Confessions Of A Complementarian
On the issue of complimentarianism and egalitarianism, our churches are consistently inconsistent. Undeniably we have churches that are fully egalitarian with roles of leadership (pastor, elder, deacon) open to both men and women; we also have a number, though admittedly in the minority, that are fully complimentarian with the leadership roles of pastor and elder filled only by men (some of these churches have women deacons but not in a ‘ruling’ role); then there are a number of churches that live somewhere between these two poles in a strange and (I think) inconsistent manner calling women to the role of deacon/elder (in a ruling sense) but disinclined to call a woman as pastor. To add to the complexity, there are churches who were once complimentarian and have become egalitarian and there are churches that were egalitarian and have become complimentarian. I came into the denomination 20 years ago in a complimentarian church that is no longer in fellowship with the CBOQ (Waterford). I served as their pulpit supply for one year before being called to a North American Baptist Church in BC (Creston) and then returning at the call of Walsh Baptist (CBOQ) fourteen years ago.
I AM VERY HESISTANT TO WRITE AN ARTICLE DIRECTLY ADDRESSING THE ISSUE OF COMPLIMENTARIANISM AND EGALITARIANISM. But I hope both sides will hear with charity what I write here. I cannot claim that I speak for all complimentarians in the denomination, but I know many of them, and I believe these thoughts reflect what most of us believe.
I hope that you will read to the end. I am trying hard not to offer offense in what I write; I hope that you will hear in this both a conscience constrained and a conciliatory tone towards those who hold the opposite position. We don’t agree, but I don’t think this disagreement has to spill over every time we meet.
Here are a couple quick points of information that I chose not to develop further in the article, but may be of interest.
• Just as there are men who refer to themselves as feminists, there are women who refer to themselves as complimentarians.
• Complimentarianism defines more than the question of leadership in the church, it marks our family relationships. That being said, I do at least half of the cooking in our home, hang laundry on the line in the backyard and the only tool box in our house says ‘Michelle’s Tools’ and I have watched in awe as my wife has dismantled and reassembled the washing machine, dryer and a number of other small appliances. Those able to witness what a true complimentarian marriage looks like would find the stereotypes do not fit. (Complimentarians oppose in two directions, both against militant feminism and also against male chauvinism.)
• Complimentarians, especially female complimentarians, chafe at the accusation that we are against women in ministry. We know what you mean, we just wish we could define terms differently as our churches are usually rich with women and men in ministry. We believe that God doesn’t call men and women to the same ministries, but we delight in the richness of God’s gifting in all believers. (I will add on a personal note that my mother and sister are two of the most gifted theologians I know. I have a mother, sister, wife and daughter and encourage all of them to ministry.) I am not being intentionally obtuse in this statement. We know that when you ask the question about women in ministry at our ordination, you mean women in pastoral leadership, but we would rejoice to find a mutually agreeable term that wouldn’t caricature our churches as chauvinistic places where women are seen and not heard.
• A recent review of the CLRA website revealed that fewer than 4% of our articles in the past two years have addressed this issue. (You may find that incredulous, but chances are you’ve only read those few articles as they tend to be widely shared about.) By simple math, that means that 96% of CLRA’s public conversation has been about something other than gender.
Having said that, let me come to the heart of my article. It is not uncommon for the new complimentarian pastor to be asked by credentials or at an ordination council: ‘Why are you seeking ordination and credentials within an egalitarian denomination? You must know that we are egalitarian, so if you want to be complimentarian, why don’t you join one of the other denominations.’ The question presumes that the CBOQ is an egalitarian denomination and by implication that the new complimentarian pastor is some sort of interloper seeking to infiltrate and influence the denomination away from their chosen course. Can I take a moment to persuade you that that isn’t generally the case?
