By David Cramer
I believe that it is inconsistent for one to be a strong complementarian and a Protestant at the same time. Complementarians often hold that, though women can be involved in various forms of ministry, they cannot become “ordained ministers.” But consider the following simple argument:
According to one of the fundamental tenets of Protestantism, the priesthood of all believers (hereafter, PAB):
(1) All baptized believers are ordained by God as priests.
From here the rest of the argument quickly follows:
(2) Some women are baptized believers.
(3) Some women are ordained by God as priests.
We might thus simply ask our complementarian friends the following: If God has ordained someone as a priest, who are we to deny her ordination?
I suppose one might reply that PAB is purely a spiritual matter that does not pertain to our ecclesiological affairs. However, that reply seems to miss the original meaning of the doctrine, not to mention the context in which Luther himself re-discovered it. Whether or not Luther understood the egalitarian implications of the doctrine is another matter, but to the extent he didn’t, we could say that even he wasn’t being a consistent Protestant! (I am not in a position to say what his view on this matter was, so I am not claiming that he was, indeed, inconsistent.) It appears that, while Luther did make a distinction between priests and ministers, he saw the latter not as a God-ordained position, but simply as those whom we Christians choose from among us to do certain tasks. Since the latter is not based on divine ordination, I would assume that we choose people for these tasks based on our discernment of their natural abilities and spiritual gifts related to those various tasks. So, unless we are willing to state categorically that women are physically or spiritually incapable of performing certain tasks (a strong claim indeed!), then I cannot see how a Protestant would in principle be able to hold to strong complementarianism. I suppose one could deny PAB, but in so doing, one would cease to be properly Protestant.
David Cramer is a doctoral student in Religion at Baylor University, with an emphasis in theological ethics. His interests include gender ethics, Christian nonviolence, anabaptist theology, and the theological ethics of John Howard Yoder. He is published in many journals including The Mennonite Quarterly Review, Christian Scholar’s Review, Philosophia Christi, and Ethics & Medicine. Cramer is the co-editor of The Active Impulse: Essays on the Intersection of Evangelicalism and Anabaptism (Pickwick, 2012), editor of Reflections, the Missionary Church historical journal, and a licensed minister in the Missionary Church. This article originally appeared in the CBE Scroll, a publication of Christians for Biblical Equality (CBE) International.