God is so incredibly complex that he created two beautiful, multi-faceted genders to represent his good characteristics and glorify His name on this earth. Below I explain my understanding of the two basic camps held by evangelical believers. Later I will post/propose my thoughts on the possible melding of complementarianism and egalitarianism.
The primary source for the position of egalitarianism are the “Christians for Biblical Equality” (CBE) who stand for serving God by giftedness, not by gender. Their mission statement of equality is in 30+ languages and proclaims that the Bible teaches full equality of men and women in Creation and in Redemption for the furtherance of the gospel and the glory of God. They rightfully interpret the inerrant, authoritative Word of God holistically, thematically, and through the power of the Holy Spirit. Creation is an enormously important part of the gender role deliberation. Egalitarians knowingly refer to Genesis to solidify the argument for full equality by citing joint responsibilities between men and women concerning child bearing/rearing, dominating creation, (Gen. 2:26-28) as well as a joint responsibility in the Fall of mankind(Gen. 3:6; Rom. 5:12-21; 1 Cor. 15:21-22). Egalitarians explains how the word “helper” implies no subordination or inferiority, but instead how that particular word is most often in the Old Testament as a reference to God. Similarity the rib, and the word “suitable” also both point to equality and denote unity. Lastly, Egalitarians assert Adam’s rulership over Eve in Genesis 3:16 was a prediction of the upcoming harmful ramifications of the Fall, not a prescription of God’s original plan in creation prior to sin entering the world.
The forgiveness of sins for salvation is offered to all mankind despite race, age, gender, or socioeconomic status. Therefore upon salvation, the gifts of the Holy Spirit (healing, miracles, prophecy, wisdom, etc.) are bestowed upon women as well. They are called to develop their gifts, whatever they may be, for the body of Christ. Additionally important to Egalitarians, the New Testament teaches that women exercise the prophetic, priestly, and royal functions (Acts. 2:17; 21:9; 1 Cor. 11:5; 1 Peter 2:9-10, Rev. 1:6; 5:10). All passages that appear to contradict these function for women are to be studied in the total context and interpreted in relation to the broader teaching of the Word. When such proper hermeneutics are applied, the problem with female leadership will thusly be understood as a cultural situation (1 Cor. 11:12-16; 14:33; 1 Tim. 2:9-15).
In considering the roles in family, CBE cites ten biblical references that indicate that both mother and father are responsible in the training, nurture, teaching, and disciplining of their children. Secondarily, they see that the Bible teaches how husbands and wives are both co-heirs with Christ and bound together in mutual submission and responsibility to each other (1 Cor. 7:3-5; Eph. 5:21; 1 Peter 3:1-7; Gen 21:12). Within this mutual submission, the husband function as “the head” by serving and lovingly giving of self, just as Christ modeled during his time on earth. In the home, Christian husbands and wives should both be serving one another, and humbly considering the other better than themselves. They should equally divide the leadership responsibilities based on competencies, availability, and desire. In conflict, if a decision cannot be reached, instead of the husband imposing the final word, they are to use biblical methods of conflict resolution. This is to protect women and children from abuse that too often tragically follows male headship.
To honor the Source of spiritual gifts and to model the unity and harmony that should characterize Christianity, the church should allow women to serve in all levels of involvement. Though the world may discriminate, segregate, and make some feel inferior, God’s people will honor Him by recognizing gifting despite gender and by being a light of equality and development. The goal of egalitarianism is to free men and women from unbiblical traditionalism that creates dangerous caricatures of both males and females that stifle both individual’s reflections of Christ. In embracing mutual accountability to each other in Christ with a heart of humility and servanthood, they model to onlookers how obedience to Scripture puts out fires of domination and inequality and encourages fulfilling love of God and love of neighbor.
The primary source for defining complementarianism for the purposes of this paper is found in the Danvers Statement of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) (Piper & Grudem, 2006). In expressing ten points of contemporary development that aroused deep concern in several evangelical leaders they include the distortion and “neglect of glad harmony” that egalitarianism brings. Their ten points clearly show a godly distain for any hermeneutical misdealing, and a deep desire for believers to delight in the gender diversities God has beautifully established. Complementarians steadfastly affirm the equality and high value of men and women before God as persons created in his image. However, they equally affirm that God has purposefully created male and female distinct in their gender roles (Gen. 2:18; 21-24; 1 Cor. 11:7-9; 1 Tim. 2:12-14).
For men, the result of the fall was the distortion of man’s once perfectly loving, humble headship into a dominating or passive headship. The role of headship in marriage was established by God before the Fall (Gen. 2:16-18, 21-24, 3:1-13; 1 Cor. 11:7-9) and not a result of the fall. Additionally, prior to the fall, the woman perfectly, intellectually, willingly submitted to her selfless husband. Her submission was not a result of the fall, but her struggles in submission are. The beautiful redemption that Christ brings removes both distortions caused by sin. The power of the Holy Spirit can help move men and women back to the original roles of a husband’s loving authority, and a wife’s joyful submission (Eph 5:21-33; Col 3:18-19; Tit 2:3-5; 1 Pet 3:1-7) Principles of male headship in the family and in the church are throughout the Old and the New Testament (Gen. 2:18; Eph. 5:21-33; Col 3:18-19; 1 Tim 2:11-15). Though redemption in Christ brings equal blessings of salvation to both men and women, there are some governing and teaching roles within the church that are assigned specifically only to men (Gal. 3:28; 1 Cor 11:2-16; 1 Tim 2:11-15). Complementarians affirm the truth that Christ’s authority is supreme over all, and no earthly submission needs to be followed into sin (Dan 3:10-18). They also affirm that Biblical criteria for ministry trumps passion or desire for ministry every time (1 Tim 2:1-15; 3:1-14; Tit 1:5-9). Both men and women must be subject to God’s word concerning ministry roles. Neglecting these God ordained principles will lead to devastating consequences in families, churches, and societies. Lastly, the Danvers Statement pleads with its readers to realize that the ways people in this world understand the gospel and experience the love and grace of God are exceedingly vast and diverse. Because of this every believer in Christ, regardless of gender, is provided with incalculable opportunities to experience a fulfilling ministry in word or deed for the glory of God. Though there are biblical criteria for some particular ministries, the harvest is plentiful and the gifts of God’s people are richly diverse. There is not one worker who needs to feel that their gifts are not able to be used.
The goal of complementarianism is for men and women to understand and celebrate the beauty of being equal in their value yet distinct in their roles. Refining the harmonizing roles of manhood and womanhood best epitomize God’s original design as seen in creation. The human heart will be most fulfilled when resting and excelling in these roles of male headship and female submission. Weakening biblically defined roles by following culture instead of the clear gender distinctive teachings of the Bible devalues God’s creation design and will surely bring eventual devastation.