A Christ-Honoring Practice of Complementarianism

Toward a Biblical Practice of Equality and Authority

by   |     |   shorn@bju.edu   |  
Divine Design: Biblical Manhood and Womanhood

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Biblical complementarianism contends the Scriptures speak clearly, repeatedly and compellingly that while men and women are equal in value and standing before God, primary responsibility and spiritual authority to lead in marriage and to teach authoritatively and spiritually govern the church have been assigned and restricted to spiritually qualified men.

What should Biblical complementarianism look like and what it should feel like in when practiced in a Christ-honoring way?

In the Home

The Mandate (Eph. 5:22–32, Col. 3:18–20; I Pet. 3:1–7)

  • Men are to lovingly serve and lead their wives and their families by bearing primary responsibility for the spiritual and physical well-being of their family in ways that are not demeaning, damaging or sinfully oppressive.
  • Women are to graciously support and follow the leadership of their own husband and to cultivate a gracious, joyful Christ-exalting atmosphere at home as they develop and appropriately use the gifts and abilities God has entrusted to them for His glory.
  • God does not command or expect a woman to submit to sinful behavior, intentionally abusive behavior (of any sort—physical, sexual), or to put herself or her children in physical or moral danger.

The Model—what it looks like (Eph. 5:23–25)

  • Men are to lead their wives as Jesus leads His church.
  • Women are to support their own husband as the Church follows and supports Christ.

The Manifestation—what it feels like (1 Pet. 3:7)

  • Husbands—dwell with your wives in an understanding way that shows honor to your wife.
  • Wives—live with your husbands in a respectful way marked by pure conduct and a gentle spirit.

In the Church

The Difficult Mandate (1 Cor. 14:34–35)

For God is not a God of confusion but of peace. As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.” (ESV)

  • Though it is difficult—it is not ambiguous—let a woman be silent in the churches; they are not permitted to speak.
  • So, what does Paul mean when he states women are to be silent in the church? Especially when just a few paragraphs earlier he has actually stated they can pray and prophesy in the church (1 Cor. 11:1–16)?

The Actual Meaning (1 Tim. 2:11–15)

Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet…” (ESV)

  • Women, like men are permitted to pray. They are permitted to testify. They are permitted to sing. They are even permitted to announce a truth from God (prophecy). All of this is made clear in 1 Corinthians 11. What they are prohibited from doing in the church is exercising authoritative pastoral teaching authority over their husband or over the men in the church of God.

The Pastoral Restriction (1 Tim. 2:14)

  • This means in NT pattern—women can’t occupy the office of an ordained or recognized pastoral office or fulfill a clearly recognized pastoral function in the church.

The Wide Opportunity

  • Teach and instruct other women, children
  • Lead a choir (not a worship pastor)
  • Read Scripture, pray, sing, testify
  • Write a commentary
  • Be a missionary
  • Do what Rosaria Butterfield did in our conference
  • Share the Gospel—personally and corporately
  • Teach religious courses in a university (some would argue that a woman should not teach seminary classes in pastoral training).
  • However, the clear restriction is pastoral leadership.

In the World (1 Tim. 2:9; 1 Pet. 3:2–4)

  • Likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire,” (ESV)
  • But let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.” (ESV)

The Bible does not prohibit a woman from:

  • Starting and leading a company
  • Being a dean at a university
  • Being a Supreme Court justice
  • Being an ambassador to the UN
  • Being the Queen of England or the president of the United States

But as she does these things in the providence and will of God, she must do them in ways that reflect what God has said a godly, biblical woman should be like—the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit (does not mean weak).  She must do so with decorum and appropriate femininity, and she must do so in ways that cherish the husband and children God has given her.

In Singleness (Rom. 13:1–7)

  • Married women are commanded to submit to their “own” husbands—not to all men in general.
  • All believers, women included, are instructed to follow and obey your spiritual leaders—the pastors of your church.
  • All believers are told to submit to the temporal leaders God has placed over you—governmental and judicial.
  • All young people are told to honor your parents. When you leave home, you move from rote obedience to honoring your parents and highly regarding their counsel.


Biblical complementarianism recognizes that God, in His amazing wisdom, has created men and women as complete and complementary equals before Him, tasked to reflect His image together through the different but incredibly complementary roles He has designed for them, particularly in the home and in the church.

As we live this out with God’s help, we can, together, showcase the wisdom of God and reach a broken world with the life-transforming message of the Gospel. As Christian men and women—in the home and in the church—we have the opportunity, together under the headship of Christ, to do just that. 

Listen to Dr. Horn’s message on complementarianism:

Join us for chapel at 11 a.m. every Monday through Thursday.


Sam Horn (BA, ’86; MA, ’88; PhD, ’95 from BJU) joined the executive team at Bob Jones University in January of 2015.

Sam has served in both academic and pastoral roles throughout his ministry. Sam desires to use his experience in pastoral ministry, teaching, and academic administration to recruit and train students for all disciplines and to embrace the mission of advancing the Gospel and serving the Church effectively.