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The Importance of a Complementarian View of Sexuality and Gender Roles

Thu. Aug. 10, 2017By: Michael Sealy

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Editor's Note: In May of 2016 CLRA released their Revised Statement Of Faith, having worked in team over the course of a shared weekend at Muskoka Baptist Conference. At that meeting it was determined that the various contributors would each endeavour to write an extended commentary on one or more of the sections in the statement. The commentaries would elaborate on the issue and provide some background insight into why the committee came down as they did and why they used the words they did in crafting the original statement. We had hoped to begin releasing these in the spring, but alas, most of the contributors are pastors who live very busy lives. The commentaries are not being released in any sort of strategic order, rather they are being released as they are submitted. Michael Sealy was first in and therefore this commentary is first out. We trust you will find them useful.

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Author and Christian apologist C. S. Lewis offered the following with regards to the progress of culture:

"We all want progress.  But progress means getting nearer to the place where you want to be.  And if you have taken a wrong turning, then to go forward does not get you any nearer.  If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man."[1] 

Western Civilization for some time has been in a state of flux when it comes to the issues of sexuality and gender.  There has been almost a complete reversal among the general populace on issues of same-sex sexual relationships and permanent unions approved by the state.  Similarly, recent years have introduced the concept of gender fluidity which is seeking to erase the concept of binary gender in humanity.  As these concepts have gained popularity, movements to promote these new values have gained significant influence and power.  As a result, pressure is being applied to individuals and groups that are resisting these changes.  Evangelicalism is one such group that has been targeted to expand its convictions in regards to sexual expression, gender identity, and gender roles.  These issues have served as a dividing force among people who called themselves evangelicals and is likely to remain so for the foreseeable future.  Some church leaders are actively encouraging the embrace of the new ideals being foisted upon us by the culture, others are attempting to remain ambiguous or silent, and others are rejecting these cultural forces in favour of long held ecclesiastical convictions. 

It is the conviction of the Covenant Life Renewal Association (CLRA) that followers of Christ must remain firmly committed to defining marriage as being between one man and one woman, and to a complimentary understanding of gender in the home and the church.  Given the dividing lines in evangelicalism today, some are going to question grouping these two issues together.  On one hand they will agree with CLRA that the church needs to hold the line on the issue of sexual ethics, but see denying women the right to particular leadership offices in the church as a step backwards.  To be clear CLRA does make a distinction on these issues.  While we affirm a need to obey the biblical teaching on gender roles within the church and home (Eph. 5:21-33, 1Tim 2:8-15), we acknowledge the Bible nowhere expresses that holding the complementarian view is essential to salvation.  The issue of gender identity and sexual expression outside of a marriage between a man and a woman; however, is a different situation altogether.  Affirming sexual behaviour outside the confines of marriage is an outright rejection of the Lordship of Jesus Christ and is certain evidence of an unregenerate heart.  Therefore, to affirm such things is to aide in the eternal destruction of those who follow after such things.[2]

What then is the link between sexual ethics and the roles of men and women in the home and the church?  Hermeneutics is the answer to that question.  A hermeneutic is a method of interpretation that a reader employs in order to discern the meaning of a text.  While hermeneutics that lead to an egalitarian view (women can and should serve as pastors/elders/overseers) do not completely reject biblical authority, they begin the process of undermining it.  In other words, methods of biblical interpretation that erase the gender roles taught in Scripture lead to the possibility of embracing sexual ethics contrary to the one man one woman pattern established in the Bible.  Once an interpreter moves beyond the pages of God’s Word in order to determine which passages are relevant for the church today and which ones are not, it is only a matter of time before the cultural convictions of the present take precedence over what God has revealed.  In the end understanding the Bible becomes subjective and the Bible itself becomes subject to the interpreter.

