A Complementarian's Disappointment with CBMW

Here is something which I would have posted (perhaps without the final comments!) at Complegalitarian, except that last week moderator Wayne Leman turned it into a non-blog by disabling all comments. As I have written before, I have no interest in so-called blogs which are in fact the blog owner’s monologue.

“Blue with a hint of amber” blogger David Matthias writes of his Disappointment with CBMW, The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, whose website he reads regularly (although he doesn’t seem to have discovered their real full name). As David is an elder in a Newfrontiers church it probably goes without saying that he is a complementarian. But it is interesting to see how critical he is of the complementarian position as promoted by CBMW.

His main issue with CBMW seems to be over their teaching on authority, an issue I am continuing to look at in relation to my review of Reimagining Church (I haven’t given up on it!). David quotes from a CBMW article which argues that women should not preach because that implies that they are exerting elder authority. But, as he notes, his church allows visiting preachers even if they are not elders of any church, because they are acting under the authority of the elders. In a particular case a visitor

did not preach as an elder, he preached as a servant to God’s word and our church vision laid down by our eldership. Did we falsely allow him to exert elder authority by letting him speak?

Isn’t this what preaching should always be like? So, to take David’s argument to a conclusion which he doesn’t quite spell out: why shouldn’t even those who believe in male eldership allow the elders to delegate authority to preach to their own church members, male and female?

David also criticises CBMW’s blanket condemnation of feminism, pointing to the clear benefits brought by some varieties of feminism. He finishes with this discussion of another passage from the CBMW site:

“Perhaps more than ever before, it is clear that this debate is unfolding as a contention about the authority of scripture itself.” is a difficult statement to read. I appreciate greatly the work of Grudem, Piper et al and find is sad that CMBW is drawing a line where it is. It excludes any that uphold male headship but define it more softly, and uphold male eldership but define church preaching differently, and it appears to label anything not four square in its position “egalitarian” and then imply that egalitarianism is the product of feminism, and feminism and christianity should not be mixed.

That is a massive wedge to drive between two churches who believe in male headship but define it slightly differently.

David, it is interesting to see how you are becoming disillusioned with complementarianism. Perhaps you will soon also see the weakness of CBMW’s basic argument for male headship. It seems that they are already labelling you as an egalitarian. How long will it be before I too can welcome you to the egalitarian camp? 😉

0 thoughts on “A Complementarian's Disappointment with CBMW

  1. Peter,

    Thanks for this discussion.

    David, it is interesting to see how you are becoming disillusioned with complementarianism.

    It is the definition of complimentarianism itself, which I am critiquing, from “inside” rather than outside. I just don’t like blanket statements like the one about feminism. I naturally find it difficult when people who I admire greatly lay down markers that exclude me.

    To take a moderate complimentarian position seems to mean you get slated for being a patriarch by egalitarians and then defined an egalitarian by other comps!

    That is the disillusionment – when a discussion becomes so entrenched that a moderate position on either side is seen as almost treacherous to the cause.

    It is a bit like the arminian / calvinist discussion – where you see another case of unhelpful lines being drawn in the sand between people who hold different views along the spectrum but are on the same side of the fence.

  2. David, I won’t call you a patriarch or even a patriarchalist! I will let you hold a moderate position which I respect, without entirely agreeing with. The problem I see is with the CBMW type complementarians, Bruce Ware (from what I have heard from others) even more than Grudem, who while insisting that they don’t consider women less the image of God than men in practice teach things that sound remarkably like it. See the recent discussion at Complegalitarian – except that the interesting part of it has been censored!

  3. Don’t even get me started on the recent article on there which implied that men and women could have headship and submission roles in heaven.

    That is getting into very strange territory indeed.

    I just think retreating further and further into the extreme of any position is unhelpful.

    Like the calvinist who no longer does evangelism as God is in control or the arminian who loses any assurance of their future salvation.

