Complementarian thinking largely draws on natural law as its general foundation. But grace does not destroy but supports and perfects nature. And so the church, the new creation by that special revelation in Christ, maintains this distinction in the church (e.g., in 1 Tim 2).
In the 1980s, American evangelicals (mostly of the Baptist persuasion) built a foundation for complementarian thinking on the key passages in the NT that affirmed the male-only episcopate & particular roles in marriage. They also used biblical passages that overlapped w/ natural law (since the revelation is practically one).
This meant that the basic foundation of sexual difference, while not ignored, was not emphasized. The following decades then saw scholars and pastors and people disagree over the interpretation of specific passages as well as hermeneutical approaches to Scripture.
In the last few years, however, American evangelicals have awoken to the notion of natural law since many now declare that their gendered identity does not match their biological sex. So it’s more obvious that God’s law in nature needs reaffirmation.
And it is obvious, I think, that evangelicals are realizing that their 1980s version of complementarian thinking forgot what all prior Christian thinkers had known: natural law defines the general difference of the sexes while special revelation provides the specific application of that difference in eschatological ministry (i.e. the church).
In 2020, I published an article that aims to show how natural law lays the foundation for distinguishing the sexes. You can find it here. I still think my argument there makes sense, although I believe I could improve upon my presentation were I to update it today.
Sure everything is up for argumentation, but complementarianism is a case that is as rational as it gets, biblically speaking. Although it may appear to be arguing the obvious, various circumstances, conditioning, exposure to the relentless evil of this world have made people skittish, and distrustful, notwithstanding misplaced comprehension of the source of distress, cf, Ephesians 6:10-17, for example, which almost seems fanciful to many people steeped in conflict.
Yes, it is difficult for modern women to hear something such as this: “Ephesians 5:21–33 (ESV)
21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.
22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24 Now as the church.” very understandably in view of the almost complete abandonment of biblical faith — cf, Luke 18:8, for example.
Furthermore, I define the church as the some total of all believers in Jesus Christ who now or will walk fatefully in the Spirit as in John 16. The lack of that Spirit in control of our lives has contributed to the misunderstanding of, for example — Galatians 3:28:
“28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” One of numerous passages encouraging the new spiritual walk in the Spirit, in which case conflict would have to be minimised. Debates are doomed never to end it would appear when pure reason is not the goal.
The church proper has been so scattered throughout the creation while many local churches simply do not live up to the directives of God. In all fairness we are human and although many of us do our best we still stumble and have been for two thousand years and counting. Yet there remains a true witness of Messiah until the End…
So, we can make sense of the complementarian vs. egalitarian debate but we are destined to suffer for a lack of faith…Luke 18:8; 1 Corinthians 13:1-2,13…
Ben MacGown says
Can you give specific examples of how a complementarian tradition based on natural law would differ from a complementarian tradition based strictly on scripture? How would it be different in practice?