Gender & ComplementarianismLast Updated: July 26, 2016 Contact: Brad Snyder
What does Veritas believe about gender?
The question of gender roles in Christianity is controversial to say the least. It’s controversial particularly because the Bible confronts our assumed cultural values, our thoughts, our emotions, our past experiences, and our future aspirations. The reality is that, while this is true of every gospel reality, gender is uniquely challenging because no one approaches it with a blank slate, everyone has emotionally-charged expectations and baggage for what it means to be a man or a woman. Yet, the issue isn’t one the church can ignore because what we believe about gender roles affects our biblical interpretation, our family dynamics, our church governance, and, most of all, our gospel clarity. Three Views on Gender Defined Essentially, the views churches hold on gender can be grouped together into three major categories: hierarchicalism, egalitarianism, and complementarianism. Heirarchicalism states that men and women are created unequal in personhood and distinct in role. It is a view that holds one gender as superior to the other in worth and value while also believing that men and women exist for different roles. Egalitarianism states that men and women are created equal in personhood and indistinguishable in role. It is a view that holds both genders as equal in worth and value while also believing that men and women were not created for distinct roles. Complementarianism states that men and women are created equal in personhood and yet distinct in role. It is a view that holds both genders as equal in worth and value as co-image bearers of God and, as co-image bearers of a Triune God, men and women are created distinct in their role to complement one another. The Elders at Veritas Community Church hold to the complementarian view of gender. We believe that this is the consistent teaching of Scripture and provides the clearest display of the God we were created to image and the gospel we are saved to proclaim. The Purpose of Gender in Creation The Bible speaks to the question of gender in its first chapter. In Genesis 1, we read the story of creation—a story where God is creating everything to exist for His glory—and through each day of creation, God observes all that He made and pronounces it “good!” God makes a statement of worth on each day of creation, recognizing that it fulfills its purpose rightly. This continues each day as the beautiful complexity of creation builds like a symphony to a crescendo on day six when man and woman are created. On day six, God speaks to Himself within the Triune community of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit saying:
Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion … So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. Genesis 1:26-27
After God creates man and woman in His image, He looks on all He has made and no longer simply says that it is good, but says that it is very good! Why? What happened on day six that made ‘good’ no longer enough to describe his creation? In Genesis 2, we see this “very good” day explained in greater detail. God forms man from the dust of the earth, breathes life into him, and the man becomes a living creature. God then places the man in a garden and gives him work to do, to carry out His dominion over creation. But in Genesis 2:18, we read something truly shocking and incredibly important to our understanding of the purpose of gender. God says: “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make a helper fit for him.” (Genesis 2:18). So after God says that everything in creation was good and before sin entered creation and fractured and ruined everything, God says that something is not good. In other words, God is saying that something in creation is not able to fulfill its purpose! A man alone is not able to fulfill his purpose. What was man’s purpose? To bear and display the image of God (Genesis 1:26). It was not good for man to be alone because a solitary man does not adequately bear the image of a God who in His very nature is a relational community. So God makes the man a helper. He makes a woman who is like the man, yet also unlike the man so that together they would complement each other to fulfill the purpose God created them for, to bear and display His image! The Bible displays the Trinity as a perfect unity, as one God yet three persons. Each person of the Trinity is fully and equally God and yet distinct in their roles, joyfully submitting to and glorifying one another. This is what Adam and Eve were created to image and display and why God said on the sixth day that it was very good! The foundation of complementarianism is not found in culture or in any creation of man, but in the God- created purpose of men and women. Adam and Eve were created as image-bearers of the Triune God, who eternally exists as, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Each equal in their “Godhood,” equal in worth and value, and yet distinct and diverse in role. We do not see in our God a Trinity marked by dominance and forced superiority of one person over others (as a hierarchical view of gender would imagine) and we don’t see in our God a Trinity marked by interchangeable roles where the Father can be the Son or the Spirit the Father. Hierarchicalism distorts the distinction in role between men and women and projects it onto personhood, making one gender supreme, while, egalitarianism distorts the equality of men and women in personhood and projects it onto gender roles, making men and women no longer just equal, but interchangeable. Both of these errors arise from the Fall when, in sin, man and woman who were created to be complementary became competitive. We see God warn in Genesis 3:16 that as a consequence of their rebellion, the woman’s desire shall be against her husband, and that he shall rule over her. What once was very good because it pointed to God, now can be very bad because men and women desire it to point to themselves! It is a common argument to quote Genesis 3:16 to say that gender roles are a product of the Fall, however this does not stand when you recognize the roles of humble authority and joyful submission that perfectly exist in the Trinity. It would be an absurd thought to imagine Jesus responding in anger and frustration to the Father because He had to be the one to be born a man and die on the cross. The Holy Spirit never com- plains that He is always the one being sent out from the Father and the Son, and that it’s now His turn to be the Father. Recognizing that the God whose image we were created in finds perfect joy and unity through a diversity of roles should teach us that gender roles are not an attack on our equality and value as image-bearers, but rather a means to our value as image-bearers.1 This is good news! God’s purpose in creating man and woman equal yet different to complement one an- other in bearing His image and enjoying His grace is good news, particularly because it draws our attention and our focus off of ourselves and places it on something greater. That is the joy of God’s grace in gender, not that He forces some arbitrary standard on men and women, but that He invites them to experience and live in light of the very gospel-driven purpose for man and woman. In the gospel, the competition and war that wages between men and women is reconciled, and what we have twisted into our image can be restored into His image. We get to complement each other through a humble deference to self and preference to the other and, therefore, better and more truly bear the image of our Triune God.
