Complementarianism in the Bible and in the Church of God

Rev Dr Ma'afu Palu

Complementarianism is the belief that men and women were equally created in the image of God to function in different roles that complement (or add to) each other. The basis of this belief is that there is an order in creation. Scriptures show that it is God’s will for this creation order to be concretely expressed in the Church of God.

In creation, Adam was created first and then Eve. Adam was given the word of God (Gen 2:15-17) but not Eve. Since no word of God was given to the woman in Eden, the man should be the source of knowledge of God’s word for the woman.

Though both male and female were created in the image of God (Gen 1:27), Adam is the image and glory of God, and the woman is the glory of man, for she was created to be a helper fit for Adam (Gen 2:18, 21-22). When the Serpent turned up in Eden, it didn’t tempt Adam but Eve. Even though the woman sinned, her sin is referred to as the “sin of Adam” (Rom 5:14).

Men and Women Complementing each other in Church Ministry

The account of creation is the background and reason for the way men and women are to function differently in the church of God. Paul says:

A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve. 14 And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. 15 But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety. (1 Timothy 2:11-15).

So, in church, women are to learn in quietness and full submission, for they are not permitted to teach or to assume authority over a man, but she must be quiet. This implies that the offices of leadership, eldership and ordained ministry in the church of God are not to be given to women.

 Does this mean that women are not to speak in church at all? Other parts of Scripture allow women to teach other women and children (Tit 2:3-5). Moreover, women can pray and prophesy in church (1 Cor 11:5). NT prophesying is distinguished from the office of teaching and preaching in church. Prophecy is more a spontaneous activity in worship that is subject to the control of prophets:

Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said. 30 And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop. 31 For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged. (1 Corinthians 14:29-31).

Moreover, women can team up with their husbands in evangelism activities in church as modelled by Priscilla and Aquila in the NT:

Meanwhile a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. 25 He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John. 26 He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately. (Acts 18:24-26).

In summary: women can lead in prayer in church. They can also teach other women and children. Moreover, they can team up with their husband on evangelism. These are the limits of the “silence” of women in church. Nevertheless, women should not become elders or deacons in church because those offices include expectations of leadership and teaching of the whole church under them.

For over 19 centuries, this biblical pattern of men leading and teaching in church has been normative. Only in the middle of the twentieth century was this biblical teaching questioned in the church due to the rise of women’s right and feminism movements.

Complementarianism Expressed: Women Wearing a Head Covering in Church

According to NT traditions, the concrete way the order of creation is to be expressed in the church of God is for the women to wear a head covering when the church gathers to worship. On the other hand, the men must abstain from covering their heads.

The main reason for this church practice goes back to the order of creation in Genesis 1 and 2:

7 A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. 8 For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; 9 neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. 10 It is for this reason that a woman ought to have authority over her own head, because of the angels. (1 Corinthians 11:7-10).

The practice of women wearing head covering in church concretely shows that men and women functions in different roles in church and expressed the top-down order that was established in creation by the creation of the woman from the man. Paul says that women wearing a head covering in the church is the realisation “that the head of every man is Christ and head of the woman man and the head of Christ is God”. This top-down divine order is explicitly expressed by women wearing a head covering:

Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head. 5 But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is the same as having her head shaved. (1 Corinthians 11:4-5).

Paul gives two extra reasons for women wearing “authority over her own head”, namely, “Because of the angels” (1 Cor 11:10) and because of Nature (1 Cor 11:14). The angels who long to see the gospel being preached in the church of God are probably concerned also to see it being believed (1 Pet 1:12; Luke 15:7,10).

The argument from Nature is that long hair is a disgrace for a man, but it is the glory of a woman “for long hair is given to her as a covering” (1 Cor 11:15). Some say that long hair is what Paul meant by the head covering in church. However, Paul draws on Nature to answer his question: “Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered?” (1 Cor 11:13). If long hair were the issue, he would have asked: “Is it proper for a woman to pray with short hair?”. In other words, long hair gives the woman a clue of the scope of coverage for her head. In the Tongan Methodist tradition, which we inherit from England through the nineteenth-century missionaries, women wear a hat. This is still current in the Tongan churches that emerged from the Methodist missiological “root” in Tonga, except the Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga.

So, the practice of women wearing a head covering, either a hat or a veil, to cover their hair in church is not new. Paul counts it amongst the “traditions” he passed on to the church of God (1 Cor 11:2), which was widely practised in the churches of God until probably the middle of the twentieth century. Therefore, if we are serious Bible-believing Christians, we need to concretely show the divine order of creation in the church by men not wearing a head covering and women wearing it.