Complementarianism is the theological view that although men and women are created equal in their being and personhood, they are created to complement each other via different roles and responsibilities as manifested in marriage, family life, religious leadership, and elsewhere. It is rooted in more literal interpretations of the Creation account and the roles of men and women presented in Scripture. It is also known as the Traditionalist or Hierarchical view. Though the notion is found in other religions, this article focuses on how certain Christian groups understand their theology to require a complementarian view of gender.
Among evangelicals, particularly in the last few decades, two rather different paradigms concerning roles of men and women presented in Scripture have emerged.
- One is evangelical egalitarianism which asserts that there should be no gender-based role distinctions or limitations placed on women in the home, church, or society. According to this view, women can serve as pastors in light of passages like Galatians 3:28.
- The other view is Complementarianism which is presented in this article.
- Audio from Council on Biblical Manhood & Womanhood Conferences
- Debate: Do relations of authority and submission exist eternally among the Persons of the Godhead? - Audio, Video
- The Sex of Man: Complementarianism, Theology Program class (Humanity & Sin, session 10), by Michael Patton
- Doctrine of Man – Manhood and Womanhood in Creation and Marriage (part 1, part 2) (MP3), by Wayne Grudem (Links broken)
- Understanding Complementarianism (EFCA conference audio)
The term Complementarian is derived from [L. complementun: cf. F. complement, two parts that complete each other]. It is the hermeneutical hypothesis, based on interpretations of scripture, that men and women are designed by their Creator to complement or complete each other on the basis of their gender. While certain roles and responsibilities uniquely fall to the male, no limitations of what functions he can fulfill in the home, the church, and the society.
The Complementarian position
Complementarianism holds that "God has created men and women equal in their essential dignity and human personhood, but different and complementary in function with male headship in the home and in the Church. "^^
It is usually characterized by:
- A generally patriarchal view of the family (the father is responsible to lead, provide for, teach his children to know and love God) as found in Scripture.
- Belief that a Christian husband should love his wife as Christ loved the church
- Belief that a Christian wife should submit to her husband as the church submits to Christ
- Belief that God designed marriage to reflect the relationship of Jesus Christ and the Church
- Belief that only men should be appointed into authoritative positions of leadership in the church
The Complementarian view of marriage maintains that gender-based roles and a husband-headship structure in marriage is biblically required.^^ A husband is considered to have the God-given responsibility to provide for, protect, and lead "his" family, while a wife is to collaborate with her husband, respect him, and serve as his helper in managing the household and nurturing the next generation. Complementarians assert that the Bible instructs husbands to lovingly lead their families and to love their wives as Christ loves the Church, and instructs wives to respect their husbands’ leadership out of reverence for Christ.^^^^
The Complementarian position has been articulated and defended by several evangelical and reformed leaders in what is called the Danvers Statement. It is so called because it was prepared by several evangelical leaders at a Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) meeting in Danvers, Massachusetts, in December 1987.^^ Their understanding of the necessity for gender-based roles and authority structure in marriage and in ministry is based on their interpretation of scriptures such as Eph 5:21-33, Col 3:18-19, Tit 2:3-5, 1 Pet 3:1-7.
Roles in marriage
The Complementarian view of marriage maintains gender-based roles and a husband-headship structure in marriage.^^ A husband is understood to have a God-given responsibility to provide for, protect, and lead his family. A wife is to collaborate with her husband, respect him, and serve as his helper in managing the household and nurturing the next generation. Complementarians assert that the Bible instructs husbands to lovingly lead their families and to love their wives as Christ loves the Church, and instructs wives to respect their husbands’ leadership out of reverence for Christ.^^^^
A more detailed statement of the Complementarian view of marriage appears in Southern Baptist Convention's Baptist Faith and Message (2000). While it is denominational-specific, it is consistent with most present-day Complementarian views in conservative Christianity:
"The husband and wife are of equal worth before God, since both are created in God's image. The marriage relationship models the way God relates to his people. A husband is to love his wife as Christ loved the church. He has the God-given responsibility to provide for, to protect, and to lead his family. A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband even as the church willingly submits to the headship of Christ. She, being in the image of God as is her husband and thus equal to him, has the God-given responsibility to respect her husband and to serve as his helper in managing the household and nurturing the next generation."Article XVIII. The Family. Baptist Faith and Message 2000
The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood teaches that "Christ is the supreme authority and guide for men and women, so that no earthly submission—domestic, religious, or civil—ever implies a mandate to follow a human authority into sin."^^
Roles in the Church
Complementarians view women's roles in ministry, particularly in church settings, as limited on the basis of interpretations of certain scriptures. The Complementarian view holds that women may not appropriately hold church leadership roles that involve teaching or authority over men.^^ This therefore includes pastors, deacons, ruling elders, and teachers where men are in the class.
Concerning women in ministry, a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention has written that "...while both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of Pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture."^^^ ^ The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood holds that “[i]n the church, redemption in Christ gives men and women an equal share in the blessings of salvation; nevertheless, some governing and teaching roles within the church are restricted to men (Gal. 3:28; 1 Cor. 11:2-16; 1 Tim. 2:11-15).”^^ Some believe that women should be ordained neither as a pastor nor as an evangelist, while others believe that it is acceptable for women to be evangelists but not pastors.^^
Complementarianism is promoted by the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Groups of churches that broadly support this position include some members of the Southern Baptist Convention,^^ the Presbyterian Church of America, the Anglican Diocese of Sydney, Conservative Mennonites, Newfrontiers, the Dutch Reformed Church, and Sovereign Grace Ministries, among others. A moderate form of complementarianism is espoused by the Calvary Chapel movement.
Noted theologians and Christian thinkers who support (or supported) the Complementarian position include men such as Wayne Grudem, R. Albert Mohler, Jr., Mark Dever, Mark Driscoll, C. J. Mahaney, Adrian Rogers, Richard Land, Ligon Duncan, Terry Virgo, John F. MacArthur, C.S. Lewis, and John Piper. Also in support are women like Elisabeth Elliot, missionary and wife of the missionary Jim Elliot.
The term is derived from the hermeneutical hypothesis that men and women are designed to complement or complete each other on the basis of their gender. Contrasting viewpoints maintain either that women and men should share identical authority and responsibilities in marriage, religion and elsewhere, or that men and women are of intrinsically different worth, and their roles reflect that.
- A Summary of the Complementarian Position, a summary of chapter 1 of the book "Evangelical Feminism and Biblical Truth" (blog)
- A Brief History of Complementarian Literature, by Owen Strachan
- Complementarianism for Dummies, by Mary Kassian | July 3, 2012
- Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, (links to downloadable conference audio in Mp3)
- "Husbands Who Love Like Christ and the Wives Who Submit to Them", manuscript of sermon by John Piper (Mp3 also downloadable)
- Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, edited by John Piper and Wayne Grudem (downloadable as pdf)
- The Biblical Position on Women's Roles, text from a booklet by John Macarthur
- Method Mistake: An Analysis of the Charge of Arianism in Complementarian Discussions of the Trinity, by Benjamin B. Phillips