1 It is also significant to realize that creation was not “very good” until the woman was created for her role as a helper to co-image God with man. God did not merely create another man to fulfill the same role as Adam, but He created a woman. He created one who was like man and yet unlike man so that together in their relational unity they might fulfill their God-ordained purpose.
Gender Roles in Marriage
What are these roles and how do we live in light of this reality? The Bible informs men and women in Christian marriage by grounding the purpose of marriage in the gospel. We see this most clearly stated in Ephesians 5:22-33 (also Colossians 3:18-19 and 1 Peter 3:1-7). Paul speaks to the married in the Ephesian church saying:
Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. Ephesians 5:22-27
Wives are called to submit to their husbands by respecting and honoring them while husbands are called to lead their wives by laying down their lives and interests for them. In marriage, we see the complementary relationship between husband and wife existing to demonstrate the gospel relationship between Christ and the Church. This isn’t simply a fortunate analogy, but rather, the very reason marriage exists is to point us to the ultimate marriage between Christ and the Church. So, a biblical view of marriage actually elevates the union between husband and wife beyond cultural and historical tradition and places it in the redemptive purposes of God.
Submission and Headship
“Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.” This statement is tragically used as a doctrinal hand grenade in many churches to justify male dominance. But the question we must answer first regarding submission is, how do we submit to the Lord? Do we submit with frustration, bitterness, worry, or hesitancy? No, we submit freely, confidently, and joyfully because the Lord is good, He loves us, and He lays His life down for us! So, because of who Jesus is, wives are called to submit to their husbands. Submission does not mean that wives just adopt their husbands thoughts and opinions—many wives are more intelligent than their husbands and have areas of expertise and skill that their husbands do not. A wife’s help to her husband means that she must think, learn, and grow continually in her relationship with Jesus. Submission does not mean that women are to follow their husbands into sin—many Christian wives are married to non- Christians and immature Christians who at times may make decisions that lead to sin. A wife must first submit to Jesus and, at times, through tears, refuse to follow her husband as her lesser authority in order to follow Jesus as her ultimate authority. Submission does not mean that a wife should avoid influencing her husband, rather wives must have such a fearless strength in their identity in Christ that they seek to humbly submit to their husband in order to influence, encourage, and develop their husband’s Christ-like headship. Quite literally, a wife’s highest goal in marriage isn’t to make herself happy, but to be used by the Lord to make her husband holy! “The husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the Church… Husbands love your wives, as Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her…” This statement is tragically often discounted as mere allegory (while the command to wives is, of course, taken literally). The question here regarding headship is how does Jesus lead us as our head? Does he dominate and abuse? Is he manipulative and controlling? No, in love he sacrifices himself for those he leads. So, because of who Jesus is, husbands are called to love their wives, by laying down their very lives for them. Headship is not superiority—it is not a place of comfort and control—rather Christian headship is a call to come and die. Husbands are to wield all of their strength in a sacrificial manner to protect, encourage, and sanctify their wives. Again, quite literally, a husband’s highest goal in marriage isn’t to make himself happy, but to make his wife holy!
Gender Roles in Church Leadership
Finally, we see that biblical complementarianism also informs church leadership. In the New Testament church, men and women are both redeemed in Christ and are given the Holy Spirit and spiritual gifts to serve and bless the church. Being equal in personhood, men and women are equal in their membership and involvement in the life of the local church. While defending the equality of men and women in the church, the Bible also reserves the office of pastor/elder for men alone (1 Timothy 3; Titus 1), not because this is a superior role, but quite simply because the office of pastor, like that of the husband, is a call to come and die for the sake of those he leads.
The biblical understanding of gender and gender roles is vital because to deny it is to ignore a primary example given by God’s grace to reveal the very nature of the Trinity and Christ’s relationship with the Church. To abandon complementarianism in favor of cultural practice does not just affect the practical workings of marriage and church structure, but it robs us of a powerful context of gospel clarity that we can display to a struggling world. Sadly, the further we stray from biblical complementarianism, the further we find ourselves from a gracious means to experience our deepest joy in marriage and the Church. At Veritas we gladly acknowledge those who disagree with us on this issue as our Christian brothers and sisters, yet we humbly hold this conviction as a precious baby that we refuse to throw out with the dirty bath water of oppressive historical tradition.