    I don’t want to see any theological position so pre-packaged that it does not allow room for discussion.

    If the outworking of a theological position becomes as important as the position itself then we lose the creativity and vitality of God working things through His people into their culture.

    We start asking external questions like “do you have” or “do you do” as a tick list of judging each other’s faith or Churches.

    So the discussion about the Church in Texas who have moved into a soft complimentarian position got pretty well lambasted in a CBMW article when I think the Church in question has taken a very sensible approach to working out their convictions, even though I may have got there differently in some respects.

  4. Thanks, David. I think we are not far apart.

    Do I correctly understand your position as being that church leaders, e.g. elders, must be male but not wanting to be dogmatic about different male and female roles in other areas? The problem with that position is that, if we get away from a more general “authority is always male only” position, there is very little foundation for it, basically only the exegetically unclear “husband of one wife” condition which I discussed at some length in this series. Now I guess you can hardly abandon this position without endangering your own recent eldership, but you should at least reconsider the evidence for it.

  5. I suppose I am a moderate complementarian myself…I believe in male headship in the domestic sphere. I see headship as being responsible for my family’s spiritual, emotional, and physical well-being/security. I believe I am ultimately responsible for anything under my own roof.

    Since the church is God’s household, I see an analogous understanding of local church “headship”, where the male leaders take final responsibility on all matters of church government. There seem to be hints of this in the NT.

    On the other side of the coin, just as a family with a single parent is sub-optimal, a leadership team with only men (or only women for that matter) would also be sub-optimal. In Genesis 1 men and women were created to rule the earth together, and I believe this applies both in the domestic sphere and in the local church (as well as applying in other areas outside this discussion). So I believe both in co-equal ruling, and in male-only headship.

    I believe all of this because its what I see in the scriptures.

  6. Alastair, thanks for your comment. I agree that ideally a church has a leadership team including men and women. But in practice what distinction do you make between “headship” and “ruling”? Are you suggesting that a family or a church has one head but many rulers, and that the one head should be male? Or is there some other distinction I have missed?

    I am concerned at the way you are relying on mere “hints” in the NT for doctrinal matters. If you choose to follow these “hints” in your own family or local church, fair enough. But I don’t think it would be right to impose on others as a general rule the conclusions you have reached from these “hints”, at least without first exhaustively researching what they might have meant in their original cultural context and how those principles should be applied in our own very different context.

  7. Thanks for bringing this up, Peter. Thanks, David, for showing that Biblical balance and the virtue of humility are compatible with complementarianism.

    Almost all the comps I know are balanced people who know very well which passages in the New Testament are meant to orient our understanding of the others. Almost all the comps I know do not confuse a positive Christlike exercise of loving authority with authoritarianism and a Leninist “trust is good, control is better” approach to spousal relations.

    Authoritarianism does not have a biblical leg to stand on. Neither, however, does the concept of a marriage without domain-based hierarchy and the exercise of “authority on behalf of.”

  8. Do I correctly understand your position as being that church leaders, e.g. elders, must be male but not wanting to be dogmatic about different male and female roles in other areas?
    In a nutshell, yes, but as always it is never that straight forward. I appreciate your challenge.

    I am continually considering and reconsidering many things, and attempting to be humble and open about my own thoughts as I go along, and being willing to see the strengths and the weaknesses of many of the arguments.

    I don’t hold any view as a career choice, and am convinced while being open to engage, if that makes sense. Within my movement of churches there is a range of views about how to work out some commonly held underlying beliefs – views on women preaching being an example where different churches will draw the line in different places.

    I wouldn’t identify myself directly with any single author or pre-packaged system but someone like Craig Blomberg has some fascinating insights which I have appreciated, as an example.

    I do see a distinction between the roles of genders within two God inspired institutions, the Church and the home, and see an order laid down in creation for the roles that make up both partnerships, both families. I see differences in “responsibility” rather than “authority” in a sense, and would not impose distinctions fundamentally on men and women but rather the role of husband and elder. Then how you define “elder” becomes exceedingly important and I don’t define it as “leadership”, which is far broader.

