Tuesday, August 18, 2009

In Defense of Complementarianism...(Submitting to Your Husband, and Fun Things Like That)

Yesterday, our head of Women's Ministries asked me to critique an article that ran in a particular, well-known Christian magazine for a Bible study leaders' meeting we are having tomorrow. (I have to be careful about naming the magazine, since they are publishing one of my own articles this Fall). However, you can link to the original here.

Just for fun, I banged out a rebuttal while reading the article through - paragraph by paragraph. I decided to respond completely off-the-cuff; no outside commentaries and no sources except the Bible itself. So for once, you will not be reading me quote Charles Spurgeon, John Macarthur or R.C. Sproul. (Besides, I already know what each of them think on the issue at hand, and I happen to agree. Now THERE's a shocker).

The text of the article is below. My comments are in red. Enjoy.

When We Can't Agree to Disagree

The idea that men and women are created differently, in ways that complement each other, sounds okay. But often, this “equal but different” thinking results in a hierarchy that can lead to distortions of truth, or even emotional and physical abuse. The abuse (of any kind) is not caused by the complementarian position, but rather by the sin nature. Note 1 Peter 3:7, Ephesians 5:25 (which commands SACRIFICIAL love on the part of the husband) and Colossians 3:19. In no way can the clear Scriptural command for husbands to lead in the home be misconstrued as a “power trip”.

For years, I thought that as with many theological side issues, sincere Christians can agree to disagree when it comes to gender roles. Some churches let women lead and teach the whole congregation, others interpret the Bible to say that women can only lead and teach other women, and in some cases, there are limits beyond even that. (I’ve heard of one church that doesn’t allow a woman to be the head of women’s ministries.) Some churches condone homosexual behavior. Some ordain gays pastors. Some even allow notorious abortionists to be ushers and members in good standing. Does this make it right? Disobedience to Scriptural injunctions is still obedience, regardless of what semantics you use to dance around the issue. Since when are God’s commands subject to majority rule?

I disagreed with this view, known as Complementarianism, but I figured, well, if that’s how they roll, then okay. But now, I’m starting to change my mind: often, it is not okay. Because if you take Complementarianism to the extreme, it becomes destructive. Your subjective opinion of what “the extreme view” of complementarianism may lead to is irrelevant. What matters is GOD’S view, and He has clarified it nicely for us in His Word with very little wiggle-room. The biblical view does not sanction “destructive” behavior. The disciples called Jesus “Lord”. Was their relationship “destructive”? It was based on presupposed authority, which is God’s ideal for both marriage and the Church.

Last week I received an e-mail linking to a news story that alleges that Saddleback Church in California counseled a woman to stay in an abusive marriage and also scolded her for “gossiping” about her marriage when she tried to ask for help (this story was all over Twitter and Facebook this week too). Saddleback (led by Purpose-Driven pastor Rick Warren) teaches Complementarianism—the wife must submit to her husband and that divorce in this instance is not an option. An e-mail linking to a (probably biased) news story which was reported on social networking sites hardly makes for Gospel truth. How is “abuse” defined in this case? Was it physical, or did she just not like her husband’s attitude towards her? The term “abuse”, unfortunately, has become wildly subjective and can mean almost anything. Facts need to be checked before allegations are made. Saddleback endorses many unbiblical beliefs and practices. That may well be the case here. If leadership behaved inappropriately, that still doesn't nullify a biblical position.

For the record, Saddleback pastor Tom Holladay told GFL he could not reveal specifics of confidential pastoral counseling, but that Saddleback always counsel a woman (or man) in an abusive situation to leave and find a place of safety. They would, however, urge couples to get counseling and try to reconcile. Sounds biblical to me so far. Biblical grounds for divorce = abuse, abandonment, or adultery.

In the family, Complementarianism plays out like this: the man is the head of the household, and the ultimate authority. They cite Ephesians 5:22, which says that a wife must submit to her husband, and the husband should love his wife. The woman must submit to that authority, which comes with the man’s protection and provision. There are plenty of women who obviously want protection and provision.

They conclude that the husband is the head of the family. I cannot find a verse in scripture that says a man is supposed to be the head of the family. 1 Corinthians 11:3-11. What the Bible says is that the relationship between a man and his wife is like a head and a body. It also says that women are supposed to honor, love and submit to their husbands – Titus 2:4; Eph. 5:28; etc.

Egalitarians (the opposite of Complementarian) like myself see the head and body analogy is an illustration of the unity, or oneness that God intended in creation. You may see it that way, but the pattern of male headship was unilaterally established in Genesis 3:16. Reading one’s own agenda into the text is called iesogesis. A husband and wife need to be a team, like a head and a body. A body needs the head, the head needs the body. “Team” within the context of familial and Church authority is a man-made concept rooted in Humanism,not biblical teaching. God makes the rules; not us. Even Christ, in His humanity, submitted to the Father: not out of a condition of inferiority, but of role. (Hebrews 5:8). Are we allowed to invent our own preferred rendering of that verse, whilst the Second Person of the Trinity voluntarily took on a submissive role? We cite the same biblical passage, but we look at the wider context, starting with verse 21: “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (emphasis mine).

