Last month I was given the opportunity to take a course in Christian Theology from Southeastern Baptist Theology Seminary under the direction of Dr. David Nelson. One of the course requirements was to complete a research paper on an area of interest within the field of the course. I chose a topic from a suggested list in the syllabus: Sex-Roles and the Plan of God. I wanted to explore the heated discussion of egalitarianism and complementarianism with a specific look at how this conversation applies to a women’s ministry within the home. Though a brief sketch in this debate, I urge women to journey with me this week through the paper. There are numerous practical implications for both sides of the debate.

I choose to write this paper primarily to become a better mother and wife. This topic plays out as much in theology as it does in the home. If you are not familiar with the terms complementarianism and egalitarianism- that is ok, it will be explained! Even if this paper is a little technical, it is just as applicable to a stay at home mom, or any other woman. Please take this opportunity to become a student of the Scriptures and learn more about what God has instructed for us in His word.

Please, feel free to leave a comment with questions, encouragements, or critiques. Please remember to be loving and Christlike should a differences of opinion occur in the comments.

Now presenting, Part I:

One of the most debated topics among professing Christians currently rests in the distinction and equality of the male and female sex within the context of marriage and family.  The media (television, movies, internet, theatre, books, and magazines) bombards this generation with unbiblical models of marriage and gender roles. This is coupled with aggressive activists in the feminist and homosexual movements to contaminate the culture on every side. “In order to have a viable view of marital ideals (e.g. child-bearing, gender roles) and marital distortions (e.g. divorce, homosexuality), one must first understand the nature of marriage.”[1] This paper will seek to evaluate the current responses and implications to gender roles as presented in egalitarianism and complementarianism and will offer a brief critique of egalitarianism as well as demonstrate practical roles for women’s ministry in the home within the view of complementarianism.

Egalitarianism (also identified as biblical feminism or evangelical feminism)[2] began as a conservative response to feminism. The position developed as Christian feminists argued against church history to support female ordination and the abolition of specified roles within a marriage relationship. Mary Kassian in her book The Feminist Mistake clarifies the feminist’s perspective of the inaccuracy with the church fathers.  She writes:

They reasoned that women were kept out of authority positions because the church fathers viewed women, in very nature, as inferior and less capable intellectually than men. Feminists argued, however, that advances in psychology, anthropology, and genetics had challenged this early view of the nature of women. Therefore, since it had become evident that women were in no way inferior to men, the basis for their exclusion from ordained ministry and the basis for their subordination in marriage had disappeared.[3]

These Christian feminists used cultural reasoning rather than centuries of accepted biblical doctrine inform their beliefs and practice.

In addition to offering a minority view of church history, they adopted a different interpretation of the creation account in Genesis while attributing the former view as “universally misinterpreted”. They claimed that Genesis 2:23 is to be understood as a demonstration of the woman’s equality to man as they were both from the same bone and flesh. The New Testament likewise affirmed equality in addition to numerous passages that esteemed the position of women.[4] Galatians 3:28 was marked as the banner verse of equality for Christian feminists as it states, “In Christ there is nether male nor female.” Christian feminists argued that since female inferiority was an accepted belief, theologians thus wrongly interpreted the Bible with this view in mind. They claimed that passages which valued women’s equality and roles were wrongly defined by male theologians due to their selfish intentions. As such, “The doctrine of church leadership that excluded women from ministry was therefore presented as a byproduct of a lop-sided study of Scripture.”[5] Since women obtained the Imago Dei, the feminists reasoned that they were as skilled and gifted as men enabling them to hold leadership positions in the home and church.

Margaret Mead’s work in Sex and Temperament (1935) and Male and Female (1949) were influential in the philosophical foundations of egalitarianism. Her books studied human behavior in primitive tribes to lead the conclusion that aside from the anatomical differences, there was natural equality between male and female interaction and roles. Role distinction evolved from cultural conditioning and learned behaviour.[6] This rationale necessitates a different biblical hermeneutic and framework which is displayed in the basic beliefs of egalitarianism.

Bruce A. Ware, in his article, Summaries of the Egalitarian and Complementarian Positions on the Role of Women in the Home and in Christian Ministry, details a concise outline of egalitarianism. He offers an overview of their basic tenets summarised in three points: created equality, fallen disorder and hierarchy, and restored equality through redemption in Christ.  The first point, created equality, recounts the equality of men and women demonstrated in the creation account. Ware states, “Gen. 1:26-27 makes no distinction between woman and man insofar as both are equally made in His image (i.e., ontological equality), and both are given the responsibility to rule over His creation (i.e., functional equality).”[7] The second point, fallen disorder and hierarchy, describes the effects of the fall according to egalitarians. When sin entered the world, it ruined the equality that God established prior to the fall. Wayne Grudem examines specific claims of leading advocates of the egalitarian position in his work, Evangelical Feminism and Biblical Truth. He clarifies the effects of the fall by stating, “Egalitarian claim 3.2: Authority Denies Equality: If there was male authority before the fall, then the male would be superior to the female and they could not be equal.”[8] Due to the preliminary assumption of equality between the sexes, egalitarians deny that there would be any masculine authority prior to sin entering the world as it destroyed the equality which God created in the beginning. The final point, restored equality through redemption in Christ, illuminates the salvific work of Jesus’ redemption of mankind, liberating humanity back to their pre-fallen state of equality.[9] Christ’s work on the cross enables men and women to model mutual service and reinstates the dignity of women. It is within this context that egalitarianism continues to respond to gender roles and redefine the practical roles for women’s ministry within the home and church, as displayed from their new theology of man.

Tomorrow will introduce the implications dervived from an egalitarian overview, Thanks for reading!

[1] This is taken from David Jones Marriage and Family Class unpublished notes. The thoughts and ideas of the first paragraph are taken from these notes.

[2] The use of the terms egalitarian and Christian feminist/Evangelical feminist will be used interchangeably throughout this paper.

[3] Mary Kassian, The Feminist Mistake (Wheaton: Crossway, 2005) 34. The thoughts and ideas of this paragraph are taken from this source.

[4] Mary Kassian cites, “The example of Mary leaning at the feet of Jesus, of Phoebe being sent out as an ambassador to the churches, of the five daughters of Philip who moved in prophetic ministry, of Priscilla who instructed and disciple Apollos together with Aquilla…” Kassian, 35.

[5] Kassian, 35.

[6] The thoughts and ideas of this paragraph are taken from Kassian, 37.

[7] Bruce A. Ware, Summaries of the Egalitarian and Complementarian Positions on the Role of Women in the Home and in Christian Ministry, [accessed on 26, July, 2010]. The thoughts and ideas of this paragraph are taken from this source.

[8] Wayne Grudem, Evangelical Feminism and Biblical Truth, (Sisters: Multnomah, 2004), 105.

[9] Ware links this summary statement with the banner verse, Galatians 3:28.