Reset: Some Questions on Gender and “Authority”


Since posting “Complementarity Without Subordination” and “’And he shall rule over you’: A Collaborative Response to Aimee Byrd and Barbara Roberts”, I have been told by one side that my proposals are anti-authority, feminist, and egalitarian and by the other side that they suggest misogyny and endorse ungodly authority (I should note the all-around good will and kindness of the latter respondents).  Given the polarity of these responses, I believe much of this must be due to misunderstanding and my own lack of clarity. But since I have from the beginning intended these posts to be collaborative contributions and not primarily polemics against those I most appreciate and learn from, I believe the best course of action is to reset the table.  Rather than continue to iterate and push down paths that have already been potentially misleading, and therefore not conducive to framing clear and common consent, I propose a fresh start. I am in no wise abandoning the proposals set forth in the previous two posts, but rather believe that there are unresolved tensions, potential inconsistencies, and even some cake eating and having in the critiques I’ve received thus far.

Because I believe this to be a discussion of utmost importance and also because I believe that the internal tensions on all sides remain unresolved, I have decided to present a short list of questions that I have been implicitly trying to answer in these posts.  I believe the answers to these questions will both point up and clarify some of the tensions and inconsistencies floating about the discussion.

These questions are presented to those holding to a broadly Complementarian view point, but who also reject ESS Complementarity (as described in the previous posts).  But first, a few points of agreement ought to be noted as a basis for the questions that follow.

Points of Agreement

A 1. I believe we all agree that there was a natural complementarity between man and woman before the fall, described in the early Genesis narratives and also by the Apostle in 1 Corinthians 11.  Some would call this “headship”, others may not, but God clearly made the man first, made the woman from man’s body, made the woman for man, made the woman as a “help-meet” complementing the man, joined them together as one flesh, and conjointly commissioned them with a common work and mission.

A 2. I think we all agree that throughout the New Testament, relationships between men and women, in home and church, include the notions of “authority”, “rule”, “submission”, “subjection”, and “obedience” (1 Cor. 11:10; Eph. 5:22,24; Col. 3:19; 1 Thess. 5:12; 1 Tim. 2:12, 5:17; Tit. 2:5; Heb. 13:17; 1 Pet. 3:1-6 and the like).  These are not only described but clearly enjoined in the home and in the church.

A 3. Further, we agree that rightful authority in the home and in the church is defined primarily as leadership by self-sacrificial service and example (see Matt. 20:25-28; John 13: 5-17; Eph. 5:22-33; 1 Pet. 5:3).  All “authority” outside of these parameters is ungodly and unrightful. We also agree that all authority is delegated authority and never owed primarily to persons nor a consequence of personhood (including gender).  And on the other side, all submission is “as to the Lord”, not carried out primarily toward persons nor as owed to persons, but done before the Lord, and not to be exacted by force, manipulation, or even allurements.

A 4. All relations of human authority and submission are temporal and temporary, whether in the home or in the church.  “Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power” (1 Cor. 15:24).

A 5. Gender is part of personhood; it is not extraneous to who we are as individual subsistens and is not somehow dissolved in the New Heaven and Earth, or neither I nor you will be there.

I do hope that these are agreed upon points of departure and I also hope that all involved can see that I have consistently held to these principles.  Now for the questions.  Again, these are directed toward those who reject ESS Complementarity yet still consider themselves broadly Complementarian.


Q 1. Are the concepts of “authority”, “rule”, “submission”, “subjection”, “obedience”, and the like, applicable to the natural complementarity before the fall?  Did these concepts characterize prelapsarian headship as enjoined upon Adam and Eve?

Q 2. If the answer to Question 1 is “yes”, then what is different between this position and that of ESS Complementarity and not include all of the same drawbacks? If “authority”, “rule”, “submission”, “subjection”, “obedience” characterize prelapsarian headship, then how does the whole critique of “ESS, Slavery, and the Metaphysic of Oppression” not apply.  It would seem that if these relations describe the Garden household and are rightfully enjoined in that sinless estate, then (given the narrative and Paul’s argument in 1 Corinthians 11) “authority” and “submission” are part of the created nature of male and female; that it is, “subjection” would be according to personhood, resulting from the priority, order, and intention of the created genders.

Q 3. Further, if the answer to Question 1 is “yes” and therefore relations of authority and submission are a part of the natural complementarity and are therefore due to the order, the from whom and for whom, of creation, then how do such relations not continue as long as gender continues?  It would seem that so long as man is man and woman is woman, then authority and submission must continue as such relations are part of the very created identity of persons.

