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Topics: Complementarianism, Cultural Engagement, Feminism, Homosexuality, Public Square

City Church and the Affirmation-only Gospel

March 18, 2015



By Owen Strachan

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

City Church of San Francisco recently announced that it would no longer require people who identify as “LGBT” to remain celibate for life.  CBMW’s response to this.


“Complementarianism isn’t that important, right?,” goes the question. “I mean, it’s not like the exclusivity of Christ.”

I get a version of this question regularly. I understand it well. No, not every doctrine fills the same role in the elegant tapestry that is Christian theology. But this question speaks to a problematic tendency in evangelical circles: we isolate our doctrines. We cut them off from one another. We forget that biblical teaching stands (or falls) together. There is no doctrinal buffet for true believers.

Many of us were reminded of this theistic connectivity recently when City Church of San Francisco announced that it would no longer require people who identify as “LGBT” to remain celibate for life. In other words, the church will endorse and affirm same-sex marriages. City Church announced as much:

We will no longer discriminate based on sexual orientation and demand lifelong celibacy as a precondition for joining. For all members, regardless of sexual orientation, we will continue to expect chastity in singleness until marriage.

Read the church’s whole letter announcing this change. Three thoughts came to mind in hearing this sad news.

First, complementarianism matters a great deal more than many of us think. We now have verifiable data that shows a disturbing trend among churches and individuals who embrace egalitarian views. City Church famously shifted from its complementarian moorings to egalitarian principles. Now, it has gone further still. It affirms same-sex marriage (SSM).

Thankfully, there are a good number of egalitarian churches that have not presently followed this trajectory. But there is enough movement on the matter of homosexuality among egalitarian congregations and leaders to seriously concern onlookers. Denominations that have embraced egalitarianism have either openly endorsed or supported same-sex marriage: see the PCUSA and the Episcopal Church (with its SSM rite of blessing), for example.

This shows us that complementarianism acts as a major force in stemming the cultural tide. There is no mass exodus from biblical marriage to report among complementarians. Pastors who embrace this anthropological worldview have not compromised the teaching of Scripture on pastors and elders and on leadership in the home. They have held the line, and (with scattered congregations leaving the fold) they will in massive numbers continue to do so.

Second, many young egalitarians are not holding the line. Matthew Vines publicly called out his fellow egalitarians in God and the Gay Christian, imploring them to recognize that their hermeneutics led to the affirmation of same-sex marriage. To date, we have not seen a substantial presence of young egalitarians speak against same-sex marriage. The voices who have publicly done so are overwhelmingly complementarian (and confessional).

We should not think that the millennial embrace of SSM and the New Sexualism will soon halt itself. We’ve already seen one young egalitarian theologian identify the Holy Trinity as a “throuple,” characterize the Godhead as engaging in a polyamorous relationship, and suggest that Jesus practiced polyamory with his disciples. His post was very popular, with hundreds of Likes on Facebook. This is the way to stay on trend. If you don’t want to look like the modern version of a person who castigated lightbulbs as a threat to civilization, you’ll eventually need to embrace such views, too.

Third, this present dysphoria offers young evangelicals a moment of self-reflection. I sense that there are many young egalitarians who are profoundly confused by these trends. I feel much compassion for them. They don’t currently endorse SSM, and they’re taken aback by the suggestion that they should embrace polyamory. Now is a time to look afresh at the hermeneutical momentum of egalitarianism.

There is no cow-counting going on here. I write this out of concern for souls. I grieve for what is happening at City Church and elsewhere. Many have already bought the falsehood that Paul spoke culturally and imperfectly on “gender identity” and gender roles. Now, they are tempted to believe that the Bible’s sexual ethics are simply wrong. This is a moment of decision, a time for choosing. I pray that many will see afresh that God’s law is pure (Psalm 119). God does not lie. No teaching of the Lord is harmful or wrong. All the Bible is good, and good for us (2 Tim. 3:16).


The matters before us are connected. A robust doctrine of God drives complementarity. Complementarity drives a biblical sexual ethic. Your sexual ethic determines how you will live in a fallen world. You can err as a believer, it is true. But we cannot separate our doctrine of God from our doctrine of anthropology from our doctrine of sin. They hang together; they fall together.

Tragically, some professing evangelicals believe that their affirmation of sin is loving. It is no such thing. The worst position in the world is one in which you sit unchallenged in your depravity, with no one to call you to repentance. City Church and other congregations are laying down the true gospel and preaching a Jesus whose death makes no offense, presents no rebuke, effects no transformation. It leaves no mark and causes no scandal. This is an affirmation-only gospel.

The true church preaches a very different gospel. The cross reorients our understanding of our manhood, our womanhood, our bodies, our roles in home and church, our sexuality, our ethics. As Ephesians 5:22-33 explores, the gospel shows a husband how to sacrificially lead his wife and family, and trains a woman to submit to Christ. Marriage is a living picture of the Christ-church covenant, an emblem of the evangelion.

Is complementarianism important?, you ask.

Is the cross?, I respond.


Dr. Strachan is President of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW); Assistant Professor of Christian Theology and Church History at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Boyce College; and author of several books and publications.  Follow President Strachan on Twitter @ostrachan.  For a full bio for Dr. Strachan, go here.



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