Latimer Study 79 Positive Complementarianism: The key Biblical texts by Ben Cooper
The debate about the role of women in the church turns on whether one’s role in ministry in church should ever depend on gender. Those who think not are described here as egalitarians, while those who hold women as equal but with different roles are termed complementarians. Ben Cooper helpfully distinguishes this theologically conservative position from social conservatives who seek to defend hierarchy or patriarchy.
The aim of this admirably short booklet is to commend the complementation view in a positive way, that is with a focus not only on what Scripture says women cannot or should not do, but on the positive side of that teaching too. This aim informs his selection of key texts, which alongside the obvious ‘gender’ texts of Genesis 1-3, Galatians 3,.28, 1 Corinthians 11 & 14, Ephesians 5, 1 Peter 3, Romans 16, and the pastoral passages of 1 Tim 2 and 3 includes passages form the Gospels and Titus 1. Cooper shows that the creation pattern was one of ‘benign asymmetry’ which is recovered in the NT teaching on how the church, the household of God, should live. This is in contrast to egalitarian views which either deny asymmetry in the original creation, or that it should be present in the new creation. It’s well done in a short span. The relative scarcity of footnotes keeps the text clear and simple, but I would have like to see a reference to the long section in Christopher Ash’s Marriage: Sex in the Service of God (IVP, 2003) that deals with the asymmetry of the male-female relationship in redemption.
Another helpful link is to the passages on leadership such as Matthew 20:
“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25–28)
A hierarchical view of leadership, in which leaders are necessarily better than others, makes the complementation claim that women are equal but not to be leaders within the church impossible to accept. Jesus’ words on leadership show that Christian leadership entails a lower status, not a higher status. Leadership is sacrificial, as shown supremely by our Shepherd himself, Jesus.
This is a good argument but I note that it has an interesting history. Evangelicals with a negative experience of episcopacy (i.e. many conservative evangelicals) have used this sort of argument to say that since leaders are servants, ‘Bishops do not matter’ and can be ignored. This confuses status with power. Bishops have power, but are not to use it for status. They matter and we ignore them at our peril. This argument sidesteps the important debate about how evangelicals in an episcopally ordered church engage with bishops. And in a similar way we must not sidestep the important debate on how power and leadership are to be distributed between men and women in church; leadership matters, women matter, and neither can be ignored.
So this booklet is short, it’s good. I recommend it. It’s a great resource. Please can we have a similar one on the same-sex debate?
I note with interest the appearance of that peculiarly evangelical word ‘publicly’. It should be ‘publicly’ of course, but keeps cropping up because it looks like our other favourite word, ‘biblically’. Spellchecks take note!
Other resources on a similar topic:
Latimer Study 65 The New Testament and Slavery: Approaches and Implications by Mark Meynell.
Latimer Study 73 Plastic People: How Queer Theory is changing us by Peter Sanlon
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