Each morning, my kind mother-in-law sends me a text with a Bible verse randomly aggregated from an app on her phone. On Monday 6th February, as I took my seat at the Priscilla and Aquilla Conference at Moore College, I received a text that read “I delight to do your will, my God. Yes, your law is within my heart.” (Psalm 40:8). It was an appropriate text for me - a reluctant complementarian - to receive at a conference that 'focuses on the application end of complementarianism". It has been slow work conforming my culturally-conditioned desires and thinking to God’s Word, and the reluctance sometimes gets in the way of living out delightful obedience.
The plenary talks at the conference, presented by Gary and Fiona Millar, offered more than just a catchy title: “Lazy Complementarians”. The question they posed was, “are we truly complementarians, and do we follow through on what we believe?”
To be clear, Biblical Complementarianism is not just a box ticking exercise about what women can and can’t do in their family and church gathering. Biblical Complementarianism is a humble, joy-filled, full and expansive commitment to God’s good design as shown in Scripture.
The Millars identified the following building blocks of Biblical Complementarianism:
Biblical Complementarianism is a theological, spiritual and complex portrait of the interdependence of men and women, who need one another to grow and flourish.
Danger lies when we verbally subscribing to theological tenants (such as complementarianism) without actually living it out - we become nothing more than a resounding gong or clanging symbol. If our beliefs determines how we live, than our families and churches should present the beautiful and joyful picture of male and female relationships.
The Millars encouraged us to live out Biblical Complementarianism through intentional commitment; ongoing thoughtfulness; relational sensitivity and joyful, unashamed embodiment. It was their call to ongoing thoughtfulness and joyful, unashamed embodiment that I found especially challenging.
The Millars challenged us to consider what it means it to embody our Biblical Complementarianism in our current, cultural context. Are the policies and practices that shape our gathered worship accidental, or intentional? Are they well thought out and applied, or tropes of tradition? How do we shape and reshape what we believe, humbly under Scripture, in a world that is completely foreign to how it operated – even just 10 years ago? We must gently and humbly work out the application of our theology – “always reforming” - as the culture around us rapidly changes.
Biblical Complementarianism and worldly culture are oppositional: the former calls us to Jesus in order to find our true self, the latter to our gender, class or race. And yet, with ongoing thoughtfulness we are able to move forward, demonstrating and modelling the beauty of God’s Word and commands in a world that so desperately needs it.
Joyful, unashamed embodiment
When we succumb to the beautiful picture of Biblical Complementarianism we do so with joyful, unashamed embodiment. We do so, knowing that the life God calls us to is the best life there is. In some conversations I have found myself awkward and embarrassed about complementarianism, instead of taking pride in its subversiveness in a world that claims it wants to free women by enslaving them to the chains of labour and performance, and denying our biological differences and lived experiences.
And so, knowing that God’s design is for our good and for His glory, we must intentionally and joyfully embody our Biblical Complementarianism: in our understanding of self; in our relationships within our families and church families.
The Millars helped us understand that as a theological, spiritual and complex portrait of God’s good design, Biblical complementarianism cannot be reduced to a series of proof texts or tick boxes. And if we believe it, we must embody it.
Having established the building blocks of Biblical Complementarianism, how do we protect against ‘lazy complementarians’?
We’ll have more on that next week, as we continue to recap the helpful talks offered up at the 2023 Priscilla and Aquilla Conference.