Identity Crisis! Part 3: Complementarianism – Was Jerry Maguire right when he said, “You complete me”?

You know the scene. Tom Cruise nervously stammers at an emotional Renee Zellweger.

You complete me. Several years back, every romantic idealist was touched by these words, followed by the equally endearing, Shut up, you had me at hello. I recall fiercely disagreeing with that statement but totally loving that scene at the same time. After all, no one is missing parts. No one is half a person. But wait a minute. I’m beginning to think this was a very good statement indeed. I am a complementarian. It would have been better if Jerry told Dorothy, “You complement me”.

What is complementarianism?

According to CBMW (Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood), an organization formed to address the widespread unbiblical teaching concerning male and female identity and God’s created order, complementarianism is:

“…the biblically derived view that men and women are complementary, possessing equal dignity and worth as the image of God, and called to different roles that each glorify him.”

 Here are the first five concerns they listed as reason to come together and articulate The Danvers Statement:

  • The widespread uncertainty and confusion in our culture regarding the complementary differences between masculinity and femininity;
  • the tragic effects of this confusion in unraveling the fabric of marriage woven by God out of the beautiful and diverse strands of manhood and womanhood;
  • the increasing promotion given to feminist egalitarianism with accompanying distortions or neglect of the glad harmony portrayed in Scripture between the loving, humble leadership of redeemed husbands and the intelligent, willing support of that leadership by redeemed wives;
  • the widespread ambivalence regarding the values of motherhood, vocational homemaking, and the many ministries historically performed by women;
  • the growing claims of legitimacy for sexual relationships which have Biblically and historically been considered illicit or perverse, and the increase in pornographic portrayal of human sexuality;

This discussion took place in 1987. Fast forward to today. We have the Supreme Court deciding whether same sex marriage will be legally recognized in America. We have Bruce Jenner morphing into a woman. We have five year old girls with parental approval to be boys instead. We have women on the front lines fighting wars and women leaving babies in state-run daycare centers. We already discussed the pornographic portrayal of human sexuality and the proud display of nakedness in our last post. I think we need to reopen the conversation regarding the very biblical, very true complementarian roles of male and female designed by God.

Back to the start…

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. -Gen 1:27

If God did not create gender distinctions and roles, then why didn’t he just make one sex? Why couldn’t man’s mate and helper have been, simply, another man? Even among Christians, we argue whether men and women actually have these different gender attributes and roles. (We’ll discuss egalitarianism in a later post.) The confusion over sexual differences and gender blurring has had and continues to have devastating consequences. In What’s The Difference, John Piper writes:

“The consequence of this confusion is not a free and happy harmony among gender-free persons relating on the basis of abstract competencies. The consequence rather is more divorce, more homosexuality, more sexual abuse, more promiscuity, more social awkwardness, and more emotional distress and suicide that come with the loss of God-given identity.

The term complementarian has been warped and misconstrued greatly and I hope this post will clear up all misunderstanding. In order to define it, we must define the different strengths of each sex. Again, Piper says it well here in his descriptions of mature masculinity and mature femininity. His words were carefully chosen and he chose well:

At the heart of mature masculinity is a sense of benevolent responsibility to lead, provide for and protect women in ways appropriate to a man’s differing relationships.

Notice he says mature masculinity. I remember the 60s/70s term male chauvinist pig. That creature would represent immature masculinity and most likely unregenerate or at best, unrepentant man. Complementarians do not condone beastly oppressive rule of man over woman. It is a benevolent responsibility (meaning of benevolent: characterized by or expressing goodwill or kindly feelings). It is a benevolent providing and a benevolent protection, all done out of the love of his heart. This sounds wonderful to me. I want that leadership, provision and protection from my husband. I depend on it. Yes, I am dependent and I love it. I love that I can trust my husband for sound spiritual leadership. This is the loving, humble leadership of redeemed husbands mentioned in the Danvers Statement. This is a blessing!

