June 29, 2010

Complementarity and 'Partnership'

As Evangelicals we’ve long since put forward a clear, cogent and compelling theology of what has come to be called ‘complementarianism, a theological position to which I wholeheartedly subscribe.

(Simply put, Complementarianism is the theological view that while there is an absolute equality of men and women in God’s purposes with respect to salvation, status, honour and dignity, that men and women have different (complementary) biblically prescribed roles and responsibilities in regard to marriage, family life & ministry leadership).

And yet, I’m also aware that in many respects we are yet to seriously and thoughtfully outline what our theology of complementarity may actually look like in practice. Particularly what it may look like in our ministries, our teams and in our church relationships. For some reason we seem to have shied away from unpacking this question.

Why might that be?

Maybe for some because they haven’t really thought they needed to, as if being complementarian is somehow  just a theological state of mind, where nothing more needs to be said. Perhaps for others (like the ‘women’s ordination’ issue) to do so taxes the brain and emotions, it’s all just too difficult, too complex. Perhaps they still hope that ‘definitive Briefing article’ might eventually emerge that will tidy up all messy and complicated loose ends.

For others, I’ve heard the woman on team has actually been the one expected to do the hard yards of working out what it might mean in practice for their ministry team to work together in a ‘complementarian way’, and then make suggestions to her minister and team regarding her conclusions. This seems a tad uncomplementarian in methodology!

Still for many the difficulty has stemmed from the reality that (much like the hesitation married couples sometimes face in outlining, defining and prescribing what ‘submission’ looks like in practice in their marriage) there’s a recognition that for teams who share a theology of complementarity, there will be definitive constants, clear theological principles at work, yet there’s also a recognition that our contexts and circumstances vary and therefore so might the way we move from principle into practice in each and every situation.

Well, my blog is titled Complementarity and Culture’, and to date I have written largely about culture with aspects of the complementarian theology interwoven into each topic where relevant. This I intend to keep doing, because my desire is to also engage with complementarianism as it intersects with aspects of our current culture. But I also want to begin laying out some thoughts and reflections more specifically on what it might mean for me (us) to live out complementarianism in practice….

...and so begins this series of posts, the first on the concept of Complementarity and Partnership.

Let's begin by reflecting on the term-'partnership':

What might we mean by that?

We must start by stating clearly that ‘partnership’ as described in the scriptures, does not always mean being equal in every respect, nor does it mean that those in partnership may necessarily perform the same function or carry equivalent responsibilities. For example...

The Bible speaks of those who are in Christ and serving his purposes in the world, as being in partnership with God himself. The Apostle Paul describes this in 1Cor 3:9 as being God’s fellow worker, and again (this time in reference to Timothy) in 1Thess 3:2 as our brother and God’s fellow worker in the gospel of Christ”.

Have you ever considered what an extraordinary statement of honour and privilege that is?

But it’s well understood by both the Apostle himself and the reader, that this is not an equal partnership, but one in which we serve as those participating in God’s purposes not our own, knowing all the while that everything we are and everything we do is only possible in him and through himThat we serve as partners who are wholly and humbly dependent on him, and submissive to him (1Cor 3:5-9,4:1,Eph 3:7,Col 1:29). 

When we understand this we begin to grasp what an astounding privilege it is that the creator of the universe chooses to engage us in any real way in his plans and purposes for the world.

Having said that, the scriptures also speak profoundly of another form of partnership and that is our partnership with other servants of the gospel.

That in the gospel and for the purposes of the gospel, we stand in fellowship and in partnership with one another, and this is true for both male and female, Jew and gentile, slave and free (Col 4:10-15, Phil 2:25).

Some glimpses of this kind of partnership in practice...

Romans 16 presents for us a compelling picture of the importance and recognition of this kind of partnership, outlining a broad but not exhaustive list of men & women working alongside each other labouring and contending for the gospel.

In this closing chapter of Romans Paul speaks of both men & women serving together and working hard in the Lord (v3,6,12). Here both men and women are together called servants of the church’ and fellow workers’, not only with God, but also with Paul and with each other (v1,3,9,21).

As the chapter unfolds, Paul’s instructions to the Church in Rome give us a rich and significant insight into something of what the partnership of men & women in the gospel looked like in the early church. Both, from his own experience and ministry practice, we find Paul commending the brethren in Rome (as he does elsewhere) to make sure they ‘receive, greet, help, assist, encourage and give recognition to’ the men and women who’ve stood alongside him and laboured alongside each other. Acknowledging the men and women who've devoted themselves and expended their energies as they've engaged together in the ministry and mission of the church (see also 1Cor 16:15-18, Phil 2:29-30)).

It's interesting to note here that so committed were these men and women, not only to the gospel but also to those who shared partnership in the gospel, that Paul speaks of Priscilla and Aquilia as having gone so far as to risk their own lives for his sake, for which he, and indeed all the churches in Galatia are thankful! (Rom 16:3).

The relational nature of partnership ministry we glimpse in Rom 16 is a model demonstrated throughout the N.T in various forms and combinations e.g the ministry partnership of Priscilla and Aquila together (Acts 18:26), and then together with Paul in Acts 18:18 & Rom 16:3. Barnabas with Mark (Acts 15:39) and then again with Paul (Gal2: 9). Not to mention the frequent references to the Apostle Paul with countless co-workers such as Titus (2 Cor 8:23), Epaphroditus (Phil 2:25), Euodia, Syntyche and Clement (Phil 4:2-3), Philemon (Phmn v7), Apollos (1Cor3: 9), Titus (Tit 1:5), and of course Timothy (1Thess 3:2) to name but a few.

In no way do these passages imply that these men and women were necessarily engaged in the same tasks, carried the same responsibilities, or that all male/female roles or distinctions were therefore done away with. For we know already from passages such as 1Tim 2&3,1Cor 11&14 and Titus 1&2 that that was certainly not the case. 

But at the very least, and not insignificantly, the picture of partnership depicted in the N.T. as one of mutual support, collaboration and unity of purpose that these men and women obviously shared together, is a compelling image for the ministry practice of the church and for church teams today.

But more ponderings on the possible implications of complementarity and partnership in teams in my next post…

 © Sarie King: please do not use without permission.


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