The Gospel Coalition has made Complimentarianism part of its core because of the belief that our view of men and women and how God has called us to work together in marriage and in the church is an issue that matters to every believer, married or single, male or female — for it affects the whole body.
Let me begin with a very basic definition of complimentarianism upon which I think most complimentarians would agree.
Men and women are of equal value in God’s sight and co-heirs together in the grace of God. Men and women are created differently to compliment one another.
In marriage, God has called man to be the loving and sacrificial leader, as Christ was for the Church, and God has called woman to respect and submit to him, as the Church submits to Christ.
In the mystery of the Trinity, in which three are one, and yet there is an order, so it is with men and women in marriage and in the church.
This is a very basic definition and complimentarians have a great range in how they actually live this out in the home and in the church. For example, in some churches women are allowed to teach only women and children and are not in any other leadership positions. This would be true of Bethlehem Baptist (where Piper once was Senior Pastor). Other complimentarian churches would give much more freedom to women, but would still reserve ordination for men. At Redeemer Presbyterian, where Tim Keller is the Senior Pastor, non-ordained women can do anything non-ordained men can do — including teaching men, heading committees, and leading in worship.
I had to smile to see Tim and Kathy Keller and John Piper seated next to each other on the panel at the Women’s Gospel Coalition conference, for they live out complimentarianism very differently in their respective marriages and churches, yet they showed one another respect. How that glorified God! We will listen to this panel this week and comment. I think they did a beautiful job of expressing complimentarianism and agreeing on the basics, even though their actual life practices in their marriages and churches are as wide as the Grand Canyon.
Let me begin with a metaphor that I have heard used by both, for example, John Piper and also, Tim and Kathy Keller. Just as the Trinity has been in a dance from all of eternity, so it is with men and women.
There is a beauty in the complimentarian dance that is lacking in marriages and in churches where each is listening only to his own music and each is vying to lead.
As believers, we have the music of His Spirit and His Word, and, if both are listening and responding, great beauty is possible. I liken this to a scene in The Scent of a Woman.
Al Pacino plays a blind gentleman who leads the lovely Gabrielle Anwar in a tango of breathtaking beauty. It reminds me of:
There are three things which are too wonderful for me,
Four which I do not understand:
The way of an eagle in the sky,
The way of a serpent on a rock,
The way of a ship in the middle of the sea,
And the way of a man with a maid.
Let’s see this scene:
Here is the symbolism I love — you may see more.
- He is gentle, not forcing her into the dance, in the manner of servant leadership. He cares about her feelings, listens to her, and they dialogue. They come to one mind and he leads her to the dance floor.
- He is blind, as we all are in truth, without the help of God’s Spirit and the body of Christ. He consults his friend for the “perimeters” of the dance floor.
They both listen to the music, he leads, she responds — and together, make magic.
THE CHALLENGING PASSAGES
Complimentarians agree that there is an order in creation that should be reflected in the home and in the church. The three passages that address this are extremely challenging. As Kathleen Nielson put it, and no one on the panel spoke up to disagree: “Nobody knows what covering our heads because of the angels means!” (1 Corin 11:10) These are such challenging passages, and one contributing factor for a variety of interpretations is that some (and I am one) believe that God gives cultural examples to illustrate eternal principles. Therefore, as in the case of head coverings, the eternal principle is submission to authority, which must always be obeyed, but the cultural example is head coverings, which does not need to be obeyed today. Others believe that these are not cultural examples, but must also always be obeyed. So what do we do?
Romans 14:10-12 makes it very clear that each of us should not judge the other, but judge ourselves, for we will each stand before God. I saw that there were women at that conference wearing hats, and I absolutely know that they do so to glorify God and I respect them for it. So though we may interpret these challenging passages differently, it is important to give each other freedom and respect, for each of us will stand before God alone, and will give an account to Him.
There is something as Tim Keller said, that must be different about the roles of men and women from the three passages which are often quoted to support not having women in leadership positions. Not only are these three passages challenging to interpret, but we must resolve the “apparent” conflict. How can it be that God blessed women like Deborah, Priscilla, and prophetesses who were teaching men, yet 1 Timothy says, I do not permit women to teach or have authority over men? And why does Paul give instructions to women who are prophesying to the body (which is a form of teaching) if they are not supposed to be teaching the body?
