Complementarianism is a term to describe a theological view held by some Christians that differing, non-overlapping roles between men and women, manifested in marriage, church leadership, and elsewhere, is biblically required.
The term Complementarian was coined in recent years and largely replaces today what previously was known as the Traditionalist or Hierarchical view of gender relationships. It comes from the tenet that men and women are designed to complement one another.
The opposing viewpoint is Christian egalitarianism which maintains that there are no biblically-required distinctions between men and women in marriage, church leadership, or elsewhere.
The Complementarian position
Complementarianism holds that “God has created men and women equal in their essential dignity and human personhood, but different and complementary in function with male headship in the home and in the Church.”
the historic Christian Traditionalist or Hierarchical patriarchal
perspective of gender relationships, Complementarianism maintains that
men and women are equal in the sense that they bear God’s image equally.
But with respect to roles in the church and in marriage, gender-based
differences determine or restrict the roles appropriate for each.
Specifically, there are requirements of men, and restrictions on women.
The complementarian position has clear implications for the ordination of women as well as for Christian views of marriage. Men are expected to take spiritual responsibility, often called headship, for leadership in the home and in the church. Women are restricted from holding the teaching office of the church and from spiritual leadership in the home and in marriage.
Roles in marriage
Complementarian view of marriage maintains that gender-based roles and a
husband-headship/wife-submission structure is biblically required in
marriage. The husband is considered to have the God-given
responsibility to provide for, protect, and lead the family. A wife is
to submit herself to the leadership of her husband, respecting her
husband and serving as his helper in managing the household and
nurturing the next generation. This understanding has led to a religious
stand against women working for pay and holding positions of authority
in the secular, religious, and political world.
Complementarianism teaches that a wife should be submissive to her husband in all things, the exception being she should never “follow her husband into sin.”
Roles in ministry
Complementarians view women’s roles in ministry, particularly in church settings, as limited to one extent or another. While both men and women are presumed gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men. Some believe that women should be ordained neither as a pastor nor as an evangelist, while others believe that it is acceptable for women to be evangelists but not pastors. Complementarians would not support placing women in any leadership roles that would imply or provide some authority over men. Which other specific ministry roles are open to women varies among complementarians.
Subordinationist Trinitarian theology
While complementarianism has chiefly been characterized by its contribution to ecclesiology and Christian family relationships, complementarian thought has also been highly influential in the area of Christology and Trinitarian theology, at least in evangelical circles. Starting with George Knight III in 1977, some complementarians have adopted a semi-subordinationist Christology, which states that God the Son and God the Holy Spirit are eternally subordinate to God the Father. In contrast to historic subordinationism, most complementarians are quick to deny that this subordination includes ontological subordination, but nonetheless state that it is a permanent and eternal state defining the Trinitarian relationship, preceding and unrelated to the incarnation. Complementarians hold to this view ostensibly because they believe that the Son’s (and Holy Spirit’s) eternal subordination to the Father is analogous to womens’ subordination of role to men (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:3).
Complementarianism is biblically required is strongly promoted by the
Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Groups of churches that
broadly support this position include the Southern Baptist
Convention, the Presbyterian Church of America, the Anglican Diocese
of Sydney, Newfrontiers, and Sovereign Grace Ministries, among others.
Noted theologians and Christian thinkers who support the Complementarian position include men such as Wayne Grudem, Albert Mohler, Mark Dever, Mark Driscoll, C. J. Mahaney, Richard Land, Ligon Duncan, Terry Virgo, John F. MacArthur, and John Piper.
An alternative view: Complementarity without hierarchy
Complementarian and Christian Egalitarian views need not be mutually exclusive, according to some recent proposals that one can subscribe both to complementarity and Christian egalitarianism. This theoretically would allow men and women to complement each other without any form of hierarchy. This view argues that the Bible prescribes both equality and complementary positions and roles for both men and women. One academic book advocating this position is Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity Without Hierarchy.