Sometime during my undergraduate program (BA ’02), I took a required integrative Christian counseling course during which the instructor made the statement “at some point in the future, the evangelical church is going to be as regretful about how they’ve treated women as America has regretted its role in slavery and racism.” Shocking as it was to hear her so matter-of-factly make this statement, this wasn’t my first encounter with egalitarianism in the classroom. Prior to this, I had debated the topic in another class against a woman whose silver bullet argument was grounded in her own experience. Because God had gifted her as a skilled communicator and effective teacher, her guiding assumption was that the Holy Spirit must certainly have called her to the role of pastor. The debate was brief because she was unable to make her case from scripture that women are called to the same type of leadership and responsibility as assigned to men. It might have gone on longer had she taken up the challenge of addressing the hermeneutic being utilized by both sides—we seemed to be coming from the same methodological interpretive framework. But on my side of the issue, this wasn’t an all or nothing debate. There is no doubt in my mind that God gifts women as teachers and skilled communicators and women in the church desperately need to hear from them. The church is filled with intelligent, articulate women who should be mobilized for the sake of the Kingdom, to be nurturing and discipling other women. But outrage against a biblical patriarchal structure is not the answer to pave a way for involvement if one feels excluded. Attempting to tear down what God has so clearly established is not the way God would have these gifts noticed and put to work. If they are not being implemented into the body, that perhaps is an indication of a different kind of problem.
While I don’t agree with the egalitarian position—I don’t dispute that egalitarians are members of Christ’s body. For years, I’ve enjoyed being able to say that we agreeably disagree on the issue and I haven’t made it a core topic of discussion in my ministry. But as of late, it seems the tide has turned because some incredibly destructive forces have entered into the conversation. More is now at stake in this battle as it involves questions on the inerrancy and authority of scripture, self-determined authority, and the meaning of the gospel. It’s requires an answer for the countless numbers of women soon to be influenced by new works being published on the topic. But the battle is not lost yet.
I’d like to answer Rachel Held Evan’s question from last week, “Is Patriarchy God’s Dream for the World?” in the affirmative. Yes, patriarchy is God’s plan and it’s been his plan (not his dream) since before the foundations of the earth. Patriarchy delivers to us the cosmic chivalry that is the gospel.
It’s really not that difficult of an argument to make because he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. (Eph 1:4-10 ESV)
From before the beginning, God had prepared a path for this restored relationship between Jesus and the church, (and as you will see, this directly parallel’s God’s plan for marriage}. Of course, minds will wander through this argument to the question of double-predestination and other Calvinist positions that depend on a high view of sovereignty. But set them aside and don’t discount this argument for patriarchy on the basis of your disagreement those other arguments, let the scripture speak for itself first.
The passage is clear—before the earth existed God had a plan to restore humanity to himself by means of “redemption through his blood.” The Father’s gospel intentions predate the fall of humanity into sin.
So how do I get patriarchy out of this? I don’t need to make the argument grounded in illogical leaps, Paul gets there on his own but he starts the argument from before the beginning of time which is the same place from which the question posed by Rachel Held Evans needs to be answered. Patriarchy was always the plan and continues to be so.
In chapter 5 of Ephesians, Paul writes on what ought to be the character of believers. This letter to the church at Ephesus is one of my favorite reads in scripture because it vigorously raises questions on how we ought to live which is the primary question of ethics. Paul writes that the way we ought to live is as “imitators of God” which entails putting off old ways of living and “put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph 4:24). He unpacks this by ruling out behaviors that correspond to the old self including sexual immorality, impurity and covetousness. Soon after, he launches into a discussion on the character of wives and husbands as they relate to one another and function as a single entity, providing the theological basis for his instruction on how they ought to live because marriage is a picture of something grander.
Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 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. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. (Eph 5:22-24 )
The reason wives are called to submission is because her function as wife is a direct parallel to the manner in which the church is to submit to Christ. As the church submits to Christ, so too are wives to submit to their husbands—in everything. So if we go down the route of defining the nature of marriage as egalitarian, we are forced to redefine the church’s relationship to Christ the same way. Are we prepared to make the case that Christ and his church must submit one to another? Does the body have equal authority as the head?
Paul is no misogynist because immediately after this encouragement to wives he provides similar instruction to husbands, though assigning them with a much greater responsibility. Paul continues.
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. (Eph 5:25-28 )
This is quite the calling for husbands. An egalitarian can’t possibly look at this passage and think that men got off easier than women (wishful thinking on my part). Christ died for her, his church! He lived and died in the most selfless ways and husbands are called to live in exactly the same way, even by giving his life if necessary.
This union between husband and wife is a picture of the relationship between Christ and the church, his Bride. It is rooted in the gospel from eternity past because Paul’s exhortation for selfless love to wives flows directly from Christ’s redemptive sacrifice. Christ’s love was expressed at Calvary and the church, as a loving response, gives back through love-impelled submission to his authority.
Not only is marriage a picture of Christ’s cosmic love for his bride, but it’s what makes the family the cornerstone of society. It’s the institution that, as part of culture, reflects God’s love within that culture. If we disfigure the family, a glimpse of the gospel is also abolished.
This biblical view of a patriarchal relating isn’t a heavy handed rule that demands submission but one that receives submission in direct response to knowing the servant-leadership of its head. I found it so theologically dissatisfying to see Rachel Held Evans adopt a non-theological definition for patriarchy in her post last week, but I suppose if one starts from the position that patriarchy is a bogus claim then there is no theological definition to be found. She defined it as “a cultural system in which men exercise unilateral authority over their households and (generally) over society.” I suppose it’s not untrue that this authority is unilateral, but the scriptural prescription for this model isn’t cold and unloving as her definition portrays. She frames it like women have no voice in the marriage, that a husband following this model would never solicit her voice, that he wouldn’t welcome her unsolicited voice. This is a strawman argument that those of us who ascribe to complementarianism (function) under the umbrella of patriarchy (structure) resist as well. Why she persists in making arguments that mischaracterize her opponent is uncertain, especially when such a win offers only brief satisfaction.
Patriarchy, in the biblical sense that God intended for marriage and for church leadership, isn’t the kind where men rule and women drool, but where men are held responsible in ways women are not. It is the kind where those who lead do so sacrificially, modeled after the cosmic chivalry we have seen in Christ as head of the church. This is why it is a structure that can be trusted, it can always be held up against the lens of scripture for its functional integrity.
Paul concludes his discussion in his letter to the Ephesian Christians with words that I believe diffuse interpretations of heavy-handed patriarchy. For the one who leads in any way that fails to nurture and cherish his bride fails to love himself.
He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. (Ephesians 5:28-33 ESV)
It’s incoherent that an individual could ever hate his own flesh, so in embracing the “one flesh” paradigm of marriage as it is compared in scripture to the relationship between Christ and his body (the Church), we have a clearer picture and understanding of God’s plan of patriarchy for the world.