The World According to Complementarians

I’m trying to get my head around what Complementarians believe, and I think it goes something like this:

Complementarians think there is a “headship” hierarchy in the universe. God the Father has always been “head” of the God the Son. When Paul wrote about Jesus being very nature God, and emptying himself in the incarnation, that was a pretty suspect idea… definitely not Paul’s finest hour. The Trinity is a chain of command, not some quaint idea of perichoresis of three Persons equally God.

The man is “head” of the woman: this is why women can’t do church leadership, or speak in church. It seems that you can teach “down” in the hierarchy of the universe, but you can’t teach “up”. Therefore men can teach men about the bible, women can teach women (equal in the "headship" hierarchy), while men and women can both teach children (who are a bit lower in the hierarchy). However, I have heard that something magical happens to boys when they turn 16 (or 18), and God suddenly gets upset if women teach them the bible. The age when boys are endowed with “headship” and are promoted in the hierarchy is an important theological issue: I think in Jewish thought this happens around age 12 or 13 at Bar Mitzvah. (God needs to be a bit clearer on the “magic age” in my opinion).

Strangely, it does seem many Complementarians commend single women missionaries who go out to fields where the gospel is unknown, preach the gospel, plant a church, and teach the new church in the Christian faith.

Because these Complementarians seem to approve of single women missionaries overseas, I assume that darker-skinned people are lower in the hierarchy than white women, who are allowed to teach the darker-skinned. The "headship" hierarchy of the universe therefore must go like this: God, Jesus, white man, white woman, darker skinned man, darker skinned woman. (I'm not quite sure where white children fit, but I'm pretty sure dark-skinned children are at the bottom of the chain.)* 

We need to be clear that all of these people are equally IMPORTANT to God, but it's just that God doesn't want to give them equal power, because unequal power after all reflects the nature of God. God the Father is the boss of Jesus and all human relationships work this way. Actually, they work this way in the church, but in the WORLD God doesn't mind the fact Australia has a female Head of State, Governor-General, and Prime Minister, nor prominent women in academia, leading schools and universities, and CEO's of businesses. These are "special" realms where God relaxes the hierarchy of the Universe. In the WORLD teaching positions in universities, schools, etc. should be based on academic qualifications, competence, and experience. However, if women try to lead anything or speak in a church building God gets VERY UPSET. Church settings are a different realm, where it is better for an illiterate man to speak about faith (even if his opinions are nonsense) than to have a woman with a doctorate in theology teach the people.

This issue is CENTRAL to faith, not some namby-pamby issue of conscience. I believe the Complementarians have found the key creed of the early church, and it goes like this:

I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth;
and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord: Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary; suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried. He descended into hell; the third day He rose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven, is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Holy Catholic Church, the communion of Saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting.
I believe men must lead everything in the church, and anyone who teaches women can lead or speak should be SHUNNED.

Complementarians really like two verses in the epistles, but they do not like a lot of other parts of the bible... like Deborah being a prophet, judge and leader of Israel. Or Miriam, Huldah, the daughters of Phillip, etc. being called prophets. Or Junia being called an apostle. However, apparently all of these things have very good explanations. Junia was either not really an apostle, or not really a woman, depending on your interpretation. God personally asked something like a million Israelite men to act as judge of Israel, and they ALL said no. Desperate times require that even God must bend the rules.

It may be the prophetesses named would whisper their prophesies into a man's ear, who would relay the word of the Lord, without the women having to actually verbalise anything to a group of men. One-on-one prophesy is apparently ok with Complementarians. It's groups of people that have "magical" properties. In a mixed-gender group in a church building the Lord gets VERY upset when a woman speaks, although apparently it doesn't disturb the hierarchy of the universe when women speak in other settings, such as parliament, board meetings, parties and the like In SECULAR buildings or settings, the "headship" hierarchy of the universe and the Godhead becomes irrelevant. Just because.