Q 4. If, on the other hand, the answer to Question 1 is “no”, then when did such relations as “authority”, “rule”, “submission”, “subjection”, “obedience” begin?  At what point did they become such as could be rightfully enjoined by the Apostles?

Q 5. Next, if authority is indeed temporal and temporary, to what is it keyed? Has it been delegated from the creation of the world and only to be ended at the consummation?  For those who answer yes to Question 1, was it delegated for the prelapsarian sinless state but then put to an end at the post-consummation sinless state? Why?  For those who answer no to Question 1, does the not the delegation of authority appear to be identically coextensive with the period beginning at the fall and ending at the full restoration, i.e., it is keyed to the dispensation of sin and curse? (“Objection! Counsel is leading the witness.” Sustained.)

Q 6. Why was authority delegated at all?  What was the purpose, why was it needed?

Q 7. What is the meaning and purpose of the “nevertheless” in 1 Corinthians 11:11?

For man is not from woman, but woman from man. Nor was man created for the woman, but woman for the man. For this reason the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. Nevertheless, neither is man independent of woman, nor woman independent of man, in the Lord. (1 Cor. 11:8-11)

What is the Apostle contrasting?  If he is in the first passages describing authority in the sinless prelapsarian Garden, then why does he say this is not true in the sinless post consummation eternity that is now realized eschatologically?  If, on the other hand, he is describing a post-lapsarian authority relation, then why does he hinge it on the Genesis narrative? (It also will not do to explain this entirely by first century cultural exegesis for the same reason.)

Q 8. And last, how do we explain 1 Timothy 2:12-15?

And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression. Nevertheless she will be saved in childbearing if they continue in faith, love, and holiness, with self-control.

Is this prohibition in the church simply reasoned from a description of a deceived Eve, or is it a prohibition due to her deception?  This I believe to be a very important question, but the distinction can be hard to explicate, so I will elaborate a bit more on this.

As I wrote in a previous comment, either (1) the fact that she was deceived shows that she is not fit for the office and therefore should not be allowed to it, or (2) the prohibition to such office results from a sanction due to the deception. The former is the awful “women are more gullible by nature” argument, the latter is that an order of authority was introduced after the fall and due to the fall. For example, a businessman having been swindled (partly his own failure) of all of his money is not grounds in itself to prohibit him from starting a new venture. But a judge could pull his license to do business as a result of the loss (for various possible reasons relating to his own part in the failure). If someone then said, “no, Jim can’t do business because he was swindled,” I would have to presume that this person is either telling me that the businessman showed himself incapable of doing business and therefore shouldn’t, or assume that some authority had barred him from it for having been swindled.

My Hope

This set of questions, with the preceding assumptions fixed, are what I have been trying to answer in my last couple of posts.  I reject the Metaphysic of Oppression, the inequality of equals, but I must also make sure that whatever position I endorse captures and coordinates all of the Biblical data. I have of course read and heard many answers to these questions, but when distilled and placed in order they seem to be discordant at best.

It is my hope that this approach might prove more collaborative, might bring clarity to the discussion, and might offer a fresh point of departure going forward. (And of course, relieve me of some heat.)


15 thoughts on “Reset: Some Questions on Gender and “Authority”

  1. cmark88 March 30, 2017 / 6:58 pm

    I find all your questions good for clarifying my own views, thanks for all the effort you’ve been pouring into this topic!

    Here is how I would respond to Q5 & 6:

    Authority for humans is temporal. It was delegated upon creation. It is keyed to Christ and His Church, as gendered humanity is gendered for a sacramental purpose: To be a living picture from the beginning of creation of a much greater reality that will only be fully revealed in Glory. Once Christ and His Bride are consummated, we humans will be as the angels, neither married nor given in marriage. Now we see in a mirror dimly, then we will see face to face. When reality is revealed, when our eyes behold our Creator, we won’t want to look away back towards a blurry Poloroid.

    God will be all in all. We will be in the Son by the Spirit as the Son is in the Father. We will be united far closer to God than a husband is united to his wife, yet still with distinction (we won’t just be absorbed by God or become God in essence). He will be our God and we will be his people eternally.


    • Brad Mason March 30, 2017 / 7:45 pm

      Great to hear from you! I saw that you’d escaped the other forum.

