Complementarian in Principle, but Not in Practice?

Rev. Dwight McKissicIn a previous post, I noted that Dwight McKissic’s letter to the trustees of Southwestestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS) included a call for “a more inclusive role of women in public worship.” Specifically, McKissic has in mind a role for women in “public proclamation” in the church. He cites as examples many prominent women who do just that and who are regarded widely by Southern Baptists to be exercising a faithful ministry. Among those he lists are Beth Moore, Betty Criswell, Ann Graham Lotz, and Dorothy Patterson.

Brother McKissic raises an important issue in this section of his letter, even though the trustees ultimately did not adopt the statement on women in ministry that was in the original draft of their statement. Complementarians do agree that the Bible teaches a principle of headship that must be observed within the church and within the home (e.g., 1 Cor 11:3; Ephesians 5:21ff). For most, the practical implications of this principle are twofold: (1) the office of pastor/elder is only to be held by qualified male believers, and (2) the husband is the leader in his home.

Nevertheless, as McKissic points out, many Complementarians continue to disagree concerning how this principle of “headship” should be observed within the church. While there is agreement that pastors/elders should be male, there is disagreement concerning what the Bible says about women teaching mixed audiences. Some Complementarian churches do not allow women to teach mixed adult audiences, while other Complementarian churches do allow it. On this particular point, there is agreement in principle (observing headship), but disagreement in practice (teaching mixed audiences).

Sadly, this is one area in which Complementarians have yet to reach consensus. That McKissic brings it up shows that there is still some room for Complementarians to clarify their belief and praxis when it comes to explicating Paul’s meaning in 1 Timothy 2:12 (and I assume that McKissic is a Complementarian if he affirms BF&M 2000).

For this reason, I direct you to my essay on 1 Timothy 2:12 , which explains why I think Paul only allows qualified Christian men to teach Christian doctrine to public assemblies of Christians in which men are present. Also, take a look at another post that affirms the valuable contributions of women in Christian ministry.


  • dennyrburk


    Thanks for telling me that the last post had disappeared. It was inadvertently marked as private. I’m sure it happened whenever I added the picture to it.


  • Michael Bird

    Is it “Sad” that complementarians do not have a “consensus”? Can we celebrate the diversity, breadth, and tolerance within complementarianism and their committment to shared principles? My concern is that “consensus” will only emerge when one group of complementarians accuses, attacks, and then marginalizes and expels another group of complementarians. That, as I’m sure you’d agree, would be “sad” indeed!

  • Eric Schumacher

    Great post, Denny!

    This is the issue that is causing complementarians to lose and egalitarians to progress. The women can teach men if “under the authority of their husband or the pastors” (AKA–the Beth Moore form letter response position) effectively, in my opinion, neuters any force to the complementarian position.

    We need more scholars, seminary presidents and pastors to speak out on this issue and to consistently apply the clear teaching of the Apostle Paul.

    Thanks for addressing this!

  • Gorhendad

    Heh. Yeah, I’m sure it’s hard to reach consensus on letting females teach.

    After all, if you let women write a books on theological topics (I read your list of things that XX’ers can do), then there is the awkward issue of whether they can lecture about their own books in front of a mixed group. I suppose there could be a whole industry of “author male surrogates” who could give the lectures while the actual female author sat behind a little screen feeding him information via a headset. It might seem odd at first, but I’m sure we’d get used to it. Some of us would anyway.

    The Southern Baptists are certainly having a hard time with the complementarian thing. They shut their eyes during a praise song, and when they opened them up a second later, there was a big sack of complementarian doctrine sitting in the middle of the sanctuary. They’re still trying to figure out how to reconcile the contents of the sack with Baptist women who like to proclaim the gospel. I’m sure there’s a committee of guys meeting right now trying to figure out how to tell Anne Graham to hush up.

    I agree with Eric that women teaching and people listening is a huge detriment to the progress of complementarianism. Because the more women talk, the more they can say stuff about egalitarianism!

    If women would stop talking, then complementarianism could win, because only the men could talk and make decisions and teach stuff, and the men could talk about how good men are at talking and making decisions and teaching stuff. Then, complementarianism could progress.

    It’s like if you’re in a race and you hogtie the other person, then you’ll always progress. That’s the ingenious thing about complementarianism. If you work it, it works!

  • debbie wimmers

    Have you’ll read this yet

    MOBILE, Ala. (BP)–Hillcrest Baptist Church in Mobile, Ala., recently was ousted from the Mobile Baptist Association by an overwhelming vote on the grounds that the church’s hiring a female associate pastor violated the association’s membership guidelines.

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