Complementarianism Is a Means to Joy, Not a Problem to Solve

peacockIf you want international media attention, here’s one way to get it: simply quote the Bible on headship and submission in marriage.

That’s what Gavin Peacock just did. Peacock is a pastor in Calgary, Alberta, and a former star soccer player in the UK. (I speak with CBMW at Peacock’s church, Calvary Grace, next week–here are the details.) Following a long career–which included multiple goals for Chelsea against Manchester United (!)–Peacock became a widely-loved soccer commentator for the BBC.

Not long after, he gave it all up. He left Britain and moved to wintry (and beautiful) Canada. Peacock is now a pastor. All of which is just fine with the British media. CBMW covered Peacock’s life in a long-form profile last year, and writer Aaron Hanbury found that Peacock was warmly thought of in his native land.

But on January 6th, Peacock Tweeted about biblical gender roles. He wrote three in particular that set off a firestorm:

“God’s divine design for marriage in male headship and female submission is complementary not competitive.”

“Wives: one of the primary ways you are to respect your husband is by gladly submitting to and encouraging his leadership.”

“Husbands: one of your primary duties in loving your wife is to feed her with the Word of God daily.”

It’s hard to sum up how fierce some of the response Gavin received was. Here’s the Daily MailThe Independent, The Mirrorand The Telegraph weighing in. The blog at The Telegraph said this, for example: “he’s decided to share some rather strange views relating to matrimony on social media…it would be preferable if he could cut out the sexism.” Nigel Adderley, a former colleague of Peacock’s, said this: “I used to really enjoy working with Gavin Peacock on the radio but won’t be implementing his views on marriage at home.”

If you did not read Gavin’s Tweets, you might have thought he had advocated that fathers abuse their children. Instead, he was essentially quoting and explicating Ephesians 5:22-33. In his gracious and convictional way, he explained this doctrine in a blog post.

A husband is called to be a Christlike leader to his wife. He must provide for and protect her spiritually and physically. This is called headship in the Bible. It reflects Christ’s sacrificial love for his Bride, the Church. He took the initiative to die for her. What man who hears the sound of a window smashing downstairs in the middle of the night would send his wife to investigate? Is it not written on a man’s soul to protect and provide for her? And yet such are the distortions of masculinity and femininity in our time that we send our women to fight on the frontline in war, all in the name of equality.

And see this word of personal testimony from his pastoral ministry:

In my church I serve in leadership as a pastor alongside humble men who love and lead their wives, and who love God and our people too much not to teach them his Word for manhood and womanhood. We have seen marriages blossom as men have stepped up to the challenge to lovingly lead their wives, and women have gladly respected and submitted to that leadership. Women are flourishing as strong, intelligent wives who joyfully affirm their husband’s leadership. Single men and women are obeying God’s pattern for sex and sexuality and growing as people of integrity. And in our marriage through 25 years my wife Amanda and I have tried to embrace this biblical pattern because it brings God glory and it does us good.

Read the whole thing. It’s an excellent piece–not a word out of place. It received many good comments on social media, including a good number from Christian women who love the Bible’s teaching.

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As the President of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, the organization founded by John Piper and Wayne Grudem to promote and defend biblical complementarianism, let me offer some reflections on this fracas.

First, it’s clear that the biblical worldview is now déclassé in sectors of the West. It is sad to see this, because biblical complementarianism is the recipe for marital health and familial flourishing. There is no better system on earth for strengthening marriages and blessing children than God’s design. The sinful human heart naturally inverts God’s wisdom. It calls what is evil good, and what is good evil.

Second, Christians should not take their marching orders from the culture. Our secular age considers complementarity in both physiology and practice to be a threat. In reality, complementarity is a simple biological fact and a core biblical teaching. This is not a fourth-order doctrine (as if we can rank any teaching of Scripture). In the Bible, God makes the cosmos in Genesis 1, and then he makes man and woman, husband and wife, in Genesis 2.

He gives this relationship structure and form. Adam is the head of his wife; his wife is his helper. Eve is created from Adam. Her body depends on his for existence. This is a signal from the very start of Scripture: the position of marital headship given to men is one of responsibility and sacrifice, not ease and self-indulgence. Complementarity does not undermine women. More than any other idea or belief system in the known universe, it blesses them, offers them protection, and beckons them to God-given fulfillment.

Third, complementarity is not a problem for believers. It is, to be sure, a doctrine that the natural man despises. But it is not a problem for us to solve.

We should explicate biblical teaching. We should make clear where certain doctrines have been twisted or undermined. We should help our unsaved friends understand the difference between the Bible’s wisdom and the culture’s stereotypes. But we must not make complementarianism a doctrinal infelicity or an intractable dilemma. It is not, just as culturally unliked doctrines such as the exclusivity of Christ, the reality of predestination and election, or the reality of hell are not, either.

We may feel pressure to hedge on complementarianism. We might want to drown our affirmation of complementarity in a sea of qualifications.These are human instincts. We all are tempted to hide the light, at least the light that the world does not want shone upon its sin and unbelief. We are under great pressure today to conform our doctrine to the culture’s expectations. Some young evangelicals react to this pressure by seeking to be cool, to be accepted, to be au courant. If we can just convince those around us that we’re not backwater Christians, then our unsaved friends will really, truly like us. They’ll come to faith.

This always seems like a good move, but it’s perpetually a woeful one. That’s not just because there’s often a hint of desperation in our efforts. It’s also because, as I make clear in my forthcoming book The Colson Way (Thomas Nelson, July 2015), we do not pick and choose our doctrine or our ethics. The gospel opens our eyes to the beauty of God’s law (Psalm 119). We see the whole of God’s counsel as impossibly good. In Jesus, we discover the good life, but it is not an unfettered plunge into hedonism. It is the life lived unto God, anchored in his justifying decree, propelled by his transforming grace, and shaped by the whole counsel of his Word.

