I want to begin this post with gratitude: I am deeply and devoutly grateful for the Lord’s resurgence of both Reformed theology and complementarianism in the modern, evangelical church. It is not only an incredible encouragement to see men herald the Good News and its commission for men and women to uniquely pursue a Christ-like, Christ-centered, and Christ-driven masculinity and femininity—but it is an even greater encouragement to see this commission presented through a central and supreme view of Scripture, returning to its necessity and holding fast to its authority through texts like Ephesians 5:25-28…
25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word,27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. 28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.
While texts like these have recently prompted and promoted a very high view of God’s calling towards men to humbly, faithfully, and courageously love their wives and lead their families, rising out of boyish adolescence into masculine maturity, I cannot help—prior to jumping on this growing and resurgent ideology—but resist and rest in an even more central, even more necessary, and even more essential call:
While there are treasures of truth in Ephesians 5:25-28 for men to return to bold masculinity (and for women, likewise in Ephesians 5:22-24, to return to humble femininity), God’s Word calls both men and women to first simple Christianity: in Ephesians 5:1-2, long before 5:22-28, Paul says, “Therefore, be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
In other words, Paul’s theology first calls the individual to his or her spiritual identity versus sexual responsibility. Before answering the question, “What does it mean to be a man?” or “What does it look like to be a woman?” Paul answers the question, “What does it mean to be children?” rooting the complementarian identity of both men and women deep into the foundational and egalitarian work of Christ as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God for the salvation and sanctification of His people.
Dangers of Modern Complementarianism
While I cannot stress how grateful I am for the orthodox teaching of complementarianism to make such a come back, I am thoroughly convinced that Christians ought to discern the dangers of dissecting Christ’s work between genders, immediately identifying one’s self through the scope of sexuality prior to identifying one’s self through the scope of Christianity: as a Christian, you are first a Christian—discover, therefore, full and well what that means as a child of God before you try to learn what that means as a man of God or as a woman of God.
This means taking modern, complementarian trends with caution and care, receiving the convictions and concerns that stem out of them with a forward look towards sanctification, not an immediate look down or backward towards identity and justification. Biblically, this means Ephesians 5:1-2 comes before 5:22-28 while Genesis 1:26 comes before 2:4-25. Therefore, root your salvation and everything to follow first in the work, in the will, and in the wonders of Christ crucified, considering first, “How do I simply live as a God-glorifying child?”
The Incapability of Practicality
Recently delivering a workshop on the Biblical and complementarian roles of men and women, I was asked multiple times, “What does a Christian man or a Christian woman, in light of God’s call and commission to each, look like in reality?” While I attempted to articulate an answer by using a husband and wife I deeply respect and know, I ultimately could not provide a more substantial answer than, “he behaves like this, she behaves like that, and it seems good for you to either act like him or act like her.” But what I failed to communicate was that both the Christian man and Christian woman should first and foremost act like Christ:
To our dearest sisters in Christ: may you not hold so highly the requirements and expectations of men as a result of a sermon or study, for they are but depraved, dehydrated, and dilapidated sinners. Instead, before expecting a man to behave as a Biblical man, consider first: does he act like a Biblical Christian? Hold him to the standard you should and need to be holding for yourself—that of God-centered imitation—and be less concerned about how he (as well as you) pursues Christ as a man (and as a woman) and more concerned about whether or not Christ is humbly, diligently, and faithfully pursued, period.
Likewise, to our dearest brothers in Christ: may you not hold yourselves to such stringent and supreme expectations as a result of someone’s stardom preaching. Before considering how much of a “man” you are, consider how much of a “Christian” you are because I absolutely guarantee that your failures to achieve the latter utterly disqualify you from even attempting the former. In Christ and by faith, imitate God—not a relevant preacher, a powerful pastor, or a charismatic leader—and humbly long, with devout desperation, for all that He is.
For both sisters and brothers in Christ: consider how audacious and yet how crucial Paul’s imperatives are in Ephesians 5:1-21—the verses leading up to 5:22-33—as they are commissioned to everyone, regardless of gender, age, or background. It is to our great detriment that we would skip the incredible necessities of these first 21 verses and focus so microscopically on the last 11 verses, depriving ourselves of receiving this powerful and refining chapter as a complete, interwoven, and egalitarian-complementarian whole.
While the debate between the two ideologies has surfaced time and time again throughout the course of redemptive-history, I am humbly convinced that the two views are not exclusive to one another but ultimately enhance and beautify each other. When a Christian first recognizes, as a deeply foundational realization, that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, he or she cannot help but to receive and recognize others as utterly no different than him or herself: we are eternally crippled by our sin—and the magnitude of that sin does not take into account whether one is a man or a woman but utterly disregards gender, age, experience, culture, race, and intent. Sin is ultimately genderless because hell is egalitarian.
That said, however, the beauty of Christ’s redemption is that while it begins as an egalitarian seed, it flourishes into a complementarian grove wherein battered men and broken women discover their genderless, ageless, and race-less redemption in Christ—and, soon enough, along with this discovery, these redeemed men and rescued women receive a commission and call to uniquely promote one another’s flourishing in specialized and complementary ways.
Written by Phillip Lee