Positive complementarianism

The history of theological reflection is one of disputes and battles. This is not a bad thing. It is as Christians have engaged with different and sometimes false views that key tenets of orthodoxy have been refined. For example, in the early church the battleground was issues of the nature of Christ and the Trinity. Then, at the Reformation, it was the doctrines of grace that were refined in and through disagreement.

However, as essential as these battles are, they tend to focus on determining the boundaries of orthodoxy. By definition, they focus on who is in and who is out; what is orthodox and what is heresy. It is only after the battles die down that brothers and sisters in Christ can then plumb the depths and ponder the implications of doctrines within the boundaries set in the battles.

But when it comes to the roles of men and women in the church, sadly, in the modern church the discussion never seems to move beyond the battleground. Those who are convinced of a complementarian view tend to see that view as always under attack (both from within and without), and so their teaching on the topic tends to focus on setting and defending the boundaries: What is a woman allowed to do? What is a woman not allowed to do? And when the key passages are taught, the focus of the sermon or study tends to be an apology or defence of female submission and male headship. Very rarely do we feel that we can just express the biblical truth and then spend time delighting in and exploring how to live out God’s good order with joy and thankfulness.

This is why our staff team (male and female, as well as spouses) so values the Priscilla and Aquila Centre’s annual conference.[1] What a pleasure it is to go to a conference that wants to start from a complementarian position and then, from that base, explore how to live out that doctrine in the family and especially within the church (including within staff teams). Each year we find it stimulating and encouraging to be pushed beyond defending our view to considering how to live it out. Always defending means that often our churches are so concerned with what women are not allowed to do, that we do not take the time to think hard about what women should be encouraged to do to build up the body of Christ. This conference gives us just that opportunity, and, even if the members of our congregations do not know the source, they benefit from this enormously. In particular, over the past couple of conferences we have been encouraged to consider how we model godly headship and submission in our leadership at church. And this year we were challenged to stop apologizing for God in this area and instead delight in his word. One way we will be trying to do this is to teach the key passages positively, rather than reluctantly or apologetically.

We cannot speak highly enough of the Priscilla and Aquila Conference. In a crowded calendar there are not many conferences we choose to attend every year as a team—this is one of the very few.

Registrations for the Priscilla and Aquila Centre's 2016 conference have recently opened. To register or find out more information, visit their website.


Vic and Phil Colgan.jpg

Phil and Victoria Colgan minister together at St George North Anglican Church in Sydney, where Phil is the Senior Minister.




[1] The Priscilla and Aquila Centre is a centre of Moore College in Sydney. The centre’s website has a wealth of talks, papers and other resources exploring the implications of complementarian theology, and is well worth a visit.