Why I’m a Complementarian Part 3: Christ and the Church

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So far in this series, I have considered what biblical evidence there is for the position of complementarianism. This position posits that the Bible supports a view of marriage in which male and female have differing roles. The husband is the loving leader, while the wife is willingly submissive. You can view my first post here, and the second here.

While we briefly looked at Ephesians 5 in the first post, I want to go back to the passage. Because this passage is so central to the concept of complementarity among male and females. And I want to consider that Paul here is telling men and women to operate in marriage the way that Christ and the church relate to one another. Christ is the head of the church, and the church is his body (Eph 5:23).

What many egalitarians say is that in Ephesians 5, Paul was giving commands within a certain hierarchical historical context. He wasn’t necessarily advocating male headship, but simply trying his best to exhort the church while in that historical setting. Beside the obvious (to me at least) exegetical troubles with that stance, I want to consider here that Paul was actually challenging the common norm of his day.

During this time period, women were seen as belonging to their husbands. And while the wife had responsibility to do her husband’s bidding, the husband had no real responsibility other than to order his wife around. This is of course abusive. And if this is what Paul were advocating, that would be a legitimate concern. But this is in no way what Paul is saying.

In fact, most of the verses in chapter 5 (vv. 25-31) concern the responsibility of the husband! The wife is considered in only 3 verses! What I want us to consider here is that while the male is the leader in the relationship, Paul is giving both of them responsibilities before Christ. In fact, arguably, the husband has more responsibility and weight on his shoulders, and is therefore more accountable for his actions.

I think we have all heard that the wife is to submit as she would to Christ. Perhaps we’ve bee reminded of this all too often! Nevertheless, this is the wife’s calling. And it certainly is a tall order. The woman is called to willingly (not by way of coercion) submit to and respect her husband as if Christ himself were her husband. That is intimidating.

But what about the husband? Yes, the wife is to submit to her head as she would Christ; but the husband is called to lovingly lead and provide as Christ has provided for the church. The responsibility goes two ways, you see. While the church submits and finds saving nourishment in Christ, Christ as the head, provides for, leads, and causes his body to flourish. The husband’s role is much more than simply “giving orders”. He is to nourish his wife as Christ has savingly nourished us. This means that as the leader of the marriage, the initiative he takes in their relationship can never be taken without his consideration of her needs. Everything that the husband does in the marriage necessarily must be for her betterment (Eph 5:26).

And this means that he is to care for her more than he cares for himself. In fact, Paul says that every husband must care for his wife as he cares for his own body (Eph 5:28). No reasonable person mistreats or abuses their own body — rather, they nourish it and care for it! Likewise, because husband and wife become “one flesh” in marriage, the husband is responsible for his wife’s welfare. Just as Christ died to take responsibility for his body, the church, and is now in the process of sanctifying her (Eph 5:25-26), so the husband does everything in the interest of caring for and maturing his wife.

This is not a dictatorship. This is a reflection of Christ’s loving and renewing care for his own bride. And I would argue that as hard as it may be for a wife to support, submit, and respect her husband’s leadership, it is equally hard for the husband to take responsibility for the betterment of his wife. And if any husband is harsh in his leadership toward his wife, or if he doesn’t recognize her needs, then he simply isn’t fulfilling his responsibility before Christ.

Indeed, Christ took our sins on himself, washed us clean, and even still nourishes us by his Spirit, enabling us to be what he so desires us to be. In every step, he is enabling, loving, and having grace toward us. He knows our every need, our every fear, and he leads us with care and tenderness, desiring only our betterment. This is what a husband is called to!

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Why I’m a Complementarian Part 2: The Trinity

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I’m doing a series of posts on why I’m a complementarian. If you don’t know what that is, please read my first post, and I give you a definition of that and also the opposing egalitarian view. In my first post, I considered the biblical narrative of creation, fall, and redemption, and concluded that the narrative itself presents a complementarian view of marriage.

In this post, I want to consider the Trinity. Now this may seem strange to apply the theology of the Trinity to a subject about manhood and womanhood within marriage. But because egalitarians consider it oppressive to define roles within marriage in terms of headship and submission, I think it is completely pertinent to consider how the Trinity functions and operates.

First, I want to affirm that each person within the Trinity — Father, Son and Spirit — is fully and equally God. There are several texts to consider. John 1 for instance says that in the beginning (eternity past) Jesus was with God (the Father), and he is God (John 1:1). Acts 5:3-4 tells an episode in which Peter equates the Holy Spirit with God himself. And also, there are plenty of texts referring to the Father as God (Eph 4:6, 1 Cor 8:6). Besides this, there are numerous texts in which each person of the Trinity is referred: Jesus tells the disciples to baptize disciples in the name (singular) of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Mt 28:18-20). Paul says in 2 Corinthians 13:14, “the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all”. They are all there: Father, Son, Holy Spirit. 

All this is mentioned to say that each member of the Trinity is equally God. And, the one God of the Bible would not exist apart from each person of the Trinity.

But what this does not mean is that each equal member of the Trinity has the same function. Equality does not preclude uniformity. In fact, each person in the Trinity has a separate function and responsibility. Ephesians 1:3-14 tells us that the Father’s role in salvation is that of choosing. He chooses us in Christ and predestines that in Christ we will be presented holy and blameless before him (vv. 3-6). However, Christ’s role in this salvation is different. His role is to spill his blood that we might have that redemption and forgiveness chosen by the Father (vv. 7-10). But then, the Spirit applies the benefits of Christ’s death, and seals us for the day of redemption. From this text, we find that each member of the Trinity has a differing role in our salvation!

