This tweet from Owen Strachan has been causing a bit of a stir on social media
I wanted to respond briefly here but also to link to something a bit more detailed. I’m a complementarian which means I believe that men and women are made equal but different (in other words we are meant to complement one another). This has implication specifically in relation to marriage where husbands are described as the head and therefore to provide loving, sacrificial leadership in the family and that the office of elder in the church is also restricted to suitable men. Within that context, I took time in 2009-10 to research specifically on the question of women and work in the light of Ephesians 5.
You can read my detailed findings here.
In summary, my response is that yes, the word “head” in Ephesians 5 refers to leadership authority, this is within the context of mutual submission, so that wives submit to husbands (v22) but husbands also sacrificially love their wives, putting their needs first. This is specifically in the context of marriage so that a wife is asked to submit to her own husband not all women to all men everywhere. This is the historically understood application of Scripture as held by reformers such as John Calvin.
A lot of the assumptions we see from some quarters about how complementarian marriage should function are not based on Scripture but based on a specific cultural context and time. In effect, it is an idealised view of US (south) culture mid 20th Century. This is best captured by Piper’s approving description of his father being the one who drove the car to church, led the family into the pew, then afterwards drove them to the diner, chose the menu and ordered the food. However, this idealised view also reflects a world where workplace and household have been separated through the industrial revolution. Work in the home prior to the mushrooming of mills and factories would not have been seen as so distinct from employment and business.
Proverbs 31 helpfully captures what it would have meant to have been a faithful wife in Bible times. So, we can say yes to all of the good and worthy things that Strachan lists in his tweet but we must also add the following:
- Trading in order to acquire material
- Purchasing land/property
- Selling for profit
- Charitable deeds to care for the poor and vulnerable
- teaching wisdom
- Management of other workers
I do not believe that a complementarian view Biblically requires that women should be limited or constrained in the workplace. I am grateful to the many women I know who contribute as teachers, doctors, lawyers, scientists, carers, nurses, project leaders etc.
I’d like to just add in for interest this comment from Andrew Wilson