Talking Complementarianism and Egalitarianism with Brent Thomas

Brent Thomas is kicking the dust off his blog in the hopes of fostering some charitable discussions on contentious topics. He starts out with a doozy: complementarianism vs. egalitarianism.

Let’s start with “complimentarianism” and “egalitarianism”. For those not familiar with these terms, they have to do with the idea of gender roles, particularly in ministry (at least that’s what we’ll focus on for the sake of this conversation though the issue certainly applies to marriage and gender-relations as a whole so feel free to take the conversation there if you’d like). Most Christians would argue that men and women are created equal, that’s not the issue here. Instead, the question becomes gender role, particularly within a ministry context.

Complementarians argue that, because of unique gender roles found in Scripture, women are prohibited from leadership roles within the local church such as “elder” or “pastor” while Egalitarians argue that not only do no such Scriptural barriers exist, women are just as called and qualified to serve in such roles.

He admits this is a simplification of the issue, but then kicks off the discussion with a series of questions that I’ll give my answers to here. If you’re interested in the discussion, I’d encourage you to answer them yourself either on your own web space or in Brent’s comments. The following questions are his, the answers mine.

Do you view this as an issue of “orthodoxy”? In other words, if someone holds a different position than you on gender-roles, do you believe them to still be a Christian?

I do not believe this is an issue of orthodoxy.

If you do not view this as an issue of orthodoxy, how important is this issue to you? Where would you rank it on a scale of theological/cultural importance (top, bottom, middle, etc.)?

I’d rate it as a matter of middling importance to me. It’s not significant enough to, by itself, drive a change in the church that I attend. I don’t have a big enough progressive soapbox to rate it as too highly culturally important. I lean that way sometimes, but I don’t have a soapbox – just a few soap flakes or something.

Do you hold to either position? Why? What Scriptures or outside books/authors helped you arrive at your position? How do you succinctly explain your position to others, especially those who might disagree? What pushed you in one direction or the other?

I personally hold rather gently to the egalitarian position. (I am a member of a church that is firmly complementarian.) I grew up being taught a complementarian position and held to it up until the past 7 – 8 years. I recall reviewing Scot McKnight’s The Blue Parakeet (in which he advocates for the egalitarian position) shortly before it was released and blogging my disagreement with Dr. McKnight’s conclusions. He then chided me in the comments for not answering the actual questions he was asking. In retrospect, he had a point.

I’ve considered the Scriptures, read plenty of the online debate on the topic, and have been significantly influenced by female friends who serve in leadership positions at their egalitarian churches. My thoughts have undoubtedly also been influenced, though in ways I can’t as easily put my finger on, by having three daughters of my own.

The other experience that sticks out to me was taking communion last year at an egalitarian church where the elements were served by a husband-and-wife couple. I’m not sure whether serving the Lord’s Supper is gender-restricted in typical complementarian churches. (The elements are served by the elders in my current church, but not sure if that’s doctrine or just tradition.) But having the elements served and words spoken by both the man and woman serving was a very powerful experience.

Why do you believe that this issue seems to cause such division? Why has it been so controversial to so many? How can people on all sides of this issue come together without sacrificing their own convictions? Or can they?

I think this issue causes division because it gets easily lumped in together with other gender-related issues like homosexuality and same-sex marriage. The hermeneutics that are typically used to support the egalitarian position – specifically, that Paul’s teaching was for a specific situation and time and not necessarily applicable for all Christians at all times – are similar to those used to support acceptance of homosexuality within the church. Thus the slippery-slope argument kicks in pretty quick.

I believe people can come together on this issue if they are willing to view it as a secondary matter. Clearly the stretching is mostly done by the complementarians, though I really appreciate Richard Beck’s testimony of being an egalitarian in a complementarian church and gracefully maintaining that he will not serve in any role that a women would not also be allowed to serve in. That could be as easy as joining together with other churches from time to time and being respectful when they have women serving in leadership, or finding ways to have women serve and teach in more visible ways.


Thanks, Brent, for inviting the discussion. I look forward to reading others’ opinions as well.

One thought to “Talking Complementarianism and Egalitarianism with Brent Thomas”

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.