By Pastor Justin Holcomb.
Since the fall of humankind, women have been oppressed, marginalized, and abused. Likewise, children have been abandoned, left to die, and treated like a commodity. Men have also suffered but have often been the cause of much of the suffering that women and children endure.
Because life is often tragic for women and children, a biblical understanding of how men and women are called to relate to them is very important. But often, our ideas of gender roles are confused. There are three main positions in regards to these gender roles: chauvinism, egalitarianism, and complementarianism.
We are committed to complementarianism in the home and the church. We also believe that men and women are partners in every area of life and ministry together. Though equal, men and women have biblically defined complementary and distinct roles, so that husbands are to lovingly lead their homes like Jesus and only men should serve as pastors in the church. Because of the sinful propensity of humans to distort the biblical concept of complementarianism, it's important to cultivate a compassionate and kind complementarianism that starts with celebrating Christ's love for the church. Likewise we encourage men to love their wives and children, and for pastors to lead and serve people sacrifically.
Complementarianism Is Not Chauvinism
Chauvinism is an extreme position and says that men and women have been created in a hierarchy with the male as the higher, superior sex - much like a king being born into a family with a natural right to exercise authority over the rest of his nation. Women, in this view, are the weaker or lesser of the sexes, inheriting a natural role of submission to the man - like the citizens of a country who have no natural claim to authority.
The practical implication of chauvinism is that in the family, the church, and society, women are not to exercise authority over men because it is believed they are incapable of doing so by virtue of how God has made them.
This is the assumption of "male privilege," which is a term that refers generally to the special rights or status granted to men but denied to women in a society on the basis of their gender. This position is wrong because it's oppressive and abusive, and because it is a misunderstanding of God's creative intentions for men and women as His image bearers.
Complementarianism Is Not Egalitarianism
A second position is often referred to as egalitarianism. While affirming that God creates men and women equal, some proponents of egalitarianism say that there is no God-ordained structuring of how men and women ought to serve in the church and the home.
The egalitarian position correctly sees God as creating men and women as completely equal persons, both gloriously expressing the image of God. However, some egalitarians argue that there is no difference in how husbands and wives should relate to and serve each other. Scripture makes it clear, as we'll see below, that God ordained a framework in which men and women are to use their gifts and talents in the home and church.
What we believe about the role of men and women is called complementarianism. Unlike chauvinism, this view affirms (with the egalitarian position) that God created men and women as equal image bearers of the Trinity.
While men and women are different, there is nothing inherent in men or women that grants them either authority or submission. However, the Scriptures make clear that God designated that the marriage relationship - patterned after Christ's own relationship with the church - be one in which the man and the woman each play distinct roles (Ephesians 5: 22-33, Colossians 3: 18-20).
In Ephesians 5, the Apostle Paul draws a parallel between marriage and the relationship between Christ and the church. The husband is the head of the wife similar to how Christ is the head of the church, and husbands are to love their wives in the same way that Christ sacrifically gave himself for the church. Paul writes: "[Husbands] let each of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband."
Some people have difficulty with the idea of complementarianism because they have either experienced or wrongly assumed that a husband's leadership is macho domination. But the perfect example of leadership is shown in Christ's love for his bride, the church. Christ's relationship to the church is the kind of leadership that sacrifically gives for the good of the other. It's this type of leadership that husbands are intended to model to their wives so their marriages are reflections of Christ's love for His church. This leadership is in the context of mutual submission to each other in which both husband and wife are "submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ" (Ephesians 5: 21).
ABOUT JUSTIN HOLCOMB
Justin Holcomb is a pastor, author and theology professor based in Florida, USA.