Don’t Compromise on Complementarianism


The Bible says quite a lot about fellow members of a church living together in peace.  “Make every effort to do what leads to peace,” Paul says.  And in another place, “Make every effort to to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”  There are more, of course.

Some years ago, Bradley Longfield wrote a book entitled The Presbyterian Controversy, which traced the theological decline of the Presbyterian Church USA in the 1920s and 1930s.  One of the most important lessons to be drawn from that book is that part of the reason the denomination and its institutions fell into theological liberalism is that a great number of theological conservatives were simply unwilling to fight for their convictions, and the result was that slowly but surely the liberals became entrenched and ultimately gained control of the institutions.
That same story has been repeated over and over again in Christian history.  Theological liberals are willing to go to the mat for their convictions, while just enough conservatives declare that while they disagree with the liberals, it’s not a matter worth disturbing the peace or breaking unity over.
Obviously there are some issues that should not become a point of disunity in the church.  I’m quite sure it’s not worth going to the mat, for example, over one’s view of the millennium (as long as the bodily return of Christ is maintained).  But we conservatives also ought to recognize that there are certain issues that really ARE worth fighting over and even breaking church unity over—for the good and faithfulness of the church.  The leaders of the SBC’s Conservative Resurgence realized that, and prevented an encore of the PCUSA’s fall into liberalism.  But they had to fight to do it.
I bring all this up to make a fairly specific point, which is that I am a firm believer that the Bible’s teaching on the roles of men and women in the church is NOT one of those issues that can be compromised on, at least without serious consequences to your church.  You might say that complementarianism (to use the theological word) is a “switch issue.”  Your church is going to have to go one way or the other on it, and there’s really no middle ground.  There’s no compromise, because for complementarians to say, “Well, I disagree with the egalitarians in my church, but I don’t want to make a stink about it” is effectively to make the church egalitarian.  If some are calling for women to preach in your church and you don’t vocally oppose that, then women are going to preach.  If some are calling for women to be elders or to be ordained as pastors and you don’t oppose that, then women are going to be elders and they’re going to be ordained as pastors.
To put a very fine point on it, to compromise in this case is to lose your church.  That’s because the question of the roles of men and women in the church is fundamentally a question of Scripture’s authority.  And if you decide that obeying those parts of Scripture in your church’s practice is not worth dividing over—or if you call a pastor who thinks that—then you’ve really taken out all the stops between your church and full-blown theological liberalism.  You’ve allowed your church’s practice to be determined by those who would deny Scripture’s authority, and history shows us that once you deny Scripture in one area, other areas quickly follow.
At any rate, let me point you to some resources that might be helpful if your church is struggling with this issue.  In order of increasing detail:
50 Crucial Questions 50 Crucial Questions
John Piper & Wayne Grudem67 pages
Recovering Biblical Manhood & Womanhood Recovering Biblical Manhood & Womanhood
John Piper & Wayne Grudem, Ed.575 pages
Greg Gilbert

Greg Gilbert is the Senior Pastor of Third Avenue Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky. You can find him on Twitter at @greggilbert.