      So, a relation of authority and submission was in the Garden, on your view. That leaves me curious how you would answer Q’s 2 and 3? And what does authority and submission look like in a state of sinlessness?

      Definitely am thinking theough your answers to 5 and 6 and so glad you led me to do so.


      • cmark88 April 1, 2017 / 10:18 am

        a couple more thoughts.

        In paradise, what did ‘authority’ look like? Like Barbara states below, Adam and Eve were in sinless harmony of their wills. There was no one asserting their will over the other. In the same way, God delegated authority over creation to Adam and Eve, but they didn’t use their authority in contradiction to God’s will and God’s authority until they sinned.

        However, Adam was created first, was put to sleep and woman taken out of him (Just like Christ, the first-born among many, and his Bride), and he was seemingly tasked with teaching the woman God’s will about the trees. There is an order of operations there that is not reversible and it mirrors the same order of operations of Christ (our Rabbi, our teacher) and His church.

        That being said, in Glory, we are going to reign with Christ seated on his throne (Rev 3:21). What does authority mean in that case? Well, I imagine it looks a bit like Adam and Eve in Paradise (which is really just a foreshadowing), where their wills were perfectly aligned and they enjoy reigning together as one flesh. The order of operations is still there but it no longer matters as our will and God’s will are aligned perfectly.

        What does this mean for the time-between-the-times? We don’t live in paradise, and we don’t live in Glory. Sin has infected our world and our wills are opposed to each-other and to God.

        Essentially, I think I agree with you: “but he will rule over you” is more than just descriptive. Yes, you take one look at the world and we can see that it *is* descriptive of the general pattern (with some exceptions) to how societies have ordered ‘rule’ across history. It is oftentimes abused (See all the horrible Kings Israel had. See all the horrible priests. See all the horrible male authoritarian rulers across history). But, I don’t think there is any way to get around Christ’s electing of 12 male apostles and the subsequent electing of male presbyters in the NT church, along with the exhortations to husbands and wives. We get a hint that perhaps the church at Corinth (and others) were misunderstanding their new status in Christ to assume that they were already in the eschatological reign where the description/prescription of the curse no longer applied.

        See 1 Cor 4, focusing on v 8-9 and 15

        8Already you have all you want. Already you have become rich. Without us, you have become kings. How I wish you really were kings, so that we might be kings with you. 9For it seems to me that God has displayed us apostles at the end of the procession, like prisoners appointed for death. We have become a spectacle to the whole world, to angels as well as to men. 10We are fools for Christ, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are honored, but we are dishonored. 11To this very hour we are hungry and thirsty, we are poorly clad, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. 12We work hard with our own hands. When we are vilified, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; 13when we are slandered, we answer gently. Up to this moment we have become the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world. 14I am not writing this to shame you, but to warn you as my beloved children. 15Even if you have ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. 16Therefore I urge you to imitate me. 17That is why I have sent you Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus,a which is exactly what I teach everywhere in every church.

        We have not yet become kings. Perhaps the women in Corinth (and elsewhere as noted in Paul’s letter primarily) were teaching men under these auspices. The Bible is clear: There is an order of operations in authority and it does not go away. To have a woman assume authority over her husband or teach and rule in church muddles the order of operations and the picture that male/female are supposed to picture (Christ and his Church) “sacramentally” as a sign to the world until we reign in glory, one with Christ in will, one with Him in Spirit on his throne Eternally.

        HOWEVER: We are co-workers in the Gospel. Men cannot spread the gospel without women, and a woman acting as a member of the One body, has been given just as much authority to speak the Gospel and teach the World as a man has. There is no muddling there of the order of operations, as the World is distinct from the Church. The World is who the Church is called to serve and teach and forgive and to love and prophesy to and die for.

        Bottom Line: It is about picturing the beautiful transcendent reality. Women are just as capable as men are at teaching and ruling, but the picture is muddled, the order of operations we see in scripture are skewed, and logically it leads to the disarray in the church and in its communication of the Gospel to the World.

        Let me be clear: God is faithful even when we are faithless. God raised up Deborah to judge righteously, but it was to Barak’s shame. God’s purposes are not thwarted in egalitarian churches. God’s plans are not thwarted in ESS complementarian churches. The picture is a little dimmer, a little blurrier, but it isn’t a different picture.


  2. Barbara Roberts March 31, 2017 / 2:38 am

    Brad, there were typos in my first comment.
    Can you please delete that comment and replace it with this? Tx
    Brad, I can’t thank you enough for re-setting the table. These questions are excellent!

