Can Broad and Narrow Complementarians Coexist in the SBC?

Paul grounds his prohibition in that divine design, “For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve” (1 Tim. 2:13).

Narrow Complementarianism” teaches that headship applies narrowly to ordination and to marriage. “Broad Complementarianism” teaches that headship reflects a comprehensive set of differences between male and female that have broad implications for our lives together in the church, in the home, and in society at large


Tom Schreiner is a world class New Testament scholar who has published extensively about complementarianism and egalitarianism. He’s also a Southern Baptist pastor with decades of experience in church ministry. Today, he weighed-in on the intramural debate that Southern Baptists are having about women preaching. I think what he argues here really gets to the heart of the issue. Schreiner writes:

Some complementarians read 1 Tim 2.12 (I don’t allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man) to say that women can’t serve as pastors or elders. I agree that the verse means that women can’t serve as elders, pastors, overseers (the same office), and there is a parting of ways with egalitarians here. Complementarians have significant agreement here, and we should rejoice in our agreement.

On the other hand, 1 Tim. 2:12 doesn’t speak directly to eldership but to function, and the command is rooted in God’s good creation (1 Tim 2.13)–in Adam being created before Eve. So I think the function of a woman teaching/preaching scripture in a sermon or a mixed Sunday School class is also prohibited.

Notice that the verse speaks to function directly, not the issue of office. Our view of office is a conclusion we draw from the functions that are disallowed. So, those who allow the function but ban from the office are not heeding, in my opinion, what Paul says. In fact, such a view seems quite inconsistent. Why can a woman engage in the functions without occupying the office? Is that just males holding onto power?

But if Paul disallows the function and the office, his view says something about what it means to be a man and a woman. His view on men and women isn’t nominalism; it accords with the created order. To put it another way: the rule isn’t arbitrary. It reflects a profound understanding of what it means to be male and female.

I taught a Sunday School class for many years when I wasn’t an elder. Because of my teaching I had more authority in practice than some of the elders. That is entirely natural and accords with 1 Tim. 2.12.

Of course good people who are evangelicals disagree! I am not saying that anyone who disagrees with me isn’t a complementarian, even if I am worried about their view and its consequences for the future.

I worked and studied in schools for 17 years where I was a minority as a complementarian. I thank God for evangelical egalitarians! And I thank God for complementarians who I think are slipping a bit. Still, what we do in churches is important, and I don’t want to say it doesn’t matter. It does matter, and I am concerned about the next generation. But we can love those who disagree and rejoice that we believe in the same gospel.

The cultural forces are incredibly strong, and our society in my judgment overemphasizes freedom and equality, and doesn’t value sufficiently authority, obedience, and submission. Are complementarians like me too strong sometimes? Do we make mistakes in how we present our view? Of course! Simul iustus et peccator! But it doesn’t follow from this that the view itself is wrong.

Do we alter our view to fit in or so that others who are our friends will like us? I am not saying all do this who disagree with me! But I know the temptation of my own heart. I want to be liked. It is not fun to say ‘no’ to people.

Since I am throwing things out there, I don’t think it makes sense for women to be present in any regular way at elders’ meeting as advisors, as those who give feedback on the spot to the elders. That reminds me of churches who have elders, but then have an executive board that makes decisions. The cases aren’t exactly the same, but we put in place an extra-biblical structure, which plays a role in making decisions. Having women on such a committee in practice makes them part of the elders in my judgment.

Obviously, there are gray areas, and we can’t or shouldn’t write a Mishnah. But churches have to decide what to do. Either women will preach sometimes on Sundays or they won’t. Either they will be present at elders’ meetings or they won’t. And if a woman can in principle preach in church Sunday morning sometimes, then why not all the time?

Many egalitarians (remember I am a complementarian…) would say that allowing such only sometimes is inconsistent. I think egalitarians spot an inconsistency here.

As we think about the implications of Schreiner’s words, it’s important to remember that people can be faithful to The Baptist Faith & Message 2000 (BF&M) while having differences about what contexts might be appropriate or inappropriate for a woman to teach. The fact is that our confessional statement doesn’t address the issue explicitly. The BF&M only addresses the office of pastor, and it says that pastors must be qualified men. That is why you are not hearing me raise this as an issue of cooperation. Southern Baptists are all over the place on this issue because it’s not something we’ve stipulated in the BF&M. Everyone needs to recognize that fact in discussions about this, and the rhetoric needs to reflect that confessional reality.

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