Where did these guys come from then and why are they here? Let me state with all my integrity that I don’t know any complimentarian pastor who has wormed their way into a CBOQ church with the intention of ‘converting’ an egalitarian congregation into a complimentarian one. I have known egalitarian churches to call a complimentarian pastor, but not without full disclosure of the new pastors conscientious position.) Consider the truthfulness of this statement: If Paul Carter or Marc Bertrand or Tyler Strickler or the 30 or so other complimentarian pastors I know (at least 10% of CBOQ churches) were to mysteriously vanish tomorrow leaving their pulpits vacant, these churches would not suddenly awaken from a stupor and discover they had been under the control of Machiavellian pastors plotting to drive them unwillingly towards complimentarianism. No, on the contrary, these churches would set about to search out and hire another complimentarian pastor, because these churches are, and have always been, complimentarian.
When I was called to Walsh over 14 years ago, I was made to understand that holding a complimentarian view was a condition to being hired.
So what of this statement, heard routinely at Assembly or Ordination Councils, ‘This is an egalitarian denomination; and complimentarians should seek to serve in complimentarian denominations.’ The statement is not, in fact, factual. Part of the issue, much graver than this debate, is that our denomination is not INTENTIONALLY defined by anything. That is to say, you can believe anything and still be a CBOQ church; we have no standard for doctrinal agreement. I know there are many complimentarians and egalitarians that agree that we should have some sort of standard for accountability, (and many would be content to leave the issue of complimentarianism and egalitarianism to the side). A more accurate statement is to say that we are a denomination that has more egalitarian churches than complimentarian churches. But those complimentarian churches, for the most part, have never been egalitarian. They were established, primarily in the 19th Century, before there was any debate about the matter, and they have remained steadfast immoveable upon the subject throughout the 20th Century and into the 21st Century. In most cases they are churches that have existed in full blown autonomy and isolation, having little to do with the denomination (such was the case with Walsh until 10 years ago when the local Association asked us to engage more intentionally) or else as tiny country churches that have little influence and little voice, but have quietly existed for over a century. Those who were vocal about the matter when it emerged in the late 1940’s and the 1950’s have departed from the denomination long ago to join denominations where they can exercise their conscience freely. But please don’t suggest to the young complimentarian pastor that he is attempting to infiltrate an egalitarian organization; by majority we may be egalitarian, but in his local congregation he is the pastor of people who called him in spite of, or more likely because of, his complimentarian views.
We (CLRA) get about half a dozen requests a year from CBOQ churches seeking a CLRA type pastor. Don’t panic, to date none of these churches were egalitarian churches that have decided to try something different, rather they come from historic complimentarian churches that are seeking pastors that meet their core doctrinal requirements. As Baptists we must recognize the importance of the local church not being controlled by the denomination. So when you meet the young complimentarian and discover that he grew up in a Fellowship Church or the AGC or among the Plymouth Brethren, understand that he is there in good faith and upon the call of a congregation that sought him out. He has prayed that the Lord will lead him to a place where he can serve faithfully and bring glory to God. He also hasn’t come into the denomination with a desire to fight or argue over what we complimentarians consider to be a non-gospel issue. (I think our egalitarian brothers and sisters in Christ would agree to define this matter in that category.)
That leads to two other questions that often emerge. First, why do you speak against the LGBTQ issue but not openly oppose the ordination of women (ie. you seem inconsistent). Second, how shall we conduct ourselves at one another’s ordination councils?
Gospel and Non-Gospel Issues
I will engage theologically with anyone about anything, anywhere. But I don’t unfurl the banners and call for reinforcements on every issue. (There are a few issues I have encountered that have caused me to contact every pastor I know and urge them to contend for the faith, but this isn’t that issue.) I know how close to the heart this one lies, especially for those women who have been called to pastor CBOQ churches. This is not a debate that lies outside of your self.
I do not engage in all out war with the evangelical Presbyterian brothers and sisters over the issue of paedo-baptism; I disagree with them, but I don’t see it as a gospel issue. So long as they are not teaching that infant baptism is a means of grace and a way of salvation I am willing to disagree in conversation and not spend further time on the matter.
I do not engage in all out war with my Pentecostal brothers and sisters over the matter of second blessing theology; I disagree with them, but I don’t see it as a gospel issue so I am willing to disagree in conversation and not spend further time on the matter.
