely the concern of males."11

The sixth reading of this verse is sort of an amalgamation of the previous three possibilities. Davidson explains: "The sixth view agrees with the fourth and fifth views that God's original plan was an egalitarian relationship between the sexes. It also agrees with the third view that v. 16c-d is a blessing and not a curse, but differs in denying that subordination/subjection of woman to man is a creation ordinance."9 According to this sixth view, "in Gen. 3 no hierarchy (leadership/submission) between the sexes is either prescribed or described. Among proponents of this view, the word for 'rule' (v. 1 6d) is often translated 'to be like,' emphasizing the equal rank of man and woman."12

To help summarize and categorize these six major interpretations, Davidson includes the following chart: 

Genesis 316 chart.jpg
I would place myself among the vast number of evangelicals who hold to the first view. Additionally, I would agree with those who promote view 2--those who hold that the latter Divine pronouncement concerning the relationship between Adam and Eve in Genesis 3:16 is "a description of the perversion of hierarchical relationships (woman seeking to control man and/or man exploitively subjugating woman)." However, I would take issue with a blanket application of this view to any and all relationships between men and women after the fall. I would limit it to the marital relationship. Furthermore, it should be noted that Calvin's statement could easily be highjacked by those who wish to defend abusive male headship in the marital relationship. The third view fails to adequately take into account the context of the pronouncement--namely, the breached relationship between the husband and wife, as well as the curse pronounced by God on the woman in the previous part of the verse. I heartily reject views 4-6 on the grounds that they lead with the assumption that Adam had no headship before the fall (this is, in my opinion, to miss the teaching of the Apostle Paul in 1 Tim. 2:12-13).

All of this is meant to show how much is involved in coming to a settled position on Genesis 3:16c-d. It is in no way whatsoever meant to relativize this discussion or to suggest that there are many "possible interpretations" from which to choose. I believe that Gen. 3:16c-d has one Divinely intended meaning, but that it is a prime example of that to which the Westminster Confession of Faith is referring when it so helpfully says,

"All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all: yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation are so clearly propounded, and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them" (WCF 1.7).

This should at least give those who enter into this debate pause and encourage a great deal of humility as we seek to interact on these more difficult portions of God's word. 

1. Richard M. Davidson, Flame of Yahweh p. 60
2. Ibid., n.19
3. Calvin, Commentary on Genesis (Grand Rapids: CCEL) 
4. Flame of Yahweh, p. 61
5. Ibid.
6. pp. 61-62
7. p. 62
8. pp. 62-63
9. p. 63
10. p. 64
11. Ibid.
12. Ibid.

Wisdom and Biblical Principles of Complementarianism

Our little corner of the internet has been ablaze over the past several months with posts and articles about the Trinity and complementarianism. A number of individuals have raised concerns about certain segments of the church allowing chauvinism (e.gsanctified testosteronesoap bubble submission) and abuse (e.g. Black and Blue complementarianism) in marriage to fester under the cloak of complementarian commitment. However, what seems to be surprisingly absent in these discussions is a treatment of what complementarianism in the marital relationship should look like in a biblically faithful and nuanced fashion. As some of our colleagues have been reminding us--words and definitions matter. I suspect that the lack of positive treatment is due, in large part, to the fact that the Scriptures do not give us a detailed list of the specifics of every interaction within the marital relationship. Rather, the Holy Spirit gives us broad principles and examples to follow--thus admitting a measure of subjectivity and necessitating that we seek to proceed with the wisdom that is needed commensurate to the particular situations that may arise. The idea that the Scriptures give us general principles rather than detailed prescriptions for marital situations also tends to be true of of our other relations in the home, the church and the world.

More than anything, it seems to me that we need to approach the complementarian issue by first learning the biblical principles and then by seeking out the wisdom to know how to best carry out these principles in our marital relations. The Scriptures are clear that "the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church" and that "as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands" (Eph. 5:23-24). Additionally, Scripture teaches us that wives are to "submit their husbands as to the Lord," and that "husbands are to love their wives as Christ loves the church" (Eph. 5:22-25). The Apostle Paul explains that the Christian wife is to "respect her husband" (Eph. 5:33) and the Christian husband is to "nourish and cherish" his wife (Eph. 5:29). These are some of the clearest statements in all of the Scripture from which we glean principles of complentarianism.

