What is complementarianism? Egalitarianism? Is one biblical? Unbiblical? Which is correct? Read on!
Table of contents
- NASB & NIV—“suitable for him”
- ESV—“fit for him”
- HCSB—“his complement”
The literal translation actually means “opposite or contrasting.” Men and women were designed to fit in all ways. Physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. When a husband and wife become one flesh at their wedding, they perfectly complement each other. Together, they become something stronger and more magnificent than they could be alone. The strengths of each compensate for the weaknesses of the other:
- When a husband thinks about his wife, he should see her as God’s suitable companion for him.
- When a wife thinks about her husband, she should see herself as God’s perfect fit for him.
We should give thanks to God for His wonderful design and do everything we can to fulfill the roles He has given us as husband and wife. One of the best ways to do this is by embracing the different roles and responsibilities He gave men and women.
What is Egalitarianism?
Egalitarianism is the rejection of the different roles and responsibilities. Egalitarians believe God does not have separate and distinct plans for men and women. They see them interchangeably. Homosexual marriage, transgenderism, and bisexuality are simply extreme forms of egalitarianism.
The Scripture most cited by egalitarians is Galatians 3:28:
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
Using the verse to support egalitarianism takes it out of context because it deals with salvation. Everyone, whether Jew, Gentile, slave, free, male, or female is saved by grace through faith apart from the law and works (Galatians 3:1–25). If Paul were saying men and women are identical in terms of responsibilities, he would be contradicting numerous Scriptures he wrote outlining the differences between the genders.
Egalitarian assertions are based on false premises. [Identical] responsibilities and authority produces the chaos of no one having ultimate authority or responsibility. The egalitarian premises of socialistic communism are unworkable. Identity, value and worth are not found in gender function, but in a personal Being beyond ourselves.James Fowler, Women in the Church
What is Complementarianism?
Complementarianism, on the other hand, teaches that God has separate and distinct responsibilities for men and women. This allows them to balance and support each other. Complementarians recognize the gender roles in Scripture are meaningful. When embraced they promote spiritual and emotional health that allows people to reach their God-given potential.
God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.Genesis 1:27, 5:2, and Mark 10:6
The emphasis is not on God’s creating people but on His creating two different types of humans. One male and one female. The rest of Scripture reveals the distinct plans for each. Although men and women equally share God’s image and together have dominion over creation, God designed them differently in order to accomplish His purposes.
To learn more about complementarianism and egalitarianism, listen to this conference message I delivered…
A Poor Criticism of Complementarianism
Egalitarians claim complementarianism is chauvinistic. One gender is supposedly superior to the other. But a difference in roles and responsibilities doesn’t mean a difference in value. Two people can be different and equal. Men and women can have the same significance while not being identical. God’s very nature supports this in that there are three different Persons with distinct roles, but there is still equality.
In our day, many say there is no real difference between men and women. This makes sense if we are the result of mindless evolution, but the Bible says “male and female He created them.” To God, the differences between men and women are not accidents. Since He created them, the differences are good and meaningful. One of the saddest signs of our culture’s depravity is the amount and the degree of gender confusion today. It is vain to wonder if men or women are superior to the other. A man is absolutely superior at being a man. A woman is absolutely superior at being a woman. But when a man tries to be a woman or a woman tries to be a man, you have something inferior.Pastor David Guzik’s commentary on Genesis 1
The Real Tragedy with Egalitarianism
We can’t expect unbelievers to agree with God’s Word and accept complementarianism. The real tragedy is when Christians hold to an egalitarian view. They see no differences between men and women’s roles in the home or the church. Such individuals may not condone such outright sins as homosexuality and transgenderism, but they indirectly support these agendas by denying the gender roles and undermining God’s Word.
Complementarians embrace God’s commands for men to lead in the home and the church. Although they also believe that just as men are needed in the home and the church in crucial ways, so women are needed in the home and the church in crucial ways. But the way each gender is needed is different. We must maintain the distinctions between men and women if we are to obey God’s Word.
