Truth, Beauty and Complementarity in the Local Church

1 Corinthians 11:2-16

Posted by Dan Jarms on November 17, 2023
Truth, Beauty and Complementarity in the Local Church

Few areas in society have experienced more attention and upheaval than the roles of men and women in public, home and church life. Confusion has grown again in the greater Church about the roles of men and women. It is necessary to revisit God’s timeless principles on roles and distinctions of men and women at Faith Bible Church. The goal of this article is to revisit the foundations and practice of what is called complementarianism as we practice it at Faith Bible Church.

The Bible unfolds a beautiful complementarity in the roles of men and women at creation and in the new creation. There is goodness to both femininity and masculinity as it is lived out in a local church.

At creation, God made man and woman as co-regents over creation with the delegated task of implementing his loving rule over all.

“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it” (Genesis 1:27-28).

Men and women have equal value, equal dignity and equal responsibility. In the day God created Adam and Eve, he made man first and gave him certain responsibilities and warnings (Genesis 2:15-17). Then he put Adam to sleep and formed Eve out of one of his ribs. While Adam was created with a lead role, Eve was there beside him, not under him (Genesis 2:21-24). Women complete men to carry out the creation mandate.

Adam sinned by neglecting his charge to protect the garden and his wife. Instead, he joined Eve in rebellion. The consequence was a constant struggle for control between them (Genesis 3:16). Men have far too often belittled women and physically dominated them. Women have far too often sought manipulative control. The phrase “battle of the sexes” has been a reality since the fall.

The Progress of Redemption throughout Scripture

In God’s plan of redemption, He has continually re-introduced grace that restores the dignity of masculinity and femininity. Both men and women have equal dignity, value, and worth. Eve was to carry the seed of Messiah and she is even called the “mother of all the living” (Genesis 3:20).

As the biblical narrative unfolds, godly men exercise loving leadership and service in the family. Ungodly men abandon or abuse it. Loving leadership by men and respectful co-labor by women carry out God’s original mandate in the home and the community of believers.

Deborah served as a judge of Israel (Judges 5). Abigail rescued both her husband Nabal and the future king David by her wise intervention in dispute between them (1 Samuel 25). The ideal of complementarity can be found in Proverbs 31 in which a godly wife wins for herself a good name and a good name for her husband.

The Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) calls all believers to make disciples of Jesus Christ. This is a progression of the creation mandate focusing on the spiritual advance of the gospel. In Jesus’ ministry we see the constant presence of women serving His mission. They were often given the greatest privileges and responsibilities. Jesus made his first resurrection appearance to women. The great commission is first introduced to Mary Magdalene.

The same is true in Acts, where women are given profoundly important roles. Lydia was the first convert in Europe (Acts 16:14). Leading women in Berea and Athens were among the first converts (Acts 17:5,34). There are serving roles (Acts 9:36-39) and prophetic roles (Acts 21:9). Aquila and his wife Priscilla filled in the missing pieces in Apollos’ knowledge of the Gospel (Acts 18:1-11).

There is an excellent example of godly complementarity in Acts 6:1-7. Greek-speaking widows were being overlooked in the daily food distribution. A complaint arose. The Apostles saw the problem and agreed. Godly men were appointed to make sure this problem was rectified. More widows than ever were given compassionate and loving care and many trusted Christ after seeing the testimony.

Complementarity within the Trinity

Complementarity is not merely a human function. It exists in the Godhead. There is equality among the members of the Godhead in essence, being and worship. At the same time God the Father is clearly the first person or the head of the Trinity. The Son is the second and the Spirit is the third.

Because God is holy and loving in His essence, there is no rivalry, power play, or envy in the Trinity. When Jesus took on flesh, he submitted his entire will to the Father. The Father gave the Son the gift of a people to redeem. There is headship in the Trinity, and it is especially pronounced in Jesus’ incarnation, where we see him profoundly submit Himself to the Father (John 17:1-24, 1 Corinthians 11:2-3; 15:20-28, Philippians 2:5-12).

