Are you Complementarian, Egalitarian, or Something Else?

Every one of us holds a view about the role of women. What can they do; what can’t they do? Your answers to these questions defines your bias.

“Wait, I’m not biased!”

Relax. We are all biased, and the sooner we acknowledge our biases, the sooner we can have a meaningful discussion.

“My views come straight out of scripture!”

That’s what everyone says.

We may think that our biases are informed by scripture, but often it is the other way around. We come to the Bible wearing certain lenses, and what we look through determines what we see.

What is your bias? Here are three lenses or perspectives the church has towards women:

  1. The traditional hierarchical view
  2. The complementarian view
  3. The egalitarian view

The traditional or hierarchical view says women are inferior to men. This was the line taken by theologians who said women were created in the image of men rather than God. Since she is inferior by design, they said, a woman’s role is to serve her husband, and she can never lead. “A woman, however learned and holy, may not take upon herself to teach in an assembly of men,” said the men of the Fourth Synod of Carthage.

Then there is the complementarian view that says women are equal in value but unequal in role. In the same way a child is equal but subordinate to a parent, a wife is subordinate to her husband or church leaders.

The complementarian view differs from the traditional perspective in that it affirms the equality of women, while reinforcing stereotypes about men being natural-born leaders. “Some governing and teaching roles within the church are restricted to men,” says one complementarian website. In the home as in the church, men lead and women follow.

Finally, there is the egalitarian view that says God made men and women equal in every way—they are equal in value and equal in role.

Since men and women were given joint responsibility to rule over creation, both can lead. This is not to deny the differences between the genders or to suggest those differences are unimportant. But to quote the Christians for Biblical Equality, the egalitarian view recognizes that “God calls women and men of all cultures, races, and classes to share authority equally in service and leadership in the home, church, and world.”

Name your bias

Are you a traditionalist, a complementarian, or an egalitarian?

What we label, we diminish, but if I had to choose between these perspectives, I would be unashamedly egalitarian. I’m a Kiwi married to a Dane; how could I not be?

But I am not a rabid egalitarian. On the one hand, I am convinced that equality protects us from the abuses of hierarchy and the misuse of authority. But on the other, I fear the dogged pursuit of equality can hinder authentic relationships.

Like a referee, equality is essential, but it’s not the game. It is not the ultimate goal. For the Christian, the higher goal is love.

Jesus never said his disciples would be known for their equality and sense of fair play. We are to be known for the way we serve, respect, and prefer one another. If we settle for equality, there’s a danger we will fall short of all that God has in store for us, particularly in our marriages.

Equality is not the end game in the war on gender discrimination; it’s the starting point for the new creation.

Equality is a good thing, but what we do with it is far more important. I look forward to the day when my daughters have the same opportunities as my son, but I’m much more interested in what they will do with those opportunities.

Imagine a church where women get the same respect and take on the same roles as men. Actually, you don’t need to imagine such a church at all. Just read the Book of Acts, and you will see that a church where all are valued can change the world.

It happened before, and it can happen again.

Source: The Silent Queen: Why the Church Needs Women to Find their Voice.

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23 Comments on Are you Complementarian, Egalitarian, or Something Else?

  1. Complementarian&egalitarian.
    I dont know about the church leadership but in army or commander of chief should be with balls! 🙂 .Just some things are which men are better to manage and some things which women manages better.Generally i agree if churchleader is woman also because as born-again christians we know in Heaven there is no genders anymore(am i right?!:) )…So noprobs!

    • I don’t know why you think we lose our gender in heaven. Certainly the Bible says no such thing. It would be more accurate to all people, regardless of race, status, or gender, are equally valued in the family of God. Although men and women are biologically different, they are equal in grace (Gal. 3:28).

      • Yep.Thats right 😀 …Just readed Matthew 22:30 and it says we are “Like a angels”with glorified body’s”in heaven but seems genders will stay.My bad!

