Complementarianism and the Single Woman


I am single. I am complementarian. A lot of times people don’t see how those things go hand in hand. Most of the time when we think about complementarianism, we automatically envision marriage and the relationship between husband and wife. To be sure, marriage is an excellent example of what complementarianism looks like. However, complementarianism can still shape and influence how singles live their lives.


Marriage is a great example of complementarianism, but it actually points to something far greater. In Ephesians 5, Paul explains that biblical marriage is a picture of the gospel. The relationship between a husband and wife is to reflect the relationship between Christ and his church. The husband loves as Christ loves and the wife submits as the church submits.

There is more here, though, than the outlay of marital relationships. This passage trains our eyes on the authority of Christ over his people. Every member of the church is to submit to Christ. What we call a “complementarian worldview” is not just for those who are married. It’s also for me as a single woman. It helps me to have a correct view of how I am to personally submit to Christ as the supreme authority in my life. Christ is Lord. I am his servant. Submission is not a dirty word; it is a high calling, the calling of every Christian (James 4:7).


Being complementarian also shapes my understanding of Scripture. It allows me to affirm with gladness that there are many passages in Scripture that point to the fact that men and women were created equal, but with different roles. From the beginning, we see that God created us in his image as male and female (Genesis 1:27). Continuing through the rest of Scripture we see clear evidence that men and women were created for roles that are different—but equal (Gen 3; Prov 31; Eph 5; 1 Peter 3; Titus 2, to name a few).

When I see the beauty and truth in God creating us equal but different, I see the beauty and truth in everything else he has said to us. It’s not just simply about me believing in different roles for men and women. It’s about me believing God is true in his holy Word, and this biblical teaching informs everything I do in life. Complementarianism gives me a framework by which to make sense of my world, and my life.


Since complementarianism has shaped my understanding of Scripture and submission to Christ, it has laid the groundwork for my participation in the life of a congregation. Submitting to Christ means submitting to his great plan and purpose that can only be fulfilled by his body, the church. God has made it clear in his Word the importance of being a part of a local body of believers (Heb 10:25; 13:17). This speaks not just to weekly attendance, but to a spirit of sacrificial involvement in the body. Through the Holy Spirit, we have each been gifted in a certain way (Romans 12:3-8) and we are to cultivate and use those gifts for the building up of believers all for the glory of Christ.

As a complementarian, I hold to the conviction that women should not be in leadership or teaching positions over men in the church. Some believe this means that I’m oppressed and not fully able to use my gift of teaching. However, I have never felt that my church is discouraging me from using my gift for the glory of God. My experience has actually been quite the opposite. I have the honor of teaching God’s Word to women multiple times a week, and it is a joy to do so.

Complementarianism has shown me that there is great beauty in God’s plan for diversity within the church. We can’t all do the same things, and we shouldn’t all do the same things. The body of Christ would not function properly if we did. There is happiness in owning this truth on a personal level. It speaks to what Elisabeth Elliot, no mean teacher herself, called a “glad surrender.”


Complementarianism has also encouraged me in my career. It has helped me understand the importance of submitting to my authorities at work. Some days it is nearly impossible to submit to those above me. I often think I know how to do things better, and without a healthy view of authority, I would constantly be going against those who lead me. However, I know that sometimes submission means doing things I really may not want to do. Of course, if it is ever a sin issue, I must always follow Christ. But, there are some things that aren’t sin that I just don’t like or don’t want to do. Submission means I do them anyway because I am called to obey my authority. This is an unpopular mindset, but I think it is a modern application of biblical texts like Colossians 3:22 and Ephesians 6:5. In this regard, of course, men in the workplace are no different.

This speaks to my overall position in life as well. There are plenty of times Christ seems to be leading me to do something I may not want to do, but I still do it because he is my authority and I am commanded to submit to him in everything. The same principle should be followed at work. Scripture tells us that the authorities in our lives, like the government, are placed there by God (Romans 13:1-7). God never makes mistakes. The authorities in our lives are not just random and meaningless. In God’s sovereignty, he has carefully placed certain people over us and he calls us to submit to them and obey them. I see the beauty in godly submission, so I am better able to display this in my workplace. I am not afraid of it, because I know God has a great purpose and plan in it. It is part of his beautiful, created order.


Lastly, complementarianism has even shaped how I view dating. For me, dating must always be marriage-focused. I don’t date just to date. If there’s no possibility of future marriage, I will not date someone or continue dating someone. Of course, being complementarian means I view marriage as a covenant in which the husband is the head and the wife submits to him as the head. As the head of marriage, the husband exemplifies Christ’s servant-leadership as one who pursues the church, loves the church, gave himself up for the church, and leads the church.

Therefore, I look for these characteristics in a potential husband. I realize he should not fully embrace these responsibilities since they are specifically meant for marriage. Nonetheless, there should still be evidence of them, seeds for their future growth. I want to see glimpses of these characteristics so I know there is a willingness and capability of fulfilling them if marriage does eventually take place. If a man is not already showing signs of leadership, pursuit, and selfless sacrifice, I can be pretty confident they won’t suddenly appear in a marriage.

In the same way, I need to be self-reflective in determining if I am capable of being a godly wife, able to respect and encourage and submit to my husband. Again, I should not fully embrace these characteristics until marriage, but I still should be able to tell if I am willing and able to carry them out if I get married. I want to be in a marriage that is a great display of the gospel. I want to be in a marriage that shows the world what Christ’s relationship is to his people and vice versa. Therefore, I must be mindful of these things in my dating.


Complementarianism has greatly influenced how I live my life as a single. I have come to understand it’s not simply for those who are married. It’s for everyone. Man. Woman. Single. Married. For me, this conviction is rooted in two things: 1) a correct view of submission to Christ; and 2) an understanding that Scripture is completely true and completely sufficient.

I cannot afford to see it any other way, and I must not ever fall into the temptation to reinterpret God’s Word simply because it seems unfair or because it makes me uncomfortable. At the end of the day, my life is about bringing glory to God. I believe I am able to do this best by living, in a comprehensive and joyful way, according to my complementarian convictions.

Katie Van Dyke

Katie Van Dyke lives right outside of Houston, Texas. She is a member of Northeast Houston Baptist Church, where she teaches women's Bible study and life group classes. You can find her on Twitter @katiejovandyke.

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