Article 11 — Complementarianism: Explanation by Tom Buck


WE AFFIRM that God created mankind both male and female with inherent biological and personal distinctions between them and that these created differences are good, proper, and beautiful. Though there is no difference between men and women before God’s law or as recipients of his saving grace, we affirm that God has designed men and women with distinct traits and to fulfill distinct roles. These differences are most clearly defined in marriage and the church, but are not irrelevant in other spheres of life. In marriage the husband is to lead, love, and safeguard his wife and the wife is to respect and be submissive to her husband in all things lawful. In the church, qualified men alone are to lead as pastors/elders/bishops and preach to and teach the whole congregation. We further affirm that the image of God is expressed most fully and beautifully in human society when men and women walk in obedience to their God-ordained roles and serve according to their God-given gifts.

WE DENY that the God-ordained differences in men’s and women’s roles disparage the inherent spiritual worth or value of one over the other, nor do those differences in any way inhibit either men or women from flourishing for the glory of God.

As a child, one of my favorite segments on Sesame Street was called, “One of These Things.” Several objects would be displayed as the song would play, “One of these things is not like the others. One of these things doesn’t belong.” At first glance, Article XI of the Statement on Social Justice & the Gospel might seem like “one of the things that is not like the others.” What does complementarianism have to do with social justice?

Some have claimed the SJ&G statement was fundamentally about race. However, nothing could be further from the truth. The statement was written to address a variety of issues (e.g. race, homosexuality, complementarianism) that are being defined and discussed not solely by the clear and simple teaching of Scripture, but by the inclusion of worldly concepts of social justice.

The same social justice language and concepts are driving the conversation about the role of women in the church. Consider the words of two different leaders of a prominent evangelical denomination.

“We desperately need a resurgence of women’s voices and women’s leadership and women’s empowerment again. It is way past time.”

“Hoping that we are entering a new era where we in the complementarian world take all the Word of God seriously – not just the parts about distinction of roles but also regarding the tearing down of all hierarchy and his gracious distribution of gifts to all his children!”

The rhetoric about “empowerment” and “tearing down of all hierarchy” is consistent with that of critical race theory, but completely inconsistent with a biblical worldview. What is needed is an argument for the roles of men and women that proceeds from a careful analysis of Scripture.

The Impetus Behind the Movement

This conversation surfaced in light of the sad revelation of the mistreatment many women have experienced both in the culture and the church (i.e. what has come to be known as the #metoo and #churchtoo movements). To be clear, there is no justification for the abuse of women and we must take a strong stand against all its forms. In addition, when such abuses come to light, we should look to Scripture to guide both our reactions and proposed solutions. However, emotional reactions and worldly pragmatic solutions have been controlling the conversation rather than ideas rooted in Scripture.

For example, in a panel discussion at the 2018 annual meeting of Southern Baptists in Dallas, solutions were discussed for how to respond to the accusations of mistreatment and marginalization of women. Repeatedly, the call to empower women and give them roles of leadership in the church were echoed. One panelist commented that when situations arise where women have been mistreated in the church, the wisest answer is to “empower women” in leadership to bring about a peaceful solution. At face value, that answer might appear logical, but the issue we must address is whether it is biblical.

The NT Model of Leadership

In Acts 6, the church encounters its first crisis that created a division in the church. Luke writes, “a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution” (6:1). The text does not ascribe the motives behind the marginalization of one group of widows over the other as deliberately sinful. Nevertheless, the unequal distribution among these women was serious and needed to be confronted.

This matter was of such importance that the apostles summoned the entire church to address the problem (6:2). Although it was necessary for the apostles to not be distracted from leading the church in the preaching of the Word, the needs of the widows must not be overlooked. Therefore, the apostles called upon the church to choose individuals from among the body to lead in this important task to assure that these women were cared for and no longer marginalized.

The first recorded problem in the church directly involved the mistreatment of women. The apostles identified the need for individuals to lead in the task of bringing about a peaceful resolution that would result in godly care for these women. If there is any task that it would seem appropriate to place women in positions of authority, surely this would be a perfect case. Yet, the apostles directed the church to “pick out from among you seven men” (6:3).

Considering the arguments being made about empowering women, it should be striking that the apostles did not recommend for even one woman to be enlisted in the oversight of this ministry to the widows. It cannot be that the apostles lacked wisdom, failed to be sensitive, or merely acquiesced to the cultural norms of the day. When the apostles saw the need for oversight of this critical ministry in the church, they set a clear example of God’s design for authoritative leadership to be men.

The argument I am making is not that no women could have assisted these men chosen to lead. If they were wise leaders, they would have sought women to assist them in this task. However, the empowerment to lead in resolving this ministry crisis was given exclusively to men. Apparently, male authority in the church is not exclusively resigned to the teaching role of a pastor as some suggest.

It seems unreasonable to believe that the apostles did not deem it appropriate to enlist women to exercise authority in resolving the crisis of the widows, but the SBC should elect a woman as SBC president to address its problems. Perhaps the reason that individuals have not given biblical examples for their argument to “empower” women in the church is because none exist. The apostles were all men; the planting of churches was led by men; the writing of the New Testament was the work of men; and leadership in the churches was given to men.

My ultimate point is not that women should not exercise leadership in the church. They most certainly should. In fact, I contend this push to empower women in unbiblical ways will only serve to minimalize and discourage women from valuing the very leadership God has called upon them to exercise.

Article XI of the Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel affirms that men and women are equal before God’s law and as recipients of his saving grace. Any distinction is not due to the superiority of the one and the inferiority of the other. The differences are part of God’s created design, and both men and women flourish when they live out those good, proper, and beautiful distinctions. Furthermore, God has given a fulfilling and deeply meaningful role for women to serve in the church.

We Need Women to Biblically Lead

While trying to defend against the onslaught of promoting unbiblical roles for women, it is easy to get entangled in only addressing what women cannot do. Women are wonderful gifts from God and their leadership is needed both in the home and the church.

My experience as a pastor is that we need more women, not less, leading as God calls for in Titus 2:3-5: “Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior… and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.” In other words, God calls women in the church to lead other women in fulfilling the vital role that he has given them. Only in Scripture can God’s intended design for women be found.

Paul respected women and worked side by side with them in the work of the gospel (Rom 16). However, the only ministry in which he called upon them to lead was the discipling of children and other women. Mothers in the home should take great joy in the privilege to raise their children in godliness. Women in the church should devote themselves to the crucial role of discipling other women. Women have the unique privilege and responsibility of leading in these significant ways. It is sad and tragic that so many women feel unfulfilled in the beautiful design for which God created them. It is an even greater tragedy when the church cultivates that emotion.

Rather than enticing women with empowerment and cultivating a dissatisfaction towards their God given design, we should call upon churches to equip women to serve in their Titus 2 role. I believe in the radical equality of men and women as image bearers of God. I also know that women have suffered greatly in this world at the hands of sexism. But it is the sin in this world that truly oppresses women, not the role God designed for them or the biblical authority structure of the church. Ever since Satan deceived Eve in the garden, the world has been selling “liberation” for the price of rebelling against God’s design. We must reject that idea and start equipping women to lead in their biblical role.