There are, of course, other general principles in Scripture that govern how these role relations work out in the day in and day out circumstances of marriage. For instance, the Apostle Peter tells Christian wives that they are to be submissive to their own husbands--"that even if some do not obey the word, they, without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives" (1 Peter 3:1, 4). In like manner, husbands are to dwell with their wives with "understanding" (1 Peter 3:7) and not to be "bitter" toward them (Col. 3:19). Here, the Scriptures speak to the matter of one member in the marriage fulfilling his or her responsibility even--and especially--when his or her spouse is not. In short, we must always ask ourselves the question, "What is my responsibility in fulfilling my role in marriage in light of the disobedience of my spouse?" The Apostle Peter unequivocally states that wives may win their husbands "without a word" when the disobedient husband witnesses his wife's godly character. Likewise, husbands are to dwell with their wives with "understanding" and without "bitterness." Surely, these qualifications have to do with the husband's response to his wife's sinful reactions to things in the home. No matter what the wife's reactions, husbands are to lead their wives in the same the way that Christ leads the church--by means of servant-leadership that seeks to benefit and not by demanding to be served (Matt. 10:45; 20:16). In keeping with this teaching, Tim Challies has helpfully set out four marks of a godly husband's love from Rick Phillip's commentary on Ephesians

These principles do not in any way whatsoever teach that wives are to submit to the sinful verbal or physical abuse of their husbands. This is where ecclesiastical and civil authority comes to bear on the marital relationship. God has established church courts and civil courts to intervene when there is sin and abuse that necessitates such intervention. Seeking out the involvement of such courts also requires great wisdom. When a wife believes her husband is violating God's word in an abusive way, she is to take him to the church courts. Surely a wife is not going to take her husband to the elders of the church any time he fails to speak gently to her. Likewise, a husband is not going to take his wife to the elders of the church every time she speaks disrespectfully to him. However, if there is verbal abuse of such a nature that intervention is necessary, a wife must go to the elders. If there is physical abuse of any kind she is responsible to go to the church and civil authorities for intervention and protection. Tragically, church and civil courts may and sometimes do fail to protect abused women; nevertheless, they are the courts that God has appointed. Every effort must be expended in appealing to these courts for protection. 

Concerning less volatile marital situations, I have learned two things from carrying out counseling sessions over the past ten years in ministry: First, nearly every couple has the same problems. Husbands abnegate their responsibility to lead; wives, in turn, disrespect their husbands; the husband then gets bitter toward his wife; and, a vicious cycle persists. It is a cycle that can only be broken by confession of sin and a willingness to forgive, love, lead and respect. Second, in every marriage there are diverse personalities involved. Just as no two children are the same, so no two husbands or wives are the same. This means that wisdom is needed for both spouses to learn to carry out the unique role to which God has called them in light of the unique spouse to whom they have chosen to join themselves.

As it pertains to the way in which I seek out wisdom to carry out headship in my own marriage, I tend to be extremely hands off when it comes to asking my wife to do things in the home. I have friends who expect their wives to have the dinner ready, clothes folded and the house clean when they come home. I personally do not ask my wife to do much around the home because I understand that she already has her hands full teaching our children, keeping the home and bearing so many of my burdens in ministry. In fact, I see serving her--in ways that I know will make her day easier--a significant part of my call to Christ-like leadership. In this regard, to demand certain things of her might be a failing on my part to dwell with her with understanding and nurture. However, every situation is different. It is not necessarily wrong for a husband to ask his wife to do certain things in the home. He has this God-given authority. To deny this is to deny complementarianism. These dynamics require a great deal of discernment, understanding and wisdom. God has ordained pastors to help counsel and intervene in difficult times on account of difference in personality type and life situations in marriage. When two sinners are dwelling together in marital union--seeking to fulfill their God-given responsibilities in their respective roles--they will almost inevitably face challenges and growing pains.

This post is my feeble attempt to highlight the fact that principles of biblical complementarianism must be gleaned from Scripture and approached with wisdom. While much more can and should be written, my fear in the current debate is that an overreaction to abuses of these principles will be used to downplay the Divinely revealed role relations of husbands and wives in Christian marriage. Much wisdom is needed to navigate the situations that arise as husbands and wives labor to learn how to fulfill their respective roles. May God give us grace to search the Scriptures carefully to discover His plan and purpose for His people in marriage!"


