Please Note: This paper was originally written for a subject associated with DMin study at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. At the time of writing, the author was not pastoring a church. It was written assuming that he was the Senior Minister in an Anglican Church in Sydney.
It is a statement on church belief and practices around complementarianism for a DMin ecclesiology subject.
Complementarianism is the belief that God has made men and women together in his image for his glory, and that he has created them differently with the desire that they play different roles in church life. Men and women are biblically equal but different. Complementarianism involves three important sets of beliefs:
- The Bible is God’s infallible Word and his authority for how we live as saved men and women.
- Men and women are created as equals for the service of God and each other.
- In church life, certain roles are shaped by our creation as men and women.
1. The Bible is God’s infallible word
The Bible is God’s word to us. It is breathed out by him and contains everything we need to know for salvation in Christ Jesus and for living a godly life as servants of Christ (2 Tim 3:14-17). The Bible was written by people inspired by the Holy Spirit, and thus reflects the culture and situation of the original authors, while at the same time communicating God’s truth in a way that crosses all cultures in all time. God speaks to us through his word for our good, as our loving Father (Ps 112:1, 1 John 5:1-3). The one who has given his own Son up to death for our forgiveness and given us his Spirit to make us his children speaks to us for the sake of our freedom in godliness, and it is a privilege and joy to follow his words (Ps 119:174-175).
2. Men and women are created as equals for the service of God and each other
God’s word is clear that men and women are created in the image of God to work together to fulfil his plans and purposes for creation (Gen 1:26-31). Men and women are sinful as a result of the fall, and need God’s grace in Christ for salvation (Rom 3:10-12). Men and women are saved only by faith in Christ in light of his death and resurrection on their behalf (Titus 2:11-14). In terms of salvation and God’s plan for the world, men and women stand equal before God.
The Bible also teaches that men and women are also equally gifted. This doesn’t mean that all people are identically gifted; each individual is uniquely gifted by God for the sake of serving the body (1 Cor 12:4-7). But none of the biblical lists of gifts indicates that there are particular gifts given to men or women according to their sex (1 Cor 12:8-10, 28-30; Rom 12:6-8; Eph 4:7-12; 1 Pet 4:10-11). Women and men are gifted for a full range of ministry, from speaking God’s word, to serving and helping.
Finally, Scripture does not associate particular virtues with masculinity and femininity. In some cultures, it is common for attributes like gentleness and kindness to be associated with femininity, and attributes such as courage and strength to be associated with masculinity. However, the Bible calls men and women together to a full range of Christian virtues (Gal 5:22; Eph 6:10). In summary, men and women are created in the image of God, equal in dignity and giftedness for the sake of serving Christ and his people.
3. In church life, certain roles are shaped by our creation as men and women
Alongside the previous two points, we believe that at several key points, Scripture affirms different roles for men and women in marriage and congregational life as a result of God’s purposes for his people (1 Cor 11:2-16; Eph 5:22-33; 1 Tim 2:8-15; 1 Pet 3:1-7). These roles are not simply cultural, but are based on God’s good creation of us as men and women. Broadly, the picture is of husbands being the head of their wives (which entails responsibility to lead, love, serve and lay down their lives for them) and of wives submitting to their own husbands (gladly living under their husband’s leadership, care and responsibility for their family). This picture from marriage is mirrored in church life by the responsibility for men to act as elders and to take on the public teaching of Scripture (1 Tim 3:1-7; 1 Tim 2:8-15).
The following are some implications for church life, Sunday gatherings and small group ministries.
- We will only ever appoint a qualified man to the position of Senior Minister. We expect our paid ministry staff team to involve gifted and qualified men and women, but the Senior Minister’s position will only be filled by a male.
- In our Sunday church gatherings, only qualified men will teach the Bible. Women will be involved in public prayer, reading of Scripture, and words of encouragement, but not in preaching.
- We will encourage women with the gift of teaching to exercise their gift in women’s gatherings, and in youth and children’s ministry, showing wisdom and care to model biblical order as young men move towards adulthood.
- In our small groups ministries, male-only groups will be led by qualified men and women-only groups by qualified women. In a mixed Bible study group, we will appoint at least a male leader, and in every possible case, a female co-leader, who will work together with the male to ensure faithfulness to Scripture and pastoral care of members of the group.
- We invite the participation of men and women as members of the Parish Council to be involved in decision-making concerning property and finances in the context of our ministry plans and goals under God.
- We believe that the relationship of men and women to each other is rich, complex and varied. As the Bible acknowledges, the way that age should shape wise relationship (1 Tim 5:1-2), with the younger treating their elders with care and respect and elders treating younger brothers and sisters with warmth and filial affection, so we believe that gender will appropriately shape a rich web of relationships in church life. Older women will act as mothers and sisters, older men as fathers and brothers.
Our prayerful desire under God is that our understanding of the equality and differences between men and women will lead to a rich and varied expression of mutually healthy and biblically constructive relationships that will be worked out with careful listening and respect appropriate to brothers and sisters living together as God’s family under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.