  2. Frank Fowler // December 9, 2021 at 10:57 am // Reply

    I’m egalitarian. I’m 75% through reading your Silent Queen book and it’s helped a lot re my thoughts towards women and their potential. Thanks for your brave and faithful work in this area

  3. I guess I’m egalitarian, but to flip this around a bit, I think we can have a strong tendency to see a person’s value based on their role. As if the one preaching the message is more valuable than the one mopping the floor, when Jesus died for both. Our value doesn’t come from what we do, but we were created with inherent value. I’m not saying the article disagrees with this statement, that’s just what was on my heart as I read it. Thanks

  4. I think egalitarian in idealogy, but perhaps complementarian in practice?? Similar to you, Paul, husband is a 1st born Kiwi married to me, a 1st-born German. If it weren’t for our life-experience & maturity & Jesus we’d be one stubborn, bullish mess haha.
    That said, he is the more extroverted of us two and effortlessly takes the lead on matters that draw on his (many) strengths. But the best part is it doesn’t come from a place of having to lord his manliness. He’s beautifully, humbly comfortable in his own skin, and unfazed with being around confident women (thanks to my amazing mother-in-law’s example!). And I (the introvert-leaning one) happily go along with it because, somehow, the idea of shutting that radiance down just so that I don’t feel like the little woman left behind doesn’t feel like a loving fit (especially since we both know I’m not). We know each others strengths and have no problems giving the other space to shine, or speaking up if we have concerns. I’ve never really thought to label it. It’s kind of a “you be you, I be me, we be we” marriage. Whatever we’re doing, it works very happily for us 🙂

    • Hi Anna, that sounds very egalitarian to me. To clarify, egalitarian does not mean you do the same tasks. You should each do what you’re good at. Here’s something I lifted from the book: “Equality in role relationships does not mean both partners take turns doing every household chore. Equality means the husband and wife are equally willing to work hard and make adjustments in their marriage. Decisions are made jointly, and the division of tasks is based on preferences rather than gender stereotypes.”

  5. Women get more respect if they are also respectful to men. Doing the rabbit ears sign behind their backs is disrespectful and demeaning. Not funny.

  6. It is amazing how many different philosophical or worldview schools there are. Anytime I come up with some hair brained idea, when I do a search, I find out I’m not crazy.

  7. Grace and Peace. I believe that we should use theological wisdom over theological fluidity. I am never threatened by what Scripture says. They are not words to use as weapons upon each other, but rather words to trust and apply through the lens of Christ, grace, faith, and love.

    God’s word, is still God’s word. It is important to remember that the “sum” of the word is truth (Psalm 119:160). So we should not use “sticky note” theology. Taking one scripture out of context and sticking it to our preconceived notions and doctrine.

    Using hermeneutical gymnastics to explain away, or defend our own opinion or position is seldom theological wisdom.

    That said, equality is not sameness. That is the world’s goal and misunderstanding. Order is not importance. “Position” and “recognition” is not the method of Biblical leadership in the church nor the home. Demanding it is the opposite. Lording over others is the opposite. In the Kingdom, the way up is down. To be great in His Kingdom, learn to serve others in grace, mercy, love, and humility.

    The example is Jesus… in Philippians 2:5-8

    5 Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, as He already existed in the form of God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 7 but emptied Himself by taking the form of a bond-servant and being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death: death on a cross.

    Man, woman, boy, or girl… be like Jesus. Humble ourselves, God will raise us up to where He has created us to be. When God promotes, man/women cannot demote.

    Just one man’s thoughts.

  8. Egalitarian in standing in Christ before God and COMPLEMENTARIAN in relationship between hub and wife or any other relationship within the body of Christ is the only way to glorify God. Egalitarian between hub and wife crates a two-headed monster or an Alphonse and Gaston skit.

  9. Both are equal in value, equal in role and both can lead in the one Body of the Christ.

    Yet, Eph 5 [to me] does not teach us that the husband is to submit to his wife [spouse]. It does say, the adopted of Elohim are to be subject to one another. In the instance though, the Eph 5 statement on the husband and wife, does not mean he’s not leading. But carries the sole responsibility as head of his wife – when a family decision is at hand. In that both he and his wife cannot make a decision on a matter – if they differ on the matter. To that point, the husband decides and is fully responsible for having made it. Which on am I?

    • Since you interpret headship to mean rulership, you would be a complementarian. I interpret headship differently.

