July 28, 2014

Why I'm a Complementarian

 *To note: Below are just some of the things I've been ruminating over lately on this whole "new" complementarian wave. I'm sure this is not the last time I'll ever bring up this topic and that as I study/read about it more, I'll wrestle parts of it out more. Personally, I am more convicted of scripture's teaching on women to lean towards a more complementarian lense of theology via hermeneutics, but at the end of the day, this is not a primary issue, but a secondary/tertiary issue (i.e I play the whole teaching of the priesthood of the the believers card on this one). I will sit with my egalitarian sisters in Christ (of which I call many friends) at the marriage supper of the Lord, all beloved daughters of the Father. And we will take part in the new wine and celebrating together even though we may disagree on issues revolving around this topic now.

Why am I a complementarian?

What a loaded questions, that as a single I often feel I have nothing to bring to the table on. Most who converse on this topic are marrieds and mothers. Maybe because they're living it in a larger reality than I do. The women and men who I think really understand this rhythm and who've showcased it to me beautifully hardly ever get a voice at said table either. Too many people on every side are busy shouting over one another. But back to the question: Why am I a complementarian?

Because I believe that men have the great capacity and ability to reflect parts of God's character and His heart in unique ways that I, as a women, never have or will be able to myself. Nor would I be able to experience those distinct traits from another woman either. The reversal holds true as well: As a woman I hold great capacity and ability to reflect parts of God's character and His heart in ways that no male could. There are some things only men understand deeply instinctively, while there are other things that only women understand deeply instinctively.

It's not that strength is just a character trait for men, but rather strength displays itself differently between the two genders. It's not that gentleness is just an attribute for women to show, but that gentleness displays itself a little differently between the two. It's not an either-or kind of thing, it's a both-and type of deal.

Because God created us equal co-heirs, but not exactly the same--no, we're unique, authentic, extraordinary in our own rights. Yet, we still need of one another. I want to experience, respect, and enjoy what a man has to reflect that's unique to him alone. And I hope the reverse would hold true. God's design was always that men and women would be interdependent on one another, which means we each have things the other needs. Not one "lording" over the other in a domineering fashion. When men marry God's daughters, He beckons them to love His sweet, precious girls as Christ does--with sacrificial love. A love that's so deep and rich that they would lay aside their own lives for the betterment of hers (see Ephesians 5, right around verse 20 or 21).

Men, God is saying when you cultivate Christ-like love and cherishment towards your wife, you're fostering and encouraging the best possible growth to occur in and through her.

Women, God is saying when you cultivate Christ-like respect and submission in your relationship with your husband, you're fostering and encouraging the best possible growth to occur in and through him.

Marriage was made to reflect the greater realities of the Gospel. At the same time it's also called a mystery. I feel it's a legitimate question to ask ourselves: Why are we so anti-mystery? God is in so many ways mysterious Himself. Can we learn to make peace with this part of God, then seek and search out its many facets?

In showcasing the gospel to onlookers, as a woman I have unique strengths and a role apart from a man in the telling of this story, as does he. In many ways male and female are alike being that they're both image bearers, but God loves diversity too much to not also give us differences.

If a man doesn't see his bride as a valuable treasure--made in the image and likeness of her Creator, and a woman doesn't see her husband as the valuable treasure that he is as well, then where's the oneness in that? If we're to be one, we take care of oneanother, because no one is there own--they are hemmed together.

The deepest truths about marriage are not to be found in culture--secular or even in much of Christianity's sub version. The deepest truths about marriage are found in a fixed study and wondrous gaze of the Trinity.

The trinity--Father, Son, and Holy Spirit--is oneness, but yet, each has distinctives. It's hard to wrap our minds around everything that entails. Marriage--husband and wife--is oneness, but yet, each has distinctives. Trying to make it so it isn't true (this distinctiveness) is not our answer. Our answer lies in reveling in the mystery of it all, while trusting God's heart that He knew what was best, so he weaved it into the tapestry of His image bearers, the tapestry of the marriage covenant.  


I believe that the hardest calling on the complementarian woman in not submission at all. If we break it down submission means one who is coming under the mission--in this case the mission being marriage, and every mission has a leader (the husband). No, the hardest calling for the complementarian woman is trusting. Men have to fight to earn and keep trust; women have to fight to give trust and find freedom, find rest in that. Is that not part of what God was saying in the latter half of Genesis 3? To men: Everything that you try to cultivate will war against you. To women: Everyone you try to trust will war with you. Adam's curse would bring a kind of sensitivity revolving around his work, for he was taken and made from dust, but Eve was taken and made from Adam, thus her curse has heightened sensitivities in this real, raw relational way.

When we practice submission, really what we're practicing is placing our trust in the one leading us. We need to be cool with acknowledge that this is especially hard when so many of us women have experiences where trusting male leadership turned into an ugly battle, and men who proved untrustworthy left behind wounds and scars.

But in God's economy, there's Christ-like leadership, and in that kind of leadership there can be found a kind of rest, a peace, a settledness. A good and right kind of security for us to enjoy is birthed when men on earth seek to image Christ in this way.

Men are referred to as the head because God digs order. Adam was first, Eve second (not second-class, just second). Adam was not made 'head' to lord over Eve, for Eve was taken from his rib, near his heart (a pretty vital muscular organ if you ask me), nor his feet to be trampled under (as good old Matthew Henry put it). Women are meant to be protected and cared for by their male counterparts. Women are meant to be kept close to the hearts of men.