    Here is where I am at, at the moment in regards to Question 1.
    I’ll paste Q 1 here and then give my thoughts.

    Q 1. Are the concepts of “authority”, “rule”, “submission”, “subjection”, “obedience”, and the like, applicable to the natural complementarity before the fall? Did these concepts characterize prelapsarian headship as enjoined upon Adam and Eve?

    In Genesis1&2, I only see ‘authority and rule’ in the authority and rule God rightfully had in relation to the human beings He created.
    (And yes, that’s a bit contradictory to what I wrote in a comment on Brad’s “And he shall rule over you” post. But bear with me…)

    In the first two chapters of Genesis, I see the man having responsibility of passing on to the woman that God had said, “Don’t eat the fruit of that tree; if you eat it, you will die.”

    The man’s responsibility — Adam’s duty — was therefore to pass on God’s law to the woman, because God had stated that law to the man before God created the woman.

    Thinking about Adam’s responsibility to convey the law to “the woman God had given him — does that imply that “man had authority over the woman” in the prelapsarian estate? Only if we make a determined mental effort to hold our minds from being tripped into the fallen world’s experiential concept of authority with all its connotations of “the power to compel obedience and the right to deliver consequences for disobedience”.

    As Sam Powell has said:
    “Before the fall, before sin entered the world, Adam and Eve served God perfectly. They did not live for themselves; their desires were not to have power over each other, but they both lived as they were created – as one flesh, in perfect unbroken harmony. We can have no idea what this was like, since our state now is far different.”

    I think that we are working towards something important here, but we need to be really careful to articulate what we mean by words like authority, rule, submission, obedience, and subordination.

    And just a caution/reminder: the word ‘headship’ has been coined by the church. There is no word ‘headship’ in the Bible. The NT uses the word ‘head’ (Greek kephale). And the OT uses the word ‘rosh’ which translators often render as ‘head’.

    I pray that by God’s leading and grace we may be able to bring out of treasure of the Word things new and old. (cf Matthew 13:52)

    That’s my first comment on this post. More to come.


  3. Barbara Roberts April 3, 2017 / 3:17 am

    “For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.” (Gen 2:24).

    Before the Fall, the pattern was clearly set out that the MAN was expected to leave his family of origin to be joined to his wife. This expectation has been ignored and subverted in this fallen world: in many cultures it is the WIFE who is expected to leave her family of origin to join her husband’s extended family (that’s quite often the case in third world cultures).

    This prelapsarian expectation of the man seems like another of the elements which differentiate man and woman and ‘colour’ their complementarity. I would like us to bear this in mind as we discuss this whole topic.

    How might this prelapsarian expectation relate to the principle that ‘man is the head of woman’? Here are some suggestions:

    —Based on empirical evidence about differences between men as a group considered broadly, and women as a group considered broadly, we know that men have a greater propensity for risk-taking.

    — The man leaving his family of origin to seek out a wife is fitting given that the man is physically stronger in many ways — which might be needed if the ‘seeking’ journey was going be physically demanding.

    —The woman not being expected to leave her family of origin fits with woman being ‘the weaker vessel’. It means she doesn’t have to lose touch with her family support base.

    — And all those things point to the man’s being called to be willing to lay down his life for his wife. So “man is head of the woman” bespeaks the man’s responsibility and the expectation that he will sacrifice himself for his wife.

    I think the egalitarians generally miss this. Apart from the obvious differences to do with procreation, the egalitarians flatten out the differentiating characteristics of the two genders, and they fail to attribute enough significance to those differences which are evident in Genesis 2.


  4. Barbara Roberts April 4, 2017 / 6:51 pm

    A few days ago Alastair Roberts published his tenth and penultimate post on the ESS controversy.
    I think this post of Alastair’s is essential reading for our discussion here.
    The following two paragraphs are copied from Alastair’s post.

    The prominence of the ESS position owes a great deal to a theological preoccupation with the notion of authority and the relations appropriate to it. Authority has long been a prominent category in evangelical thought, not least in debates about the place of Scripture in the Church. However, as a category it has often been attended by many unconsidered assumptions and has also often been at risk of occluding much else. Both the unconsidered assumptions and the narrow preoccupation have implications for conceptions of divine relations, relations between the sexes, and understandings of Scripture’s place in the Church. They represent a constriction of the imagination that often produces damaging and stifling understandings and practices.

