On MacArthur, Complementarianism, and the Church’s Display of the Gospel

On MacArthur

As many of you know, John MacArthur was recently asked at a conference by a moderator to indulge in a word game of sorts in which he would give a “pithy” response to a given word or phrase. To this, the moderator offered the name “Beth Moore.” To this, John accordingly replied with a pithy and dismissive two words: “go home.” In the video one then observes the immediate eruption of laughter which then cascades into resounding applause and affirmation from those attending.  

Almost immediately the video went viral and was viewed by the Christian community as a whole, not just those within the echo chamber of the conference itself. Anger, hurt, disgust, and a plethora of other reactions came forth from the broader Christian and evangelical community. Many came to the defense of Beth Moore in condemning MacArthur’s pithy comment, including some even within MacArthur’s own theological camp. 

So what is it that I want to say?

Like MacArthur, I am a Christian who is Reformed in my theology. I’m in his camp. I also believe, like MacArthur, that the Bible teaches complementarianism. By this, I mean that I am convinced from the Scriptures that it is God’s design that men and women, both of whom are created in the image of God (Gen. 1:26) and have equal standing before God, have distinct roles within the church and the home. I do not believe in complementarianism due to some notion that women don’t have the capacity to teach. Quite the opposite. Growing up in Wesleyan churches who champion and cherish women in pastoral roles of teaching, I have listened to several women who seemed to be quite better preachers than many men I have heard. Thus, it is not in regards to an ability in which I do not believe women should hold the office of elder (or pastor) but because of my conviction that Scripture teaches that the office is reserved for men, and not just any men but those who are exemplary in the faith (1 Tim. 3:1-7, Tit. 1:5-9). That, in Scripture, this command comes from Paul based not upon cultural variables or contextual motivations, but due to the order of creation (1 Tim. 2:12-14; cf Gen. 1:27; 2:8, 22; 3:6, 13). Paul roots this command not in pragmatism nor custom, but in the act of God’s creation itself.

On Complementarianism

A question, and at times an accusation, I will often receive for saying these things is, “So you don’t affirm women in ministry!?” To this, I respond by saying that I in fact cherish women in ministry, save for women in the office of elder. I affirm women as missionaries and deacons (Acts 9:36-40, Romans 16:1, 1 Tim. 3:8-13), women as those who teach younger women (Tit. 2:3, 4), women fulfilling their Christian duty of ministry as church members (Ephesians 4:12), and as evangelists and missionaries (Matt. 28:19-20). Paul, by the inspiration of the Spirit, shares God’s design for the gathering of the local church and states that there is one distinct role that is reserved for men, that being the role of elder (or pastor) in the local church. To push back against those who would insist that complementarians don’t affirm women in ministry, we actually heartily cherish women doing their Christian duty of ministry while submitting to God’s design as revealed in Scripture that there is one role of ministry that is reserved. To insist that women are not doing ministry unless they are in the pulpit is to nullify, neglect, and negate the vast majority of what Scripture calls ministry. To reduce ministry to the pulpit is incredibly dangerous for the church and her mission to preserve and proclaim the gospel to the nations. 

To my brothers and sisters in Christ who are egalitarians and not complementarians, to those who interpret the Scriptures differently on this important doctrine, I first want to say that John MacArthur’s recent comment does not represent our theology well. We believe that complementarianism shows that men in of themselves are incomplete (Gen. 2:18), and are in fact in need of women, and vice versa. While I do believe that MacArthur in fact treasures women, his erring comment feeds a false narrative that our theology treats women with a three-fifths person attitude. I will also readily admit that there are those complementarians who have not done their due diligence to study and search how the Scriptures call women to arms in ministry and have thus thrown the baby out with the bathwater on the subject, barring them from any and all aspects of ministry. I do not pretend to know the pain and anger of multitudes of women who have been stiffed from employing their gifts for their local church and the glory of God because of men in leadership who went further than the Scriptures. 

However, I do think that there is a more important issue that needs to be attended to in light of all of this: the church’s display of the gospel.

On The Church’s Display of the Gospel

Since MacArthur’s comments, the church has disintegrated into an “us versus them” battle on the subject of women in pastoral ministry; both sides throwing rocks back and forth with the other. Pithy comments being met and returned with more pithy comments.

Brothers and sisters, we have great reason to be in fear of sin; I am speaking to both sides. There is an onlooking world who is watching us very closely right now. They are seeing Christians belittle other Christians on both sides. They are seeing tribes of Christians alienate and anathematize tribes on the opposite theological side. Whereas God intended for his church to reflect the glory of the gospel to an onlooking world by unity in faith, we have mirrored nothing but disunity and tribalism during this time. I am not excusing MacArthur’s comments, rather I am pleading that we disagree in a manner that glorifies Christ by showing that even when brothers and sisters in Christ disagree sharply on issues that deeply move us, we are still unified by the gospel. I am broken hearted to see how we have attacked one another within the church during this debacle. We all believe that salvation and reconciliation to God is by faith alone is the atoning death and victorious resurrection of Christ Jesus alone. That this gospel reconciles men and women from every tribe, tongue, and nation to Christ in unifying a church, a bride, together unto Christ. Yet we are in danger of invalidating this profession by veiling the beauty of the gospel by our conduct. We must strive to pursue unity and love for one another even in the midst of disagreement over issues that are not required for salvation; even issues as hot and seemingly divisive as this one.

The church is to be a picture and living expression – a mirror – of the gospel to the world. We all know the oft-quoted charge Christ gave us in John 13:35 when he said that “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Brothers and sisters, I know that this is a weighty issue that touches the hearts of many of you. But I encourage you that this should be all the more reason to have unity and love in the midst of sharp disagreement, for in it we have an even greater opportunity to show how great the gospel of Jesus is in its reconciling and unifying power. That even when we are in utter contrast with one another, that Christ is what unites us, not this topic. It is an incredibly important one by all means for both sides involved, but women in pastoral ministry is not the gospel. It is not that which has paid for our sin and given us a righteousness we could not afford nor attain. It is not that which one’s salvation hangs on. Christ is.

Finally, to my sisters in Christ who are preachers or aspiring to be so: though I disagree with you, I still love and cherish you. There are several of you that come to mind right now: a dear friend from Southern Wesleyan, many of you from my alma mater at Indiana Wesleyan, a sister in leadership at a church in Detroit, and more. Please hear me when I say that though I disagree with you, I still treasure you all and your friendships because the gospel unites me to you, and you to me in the work of Christ.

Complementarianism and egalitarianism is not the issue here. The issue is the church’s display of the gospel and its power being displayed to an onlooking world. May we repent of our disunity and tribalism and unite with one another as brothers and sisters knit together to one another in Christ. As those who can respectfully dialogue on these important issues with love and grace. May we represent Christ well in the midst of this all.

Pray for one another; pray for the other side in a humble manner. Then, brothers and sisters, let us dialogue with one another soaked in love and with a desire to understand one another.

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