Women, the Church, Masculinity and the Rest Pt. 1: Male Lordship in the Household

So there’s a lot of blog posts showing up in response to a number of recent comments from a few Pastors (hate to name names, but Mark Driscoll and John Piper) regarding maleness, God’s supposed masculinity, and the role of women in the Church. I hesitated to post anything for several reasons. Mainly because I don’t want to contribute anything to the attention these fellas are generating. Offensive statements draw a crowd, and giving people a platform to say things that cause a fuss is hardly something I want to do. I’ve only read a few choice posts by some folks whose writing I already find trustworthy and reliable.

One thing that changed my thinking regarding whether or not to post my own two cents coming from a post by Christian Piatt is his reference to coming out of the baptist tradition, and being used to Piper’s position, and leaving the Baptists in part because of that. Of course he acknowledges that Baptists come in a variety of forms and opinions (especially South of my homeland), but I want make a defense, as a Baptist of opinions similar to Piatt’s (Piatt himself is married to an ordained woman). My denominational affiliation is in the Canadian Baptists of Ontario and Quebec. Us Canadian Baptists have been ordaining women for a while now. In fact, the Church into which I was baptized had at the time a pastoral staff of a married couple, and another female associate. Now, that same church is lead by a female senior pastor, a female emeritus, and a female youth and family pastor. I attended seminary with a host of godly, talented women who I know are called by God to be leaders in our churches.

Now that I’ve shown my hand up front, here’s some justification of my position. Let’s check the Scriptures, shall we? Hang in there, this is a wild ride. For today we’ll limit this a bit. Ordination of women will have to wait. First we’ve gotta deal with the whole submissive woman thing. If women are subjugated to men, ordination of women in moot point. So, first let’s unpack the husband-wife relationship.

Here goes (*deep breath* this is going to take balls to say)…

Where does the concept of biblical male lordship come from? Genesis 3 of course:

To the woman he [God] said,

“I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing;
in pain you shall bring forth children.
Your desire shall be for your husband,
and he shall rule over you.

What’s the context of this? THE CURSE BROUGHT BY SIN. In other words, any male overlordship of women is rooted in SIN. It reflects a BROKENNESS. But we, the Church, profess that in Christ the curse is broken, and creation is being redeemed. Therefore, if you preach that the man is lord of his wife (this is still within the marriage confines, not even getting at men and women relating in general) you are at best limited in your view of redemption. At worst, you deny the redemptive aims of God in Jesus Christ. His redemption is total, that is all of creation, this includes marital relationships! This is pretty basic and obvious to me. Now, the obvious counter argument is the Pauline passages which supposedly reinforce the notion that the husband is over his wife. Ok, let’s take a look at those.

First, the always popular Ephesians 5:22-24:

22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.

Well, there it is. Plain as day, right? WRONG. Check your Greek text. Verse 22 is a dependent clause- not a complete sentence. We have to look back to get what Paul is saying. Our well intentioned translators put a period, paragraph break and subject heading between verses 21 and 22 (in fact, verse 21 is the continuation of a run-on sentence- quite common in Greek, which includes a series of participles reaching all the way back to verse 18). 21-22 should look more like this:  “submitting to one another in reverence for Christ; wives to their own husbands…” Then in 25, Paul turns to the men. In other words Paul says, everyone love and submit to each other, because Christ is Lord of all. Wives, this is how you love and submit… Husbands, this is how you love and submit… Husbands are called upon to love their wives as Christ loved the Church. How did Christ love the Church? Well, he himself said, “even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” So, if I am to love my wife, I am to serve her, and surrender all claims my culture may have suggested to me regarding any type of entitlement over her. She is not my personal chef/maid/incubator/babysitter/exotic dancer/etc. as some would have us believe. Sorry “dudes,” that’s not biblical! She is not there to serve me. Instead, we are here to serve each other. We are partners, as the Lord intended at creation. The curse is broken; Hallelujah.

Afterall, the same man who wrote Ephesians 5, also wrote this (Galatians 3:28): “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Well, Holy Crap. Either Paul is contradicting himself by repudiating any superiority between men and women to the Galatians while upholding male dominance in the household to the Ephesians, or the rules are different in the church as in the home, or perhaps, Paul in fact believes that Jesus really does break the curse, and redeems the male-female relationship from broken husband/master-wife/servant paradigm.

