Part of the fallout from the Vision Forum mess has been the attempted discrediting of “patriarchy.” Since Doug Phillips definitely taught headship and submission in marriage, and since he sinned in the way he did, it is thought that the whole project should be abandoned in favor of something friendlier to women, like, say, abandoning them and aborting their children.
Since the controversy erupted, a great deal of nonsense has been written about what the Bible teaches, and about what those who believe the Bible teach on this subject. So I thought I should briefly summarize.
1. Bible plainly teaches the submission of wives to their own husbands. At the end of the day, our generation has a quarrel with the apostles of Jesus Christ. “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord” (Eph. 5:22). “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord” (Col. 3:18). “That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed” (Tit. 2:4–5). There are certainly difficulties of application that will arise in a sinful world, about which more below, but if we swear off any hermeneutical horsing around, there is no difficulty in understanding the basic standard that is to be applied.
2. Having stated the first principle, we must immediately begin to deny false inferences from it. In the Christian understanding, the mere fact of submission is not a premise from which inequality can be derived. There is a craven kind of submission that does imply inequality, but this is not the model given to Christian husbands and wives. The ultimate model we have is the submission that Jesus rendered to His Father, and it is a crucial point of orthodoxy that His submission to His Father was an indication of His equality with the Father, not His inequality. “Who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Phil. 2:6–7, ESV). The Son of God is equal to God the Father, and submitted to God the Father. This is what the Christian model of headship and submission looks like–equality and submission together.
3. Although the ultimate model for submission is found within the Godhead, it must be applied and imitated by sinners in a sinful world. This means that checks and balances are required. In this fallen world, no submission can be considered absolute. Everyone to whom submission is owed must also be in submission, and there needs to be a network of authorities that mitigates potential abuse.
No submission is to be absolute and unquestioned because hypocrisy and abuse are very real possibilities. Hypocrisy would be when the right doctrine is taught, more or less, but the practice behind closed doors contradicts what is publicly taught. This would be the Vision Forum scenario. Abuse would be when a radical distortion of the Bible’s teaching is put forward, as though it were the Bible’s teaching, as you might find on a polygamist compound. And other times, there is a dangerous mixture of the two.
4. Hypocrisy and abuse do not remove the need for the reality. If God has commanded us to live in a particular way, it must be important for us to do so. The enemy of our souls is going to attempt to chase us away from obedience by two means — one is a frontal assault from outside (feminism) and the other is a corruption from within. But the counterfeit is no disproof of the reality. It has been commonly said that hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue, and it is no different here.
A forged Rembrandt does not mean that the real Rembrandt never painted, and it certainly does not mean that a genuine painting of his has no value.
5. The reality of hypocrisy and abuse do require that Christians who affirm that the doctrines of headship and submission, as they are taught in the Bible, must take responsibility to police our own ranks. When confronted with conservative outliers in compounds with weird beards, we must be willing to call it what it is — even if the compound is named The Anti-Feminist Yahweh Lightning 666 Assembly. Actually, especially if it is named that. The fact that they are “anti-feminist” is not an all-purpose disinfectant. And we have to do the same thing if the weirdness is more mainstream than that — even if the brochures to the conferences are glossy.
6. Because we believe that God has woven all this into the structure of creation, any kind of denial of it is going to lead to serious weirdness. Submission denied can take pathological forms. This is why we have sado-masochism, rape fantasies, bondage and submission games, and Fifty Shades of Hurt Me, Baby. Such is the nature of our demented times. If you abuse God’s order of headship and submission at Vision Forum, you ruin your life and the lives of those around you. If you do it to the polite golf applause of the secular elite, you make it on the New York Times bestsillier list.
