Saturday, March 25, 2017

What God has Joined: Towards a More Compelling Complementarianism Part 1

Together Alone

While I still have much to learn as a leader, one of the joys of my current role is coaching and caring for other pastors. I schedule monthly calls on Wednesdays to connect with them. Sometimes my wife and I speak to the couples together. Other times husbands and wives will talk separately, but suffice to say that Rynelle is very engaged with this coaching privilege and responsibility. Yesterday, I spoke to four pastors. One was in England, one in Thailand, and two were in the USA. My wife followed up with two of their wives. Skype and face-time are amazing coaching technologies, no matter what your line of work.

Two of the four husbands spoke of their wives hitting the wall physically and emotionally. They were finding the burden of mothering young kids, home making, pastoring women in the church and carrying out practical duties in the church overwhelming. To make matters worse, they felt disconnected from their husbands as they worked side-by-side in isolation. Together Alone. The stats tell a dreadful story. In a recent Barna Group study of pastors and their wives in the USA, 90% of pastors' wives wished their husbands had a different occupation.

When the Pharisees asked Jesus about valid grounds for divorce, he replied, "What God has joined let no man separate."(Matt 19:6) I know the context here is the breaking of the actual marriage covenant. However, Jesus’ teaching on the sanctity of the marriage covenant rests on the Biblical mystery that a husband and wife are 'no longer two, but one flesh.In the first marriage in Eden, Adam and Eve’s one flesh intimacy extended beyond the bedroom into the garden. Eve was a suitable helper, not just as companion, lover and mother, but also as a worker. It was not good for Adam to be alone in the garden, and it is still not good for a man to be alone as he cultivates the field of the church.

PJ Smyth in his book, The World needs more Elders, suggests that "Complementarian theology should liberate us because we do not equate equal value with equal role. However, It should also motivate us towards team because the Bible sees a husband and wife as one flesh." (2017:146) 

So what does it mean for pastors and wives to be both liberated by and motivated toward complementary ministry?

1. Liberation: "Let us wear equality but let us undress at night." 

Many believe the fundamental problem is that wives need equal roles to their husbands in ministry in order to feel equally valued. This is a hotly debated issue for which I feel real empathy. It is tragic that for many centuries, the Church did not let the Scripture lead it away from the general oppression of women conducted by society. The church should have seen that the Bible does not teach the inferiority of women. Equality in terms of dignity, freedom and exercise of gifting are Biblical values. The gospel brought about a democratization of the Spirit to the church. “In the last days will pour our my Spirit on all people. Your sons and your daughters will prophesy.” (Acts 2:17) “In Christ there is neither Greek nor Jew, slave not free, male nor female.” (Gal 3: 28)  I believe every church should be intentional in empowering women to be active ministers in every sphere of the life of the church, save that of an elder. (1 Tim 3) However, when we make equality our highest value, we begin to tamper with God’s created order of government in marriage and ministry and get confused between gifting and government.

C.S. Lewis wrote a collection of essays in 1943 called "Present Concerns', in which he spoke of the need on the one hand to address the historic oppression of women, and yet maintain a Biblical pattern of government in the home and the church on the other. 

 “Husbands have so horribly abused their power over women that to women, of all people, equality is in danger of appearing as an absolute ideal. This whole question is of immense practical importance. Every intrusion of the spirit that says, ‘I’m as good as you’ into our family and spiritual life is to be resisted as jealously as every intrusion of bureaucracy or privilege into our politics. Let us wear equality, but let us undress at night.”  (1943:192)

When we reduce equality of value to mean equality of role, we miss the very mystery of the united diversity that lies at the heart of the Trinity. Unity is less compelling when it is reduced to uniformity, in the same way that two people singing exactly the same melody is less compelling than two people singing different melodies together in harmony.   

Tapping into the Mystery

At it’s best, a Complementarian understanding of marriage and ministry taps into the mystery of the Trinity. Men and Women are created as image bearers of the Godhead; united in their diversity, recognizing authority, yet living in constant mutual honor towards one another. It celebrates the distinct roles of men and women in ministry as necessary and beautiful rather than being demeaning. It evokes a more compelling picture of the Godhead with  complementary colors rather than competing ones.  If the Biblical distinctions between husbands and wives, or elders and elder's wives are viewed as demeaning to women, then surely Jesus’ submission to His Father should demean Him? There is also fluidity in the Trinity. Christ submits to the Father and yet He has been honored with a Name above every name. Husbands and elders lead through sacrifice and through honoring others, not through seeking their own honor. Let’s tap into the beautiful Trinitarian mystery of diverse unity rather than uniformity.

Let us wear equality, but let us undress at night. (to be continued) 


  1. Mmmm governmental authority reminds me of my days spent in ncmi relating churches.

    I'm not sure sure that the wonderful scriptures you've shared on equality don't extend into governmental authority for women in the church too.

    I certainly don't think all women carry governmental authority, neither do all men. Yet I've met some women who definitely do seem to carry governmental authority.

    I wonder to what degree a male dominated culture view of millenia has influenced the churches perspective on women having different kinds of authority in the church?

  2. Hey Steve, I can understand if you feel a knee jerk reaction to that word. However, in the words of John Wimber, much of mature Christianity is learning to 'eat the fish and spit the bones.' I agree that the church has often done a horrible job of misapplying scripture to oppress women. Therefore, there are a lot of 'bones' in any conversation around men and women having differing roles in marriage and ministry. it can so easily descend to a conversation around power. However, if a husband and an elder lead like Christ, as a servant, then the conversation should not be about power as much as sacrifice. I can see plenty of Biblical precedent for women holding governmental positions of authority in society. The scripture I referred to was specifically about the office of an elder in a church, (1 Tim 3:2) which Biblically, seems to be male. Of course, many have looked at these scriptures through a revisionist lens and said, 'Well, that doesn't apply to us now because culture has evolved.' You seem to be suggesting that view. It is a valid view. I am simply recommending a different view in which eternal Scripture takes precedent over transient culture, while taking context into account. I will post the next part of my blog today which speaks more to this. Peace.

  3. Unity with diversity, order with equality - the heart of the Trinity needs displaying in all male/female marital relationships, regardless of context, yet must not be over wrought in every male/female relationship. When man must lord and woman must fight then both have lost their imago dei.

  4. Unity with diversity, order with equality - the heart of the Trinity needs displaying in all male/female marital relationships, regardless of context, yet must not be over wrought in every male/female relationship. When man must lord and woman must fight then both have lost their imago dei.