The wives submit/husbands love paradigm is not placing one above the other, but demonstrating a tearing down of cultural norms. Even in Colossians 3:18-19 where it’s less clear, Paul is actually pulling down the status barrier between men and women. Although some would accuse Paul of reinforcing archaic gender roles, he is doing the opposite. I recall one book I had to read for Medieval History which claimed that Jesus, Paul and the whole Church structure is deliberately misogynistic, and accounts for the medieval status of women (for anyone interested, the book is feminist historian Lisa Bitel’s Women in Medieval Europe 400-1100, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002). The opposite is true. Somewhere along the way, the Church lost this, to our own detriment. I’ll get back to the male only clergy issue in another post on this.

Paul wrote the Corinthians (1 Cor. 11:3): “But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.” Oh, there it is. Husband is the head. But wait- “the head of Christ is God”. Oh snap. Paul also tells us that Christ is in very nature God (Philippians 2:5-6). And Jesus affirms that “I and the Father are one.” (John 10:30). If my “headship” of my wife mirrors God’s headship of Jesus, then there is not rank of me above my wife. It isn’t a boss-servant connection. In Jesus’ “ranking” the head is the servant of all. And in the godhead, between Father and Son and Spirit there is love, unity and oneness. Again, mutual submission in love, unity and trust.

Lastly, let’s deal quickly with 1 Peter 3:1;

1 Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, 2 when they see your respectful and pure conduct. 3 Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— 4 but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. 5 For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, 6 as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good anddo not fear anything that is frightening.

7 Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.

Can I get out of this exegetical quagmire? Ok, submit or be subject to your own husband. In other words, be faithful to your man. So women, don’t take any crap from any man, especially if he isn’t your husband. Women owe submission to no man. They may owe submission to their husband, who in turn is to honour her in return as a co-heir in Christ. Honouring your wife is impossible if she is your servant.

Sarah obeyed Abraham and called him lord. Ok, yes, she did. But, does that mean Abraham expected to be served by his wife? Well, whose idea was the whole Hagar business? Mutual submission folks. Abraham did as Sarah asked at times. They worked together, reciprocated. He got the credit for his actions, while Sarah is downplayed, but Abraham served Sarah. And that was pre-Christ. The curse was not yet broken. The point isn’t who’s in charge, but what is your attitude toward your spouse.

Ok, weaker vessel business now. Driscoll got into some hot water for his leaning on this verse. Now let’s tackle this, because it seems clear cut that Peter is calling women weak, or even inferior. In this case, does the Greek ἀσθενεστέρῳ support that? Not really. Semantic range can include physical weakness (in general, women are indeed physically smaller than men). It can also speak to availability of resources. In a culture where women can’t do what men can, every man’s wife faces harsh limitations because of the culture they belong to, not just muscular limitations. So, Peter is reminding men that this woman you are joined to, and who is co-heir, needs your help. She needs protection and care, not because she’s pitifully inadequate, or less in the eyes of God, but because she’s in a world which won’t allow her to be, do and say all she can. She is a potential victim in a culture which accepts exploitation of women and children as the norm. Praise the Lord for the leaps and bounds made in that respect, and Lord have mercy as there’s still much to be done!

So there you have it. Husbands and wives, wives and husbands; you are co-heirs, called to mutual submission, oneness, and love. Roles may differ, but neither is the “boss”. That paradigm survives only if we chose to remain in our unredeemed, sinful state. This may not be an all encompassing biblical survey, but seriously I am fed up of people using the bible in certain ways. “It’s clearly there- wives submit to your husbands”. Well, it’s not so clear, as I think I’ve demonstrated. Not that this will convince hard hearts like Driscoll’s. I’m sure he would leap into some exegetic gymnastics to sidestep the obvious flaws in his theology (of course I’m under no illusion that Driscoll will actually read this post either). This likely won’t bring about any “conversions” (I think most of my small number of readers already agree with me). But perhaps this will give encouragement to those who faithfully fight the good fight against bad theology. If you are still holding out, stop. I know it may be nice to have an bondservant to exploit, but your job is to love her and honour her, not enjoy her as she fulfills your every need.

So, with that said, upcoming sequels will include women in ministry, biblical masculinity, and God’s “gender”.

3 Comments on “Women, the Church, Masculinity and the Rest Pt. 1: Male Lordship in the Household

  1. I wish there were more preachers like you that spoke out against the strongholds that are in the Church today! Keep up the good work and let’s believe God for revelation to come and break the pride and religion off his people.
    I agree with your views on gender as well as Hell!
    Keep up the good work!

    God Bless, a fellow servant in the Lord.

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