Recently I have been following some posts entitled, Is it Okay to Teach a Complementarianism Based on Eternal Subordination?
Complementarianism means teaching that men and women are equal, complement one another but also have distinctive roles within the family and beyond. Complementarianism teaches male headship, while emphasising that this does not belittle women.
The question is whether our doctrine of God may be used as a basis for such teaching and, more specifically whether within the eternal Godhead there is a headship similar to that exercised by the husband in Christian marriage.
The Bible is of course full of practical teachings which have their basis on God and his works. We love because he first loved us. Be holy as I am holy. However this teaching focuses more specifically on the relationship between the persons within the Godhead. There is an element of prying into the secret things of God to make a very down-to-earth, domestic application. Perhaps in some cases there has been a lack of reverence when discussing such sacred issues.
However the concern expressed in these blog posts is of a more specific, theological nature. The question is whether the Son is indeed eternally subordinate to the Father. And the term used to describe such teaching is 'eternal subordination'.
Looking back over the centuries the Christian church has believed in God Father, Son and Holy Spirit from the beginning, as witnessed in the threefold baptismal formula in Mathew 28. However it took a long time to navigate the various wrong teachings on this subject to arrive at a definitive understanding. This was largely achieved by Athanasius and the Cappadocian Fathers in the IV century. In particular, the five theological orations of Gregory of Nazianzus represent the results of such thinking.
What the church came to affirm was of course first and foremost the full deity and equality of the Son and Spirit with the Father. All three persons of the Godhead are eternal, equal and together to be worshipped and glorified. Various forms of denial of this reality were labelled 'subordinationism'.
However, not denying the above, the IVth century church and the Christian tradition likewise spoke of an order or taxis within the Godhead. Within the Godhead it is the Father who is monarch and source (John 5:26), while the Son is begotten and the Spirit proceeds. How do the equal persons differ from one another? The orthodox answer was that the Father is eternally unbegotten, the Son is begotten and the Spirit proceeds. In that sense the headship of the Father is not merely a temporary arrangement in connection with the incarnation, but an eternal reality. This has been the teaching of the Christian church.
Later Augustine who lived at the end of the IV century and the start of the V presented his own model of the Godhead. Previously the Son was understood to be God by virtue of his relationship to the Father (He is the Son) and the Spirit likewise. Augustine emphasised not the threeness but the oneness of the Godhead. Imagine a circle within which there are three concentrations of personhood united by relationships. Starting with the unity of God Augustine argued that since God is love, then within God there is the One who loves (the Father), the Beloved (the Son) and these two are united by Love (the Spirit). This was his analogy/model of the Trinity.
Much later Calvin, wishing to affirm the full deity of the Son, spoke of him as "Autotheos" (God in himself). However even Calvin was careful to say, "... but inasmuch as the Father is first in order and of himself begat his own Wisdom, he,as we lately observed, is justly regarded as the principle and fountain of all the Godhead" (Institutes, I.13.25)
On the basis of 1 Corinthians 11:3 I think it is permissible to teach complementarianism on the basis of the Father's eternal headship of the Son and order of relations within the Godhead. For the avoidance of all possible doubt, it may well be wise to avoid the terminology of 'eternal subordination'.