One of the basic tenets of the ideology known as complementarianism is that men and women have equal value and worth as human beings because we are all made in the image of God. Despite this tenet, complementarians also believe that men and women have different roles in the home and in the church. Some even believe that men and women have different roles in broader society. When complementarians use the word “role,” however, their meaning seems more like “rank.”
Dictionary.com gives a definition of “rank” as “a number of persons forming a separate class in a social hierarchy or in any graded body.” It looks to me that many complementarians have effectively graded and divided the church into two main classes: #1 men and #2 women.
Complementarians, such as John Piper, claim that men were created by God to be leaders and have spiritual authority. And they claim that women were created to be responsive and submissive to this all-male leadership and authority. This is not a difference in tasks to be performed; it is a difference in rank or status, with the lower class serving and submitting to the higher class (contra Eph. 5:21; 1 Pet. 5:5 NKJV).
The Bible says very little about gender-based tasks, activities, or “roles.” Moreover, the Bible has enough examples of women with spiritual authority—women who taught, advised, and led men—to call into question the concept of hierarchical authority underpinning complementarianism. Nevertheless, some complementarians seem intent on dividing the church along gender lines.
Generally speaking, men and women have a few basic differences, but we also share many more things in common. Christian men and women share profound things in common (Gal. 3:26-28). We share our common faith and hope. And we each share the responsibility to love our neighbour and minister the gospel of grace, hope, healing, and forgiveness. Our varying abilities to love and to minister are not tied to gender. (See Romans 12:6-8 CSB, 1 Corinthians chapter 12 and Ephesians 4:7, 11; 5:1-2).
The message of the New Testament is that the body of Christ, the church, should function as an interdependent unity and not a social hierarchy. Instead of a hierarchy, I, for one, want to promote mutuality in the church as well as in other relationships. And I want both men and women to be encouraged and supported to fulfil whatever roles, functions, and ministries they are equipped and gifted for. Surely this will help the church and relationships to thrive.
[This post was inspired by, and borrows from, an interesting comment made by counsellor Bob Edwards on his Facebook page.]
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Kevin Giles has written an article on the misuse of the word “role” by complementarians which Philip Payne has posted the article on his website here.