None of God’s teaching is out of sync. None of it can be hid. None of it can be downplayed. All of God’s Word is good. If it is not, then it must not be from God.

Fourth, we should communicate that the culture is in truth patriarchal. Contra the stereotypes, it has not abandoned the structure of headship and submission. It’s just shifted these realities out of marriage and into pre-marriage romance. In our sexualized culture, which has cast off traditional restraints, men operate as authoritarian patriarchs like never before. They take from women. They prey on them through sex and pornography. They get what they want, and they leave. Many women sadly choose to submit themselves to predatory men.

Though many women believe themselves to be liberated, they find themselves isolated, with little masculine protection and concern. The sexes are divided, competing, hostile to one another, yet unable because of basic human desire to stop entangling themselves. A world of abuse, pain, and sin results, with truly wretched consequences. Abortion wipes out the natural product of sex. Cohabitation stands in for marriage, but is fragile to an extreme degree. When they are allowed the chance to exist, children are an afterthought for many parents, and are not brought up in ordered, happy homes.

It is the culture that is behind. Though it does not know it, the culture’s seemingly enlightened, liberated mores leave it sadly archaic. The pattern of hostility between the sexes, of men using women and women hating men, is as old as the serpent’s whisper. By contrast, it is the church that is future-oriented. We build families and create churches because we believe in hope. We know that tomorrow can be bright with God’s goodness.

(For more on the point about men, see Russell Moore’s insightful address to Humanum, the 2014 Vatican colloquium on the family.)

Fifth, the church offers singles a beautiful outline of their lives. Young men and women alike have been raised in a sexualized culture. The church offers them the opportunity to find their identity not in sex, not in physical beauty, not in hedonism, but in God. Young Christians must see this: it is not biblical complementarianism that has robbed their singleness of its vitality. It is the world, and its sexualization of every person.

The Bible has a major place for singles. Jesus Christ and Paul are two of the best-known single believers. But in a sexualized world, singles seem out of place. They don’t have a role. This is what the world does: it robs singles of their purpose. It tells them to be beautiful, to be attractive, to be wanted. If you’re not, we infer, then you don’t have value. This is a lie, one that exacts terrible consequences from those who believe it.

Men and women have infinite dignity and worth as image-bearers. Men and women find joy and satisfaction in serving in the kingdom of Christ. The sexes are not the same, and our differences are not incidental. Gender gives significant shape to our human experience and our discipleship. But the church must correct the false teaching of the world, and communicate that being wanted by the opposite (or same) sex is not the end of life, as the culture has indoctrinated us to believe. We are sons and daughters of the living Christ. That is our identity.

Sixth, the church offers hope to men and women suffering from sin. It does so through the gospel and its body of ethics. We offer hope, infinite hope, to men and women who have been ravaged by sin and its effects. All around us are women abused by men, with little sense of how to cope with their pain. The church must help them understand how the world’s promise of liberation is bankrupt. The church offers women called to marriage the hope of a husband who will be a self-sacrificing head, one whose very life is dedicated to blessing his wife, treating her gently, and dying to his own wishes in order that she may flourish.

There is no such hope in the culture. This teaching is gone. Alongside it, the church must offer men the biblical script for their lives. Men are trapped today in a narrative of self-gratification. They have no answer to the desire that resounds in their hearts for something greater to live for. They don’t know how to be a virtuous leader, so they lead those around them in the direction of evil. The church offers them the hope of gospel-shaped manhood.

In these confused times, complementarians have a tremendous opportunity before us. We can show a watching world that the Bible’s teaching is good. We can live out what we preach. There is a great, teeming mass of young, vibrant believers doing just this right now. Though the world thinks they’re weird, they’re fighting lust, pursuing fulfilling singleness or getting married, lovingly raising children when given them, doing the hard work of building a God-glorifying home, and serving their local church. This is a group largely unnoticed by elite media, but it is massive in size and spans the globe in influence. Its members are not angry or disillusioned. In the wreckage of our sexualized culture, with happy smiles on our faces, we are building families–natural and spiritual–out of a sense of joyful calling.

You and I need not invent the wheel here. We don’t need to figure out a new way to be complementarian, one that takes away the sting. You can’t take away the sting of the Scripture and its teaching. It’s an offense and a stumbling-block to the sinful heart (1 Cor 1:22-23). Think about it this way: when a sinless man spoke the truth in the purest love, he was arrested, beaten, and crucified. We must always be winsome as we can be. But winsomeness, even at its apex, cannot take away the sting of the world-denying, sin-overcoming truth of God.

Our message, which sounds like death to the world, is after all life itself, abundant and free (John 14:6). This is true of the whole counsel of God, not just the atonement.

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I am deeply thankful for the public stance Gavin Peacock has taken. He is a brave and biblical man. He does not deserve the criticism he has received. I am delighted to stand with him on the solid rock of Scripture. The church does not need less believers like Gavin. It does not need to hide its light, hedge its doctrine, or apologize in embarrassment for its reliance on God’s wisdom.

The church needs to find courage in the Spirit and devote itself afresh to biblical complementarity. Thankfully, there is a great host of witnesses who are doing just this. They are not covered or applauded by the press. Joyfully, faithfully, and with great perseverance, they are honoring their God. For their Spirit-inspired obedience, for their endurance despite many attacks on the faith, they will be richly rewarded in the age to come.

(Image: The Canadian Press/Press Association Images)


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