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Topic: Complementarianism

How Elisabeth Elliot Made Me a Complementarian

November 13, 2015
By Stacy Reaoch


As a freshman at a large, secular university I was at a crossroads in my life. I had recently become a Christian and was being introduced to new philosophies and ideas.

I enjoyed reading my Bible and figuring out how it spoke into my life, and I loved my American Thought and Language class, where I learned about ideas from a feminist slant. I resonated with articles I read about the oppression of women and the changing views of society.

I proudly stood in line at my first presidential election to vote for the candidate who did not limit women’s choices and rights with their own bodies. Yet, I was conflicted over my desire to be feminine and my desire to see women treated equally. I saw equality as role interchangeability. So you can imagine my dismay when I came to the verses in 1 Timothy 2 and 1 Corinthians 14 exhorting women to be silent in the church. What?! Did this mean I wasn’t allowed to talk? And my horror when I realized the Bible taught that the roles of men and women were to be different in the home and the church. I bristled at the idea of submission. Did God want me to be a doormat?

Beginning with the Bible

Many of the verses regarding specific instruction to women in the Bible were offensive to me. I remember feeling angry and irritated at what the Bible said. What was a gentle and quiet spirit (1 Peter 3:4)? I am a naturally talkative, outgoing person. Did this mean I had to change who I am to fit a cookie-cutter mold? Yet I knew if I called myself a Christian, I couldn’t do a pick and choose Bible study.

I needed to embrace what God’s word said. So this battle over the sexes sent me on a quest to try to understand what these difficult verses meant. Now I see how God used the issue of women’s roles and place in the church as a means to grow me in my new relationship with Him. Not only did I begin my own ill-equipped Bible study on these verses, but I sought out others who could answer my questions. I debated my boyfriend (now husband) over long-distance phone calls.

I went to a “relationship panel” my campus ministry hosted and fired questions to those on the panel over what submission really is and how Christian women are to interpret those verses today. To be honest, I got a lot of cloudy answers. But then I came across a couple of books with a voice that spoke clearly and decisively on these matters. I was introduced to an amazing woman named Elisabeth Elliot, who was not afraid to tell me what she thought. Through her own personal story, as well as her crystal clear, no-nonsense illustrations in her books, I began to have a change of heart.

And then came Passion and Purity

I first read Elisabeth’s own personal testimony and love story in her book, Passion and Purity. She and her husband’s commitment to follow God’s calling as overseas missionaries, as well as their iron-clad commitment to purity was unlike anything I had ever heard. Jim lead in their relationship in various ways, from first initiating communication with Elisabeth to telling her she’d have to learn the language of the tribal people before she joined him on the mission.

Their own love story was a testimony that gave me a whole new outlook on dating, courtship, and marriage. But perhaps even a more influential book of Elisabeth’s in my life, was a lesser known title, Quest for Love. In this book Elisabeth shares many true stories of other people’s quest for love, some good examples and others you would not want to follow. In each chapter her own voice speaks through the stories being told, highlighting various lessons learned, from the folly of men and women trying to be “just friends” to seeing marriage not as a right, but as a gift. And it was in the pages of this book, that I was given the most clear explanation of God’s design for complementarity.

A Harmony of Differences

In the chapter, “A Harmony of Differences”, Elisabeth highlights the beauty of God’s order and authority in the universe, recognizing that the entire world is constructed on “the principle of hierarchy.” Through this chapter I was given a framework for considering authority within an understanding of the three persons of the Trinity—Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Jesus submits to the Father (1 Cor.11:3) out of the principle of authority, yet he is not any less than God the Father.

All three persons are equal in value, yet have different roles. This was key for me being able to embrace my differing role as a woman. God values me just as much as a man, but has a different role for me in this world. “Equal in value, different in role” was something I had never before considered. Elisabeth helped me to see the beauty of God’s complementary design instead of seeing it as a competitive relationship. Adam and Eve, both image bearers, reflected God in their differing roles. She helped me to embrace the calling for men to be the initiators, while women respond.

Complementarian Marriage

And really, without Elisabeth’s solid, biblical advice, I most likely would not be married to the godly man I am married to today. It was her words of wisdom that helped me to stop pursuing the man I desired to be with, and allowed me to rest in the truth that it wasn’t my role to do the chasing. I was the responder, not the initiator, and there was a freedom in that. There is freedom in being able to joyfully follow my husband’s leadership and embrace my role as wife and mother. And there is freedom in being able to trust the authority structure in the church, and humbly follow our elders’ lead while still being able to use my gifts to teach and disciple women.

The writings of Elisabeth Elliot were a lifeline for me in a time in my life when I was confused and in need of an older voice, one who had gone before me and could speak honestly to me. If you are looking for a godly, older woman to speak the truth to you, look no further than the pages of Elisabeth Elliot’s books, which continue to be a guiding light on the often confusing path of our identity as women.


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