A Parable to the Gospel

The Apostle Paul draws on the realities of Christ’s loving leadership over the church to describe the loving leadership of a Christian husband with his wife (Ephesians 5:22-31). This reality should also permeate in the roles of leadership in the church.

How Does This Complementarity Work?

Men are to lead in full submission to Christ and His Word. There is no authority in a local assembly that is not delegated authority: Christ is always the head of the church. Women co-labor alongside men. It is not all that different than how elders are to lead other men in the congregation. All leadership is loving, servant leadership as exemplified by Christ (John 13:15).

Male leadership is to be exercised alongside and among believers, including women. It is not to be domineering over them (1 Peter 5:1-5). The roles of elder/pastor in every local assembly are assigned to men. Elders would be foolish to not gain insight, wisdom, and perspective from women. Women are encouraged to respectfully give feedback and perspective to elders. This is the only way for complementarity to work.

There are manifold opportunities for women to lead. Women are to lead and disciple women; older women are to train younger women (Titus 2:3-5). Younger women carry the great privilege of training children in the home and church along with men. In the early church there were a few prophetesses (Acts 21:9) who delivered authoritative messages from God. Yet they were to do this under the authority of elders (1 Corinthians 11:3-16). Otherwise the role of teaching and ruling in the assembly was assigned to men (1 Timothy 2:8-15; 3:1-7).

The office of deacon/deaconess can be held by men and women and includes a delegated authority to carry out tasks to assist the elders (1 Timothy 3:8-13).

Specifically at Faith Bible Church

  • We affirm that men should do the preaching in the corporate gathering on Sunday morning. Men should hold the office of elder, exercising authority in the church. This includes the oversight of the ordinances of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
  • Women are not permitted to teach in an authoritative way in an all-church gathering on Sunday morning (1 Timothy 2:9-15) or hold the office of elder (1 Timothy 3, Titus 1). Adam failed to teach, lead, and protect Eve in the Garden of Eden, and this error should not be repeated in the church.
  • Women should be invited, encouraged, and equipped to teach other women to help fulfill the Titus 2 mandate for women.
  • Women can pray and read Scripture in our gatherings (the closest equivalent of prophesying), according to 1 Corinthians 11.
  • We encourage men and women to serve by teaching children. We will continue helping men to learn to lead in their homes and in the church through leading and teaching in Children’s Ministry.
  • It may be appropriate for women to teach in mixed company, such as in Bible college or conferences or classes, depending on the topic. Church history, foreign language courses, methodology, and cultural studies are a few examples.
  • We prefer men to teach junior-high or high school in a mixed setting. We do not believe the Bible prohibits women teaching these ages in the church, but we prefer that men teach to foster the biblical picture of men leading.
  • We do require men to facilitate mixed Growth Groups. But these are the kinds of settings in which we encourage women to actively participate in the study, discussion and application of the Bible with men. Priscilla did this with her husband Aquila when they completed Apollos’ understanding of the Gospel in Acts 18.
  • Women should be invited and empowered to hold a variety of visible serving roles, including as ushers, passing offering or communion plates.

All church leadership is delegated leadership. With Christ as our head, may every man and woman at Faith Bible Church embrace the role He has assigned with the humility He demonstrated. Humble unity and service is a testimony to the power of the gospel and adorns God’s good designs.

Dan Jarms

Dr. Dan Jarms is teaching pastor and team leader at Faith Bible Church in Spokane Washington, as well as associate dean at TMS Spokane. He has been married for over 30 years to Linda, and has three adult children. He earned his B.A. in English at the Master’s College, B.Ed. at Eastern Washington University, M.Div and D.Min in Expository Preaching at The Master’s Seminary. His other interests include NCAA basketball, gardening, brick oven cooking.

View Resources by Dan Jarms
Resource Tags
More From This Series