    For instance, authority is overwhelmingly conceived of both as an authority over and as an authority that exists over against others. Yet there are other ways of conceiving of authority. Authority can be an authority for or involve an authorizing of others. Authority is not a zero sum game in which we are weakened by the authority of another in relation to us. For instance, when speaking about the ‘authority of Scripture’, we may be inclined to think of that authority purely as something exercised over us to which we must be obedient. We may forget that Scripture is a manifestation and exercise of God’s authority for the sake of his saving purpose, a dimension of the ministry of the Father’s Word in the power of his Spirit to redeem and renew humanity and the creation. We can also forget that Scripture is an authorizing word, a word that commissions, empowers, and equips us to be God’s fellow workers. Similar things could be said about gender relations, where so often an emphasis upon the authority of the man has been at the expense of, rather than in service to, the woman.


    • Brad Mason April 10, 2017 / 3:50 pm

      I agree–it is a great article and I agree with most everything. My only concern is that even when we properly understand authority in human relationships to be as he described, this nevertheless is still not applicable to the Persons of the Trinity in eternity. I can’t tell whether he is saying that the ESS’ers err in misunderstanding the nature of authority as applied to the Trinity, or as only applied to human relationships. I think it is pretty easy to understand authority as self-sacrificial service and example as taught in the scripture, but when the ESS’ers analogize from a supposed eternal subordination of the Son, it turns such understanding of authority on its head.


  5. Barbara Roberts April 8, 2017 / 2:09 am

    The leitmotif of the Bible’s teaching about gender — the refrain I see repeated and recapitulated throughout scripture —is that man and woman are both differentiated and equal.

    Sometimes the gender-equal message comes first and is quickly followed by a gender-differentiation message.

    In Genesis 1, God gives a message to man and woman equally: “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” This shows God giving men and women equal duties and responsibilities (and equal authority) to subdue the earth and rule over the animals, birds and fish.

    Right on the heels of that, there’s a gender-differentiation message in Genesis 2: man is created first and God makes a garden for man to cultivate and gives him a simple-to-follow rule about not eating from one particular tree. And man being without a suitable partner was a problem — it was not good — so God formed woman from the man and for the man. This is gender differentiation in spades: man was in need of an ezer — a ‘helper suitable to him,’ a counterpart, a companion, a necessary ally — and when God formed an ezer for the man, it was the man’s duty to pass on to his ezer the rule that God had given about the tree.

    At other times in scripture, the gender-differentiation message comes first and is quickly followed by a gender-equal message.

    1 Corinthians 11 is an example. Verses 3 to 10 teach about gender differentiation: man as head of woman and the recommendation Paul makes about how men and women ought to uphold and maintain traditional markers of gender difference in their outward appearance when functioning in the church collectively … and he gives a reason for why this is important (“because of the messengers”) which I think is most likely a reference to the Emperor’s spies who might be casing out the little Corinthian church to see if it ought to be liquidated. Then in verses 11 & 12 he gives the counterbalancing gender equality message, to restrain any men who might have gotten puffed up by the ‘man as head’ metaphor: “However, in the Lord, neither is woman independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as the woman originates from the man, so also the man has his birth through the woman; and all things originate from God.”

    Another example is 1 Timothy 2. Verses 11, 13 and 14 are a chiasm in which Paul gives the instruction that when the church is gathered in assembly, women must receive instruction with all submissiveness. And he gives the reason: Adam was created before Eve (which meant Adam had the responsibility of passing on to Eve the law about the tree) and the fact that Eve was targeted the serpent and deceived into sinning.

    11 A woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. …
    13 For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve.
    14 And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression.

    Verse 12 is a parenthesis in the chiasm of verses 11-14. “But I do not allow a woman to teach or to *authentein* [in regard to] man [in the gathered assembly], but to remain quiet.” It seems best to question the rendering of *authentein* as “take authority over”. The word seems to connote ‘take initiative’ and ‘exercise influence over’. (cf Andrew Perriman’s book which I’ll give a reference to in a later comment, when I get home and check the title.)

    Then Paul gives a counterbalancing message of gender-equalising in verse 15: But women will be preserved through the bearing of children if they continue in faith and love and sanctity with self-restraint. Women need not fear that they cannot be saved because their forebear Eve fell into transgression. Women who want to follow Christ will be saved and preserved… and childbearing and the responsibilities of raising children will be help women (by eliciting spiritual maturity and discernment in them) if they continue in faith and love and sanctity with self-restraint.

