Abuses of Complementarianism

On October 13th, I preached a sermon on 1 Peter 3:1-7 entitled “Marriage in Exile.” The theology underlying that sermon fell in line with the tradition called “complementarianism” to which myself, our church, and our denomination belong.

Complementarianism is the belief that, although men and women are equal before God in essence, value, worth, and dignity, there are distinctions in the roles that men and women are called to play in the home and in the church. This system is often contrasted with egalitarianism, the belief that equality in essence, value, worth, and dignity demands that any roles in the home or church that are available to men must also be available to women.

1 Peter 3:1-7 is a key text for the complementarian position with respect to Christian marriage, because:

  • It grounds role distinctions not in cultural distinctives of Peter’s day but rather in role models from the past whose example Peter wants his readers to follow, despite how uncommon that attitude may have been in his own day (see 3:5).
  • It demonstrates the compatibility of “distinction in roles” (3:1, 6) with “equality in essence” (3:7) by strongly advocating for both within the same passage.

However, the complementarian position has been misused over the centuries, and continues to be misused today. Specifically, Christian men have sometimes used complementarian prooftexts to subjugate, demean, and control women. This is precisely the opposite of how biblical complementarianism calls men to act. Just in 1 Peter 3:7, we see that men are supposed to act with understanding toward their wives, showing honor toward women. Any version of complementarianism that does not honor women and treat them with respect is no complementarianism at all; it is chauvinism.

Unfortunately, in the days following my sermon, the evangelical Christian world was scandalized by an example of just this sort of chauvinism. John MacArthur, a notable and well-respected pastor, was shown in a conference video relentlessly mocking evangelical speaker and author Beth Moore, to the raucous delight of his audience.

My heart has been in pain ever since hearing MacArthur’s ungodly words and the laughter that followed. The problem with his words wasn’t that he expressed disagreement with Moore’s recent practice of occasionally preaching Sunday morning sermons at churches. The problem was the caustic, dishonoring language he used toward a sister in the faith… all in the name of the very complementarianism that denounces such disrespect toward our sisters.

It has troubled me all week wondering, “Would members of our congregation have joined in the laughter if they were present?” Lord, may it never be so.

I don’t have any illusions that everyone at North Sub is 100% “bought in” to a complementarian reading of the Bible. If you are one of those who is on the fence about complementarianism, or who holds to a more egalitarian position, or who just hasn’t thought about it much, I want to make sure you hear this loud and clear: North Sub does not espouse the sort of “complementarianism” seen and heard from John MacArthur and his audience in that recording. In fact, it’s just that sort of behavior that our brand of complementarianism is dedicated to fighting against.

This past summer, my wife Sarah was invited to join the pastors at our former church (Creekside Community Church in Gainesville, Florida) on a podcast episode discussing what it’s like to be a woman in a complementarian church. Sarah was on staff for five years at Creekside, and in this podcast, she recounts some of those experiences. I have benefited greatly from her perspective on these matters, and this podcast is a great example of the wisdom with which she has waded through the challenges of working these matters out in a broken world. I’m passing on the link to this episode to our North Sub family now in the aftermath of recent events, trusting that it will be a blessing to the women and men in our congregation.  


Lord, may we, the men and women of North Suburban Church, continue to partner together in unity for the advancement of the gospel.