Reformed and Egalitarian?

I’m thankful for the article Andrew posted on Monday. Defining “Reformed” theology is becoming more and more difficult with loosely confessional Baptists claiming the same label as high-church Anglicans and Old School Presbyterians. And now, with John Piper leading the charge, the New Calvinism has opened the label up to a more diverse crowd with various doctrinal positions. This is reflected in the convictions of Reformed Margins. We are Reformed, embracing our tradition’s understanding of the doctrine of God, salvation, and highest authority of Scripture. At the same time, we allow room for disagreement over deeply significant and church-defining issues like baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

But in every conversation regarding this resurgence of the Reformed Tradition, one thing has remained: Reformed Theology has been defined as complementarian regarding the church and home. Which leads me to my question:

Is there room for egalitarians in the Reformed community? Does the New Calvinism have space for egalitarians?

I don’t know if I wear the label “egalitarian”. I believe that women should be able to hold all ordained offices in the church and I also believe that headship and submission, when rightly understood, are helpful terms for the ordering of the family (I’ll explain this more fully in a series of blog posts this winter). Of course, so does the egalitarian Council for Biblical Equality. So who knows, maybe the label fits.

I also believe that Scripture is infallibly authoritative in all matters of faith and life. I’m a Calvin-loving, Bavinck-drinking, amilllenarian with a taste for whisky, cigars, and debates about theology and church history. I subscribe to the Westminster Confession (apparently with fewer scruples than Vern Poythress himself!), value the marks of the church, utilize Covenantal Apologetics, and have no tolerance for liberal theology. I list all these Reformed “bona fides” because I think I fit the bill, yet I don’t know if the gatekeepers of the Reformed community would let me in.

This makes me sad because I love Reformed Theology and am committed to its tenants. I’m also confused. When it comes to the doctrine of baptism – something that men and women died over during the Reformation – we’re willing to agree to disagree. When it comes to our theology of the table, we break bread together in spite of vast differences!

According to the Gospel Coalition, which I deeply appreciate and respect, one of the reasons complementarianism is central is because these competing views can’t share a conference stage. But should conference design really be a factor in the definition of an entire movement? And why won’t complementarians allow women to teach men in a non-Church-office conference setting? Complementarianism, as traditionally understood, teaches that women should not hold ordained office. This is an authoritative, pastoral role that only belongs to men. But nobody on a conference stage is working in an official capacity and no one is pastoring while they speak. If they think they do/are, they misunderstand the purpose of a conference. And if anyone attending the conference thinks they’re being pastored while there, they need to dive deeper into their local church.

So again, why is complementarianism a deal-breaker for those in charge? Why would I be turned away even while holding a more traditionally reformed view of baptism than the very people drawing the lines of the New Calvinism?

Clearly, I believe we should embrace a “Reformed” label that is broader than Presbyterianism. I believe and affirm what you would read on our “About RM” page: baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and church government shouldn’t cause division within non-ecclesial organizations. But I think the same thing holds true for questions of women’s ordination. I love the resurgence of Calvinism and I’m knocking on the door of the Reformed community, asking to be included. I guess we’ll find out if anyone will open it.


For further reading: (Note, I don’t vouch for everything on these sites; in fact there’s probably a lot here that I disagree with)

It’s also important to hear from my complementarian friends:


Marcos Ortega

Marcos Ortega (MDiv, Westminster Theological Seminary) is an Assistant Pastor at Goodwill Church (Evangelical Presbyterian Church) and lives in the Hudson River Valley in New York with his wife and two daughters.

8 thoughts on “Reformed and Egalitarian?

  • June 14, 2016 at 7:43 pm

    What if I’m a calvinist woman wondering the same thing? At This point I’m not even interested in holding an ordained office but I’m certainly a “thinking Christian” with a great deal more to contribute to the body of Christ than scrapbooks and casseroles. (Actually I can’t stand scrapbooking or crafts of any kind). In My old church, very complimentarian, my interest in theology and even being more theologically astute than my husband – making me the spiritual leader of the family – was looked down upon; like I was only that by default and that my husband needed to assume that role as quickly as possible. How could God create me this way if I’m not meant to act upon it? And why should I have to reject calvinism in order to have a different view here? I simply don’t see the conflict.

    • June 15, 2016 at 6:50 am

      Kerry, thanks for responding! It’s wonderful that you love theology and ant to contribute to the life of Christ’s church. And you don’t have to be ordained in order to contribute to the body and strengthen the faithfulness of your family! Two women you may have heard of pop to mind: Aimee Byrd (you can find her blog/podcast/books at and Paige Britton (her website is a wealth of information! Both of these are non-ordained women who serve in complementarian contexts. It may be easier in some churches than in others, but you may find some ideas there.

      Also, there are a couple books I’m about to start reading on this topic that you may find interesting as well. I haven’t read them so can’t vouch for everything in them, but they’ve been well reviewed and are respectfully engaging. The first is “Neither Complementarian nor Egalitarian” by Michelle Lee-Barnwell and Lynn Cohick. The second is “Partners in Christ” by John Stackhouse.

      In the end I just want to encourage you: you do not have to be a hardline complementarian in order to be Reformed. And you can still be a fervent Calvinist and be in favor of women holding ordained office. What matters most is that you cling close to Christ and cherish the infallible Scriptures. This is a detailed and thorny debate, but your instincts are right on: God has made you with gifts and talents to be used for his glory. The “how” may not be clear yet, but keep searching the Scriptures and bringing your concerns before the throne of grace. In the end I pray that you’ll find fulfillment in Christ whether your gifts are used in predictable ways or not!

      Thanks again Kerry!

  • June 23, 2016 at 8:25 pm

    Thanks, Marcos! I will definitely check out those resources. Especially “Neither Complementarian nor Egalitarian” because that’s sort of how I feel right now 🙂

  • January 31, 2017 at 9:09 am


    great post, I am in the same boat theologically, though I would replace the WCF with the LBC, as a Baptist.

    I think tradition and a lack of humility weigh heavy in this area.


    • January 31, 2017 at 10:22 am

      Hi Jim,

      I’m glad you enjoyed the article! Thanks for taking the time to comment. Hopefully we will begin to see more charity and humility in gender conversations going forward.

      Grace and Peace,


  • February 26, 2018 at 6:58 am

    Hey! Wonderful post! I am so glad I am not the only one! Granted it has been in the past year, long after this post was written, that I really changed my mind toward egalitarianism and at the time I was unable to find anything or anyone close save the late Roger Nicole.

    • March 27, 2018 at 6:48 pm

      Hi Trent, I’m glad this post encouraged you. If you’re looking for thoughtful scholars who embrace an egalitarian position, consider Cynthia Long Westfall, paricularly her new book “Paul and Gender.” Also see the work of Ben Witherington III, F.F. Bruce, Gordon Fee, Scott McKnight, and others. While all are not Reformed, you’ll find high quality scholarship in the works of many men and women. For web content, check out the Council for Biblical Equality and the Junia Project. God Bless!

  • February 6, 2019 at 11:41 pm

    This article was so helpful. I thought I was the only one too! I am just over the line regarding egalitarianism but definitely Reformed theologically. I will follow up these resources. Thanks again.


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