Practical Complementarity

Practical Complementarity

As society and the global church reaps in the coming decades the egalitarian fruit it has sown, the reality of its shortcomings will prove painful for many. Therefore, it is important that Christian parents teach their children, through godly instruction and through godly example, what Christian marriage is and what the ethos of the Christian home is to be. 

God has composed a melody for the Christian home—a sweet, pleasant, and satisfying tune, composed in such a way as to draw attention to its harmonies. God wrote the parts to this melody when he created humanity male and female, and through his Word he conducts his music in Christian homes today. God has graciously designed each household member with the desires, capacities, and opportunities needed to contribute to the choir. To join in the singing is fitting, right, and beautiful.

God’s melody for how the Christian home is to operate has in recent decades been called complementarianism. At the heart of complementarian theology has been the claim that men and women have equal and value dignity, but distinct roles in the church and home. Rooted in creation, however, the complementary vision of men and women also includes the claim that God has designed each gender with innate physical, psychological, and spiritual constitutions that are different from and yet complementary to one another. Like the various vocal parts in an acapella choir (bass, tenor, alto, etc.) coming together in one harmonious note, men and women have complementary parts to play in the melody of God’s design for the home. If one tries to imitate the sounds of the other, the harmony is ruined, and the song becomes discordant and jarring.

The complementary contributions of both men and women of the home are practically beneficial for everyone. And they create a harmony that non-complementary singing cannot replicate. Specifically, when men take godly initiative and when women are joyfully home-focused, the Christian home experiences practical benefits in ways that egalitarian home structures will never fully experience. Or, leaning again into the analogy, are men suited to sing soprano, or women bass? The musical discord resulting from egalitarianism role-swapping simply cannot practically compete with the beautifully sounding harmony of God’s complementary design.

The Deep Notes of Masculine Initiative

In the dissonant cultural imagination of modern Western society, masculine initiative-taking has seemingly hit an all-time low. From fewer men being the primary breadwinner than ever in American history to a successful dating platform where women make “the first move” to an outright rejection of men entirely by a growing movement in South Korea, today male initiative is neither widely celebrated nor expected. But God’s complementarian melody woos men to exercise masculine leadership for the benefit of the whole family. In this section, I want to highlight how the New Testament expects men to be the leaders of their families and show how this leadership may be expressed in two practical ways.

The New Testament expects men to lead their families. This is assumed when wives are called to follow their husbands’ leadership (Eph. 5:22–24Col. 3:18Titus 2:4–51 Pet. 3:1–6), and it is also shown by the position of authority that husbands and fathers have in the household codes of Ephesians 5:22–6:9 and Colossians 3:18–4:1.[1] In Ephesians 5:22–33 particularly, the wife is called to submit to her husband’s leadership just as the church submits to Christ’s leadership. Those who would deny that men have a leadership role in their family must also deny that Christ exercises a leadership role in his relationship to the church.

But beyond the husband and wife relationship, men also have a unique responsibility in parenting. In Ephesians 6:1 children are to “obey their parents,” but just three verses later fathers specifically are commanded to discipline and instruct their children. Colossians 3:21 has the same interplay: children are commanded “obey your parents in everything,” and then in the next verse Paul particularly hones in and commands, “Fathers, do not provoke your children” (Col. 3:22). This is not to say that women will never discipline or instruct their children, but rather that fathers have a primary responsibility to do so, as Hebrews 12:7–10 also assumes (“For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?”). Now that we’ve established the biblical basis for male leadership in the home, let’s address the specifics of how this leadership is expressed in in taking initiative in the family’s spiritual life and in disciplinary matters.

First, a Christian man benefits his family by initiating in their spiritual lives in a variety of prudential ways. he considers how to be of greatest spiritual good to each of them. As leader, the husband keeps his pulse on each individual family member’s spiritual condition and needs. He initiates regular conversations about God’s Word and how it intersects with life (Deut. 6:4–8). He ensures that his family worships their God together regularly (Eph. 6:4Psa. 78:5–7), and especially in the gathered congregation (Heb. 10:25). He guards his home from evil influences that would seek to turn his family away from Christ (Gen. 2:15). When there is no clear leader responsible for gathering the family, curating content, and leading conversation, a version of the Bystander Effect[2] occurs and family worship does not happen. Christian men see the tendency towards this reality and take action to preserve this important family rhythm.

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