Complementarianism, What Is It?
expect a term to be descriptive. When something complements, it
supplements, adds to, completes, balances or functions as a
counterpart. Defined in this way and used to describe the
relationship between male and female, it is quite accurate. The
observation that men and women complement one another as they
work and relate together offers an important reason why no area
should be dominated by only one gender.
Up until a few
years ago the term was used by
egalitarians—those who believe men and women are equal in
substance, value and function. Now, if someone claims to be a
complementarian, they are saying that roles in life are defined
by our gender. In this view, women are destined by God’s design
to be subordinate. It is simply patriarchy with a new and more
One of the most
dangerous things about complementarianism is that it sounds
good. In fact, to complement does not mean to be in authority
or have power over. But, don’t be fooled! In the
complementarian dictionary, it continues to mean that men rule
and women serve. They see these as biblical “roles” ascribed
purely on the basis of gender.
come in a number of shades. There are those who advocate male
supremacy in all areas of society including work, church, and
home. These are easy to recognize. There are those that limit
their hierarchical position to church and home. And there are
those who advocate full freedom to move in God’s giftings in all
areas yet place husbands as authoritative heads in their home.
This is the most subtle heresy of all. It reminds me of the
scripture from Jeremiah 6:14, “They have healed also the hurt
of the daughter of my people slightly, saying, Peace, peace;
when there is no peace.”
This most recent
complementarian view ignores the fact that “God’s
complementarian plan is not based on gender, but on gifts,
talents abilities and calling that He—not patriarchal
The gifts and callings of God are neither limited nor determined
by gender. We must not be deceived. While complementarians
have yielded some ground, their basis remains patriarchal. As
Elijah once said, "How long will you hesitate between two
opinions? “If the LORD is God, follow Him…”(3)
I realize only women can have
babies, but I can’t think of another exception.
Hyatt, Susan, In the Spirit
We’re Equal (Dallas: Hyatt Press, 1998), 246.
1 Kings 18:21 NASV.
What’s Happening on the
Covering and Authority
by Kluane Spake is presented as an
additional and expanded view of the article on Covering found in
the Fall Newsletter of God's Word to Women. Running a second
article on the same subject indicates our opinion as to its
Lessons 27, 28
and 29 from God's Word
to Women by Katherine
To a Man – From a Woman
I feel crushed,
cast down, buried alive,
Burned on your funeral pyre while you yet live.
I am sad because
you would sentence me to subservience;
Because you would have me smile always and never talk;
Because you would have me sit at your feet, obey your voice and
call you my Lord;
Because you would control my world, my actions, my days, and say
it is because you love me.
I am sad because
you hide behind our God.
You say you are theologically correct,
But in essence, your hermeneutics are faulty
And your exegesis is poor, if it even is.
You would control me because you do not feel secure in being
You reinforce your ego at the altar of my sacrifice.
You say, it is the godly way,
And yet God does not act so.
You would keep me
in your shadow,
Encased in your personality, which is bondage to me, but more
comfortable for you.
You do not fathom
the chains you wrap around my ankles.
Surely you do not, or you would stop.
You would define
Censor my words and consume my talents.
Most of all, you
would deny me my calling,
My responsibility to answer to my God.
Do you honestly think our society would run more smoothly if I
functioned totally under you thoughts and ideas?
Should you be pleased if I had no thoughts?
Then buy a computer and design your own program.
Clone a robot.
Let me be me.
Respect that I, too, am made in the image of God
Understand that I have hopes and dreams, and a need to know more
than just the confines of your world.
Believe that I will love you and admire you and respect you,
just for being you.
Know that I need your strength, your presence, and yes, even
You want my devotion.
Then refrain from squashing me under your thumb.
I am resistant under force.
Oppression sows seeds of bitterness in my soul, which are
difficult to weed out.
do not desire to be discordant.
I desire to walk in harmony.
Let us walk together,
Under the rule of Our Lord.(1)
1. Hyatt, Susan C. A Biblical Theology of Womanhood for
Spirit-Oriented Believers. (Regent University, D.Min.
Dissertation, 2000), 20-22.
This poem was written by a seminary honor student after her
professor shook his finger in the face of a fellow woman student
and shouted, “Don’t argue with the Bible!…you had better get it
straight! As a woman, you must submit to man. God made him
head over you.”
Two conferences that you may want to consider:
Celebration for Women—Houston-- Sept 19-21, 2001
Biblical Equality International Conference Dallas—June 22-24,
We encourage you to forward the newsletter to those that
you believe would be interested.
Is it God’s
When I became a
Christian, I had no idea what constituted a Biblical lifestyle,
so I looked to the “experts.” They said that God’s way was a
chain-of-command structure with the husband as the authority in
the home and the pastor and elders as authorities in the
church. At first, I did not question but attempted to conform
while I agonized with the Lord over my rebellious nature. Over
time, I noted that all those in authority were male and wondered
why the God, who I knew loved me, appeared to favor men? Didn’t
He create me? Was I of less value because of my gender? Why
was it that deep down, even after years asking God to change me,
I still could not accept the second-class status assigned to
women? Is patriarchy God’s design, God’s order? This question
is so fundamental.