    That’s enough for now! Thanks Brad for the opportunity to put my thoughts on the table before a mixed gender audience. You have no idea how much I’ve been longing to do this. 🙂


    • Brad Mason April 10, 2017 / 3:53 pm

      I love it! Very good stuff. What I’ve found to be difficult in all of this discussion is that it always seems that one half leans way over to the natural created complementarity and then wants to do no work on the “submission”, “authority”, “obedience”, etc. passages. Then the other half only sees the latter and does no work understanding the former. I am really trying hard to take them all as revealed truth.

      Thank you again!


      • Barbara Roberts April 11, 2017 / 3:11 am

        Yes, I agree about the two halves, and each half
        tending to not adequately or convincingly interpret the texts that don’t readily support their position.


  6. Barbara Roberts April 8, 2017 / 7:17 pm

    That book reference: Andrew Perriman, “Speaking of Women” (1998)
    I’m not persuaded by all of Perriman’s arguments, but I think his analysis and perspective is refreshingly different in many respects from the typical Egalitarian teachings. He challenged and deepened my thinking on this topic more than most of the egalitarian writers I’ve read, with the possible exception of Phillip Payne. So I’d recommend you read it if you are looking for an ‘iron sharpening iron’ experience.

    Perriman argues that Paul restricted the role of women in the churches, but that he did so that cultural sensibilities not be offended. That’s one part of his book which I found unconvincing. I wish he had gone more into the meaning and implications of man being formed first and woman being formed from man and for man. He saw that mostly as having implications for sexuality. I think it has far wider implications than just the sexual dynamic of desire and attraction between man and woman.


  7. Barbara Roberts April 11, 2017 / 3:01 am

    What you said in your comment above got me thinking Brad.

    If authority is understood as self-sacrificial service to the subordinate(s) over which one has authority, and if (as ESSers claim) the Father eternally
    has authority over His eternally subordinate Son…. then the Father was self-sacrificially serving the Son by sending Him to redeem fallen mankind.

    Obviously that whole concept is ridiculous.


  8. Walt April 14, 2017 / 7:19 am

    “I believe much of this must be due to misunderstanding and my own lack of clarity”

    It’s your writing style. Write shorter sentences. Simplify your thoughts. Make at least 3 proof-reading passes through your writing where your throw out unnecessary words and simplify your thoughts. Kevin DeYoung recommends this book on writing:

    It’s probably possible to understand your series of questions in the post, but they’re so dependent, intertwined and complex that few readers will try.

    I still think we need to bring general revelation into this discussion.


