A lot of people I know and respect have abandoned the Complementarian view for Christian Egalitarianism. 1. High profile evangelicals have furthered the dialog, like Rachael Held Evans‘ in her book Year of Biblical Womanhood. 2
But as I’ve repeatedly affirmed, abandoning full Complentarianism for Egalitarianism is swinging from one extreme to the other instead of embracing the paradox of spiritual equality and leadership roles in key biblical frameworks. 3 4
But if there is a danger in egalitarianism, what is it? I suggest that the most dangerously dismissed risks are the crippling of the healthy gender individuation in children, and of spiritual vitality in Christian men.
Egalitarianism is de facto Matriarchy
Look, I am very aware that patriarchy in the Church has seriously wounded and hindered women from reaching their God-given potentials and callings, both inside the church and without. But I suggest that egalitarianism is not just a leveling of the playing field, or an affirmation ofradical equality in Christ, but a rejection of the order of nature and therefore, a de-facto matriarchal system that feminizes boys as much as it enables girls.
I understand that a true opposite matriarchy would prohibit men from occupying positions of authority, but what I am claiming is that, by rejecting the natural headship of the masculine in the key social organs of family and church, we are purposefully inudging the very real and practical effect of the emasculation of men because we are defying nature.
This is why Complementarians contend that this is Paul’s argument in 1 Timothy 2:12-13:
I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve.
Regarding this, esteemed Christian scholar John Stott wrote:
What is revealed in the second story of creation is that, although god made male and female equal, he also made them different. In Genesis 1 masculinity and femininity are related to God’s image, while in Genesis 2 they are related to each other, Eve being taken out of Adam and brought to him. Genesis 1 declares the equality of the sexes; Genesis 2 clarifies that “equality” means not “identity” but “complementarity.” It is this “equal but different” state which we find hard to preserve. Yet they are not incompatible; they belong to each other as essential aspects of biblical revelation. 5
Egalitarianism and Male Insecurity
Often, such claims are poo-pooed by egalitarians who attribute such claims to masculine insecurities based in immaturity. “You have no problem with a female boss at work, so why would you in church or family? Does your female boss have an emasculating effect on you too?”
Female Leadership in the Bible
It has been well documented that women in both the Old and New Testaments held most of the positions of authority within Israel and the New Testament – but not all.
As often noted by Complementarians, we are hard pressed to find any woman priest in the Old Testament, or Apostle (of the type directly commissioned by Jesus, as opposed to evangelistic Church Planters like Junia) or Elder/Bishop/Overseer in the New Testament. 6
Are these omissions merely a historical oversight, or a real functional limit practiced and taught in the New Testament Church? Coupled with the “problematic” prohibitions of Paul in 1 Timothy 2 and elsewhere, egalitarians must live without explicit historical support for their claims, and must admit that partial complemenatarians may have warrant for their assertions.
Junia, Apostleship and Superiority
One interesting egalitarian argument is that we have at least one, admittedly oblique reference to a female apostle in Paul’s writings:
Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews, who were in prison with me. They are highly respected among the apostles and became followers of Christ before I did. (Romans 16:7 NLT)
Of course, the phrase “respected among the Apostles” is debated, and may be “respected by the apostles.” But even if Junia was an apostle, does that make her of the same type of apostle as Paul and the 12? Or is this a more general term for a certain function, that of Church Planter, or merely a “messenger”? Others in the New Testament were also called Apostles as well:
Beyond the unique twelve apostles of Jesus Christ, there were also apostles in a generic sense. Barnabas is referred to as an “apostle” in Acts 13:2 and 14:4. Andronicus and Junias are possibly identified as apostles in Romans 16:7. The same Greek word usually translated “apostle” is used to refer to Titus in 2 Corinthians 8:23 and Epaphroditus in Philippians 2:25. So, there definitely seems to be room for the term apostle being used to refer to someone besides the twelve apostles of Jesus Christ. Anyone who was “sent” could be called an apostle. 7
With the existence of this proposed “generic” sense of Apostleship, perhaps Junia is not evidence of full egalitarianism that is supposed by some.
As an observation of mine, because egalitarians are comitted to a view that sees someone of higher authority as being of more value, or occupying a position that should be open to all, they often insinuate that if Junia was an Apostle, the “highest” position of the five fold ministry gifts (Ephesians 4:11), then why would a woman not be able to inhabit any of the positions of authority UNDER that (all others)?
The answers from partial complementarians like myself are:
- You keep equating authority with value, and function with value, but you are mistaken. Greater authority does NOT make you of greater value, any more than being a less visible part of the body, to use Paul’s analogy, makes you less valuable due to your function.
- If there are clear indications that the word “apostle” has two meanings, one as commissioned directly by Jesus, and the other as merely a messenger of the gospel (which might even be of “less” authority than an evangelist!), then Junia’s aposteship is not a valid argument for egalitarianism.
Women as Flawed and Weak
One of the pillars of traditional Complementarianism has been not only Pau’ls appeal to natural order, but to the inherent “inferiority” of their reasoning and resistance to the deceptions of Satan. As if oft quoted of Paul:
And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. (1 Timothy 2:14)
New Testament theologian Daniel Kirk (who I had for a New Testament class at Fuller Theological Seminary) recently argued (and here I’ll probably get zinged for not capturing his argument correctly, but I’m trying ;) that the traditional Complementarian argument has been based on the assumption that Paul’s argument was from the inferiority of the woman. But if we are now equal in Christ, then this argument must now be abandoned.
When such limitations are articulated both in scripture and throughout the history of the church (until the 1970s), the difference was articulated due to an understanding of the inherent inferiority of women. If you hold that women are equal, then you don’t hold to either the biblical reasoning for excluding women or the historical ecclesial reasoning. If you believe that women are equal, you’ve latched onto another dynamic of creation (I’d argue) and redemption (clearly) that undermines patriarchy. 8
Of course, I would argue that (a) yes we are equal, but not the same, in Christ, but (b) Eve sinned while still in the pre-fall state, and that characteristic was not a function of the fall, but of the natural order of her being under the authority and function of Adam – who equally failed, but for different reasons than being deceived. And of course, because his authority carried with it the responsibility, he is credited with the fall of man, not Eve.
Masculine Formation Among Men and Boys
Let me restate my claim, but since this article is getting long, I will have to wait for a future article to support it more fully (if that can be done ;)>
I am claiming that, based not on macho insecurity, but an appeal to the pre-fall nature of man and woman, that in the spiritual formation organs of home and Church, while women certainly have a co-author role that should be maximized, it can not eclipse the final authority of a man without harming the men.
Like any good interim (or aging) leader, women who have the gifts and opportunities to lead, though they may be justified in taking such roles, should be looking to raise up and pass that role to a qualified man – otherwise, they fail to fulfill the actual male and female complementarianism installed at creation.
- Complementarian articles from WholeReason.com ↩
- What You Don’t Know About Complementarian Women (christianitytoday.com) ↩
- Solving Spiritual Dilemmas Through Weighted Paradoxes (wholereason.com) ↩
- Why I am a Soft Complemenatarian (wholereason.com) ↩
- Women, Men and God, John Stott’s Complementarianism (wholereason.com) ↩
- Conclusions on the Egalitarian vs Complementarian debate (Adrian Warnock) ↩
- What is an apostle? (gotquestions.org) ↩
- Equality, Power, and Sex (Storied Theology) ↩