Complementarianism is Not the Problem

I hate every form of abuse. Whether it be the father who uses harsh words with his wife or children; the mother who slaps her child; the husband who physically abuses his wife or rules over her in a domineering way; the wife who berates her husband with her coldness and words; I hate it all.

I do not say this sitting atop a tall horse of self-righteousness, because I am guilty of some of those things at certain levels. I say this because God delivered me from being a domineering husband and an overbearing father who repented of his sin and learned through the power of the Gospel to live out God’s design for biblical manhood.

Scripture is clear about how a husband is to lead his wife and shepherd his children. Paul writes in Ephesians 5:25 that husbands are to “love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,” and in 6:4 that fathers are to “not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” This is the biblical picture of how a Christian man is to function as a husband and father in his home.

These commands do not stand in opposition to male headship, but serve as the picture of it. Consider how Paul began his argument for the aforementioned commands: “For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior” (Eph 5:23). As Christian men, our headship in the home is to reflect the headship of Christ over the church. This kind of leadership calls for men to die to themselves and give their bodies and lives for the good of women and children.

The design of loving male headship was God’s plan from the beginning as illustrated in his created order: “But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God… For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created from woman, but woman for man” (1 Cor 11:3, 8, 9). Clearly, Paul anchors his argument for headship in the home back to the Garden of Eden.

Of course, it was in the garden that all the good designs of God became twisted by sin. Because of sin entering the world through Adam, God’s design for manhood and womanhood were deeply warped. God declared to the woman, “Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you” (Gen 3:16). This was not God’s intended plan, but was the wicked result of sin that always warps and destroys that which is good.

However, the answer is not to abandon God’s original and good design. We do not fix the problem by calling something “evil” that God originally created as good. Yes, there are men who sinfully abuse God’s gift of male headship and turn it into the self-serving abuse of women and children. While tragic, it does not make the gift of headship itself evil. For comparison, there are women who sinfully abuse God’s gift and design of motherhood by murdering their own children. This is equally tragic, but we should not despise God’s good gift of motherhood.

We do not fix the problem by calling something “evil” that God originally created as good.

Abuse does not call for the abandonment of God’s good design, but the restoration of it through the power of the Gospel. The answer for every form of abuse is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. What sin destroyed; the gospel restores. Because all men are sons of Adam, we have inherited his sin nature (Rom 5:12). Tragically, this often leads to men abusing God’s design. But when we talk about biblical complementarianism, we are not talking about men acting like Adam. We are talking about men acting like Jesus. What Christian would not want that?

Another Tragedy

As we consider the tragedy of abuse, we should ponder the tragedy of evangelicals who use the issue of abuse to attack the biblical doctrine of complementarianism. Some claim that complementarianism itself is the problem. At T4G 2020, John Piper argued against this wrongheaded accusation, and it was posted in a tweet on April 16.

Piper’s comments were quickly attacked by those who take issue with complementarianism. One of the strongest opponents was Dr. Susan Codone, who tweeted in response to Piper, “Complementarianism can give tacit permission for abusers to act under the auspices of spiritually-appointed leadership… It may not ‘feed’ abuse, but it can provide cover.”

Notice that Dr. Codone makes complementarianism the problem itself. She says that it “can give tacit permission for abusers to act…” Rather than agreeing with Piper about what true complementarianism does and does not teach, she casts aspersion on the biblical doctrine.

What makes this so troubling is that Dr. Codone is a contributor to and sits on the leadership council of the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC).[1] The question is why would the ERLC use SBC funds to have someone in their leadership who holds such disdain for complementarianism? To clarify, this is not a new position for Dr Codone. One only has to follow her for a short time to see that this is her consistent and long-held opinion, not a mere aberration.

One wonders why Dr. Russell Moore, President of the ERLC, would tolerate this view in his organization. After all, at one time, he did not shy away from using the seemingly more despised term of “patriarchy” to describe his own view. In a 2006 article he wrote:

“Even to use the word ‘patriarchy’ in an evangelical context is uncomfortable since the word is deemed ‘negative’ even by most complementarians. But evangelicals should ask why patriarchy seems negative to those of us who serve the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – the God and Father of Jesus Christ… Patriarchy then is essential…”[2]

In this same article, Moore declares that “authentic Christian patriarchy also has immediate implications for the welfare of the family” and actually “protects against spousal and child abuse.” Clearly Dr. Moore, at one time, did not view patriarchy, let alone complementarianism, as the problem. He saw it as a solution for abuse, not a contributor to it in any way.

I fully agree with the essence of Dr. Moore’s argument that he made in 2006. It is consistent with the teaching of Scripture—which is the only standard by which Christians can judge between truth and error. If we truly hate abuse, we will embrace the means that God has given in Scripture for both protection and flourishing in the home. Whether you call it patriarchy or complementarianism, this is the biblical doctrine that most protects women and children, not the opposite. It is the biblical doctrine that is reflected in how Christ treats the church (Eph 5).

Again, I am not saying that there are not those who hide behind the title of complementarianism to justify their abuse of others. But in doing so, they are also abusing the very teaching of complementarianism that godly men and women hold. No matter what they label it, it is not biblical complementarianism.

 If we truly hate abuse, we will embrace the means that God has given in Scripture for both protection and flourishing in the home.

It is possible that Dr. Moore has changed his view on patriarchy and no longer believes the words he penned nearly fourteen years ago. After all, he has removed the article cited above from his present website.[3] When you click the link on his website for this article, it opens to “404 Not Found.” Furthermore, when asked about this issue at the 2019 Southern Baptist Convention, Dr. Moore was anything but straightforward.[4] He intimated that the “2019 Russell Moore” had shifted.

If Dr. Moore has not changed his view on complementarianism, then Dr. Codone is clearly out of step with the president of the organization on whose leadership council she serves. If he has changed his view, then he needs to explain why he has abandoned this position and present a biblical argument for what he now believes. He owes this to the SBC churches that pay his salary and subscribe to the BFM 2000 Article XVIII[5]that clearly teaches the complementarian view.

Where Dr. Moore stood in 2006 is without question. Where Dr. Codone stands on this issue now is abundantly clear. Where Dr. Moore stands in 2020 is yet to be seen. The problem is not with complementarianism. To use Dr. Moore’s words, “authentic biblical patriarchy” has not changed. The only question is whether Dr. Moore and the ERLC’s position has changed.


[1] https://erlc.com/resource-library/author-index/susan-codone; https://erlc.com/about/leadership-council

[2] Moore, R.D. (2006). “After Patriarchy, What? Why Egalitarians Are Winning the Gender Debate.” Journal of the Evangelical Society: 569-76

[3] http://www.russellmoore.com/documents/2005ETS.pdf

[4] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BUG7To6lKvc

[5] http://www.sbc.net/bfm2000/bfm2000.asp


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