Patriarchy simply means “father rule,” and so it follows that every biblical Christian holds to patriarchy. The husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church (Eph. 5:23), and fathers have the central responsibility to bring up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Eph. 6:4). Children are required to obey their parents (both of them), and since the wife is to follow the lead of her husband in all things (Eph. 5:24), this means that the father is responsible to provide for and protect his family. Father rule. That’s the good part.
But there are objections, some to the substance and some to the word. The first substantive objection is that many men are fools and idiots. This is indeed a strong argument for not marrying one of those. It is not a strong argument for making a bad situation worse after you have done so (1 Pet. 3:1-2).
When men fail to fill their office, or they fill their office for a time and then wander off the path, this does not leave the wife and children without recourse. No human authority in this sinful world is absolute, and there are times when a woman must play the role of Abigail in dealing with a blockhead husband. We have emphasized this many times in our ministry and there is no reason to rehearse it again here. But the sure and certain limits on a man’s authority in the home are not a basis for saying that his authority there is non-existent.
Another objection is that if you grant this office to men, it will go to their heads, and they will abuse their position, as Doug Phillips did. First, it is not a nebulous “you” that grants this position to men, but rather the words of God in Scripture. Second, when men sin in this position, as they certainly do, we should seek to counter such disobedience with more obedience, not less obedience.
I would observe again (mildly) that hypocrisy does not have the power to change the exegesis of any particular passage. If the Bible taught father rule before Doug Phillips fell into his sin, then it teaches the same thing afterwards. Those people chortling over this particular fall were opposed to the Pauline instructions on marriage back when they thought no such sin had occurred.
But the Word Patriarchy Makes Me Feel Icky
The word patriarchy has more than a narrow denotation. There are also connotations, which must be taken into account as well. It does no good to use a word, and then, when everybody in the world misunderstands me, to plead the dictionary. Some of these connotations are honestly come by and some of them are not.
First, consider the bad connotations that are the result of slander. Feminists diligently labor to represent any form of father rule as inherently bad, or at least as bad as a relativist can make it out to be — which is pretty bad since the case need not be based on careful reasoning, but rather just screeching. Screeching goes a long way these days.
So, after a generation of saps has gone through the feminist indoctrination that we call the university system, all you have to do is use the word patriarchy in some unapologetic way, and everybody stares at you like you were a six inch cockroach or something. So what we have to do is discount the slander while taking into account the effects of that slander over time. This is a delicate operation, however — swap in a word like complementarity for patriarchy and you might find that you imported more squish factor than was initially intended.
But the other factor affecting the connotations of the word has to do with the behavior of those who profess to be champions of it. The central connotation-generator that comes from ostensible fans of patriarchy is the problem exhibited by those who have super-high views of authority for everyone that is under their authority, but with virtually non-existent views of the authority that God placed over them. Husbands who fall for this demand submission from their families, and never exhibit it themselves. The Bible does give a father and husband true authority in his family. But it also gives the elders of the church true authority over that family (Heb. 13:7,17). There is a kind of male conceit that does not know how to submit, and a number of these people have embraced the word patriarchy. They think biblical worldview thinking consists of nothing more than irritating feminists.
There are good Christian folk who agree with the substance of biblical teaching, outlined above, but who do not want to be confused with this particular unsubmissive tribe. So there’s that.
Obviously the reason for this post is to address some of the fallout from Doug Phillip’s resignation from Vision Forum. Now the word comes that the decision has been made to close that ministry down. Given the circumstances, this decision is fitting and appropriate. “Dead flies make the perfumer’s ointment give off a stench; so a little folly outweighs wisdom and honor” (Ecc. 10:1).
Here are just a few things for us to remember as we process all of this. Here are some lessons to carry away.
When an advocate of biblical truth sins like this, we should not complain about how the enemies of the Lord are chortling over this (2 Sam. 12:14). If you don’t want them whacking you, don’t hand them the stick.
Second, I have little doubt that some of the machismo patriarchalists that I described above gravitated to Vision Forum circles, and found what they thought was adequate cover there. On the one occasion where I met Doug Phillips, this was one of the concerns I shared with him about some of his followers, and he had no problems with that concern. I am sure we have substantial disagreements in this whole area, but he agreed with that part of it. So what else is new? But I also have little doubt that many marriages have been saved as a result of the things learned from Vision Forum. Our responsibility is to continue to oppose any and all abuses as they come and to continue to thank God for the good fruit.
I also have little doubt that there are any number of Wilson fanboys out there who are a standing irritant to their pastors, and not in a good way either. I write what I write, and try to qualify it as best I can, but I cannot vouch for the wisdom of every application. Results may vary. This means that I don’t want to condemn Vision Forum with a standard that could just as easily be used to condemn any Bible teacher in the world (Matt. 7:1). But this takes us back to the first point, because the nature of this sin is that it has given the microphone to those who will refuse to make such judicious distinctions.
And third, our only hope is in the perfections of Christ. This is a good thing, because if we had to rest in the imperfections of Christians, there would be no rest for us at all. The one place that scandal will never come is at the right hand of the Father.
Testosterone is a good thing, and can be used by God as part of His gifting men for leadership, but it is not one of the fruits of the Spirit. God uses gifts, but He blesses fruit.
A man with lots of testosterone is in a position to start a dynamic ministry that speaks to thousands, that fills conference halls, and that rivets people to their seats. Taking a hypothetical, that very same man is also in a much better position to succumb to the blandishments of a stripper with a stage name of Foxy Bubbles, and all in the settled conviction that his sin will not find him out. How could his sin find him out? He rivets people to their seats.
Samson eventually had his eyes put out, but even before he lost his eyes he was not able to see what Delilah was doing with and to him. The thing that God was using against the Philistines, his strength, was also the thing that Delilah was using in a series of sexual jiu jitsu moves against Samson. It is an old trick, and it still works very, very well.
Many years ago, I had a weekly radio column on KWSU, a local public radio station. This was a fun gig while it lasted, which was until the time that I said on the air that men were necessarily dominant. The only question before the house was whether or not that dominance was going to be constructive or destructive. This was one of my early encounters with liberal tolerance for views other than their own, and it was an educational experience.
The point is that patriarchy is inescapable, and our only choice is between men being faithful, for blessing, and men failing, for humiliation and chastisement. The thesis is not that men are good, but rather that men are crucial. When they are crucial and selfish, a lot of bad things happen. When they are crucial and obedient, a lot of good follows.
Nothing that has happened at Vision Forum changes this reality. Men are not automatically a blessing. They are called to be a blessing. When they refuse, or when they turn away, the effects are devastating. This was one of the things taught by Vision Forum, and it is a reality that we can see the truth of now in the shuttering of the ministry. And when we have had the truth of something so manifestly displayed for us, that is not the time to abandon it.