From a soon-to-be pastor in the UK: “Greetings Pastor John! I’m about to graduate from seminary and start a job as an associate pastor in four months. I am a complementarian. However, from observing local churches in my county, it’s discouraging as it appears more and more of them are submitting to egalitarianism simply out of social norms and expectations of church leadership from a secular point of view. With the legalization of gay marriage rights, this move seems even more harmless now to a lot of churches in the west. With that in mind, what do you view the future of male headship in the home and church? Is it now a lost cause? A losing cause? Or do you think it will endure?”
Complementarianism will endure. It is not a lost cause. The reason I think it will endure and is not a lost cause may not be exactly what you think. Let me give you three reasons it will endure that are not the reason I’m going to give. I think there are a lot of reasons why it will, but these three are the ones you probably thought I would give, so I’m going to give them and then give the one I really want to give.
“Christians with cold hearts don’t make martyrs. Those who endure to the end remain red-hot with love for God.”
1. Reason number one why it will endure: It will endure because it is true to God’s word. Paul says in Ephesians 5:22–25 that wives take their cues in submission from the church’s relation to Christ and husbands take their cues in love from Christ as the Head of the church. Then he quotes the Old Testament foundational text from Genesis 2:24, “A man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh” (Ephesians 5:31). And then in Ephesians 5:32 he gives the explanation, “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” When all of that happens, he’s teaching that manhood and womanhood, in marriage, are a parable of the covenant love of Christ and the church.
This complementarian role of man and woman in marriage is deep, historical, biblical, beautiful, satisfying, and in harmony with our true nature. Therefore, it will not go away. It is too profound, too integral with both nature and grace, both creation and salvation. That’s reason number one that it won’t fade away.
2. Complementarianism will endure because this deep embeddedness of the meaning of manhood and womanhood in creation and redemption carries over explicitly into the way God has ordered his never-dying church for her greatest flourishing. “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man” (1 Timothy 2:12). That’s Paul’s way of ordering the church.
This call for the authoritative leaders and teachers of the church to be spiritual, Christlike men is not random or arbitrary or merely competency-based or cultural. It is rooted in the created nature of manhood and womanhood. Paul argues from creation, here in 1 Timothy 2 as well as in Ephesians 5. He does not argue from culture. This complementarian vision for the church is seamlessly part of the fabric of complementarianism in the home.
Complementarianism is not a fringe on the fabric of home and church. It is part of the single fabric that binds the two together. That’s number two.
Headship and submission will not go away. They are too integral with nature and grace, creation and salvation.
3. The one that I didn’t want to give but am giving. Complementarianism will endure because God is good and God is sovereign. He loves his church and the people that make it up. He cares for us. I love that sentence from 1 Peter 5:7. He cares for his church. He cares for us and he designed complementary relationships between men and women for our joy. If God stops loving us, then complementarianism will cease. But as long as God is good and strong and loving, he will see to it that there is a remnant who embrace his design for men and women.
Now, those three reasons why complementarianism will endure and is not a lost cause are not the main reason I want to focus on here. The reason I want to focus on here is that when we look at the future long-term, we know there are terrible times coming for Christians. There always have been terrible times for Christians somewhere in the world, but there’s good reason to think, from the Bible, that near the end, there will be unusually terrible opposition. What will become of complementarianism in the hardest of times when it is most difficult to be a Christian, let alone be a complementarian?
Here’s a description of the sort of thing I think we can expect. This is Matthew 24:9–13:
“They will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.”
Here’s what’s remarkable about those words, “The love of many will grow cold.” “Many will fall away.” Some will be put to death, but in all that opposition, all that falling away, all that coldness of heart, some will endure to the end and be saved — and who are they? They are not the ones who grew cold. They’re the ones who did not grow cold. Christians with cold hearts don’t make martyrs. Those who endure to the end remain red-hot with trust and love for God. That’s why they’re willing to die rather than compromise. That is why they would suffer rather than stop believing.
We read about them in Revelation 12:11, “And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.” Which implies that these amazing Christians who are willing to give their lives rather than compromise their faith will be the kind of Christians who do not surrender the truth of complementarianism under cultural pressure. I’m not saying that only complementarians have the courage to be martyrs. Let’s get that distortion out of the way. I’m not saying that. I’m saying that those martyrs are the kind of people who are not blown around like leaves in the wind of changing culture. Therefore, those in that number who see complementarianism as biblical and beautiful and true will be the kind of people who hold fast that truth to the death.
“Complementarianism will endure because it is true to God’s word.”
So, the reason among all the other reasons that I mentioned and could mention that I believe complementarianism will endure is not a passing fancy — is not going to go away — is that no matter how great opposition to Christianity becomes, there will always be a remnant of complementarians willing to die for the truth, and they will be the kind of people who will give their lives rather than conform to a nonbiblical culture.