*This post is meant only as a brief overview of some very tangled beliefs and teachings and is no way comprehensive.
Over the past year I’ve begun following a few blogs (listed at the bottom of this article) that focus on feminism in the church, egalitarian marriages–meaning both partners equal in all things, as opposed to complementarianism in which the husband leads and the wife submits–and spiritual abuse. After reading many news articles, blog posts featuring both original sources and critiques, and comments galore, I began to see a pattern in the way some people, especially of the Reformed Conservative Christian type, viewed and discussed Christian marriage.
These blogs have done a great job of delving into the many issues involved in the discussion of biblical gender roles, including the potential for abuse, the strict and unbiblical legalism of complementarianism, the unbiblical division of the church caused by such teachings, the many Scriptures from both Old and New Testaments proving egalitarianism, and other important topics.
Still, as both men and women favoring complementarianism wrote about the “Biblical” roles of husband and wife, I noticed some disturbing words and phrases that popped up again and again, especially concerning since these concepts are taught by popular teachers on mainstream Christian websites.
Find a Wheel…
A wheel has no starting or stopping point, no real place to get on or off. This is important to keep in mind when considering the cyclical thinking of complementarians which seems to go something like this:
- Person A (in this case, men and/or pastors) believes/is taught they are responsible for the spiritual state of someone else (in this case, women and/or congregants).
- As such, Person A has spiritual authority over their “charge”, and can use discipline (loving, of course) to help ensure they do not stray.
- Along with this authority comes spiritual power, which aids in reinforcing the authority and responsibility ideas.
- The longer a person stays in this mindset, the more spiritual power and authority they begin to believe they have, up to and including the salvation of others as if they were Jesus Himself (heresy alert).
- Rinse and repeat.
These ideas have seeped into and poisoned many a Christian home and mind. They have become very popular, because those who teach and preach these concepts are likewise popular. Let me illustrate with the following quotes from Pastor John Piper’s Desiring God website, CrossWalk Ministries, Pastor John MacArthur, Homeschooling Today Magazine, Pastor and author Dennis Rainy, The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God by Pastor Timothy Keller, and The Gospel Coalition. Please keep in mind, there are many others besides those listed here, both big and little.
“[Steve Murphy, publisher of Homeschooling Today Magazine] has served as a regional support group board member leading the charge to exhort homeschooling fathers and husbands to assume their God-given duty to be the leaders of their homes, including sanctifying their wives and educating their children.” (my emphasis added)
“John MacArthur says it this way: just as “saving grace makes believers holy through the cleansing agency of the Word of God . . . it is with that same purpose and in that same love that husbands are to cultivate the purity, righteousness, and sanctity of their wives.” Or, as James Boice states it, “God holds husbands responsible for the spiritual growth and maturing of their wives…John MacArthur puts it this way: “Men, if you love a woman, you will do everything in your power to maintain her holiness, her virtue, her righteousness, and her purity…every day you live…Love always seeks to purify.” ~Bob Lepine, CrossWalk, http://www.crosswalk.com/family/marriage/the-husbands-sanctifying-role-in-marriage-1335259.html
“I’ve come to baptize it into the spiritual realm…” This statement was made by a husband in response to his wife’s party planning. While seemingly sweet on the surface, we must be discerning and ask by what authority does this man baptize actions into the spiritual realm? The language of such statements, and there have been several others from TGC writers including the concept of “elevating wives” spiritually, seem to reveal these men really think they are God, or at least, have His power. http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/erikraymond/2015/07/23/how-to-marvel-at-your-wifes-creativity/
Dennis Rainy writes, “This comparison of the husband with Christ reveals the sense in which a man should be his wife’s “head.” [William] Hendriksen writes, “He is her head as being vitally interested in her welfare. He is her protector. His pattern is Christ Who, as head of the Church, is its Savior!” http://www.familylife.com/articles/topics/marriage/staying-married/husbands/what-should-be-the-husbands-role-in-marriage
Sounding exactly like John MacArthur above, Pastor Tim Keller insists in his book, “What keeps the marriage going is your commitment to your spouse’s holiness.”
In the same work, Pastor Keller romantically asserts too that, “…We must say to ourselves something like this: ‘Well, when Jesus looked down from the cross, he didn’t think “I am giving myself to you because you are so attractive to me.” No, he was in agony, and he looked down at us – denying him, abandoning him, and betraying him – and in the greatest act of love in history, he STAYED. He said, “Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing.” He loved us, not because we were lovely to him, but to make us lovely. That is why I am going to love my spouse.’ Speak to your heart like that, and then fulfill the promises you made on your wedding day.” (original emphasis left)
Finally, a quote from The Christian Courier titled, A Christian Husband’s Obligation: “Agape is not sentimentality. It is defined as the husband’s love for his wife’s soul. There is a reason, an eternal reason, for a Christian husband’s attitudes and actions. It is the reason for which Jesus “endured the cross” (Heb. 12:2). Consider the results that Christ sought for the church. He loved the church, so he gave himself for it, “that he might” (1) sanctify it; (2) present it; (3) “that it should be holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5:25-27). Husbands should have the same kinds of goals for their spouses…” (original emphasis left) https://www.christiancourier.com/articles/1188-agape-a-christian-husbands-obligation
In response to these teachings, blogger Cindy Kunsman writes,
“I don’t know how any believer in Christ could actually think that as a creature that is unable to sanctify themselves would presume that they could sanctify or intercede for another human being, female or otherwise. This experience, for me, really demonstrated the insidious and subtle effect of these teachings, because that kind of reasoning makes sense if one believes that woman is ontologically, or by essence, lesser than man.”
The Bible can’t get any clearer that people are autonomous (free) and spiritually responsible for themselves alone. Part of verse 3, “The one who sins is the one who will die“ sums up the entire chapter of Ezekiel 18. Jesus alone is the mediator for sins, states 1 Timothy 2:5. Only Christ has the power and authority to sanctify people, “For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified” (Hebrews 10:14).
There is zero biblical support for such a burdensome claim that husbands or fathers are responsible for the spiritual well-being of their wives or children. “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11). I could write a sermon denouncing Keller’s second quote about how Jesus views us but suffice to say, He doesn’t, didn’t, and won’t ever describe us as “ugly”. And love? “Love never fails.” “Love is patient, love is kind…” Read the “Love Chapter” of 1 Corinthians 13; you will not find “love purifies” listed.