Complementarians Should Keep Silent in the Churches


As in all the churches of the saints, the [complementarians] should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their [entity heads] at home. For it is shameful for a [complementarian] to speak in church. (1 Corinthians 14:33-35)

This brief post addresses five objections to complementarians speaking up about their position on such topics as women teaching men in the church.

  1. Complementarianism is a Secondary Issue

Secondary doctrinal issues are not unimportant or insignificant doctrinal issues. Secondary doctrinal issues serve to divide Christians along denominational lines, not because these Christians do not believe one another to be Christians, but because they believe one another to have misunderstood the teaching of Scripture in such a way that regular corporate worship, fellowship, or cooperation become a practical problem. During the Conservative Resurgence, various teachings within complementarianism became a major dividing line among Southern Baptists, whether theological liberals or conservatives wanted to admit that to be the case or not. Because the Southern Baptist Convention has defined itself in terms of particular complementarian beliefs through practice and the Baptist Faith and Message 2000, citing the difference between primary and secondary doctrinal issues when it comes to the topic of complementarianism in the SBC is irrelevant to the concerns that the SBC might be drifting away from its complementarian distinctives.

  1. Complementarianism is Relative to Local Church Autonomy

Local church autonomy does not undermine Scriptural prescriptives deemed a basis for cooperation among those churches. Local church autonomy does not mean that a church is ‘okay’ to practice racism, for example. Local church autonomy is rather prescribed by Scripture, and pertains to the government of the local church in accord with the authority of the Scripture and Spirit of God. Because the SBC has defined itself as believing the Bible prescribes both complementarianism and local church autonomy, the one cannot undermine the other without also violating the SBC distinctives which make friendly cooperation between its churches possible.

  1. Complementarianism is Varied in Application

While specific applications of complementarianism might differ from individual to individual, and from church to church, the range of difference in application is often overstated. Moreover, those aspects of complementarianism most relevant to the SBC are those involving the public preaching and teaching of Scripture. For example, those who believe women can teach and preach to men may find it unfair that such a practice is not taught in the seminaries or allowed in the annual meeting (or association and state convention meetings, etc.), but those who believe women teaching and preaching to men is prohibited by Scripture will find such teaching in the seminaries or practice at meetings to be divisive and violent to the consciences of Southern Baptists who take 1 Timothy 2:12, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet,” to be a proof text for the exclusion of women from the pastorate itself (see BFM 2000). What has become increasingly evident is that those opposed to complementarianism at the level of women teaching men are attempting to redefine complementarianism such that those who hold such ‘hyper-complementarian’ positions like, for instance, the prohibition of women teaching men, are actually outside the varied application of complementarianism they want to retain for their own practices.

  1. Complementarianism Takes the Focus off Abuse

 Addressing the abuse scandal in the SBC is one of the most biblical, theologically conservative, and loving things anyone in the SBC can do. However, an emphasis on ending abuse does not equate to the de-emphasis of the biblical complementarian beliefs which unite Southern Baptists in their opposition to abuse. Complementarianism is not a necessary cause of abuse. One must not confuse correlation with causation, or even press too heavily upon the supposed correlation. Calls for the de-emphasis of complementarian claims in light of the much more important abuse crisis are suspect in that they posit a false dilemma that would militate against the defense of any or all sound doctrine, actually hurting the cause of those who truly care about that crisis rather than an attempt to subvert the SBC’s stance on complementarian practices.

  1. Complementarianism is Counter-Cultural

At one time, complementarianism was deemed unthinkable to society at large. Now, complementarianism seems increasingly unacceptable within the SBC as well. Of course, entity heads will pay lip service to the complementarian umbrella, but as mentioned above, that appeal to the supposed diversity of beliefs and practices under the umbrella of complementarianism is thought to include those questioning long-held assumptions of the position and preclude those holding to something as simple as the belief that women should not preach to men in the Sunday morning worship gathering. Again, entity heads and other prominent figures in the SBC might reserve themselves to weak affirmation of complementarianism in accord with the BFM 2000 so as to silence any concerns they may have shifted in their beliefs, but through the shame commensurate with the objections mentioned above, are tempted to remain silent on such simple practical issues as whether or not a woman should preach to a Sunday morning worship gathering.

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