A Survey of Male-Only Ordination in Key New Testament Texts

There can be little doubt that in years to come, when historians look back on our generation, the challenge of cultural pressure on the church will loom large. First, the theory of evolution challenged the Christian doctrine of God as Creator. This led to an assault on sexual morality, which has recently reached a crescendo in the cultural embrace of homosexuality. Having conquered sexual ethics, our culture has moved immediately to the topic of sexual identity. This being the case, it is essential that Christians and churches stand firmly on the biblical teaching of man created in God's image as male and female.

Given this context, it is not surprising that the fault line of biblical authority in Protestant denominations, one after another, has fallen on sexuality and gender relationships. For some years now, the evangelical community has upheld biblical inerrancy by standing firm on a complementarian view of men and women. In the face of increasing cultural scorn, the pressure mounts. Claims are made that our witness of Jesus is compromised by the belligerence of our stance toward cultural demands, and denominations face increasing challenges to compromise and accommodate.

With this vital cultural context in mind, it will be good to review the biblical case for gender complementarianism - the teaching that men and women have distinct, different, and complementary roles - especially as it pertains to the offices of the church. To this end, it will be helpful to review three biblical passages that, while not exhausting the biblical data, are widely seen as bulwarks of the complementarian position. In each case, we will not only recall how these passages speak to the issue but also how the arguments against them reveal the particular challenge of our time.

Acts 1:21-26

The first of these passages is Acts 1:21-26, where Peter instructs the church on the selection of a new apostle to replace Judas Iscariot. Acts 1:13 lists the names of the eleven people selected by Christ as his apostles, and all are male. In Acts 1:21, Peter specifies that the new apostle must be "one of the men" who had accompanied Jesus. The Greek word for "men" is the plural of andros, which the lexicon defines as "an adult male person of marriageable age."

This statement is relevant to the principle of male-only ordained leadership in the church, including both elders and deacons, since it is indisputable that Jesus appointed only males, with not one woman, to the apostolic office. Some will counter that Jesus' decision was demanded by the social conventions of this time, which supposedly left our Lord with no other possible approach. The idea is suggested that if Jesus were to start the church today, he would of course include women as apostles. But a little reflection will cause us to pause. The composition of the apostolate was of foundational importance to the future history of Christ's church. Is it not troubling to suggest that the Son of God would have compromised an important principle due to contemporary cultural pressures? If he did, what else did Jesus compromise under pressure? Moreover, is there a shred of evidence that Jesus ever bowed to wrong-minded cultural conventions? Jesus was literally willing to be crucified rather than go along with false cultural practices pertaining to the church's doctrine and worship. Moreover, the evidence of the Gospel shows Jesus refusing to bow specifically to false gender restrictions. In a culture where a rabbi was disgraced for speaking even to his own wife or daughter in public, Jesus displayed close public fellowship with his female disciples. His treatment of the Samaritan woman (Jn. 4) and the woman caught in adultery (Jn. 8) are prominent among many instances where Jesus brazenly flouted false gender conventions. It seems best, then, to accept that Jesus intentionally ordained only males to the apostolate and to reflect reverently on the implications of this fact for ordination in today's church. Jesus' ordination of only males to the office of apostle does not end the discussion on women elders and deacons. But if we will make a primary commitment for Christ to be Lord and King of his own church, so that his sovereignty and wisdom is glorified in our own actions, we will be biased to follow the principle that he so clearly exhibited: male-only ordination to church office. In a context where few watchful believers can doubt that secular views of sex and gender are drawing churches away from biblical authority, we should be resolved to follow the wisdom and example of Christ.

1 Timothy 2:11-14

This leads us to a second key passage, Paul's prohibiting of women "to teach or exercise authority over a man" (1 Tim. 2:12). This would seem to be conclusive as to female ordination, since the whole point of ordination is the conferring of spiritual authority in the church to office-bearers, which includes elders and deacons. Given the strength of Paul's statement, it is not surprising that a wide variety of exegetical strategies are taken to blunt its edge or minimize the scope of its authority. One approach is to state that the word authentein means not to exercise but to usurp authority. However, verse 11 states that women should "learn quietly with all submissiveness" and must not "teach. . . a man." If authentein means only to usurp authority, it is impossible to see how a woman could obey the requirement to be quiet and to sit under male teaching if women are permitted to have authority over men.

A second approach against the validity of this passage is to assert that Paul's teaching here pertained only to the local situation in Ephesus. Paul did not intend, it is claimed, to establish a broad principle, but he was concerned with harmful associations with the prominent temple of Artemis and its cultic female prostitutes. The problem with this approach is that it makes a historical feature that Paul fails to mention the absolute key for its interpretation. Moreover, what else in 1 Timothy involves only local matters rather than universal principles? Why is it only restrictions on women in office that we deem local, on the basis of uncertain extra-biblical materials?