At the heart of mature femininity is a freeing disposition to affirm, receive and nurture strength and leadership from worthy men in ways appropriate to a woman’s differing relationships.

Notice it’s a freeing disposition. There is no bondage here. She affirms and receives and even nurtures her husband’s masculine gifts of headship. She yields to a worthy man, a follower of Jesus Christ, so ultimately, she is obedient to Christ. She is not called to cower to immature masculine aggression or share in a man’s sinful behaviors. Believing husbands and wives are to guard and nurture one another’s souls. (Remember and refer back to our Dead Men Know Best series where William Gouge told us about this mutual soul-care.)

Let’s get a female perspective on complementarianism…

Mary Kassian also took part in the 1987 Danvers Statement. She explains the term very well in the following article: Complementarianism For Dummies. Please read her well-written explanation and be assured, ladies, that your complementary role as a woman does not mean you must be married, ignore your intellect and talents, have double digit amounts of children, or vacuum in pearls and heels ala June Cleaver. Kassain states:

Who we are as male and female is ultimately not about us. It’s about testifying to the story of Jesus. We do not get to dictate what manhood and womanhood are all about. Our Creator does. That’s the basis of complementarianism. [emphases mine]

She’s absolutely right. Our creator has defined manhood and womanhood for us. As fallen creatures, male and female have wrestled against each other since Genesis 3:16:

Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.

So many people misinterpret this verse as male headship being part of the curse. Not so. John Piper makes a great statement in his sermon, Husbands Who Love Like Christ and the Wives Who Submit to Them :

“…when sin entered the world, it ruined the harmony of marriage NOT because it brought headship and submission into existence, but because it twisted man’s humble, loving headship into hostile domination in some men and lazy indifference in others. And it twisted woman’s intelligent, willing submission into manipulative obsequiousness in some women and brazen insubordination in others. Sin didn’t create headship and submission; it ruined them and distorted them and made them ugly and destructive.”

Matthew Henry’s commentary on Genesis 3:16:

If man had not sinned, he would always have ruled with wisdom and love; and, if the woman had not sinned, she would always have obeyed with humility and meekness; and then the dominion would have been no grievance: but our own sin and folly make our yoke heavy.

Those wives who not only despise and disobey their husbands, but domineer over them, do not consider that they not only violate a divine law, but thwart a divine sentence.

Complementarianism and singleness…

I know we’re mostly discussing complementarianism within a marriage relationship, but here’s something for singles. For an excellent single complementarian perspective, read Complementarianism and the Single Woman. Katie Van Dyke writes:

What we call a “complementarian worldview” is not just for those who are married. It’s also for me as a single woman. It helps me to have a correct view of how I am to personally submit to Christ as the supreme authority in my life. Christ is Lord. I am his servant. Submission is not a dirty word; it is a high calling, the calling of every Christian (James 4:7).

Married or single, we who belong to Jesus are already complete in Him: Col. 2:9,10:

For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.

10 And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power

What is so wrong with being dependent?

Ultimately, we must remember that both male and female are complete in Christ. No one satisfies our souls like Jesus. Yet, our Lord made provision for us and blessed us with the opposite sex to fulfill our needs in this temporal world.

Jerry needed Dorothy. He had a high pressure job. He was stressed. He needs comfort, a soft place to fall, as Dr. Phil would say. He needs a helpmeet. Dorothy wants to be there for him. She knew full well that she complemented him. She met a need in him.

18 And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him.

21 And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof;

22 And the rib, which the Lord God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man.

23 And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.

and they shall be one flesh.

Yes, Jerry. She complements you.

A complementary relationship between a man and a woman operates like a beautiful symphony: different instruments harmonizing in one smooth performance, each unique instrument equally important in producing the musical masterpiece. Okay, no marriage is perfect. But God’s design for marriage in a peaceful, God glorifying union is to complement each other, serve one another with our distinct, innate male and female attributes.

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