7. Related to the previous point, submission is an inescapable concept. Not whether, but which. This means that we are not debating whether women will submit to men, but rather which men they will submit to. The apostles of the Lord Jesus taught that in the vast majority of cases, the submission should be to a woman’s “own husband.” This is liberating, because it means that there are billions of other men that she does not have to submit to. Contrast this with the alternative. Set the alternative side by side. A woman can submit to a man who covenants before God and these witnesses to be faithful to her and to their children, as long as he lives, or she can submit to a man who might agree to pay for the abortion. Or he may not, depending on whether he has a plane to catch.
Amen! I especially appreciate point 7. It was very “liberating” for me when I finally understood that the good Lord gave me a safeguard in submission to my husband and then I watched Him change him into a loving husband, father and grandfather. Thanks for this article. :)
I’m a big fan, though not necessarily a very schooled fan, of dominionism, largely because it “feels” a bit more like the 18th century version of the faith. My sense, having read the newspapers and the journals of that era, is that the faith was taking into view an entire continent and applying the conclusion: Christ is a better way. Contemporary Christianity can’t see the continent, much less the world and limits itself to the size of the big screen in the mega sanctuary. Scripture should inform government, art, and the best way to serve hot rum — and it… Read more »
Pardon the extra paragraph fragment. “What I’m about to write may..” WHAT? (feel free to edit.)
And I have another question. Among some of the home school mothers and daughters I know, they fear a submission that effectively places “salvation-control” in the hands of the patriarch, as though a father held the spiritual keys to their eternal life. I’m not talking here about a father’s obligation to spiritually lead his family, but a corruption of that, which makes him a kind of intermediary between their souls and God. To whatever extent that makes women fearful of abusers, it needs to be discussed and confronted.
Pastor Wilson, This was very helpful. Thanks you. I had a follow up question that veers a bit off topic. How does the wife’s submission to the session of the church play into this argument? It seems that one major issue in this is how many churches which adopt patriarchy of some kind see the husband as a mediator between the session and the wife. There is no direct shepherding of the wife. Many women are hurt by this set-up. It allows an abusive man to keep control by keeping his wife (or daughter) silent. But I also think many… Read more »
Not to derail this convo too much and I will try to say this without ruffling any feathers – there is this idea in complementarian circles that women are most fulfilled in homemaking/childrearing/wifeliness because there is a bible verse to that effect and applies to most women. I don’t disagree necessarily and I am certainly not afraid to go against societal feminist norms and I avoid feminism. That said, some of us just aren’t marriage and mother material or never find a husband, and submitting to our father doesn’t make sense. In that case I guess I would consider women… Read more »
Peter, that is an interesting topic. I think the Femina blog has touched on this before, but there is also the problem when women use ‘submission’ as an excuse never to grow up and be an adult. I’ll try to see if I can find it on their blog.
Point 2 is so important. Those who vagueify Paul on marriage gut the whole thing of its point (“but I am speaking of Christ”).
Thank you for writing this. I was hoping you would.
Excellent post Pastor Wilson. I was also hoping you would clarify these ideas and think it was done well. I look forward to seeing your answers to any or all of the good questions raised by others in the comments here.
Andrew Sandling wrote a great piece on “The ‘Patriarchy’ Problem”
“Parents Rule” not Father Rule
“A forged Rembrandt does not mean that the real Rembrandt never painted, and it certainly does not mean that a genuine painting of his has no value.” At the risk of sounding simplistic, the test in Eden was a test of true patriarchy. If Adam had trusted in the fatherhood (goodness) of God, Adam, the son of God would become a father, blessed in Land and womb. The promises to Abram (great father) concerned the Land and womb. So I think any discussion of patriarchy should really begin in Genesis 2-3. If we are children before heaven, God makes us… Read more »
What about the inclusion of adult daughters in the Vision Forum vision of patriarchy? Many that I am seeing who are putting distance between themselves and the whole DP viewpoint are mainly concerned about that. Personally, I happily affirm submission in marriage (although I do think many of the adherents of “patriarchy” have some wacky lengths they take things to and some legalistic add ons about what it will look like in different families!), but I do not intend to insist that my daughters live at home until marriage, never work outside the home, and have nothing except veto power… Read more »
Yes, we need to remember the fallacy of the false alternative. The alternative to patriarchy is not some magical land where women are treated fabulously. It’s housing projects, dorm rooms, and the Kennedy compound.
