Why am I a (soft) Complementarian
Back in November 2019, I wrote a blog post in response to Pastor John MacArthur’s answer to a question about Beth Moore at a conference where he was speaking. The blog post was the most read and shared post that I’ve had in the last couple of years, and I was glad to see the (mostly) positive response to my thoughts on the situation at the time. In the post, I also mentioned that I would write another post about why I’m on the Complementarian side of the theological position of the role of Women in Ministry, which I haven’t done until now.
I must state upfront that in any article or blog I’ve ever written on the topic, I’ve always included a ‘good people who love Jesus may disagree on this topic,’ and I really do think that is true. The example that I often use are two churches that both have partnered with our ministry over the years that are more on the egalitarian side of this issue, and yet, I can tell that they not only love Jesus, but that they have a deep heart, as I do, for the lost worldwide. I have loved working with them for the cause of Christ worldwide. Also, for a more in-depth theological treatment of the topic, and specifically my replies to objections to my position, please see my position paper I wrote years ago.
So why am I a (soft) Complementarian?
I must admit that there is perhaps not a more debated issue in the church today than the issue of women serving as pastors/preachers in ministry. But as Bible-believing Christians, we must hold Scripture as our highest authority and must give an account when we stand before God for what we teach.
I always like to start by putting the qualifications of a pastor/elder in the context of all that the Bible has to say. First, God made men and women equal, yet different. (Gen. 1:26–27). Secondly, in the Old Testament the senior spiritual leadership of God’s people were male priests. Thirdly, although he befriended, taught, loved, honored, healed and included women in his ministry, but never in a senior position of leadership, Jesus chose twelve men as his apostles. Fourth, in 1 Timothy 2:11–3:5 Paul writes:
Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control. The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?
This statement of Paul’s in 1 Timothy included controversial language for his day – that women should learn theology, that is to say that it’s clear that both men and women should be taught theology, be permitted to attend Bible College or seminary, and be encouraged to be theologically astute. I believe that quietness in this passage does not mean total silence but rather a peaceable demeanor, which is also required of everyone in 1 Timothy 2:2. It seems clear that God’s intention is for Christian women to be well-informed theologians and to do so by first learning to respect the male pastors that God has appointed to instruct them.
In 1 Timothy, Paul strongly commands women to not teach or have authority over men in the church. While it’s hard for me to come off of a ‘If the Bible says it, we do it’ position here, there are some (like John MacArthur!) who would hold a hard complementarian interpretation of Paul’s command and would state that women simply can only teach women and children. There are others, like myself, who would hold a soft complementarian take on Paul’s commands who believe that his connecting of teaching and authority refers to the highest authority of the church.
I readily admit that there is a very large controversy about the meaning of Paul’s uses for ‘authority,’ but I like to keep it clean by simply using the standard Greek lexicon definition: “To assume a stance of independent authority, give orders to, dictate,” which describes well the elder-level authority in the church. This seems to me to make the most sense given the context, because of what we read in the next chapter of 1 Timothy, describing the requirements for elders/pastors, which includes being an upstanding husband, father and a mature Christian man. It is the Greek word for husband that also anchors me, because the Greek is the word for husband and not ‘spouse of one spouse.’ It’s impossible for a woman to be a husband!
This is a (somewhat) quick look at why I’m a (soft) complementarianism. I encourage women to use the spiritual gifts and natural abilities that God has given them to their fullest extent. This includes anything from leading a Bible study, overseeing a ministry, leading as a deacon, speaking in church in a way that is not preaching, leading worship music, serving Communion, entering into full-time paid ministry as a member of the staff, and receiving formal theological education—basically every opportunity in the church except what the Bible and the elders deem elder-only duties. Therefore, the issue is not whether a woman can be in ministry, but rather what ministry a woman can be in and remain faithful to Scripture. It is clear to me that the only restriction on women in church ministry is that which is Biblically reserved for men whose lives meet the standard to the elders: Only elders preach, enforce formal church discipline, and set doctrinal standards for the church.