We know that God
does not approve of discrimination. Yet discrimination against
women is inherent in patriarchy. The system that I encountered
was patriarchal to the core. “Any espousal of patriarchy is an
espousal of male domination. The very definition of patriarchy
presents a male-dominated and male-controlled society and
therefore means a philosophy of male supremacy.”
thoughts in mind, let’s look at the Biblical record. To start
with, we need to remember that the Bible is full of violence,
betrayal, selfishness, immorality, idolatry, and unbelief--a
seemingly endless list of sinful acts It also presents the
thoughts and philosophies of our fallen nature along with His
truth. We must learn to discern the
need to realize that scripture includes true records of false
ideas. Just because it is in the Bible does not mean that God
A limited look at
the Old Testament record shows that, in general, women were
under the control of their father or husband who considered them
as their possessions. They were denied education, and they
could not inherit. Women's lives were expendable in order to
protect men, and polygamy was acceptable. Only men had the
right to divorce, and women were mainly valued for producing
In contrast, when
the Holy Spirit came to Mary, there is no record that He asked
her father or Joseph first. The mere fact that Jesus spoke to
women broke with the tradition of His day. Jesus taught
the Samaritan woman and commended Mary for ‘sitting at His feet’
to learn, an expression that indicates that she was a disciple!
In Luke 11:27-8, He rejected the idea that women were baby
machines. In Mathew 19, Jesus opposed the double standard for
divorce. He pointed out from Genesis 2 that divorce was not
God’s plan but a concession that He had allowed Moses to make
because of their sin. Then, Mark 10:12 adds, “and if she
herself divorces her husband…” which overrode the Jewish
tradition that a woman couldn’t institute a divorce since she
was the man’s possession along with the concept that women were
property and that polygamy was acceptable.
resurrection, He could have appeared to one of His male
disciples at the tomb. However, He chose to appear first to a
woman, Mary Magdalene, instructing her specifically to go and
tell “my brothers.” His actions forever proclaim to her and to
Christian women after her that their commission is not limited
to a women’s ministry.
The early church
did not embrace patriarchy, teaching that both male and female
are created in the image of God. The scripture shows men and
women moving together to spread the gospel. The few scriptures
that seem to limit the ministry of women stand in stark contrast
to the whole of the record. In the last few years, traditional
understanding of a woman’s “place” has become even more suspect
as scholarship has provided accurate translation and
interpretation of these passages.
So what went
wrong? As Christianity spread through the Gentile world and a
second generation of Christians emerged, equality and freedom
slowly faded. Replaced by the traditional male domination that
filled secular society, Greek philosophy and pagan customs made
their way into Christianity. The church adopted the secular
governmental structure of the Roman Empire. Clergy separated
from laity, and women were barred from this new ministerial
The supernatural gifts of the Spirit, so present in the early
church, were stifled; and the Dark Ages fell on the church.
The attitudes of
the early church fathers were molded by pagan ideas that women
are evil, inferior, unequal and unclean.
(5) These concepts along
with Platonic and Aristotelian philosophy influenced how they
interpreted Scriptures as they applied to women and male/female
relationships. Their writings birthed traditional theology,
which generally displaced Jesus' teaching about women.
reformation began the return to Christ’s doctrine, it remained
patriarchal. Biblical interpretation “continued to be skewed by
misogyny, hierarchical worldview and the perennial influence of
It is interesting to note that in revivals sprinkled through the
last two thousand years, the status of women is consistently
(8) Could this be the
leading of God’s Holy Spirit?
around the world today are definitely patriarchal, particularly
in developing nations. Even in developed countries, male
primacy, while not as blatant as it was even twenty-five years
ago, is still clearly present in society and in the home. The
results are devastating.
As for the
church, “the traditional theology of womanhood is unequivocally
patriarchal, ascribing to women an inferior condition, a
secondary importance, and a subordinate status. Consequently,
under authoritative male headship, ‘covering’ and control, women
have at the best of times been ‘honored’ as second-class
citizens. They have been dominated, marginalized and
occasionally patronized while men have been elevated.”(9)
There is no place for patriarchy
in the kingdom of God. It is a human institution based on a
fallen sin nature. Patriarchy's fruit is deplorable and can
never be part of the kingdom. It’s time to acknowledge it
as sin and throw it out. Christ has restored access to God
for all who will come to God through Him. We know we "all
are sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.
For as many of you as were
baptized into Christ have put on Christ.
is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free,
there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in
if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's seed, and
heirs according to the promise,”(10)
and the promise does
The name for the social
organization and set of beliefs that grant and sustain male
dominance over women and children is patriarchy. Definition
from Kroeger, Katherine Clark and Beck, James ed., Women
Abuse and the Bible, (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1996),
Gretchen Gaebelein, Equal to Serve, (Grand Rapids:
Baker Books, 1998), 83.
Trombley, Charles Who Said
Women Can’t Teach?, (South Plainfield: Bridge Publishing
Inc, 1985), 223.
for a list of books in this area.
Unfortunately, most Christian bookstores refuse to stock
writings that contradict the traditional position.
Susan, In the Spirit We’re Equal, (Dallas, Hyatt
Press, 1998), 49-64.
Schimdt, A. J. Veiled and Silenced, (Macon: Mercer
University Press, 1989)
Hyatt, Susan, The Spirit, The Bible and Women,
(Dallas: Hyatt Press, 1999), 42.
Hyatt, Eddie, 2000 Years of Charismatic Christianity,
(Dallas: Hyatt Press, 1998)
Hyatt, Susan C. A Biblical Theology of Womanhood for
Spirit-Oriented Believers. (Regent University,
Dissertation, 2000), 11
Galatians 3:27-28, NKJV. It should be noted that “sons”
may be translated "children."