In fact, Paul tells us the basis for his restriction of women from teaching and exercising authority over men: "For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor" (1 Tim. 2:13-14). Paul appeals not to contextualized apologetics but rather to the order of God's design in creation. It is Paul who moreover states that the events of the fall indicate that the woman is less suited to exercise authority in the context of deception.

Christians today live in an age of rebellion that seeks to strike at the very foundations of how God created human identity and society. Our neo-pagan culture pursues an agenda in which all creation distinctions are destroyed and merged into oneness. According to progressive cultural revolutionaries, there is no longer a distinction between the Creator and the creation, life and death, truth and error, children and parents, or male and female. Seeing this strategy is a help to Christians who seek to gauge the significance of our resistance to cultural demands. Instead of conforming to secular demands that involve rebellion against God as Creator, Christians must confront the pagan vision of life with a Christian witness to biblical truth. By grounding male-only ordination in God's creation order, Paul identifies a vital arena in which our basic witness as Christians requires us to stand firm in the face of pagan demands for gender egalitarianism.

1 Timothy 3:1-13

The final passage for us to consider is Paul's qualifications for the offices of elder and deacon, given in 1 Timothy 3:1-13. When Paul states that an elder must be "the husband of one wife" (1 Tim. 3:2), he again uses the noun andros, signifying a male adult. The same wording is used for deacons in verse 12, showing that the office of deacon is likewise restricted for males. Those who would urge us to consider women deacons will note that when 1 Timothy 3:11 says that "their wives must likewise be dignified," that it is conceivable for this to be taken as deaconesses. Much is also made of Paul's description of Phoebe as a "deaconess," despite the conventional interpretation of this word in its common meaning of "servant" (Rom. 16:1).

The best that an argument for female deacons can achieve is a state of ambiguity based on disputed texts. But if this is so, how should we handle the ambiguity? I would urge that the overwhelming biblical pattern of male-headship practiced by Jesus and taught throughout the Bible should prevail. If male-only ordination pertains to the apostolate, the eldership, and the Christian home, by what logic would we assume that the diaconate breaks this pattern and promotes female participation in ordained offices, especially on evidence that is uncertain at best?

A Question of Our Witness

There is little doubt that church leaders who urge an embrace of women into ordained church offices are motivated at least in part by a desire to remove barriers to our witness of the gospel. The reality is, however, that our witness to God as the Creator, to Jesus Christ as the Lord of his church, and to the Bible as an abidingly relevant source of truth is ultimately compromised by accommodating cultural demands in the blurring of gender distinctions. Recent history shows a well-worn path that leads from such an acceptance of cultural authority over against the Bible. The biblical teaching on male-only ordination is not reasonably in doubt. What is in doubt is our commitment to the authority of Scripture in the face of mounting cultural demands.

1.  For a detailed analysis, see Peter R. Jones, One or Two: Seeing a World of Difference (Escondido, CA: Main Entry, 2010).
The most recent eruption of the eternal subordination of the Son controversy began with a couple of provocative posts by Liam Goligher, pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia, over on Aimee Byrd's Housewife Theologian blog.    

Goligher's posts sharply criticized advocates of the eternal subordination of the Son position (hereafter ESS) for projecting the subordination of the Son to the Father within the work of redemption (the economic Trinity) back into the inner life of God (the immanent Trinity). Within his posts, he accuses those who teach the eternal subordination of the Son of 'reinventing the doctrine of God' and 'doing great dishonor to Christ.'   

The eternal subordination of the Son has been a popular doctrine in certain complementarian contexts, being used either to ground the submission of women and authority of men in the life of the Trinity, or, perhaps more commonly, to defend such a position against the charge that naturally hierarchical relations are necessarily oppressive by means of a weak analogy. Goligher implies that, in order to advance a legalistic account of gender roles, a certain group of complementarians are wittingly yet surreptitiously moving the Church away from the historic form of its Trinitarian faith. He concludes:   

Before we jettison the classical, catholic, orthodox and reformed understanding of God as He is we need to carefully weigh what is at stake - our own and our hearers' eternal destiny.   