Scripture and reason, however, lead in a different direction.  God has revealed many significant aspects of His nature within the pages of the Bible and those attributes point His people away from culturally subjective hermeneutics.  For example, let’s consider God’s immutability (Psa. 102:27, Mal. 3:6, Heb. 13:8) and His omniscience (Psa. 139:1-4, Psa. 147:5, Matt. 10:29-30, Heb. 14:13, 1Jo. 3:20).  God’s immutability (unchanging nature) is important to consider in terms of Biblical interpretation.  An unchanging God cannot change to placate culture.  To do so would be to abdicate His throne and cease to be the Ruler of all.  If God’s nature is unchanging it makes no logical sense for Him give His people a malleable Word.  In fact the Bible refers to God’s Word as remaining constant (Isa 40:7, Matt. 24:35).  The implications then for adjusting biblical interpretation based on culture are severe.  Discussing the exegesis of 1Timothy 2, a passage bound by culture according to egalitarians, Dorothy Patterson says this:

"One cannot apply 1Timothy 2:9-15 without a careful review of one’s personal presuppositions, especially with regard to the role of Scripture.  Many want to move the interpretation into an existential arena with the influence of culture as the primary yardstick for interpretation.  Yet culture must not be allowed to supplant the immutable Word of God.  If allowed to stand, this premise illegitimately dethrones Scripture from its rightful place as the Word of God." (emphasis mine)[3] 

Reason suggests that an immutable God, if He chooses to reveal Himself, will reveal Himself with an immutable Word.  To leave behind this principle is to begin the drift from orthodoxy into error the severity of which is only limited by the individual. 

In addition to God’s immutability, one must also consider God’s omniscience.  One way in which some modern interpreters attempt to dismiss biblical passages that seem to contradict the egalitarian view and the broadening of sexual ethics is to argue that the conditions of the modern world were not originally envisioned in scripture.  Biblical authors, for example, could never imagine women achieving the same level of education as men or monogamous homosexual relationships are never discussed in scripture and therefore never condemned.  Arguments along these lines, however, are based completely on inference, they ignore the inherent countercultural approach of the Lord Jesus, and never consider the omniscience of God. 

Invariably, egalitarian arguments and polemics embracing alternative sexual ethics rely heavily on disregarding passages of the Bible.  Unwarranted assumptions lead revisionists to conclude that the Bible is silent on today’s issues.  Thinking along these lines forces the interpreter to view God as being ignorant of the future.  It makes little to no sense for the all-knowing God to speak with such clarity and without exception in regards to what He prohibits if future circumstances were going to create exceptions to His instructions.  It seems much more reasonable to think that if God intended there to be exceptions, especially on matters where the eternal destiny of human beings are at stake, He would have stated them.  Trying to twist the scriptures to accommodate culture not only diminishes biblical authority it also reduces one’s view of the attributes of God.  A path that certainly leads to idolatry if one walks far enough down the path.

Additionally, eroding biblical authority and failing to appreciate the fullness of God’s attributes by drifting from the historical positions on gender roles and sexual ethics fails to see the inherent goodness in complimentary and historically orthodox view of scripture.  Egalitarians and proponents of revising the sexual ethics of the church often want to keep the debate limited to a relatively few number of texts within the canon, however, such attempts fail to escape the reality that the revisionist interpretation is in conflict with the whole of scripture.  God’s instructions for men and women and how they relate to one another in the home and church are based on His design as humanity’s creator rather than a culturally bound idea.

Admittedly 1Timothy 2:11-15 are verses subject to a great deal of scrutiny and it is one of the texts that egalitarians wish to focus upon.  Some think that if it can be shown that 1Timothy 2 and a few other similar texts can be shown to be culturally bound, then the complementarian position ought to be abandoned.  But the text itself reveals that it is necessary to broaden the scope of the discussion beyond one or two texts.  In verse thirteen Paul gives the authoritative teaching responsibility in the church to men based on God’s initial creation of human beings.  He writes, “For Adam was formed first, then Eve.”[4]  This language takes us right to God’s initial design for men and women.  This is an event that occurs prior to sin entering into the world.  It locates the complementarian view in the very fabric of creation itself.

