“God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” Genesis 1:27
In the very first chapter of Genesis, God declared that males and females were made in the image and likeness of God (Imago Dei). Both men and women were identified as image bearers with equal worth, value, and purpose in exercising dominion in God’s name over the living creatures of the earth. Historically, the Imago Dei value of women countered the spirit of the pagan world where women were viewed as weak, unintelligent, and of low status. Under Judaism instead, we see the great worth and importance of women as image bearers. Exodus and Leviticus commanded that both father and mother be honored. This equality in value, worth and purpose did not mean sameness. Yet, value before God was definitively and pointedly equal. Further, we know God’s design required both man and woman to produce life and fulfill the instruction of Genesis 1 to be fruitful and multiply. Women held a prominent role throughout Scripture, dramatically elevating the view of women compared to pagan culture.
Scripture portrays unconditional, committed, and biblical love through Ruth; courage, sacrifice, and righteousness through Esther; and a woman of noble character with incredible giftings in Proverbs 31. In Galatians 3:28, the Apostle Paul elevated women and others in such counter-cultural terms that it almost appears subversive to the times when he wrote, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” In Ephesians 5, husbands are commanded to love their wives as Christ loved and cared for the church; sanctifying, nourishing, cherishing, and even dying for her, concepts unheard of in Greco-Roman times. In 2 Timothy, Paul praised the legacy of faith that Timothy’s mother and grandmother passed on to Timothy. Christianity’s instruction in Scripture recognized and raised the value and status of women. The Lord used women to be the first witnesses to the resurrection and Scripture describes the many ways women engaged in Jesus’s ministry and served in the early church.
In their book Imago Dei and Creation, authors Glenn Sunshine and Timothy Padgett wrote, “Judaism and Christianity have had more positive impact on women than any movement in history. The image of God in both male and female was the foundation for women’s rights and the ultimate source for modern ideas of gender equality. Scripture affirms that though men and women are different, they are equally valuable before God, equally worthy of honor and respect, and spiritually and morally equal in Christ.” Equality does not always mean sameness regarding purposes, design and roles Scripture has for men and women. Different, complementary purposes and roles are prescribed in Scripture for the glory of God within the body of Christ. These biblical roles and purposes for men and women are known as Complementarianism. But what is biblical complementarianism?
Complementarianism – ABF Position
We affirm that God, in infinite and providential wisdom and love, created man and woman with complementary roles, designed to bring Him greatest glory. We believe as we pursue His plan and purposes together, it will bring us greatest joy and fulfillment. We recognize there is much confusion, even in His church, regarding those roles. We seek to define our complementarian understanding of Scripture in what follows. Much has been written on the topic, and while we will refer to some works, we acknowledge we are ultimately bound by Scripture. While the church of Jesus Christ is found in and ministers within culture, we will seek to glorify God by an unbending commitment to His Word, rather than bending to the dictates of culture.
Complementarians believe that men and women are equally created in dignity, honor, and worth in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27) and have been equally gifted (1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12). We also believe men and women should seek to serve within God’s designed complementary roles and functions. When pursued within the framework of Scripture, we believe such complementary roles bring God-glorifying, joy-filled purpose and fulfillment. As author and Pastor Kevin DeYoung writes, “As a complementarian, I believe that God’s design is for men to lead, serve, and protect, and that, in the church, women can thrive under this leadership as they too labor with biblical faithfulness and fidelity according to the wisdom and beauty of God’s created order.” (Men and Women in the Church, p. 19)
From Creation through the teaching of Jesus and the Apostles, we believe God calls husbands and fathers to spiritually and faithfully lead their families (Ephesians 5:22-33; Colossians 3:18-21; 1 Peter 3:1-12). Further, we believe God calls spiritual, godly, and qualified men to lead the church (1 Timothy 3:1-7, Titus 1:5-9). Such leadership is not a matter of superiority, but according to God’s functional design as defined in Scripture. While men and women are equally gifted to serve in the church and fulfill the Great Commission, such service should be defined by Scriptural command and example. This is consistent with our expanded doctrinal statement which reads, “Women are not to fill the role of pastor-elder in the local church, but are encouraged to use their gifts in appropriate roles that edify the body of Christ and spread the gospel. (Acts 6:1-7, 14:23, 20:28-31; Ephesians 4:11-12; I Timothy 2:14-3:13; Titus 1:5-9; I Peter 5:1-4)”
All believers, men and women, should participate in the ministry of the church. We seek to celebrate the uniqueness in which God has created, called, and gifted us to serve. To quote The Village Church website, “The Bible depicts a vision of men and women laboring alongside one another in the world and the Church for the sake of the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 12:4-31).” To that end, we want to call, equip, train, and encourage men and women for ministry within their God-given giftings and callings, and within God’s good and clearly-defined boundaries. Men and women should also enjoy their service with and to one another in the family of God with brotherly and sisterly love (John 13:34-35).
We believe God calls men to serve the church as spiritual leaders through the office of Elder/Overseer/Pastor. To that end, ABF has selected called, qualified, and gifted men to serve the church in this way. Further, as a primary function of the elder is shepherding/pastoring (Acts 20:17-36; 1 Peter 5:1-4; 1 Timothy 3:1-7), the term pastor is reserved for qualified men who serve in this role.
Another primary function of Elders is teaching (1 Timothy 3:2, 5:17). In the context of how to conduct ourselves in the household of God, which is the church of the living God (1 Timothy 3:15) and in the context of church leadership (1 Timothy 3:1-7), Paul does not “permit a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man” (1 Timothy 2:11-15). It is therefore our position that women should not serve as Elders, nor teach in the gathered assemblies, to include Sunday morning worship services, Connection Groups, and other mixed gatherings of the church.
So, in what ways can women serve at ABF within their giftings (e.g. leadership, teaching, etc.)? As noted above, we long for the women of Alliance Bible Fellowship to serve alongside men in a complementary way. Moreover, it is absolutely essential for women to serve, following their passions, calling, gifts and skills to build the church, under Scriptural direction, to disciple, teach, train, lead, encourage, serve, give, host, pray and worship. The very word complementarian requires a faithful partnership of men and woman serving together, without which, the church suffers. DeYoung concludes, “In other words, there are ten thousand things women can be doing in ministry. Pastors especially need to make this point abundantly and repetitively clear.”
In summary, we want the men and women of ABF, as coheirs of the gospel of Jesus Christ, to serve at every level of ministry in the local church, except those prohibited by Scripture. It is our desire to equip and encourage gifted women for ministry to fulfill the Great Commission, for the glory of God.
For further reading:
Men and Women in the Church, Kevin DeYoung, Crossway, 2021
God’s Design for Man and Woman, Andreas and Margaret Köstenberger, Crossway, 2014
Men and Women, Equal Yet Different, Alexander Strauch, Lewis & Roth, 1999