Whoa. Now you’re deliberately taking it out of context. The “one another” comes just AFTER Paul is clearly addressing the collective Body, and is talking about relationships WITHIN THE CHURCH. He exhorts those in the Church to speak to one another with psalms and spiritual songs, to resist evil, etc. He hasn’t yet touched on the family unit, nor each person’s role in it. By that logic, you could claim he was telling parents to submit to their children!

While someone (likely not a female translator) put a subhead right after verse 21, in the original text there were no subheads. So the next verses explain mutual submission—wives, submit to your husbands, and husbands, love your wives. Nice try, but notice he doesn’t mention husbands and wives until AFTER verse 21. Context clearly shows Paul is switching gears – from relationships and appropriate behavior within the collective Body at large, to the relationship between spouses at home. Paul is talking about unity and oneness. He concludes his teaching with a reminder of the oneness theme, and mutual nature of submission: “each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband” (Eph. 5:33). Which destroys your original argument: that complementarianism is inherently abusive. The command to love (and elsewhere to “rejoice in”) the wife does not negate the divinely-given order of authority (1 Cor. 11:10; 1 Timothy 2:12). The author really needs to study hermeneutics before making such a claim.

In churches that embrace Complementarianism, women rarely have the right to exercise their leadership gifts fully. Completely untrue. Half the people on earth are female – there’s plenty for us to do. When a church says that the man has more authority, can use his gifts more freely, it communicates a value (intended or not) that men are of greater value. I disagree. If the issue in wanting to serve is that one has a lower platform because of gender discrimination, I would question one’s motivation to actually want to serve. Is it to have a greater voice? Be more visible/influential? These are the wrong motives. If one has a true desire to serve, one will do what needs doing (and there are always people who need encouraging; meals to be brought to the sick; vacancies in the nurseries and Sunday School classrooms needing to be filled). A woman CAN find a way to use her gifts just as fully amongst other women as she would be able to in the population at large.

And so if a woman (who has less value) complains of abuse, it is easy in that system to discount what she says, or blame her. So in addition to being abused by her husband, the woman is also abused by her church. That’s quite a stretch, and a hypothetical situation at best. However, even if a legitimate scenario of true mistreatment, the injustice done does not negate the Bible’s clear teaching on gender roles. Cases of child abuse do not render the Bible’s command to discipline our children obsolete. Just because sinful people will twist, misconstrue or use God’s law to their own advantage does not make that law any less valid.

Think that doesn’t happen? In 2008, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary professor Bruce Ware said that when women, “as sinners” try to usurp their husband’s authority and “do what they would like to do,” their husbands--also as sinners--might “respond to that threat to their authority” by being abusive (http://equalitycentral.com/blog/?p=14). Key word here being “sin”. By no means is that scenario being condoned.

If marriage is understood as a hierarchy, then the person at the top of that structure can easily conclude that he has permission to do what is necessary to maintain power. Not if he is following the example of Christ, which is the whole point of Ephesians chapter 5. Verse 25 sums it up nicely: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” NOWHERE is abuse of authority rationalized in Scripture. We cannot simply say, “Well-intentioned Christians can agree to disagree” if those Christians argue that abuse is the husband’s prerogative, or worse, the wife’s fault. A Christian cannot biblically make that claim, because God Himself is described as a protector and defender of the innocent (Psalm 68:5). It is where we must stand up for true Christianity, which does not condone violence in any form, and which teaches mutual submission, not hierarchy. First part of that sentence is true – Christianity does not condone violence. However, she sets up a false dichotomy in the second clause, because authority does NOT presuppose violence. Again, Christ is the model and the ideal. Even in the authority of the Church, where discipline is sanctioned, it is never punitive but always restorative – the goal is reconciliation; not vengeance. Would the author argue that Church discipline is unchristian, because “taken to an extreme”, it can lead to abuses? Any God-given command or principle can be twisted or abused. That does not make the teaching running throughout all of Scripture, and the plain meaning of the text, any less valid.

"Jesus Christ opened the privileges of religious faith equally to men and women. He gave His message publicly and privately to women as well as men. The frequent and prominent mention of women in the Gospels is in itself noteworthy by contrast with their status in Judaism. Christ gladly received their public testimony. There can be no doubt as that regards to spiritual privilege, Jesus considered the two sexes equal. As regards to spiritual activity, there is a difference between that of men and women." ["Role of Women in the Church," Dr. Charles Ryrie]


Glenn E. Chatfield said...

Good post, Marie!