Complementarians are sometimes accused of antiquated arbitrary discrimination against women.  In response Alexander Strauch writes,

"To restrict women from the church eldership would be unjust and discriminatory if it were done arbitrarily by males for their own selfish ends, but if such restriction was part of the Creator’s wise plan—then it is not discrimination—it is just and good for the welfare of the family, local church, and the whole human race."[5]

Far from being discriminatory, the conviction that men and women are distinct and have been given unique roles in the home and in the church is a celebration of the good designs of a most glorious Creator.  The same argument must be made in regards to sexual ethics.

Humanity is uniquely described as being made in the image of God at the beginning of Genesis.  Scripture says, “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”[6]  In the beginning God designed humanity with a binary gender “male” and “female” and gave them an incomparable ability to reflect His glory upon the earth.  The notion of gender fluidity is in direct opposition to God’s design of human beings.  To deny one’s birth assigned gender is to ignore God’s right as creator and live in rebellion against Him.  Maleness and femaleness are inherent in God’s design for humanity; therefore, they are inherently good and for the good of all people.  Similarly, marriage between one man and one woman is also clearly seen in God original design.

Having created Adam first, God graciously observed that “It is not good for the man to be alone, I will make a helper suitable for him.”[7]  God then proceeds to teach the man that no other creature on the face of the earth qualifies as a suitable helper at which point He proceeds to create the first woman from biological material taken out of the man and joins them together in marriage.  Two persons created of the same substance indicates equal value in personhood and worth.  Within that equality there is clear distinction between their genders.  Men and women are designed differently and yet when God brings them together in marriage they are said to become “one flesh”[8]  The picture of marriage then is one of distinction and unity.  If two men or two women are joined in marriage or gender differences are ignored the picture of distinction is lost and so are God’s good purposes for marriage.  One such purpose, perhaps the most significant of all, is revealed in the New Testament where marriage is given as a picture of the gospel.

Multiple times in the gospels Jesus likens His second coming to a wedding feast, in the book of Revelation the “new Jerusalem” is referred to as a bride, and when addressing the roles of men and women in marriage the Apostle Paul overtly compares husbands and wives to Christ and His Church.  Paul’s argument in Ephesians five in particularly poignant to the complementarian view of marriage.  It says, “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord.  For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church.”[9]  In addition he writes, “Husbands love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”[10]  While there are a few words in that sentence that modern ears may find offensive, what is certain is that Paul likens the role of a husband to Christ’s position over the church.  It is equally clear that he is making a strong comparison between the role of a wife and the church’s position under the Lord Jesus.  An egalitarian view of marriage seems to substantially compromise the picture that God intends Christian marriage to be.

Jesus is the leader, protector, provider, and lover of the church.[11]  The authority and responsibility of Christ and the authority and responsibility of the church are different from one another.  In order for a husband to be a picture of Christ in his marriage he must be the leader, protector, provider, and lover of his wife.  Whenever a husband takes up his God mandated responsibility to lead his family in selfless devotion seeking the ultimate good of their wife, the world gets a picture of the gospel.  On the other hand, whenever a husband abdicates his responsibility to lead his wife the world receives a picture of a church fending for itself, charting its own course, and a church that can live independently of Jesus.  There is much to be lost by leaving behind a complementarian view of gender roles and so it remains an important conviction in the CLRA statement of faith.

Likely there are at least a few people who will read this article and be unsatisfied with the above justification for the inclusion of a complementarian view being an important aspect of CLRA’s convictions.  No doubt there are at least a few people will want to argue the points that have been made here, that is understandable and also welcome.  Simply be reminded that the point of this article was to highlight some of reasons why CLRA churches hold their stances on the roles of men and women in the home and in the church.  This article is not intended to be a thorough biblical exegesis defending the view, it is merely meant to offer some reasons as to why CLRA believes the complementarian position to be important.  Holding a complementarian view is the result of applying a hermeneutic which best upholds the infallibility and authority of Holy Scripture, it reflects God’s original design displayed throughout the Bible, and it serves as an illustration of the gospel of Jesus Christ; therefore, it is for the good of all humanity to maintain such a view of the relationship between men and women in the home and the church.  Yes our culture has all but abandoned the complementarian view, but has it taken a wrong turn?  CLRA believes it has and believes that the church must not follow.  To that end the following article of faith was drafted by a group of likeminded pastors and lay people: 