Carl Trueman soon joined his voice to Goligher's. In both Trueman and Goligher's pieces, the controversy is framed as one between different forms of complementarianism.  Given these initial salvoes, it is unsurprising that the ensuing controversy has been a fraught and occasionally quite an unedifying one. In Goligher's posts, the stakes of the discussion were ramped up from the outset, suggesting conscious divergence from historic Trinitarian orthodoxy on the part of complementation ESS advocates.   

Friction between opposing visions of complementarianism is an important aspect of these fault lines and a matter to which I will return at a later point. While the doctrine of the Trinity is the epicentre of dispute in this instance, it is a point where far broader institutional and theological systems and visions are colliding. Once such political tectonics are appreciated, both the theological alignments in and the rhetorical temper of the debate may start to make more sense.

The principal initial responses to Goligher and Trueman came from Bruce Ware and Wayne Grudem. Both Ware and Grudem insisted that their position was in keeping with Nicene orthodoxy, had historical precedent, and was firmly grounded in the scriptural witness. As representatives of the ESS position, Ware and Grudem's stance is greatly complicated by the fact that both of them have questioned the historic doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son in the past--a doctrine that many in their own camp would strongly advocate--and have grounded divine self-differentiation within relationships of authority and submission. Grudem and Ware's defences of the ESS position have since been joined by those of Denny Burk, Mike Ovey (who has recently written a book on the subject), and Owen Strachan.    

Although the controversy has predictably excited considerable party sentiment, despite its heat it has also occasioned much light and some valuable engagement. There is good reason to hope that it might yet prove to have been a profitable one. The last week has witnessed a multitude of posts and comments, addressing the matter from a host of different angles. Even where party spirit has been in evidence, there have been some extremely constructive, clarifying, challenging, insightful, and generally worthwhile contributions to the conversation. The following are a few examples.   

Derek Rishmawy argues for the usefulness of Trinitarian controversy, properly engaged, in developing a theological awareness that is often lacking in the Church. Andrew Wilson provides a brief survey of the issues currently under debate. The inimitable Fred Sanders offers 18 theses on the Father and the Son, challenging, among other things, egalitarian attempts to flatten out the distinctions among the Triune persons and complementarian 'overdrawing' of them. Darren Sumner gets into some of the theological issues at stake in connecting the relations of origin of the immanent Trinity with the missions of the economic Trinity. The importance of having a clear theological understanding of the relationship between the will of God and of Christ's divine and human natures is emphasized in these posts by Mark Jones. Andrew Perriman highlights the need for greater communication between biblical and systematic theologians in the task of Christology, observing theological failure to engage closely and attentively with the scriptural narrative. Luke Stamps also laments the lack of interaction between theological sub-disciplines, arguing for the need for exegetes who are well acquainted with the history of interpretation. Finally, Glenn Butner, Michel Barnes, and Lewis Ayres each provide some clarity on some of the contested historical details.   

In my next post, I will review some of the literature surrounding the question.
Many of you are no doubt aware of the current controversy within the Reformed complementarian community about the issue of grounding male and female roles of subordination in the inner-Trinitarian life of the Godhead. The desire to establish the rationale for how men and women relate to one another in how the persons of the Triune Godhead relate to one another certainly has the initial appearance of soundness and wisdom. But the reality is significantly more complex than a prima facie reading of the situation would reveal. Good men stand on both sides of this dispute and I do not claim to have read every last blog post or Twitter feed on the matter. I am not concerned with personalities so names will be left out of my musings. I do take a side in the controversy. I side with the classical consideration of the Triune nature of our great and glorious God that stems from the Nicene tradition (perhaps all sides of this debate could read Lewis Ayer's Nicaea and It's Legacy and ponder its detail?).

Discussion of the Trinity is necessary and hashing out the intricate issues is healthy. I am mindful of Saint Augustine's warning about dealing with the Trinitarian glory of our God. At the beginning of his monumental De Trinitate (On the Trinity) the bishop of Hippo Rhegius noted that there was nothing more treacherous than approaching the hallowed ground of Trinitarian theology. At the same time there is nothing more rewarding and soul-stretching. I do want to avoid turning meditations on the Trinity into a geometrical puzzle that needs solving. That is not my desire. I hope to shed a modicum of light on the present impasse. First I will say something about deriving guidelines of male-female relations from the inner-Trinitarian life of God. Second, I will offer a thought or two on the technical matter of subordinationism in theological formulations. Third, I want to say something about how the covenant of redemption relates to this discussion. Fourth, and finally, I want to conclude with a pastoral note.