Now it should be noted this discussion is only in relation to leading churches, biblical preaching, prophesy, church planting, etc. In terms of being PRIESTS (for those denominations that ordain specialist priests), we need to turn to the guidelines of the Old Testament. These guidelines clearly show that priests must be male, Jewish, circumcised, physically without defect, and descended from Aaron. Having noted all this, clever theologians have shown that in the New Testament era none of that matters. In Christ all such rules and regulations have been swept away except for one: the priest must of course still be MALE. God has relaxed all the other rules except the "male" rule, because of "headship". The principle of male "headship" is critical, even though the word "headship" is not found in the bible.

So folks, for those of you who know Complementarians a bit better than I do... do I have this right? Or have I missed some of their more important tenets?

* I realise this is very confronting: what inspired this post was hearing about a Complementarian group training female missionaries to lead bible studies because they would "need to do this on the mission field". The implied racism of this horrified me and triggered me to write this post. Many other Complementarians won't even allow women to teach on the mission field; this stance is only sexist not racist also.


Amanda Morrice said…
Thanks, Janet. I needed that.

I would like to suggest that Mary Magdelene was possibly the first female preacher of the Gospel, according to tradition.

I feel the intense frustration as complimentarians (including Mr/Mrs Beamish) continue to choke the church to death.

God bless you for continuing to speak out against the heresy that women cannot hold positions of leadership in the church.
Janet Woodlock said…
Thanks Amanda... I find the rationale that women cannot teach because of "headship" (especially when this is overlooked in a foreign mission context) quite offensive. Unwittingly it conveys white men have more authority than white women, who have more authority than darker-skinned men, etc. It is horrifyingly racist as well as sexist, and detracts from all Paul proclaimed about our equality in Christ Jesus.

But you know that.

Mr/Mrs Beamish? Not sure what the reference means.
AbiSomeone said…
Janet, I will send you an email privately, but you definitely got the gist of it. Truly tragic -- for everyone.
Janet Woodlock said…
Yep, the failure to grasp the radical Kingdom of God has been a big loss for the church, basically... on so many levels. :-(
Hamish said…
Sorry Janet but to suggest Christ was "stripped from Him in the incarnation" contradicts Phil 2:6-10 where Jesus "emptied himself" and "humbled himself".

This is the very nature of submission - something done willingly rather than something done to you.

I don't know anyone in Sydney who would suggest there is a hierarchy as you suggest.
Janet Woodlock said…
Well, it is a satirical post. I don't know anyone who would REALLY claim white-skinned people have headship over darker-skinned people, though a colleague fresh from the CMS world tells me hardline Sydney complementarians he knows are happy to send women overseas as missionaries! Curious.

I'm pleased to hear no one you know in Sydney would suggest there is a hierarchy in the Trinity... as I think it is a borderline heresy. I am from Melbourne, and in Churches of Christ circles at that (which are largely, though not entirely, egalitarian), and I don't think I know any Sydney Anglicans personally. I do, however, hear a bit of moaning about them! :-)

The eternal subordination of the Son IS however an argument used by Complementarians in the States. The one serious theologian publishing a Complementarian perspective (in my view anyway... the rest are copycats!) is Wayne Grudem, and this is precisely what he argues. If you Google the phrase "eternal subordination of the Son" you can get a quick feel of the arguments of both sides. Women are eternally subordinate to men because the Son is eternally subordinate to the Father.

Good pick up on my clumsy use of language though... I was meaning "stripped himself" but I'll correct the post to use the biblical words.

I might see if Kevin Giles is happy to comment on this, as I think he has been involved in these discussions with his Sydney Anglican friends... he would have a good idea whether this view is more widespread than your experience of it.

Just curious... what justification is used by those you know in favour of women not being allowed to teach in Christian communities, if it isn't the "headship / hierarchy" idea?