And quite remarkably, Christ’s role is subservient to the Father’s, and the Spirit’s role is submissive to the Son’s. Though each member of the Trinity is equal, they have roles which submit to one another. Christ said that he came not to do his own will, but the will of his Father (Jn 6:38). And the Spirit was given to magnify the work of Christ (Jn 16:14)!

If complementarianism is oppressive to women, then we must also agree that Christ’s willing submission to the Father is oppressive. Since we cannot say that, than we also cannot say that headship and submission within marriage is wrong. In fact, as you delve deeper into the Trinitarian mission and mind, you find that the unity and diversity found in marriage models the unity and diversity found in the Godhead!

In marriage, two people become one flesh (Gen 2:24), and yet each person has a different role in that oneness. The male is the head, and the female is the helper. The male leads, the female supports. And, just as it is impossible to have redemption without each member of the Trinity, it is impossible to have a marriage without one man, and one woman.

Equality in worth, diversity in function.

Why I’m a Complementarian Part 1: The Biblical Narrative

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I’m doing a series on why I am complementarian. My first post will offer proof from the biblical narrative.

For those who do not know what “complementarian” means, it is the thought that biblically, men and women are created to complement one another in marriage. They have differing roles that fit and function well together. The man was created as the leader of the relationship, while the woman was created as the support and bolster of the relationship.

Some Christians espouse “egalitarianism” which supposes that male and female were created with equality, and therefore no one is the leader or supporter, and either can operate within those roles.

Common arguments for egalitarianism include the citation of Genesis 1:27, which says that all mankind was created in God’s image, both male and female. The thought is that we therefore should be equal. Others cite Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus”.

My common response here is that I don’t argue about equality in regard to value and worth. No intelligent Christian will say that men somehow have a better standing before God than women. Rather, men have a different role than women. What Paul is saying in Galatians 3 is that in Christ, slave and free, male and female, Jew and Greek…all have equal worth and value before God. All are justified by Christ in his sight, no matter who you are. The same with Genesis 1:27; both men and women are made in God’s image — but this doesn’t mean that they must therefore function the same

If we are to logically look at it: just because both Jew and Gentile are equal in Christ, this does not mean they lose their ethnic distinction. So likewise, although men and women are both equally righteous in Christ, they still have differing roles. And, those roles have important purposes!

Now, let’s go on to the biblical narrative for evidence toward complementarity among men and women. It is so easy to look at the narrative of creation from Genesis 1:26-27, and assume a lot about gender roles. Both are made in the image of God yes; but, we must not miss the context of the next chapters. Genesis 2 gives a rehashing of the same creation account, but with more detail.

And Genesis 2:15 tells us that God created Adam first, and gave him a command to work the garden and be fruitful and multiply. This command was given to Adam, not Eve. Eve was not created until Genesis 2:18 when God said to Adam, “it is not good that man should be alone; I will make a helper for him“. Now what this does not mean is that Eve has no involvement in God’s command to work the ground and multiply — rather, it is that Eve has a different role in that same mission. Eve is to be Adam’s helper. She is to come along side Adam and help him accomplish his God-given mission. This cannot be missed. This was the purpose of marriage from the beginning: that Adam would hold the responsibility of leading, and that Eve would help and bolster that God-given mission; both equal in God’s sight, but with differing roles.

It is not until the fall that we see gender roles within marriage being distorted. And it is interesting to see exactly how they are distorted. Genesis 3:16 says that after the fall, the woman’s “desire will be for [her] husband”. This word “desire” gives the connotation of wanting rule and authority over something (cf. Gen 4:7). In other words, Eve in her sin will desire to thwart Adam’s leadership by becoming her own leader. What this means is that the fall created in woman a natural aversion toward being a helper, and a sinful desire to be in authority. More than that, Adam’s role was distorted in that rather than being a loving leader, he would instead “rule over [her]” (Gen 3:16b). What this means is that after the fall, man has a sinful desire to overreach his authority as husband and domineer rather than lovingly lead.

What we must affirm here is that gender distinctions are not part of the fall. Rather, gender distinctions are distorted by the fall. This cannot be overlooked. Many today decry the thought that men should lead. The feminist movement calls for female equality. But what we should be decrying is the harsh and domineering rule that is a result of the fall.

This is why we need a new and perfect leader who can restore us not only to right relationship with God, but to one another! And Christ does this by becoming the ultimate husband to his bride. Paul picks this motif up in Ephesians 5 by giving an ethic for marriage that revolves around Christ as head over the church. Paul says to the women, “as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands” (Eph 5:24). Likewise, Paul says to men, “husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her” (Eph 5:25).

By his death and resurrection, Christ gives us not a new model of gender roles, but a redeemed model. Just as Christ sacrificially loved and gave himself for the church, so husbands should lovingly lead and die for their wives. And, just as believers submit to and bolster Christ’s redemptive vision and mission, so wives are to model that for their husbands. As Tim Keller says, “the gospel of Jesus and marriage explain one another” (Meaning of Marriage, p 47)

The biblical narrative therefore makes it clear that in marriage, while man and woman are equal in God’s sight, they are differing in their respective roles.

In my next post, I will consider the Trinity as a proof for gender complementarity.