Thursday, May 14, 2015

A "Christian" Attack on Complementarianism

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I saw an article yesterday entitled, “‘Bible-Believing’ Pastors and the Enabling of Domestic Violence.”  Of course, the provocative title piqued my interest and I read the article.  In it, the author tells of a conversation he had with a self-proclaimed ‘Bible-believing Christian’ pastor whose daughter was trapped in an abusive marriage.  The author (who identifies himself as a Christian on another website), after confirming that the pastor raised his daughter to believe in complementarianism, identified complementarianism as the reason the woman was in this situation.  In other words, the author asserted that believing in biblical complementarianism led to this woman being in an abusive marriage.

The reason I bring this up is that as the culture becomes more and more anti-Christian, we can expect to hear more self-professing Christians condemn biblical Christianity.  It is essential for us to be able to spot the errors in their thinking so that we are not persuaded to abandon the truth in favor of ‘plausible arguments’ (Col 2:4).  So I would encourage you to read the original article and look for problems in the argument, then come back here and consider some of them with me.

First, the author seems to believe that modern liberal “Christians” are the first ones to have understood the Bible correctly on the issue of marriage.  He writes that the phrase “Bible-believing Christian” is “code for the kind of anti-gay, anti-science, anti-women, anti-thinking Christian who ruins Christianity.”  One might assume, based solely on this article, that the author rejects the Bible altogether.  However, in his other writings, it does appear that he believes the Bible in some sense.  He simply has a completely different way of reading the relevant biblical texts, the plain reading of which has lead inevitably to complementarianism for the first 2,000 years of the church. 

If his is the right understanding of biblical teaching on marriage, are we to believe that for 2,000 years Christians have been wrong?  Modern liberals are the first to understand the Bible rightly?  This is arrogant and makes no sense.  It is far more reasonable to believe that cultural pressure, not the biblical text itself, has led to an alternate reading of these clear biblical passages.

Second, he misunderstands and therefore mischaracterizes biblical complementarianism.  He equates submission with inferiority by characterizing the command for a wife to submit to her husband as being synonymous with “you were born inferior…”  In this, he demonstrates a shallow understanding of the theology that undergirds complementarianism.  Complementarianism is not a first-century, culturally-specific concept.  It is a timeless one rooted in the creation narrative, the gospel, and the relationships within the Trinity. 

Genesis 1-2 shows that the gender-roles in marriage taught in the New Testament are rooted in the creation account.  Gen 1:27 teaches that God created male and female in the image of God.  They are both God’s image-bearers, which indicates that they are equal before God.  True complementarianism affirms this.  Gen 2 shows that God ordained different roles for the husband and wife in marriage.  (To learn more about this, read this article, paying close attention to the NT cross-references.  Many of the NT passages that teach complementarianism ground it in the events of Gen 2.)  According to Genesis there is no contradiction between equality before God and differences in authority within marriage.

Likewise, Ephesians 5:22-33 affirms that gender roles in marriage are timeless in that it relates the authority structure within marriage to the gospel.  The wife submits to the husband as the church submits to Christ.  The husband lovingly leads his wife as Christ lovingly leads the church.  If complementarianism were a culturally-specific concept, we would also have to say that the church is no longer required to submit to Christ.  This is a ludicrous notion.  Paul teaches in that passage that one of the purposes of complementarianism in marriage is to point people toward the gospel. 

Further, New Testament teaching regarding the nature of the relationships in the Trinity indicates that complementarianism is not only timeless, but that submission does not equate to inferiority.  In 1Cor 11:3 we find that the husband is the head of the wife in the same way that the Father is the head of Christ.  Jesus Himself repeatedly affirmed His submission to the Father (John 4:32-33; 6:38;8:28-29), yet the Scriptures also clearly teach the Jesus is fully God (John1:1-4; 20:25-28; Col 2:9; Heb 1:1-12; Isa 40:3, cf Matt 3:3).  Submission does not equal inferiority.  And that this relationship of authority and submission exists within the Trinity eternally, 1 Cor 11:3 would indicate that this is a permanent component of biblical marriage.

The author misunderstands complementarianism, but also mischaracterizes it when he uses the word “subservient,” a word not used in the biblical exhortations to submit to authority.  His use of this word may stem from his equation of submission with inferiority.  But the idea of a woman taking a beating from her husband while keeping her mouth shut is a gross caricature of biblical complementarianism, not an even remotely honest depiction of it.

Third, the idea that complementarianism results in spousal abuse should lead us to wonder how the author would account for spousal abuse in egalitarian marriages.  Surely he would admit that spousal abuse takes place in both contexts.  How can this be if complementarianism is the breeding ground for domestic violence?  

Also, how does the author account for the countless complementarian marriages where there is no spousal abuse?  If complementarianism is inherently misogynistic and “anti-women,” shouldn’t we expect to find abuse in most if not all marriages committed to complementarianism? 

Fourth, both the author and the pastor he quotes believe that high self-esteem is a positive thing.  That alone indicates that he has an errant worldview.  I’ve written and said much about this over the years, so I don’t want to repeat all of that here.  If you’re interested in the subject, here is an article to consider.  We all suffer from high self-esteem and low God-esteem, which is our fundamental problem.

Which leads to the fifth problem with the article.  The author seems to believe that this woman’s main problem is complementarian teaching, which leads to low self-esteem, which leads to the danger of spousal abuse.  The real reason spousal abuse exists, whether in a complementarian marriage or an egalitarian marriage, is because wives and husbands marry unrepentant sinners.  Yet, by attacking “Bible-believing” theology and complementarianism, the author jettisons the only existing remedy for sin – the biblical gospel. 

All people are born bent toward rebellion against God.  For this reason, they deserve His eternal condemnation.  But God sent His Son into the world to live a perfect life on behalf of sinners and to die a sinner’s death on behalf of sinners.  Though He knew no sin, He became sin that man might become the righteousness of God.  Anyone who repents of sin and trusts in Christ is freed from his bondage to sin, forgiven, given the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, and made co-heirs with Christ of all the blessings in the heavenly places.  This alone is God’s remedy for sin – not egalitarian philosophy or high self-esteem.  Without Christ, without the biblical gospel, there is no hope.

This is the true heart of “Bible-believing” Christianity.  We believe in the gospel because we believe the Bible.  We are complementarians because we believe the Bible. 

Bible-believing Christians are increasingly under attack, not only from the openly secular world, but also from some who claim to be Christians.  I encourage you to intentionally view every article, every book, every news story, every item on social media from a biblical worldview.  Just because someone says that they are a Christian does not mean that you can trust what they say or that they have a truly biblical worldview.  The article I read had extremely obvious logical and biblical errors in it.  Not every article is like that.  We must have keen eyes and minds saturated with biblical truth.

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