March 31, 2015
Men and Women
Speaking of Running and Hiding...
A friend of mine sent me an a chapter on the roles of men and women, an explication really, of the often controversial "headship/submission" issue within the church. It was a good read, interesting, though not overly shocking in its content. The author, George W. Knight, III, of Knox Theological Seminary, wrote the chapter as part of a book on the topic of Biblical manhood and womanhood. It was first published in 1991, but has been republished recently in 2012. The content was traditional in its scope, presentation, and general explication. It was well-researched, and aligned with a conservative Evangelical Christian worldview. I found most of the chapter informative, but not "new." I thought it was good, but not novel. I think the reason I felt this way was because 1) I agreed with the content, 2) it aligned with my worldview, and 3) it offered little in the way of application and a lot in the way of explication (explanation rather than applied teaching).
Furthermore, perhaps I was looking for "more application" because I am a teacher now, and as such, I spend my days "pushing content" in order for my students to understand how to apply what they are learning. The days of lecturing and delivering content for the sake of knowledge are long gone. We are now fully immersed in a postmodern world whereby individuals are interested only in how "content applies to them personally." Therefore, application is king, and all teaching must put forth not only a cogent and cohesive argument, but also a method for application (instructions not just telling why you are to do something, but rather, instructions in how to do something). Don't get me wrong, I love instruction, and I readily find it interesting to think about what it means, the variety of ways teaching content can be viewed, etc. I am more interested now in outcomes and as such that means that most of my reading is directed toward how I can use the content for effective teaching and instruction in Godly living.
I guess the issue of headship/submission is important since the church, for the most part, has messed up the teaching/instruction for centuries. In my younger days, women were taught to submit to any man because that was the role given to them by God at the time of creation. Therefore, whether that man was your husband, your father, your brother, or the grocer down the street -- you submitted, you yielded, and you gave over your authority to him -- regardless of if it was Biblically sound to do so. Then the 1970s came and there was the sexual revolution where feminism pushed the boundaries of this notion of headship, roles, and gender to its extreme breaking point. Now, in the 2010s, gender neutral and gender roles are being redefined, boundary lines are blurred, and traditional roles are considered outmoded, outdated, and old fashioned (dinosaurs -- extinct!)
I teach postmodern students every day, and I can tell you that for the majority of them, the idea of Biblical headship and submission is not even on their radar. So many of these young people have been raised in single-parent households, most with Mothers only, and most of them are very open to gender transitive roles. I do have some students who were raised with two parents, and who maintain a very traditional view of family. These are the students who write essays on marriage, divorce, raising children, and abortion. Generally, they write very banal essays with little content because they parrot the typical Christian worldview that says "because the Bible says so, it is so." Again, I don't mean to offend, but in this day and age, students have to learn to defend their worldview with more than this line. They must know why they believe what they say they believe -- if that makes sense. They have to be able to articulate clearly their reasons for believing and to do that, they must fully understand why they believe something to be true. The problem is that in our postmodern world, there are no longer BIG TRUTHS. We live in a world predicated on little truths, truths are are personal and applicable, but not universal. How then can we teach young people to defend their worldview if the world doesn't hold to any universal truth? It is a challenge, such a great challenge!
The Roles for Men and Women
[The article referenced above is a chapter from the book entitled, Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism, edited by John Piper and Dr. Wayne Grudem. It is published by Crossway books. Chapter 8 is available for personal use, and is linked with permission. For those interested in reading the entire book, the first edition is offered as a free PDF download from Piper's website here.]
This chapter, as stated before, was written by George Knight, III, of Knox Theological Seminary. The author strongly asserts his view of the role of men and women as being ordained by God at the time of creation. This view suggests that the roles were designed before God created Adam and Eve. Thus, God in His great foreknowledge designed marriage to be a picture of the relationship between Christ and the Church -- long before there was a church. This point is central to his argument because without it you find yourself in the quagmire of relativism. This is a universal statement -- the roles for men and women -- were uniquely designed before time began. UNIVERSAL. Therefore, they haven't changed, and were not designed to be fluid, culturally entrenched or shifted. God designed the role of the male to be the head of the woman, and the relationship between man and woman was to be predicated on mutual submission.
I think the interesting point in the entire chapter is the suggestion that submission is attitude and not behavior. While behavior is certainly important, the Bible advocated submission as a way of life for the believer -- regardless of their position or role in society. As a Christian, we are called to be submissive to one another, to yield in love, and this doesn't matter whether it is a parent-child, husband-wife, or friend-friend relationship. Our attitude is to be Christ-like in all we do -- regardless -- of whom we are with at the moment in time. There are specific roles, of course, and the New Testament provides examples of three roles that are specific with guidelines for both attitude and behavior. These roles are husband/wife, parent/child, and master/slave. I thought it was interesting that Knight felt that of these three roles, only the latter, master/slave was cultural -- meaning -- that the first two relationships are UNIVERSAL (since before time), but the last was culturally-specific. Slavery would not always be acceptable as a practice, but while it was in practice, there were specific roles and attitudes and behaviors to govern both individuals.