Adam is first, and as such he has added responsibility and accountability to those he cares for. It's not hard to really understand this if you're an oldest child like I am--I was born first, therefore my parents gave me more responsibilities and made me accountable to watching over and caring for my younger sister. Nobody in their right mind would say that I'm more important than my sister. We have the same parents and are loved equally (although, as parents often chime in "differently"). There are also times though, where in different contexts or situations, it's my youngest sister who's responsible for me. There is a level of mutual submission as well.

Men as heads... it's not an equality thing, but an order form. Or maybe see it as C.S. Lewis wrote in his beloved Chronicles of Narnia. The four Pevensie children are all crowned royalty: Queen Lucy the Valiant, King Edmund the Just, Queen Susan the Gentle, and King Peter the Magnificent. All of them lead together; "Once a king or queen of Narnia always a king or queen"--but in this Peter inherits more responsibility and is given the title of 'High King' of Narnia.


It's so easy to talk about complementarian and egalitarian issues (like all issues) in a really generalized, ethereal manner. So much of it is just blanket statements.

In reality, complementarian women do lead their male counterparts in many, many ways, we've just done a horrible job at discussing them. But if we were to sit and attentively watch couples as they interact, I guarantee you I could point out the moments where she does indeed lead her man. We could sit in and point out how women do in fact lead in their complementarian churches too. We've trained ourselves to think that leadership has to look a certain way--the person who's up front, the person who takes all the outward forms of praise, the person who makes the final say on decisions--but that's only ONE way leadership looks, not THE way.

In reality, the majority of complementarians don't sit down and compile rigid to-do lists on the exclusivities to just men and just women. (Who honestly would even have time for that?) I'm not even sure if it's really something their conscious of for the majority of their everyday life. I know I sure don't think or dwell much on it unless it comes up in conversation, reading, or writing.

In reality, complementarianism isn't a cookie cutter approach. Onlookers want those of us inside this camp of thought to have nice, neat, clear boundaries, but at ground level that's just not how it works--it looks different for differing couples, differing churches, differing people. It's far more like a spectrum--we land and lean upon it differently. Lumping all complementarians into one group that's then characterized just doesn't work well, and the same goes for those of us who'd like to lump all the egalitarians together and characterize them.

In reality, just because there are popular leaders in ministry shouting generalizations over the masses, does not actually mean that people who hold to the titles believe and practice as they do. What we say on a main stage at a conference takes on a different look in the daily life. There's much said from other fellow complementarians that I would disagree with for one reason or another. Those who dictate to the masses do not necessarily speak on behalf of or for all those they claim that they do (in totality).

In reality, even though I am a complementarian, I still think we have a great deal of work to be done in our homes and churches in empowering women to live out their full potential and flourish as image bearers.

I think we need to greatly reconsider the language we use when we talk about this topic, because the words we choose and how we wield them creates our home and church culture. There are many words and phrases those in the 'camp' I find myself in use that I cringe strongly at. Complimentarians ought to examine the verbiage of submission and headship as their primary language, and instead adopt a language that elicits more encouragement to trust and of pursuit. Pursuit language--that I like and am honored by as a female.

Men who demand and parade there headship feel like a weight I have to get out from under. Men who lovingly and patiently coax me to trust--those are the kind I can follow. Because those are the men who are acknowledging it's not easy to trust, but there's a banner, a covering, a wing of grace and refuge for me. There's so much reflecting of Jesus heart here.

I think we need to greatly encourage women to use their gifts, because biblical womanhood and complimentarianism... it isn't all about homemaking, being a wife, or raising kids; there's so, so, so much more! All those are honorable and extremely important, but so are the other facets of this jewel--sadly, many we don't notice or take time admire. For single women, like myself, often we don't even know where we fit in with all of this. (But that's a conversation we can have later...)

At the end of the day I think we need to come away and say that there's no such thing as this "new" wave of complementarianism. Another wave--yes. Another wave of women asking questions and examining answers our mothers, grandmothers, great-grandmothers, and daughters of Eve have been asking for centuries. There's grace for us all as we wrestle with the answers and questions, so let's start showing it to one another, because sometimes I feel we loose that in a lot of debates that come out when this topic is on the table.


  1. What wise words, Natalie! I think trust is a huge issue for us as women. And I love how you worded it here:
    "Men who demand and parade there headship feel like a weight I have to get out from under. Men who lovingly and patiently coax me to trust--those are the kind I can follow. Because those are the men who are acknowledging it's not easy to trust, but there's a banner, a covering, a wing of grace and refuge for me. There's so much reflecting of Jesus heart here. "

    You've given me a lot of food for thought! I always appreciate a fresh, new look at this issue, because there is so much hate and judging between the to views...even though a lot of times, both sides are missing the point!

    1. If I've given you some food for thought, than I cannot ask for more really =) Thanks for reading Melinda!

  2. This is SO good, Natalie! I agree that is is important for Christian women to grow in their knowledge of what Biblical womanhood looks like. It is important for us to see the ways that God has created us as women is different from the way He created men. Not better and not worse; different. We each have our own qualities and abilities that help serve one another, hence the term 'complimentarian'. We are equal if the fact that we are all sinners and in need of a Savior. We are also all equal in being loved with an unfailing love of God. But I do believe He has, in His infinite wisdom and creativity, designed male and female to reflect different parts of His image. When we seek to downplay certain aspects of our womanhood and seek to be equal to men in certain ways that do not come naturally to us, we rob peace and contentment from the way we were created.

    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts too Elle =)


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