Complementarian comfort

A congregation that teaches biblical gender distinctions feels like home

TriCity Church in Port Coquitlam, B.C., part of the Canadian Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches. — CCMBC TriCity Church in Port Coquitlam, B.C., part of the Canadian Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches. — CCMBC

For the first 50 years of my life, I attended churches that were patriarchal/complementarian: They believed men and women have different but complementary roles in marriage, family life and religious leadership. These churches were part of evangelical denominations. I do not recall any women wanting more gender equality.

Then, well into my sixth decade of life, my husband and I moved to a new community and joined a church that belonged to the Presbyterian Church of Canada. The denomination permitted ordination of women, but the congregation only had men as lead pastors while we were there. Occasionally, women studying at a nearby seminary would preach. Initially it felt uncomfortable to sit under the preaching of women when men were present.

Then, in 2021, the PCC voted to approve same-sex marriage and the ordination of practicing gay and lesbian people. This was more than just uncomfortable for me and my husband. We believed it was contrary to scripture and the historic Christian faith. We began to search for and pray about a new church home.

We believe God led us to an Anabaptist congregation: TriCity Church in Port Coquitlam, B.C., part of the Canadian Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches.

Anabaptism is not unfamiliar to us. Our grandparents were Mennonite Brethren in southern Russia (now Ukraine) and immigrated to Canada in the 1920s. To find a Mennonite Brethren church in our community has felt like we’re coming home.

It also feels like home in another way: The church is complementarian/patriarchal, something that we had moved away from for about 15 years.

Why would we want to go backwards, so to speak, when we had been part of a church that was egalitarian? There are several reasons:

1. TriCity Church, only six years old, is thriving and growing. Average Sunday attendance is close to 600, with the majority being young families. The facility is not large, so there are three gatherings. We’re praying about when and where we may be able to plant another congregation to allow for further growth. By contrast, the egalitarian church we left has been without a pastor for nine months and has dwindled considerably, making it unlikely they’ll be able to afford a pastor’s salary.

2. While TriCity Church is open about its complementarian/patriarchal perspective, it welcomes people who hold other viewpoints. However, leadership has made it clear that their complementarian stance is firm and not debatable. That said, their position on this issue was not our primary reason for attending TriCity Church. It was their preaching of the gospel as found in the entirety of scripture — we’re all sinners who need to repent and believe in Jesus — that we found compelling.

3. After studying the biblical passages that address the topic of men and women in the home and church (Genesis 1-2; Ephesians 5:21-33; Colossians 3:18-19; 1 Corinthians 11:2-16; 14:33b-35; 1 Timothy 2:8-15; 3:1-13; 1 Peter 3:1-7) and reading books by theologians and scholars on both sides of the issue, I’m convinced the Bible presents God’s wise plan for headship for men and submission for women within marriage and the church. Because this plan was initiated at the time of creation, before the Fall, it’s not a mandate for men to have power but to have authority.

I agree with Kevin DeYoung, who wrote in his 2022 book, Men and Women in the Church: “The biblical pattern of male leadership is never an excuse for ignoring women, belittling women, overlooking the contributions of women or abusing women in any way. The truest form of biblical complementarity calls on men to protect women, honor women, speak kindly and thoughtfully to women and to find every appropriate way to learn from them and include them in life and ministry — in the home and in the church.”

Joyce Bergen of Coquitlam, B.C., is a retired teacher of adult English as a second language learners.

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