IF I WERE A COMPLEMENTARIAN… 7 reasons

It is no secret that I am a strong Egalitarian when it comes to the Biblical sense of the word. An article here explains why and I will continue to give a short response to each complementarian point in this article. However, I see this as an issue that has good reasoning from both perspectives. I deeply respect and have lots of friends and colleagues that hold to a soft complementarian perspective. Personally, I tend to look for what God’s ideals are which we get in Eden and the recreated heavens and earth. (This is represented in the beginning and end pages of the Bible which scream equality not separated by gender roles; and display giftings are different for each person regardless of gender, but there isn’t a hierarchy according to specific gender). I think we are better placing our trajectory towards what we know God says is His way or ideal, rather than pursue what we might see in the messed up middle pages of the Bible where we see God continuing to simply meet people in whatever muck they might be found in and pulling them one step at a time towards a better place in Him. However, in defending my egalitarian view, I believe I likely also have crafted the best perspectives to be a complementarian at the same time.

Unfortunately, in our world the term complementarian has become almost a nasty word, especially from the world looking into the church. It has become associated with gender bias, abusive male dominance, and churches (and men) using the Bible to Lord over women. Those are “poor” complementarians in my opinion, but nonetheless, still complementarians. That isn’t a Biblical view. What I want to express in this article is what a “good” or Biblical complementarian view represents even though I don’t go that way. The truth is, whether you consider yourself a complementarian or egalitarian, in many ways if you simply follow scripture, both perspectives are going to have similar looking end results. Some might even say it is a matter of semantics particularly in regard to marriage. The church has the distinct difference of whether or not women are viewed as able to “lead” in positions of authority within the church.

Finally, I am going to keep this article fairly philosophical and not get too much into the specific verses. This may come off as strange to some that are used to watching our x44 videos and exploring every scripture associated with something not leaving any rocks left unturned. It is the x44 way to simply interpret scripture, and that is what I am doing here still, but more of in a philosophical summary. The reason I am approaching things this way is because we have already gone really deep into the scripture! We have a whole playlist getting into every scripture and attempting to unbiasedly interpret. Here is a playlist. I have also found that if someone has a preconceived reason to believe something, they are going to want to go that way. It is difficult to come to a completely unbiased position in theology, but that is what I am asking you to consider.

DEFINITIONS:

Complementarians believe men and women complement each other in their giftings and roles but see men to be given a position by God to lead their family and church as the Head. Egalitarians believe men and women are equal to each other in their giftings and roles.

If you can take a Biblical view of either, they will both agree on several points.

  • Both sides agree that gender is ordained by God, women and men have equal value, and abuse in any relationship is a sin. 
  • Complementarians believe men are called to be servant-leaders within marriage and the church; egalitarians believe women and men have equal authority in the church and marriage.
  • Complementarians believe women and men have distinct roles; egalitarians believe women and men have interchangeable roles and each person should function according to gifting that is not determined by gender.
  1. COMPLEMENTARIAN PERSPECTIVE: For nearly all of time Man (with a few very rare exceptions) has led everything from simple family relations to the highest forms of government. Today in 21st century America things are getting more equal. We finally have a female vice president, but still not an American president. There have been queens in charge of countries; but for the most part, for all of history man has been the dominant leader. Is that a reflection on God’s prescription from the beginning or more of a function of depraved humankind and the result of human nature towards the strong to dominate and oppress the weak. This is not a strong Biblical argument and could really be argued either way. But If I were a complementarian, it would at least be an indicator that since for all of time in nearly every culture man has seemingly been the gender in authoritative rule, it might mean that some of that came as a result of God’s design.

