The Increasing Social Cost of Complementarianism
We live in an age where steadfast faithfulness to biblical conviction increasingly exacts a social cost. Churches and entire denominations, feeling the mounting pressure of an increasingly secular culture, capitulate on fundamental doctrines and core teachings of the Christian faith—especially doctrines that intersect with the LGBTQ revolution. Church after church continues to sacrifice theological fidelity in the name of cultural relevance. Where you find a church, however, you find unwavering commitment to the Word of God—especially in those moments where the culture demands theological surrender.
Complementarianism is one of these doctrinal commitments under severe scrutiny. To be clear, complementarian theology is a secondary issue for Christians—you can reject complementarianism and be a faithful follower of the Lord Jesus Christ, committed to the gospel and the expansion of Christ’s kingdom around the world. While it is secondary, second-tier issues can often become first-tier issues. Rejecting complementarian theology may lead to a rejection of biblical authority, inerrancy, and the infallibility of God’s Word. Indeed, complementarianism represents a right reading of the Word of God. Men and women equally bear the image of God; yet, they are distinct in their roles, as men seek to glorify God in biblical masculinity while women glorify God through biblical femininity.
Complementarians, however, must face the reality of this secular world and the impact of second-wave feminism on the church and the broader culture. To hold to complementarian theology will increasingly be more costly in the coming years. The social pressure against complementarian theology manifests in at least two ways. First, complementarianism is perceived as an oppressive ideology, promoting male superiority. The second pressure we face is the accusation that complementarian theology encourages sexual abuse.
To the first pressure, churches must make it abundantly clear that complementarianism is not grounded in male superiority. Indeed, holding to male superiority directly contradicts the clear teaching of the Bible and demeans the glory of the image of God, equally displayed by men and women. If complementarians have failed to demonstrate a joyful biblical theology that begins with the celebration of the goodness of what God has created, shame on us. If we fail to articulate a vision of complementarianism that proclaims the rightness of that order, and the beauty of humanity as made in God’s image with the glory of the assignments given to men and women, then shame on us. Complementarian theology, rightly articulated and exemplified, celebrates the glory of manhood and womanhood.
To the second pressure, we must be equally honest and steadfast. We must honestly affirm that distortions of complementarian theology can, and in some cases, has led to sexual abuse. Evil men can use the argument of complementarianism to fuel their own narcissistic, sexual, and physical inclinations. Any good and right thing can be twisted and contorted and used for vile means. Given this reality, there is a pressure to surrender complementarianism altogether—but true complementarian theology that is rightly lived to the glory of God celebrates women as made in the image of God to his glory. It is not a tool of oppression, but a glorious doctrine of God’s grace.
As pastors and church leaders face this cultural pressure, there is no time to be wasted in the support of any mere “ism” for its own sake. Instead, the church has the responsibility to receive, to celebrate, to teach, to preach, and to apply the Word of God and all that it contains. I argue that an affirmation of what the Scripture teaches beginning in the very first chapters of the Bible will require a definition and defense of complementarianism not as complementarianism, but as God’s revealed truth. I think that’s a crucial issue. Martin Luther rightly said that we have to defend the Word of God at the very point at which it’s being attacked. Eventually the church must stand clearly upon the comprehensiveness of biblical truth, no matter the social costs.
This means that pastors must be ready to preach the Word in season and out of season. We must always stand ready to give an answer for the hope that is in us. It’s the same exhortation given to every generation of Christians. We don’t demonize egalitarians, but we do and must offer a robust counter-argument. We must not surrender revealed truth to mounting social pressure. Instead, we stand upon God’s Word as our sure and steady anchor. Indeed, we must teach everything revealed in Scripture—and we do so happily, confidently, and in a way that is matched by our own obedience. Our arguments mean nothing if they are not matched by our faithful obedience to God. While social pressure builds against complementarian theology, it is incumbent upon us to teach, instruct, and to show the glory of God in his created order.