    I also believe in some way this reflects our trinitarian God, although not requiring a strange top down authoritarian trinity as some comps suggest. Rather I would look at Christ’s selfless taking responsibility and the Holy Spirit’s empowered work as helper, as they both seek to serve the Father, as interesting insights.

    I realise this is not a robust theological defence of my position – – rather it is a desire to share what inspires my journey of understanding in this area.

    All the arguments on either side are there in the public domain, and I respect people who hold different views if they hold them from scripture.

    I just don’t like where the battle lines are being drawn. I don’t think the truth is ever at a logical extreme of a viewpoint, and I fear when what some people “believe” actually looks like a defence against what they don’t believe.

  9. John, thanks for commenting. I agree with you in rejecting authoritarianism, but would you agree with me in seeing that in the CBMW position, if not in practice the position of many individual comps?

    But I am puzzled by your final sentence. I agree that there is no explicit positive teaching in the Bible about marriages which are egalitarian by consent. But is there really nothing about delegation of authority? What about the way Jesus delegated his authority to the apostles, in Matthew 28:18-20 and John 20:21?

  10. Thank you, David. I didn’t mean to suggest in any wrong way that you believed what you did as a career choice, just that it might be difficult for you if you did by any chance move to a more egalitarian position. But I am glad that Newfrontiers tolerates some diversity on such matters – perhaps more so than I might have supposed from Adrian Warnock’s blog. I am also glad that you are exploring these matters in depth, and not, like so many I fear, just following the line taken by one extreme party or the other.

  11. I suppose I am a moderate complementarian myself…I believe in male headship in the domestic sphere. I see headship as being responsible for my family’s spiritual, emotional, and physical well-being/security. I believe I am ultimately responsible for anything under my own roof.

    In what way does this differ from what a woman feels about the family? While men and women are different in many ways, how are they different in the responsibility they feel to their family? Shouldn’t both partners feel 100% responsible?

  12. why shouldn’t even those who believe in male eldership allow the elders to delegate authority to preach to their own church members, male and female?

    This is an interesting idea Peter, one that I had never thought of before.

    I don’t really have anything ‘new’ to add to the list of comments so far, but I have enjoyed reading them.

  13. Rhea, thanks. I don’t know if anyone formally takes this position. But there are those who allow women to preach, or at least to be the main speaker in a service even if they avoid the word “preach”, but do not allow women elders, pastors or priests. There are also those who allow women to be pastors etc as long as they are under the authority of a male senior pastor. I do not endorse these positions but I see more sense in them that a blanket ban on women in any kind of leadership.

  14. So, to take David’s argument to a conclusion which he doesn’t quite spell out: why shouldn’t even those who believe in male eldership allow the elders to delegate authority to preach to their own church members, male and female?

    That is the exact point I am making Peter. I see the issue of eldership and preaching as being seperate to the issue of gender and preaching.

    If a non-elder can come and speak under the authority of our eldership, then I can’t see such a strength of prerequisite restriction on the gender of that non-elder.

    The view to restrict all preaching to gender is usually from 1 Tim 2:12 and 1 Cor 14:34-35, and if people hold that position then I respect it but don’t want them to cloud the issue with an “elder authority” argument that is inconsistent.

    Unless of course only “elders” ever preach, but that is rarely the case. Is, for example, someone who is an “ordained” minister, and a travelling evangelist, really a local church elder in the NT sense? Is someone training or being brought into eldership actually an elder yet? Is a retired minister still an elder? Is another local minister actually an NT elder according to the requirements laid out for eldership? It all gets terribly confused.