Article V – Of Marriage, Sexuality And Gender

i.         We affirm that marriage is to be between one man and one woman; united in loving covenant before God for the mutual help and comfort of husband and wife, for the increase of mankind with legitimate offspring, and the preventing of sexual immorality.

ii.         We deny that it is lawful or legitimate before God for any man to have more than one wife, or for any woman to have more than one husband at the same time.  We further deny that it is lawful or legitimate before God for a man to marry another man, or for a woman to marry another woman.

iii.         We affirm that men and women are equal in dignity and worth, bearing as they do the very image and likeness of God. We affirm that the Scripture reveals a pattern of complementary order between men and women, and that this order is itself a testimony to the Gospel, even as it is the gift of our Creator and Redeemer. We also affirm that all Christians are called to service within the body of Christ, and that God has given to both men and women important and strategic roles within the home, the Church, and the society. We further affirm that the teaching office of the Church is assigned only to those men who are called of God in fulfillment of the biblical teachings and that men are to lead in their homes as husbands and fathers who fear and love God.

iv.         We deny that the distinction of roles between men and women revealed in the Bible is evidence of mere cultural conditioning or a manifestation of male oppression or prejudice against women. We also deny that this biblical distinction of roles excludes women from meaningful ministry in Christ’s kingdom. We further deny that any Church can confuse these issues without damaging its witness to the Gospel.

Gen. 1:27-28, 2:18, 24; Lev. 18:6-18, 22; Neh. 13:25-27; Mal. 2:15; Matt. 19:5,6; Mark 6:18; Rom. 1:18-32; 1 Cor. 5:1, 6:9-11, 7:2,9, 39, 11:4-5, 14:29-35; Gal. 3:23-29; Eph. 5:21-33; 1 Tim. 2:8-15, 3:1-13, 4:3; Heb. 13:4

Comments on the Article:

As with every article in the CLRA statement of faith this one contains both affirmations and denials.  This was done for the sake of clarity and to try and minimize the ability of those who would claim to affirm an orthodox view of marriage while at the same time accepting aberrations.  For example one may say, “I believe marriage is between one man and one woman, but I also believe in other legitimate forms of marriage.”  The denial portion of the article makes it clear that CLRA churches believe that there is only one form of legitimate marriage.

With regards to paragraphs three and four of this article there is a deliberate emphasis on the equality of men and women.  If there is an area where egalitarians and complementarians agree it is this one.  CLRA acknowledges that women have been unfairly treated and often abused in the history of our society and even in the church.  However, we believe such abuses are just as unbiblical as rejecting God’s design for gender.  Our aim in this article is to avoid both errors so that God’s glory and grace may be clearly seen in our churches.

Lastly, it is important to notice that the CLRA statement acknowledges the full gifting of women for active participation in the home and local churches.  This article of faith in not primarily about restricting women from ministry as much as it is about calling men and women to use their Holy Spirit given gifts in the service of the church as Christ has commanded.  In this way CLRA churches believe that both men and women will be empowered for more effective service to our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.  May all of these things be for God’s glory alone.

Humbly,

Michael Sealy

 


[1]           C.S. Lewis, C.S. Lewis: The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics (New York: Harper One, 2002), 33.

[2]           1Corinthians 6:9-10.

[3]           Dorothy Kelly Patterson, “What Should A Woman Do In The Church,” in Women in the Church, ed. Andreas Kostenberger and Thomas R. Schreiner (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005), 170.

[4]           1Timothy 2:13

[5]           Alexander Strauch, Biblical Eldership: An Urgent Call To Restore Biblical Church Leadership (Colorado: Lewis and Roth Publishers, 1995), 52.

[6]           Genesis 1:27

[7]           Genesis 2:18

[8]             Genesis 2:24

[9]           Ephesians 5:22-23

[10]          Ephesians 5:25

[11]          John 10:11-14, John 13:13, John 15:13, Philippians 4:19, Colossians 1:18.

Category: General


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