    – Egalitarian response: Just because men dominate as the strong beings doesn’t make it right or even God’s way. In a backward kingdom this kind of thinking might even suggest that Women will eschatologically out rank men in the new Heavens and earth, which would then make you by definition and egalitarian not a complementarian. Might does not make right, love does. 
  2. COMPLEMENTARIAN PERSPECTIVE: Men and women are designed sociologically to be different. Their differences surpass simple differences in anatomy. Women think and acts differently than men. Does the Bible suggest that God designed the majority of men to generally lead better? Today in the American culture this statement would probably be deemed sexist. Similar to the first point, this is not a strong Biblical or ontological argument, but may influence you over all feelings.

    – Egalitarian response: Women have been overpowered for all of time, they haven’t been given a fair opportunity to lead. Also, Biblically, when we consider the definition of the term “side” you find it is the Hebrew word tsela. Man and woman are cut from the same cloth; two halves of the same coin. This is presenting a “same, but different” picture of man and woman. It doesn’t mean inherent leadership roles. And yes, the above comment should be deemed sexist! There is nothing scientifically proven or in the Biblical text that suggests men are inherently designed as better leaders.
  3. COMPLEMENTARIAN PERSPECTIVE: Creation may suggest by Adam being created first to take on a role of the primary leader position. Genesis 1:26-28 suggests that man and women are equal as image bearers. Does it ever seem like Eve was almost an afterthought for God? If I were God and truly had an egalitarian perspective for the male and female that I was going to create, would male and female be created differently and at different times? Wouldn’t I create them exactly the same (perhaps even with dual reproductive ability) and at the same time. But that isn’t the story we get. Adam is created first and Eve seems like an afterthought and is described as a helper to him. Adam even gets to name her in the same way he named the rest of the animals he has dominance over. It would seem that if there wasn’t intended to be a role gender difference that the words of the narrative and the narrative itself could have been crafted better. But this is the story we are given and seems to infer a complementarian relationship.

    – Egalitarian response: We don’t know why God has done things the way He has. The story isn’t ours to rewrite and we don’t know all of the thoughts or mind of God. The Hebrew term for side would seem to imply an equal part. The word for “helper” is ezer (ay’-zer). “Deliverer” or “strong rescuer” is probably a more helpful translation. Hermeneutically the text does not establish that Adam is over eve. You might get that “feeling” based on what the world has become, but that would be reading the results of the fall into the text. The text itself doesn’t say or imply that definition.
  4. COMPLEMENTARIAN PERSPECTIVE: Throughout the Bible the vast majority of authority both established by man and God seems to denote male leadership. There were women leaders in the Bible such as Mariam, Deborah, Huldah, Mary Magdalene, Percilla, Phoebe, and Junia but they are few and far between. If God’s ideal was truly for woman to be leading wouldn’t God have made sure He established a strong contingency of examples, not just a minor percentage. Why weren’t there Levitical priests that were women? That was an office that seems to have been initiated in the way that God directed close to His ideal. Why didn’t He direct woman to lead here? That would seem to have been an easy thing for Moses to have done, there was no outside culture to influence them against it. Why didn’t Jesus pick half of his disciples to be women if leaders were to be truly equal according to God? Wouldn’t that make more sense? Jesus was already counter cultural to His day and wasn’t afraid to offend people or break the cultural norms. We simply don’t see God going out of His way to establish women as priests, apostles, or elders.

    – Egalitarian response: The world in Ancient Near East culture such as the time of the Egyptian Exodus treated woman as nothing. The outside Egyptian culture did influence the Isrealites, and Moses and God’s style of established rule. Frankly it didn’t improve much during the time of Jesus. Woman represented little more than property in nearly all of ancient culture. God’s plan was to reverse the fall. When the fall starts it begins a downward spiral in which woman unfortunately are dominated and ruled over by the stronger men. The scale only begins to tip when Jesus is crucified and overcomes death itself enabling the healing of humanity in and through Christ to begin. But it is just the beginning. God always meets people close to where they are and urges them in a small simple step to Him. At the time of Jesus what He did for women was groundbreaking. The early church took huge strides towards gender equality in a short period of time since Jesus enabled it. 2000 years later I would expect us to finally have equal representation in the field of discipleship within the church. I might even argue that according to the Biblical description of discipleship, woman today appear to be in many ways, fulfilling the calling better than men. Perhaps the backward kingdom scales are beginning to tip.