What Does This Mean For Me
I think it is interesting to consider submission in light of my standing as a single woman. Personally, I have no issue with the Biblical mandate for submission and the roles of husbands and wives. I don't. However, as a formerly married person, now single -- I do consider my role and my willingness to submit to a husband -- a bit differently. I am single, and my head is my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. He is the best HEAD any woman could want because He is perfect in His love toward me. I am safe, I am secure, and I am comforted by Him. He fulfills His role well, and makes no mistakes when it comes to His responsibility to care for me as His beloved wife (bride, figuratively). I feel His love, His support, and His sacrifice daily, and I am able to rest in His control and authority. I strain against Him at times, but only because I desire headship over Him (the dreaded curse in the garden). However, when I yield willingly with a good attitude, then I find joy in His headship, and I am free from fear, from anxiety, and from worry. I love my Lord, and I love the way He rules over me.
As an older woman in Christ, I think about possible marriage partners, and whether they will be worthy of my respect. Will I be able to respect a man, yield and submit to his leadership and authority with the right attitude? Or will I want to have my own way because I have gotten used to what it feels like to be in charge, to be in control, and to take the reigns of my life, so to speak?
I can choose to remain single or I can choose to marry again. Of course, this is all predicated on the Lord providing me with a husband who wants me (LOL!) But in thinking about the possibility of it, I do wonder if I will be able to submit to a man's leadership after the experience I had in my first marriage.
I believe this is why the Lord has given me time to rest, to trust, and to learn to yield to Him. I have had to learn how to submit willingly and with a right attitude in order to remain in relationship with the Lord. I am under grace, praise be to God, but still, I have had to learn the hard lesson of submission with a most gracious Master. It has been a challenge for me, but I have done it, and while not perfect by any means, I have learned a lot about letting go, and letting God lead me.
Can I do the same in a marriage?
Knight said something that I thought was good, and that was that respecting the role of the husband is what the Lord desires for us, not necessarily respecting the character of the man. Hmmm.
If this is correct, and I think it is, it is God's way of saying to His children, especially His daughters that they may not marry a man who is worthy of their respect (in character). They may marry a man who does things, says things, and behaves in ways that are not always good, Godly, or God-honoring. Harumph! Does this mean that a Christian woman may marry a Christian man who doesn't act like he is supposed to according to the Word? Yes, I think so. I also think it means that a Christian man may not marry a Christian woman who acts like she should either. Yet, the roles are key, the roles are what matter. God has called His sons and daughters to respect and love the roles He designed for His creation. Furthermore, the way in which we submit to one another is part-and-parcel with the way we submit to God. So if we are living and walking in the Spirit, abiding in Him, then we should be learning how to submit and yield to our brothers and sisters in Christ every day. We should already be practicing submission. Thus, Knight is suggesting that to be able to submit willingly and with a right attitude to our husbands, wives should not find this practice difficult. The same is true for husbands as they seek to love their wives. If they are practicing love for the brethren, then they should not find it difficult to love their wives as Christ loved the church. So in my view, submission comes down to practicing what the Bible teaches day in and day out, in every way, in every relationship in order to demonstrate our born again status as a Christ-follower. If we are not doing this regularly, then we have an issue with God first and foremost, before we have any issue with our brothers, sisters or husbands and wives (know what I mean?)
I see this as a practical solution to the issue of Biblical headship and submission. I believe that all Christians are called to submit to the Lord and to one another. It is a Biblical mandate. In marriage, submission is practiced just like in other relationships in the church. It is intensified through the union, one flesh, and therefore it is vitally important that the two be "one flesh." You cannot have a body with two heads, so God ordained the husband to be the head, and the wife to be part of the body. Think about it this way, Eve was taken from the side of Adam. She wasn't taken from his head nor his foot, but his side. She was created to be his companion, his helper, his side-mate. Therefore, the wife's role is to be as she was created -- at her husband's side. The husband was created first, and given the role to care for God's creation INCLUDING his wife and children (and all the animals). Thus, the husband is the head of the "one body" with the wife being put back into his (figuratively) side. She is part of his body so that the two can function as one person, living and serving the Lord in union, in harmony, and in spiritual cohesion. It cannot be any other way or you have a weird two-headed distortion, nothing of the like which was created by God at any time during His creative act.
In conclusion, husband and wife must behave in mutual submission to one another in order to fulfill God's design for the marriage. Without mutual submission, yielding, love, and agreement on the roles each is given, the marriage will struggle, will flop side-side, and will be a constant strain as both individuals play tug-of-war with each other. In short, the union will not produce the "work" God has designed for it to do because the individuals will be working against one another like squabbling siblings in a he-said/she-said fight. God's design for marriage pictures a union of two individuals working together, cooperatively, moving forward with God as their Head. The only way to move forward is to do it in agreement, with submission and yielding of each other's "way." It is the picture of our relationship with Christ -- we come to the Lord and submit to His Lordship over us -- and in doing so we yield our way to Him. We let Him lead us. The same is true for the wife as she allows her husband to lead them together toward God (and not away from Him). She supports him, respects his role, and encourages, comforts, builds him up -- so that he is able to fulfill the role God designed for him. The husband needs his side-mate to do her part so that he can do his part for God. Together, they both fulfill their individual roles and their collective, unionized roles as "one flesh" in order to bring God the praise, the honor, and the worship due His Holy Name.