    I do think anyone who is invited to preach is “under the authority” of the eldership in that local church situation. They speak on behalf of the eldership the moment they take to the pulpit. And frankly, the elders of the host Church are responsible for clearing up any mess if they say something off beam. The elders have responsibility for the teaching programme, visional, missional preaching, and they may invite others to come and help.

    But I think those invited have that “elder authority” in preaching because they have been invited by the elders, not because they necessarily are an elder, and not even because of their gender, or age, or newness of faith, or marital status, or state of their household, or any of the requirements of an elder that in reality are not imposed upon visiting speakers in the same way, or may not even be known by the inviting Church.

    We invited a professor at a major british university to come and speak about intelligent design. His qualification to support our vision as elders was his understanding, experience and ability to express his faith within a scientific framework. It was not his eldership, and it certainly was not because he was a bloke.

  15. I do find your insistence that you have the final judgment on the correct definition of the word ‘blog’ rather amusing – despite the fact that blogs obviously existed well before blog comments did. And those who do disable comments on their blogs are not disallowing others to disagree with them, nor for those disagreements to be published. Should words and phrases like ‘newspaper’, ‘television programme’ and even ‘speech’ be dropped as they are media which maintain editorial control over what content is published?

  16. David, thanks for this. In fact I have a rather different concept from yours of authority in the local church, but I agree that the preacher on any particular occasion is not necessarily a person with authority over the congregation.

    Si, I’m glad you were amused because that is really my point – not to be taken too seriously. But I have the right personally not to read blogs which do not allow comments.

  17. Peter,

    thanks for your comments…

    But in practice what distinction do you make between “headship” and “ruling”?

    To be honest I don’t fully know and understand the difference. Its something my wife and I are still working out. But practically speaking, headship to me is about providing protection, providing vision/long range plans, and taking responsibility for anything that goes wrong. Clearly this isn’t always part of just “ruling”, if by ruling we mean exeuctive decision making.

    Are you suggesting that a family or a church has one head but many rulers, and that the one head should be male? Or is there some other distinction I have missed?

    We both know that Jesus Christ is the head (kephale) of every domestic home, and the head of any local church congregation. I believe their is an analagous relationship between the domestic household and the household of God (a local church). I see the scriptures teaching that a husband is to be the head of his wife, and that together the husband and wife rule their family. I don’t see anywhere in the scriptures that eldership is connected with headship; nevertheless there seems to be some connection between the way a husband is the head of the home, and the way the elders look after the affairs of the church.

    I think David and I are in a similar position here…I have read Blomberg and Sumners on this issue and find myself in broad agreement…men and women can be leaders (its a charisma gift) and can operate as leaders in various spheres in the local church.

    In short, I am suggesting that a local church should have both “Fathers” and “Mothers” and even “Sons” in a position of leadership, but that only the “Fathers” would be elders.

    I am concerned at the way you are relying on mere “hints” in the NT for doctrinal matters.

    When it comes to church government I think all we have is mostly hints, although some of it is clearer than other parts. Therefore all conclusions I reach are tentative, and I have many friends that have come to different conclusions, this is in no way a problem.

    When it comes to headship within the home, I think the scriptures are clearer, yet I recognise various hermaneutic principles which exist that allow people to dismiss the teaching on headship. Again, I respect those that arrive at a different position than me…some people I am in close fellowship with hold a polar opposite position on this issue to me!

  18. Sue,

    thanks for your comment:

    In what way does this differ from what a woman feels about the family? While men and women are different in many ways, how are they different in the responsibility they feel to their family? Shouldn’t both partners feel 100% responsible?

    Good question! My wife is responsible for a number of things in our household/home, yet I still consider myself the ultimate person responsible for all things. I deal with all the finances, for example, allowing my wife to not suffer the burden of doing so. To me, that is an act of headship: the husband loving his wife by taking on such burdens 100%. My wife often tells me and others that she used to be a “feminist” (her own words), but she now very much enjoys a “sexist” (her own words) marriage, where I act as head and take responsibility for all the burdens in her life. I think she calls it “sexist” because in the world’s eyes it is, but she knows she feels more free, less burdened, and more loved this way.