I think there is a helpful way to draw implications for male-female relations from the relations of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as long as we recognize certain limitations. The first limitation is the Creator/creature distinction. God is not just some bigger, better form of us. God is also incomprehensible. While we can have true knowledge about God and his ways with us, we never possess exhaustive knowledge of God. By definition only God has infinite, exhaustive knowledge of himself and his plan of redemption. Because God has revealed himself to us (in this case, he has revealed to us something of his Trinitarian nature) what we do know is true and not the product of our imaginations as long as what we think conforms to and is consistent with his revelation. Related to the above, our knowledge and theological language is analogical. That is, it is neither univocal (or identical with God's self-knowledge) nor equivocal (completely different from God's knowledge).

What can we say about how men and women are to relate to one another from the Trinitarian nature of God? I think we can say, as Paul does in 1st Corinthians 11:3 that Christ is the head of the husband, the husband the head of his wife, and God the head of Christ. But we need to reckon with some distinctions as we seek to properly understand this text and apply it in our lives. Paul is talking here about Christ's relation to the Father as it exists in the economy of redemption. In other words, we are not talking about the relation of the Son to the Father outside of and apart from the execution of the plan of redemption in time and space. Christ is spoken of here as the God-man Mediator, not as he was in his pre-incarnate state. The wife submits to her husband as the God-man Mediator submits to the Father in the economy of redemption. This filial submission was voluntary for the purpose of redeeming a people for the Son's possession.

Second, we rightly seek to avoid subordinationist language when discussing the internal relations of the persons of the Trinity. John Calvin, I believe, furthered Trinitarian theology when he helpfully noted that the Son of God, considered as to his godness or divinity, is autotheos. The son as to his divine essence is co-equal with the Father and the Spirit. There is no subordination here. But as to his person the Son is derived from the Father and the Spirit is derived from the Father and the Son. Theologians such as Geerhardus Vos (Reformed Dogmatics 1.3.12.c & d) and Sam Waldron (Modern Exposition of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith) discuss subordinationism and reject ontological subordination of the Son to the Father. However, they seem to allow for a kind of subordination of manner of existence and mode of operation. The mode of operation is what I have already referred to here as economic subordination for the purpose of redemption. The manner of existence subordination has to do with the fact that the Father is unbegotten and begets the Son, the Son is begotten, and the Spirit is not begotten but proceeds. It is arguable whether applying the moniker "subordination" is appropriate for consideration of the personal properties of the divine persons or their ordering or taxis. The only seemingly appropriate use of subordination language regards economic subordination. This is what Paul describes in Phil.2:5-9 and what we see throughout the gospels as we see how Jesus relates to the Father. Why is this even an issue? If the Son is essentially subordinate to the Father, then he is a demi-god who cannot save us from our sins. It's that basic.

Third, I want to bring this conversation into contact with what our theology says about the covenant of redemption or pactum salutis or covenant of peace. The covenant of redemption is that covenant that the Father, Son, and Spirit entered into to save a people out of sin and misery. In this pre-temporal covenant (which we can see evidence of in John 17, for instance), the Son agreed to take to himself a "true body, and a reasonable soul" (WSC 22). This was a completely voluntary act on the Son's part. The Father did not arm twist or cajole the Son into becoming incarnate for our sakes. The Son determined to become incarnate and live a lowly life and die an excruciating death in order to glorify the Father (who in turn glorified the Son) and to redeem lost sinners. While the nature of the Son's personal properties does lead to his incarnation, to make the incarnation and work of redemption arise from the subordinate nature of the Son's relation to the Father is to verge on removing the voluntary nature of the Son's work. Undoubtedly there is more work to be done here or at the very least, more study of what the church has already said instead of thinking we need to reinvent the wheel every time we do exegesis or biblical theology.

Fourth, and finally, we need to be cognizant of the pastoral implications of this dispute. Theological controversy is not to be avoided simply because it is controversial. Jesus himself had an ongoing controversy with the religious leaders of his day. I have been interacting with more than a few laymen who do not know what to make of this current civil war in the ranks of Reformed complementarians. I have tried to stress that theological controversy can be healthy (I am, after all, a minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and so am gladly one of "Machen's warrior children") and that we should not be overwrought about doctrinal disputes as such. There are, of course, proper ways to conduct theological disputation. But I am not personally bothered by vehemence or the passionate presentation of an argument. However, we do need to reckon with how a dispute is seen by laity and even those outside the church. This controversy can lead to greater understanding of our great and glorious God if it is conducted in a biblical, godly way. We should focus on the issues rather than on personalities. I do need to note that we live in a day and age when we hate to challenge anyone's orthodoxy. I am not providing license to heresy hunters or discernment bloggers. But truth matters. Orthodoxy is not a dirty word. The nature of God's Triune being as it is revealed in Scripture is paramount.

