Saturday, May 7, 2016

Complementarianism: Traditional Role Religion on Steriods

    Traditional role religion has always held that the first man and the first woman were created with an equal mandate to rule over all non-human creation together with no semblance of female subjection to male dominance until the balance of power was shifted to favor the male by the introduction of sin into the world. 
   In 1987, a new doctrine of men and women, called “complementarian,” challenged traditional role religion by claiming the first couple was originally created equal in essence only—but never in function. 
  Many Christians have never heard of the term “complementarian,” but whether they have heard the term or not, they have likely experienced effects of the doctrine within their homes and church fellowships. 
    The term “complementarian” was coined, in 1987, by a group of evangelical leaders that met in Danvers, Massachusetts and drafted a document defining strict “roles” for men and women. That document is known as the Danvers Statement. 
   Within a year, that same group created a non-profit organization called, the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, (CBMW) whose sole purpose is to promote female subordination to male headship in all walks of life—within the church, home, and the workplace. 
   With vast financial resources at their disposal, The Council (CBMW) was able to flood the Christian world with their new doctrine with such an impact that by 1993, the Church of the Nazarene felt compelled to put into writing what they had always practiced, and added the following statement to their official Manual of doctrine and polity: “904.6. Women in Ministry: We support the right of women to use their God-given spiritual gifts within the church. We affirm the historic right of women to be elected and appointed to places of leadership within the Church of the Nazarene,” (1993, From the Manual, the official statements of doctrine and polity of the Church of the Nazarene).
   Complementarians of all denominations staunchly defend the uniquely complementarian, oxymoronic, claim that although men and women are created equal in their beings and person hood, they are created to complement each other via different “roles” in life and in the church, with men always in the leader role and women always in the follower role.
   Complementarianism further states that women will be subordinate to men, not only in this earthly existence but in Heaven as well—throughout all eternity. 
   Complementarianism is traditional role religion on steroids.
 Owen Strachan, president of the CBMW,  admitted that complementarianism is nothing less than old fashioned patriarchy. Rachel Held Evans linked to Strachan's amazingly honest assessment of complementarianism in her article, It's not Complementarianism; it's Patriarchy: "For those who think I mean "patriarchy" as an insult rather than a description of reality, consider this: In the current issue of The Journal of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, Owen Strachan wrote, "For millennia, followers of God have practiced what used to be called patriarchy and is now called complementarianism.”"
  Complementarians diverge from traditional role religion in that while traditionalists agree with them that women are subject to male leadership in this life, Traditional Role Religionists teach that this is due to a temporary curse, because of the Fall of mankind, and that women will one day be freed from the curse altogether and, in every way, enjoy absolute equality with men. Complementarians view this teaching as a traditionalist loophole offering women full equality with men at some point in the misty eternal future. Even the expectation of such is unacceptable to complementarian leaders, so they conveniently plug the traditionalist loophole by teaching that the imbalance of power, favoring males over females, is a permanent, eternal, fact due to what they call a “Divine Order of Creation,” and not as a temporary curse to women because of original sin. 
   Complementarians lay a foundation for their paradigm using the Divine Order of Creation teaching, which they created themselves. Knowing that this teaching cannot be substantiated by scripture, they attempt to shore up shoddy theology by further claiming that the pattern for authority and submission between the sexes is based on an alleged hierarchal structure of authority and submission found within the Triune Godhead itself. 
   This doctrine finds its genesis in the Arian doctrine of the Eternal Generation of Christ (Eternal Sonship). Renewed acceptance of this doctrine by evangelicals—who have historically rejected it as heresy—has spawned another, relatively new, doctrine called “Trinitarian Marriage.”
   To accept the doctrine of the eternal sonship of Christ, one must accept that a strict hierarchy of authority and submission exists within the Eternal Godhead itself. Complementarians claim this to be the case, with each member of the Triune Godhead being equal in essence but unequal in function. They claim the Triune Godhead is complementarian, with our lord Jesus taking second place in the pecking order and the Holy Spirit last.
  One prominent complementarian leader, Bruce Ware, wrote an entire book dealing what he believes to be hierarchal roles within the Godhead that serve as examples for implementing the same type of hierarchy into the marriage relationships of men and women. 
   Another well known complementarian leader, Charles Stanley, wrote that if no hierarchy could be found within the Godhead, then no basis at all could be found for assigning hierarchal roles, based solely on sex, to human beings. 
  It is crucial to understand that on this one point--that an authority/submission structure exists within the Eternal Godhead--hinges the entire doctrine of female submission to male headship. 
   Many reputable scholars down through the ages (including, of recent times, the late Dr. Walter Martin) have contended for the faith against the heretical Arian doctrine of the eternal sonship of Christ.
   In spite of the fact that complementarianism has made enormous inroads into the Christian community, many individuals, individual churches within complementarian denominations themselves, as well as entire denominations such as the *Church of the Nazarene, the Methodist Churches, and the Society of Friends (the Quakers) hold that all Christians are freed from the curse of sin and are functionally equal between themselves, before God, and in Christ, and that all have equal responsibility to use their gifts and obey their callings to the glory of God, and that God freely calls believers to roles and ministries without regard to class, gender, or race.

*At the time of this writing, complementarianism is making significant inroads into individual congregations within The Church of the Nazarene. 

About the Author: Jocelyn Andersen is best known for her book, Woman Submit! Christians & Domestic Violence.  She is also editor of the Hungry Hearts Online Bible Commentary  For more information about her work, visit her website at

1 comment:

  1. "*At the time of this writing, complementarianism is making significant inroads into individual congregations within The Church of the Nazarene."
    I don't doubt it. My dad goes to a Nazarene church in KY, and they are in the process of finding a new pastor. He said they got four applications to look at, one of which was a woman, and they immediately stuck hers at the bottom of the stack, and had no intention of even considering her. His justification for it was "she would never be accepted in this part of the country." I attended there for several months, and they were no different than your average SBC church in how women were viewed and treated, teaching complementarian junk from both the pulpit and in the Sunday school class.