If you are like me, you are probably wondering what in the world the word complementarianism means! If you looked for it in your Bible you would not find it. In fact, it is not in my dictionary or spell check. Many words we use today do not appear in the Bible and yet they do reflect truths and principles from the Bible.
Male and female roles
If I had to “label” my understanding of male and female as God created them I would say I am complementarian. But here is the deal. If you would have asked me about complementarianism a few months ago, the word would not have existed in my vocabulary. If you would have asked me about a biblical view of men and women I would have pointed you to scripture, namely Genesis 1-2. However, what I would first want to talk about is the gospel.
The gospel informs everything
The truth is, apart from the gospel these conversations are in vain. Before we were formed from the dust, God came down. God hovered over the face of the waters. God spoke everything into being and he declared it was good. He formed man and from man he made woman and he said it was very good. Although God declared everything good, things went very bad. But God, in his great mercy, had a plan. God came down to redeem lost people. Through his son, he would reconcile a people to himself. The entire Bible speaks of God’s son, our Redeemer Jesus. All of scripture whispers his name. As things were going very very bad, our very very good King was on his way – clothed in righteousness – enough clothing to cover the unrighteousness of his people. From the pages of Genesis to the end of Revelation, we read about this one theme of the Bible. The One story.
If this sounds more like a Sunday school presentation of the gospel rather than an intellectual discussion of biblical manhood and biblical womanhood, that is the point. I have been reading a lot on this topic recently and quite honestly, my head is swimming with myriad voices and opinions. While they may be rooted in scripture I have come to the realization that somewhere along the line, the point of the gospel is missing from the discussion. The gospel is the point that all other discussions must rest on. What has Jesus Christ done for sinners who are hell-bent on destruction? By his death we are saved and by his wounds we are healed. On the cross, the battle is over. In his body and his blood he has united a people like no principle ever could. By his power we are reconciled – all sinners, all saved by grace alone through faith alone. No Jew or Gentile, just sinners in need of a rescue. No male or female, just screwed up people trying to make their way in a fallen world with other fallen people by the power of God’s Holy Spirit. How does that inform our conversations about biblical manhood and biblical womanhood and this idea of complimentarianism?
A simple truth
Maybe I am over-simplifying a much more complex topic. However, I believe the gospel must be held as the one truth and the only truth that can direct this conversation. In Christ, all walls are broken down. In Christ, all playing fields are leveled. We are free. The greatest offense of the gospel is the freedom Christ died to bring. It is offensive because it is uncontrollable. You can not contain it or put it in a box or section it off. Grace is wild, it is unpredictable and unmanageable. That is the breath of fresh air we all need.
Whether or not I am complementarian or egalitarian is not the question. The question is, “Do I know the radical good news of the gospel that frees me to live out of that amazing grace?” Do I revel in God’s grace and freedom to live as Jesus empowers me to live? Have I experienced God’s grace so I can love others as Jesus empowers them to live – trusting that God is guiding and directing?
Only the gospel saves sinners
A very wise friend said to me during my recent marriage separation; “I pray God sets you free.” Wow, let that sink in. She did not pray that I would understand my role as a wife in a more biblical way. She did not tell me to get on board with my role in a complementarian marriage relationship. She did not tell me to submit to my husband. She said “Lori, I pray God sets you free.” Biblical views on womanhood can not to that for me. Only the gospel can set me free. Only the gospel has the power to unshackle my heart to love freely without needing anything in return. Only the gospel can melt a human heart. Only the gospel can kill and make alive.
The gospel is hope in a hopeless situation.
The gospel is freedom in a relationship that is enslaved.
The gospel is liberty for captives.
I am a complementarian. But more than that, I am a gospel addict. The best I can say about what I believe is Jesus. His name is above all names and it is his name that announces my freedom. Free to live under the banner of “it is finished.” Free to live a life of love and grace because of his costly sacrifice on the cross. Free to welcome, accept and approve others because of his welcome, acceptance and approval of me.
The apostle Paul said it like this; “For I decided that while I was with you I would forget everything except Jesus Christ, the one who was crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). Amen.
Lori Harding is the Director of Care Ministries and Women’s Support at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, as well as a small group leader and Bible study teacher. Email Lori firstname.lastname@example.org.