What is complementarianism?Question: "What is complementarianism?"
Answer: Complementarianism is the teaching that masculinity and femininity are ordained by God and that men and women are created to complement, or complete, each other. Complementarians believe that the gender roles found in the Bible are purposeful and meaningful distinctions that, when applied in the home and church, promote the spiritual health of both men and women. Embracing the divinely ordained roles of men and women furthers the ministry of God’s people and allows men and women to reach their God-given potential.
The complementarian view starts with Genesis 1:26–27, which says that God created humanity, male and female, in His own image. Genesis 2:18 contains the further detail that God created Eve specifically to complement Adam: “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” The two genders are, therefore, part of God’s created order. Any modern-day blurring of the genders or distortion of the roles is a result of the Fall.
Complementarianism follows Ephesians 5:21–33 as the model for the home. The husband has the role of headship in the family. He is to nurture his wife and lead his family lovingly, humbly, and sacrificially. The wife has the role of nurturing her children and intentionally, willingly submitting to her husband’s leadership. When both husband and wife are complementing each other in this way, Christ is honored. In fact, the marriage itself becomes what it was designed to be: a living picture of Christ and the church (verse 32).
In the church, complementarianism follows 1 Timothy 2:11 — 3:7 and Titus 2:3–5 as the model. Biblically, the men in the church bear the responsibility to provide spiritual leadership and training. The women are to exercise their spiritual gifts in any way that Scripture allows—the only prohibition is “to teach or to assume authority over a man” (1 Timothy 2:12). When men and women are fulfilling their God-given roles within a church, Christ is honored. In fact, the church itself becomes what it was designed to be: a living picture of Christ’s body (1 Corinthians 12:12–27).
The opposing view is egalitarianism, which teaches that, in Christ, there are no gender distinctions anymore. This idea comes from Galatians 3:28. Because all believers are one in Christ, egalitarians say, men’s and women’s roles are interchangeable in church leadership and in the household. Egalitarianism sees gender distinctions as a result of the Fall and Christ’s redemption as removing those distinctions, bringing unity. Complementarianism sees gender distinctions as a result of Creation and Christ’s redemption as a return to those distinctions, avoiding confusion. Paul sides with the complementarians, citing the order of creation as the basis for his teaching: “For Adam was formed first, then Eve” (1 Timothy 2:15).
A difference in role does not equate to a difference in quality, importance, or value. Men and women are equally valued in God’s sight and in His plan. Complementarianism seeks to preserve the biblical differences between men’s and women’s roles while valuing the quality and importance of both genders. The result of true complementarianism is honor to Christ and harmony in the church and in the home.
Recommended Resource: Women in Ministry: Four Views by Bonnidell & Robert Clouse, eds.
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