I looked at that article and the comments posted and find that most comments are just as liberal and confused in their thinking as the author. Actually, if anyone stopped to read Ephesians and what it means for a husband to love his wife as Christ loved the church, abuse would be a non-issue. Only by twisting scripture could anyone use the passage in a dictatorial, authoritarian way.

One commenter said, "Complementarianism occurs when people look at the Bible throught the sin-filled lenses of the world. I've always found that complementarianism goes up when people ignore the Holy Spirit." I's say it's the other way around.

Another cited Gilbert Bilezekian's book, which I owned until a couple years ago when I threw it away. He has a lot of hermeneutical gymnastics to explain away the obvious teaching of Scripture. But, being from Willow Creek, that explains it all.

Marie said...

"Complementarianism occurs when people look at the Bible throught the sin-filled lenses of the world. I've always found that complementarianism goes up when people ignore the Holy Spirit." I's say it's the other way around."

I agree with you - walk away from what Scripture actually teaches, and you open the door to all kinds of unbiblical abuses.

I noticed there were a lot of comments after the article, but if I had taken the time to read through them, I never would have gotten my husband's supper last night. :) No kidding. So I still haven't read them and probably won't - it'll just make me mad.

We're celebrating our 14th wedding anniversary today. I have a meeting at church and he has to paint the deck door, but we're going to make sushi tonight. I'll have to ask him how I'm doing on the "submission" thing. He asked me to buy him some beer the other day, and I did. So I guess I'm not doing too bad. :)

Glenn E. Chatfield said...

Well, there were some comments against the article, but most were pro.

Congratulations on 14 years! We just celebrated our 33rd on Aug 1st.

But sushi?!?!?! ICK!

4simpsons said...

Terrific responses, Marie! I'll be linking to this one.

"Biblical grounds for divorce = abuse, abandonment, or adultery."

What verses would you point to re. abuse being grounds for divorce? I don't disagree, but always like to have something specific to reference. (I think abuse is far too tolerated even today. If you hit your neighbor or co-worker, you go to jail. But if you hit your wife you don't?!)

Marie said...

Thanks Neil!

Nope, I can't point to one specific verse that says it's okay to leave your husband because he's (physically) abusing you, but rather I would look at the overall tone of Scripture, taking it as a whole (that and common sense).

Both the Old and the New Testament describe God as a protector of the defenseless and a defender of the innocent. Given the social justice perspective of Exodus 21, which lays out some pretty heavy penalties for physical attacks, I would say that in no circumstances does God tolerate violence - especially towards what Peter calls "the weaker sex". Obviously, Peter was referring to physical strength and stature; not moral or intellectual.

The other two caveats are pretty easy to back up biblically - Jesus was unambiguous about the adultery clause in Matthew 5:32 and 19:9. Paul alludes to abandonment in 1 Cor. 7:15. However, any pastor worth his salt would never counsel a woman to stay in a physically abusive relationship - this is such a clear violation of Scriptural authority that Church discipline should be employed.

4simpsons said...

". . . what Peter calls "the weaker sex". Obviously, Peter was referring to physical strength and stature; not moral or intellectual."

Agreed. One pastor pointed out that it says women are the weaker sex, not the weak sex (i.e., God isn't intimidated by the strength of either sex).

Sadly, too many pastors have sent women back to abusive relationships. What idiocy.

Glenn E. Chatfield said...

There is an excellent book by David Instone-Brewer titled, "Divorce and Remarriage in the Church." In this book he gives the biblical basis for divorce based on adultery, abandonment and neglect. He gives Talmudic evidence how the Jews interpreted the divorce laws in the O.T., and Ex. 21:10-11 is part of it, on which Paul based his argument in 1 Cor.7:32-34. Abuse is considered to fall under neglect. I highly recommend this book for anyone considering counseling marital counseling.

Marie said...

Thanks Glenn,

I have not heard of that book, but it sounds excellent. Now, hypothetically speaking, have you ever come across (in this book or elsewhere) any resources that specifically address the issue of severe emotional abuse, from a biblical perspective? IMO. emotional abuse can be even more damaging than physical, but it would be extremely hard to prove biblical grounds for divorce on the grounds of emotional abuse alone.

If the abuser were a non-Christian, wouldn't 1 Corinthians 7:15 come into play?

Glenn E. Chatfield said...

I found the book because of a link a couple years back, which mentioned a short version of the subject matter in Christianity Astray magazine. The article by the same author as the book was very good so I bought the book just in time to deal with a young woman who was indeed seeking divorce from an emotionally abusive man (she would never say, but evidence tells me and my wife that she was most likely physically abused also). I would say the emotional abuse falls in the same catagory as abandonment or neglect.

Really, get that book. I think the author demonstrates some good biblical evidence for divorce for neglect, abandonment and abuse in addition to sexual immorality.