In conclusion, while we can derive some conclusions about how men and women relate to one another by considering the role relations of the persons of the Triune Godhead, we need to recognize the limits of our knowledge. We need to use technical terms like subordination clearly and carefully and where we are nuancing our use it should be clearly stated that that is what we are doing. We need to reckon with how the covenant of redemption relates to this whole discussion. And we need to remember that this controversy is not just an academic disputation but has pastoral implications. We need to debate in a godly manner.

4 Approaches to a Balanced Complementarianism

I have been following the concerns raised over at the Mortification of Spin with respect to imbalances in the practice and teaching of biblical complementarianism (I think particularly of some of Aimee Byrd's posts - here and here).  I have long been an admirer of CBMW (Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood), though I am not formally associated with them.  Moreover, I was encouraged by Kevin DeYoung's recent blog post on this topic.

In my view, the gender complementarian case has been well made, centered on key passages like 1 Timothy 2:11-15 and Ephesians 5:22-33. This does not mean that all evangelicals accept these arguments, although they are clear and persuasive enough that complementarianism should be embraced and practiced by professing Bible believers. There are, however, excesses in the broad conservative Christian movement that do a great deal of harm both to people and to the complementarian position. Identifying these excesses is therefore in the interest of those who believe that biblical gender identity is an important issue in our time and a significant feature in healthy Christian living. 

It is not my intention in this post to enter into preceding debates and the particular points that have been made. But I would offer the following four approaches that will help us practice the Bible's gender teaching while avoiding harmful and unbiblical excesses: 

1. Practice male ordained leadership and fully empower female church membership. 1 Timothy 2:11-15 is not a problem that needs to be solved or an embarrassment that needs to be explained away. Rather, it is apostolic teaching that reflects the creation order of God and the intention of Christ for his church. To this end, Bible-believers should ordain only men to the offices of elder and deacon, in keeping with 1 Timothy 3:1-13. (Yes, I am aware of those who argue that this passage does not restrict women from the diaconate, but in my view these are exceedingly weak arguments). Moreover, the public duties in the church associated with these offices should also be performed only by men. I refer to the public reading of Scripture, prayer, and the administration of the sacraments, which functions have long been understood to be tied to the office of minister (i.e., the office has functions and those functions are for the officers). Churches that toe-the-line by ordaining only men, but who then highlight women performing the functions of those offices in the worship service, are not in my view embracing the apostolic mandate. 

At the same time, Galatians 3:27-29 clearly grants the full privileges of church membership to women. Therefore, women should not be disenfranchised as church members. This takes place in churches that practice "household membership," so that only heads of families participate fully in congregational meetings. I realize that unmarried adult women get to be the head of their household, but why should wives and young women in the home be excluded from the privileges and obligations of church membership - voting on a pastor, electing officers, approving budgets, etc? Moreover, women should be fully integrated into ministries like evangelism, worship and music, missions, and Christian education, as well as ministry support bodies like the nursery and kitchen (where we also should encourage men to serve). In the church I serve, women participate on every committee under the leadership of an elder or deacon (depending on the committee). My wife is deeply involved in the missions committee of our church and I am not bothered at all to say that she provides important leadership to our missions program. Women provide leadership and service in most aspects of a healthy and balanced church, and like non-ordained men they do so under the ordained headship of male officers. 

2. Teach wives to submit to husbands, but not all women to all men. Complementarianism emphasizes the clear biblical mandate to male headship in the home, as in the church (Eph. 5:22-24; 1 Peter 3:1-6). It is not easy submitting to the knuckle-heads that many wives have married, but it is their duty to do so as Christian women. Proper feminine submission is (as my wife often puts it) "kinetic." It is not servile, which is why Paul and Peter employ a different word for wives than Paul uses for slaves in their relationship to masters (Eph. 5:22; 6:5). Being a biblical helper requires wisdom, creativity, and godliness. So we should put the most positive biblical angle on feminine submission and then unashamedly teach it. 