    In short, biblical headship just plain works for us!

  19. But circumstances do not allow most women to enjoy not taking 100% responsibility for very long. Most women will do the taxes if they are better at math, or will work if their husband is sick ot unemployed. I don’t think that a fully adult woman should retreat from full responsibility – ever. I see that partners could take turns shouldering more of certain kinds of responsibility, but at my age, I know few women who are not fully responsible.

    This does not mean that both have equal wage earning power or participation. But both are equally engaged and aware of all decisions. There is no reason for the wife to not take responsibility for being informed about her own retirement. She should be informed and particpate in all decisons. Let me say that leaving things to the husband may be a lovely thing to do for some women, but overall a disaster for others. I see nothing in the Bible that says a woman has less responsibility for her children than the man. She cares as much about what they eat and will work to feed them if necesssary. I can’t imagine anything less.

    For all the women around the world who work to feed their children, they need to be told that with this work and this responsibility, God accords them the appropriate and necessary authority.

  20. Thanks, Alastair. I have issues with your suggestion that anyone other than Christ is head of the church, even locally, although of course in some sense local churches are ruled by elders or their equivalent. So I see no reason why elders should be male here – or for that matter anywhere else in Scripture.

    As for issues of headship in the home, see what Dave Warnock has written. Essentially I see this as a matter for each couple to work out for themselves before God, but neither party should let themselves be dictated to. But I don’t want to get involved in a deep discussion here.

  21. Sue: thanks for your comments. What I shared is merely what works for me. I know other families have other arrangements, and I have yet to figure out how much of what works for us is simply our arrangement, and how much of it comes from the principle of headship. I certainly don’t fully qualified at all to teach on this subject, so I stress again: this is merely me sharing a little of my own experience. There are no kids in our household yet, but when they do arrive (God willing), I am sure my wife will very much take-up her God-given responsibility to love and nurture them. And I have no problems with my wife working and bringing in the money if I was off work sick. But I still believe God has given me the task, as husband, to be the primary earner. I wouldn’t presume to tell everyone that, but at least I know its true for me.

    I know what you are saying about a woman not overly relying on her husband, in case he dies, or in case he leaves her, but at the end of the day its pointless to take on a burden of a task and then just burden the other partner with every step, decision and detail. Again, this works for us, it doesn’t have to work for everyone.

    Peter: Clearly Christ is the head of the church, just as he is the head of every marriage. Yet unless you have thrown in your lot with Viola (!), you would surely agree that in some way the elders steward that headship on behalf of the entire congregation. As Viola himself says, the primary image for the church is the family. It just seems to make sense to view elders as like “husbands”, in the way that husbands act as “heads” yet co-rule with their wives. I admit the NT doesn’t explicitly use this metaphor (1 Tim 3:5 comes close)I , however its one way I can understand the NT teaching.

    The very reason I posted here is that my thoughts are not fully formed and I welcome pushbacks and discussion (iron sharpening iron). Thanks for that link about headship, I will gladly read up when I get some more time…

  22. Well, Alastair, I wouldn’t go the whole way with Viola, but I see elders as servants of the church rather than dictators. I take your point about the church being analogous to the family, but would suggest that the relationship of elders to other church members is analogous to that of parents to children, not to that of husbands and wives. I note that 1 Timothy 3:5, like 5:8 which I commented on here, is carefully crafted in entirely gender generic language, not even a generic autos in sight, and the previous verse is explicitly about children. So no support here for male only eldership.

    A few months ago a lady from my church visited my garden, pointed to something in it, and said “That’s an elder. Get rid of it! They’re a nuisance.” And she is the wife of one of our elders! I told her husband, who was not offended because he realised she was talking about the weed ground elder. But I can’t help wondering if elders are indeed a nuisance!

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