I do not engage in all out war with my Salvation Army brothers and sisters over their strange aversion to the Lord’s Table; I disagree with them, but I don’t see it as a gospel issue so I am willing to disagree in conversation and not spend further time on the matter.
I do not engage in all out war with my CBOQ brothers and sisters on the matter of women’s ordination; I disagree with them, but I don’t see it as a gospel issue so I am willing to disagree in conversation and not spend further time on the matter. I am ever grateful for the many women who proclaim fully the gospel and invite people to repent and believe the good news. I do not think for a moment that the salvation of the lost might be impeded by the gender of the person speaking truth. Praise God!
I do engage in theological war with those who will not plead with the homosexual to turn in repentance from their sin and be saved. This is a gospel issue. Souls are at stake, the scriptures consistently condemn the sin of homosexuality and declare that those who continue in the practice of that sin, along with some others that I am consistent to preach upon, will not enter the kingdom of heaven. These are some of those who will hear, ‘Away from me, I never knew you.’ But grace could be offered to them, Christ’s blood could cleanse them, heaven and all of its joys could be theirs. It is not loving or kind to tell people what they want to hear when what they must hear is the gospel. Do you see the difference between the level of engagement?
(As an aside: Many have pointed out that homosexuality is not a greater sin than other sins, they seem uncomfortable that we have ‘chosen’ to focus on this sin more than others. I answer that I did not choose this issue, the devil did. What other sin, in our current culture, has its own flag, parade, and lifestyle? What other sin presents itself at the front door of the church and asks to be celebrated, affirmed and even embraced? Since we’re on the subject, you might want to consider how often the word ‘pride’ is used in scripture as a virtue. Aside over.)
If I were starting a denomination from scratch, I would prepare a confession that would be complimentarian in nature; I expect that if the egalitarians were starting from scratch they might create a denomination that was egalitarian in nature; however, I am in a historic denomination that has churches that are egalitarian and complimentarian, since this is not a gospel issue, I would content myself with drawing the lines around the gospel for shared agreement.
Practically speaking, this might be the thorniest issue we face on a semi-regular basis. What do I do as a complimentarian pastor when the church down the road has called an ordination council for the young woman they have called as their pastor? Do I boycott in anger? Do I stay away so as not to create an uncomfortable moment for both of us (and run the risk of my absence being seen as a boycott)? Do I go and grill the young candidate on the hard passages, in spite of the fact that she is clearly an egalitarian and aware of them? Do I go and vote ‘NO’ and underline it in red? Is there some other option?
Of course, the very same dilemma presents itself to the egalitarian when the church down the road has called an ordination council for the young complimentarian man they have just called. The exact list of options likely run through the head of the egalitarian pastor.
Is there another option?
I think so. I know that I cannot go to an ordination council and in good conscience mark yes on my ballot. The complimentarian does not believe it safe to disagree with the words of scripture (that is the simplest way to state our position). So I would be violating my own conscience to vote yes. But could we agree that if all else is in order that we would not oppose the ordination simply on this issue? The one ordination for a female pastor that I attended raised no concerns for me other than the obvious point of disagreement. I knew I could not vote yes; but I also knew that I wanted to have a friendship with this fellow believer and sister in the Lord; so I returned the ballot blank. (I know there are those who might accuse me of not following my conscience fully – and I feel the weight of that – but I really don’t want to go to all out war on this issue.) I suspect there are egalitarians who feel they could not in good conscience vote yes for me; but could you return a blank ballot? I think I would, as the candidate, understand the complexity of that moment, and appreciate that my egalitarian brother or sister showed up to help examine my doctrine.
I don’t know how far into the future our shared path lies. But at the present, since we have both sorts of churches in our midst, can we find a way to exist together? I know that this matter is the elephant in the room sometimes, but we all agree it is not a gospel issue, and so not worthy of the amount of time it receives. I’m not opposed to disagreeing in conversation; asking and answering questions, but we have greater common threats to the gospel in our midst. I say to my fellow complimentarians, let us treat our sisters and brothers with greater gentleness and respect; and ask if they might extend the same to us.
Pastor Marc Bertrand