Obey the Bible Versus the World
These days we often hear about the “redefinition” of marriage. Such discussions typically refer to marriage as being something other than the union of one man and one woman for life. But there is another way society has redefined marriage, and that is in relation to the roles and responsibilities of husbands and wives. Consider this: Even non-Christian friends and neighbors have no issue discussing husbands’ loving their wives, but mention male headship or submission, and you can count on facing fierce opposition. Consider what self-proclaimed feminist Cath Elliot said about biblical womanhood:
Unfortunately, as in any movement for social change, there are those who remain resistant to their own (freedom): a tiny minority of women who have been so indoctrinated by religious conditioning that they continue to see themselves as men’s subordinates . . . Biblical womanhood does exactly what it says it does: it sends women back to the dark ages. At the (True Woman) Conference, for example, the Christian sisters launched their new manifesto, inspiringly titled “The True Woman Manifesto,” where they resolved to cultivate “such virtues as purity, modesty, submission, meekness, and love” and where they affirmed their calling as women “to encourage men as they seek to express godly masculinity, and to honor and support God-ordained male leadership in the home and in the church.” It’s encouraging to see that only three thousand women have signed this terrible charter, but it’s also depressing to think that three thousand women think so little of themselves and their daughters that they’re prepared to endorse such illiberal, anti-woman nonsense.Cath Elliot. “Beware the anti-feminists.” The Guardian. January 28, 2009
Obviously, a radical feminist such as Ms. Elliot denies complementarianism, and embraces egalitarianism. But she is not alone. This is the prevailing view of our society regarding the roles of husbands and wives. More tragic yet is the fact that this is even the view of some churches.
Freedom is experienced when we live our lives in obedience to God. True freedom comes when we strive to be husbands and wives as God commanded rather than as society defines:
Jesus said: “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”John 8:32
This is why we need to embrace what Scripture says. Real freedom and joy—whether for young, old, male, female, single, or married—comes from obeying God. Disobedience always leads to frustration and bondage.
Whenever we read the Bible, we face two choices:
- We can shape Scripture to fit our desires and beliefs.
- We can allow Scripture to shape us and our thinking.
As Christians, we will undoubtedly say we want the latter, but the real difficulty is that we live in a world that is also striving to shape and influence us. This is why the apostle Paul said:
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.Romans 12:2
Paul identified the world—that is, the view of the society that surrounds us—as a conforming influence on our lives, but he told us to have our minds transformed instead.
What does this mean? The Greek word for “conformed” is syschematizo, which means “to conform one’s self—one’s mind and character—to another’s pattern . . . fashion one’s self according to.” It is related to the English word schematic because it is describing the way society tempts us to follow its patterns. Instead we are to be “transformed,” which is metamorphoo, related to the English word metamorphosis. Picture a caterpillar bursting from its cocoon, transformed into a beautiful butterfly. Similarly, we are transformed in mind and character as we resist the world and surrender ourselves to God’s Word.
Allowing our minds to be transformed in this way can be difficult, especially when we come across verses that are hard to accept or with which we disagree. When our beliefs are challenged – whether about complementarianism and egalitarianism or something else, it is at those moments that we need to choose to submit to Scripture. Unless we think we are wiser than God, we need to trust that He knows best.
We may think “walking by faith” means going overseas as a missionary or taking on some ministry that is terrifying to us, but walking by faith plays out more often in our lives when we look at God’s Word and say: “This does not make sense to me, but I am going to obey anyway.” Before you read any further in the book, I hope you will make the decision to let the Bible transform your view of marriage. Otherwise, you will end up being conformed by the world. This is especially important when discussing complementarianism and egalitarianism since there’s so much confusion in our society and, sadly, even within some churches.
- Were you taught a complementarian or egalitarian view of marriage? If egalitarian, are you willing to reserve judgment and openly receive what the Bible teaches about distinctions between husbands’ and wives’ roles and responsibilities? Why or why not?
- In what ways has egalitarianism influenced Western culture?
- Considering what you read about complementarianism, how would you refute the egalitarian assumption that a difference in roles and responsibilities implies a difference in equality, importance, or value.”
- In what ways do you and your spouse complement each other?
- Describe a time you experienced freedom by obeying God.
- Discuss a time time you:
- Allowed Scripture to shape you and your thinking
- Shaped Scripture to fit your desires and beliefs
- Discuss an example of worldly advice you received, and how it conflicted with Scripture.
- Describe a time you obeyed God’s Word even though it did not make sense to you.