Matilda, in a fallen world it seems possible that many women perceive paid work to be more fulfilling than raising a family. They may find it more enjoyable. They may like the pay check. Or they may find it less demanding; motherhood can be hard work with inadequate support and encouragement. Further, one’s perception of happiness and fulfilment can be highly culturally conditioned; behaviour modifies feelings as well as feelings modifying behaviour. That said, full time women often desire more contact with their children than men as seen in many situations. A complimentarian position does not say women should not… Read more »
Jack, that piece is not too bad, though it seems a little confused. He writes, A father who runs roughshod over the mother’s authority pertaining to their children is no less sinful than a wife who refuses to submit to her husband’s leading. So far as children are concerned both parents have authority. Doug writes in one of his books (facetiously) that the children should not know that their parents are actually 2 people until they are teenagers (or something to that effect). So where the parents are frequently in disagreement there is a problem in the household. Nevertheless, a… Read more »
@Pastor Jones: not directly re submission, but the Bible does tell the older women to teach the younger ones about life. If this is going on, and if the elders listen to their wives, would the problems you mention be reduced a bit? (For another slant, in Eastern Orthodoxy the priest’s wife has the title “presbytera.”)
Proverbs 31 is in the Bible. The ’50s cultural ideal is not, tho we can do worse.
The problem with the patriarchy movement is that it is even a movement at all. It is simply a term for intellectual and spiritual laziness. Sure, it can look great–going through the motions, getting your act together, building the perfect family, etc. Sometimes it even works. But the reality is that it is no cure-all–far from it. It has to a large degree created and nurtured a dark and ugly side which we would be wise to sharply distance ourselves from. This is not a game. It is not an interesting thought experiment or lively theological discussion. We are talking… Read more »
John Pearson wrote: The authorities tend to take a dim view of cultic, extremist behavior and activity (particularly when the well being of women and children is at risk), and we can be very sure that they are monitoring this situation carefully. I’m sure we can all sleep better now, knowing that the authorities are “monitoring this situation carefully”. Are these the same “authorities” who look the other way when the children at risk are unborn children? John Pearson also wrote: “While it is true that our ancestors were afflicted with their own peculiar diseases of the mind and soul,… Read more »
The third thesis makes a reasonable division between hypocrisy and abuse, but I wonder how Doug Wilson can be sure the Vision Forum situation is merely hypocrisy. If a doctrine inevitably leads to sexual misconduct, and coverups of said misconduct by the authorities, I think it is safe to say that the doctrine itself is an abuse of Scripture. Are the wrongs at Vision Forum, ATI/IBLP, Sovereign Grace, Bob Jones, Pensacola Christian College, etc. all purely due to hypocrisy? I think it more likely that their doctrines are leading to situations where abuse is likely to happen and unlikely to… Read more »
Katecho: I am referring to government officials who are charged with the duty of investigating and prosecuting criminal activity. Since abortion is unfourtunately not criminal activity, they obviously would not be in charge of prosecuting abortion. They are, however interested in investigating and prosecuting cults or extremists that encourage and practice abusing women. To be honest, I’m confused by your reference to abortion. Am I missing something, or are some folks laboring under the delusion that not accepting their preferred flavor of what defines a “proper” relationship between husband and wife automatically constitutes supporting abortion? If you prefer Taliban-flavored marriages,… Read more »
Jason, maybe you should pay more attention to the Islamciization of Ontario Canada. within 30 years, Islam will be a major political force throughout that country.
Jason, I am so so sorry for what your wife went through. It’s horrible. Thank you for your contribution to this post — you have the courage to say what many others of us are afraid to say for fear of being pounced on.