    • Paul, with respect to you – Did even infer rulership? No. But I suggested the subject context, is that the two differ on a matter of importance to both. Be it they do not agree together; the wife is to yield to the head. Just as the Son in this case yields to the Father the Sin is my head – my wife’s head is me. Yes, if they preferred together, they might pass on making a choice here. Outside of that Eph 5 says my wife submits to the my decision. How does it work with you and you wife when you have an important matter but are at odds? Perhaps you sometimes defer to her and I might also do the same.

      • If someone makes all the final decisions, they’re in charge. That seems to be what you’re suggesting, and that’s a classic traditional/complementarian position. How does an egalitarian marriage work when there’s no agreement? I answer that question in my article, “In marriage, who takes the lead?

  10. Paul – Please, I did not suggest rulership nor superiority of the husband over his wife. But as Jesus is my Master [the James I ‘Lord’, I no longer speak nor write] and head; does that then not fit with Eph 5 and the reference of my wife to me?

    • No. Jesus may be your Lord, but it does not follow that you are a lord to your wife (see Matt. 20:25-26). How much better to view her as a partner in grace.

    • Paul, The word ‘my’ may be giving you pause, with respect to my adopted position in Jesus’ Kingdom. I was not being coy by keying-in, my Master attempting to have you doubt one way or the other. Jesus is Master, irrespective of my having been called years ago. Jesus’ position in Elohim; I respect and love His existing. He’s declared me His friend. I’m believing my name in His Book of Life.

      I concur with your reference to, ‘partner in grace’ and appreciate your teaching gift. Yet, somehow you seem reticent with my seeing, thinking, believing and actions toward partner in grace, equal in value, equal in role and leading [as equal fellows] in the one Body of Messias – that I’m in error with Eph 5 being an explicit command – wife submit to the husband. What is the action pointing to? That does not fit both wife and husband, equally. As a husband, I’m commanded to love her, loving myself and my body – from the position of being in the Christ. With the mind of that Christ. Seeing her, as I again 4-fold reiterated here. Jesus does not command the husband to submit to his wife but to love her and to the wife He says, respect your husband. The husband did not create his headship-position in marriage and a single man nor woman is concerned with.

      • That’s where we disagree, and where complementarians differ from egalitarians. I don’t believe submission is for the wife alone. Submission is the very definition of other-focused love. Even if it wasn’t in the Bible, you should surrender, yield, and serve the one you love, because that’s what the word love means. But it is in the Bible. “Love is not self-seeking” (1 Cor. 13:5). What do you think laying down your life means (Eph. 5:25)? In a passage directed to husbands and wives, Paul begins with “submit to one another” (Eph. 5:21). Not only do I believe husbands should freely submit, surrender and serve their wvies (and vice versa), but they should follow Christ’s and lead the way in all these things.

  11. Paul, I’m not attempting be bold, drag any point on nor to cause you to think the husband isn’t bound to be all those things you kindly mentioned in these few comments. Just that there’s a distinction between all those things and the specific differences in relationship – that being the wider household of Elohim and the wife and husband in this instance. These are couched in the issue at hand – the writers of 1 and 2 Pt and Ephesians are placing emphasis on the time; the end is near. Both are imploring the people; to be examples for one another yet, by position too. Not just because they’re Believers but for the sake of Jesus’ suffering at His Cross__ the time is short. Note: These two writers make it clear that honour [being subject to the position differences in the Christ] is to be given to distinct position in the Body. Wives to husbands, youngsters to elders and children to parents – all in the Master.

    1 Pt 4 is speaking to the wider household of Elohim; in v17. In the same way, Eph 5 is speaking to the wider household of Elohim up to that point; then pausing at v21 – then pivots and switches to focus on the mystery of what marriage is, by speaking to the wife and husband regards their position in that they’re now one flesh. Unlike any other relationship in the wider household of Elohim.

    • I find the suggestion that a wife’s relationship to her husband is analogous to that of a child and a parent to be thoroughly repugnant, pagan, and demeaning to women. It is only “Biblical” if you read the text through the eyes of the philosophers and ignore the plain meaning of words like love and equality. For sure, you can find examples of unbalanced marriages in the patriarchal societies of the Old Testament. But gender discrimination has no place in the new covenant.

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