I believe those who disagree on gender roles in marriage and the church can be true believers in Christ. In other words, this isn’t an issue of “cardinal doctrine.” I would hope all Christians would concur that “complementarians” and “egalitarians” are within the umbrella of orthodox Christianity.
So what are the implications of disagreeing with the pastor or church on this issue? Well, some decisions have to made. Let me use another example to illustrate.
Some time ago, I met with a woman who was “paedo-baptistic.” She believed baptizing infants of believing parents is a good and important practice for the church to have. (Please note, paedo-baptism and the Roman Catholic teaching of “baptismal regeneration” are different views). The church where I was pastoring held to “believer baptism” and didn’t baptize infants of believing parents. This was a deal-breaker for her so she decided not to attend.
I applaud this woman’s approach for three reasons. First, she acknowledged we are both true believers in Christ. That is, she didn’t conclude because we held to different perspectives, one of us was a true believer and the other wasn’t. Second, she knew ahead of time which theological issues were deal-breakers and which weren’t. This is SO important. Most of the time, people start attending a church without knowing which theological perspectives are deal breakers and which aren’t. For her, paedo-baptism was a deal-breaker and she knew it already. Third, she didn’t start attending and try to change the majority view or the pastor’s mind. She knew this would be divisive and she didn’t want any part of that. Sometimes, people start attending a church knowing the church has a theological position they disagree with, but hope to change. This isn’t wise.
This can be applied to the gender role conversation. First, you have to decide which “secondary” doctrines are deal-breakers for you in attending a particular church. For the woman mentioned above, it was paedo-baptism. For others it will be views on the millennium or the roles of women in marriage/ministry. You need to wrestle with which “secondary” doctrines are important enough to you, you would choose either to attend or not attend that church. Second, if the secondary doctrine isn’t a deal-breaker for church attendance, you have to be comfortable giving, serving, learning, etc. in it without seeking to rock the boat.
There is a well-known pastor I had lunch with a few months ago who told a story about this very topic. He is a “complementarian” in his view on gender roles. Many years ago, before he was a pastor, he was attending an independent Bible church that was wrestling with the topic and decided to have the congregation vote on whether or not women should be able to serve as elders. They voted to approve this action. One gentleman, a complementarian, came up to this future pastor and asked, “So, what are we going to do in response to this? We have to marshal the troops to fight this.” This future pastor replied, “I’m not going to do a thing. The majority have spoken. There are only a handful of verses that address this topic while there are dozens that discuss the importance of preserving the unity of the church. While I don’t agree with the decision, I’m not going to launch a campaign and divide the church.” Wise words.