  9. Sam Powell April 18, 2017 / 8:59 am

    Thank you all for this discussion. I promised that I would give my thoughts, so I will try here. Perhaps a lot of the reason for my hesitance is that I am impatient with the parameters. It appears to me as if the way that the question is normally phrased is something like this. “Who’s the boss in the home?” The way that I have always heard the question is something like this. “Somebody has to be in charge. It’s just human nature. If the man doesn’t lead, the woman will manipulate. One of them has to be in charge.”
    If you say that husbands aren’t to command and “lead” their wives, you are immediately accused of the worst possible offense: “FEMINISM”. Because of the way that the debate is phrased, to me it seems like a losing situation. The fact is, that both egalitarianism AND non-ESS complementarianism have much to commend them, and much that isn’t quite right.
    So this is what has been on my mind: I think that both sides miss the point, and I wish that we could reset the questions even deeper, and perhaps do away with both labels and the baggage that comes with it.
    One big problem in my mind with ESS complementarianism is their complete inability to see personhood apart from hierarchy and submission. They argue that there MUST be hierarchy and submission in the trinity because there are persons in the Trinity. If there are persons, there MUST be a hierarchy. And then, as you know, they take that to marriage.
    To me, this is a huge problem. The problems with Theology have been well documented, but there is also a practical problem.
    When you take the view of authority and submission and make it primary in the marriage relationship, you do great damage in marriage counseling. Let’s look at it practically:
    A couple comes to you for counseling because they have been having problems. Let’s take a very practical example.
    They have 10,000 dollars. She wants to invest it for retirement and he wants to buy a new car, since the old one is falling apart. They’ve been arguing about it for months, and now they come to you for advice.
    Complementarianism will generally go with this “Discuss it thoroughly, and if you can’t decide, the husband has the final word. Wives, you need so submit.”
    But I think that is too shallow, because it makes the WHOLE issue an issue of hierarchy. When your bent is to immediately go to authority and submission you miss a tremendous opportunity to teach this couple about the true nature of the gospel.
    Perhaps both the husband and the wife need some instruction on the nature of covetousness. When arguments about money are getting in the way of love, you generally have a problem with covetousness. You can’t jump there, but you should at least discuss it.
    I had a very happily married couple who was talking to me about this. They gave the usual statement – Well you discuss things, but ultimately it’s the man’s word that carries the day. I asked them, “Can you give me ONE example in all of your marriage where you ACTUALLY acted like this?” And they couldn’t. They were really Christians, you see. Their practice was better than their theology.
    Another man, who argued viciously with me over authority in marriage, asked me incredulously, “Doesn’t a man have the right to command his wife? You can seriously tell me that you have never commanded your wife?”
    I said, “C…, your attitude is just abuse!” He said, “Do you really think I’m an abuser?” To which I responded, “I do now.”
    But he was incapable of seeing the possibility of marriage without the hierarchy. To him, the lines were clear. He was the commander. She was the “help”
    I know one man whose wife has been so frustrated and anguished in their current church situation that it has caused them severe marriage issues. His response was “I’m the man, and you do what I say” (in love, of course). He never examined whether her anguish had a valid cause, or whether her judgment in the situation was accurate. They never went there because he was stuck on authority and submission. Turns out she was right. Five years of extreme anguish could have been avoided if he had simply listened to his wife.
    And so here is my problem with the discussion as it is now framed. In the world, “carnally speaking” to use Paul’s term, someone indeed must be in charge. This is the mindset of every couple that comes for counseling, especially if they haven’t been taught by the holy spirit. Either the man is the boss, or he is henpecked by a domineering woman. But this is how the world thinks. Our job as Christians is not to correct the hierarchy, but to tear down the foundations of the world. “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind”
    Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was, and he said “love”.
    This is what is missing. The governing foundation of the universe is NOT heirarchy and submission, but love. The greatest commandment is NOT learning to do what you are told, but LOVE. And love is self-sacrificing, taking the lowest seat, washing each other’s feet. And true love can only be taught by God.
    The more a couple learns what God means by love, the more those questions go away. Our goal in marriage is to grow together in love. Everything else flows from there.
    What do you love? Financial security, or your spouse? What do you love? Shiny new things or your spouse? What do you love? Your position as head of the home? or your wife?
    And on and on. I can’t do anything other than a shallow, brief summary here, because I am still working through this.
    But it is worth meditating on this: When Jesus spoke of the two great commandments, he ended by saying, “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets”. This is an astounding phrase.
    One thing that I have seen repeatedly in counseling is this: Almost every time, you don’t have an issue with leadership and submission. These are generally the presenting problems, but when you dig deeper, you will almost always find that the problem is love. “We are prone by nature to hate God and our neighbor”.
    The problem with every “complementarian” marriage book that I have read is that is reduces every problem in the marriage to leadership or submission failures.
    But this is almost never the case. The problem is almost always in love.
    In the Song of Songs, there is no question about authority and submission. The heart of the relationship is love, not “who’s the boss.”
    When love is there, everything else flows. When love is there, the law is fulfilled.
    And, no, I have never once commanded my wife. We have never once solved a disagreement with “I’m the man, I’m in charge.” We simply love one another more than we love our own way or our own opinions.
    These are my longwinded and rambly thoughts. If I get the time, I will put them into better order.


    • Walt April 20, 2017 / 6:54 pm

      “The governing foundation of the universe is NOT heirarchy and submission, but love. The greatest commandment is NOT learning to do what you are told, but LOVE.”
      The greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind. The second is like it. I deny that the governing foundation of the universe is love. I think you are proceeding from false premises.

      Paul’s exhortation to the head of the household is to “Love your wives as Christ loves the church.” Peter exhorts you to “live with your wife with understanding.” Good male leadership involves love but both nature and Scripture reinforce the leadership of men in the marriage and the church. Women like a man who leads.

      I think your beef isn’t with the hierarchy but the quality and wisdom of the male headship and the definition of “leader.” Men have very different views of leadership and receive very little training from their earthly fathers and usually poor training from older men in their churches. They often go to churches where the only other men are in the same age group, so the blind lead the blind with respect to what male leadership looks like.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s