    Furthermore, let’s consider Israel. God continually let’s “man” do what they want to do. He gives in to them. Israel represents the archetype of the worst decision makers in the Bible (possibly second to Judas). Men led Israel, not God, and eventually God handed them over (you might even use the word divorced them.) So, to be clear, the worst failure within the pages of the Bible is a nation that wanted to do things their way which meant establish a kingdom ruled by men that found themselves as far away from what God desired of them as could be imagined. It was eventually men that put Jesus on the cross. Men have been largely responsible for the direction of the world to walk away from God. Perhaps in a backward kingdom it will be the women leading the way to reclaim and restore what was lost by men. It should also be noted that women played a huge part in the lineage and life of Jesus.
  5. COMPLEMENTARIAN PERSPECTIVE: Although the Pauline Epistles seem to carry an Egalitarian flavor, the main texts (I Corinthians 11:2-16, 14:33b-35, Colossians 3:18-19, Ephesians 5:21-33, I Timothy 2:9-15 and possibly I Peter 3:1-7) all seem to plainly read (in English) that Men should and do, naturally lead the church.

    – Egalitarian response: As an Egalitarian I might concede here… If I didn’t know Greek. I have to admit when read in English by what has been heavily influenced by1611 style (men only) translation, the Bible seems to read plainly complementarian. However, when read in Greek, I would argue the opposite, it reads plainly egalitarian; which is striking considering that men even wrote the Greek texts during times when women in culture were poorly educated and represented. I would argue that if you are truly unbiased and have a decent comprehension of Biblical Greek and Hermeneutics you’re going to come out of this study convinced that Paul was an Egalitarian.

    – Complementarian Reaction: This may influence your understanding of inerrancy, but a valid complementarian argument based on Greek translation (possibly in keeping with the overall strongest complementarian argument) is to simply suggest that personally Paul was an Egalitarian, and His writing style simply reflected his personal view, not the inspired perspectives of God’s inherently created design.

    -X44 NOTE: Please dive into the x44 video series to get into each scripture here specifically.
  6. COMPLEMENTARIAN PERSPECTIVE: Marriage seems to have a head. When I read Ephesians 5 in English and Greek, I get the sense that the responsibilities of a man and women in marriage are unique to gender and different. It goes back to the way the text is written again. If the author was really trying to write that everyone is equal why talk about each one separately? Why not just use the term “husbands and wives” each and every time? It would be much better written that way if that was the intent. For example, Paul nowhere says, “husbands, submit to your wives, as the church submits its (wife?), Christ.” The text doesn’t seem to read both directions.

    – Complementarian Reaction: The text is a responsive reading to specific situations in their culture that the author(s) are specifically referring to, but also have the goal in creating circular letters and sermons to benefit other church communities. Gender might mean something in each perspective but should be read in cultural context. We have to trust that the author wrote in a way to best describe the primary mission of the text. We shouldn’t make major doctrines based on minor dynamics of the text.

  7. COMPLEMENTARIAN PERSPECTIVE: Jesus often set the Biblical record straight and doesn’t come right out and preach an egalitarian view. If Jesus meant to communicate that theory He would have made it known.

    – Complementarian Reaction: Jesus doesn’t clarify a lot of things that people wish he would have. Jesus did not put much faith in human systems to fix what was wrong with the world, nor did he try to do so in one swoop of his finger. Fixing the world, helping the poor, and defending the oppressed was His job, and the job He passed on to those who follow Him. This is the partnership that started in Eden and was empowered on the cross through the royal priesthood; that we are His image bearing ambassadors representing Him to the world and the world to Him.

-Dr. Will Ryan

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