But notice that Paul writes, "Wives, submit to your own husband, as to the Lord" (Eph. 5:22). Two things stands out. First, submit to "your own" husband. Wives do not submit to husbands in general. Girls do not submit to boys in general. On a date, the woman is not to obey the guy (and if he demands this, she should jump out of the moving car and change her phone number!). It is true that the biblical principle of male headship will urge women to a general responsiveness to men. But "submit" is a very pointed command and it is reserved for marriage (wives to husbands) and the church (members to ordained leaders - Heb. 13:17). Second, notice that wives submit to their own husbands "as to the Lord." The husband is not her god and she should not submit with an awed trembling appropriate for oriental semi-divine potentates. Rather, she wisely and proactively submits to her husbands as an act of worship to the Lord Jesus Christ, seeking for his blessing and glory above all other things. 

3. Train husbands to love rather than dominate their wives. The point of male headship in both the church and the home is not the glory of the small-egoed men but rather the glory of God and the well-being of those under this covenant care. In both the church and the home, male leaders must be called upon to provide nurturing and protecting love that stimulates growth and health for those under our care (see the Masculine Mandate in Gen. 2:15). Pastors and elders should frown upon and in some cases discipline men who misuse their God-given authority in the home to oppress or otherwise harm their wives and children. In the church that I serve, the elders have many times summoned a husband to give an explanation for his failure or abuse of leadership in the home. To be sure, this is the exception - we do not regularly intrude into home affairs - but as needed we think our duty to provide this pastoral oversight. The women in our church should feel cared for by the ordained leadership, even as they are likewise challenged and exhorted to live up to their own callings as Christians. In a healthy church, a wife does not have to dominate her husband because she can be confident in the spiritual leadership that is provided to her husbands by the elders of the church. 

Meanwhile, rather than a celebration of the privileges of male headship in marriage, Christian husbands should be taught and encouraged to love their wives actively and sacrificially, as the Bible teaches (Eph. 5:25-33; 1 Pet. 3:7). Jokes that demean wives should be strongly frowned upon and a culture of male servanthood should permeate our complementarianism. Does this mean that male heads should do the dishes at home? He certainly does in my home, since my wife daily expends herself in wearying service to me and our five children. (Plus, my way of loading the dishwasher is the right way...) While it is true that a godly and submissive wife should do her best if her husband is harsh and evaluative, she should also have the privilege of pastoral care from the church that urges her husband to provide a more nurturing and caring headship. 

4. Raise daughters to be snowflakes, not ice cubes. It doesn't take a brilliant cultural observer to realize that our society is waging a massive assault against God and his creation when it comes to gender. In response to the pagan androgyny all around Christians today (see Peter Jones for more here), Christians should cultivate clear gender identity. Without massively expanding this post by giving the details, girls are different from boys and vice versa. There is such a thing as femininity and another thing called masculinity. Therefore, a girl growing up in a godly church should not be confused about what it means to be a woman, and a boy should pick up on godly manhood by the examples and influences in his Christian environment. Both boys and girls should learn from clear Bible teaching about their distinctive identifies and callings. At the same time, as I once heard Don Carson state, "God makes snowflakes rather than ice cubes." Ice cubes all look exactly the same - they are forced into a rigid mold. Snowflakes are each unique - not one exactly like another - but at the same time they fit a God-designed pattern. In like manner, girls should be raised to cultivate feminine principles and follow female examples from the Bible and in the church, while urged to cultivate her own God-given uniqueness and calling. Ditto for the boys. 

There is much more to be said about a balanced complementarianism, but I will submit just these four approaches in the hope that they will encourage and clarify. In general, our complementarianism should not be reactive but biblically pro-active, seeking to attain not to man-glorifying ends but a God-glorifying blessing in the church and in the home. 

"In Eden's sinless garden"

7 6. 7 6 (St. Alphege)
In Eden's sinless garden
A man and woman stood,
Each crafted in God's image,
And both entirely good.

The serpent entered Eden,
And entered both their hearts;
And neither did resist him,
Fell to his fiery darts.

So Adam's abdication
Was punished by the Lord;
Eve's insubordination
Jehovah much abhorred.

Then came the Second Adam
Into the wilderness.
Where Adam fell, he conquered,
Both to restore and bless.

He raises from the ruins
Of Eden's shattered bliss,
And by his saving power
Does Satan's blight dismiss.

True men, pursue with courage
Loving nobility;
True women, with true beauty,
Submissive dignity.

You sons of Adam, glory
That Jesus sets you free.
Eve's daughters, bow before him,
Embrace your liberty.
Jeremy Walker

See other hymns and psalms.