Marriage, Human Sexuality, and the Body: Egalitarianism vs. Complementarianism (Part XI)

This is the eleventh part in this series on the theology of the body. If you want to listen to the messages, they are found by clicking “listen” on the home page of my website.

This particular piece in this blog series seeks to explore whether the mystery of Christ and the Church informs the discussion or debate about egalitarianism and complementarianism. Egalitarianism emphasizes the equality of the genders; the term complementarian emphasizes distinctions between the genders. This has become one of the defining dividing lines between denominations, especially as it relates to marriage, headship, submission, ordination, leadership, and a host of other issues. I have served the church around the world long enough to realize that deeply committed Christians have different understandings of these issues and they are, at least in part, born out by our own experiences of wholeness or brokenness in the manifestation of these principles. But, when seen through the mystery of Christ and the church to which we all are pointing, either as symbolized in marriage, or as we embody it collectively as the church, the bride of Christ, we might be able to view this discussion in a different light.
In an earlier blog post we explored the wonderful truth of man and woman as “subjects.” This is the testimony to egalitarianism. A woman is not related to a man as an object. Rather, they are both full subjects. In marriage, one is not subsumed by the other; rather, the two become one flesh. Submission is not the duty of one, but the call of all. The wife submits to her husband as unto the Lord, and the husband lays down his life for his wife just as Christ laid down his life for the church. Both are called to self-donation as two subjects.
However, just as Christ and the Church is not one thing but two glories brought together in the marriage of the lamb, so each of us brings our own unique glories to the union. These glories cannot be placed into universally defined vocational roles or “appropriate tasks” type boxes. Nevertheless, we each have our glories to share. We each bring distinct perspectives which, in the Christian vision, are not sanded down and domesticated, but received and celebrated. This is the testimony to complementarianism.
This is one of those interesting debates in the church where both sides have been wrong, and both sides have been right. In the cultural context of autonomous solitude the genders are at war with each other, and they struggle for power and dominion over the other. Even scriptures can be used as bludgeons against the other as we struggle to position ourselves into the siren song of autonomy. But, in the greater song of the New Creation, we see that it is only through dying and self-donation that we discover the true meaning of our own identity. This identity can only be fully realized in community as reflected in the family, the church and, ultimately the Triune God—the eternal “sweet society.” Christ as the head, laid down his life for the church and called us joint-heirs. The church, in turn, joyfully submits to Christ and is summoned into glorious union with the Triune God. So, egalitarianism and complementarianism are not two things, but different aspects of the one thing; namely, the mystery of Christ and His church.


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