Complementarianism and Egalitarianism: What's the Difference?

by Matt Slick

When having discussions on authority in the Church, we must always define our terms so as to avoid confusion as much as possible.  Complementarianism and egalitarianism are two such terms.  In the context of our discussion of women pastors and elders, complementarianism is the position that the man and the woman in the church compliment each other with their different callings and giftings.  Complementarianism states that though there may be gifts of both women and men that overlap, there are biblically designated roles that do not. Both men and women can balance the books, be ushers, cook, take care of the kids, etc.  But the complementarian position would say that a woman is not to be an elder or pastor because those positions are prohibited to women by scripture.

  • "But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but remain quiet. For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve. And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being quite deceived, fell into transgression." (1 Tim. 2:12-14).
  • "Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching." (1 Tim. 5:17). 
    • Notice that this verse connects eldership with preaching.  Pastors preach; hence, pastors are elders.
  • "For this reason I left you in Crete, that you might set in order what remains, and appoint elders in every city as I directed you, namely, if any man be above reproach, the husband of one wife, having children who believe, not accused of dissipation or rebellion. For the overseer must be above reproach as God's steward . . . " (Titus 1:5-7).

The egalitarian position, on the other hand, teaches equality in every area of service within the church including being an elder and pastor.  Therefore, a woman is fully qualified as a man would be to hold the office of elder, Bishop, pastor, and deacon.  The egalitarians would interpret scriptures dealing with male headship in a cultural context and assert that these are not universal requirements.

There is much debate on this issue, which is why this section exists on CARM.  Whatever your position, if you claim to be a Christian, you need to submit your will, your hopes, and your understanding to the Bible's teachings.


About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.