The most helpful commentary I have read on this is Inter-Varsity’s commentary on 1 Timothy by John Stott. John Stott has the respect of the evangelical world. Tim Keller says he is the one who gave us a choice between fundamentalism and liberalism, between legalism and anti-nominism. Truly, Stott’s commentary made the pieces of this very hard puzzle fall together for me. I am truly excited to share that with you. You may disagree, and I encourage you to share your views, if you express them in love and support them with Scripture. For me, it resolved the apparent conflict, and gave me the freedom, when invited to teach groups of men and women, to do so unless I sense a check from the Spirit or sense I will not be well received. In reality, I rarely teach men, and am very thankful for my ministry to women. But when I am invited by the authority of a church, and I feel a peace, and that I will be well received, I accept. Just this week I taught to a mixed audience at the end of this dock, where we have what someone has cleverly called the summer “docks-ology” services. The sunset and the music woo the tourists to come and sit down and listen to a message from Scripture that they might never have heard before. I was invited by the community to speak, I felt a peace before God, and I sensed I would be received by the tourists and believers who opted to come — and I seemed to be. One woman who came is a woman with whom I play “pickleball.” This was all new to her, but her heart was stirred that night, and she is now signed up to try Bible study! But I would not have spoken had I not been convinced, scripturally, through the help of John Stott, that I am, at times, free to teach both men and women.
1. Is this an important topic to you? Why or why not? Is it challenging to you? Why or why not?
2. What stands out to you from the above?
Monday-Wednesday Bible Study
3. Read 1 Timothy 2:8-15.
John Stott said there are three eternal principles and three cultural examples. The first eternal principle is that men ought always to pray. The cultural example is that they are to lift up their hands while praying. Must they always lift up their hands? Stott said no, for that was a cultural example.
In verse 10, Stott said the eternal priniciple is that women should adorn themselves modestly and with self control. The cultural example is that they were not to braid their hair or wear pearls or gold. (The hairstyles of that time were very elaborate, and wealthy women often employed a maid just to do their hair). Must women today never braid their hair and never wear gold or pearls? Stott said no, for that was a cultural example.
The third eternal principle in verses 11-12 is that women are to be submissive to authority. The cultural example, Stott said, is that they are not to teach men. May a woman teach men today? Yes, Stott said.
Having said that, we also have to realize this is a “gray issue” that falls within the exhortations of Romans 14. If it is going to be an offense, causing discord, then it might be best to refuse. Sometimes our manner can help to smooth the way. This last Mother’s Day I gave the sermon in a large church in Milwaukee. I began by explaining that I was under the authority of the Senior Pastor who had read what I was going to say. I saw some men visibly relax. I understand — and I believe I would feel the same way if I were in the congregation.
The unifying element in these three challenging passages are that women in the church should be under the authority of the male leadership of the church. It is sensitive for women to teach men, and I want to approach such opportunities with humility and gentleness. I have also felt led to opt more for a testimonial kind of speaking than straight didactic when I speak to mixed audiences for it seems to be more easily received. I do believe women are free to teach men, but that does not always mean it is always what we should do.
4. What are your comments on the above? (Please be thoughtful, loving, and type responses in Word and then cut and paste your comments.)
5. Read 1 Timothy 2:13-15.
A. Again, these are challenging verses. In the panel, both Kathy Keller and Kathleen Nielson respond to them. In either my comments or ensuing weeks, I will share what I believe them to mean, but first I’d love your comments and your interpretation of this passage. What do you believe is being taught here? (Study it yourself — don’t quote your study Bible!)
6. Read 1 Corinthians 11:2-16. Do you see an eternal principle and a cultural example in this? If so, what?
7. Read 1 Corinthians 14:26-35.
A. What is the subject matter in verses 26-33?
B. What else does Paul say about this in verses 34-35? Do you think this includes an eternal and a
cultural principle? If so, what are they? If not, what is your interpretation and why?
8. Do you see any unifying eternal principle concerning women in all of the above passages? If so, what?
Thursday-Friday: Listen to the panel and share your notes and comments here.
9. Comments and notes
10. What is your take-a-way and why?