Thanks for dropping by Hamish!
Janet Woodlock said…
Oh, and here's one link to look at for an overview of the discussions:
Janet Woodlock said…
Oh, and one more correction... Wayne Grudem is a complementarian theologian in the Protestant/evangelical world. The Catholic church has reasons for an all-male priesthood that has much to do with continuation of a long tradition. In reality women lead and speak and do heaps of stuff to keep most local Catholic parishes running, but blessing the mass and confession requires an ordained male priest. The Orthodox church has male priests also... though there is of course a movement for ordination in both of these branches of the Christian church.

Pardon the Protestant-centric comment: it is largely my world. :-) In this world, the heavyweight theologians throw their voices behind egalitarian ministry, for reasons that I find more powerful and convincing than Wayne Grudem's arguments. Stanley Grenz's book (Women in the Church: A Biblical Theology of Women in Ministry)I think is particularly powerful, as he does an honest look at ALL the arguments for a and against the participation of women in leadership and ministry, by an evangelical scholar at the top of his game. As they say, if you're going to read only one book on the topic....
Shirley Taylor said…
Ok, so what are we going to do about it? Everything you said is true - in America we have this same situation.

I wrote a book "Dethroning Male Headship" that has just been published. It tells us what we can do.

What we can't do - to use their terms - is to sit down and do nothing. I am for doing something. Will you hold hands with me across the water?
Hannah Thomas said…
Shirley's book is awesome!

I will tell you I believe it was Bruce Ware that has more of the 'insider's' information of the subornation of Jesus. He basically states the patriarchy of God, Jesus and Holy Ghost is the same order as Husband, Wife and Children.

Yes, its quite strange stuff! (giggles) you do have the comp point of view pretty down pat there!
Janet Woodlock said…
Hi Shirley, I do apologise for missing your comment when you posted... I didn't get an email for this and so didn't notice it! Well done for writing a book on this important subject: that's awesome! I will buy it now and read with much interest (when it manages to get to Australia!) Yes of course, any way I can help fly the flag for this I'm up for... bad theology always has bad consequences for the church and the kingdom of God.

Thanks for your comment too Hannah, must look Bruce Ware up. My own patch of the church world is quite egalitarian (not perfectly of course) so it all seems very weird to me.
Mabel said…
Quotes taken from John Piper's Book, "What's the Difference":

To the degree that a woman's influence over man is personal and directive it will generally offend a man's good, God-given sense of responsibility and leadership, and thus controvert God's created order. A woman may design the traffic pattern of a city's streets and thus exert a kind of influence over all male drivers. But this influence will be non-personal and therefore not necessarily an offense against God's order . . . . All acts of influence lie on the continuum between personal and impersonal . . . . Some influence is very directive, some is non-directive. For example, a drill sergeant would epitomize directive influence. It would be hard to see how a woman could be a drill sergeant over men without violating their sense of masculinity and her sense of femininity . . . . The God-given sense of responsibility for leadership in a mature man will not generally allow him to flourish long under personal directive leadership of a female superior. J.I. Packer suggested that "a situation in which a female boss has a male secretary" puts strain on the humanity of both. I think this would be true in other situations as well. Some of the more obvious ones would be . . . . in professional baseball if a woman is made the umpire to call balls and strikes and frequently to settle heated disputes among men (pp.62-63).

John Piper obviously had not seen this video:

In the US, the biggest pusher of male headship and gender hierarchy is Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, CBMW. John Piper has conferences for male pastors where female pastors are not welcome. Women can go only if they are wives of pastors. Yet what they teach is the predominent belief in almost all the churches. Their influence reaches to Australia, as you are well aware.
I am happy to "meet" you and please do not ever stop writing to expose their error.
Janet Woodlock said…
Oh Mabel, that is UNBELIEVABLE. How they can pass this off as "biblical" is just incomprehensible to me!

It's certainly not teaching in "most of the churches" in Australia, but those of us who value women's contribution to ministry (and let's face it... who value good theology) are concerned that the Sydney Anglican diocese pushes this view very strongly.

I'm a bit surprised at the claim the teaching is in "most" churches though... many of the US churches do ordain women (though in smaller numbers than here):
Janet Woodlock said…
Oh, and I've ordered you book Hannah! I can't wait to read it!

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