I am a complementarian in terms of my views of men and women and their roles in church and home. This means that I believe men and women are not interchangeable. This has two specific (and only two) applications. It means that Ephesians 5 talks about husbands sacrificially loving their wives, wives submitting to their husbands and husbands being the “head” within the family unit. There is a specific purpose to this. From Ephesians 5, we can see that what happens in the home should be a beautiful picture of the church as the Bride of Christ. I believe that an implication from this is seen in the church where eldership is a male responsibility. This helps to reflect that imagery of household in the church.
However, as I have just said, those are the only two applications. This is important because if my position was not controversial enough, there has been a strong push for a version of complementarianism defined as men being given the role of leaders and women therefore being required to submit to men in general. This means that a woman finds fulfilment in finding appropriate men to submit to. I don’t think that this hierarchical view of the sexes actually is complementarianism and whatever labels are put on it, I don’t think it is the Biblical view of manhood and womanhood. Rather, it imposes specific cultural assumptions onto our understanding of relationships and our view of the Bible.
In the Bible I see something different to this. Yes, I see Bible passages such as Ephesians 5:21ff and 1 Timothy 2:12. It is important that we honour and obey those verses and that’s exactly why I am a complementarian because I believe that this is the most faithful application of those texts. However, what I also see is:
Jesus talking to a Samaritan woman at a well, saying that it was a good thing for Mary to join the disciples in learning from him, including various women like Susannah, Mary Magdalene and others in his support team, allowing a Gentile woman to challenge assumptions and reaching out to heal without shaming or stigmatising.
I see Deborah in the Old Testament guiding and leading her people with wisdom, Esther risking her life for them and Ruth and Rahab included in Christ’s family tree. I read about a wise woman who not only orders her household but is successful in business (Proverbs 32). Then I read Romans 16 and discover that Paul, like Jesus includes women, giving them a prominent place in his team. These women include Phoebe, Chloe, Priscilla and Junia.
It is important that our lived out faith shows that we have spent as much time with those bible characters and in the relevant Bible passages as we have in 1 Timothy 2 and 1 Corinthians 14. All Scripture is God breathed and we can be certain that those passages will not contradict one another.
The Bible does not present us with a hierarchy with women as lesser, second class human beings. It presents us as all one in Christ Jesus. Let’s work hard to ensure that women flourish and are valued in our churches.