Jason, could you actually in definitive, clear language explain what your real beef is? You talk very loftily while never actually alighting upon a concrete point. Do you have a problem with something that Wilson stated in this post? You said: After all the books and articles have been written, the analyses, insights and interpretations have been published, the condemnations and defenses and arguments and excuses and other endless rhetoric spewed, could it be that husbands and wives just need to grow up, act like mature adults and start treating each other with love and respect? You know, like Christ… Read more »
Ben Guthrie — I wonder about that too, and whether the problem is pietism and false holiness, breaking out, as it inevitably does, in unseemly ways. When you read a lot of Bill Gothard’s stuff, you get the sense he really was holding his celibacy up to God as a kind of merit badge, and, if the allegations are true, he didn’t have that gift. Similarly, when a ministry emphasis appears to favor big families, but not the erotic engine that creates, and helps sustain the couple making those big families, you may wind up at the window of an… Read more »
Ben asks a great question, and there are a couple of things that come to mind as causes for the problem. First of all, if you go to Pensacola, with which I am familiar (never a student but a friend of many graduates), you will find any number of “very important doctrines” like KJVO, no drinking, no dancing, no music with percussion instruments, and the like which have no support in Scripture. Now if it was just those doctrines, that would be bad enough, but the second question is “why do doctrines with no evidence ‘stick'”. And with Tevye, we… Read more »
Jim Riley above comments on the spiritual aspect of some forms of patriarchy in which the husband is seen as mediator between his wife and our Lord. This made me think of Milton’s description of Adam and Eve in Paradise Lost: “He for God only, she for God in him.” I was always taught that this would be idolatry but is this seen as normative in some understandings of Christian patriarchy?
Jill — I’m very curious to see where that strain of patriarchy teaching comes from too. I think it’s a blight. A professor of reformed theology wrote me this yesterday: “Biblically, there are only two covenant heads. Adam, and Jesus of Nazareth. Fathers are honorable heads, government heads, but not even Abraham’s actions secured the salvation of all their children, or the damnation of all of them. Even Calvin, on 1Cor. 11 refused the idea that the husband could be a mediator between God and his wife, which is what you get if you think that God is speaking of… Read more »
P.S. I spent my Easter weekend reading “Black and Tan,” and I almost think a similar thesis could be written on the subject of polygamy. You could never make the argument that polygamy is a “good thing” any more than you could make the argument that slavery is a “good thing.” Christian cultures grow out of both institutions, but a reformation culture (Doug’s words: “..the most Christ-loving, world-affirming, money-making, beer-drinking, sword-wielding, music-making, kingdom-overthrowing, love-making, poetry-writing bunch of Christians the world had ever seen..”) falls into a squeaky clean anti-erotic pietism, you get “Christian patriarchs” knocking on the doors of interns… Read more »
Jim Riley wrote: “Biblically, there are only two covenant heads. Adam, and Jesus of Nazareth. Fathers are honorable heads, government heads, but not even Abraham’s actions secured the salvation of all their children, or the damnation of all of them.” I’m certainly in agreement with Jim that husbands, and fathers, and pastors are not mediating salvation to others. They do image Christ in those headship roles, but they don’t embody Christ as a mediator. Christ as our Mediator with God is sufficient. However, I would want to point out that covenant is not the same as mediation or mediator. A… Read more »
The quote there is from a friend, not mine, so I can’t define “covenant head” on his behalf, but I imagine we’re in essential agreement. Fathers do not mediate with God on behalf of their wives and children. I’m still curious to know if that teaching exists anywhere in the Patriarcy/Dominionist movement. I know a lot of young women who were afraid to think that it might, and if it did, it might explain some of the conditions that encourage abuse to go unchallenged. I do know that in some Christian circles, you’re inclined to hear someone claim you are… Read more »
I have to say that this notion of a husband being the only mediator between God and his wife is absolutely heretical and not biblical patriarchy, and certainly not what Pastor Wilson is arguing for. I haven’t read much of what Doug Phillips wrote or taught, but can any of you that are so terrified of patriarchy show that he taught such a thing or do you assume he did because of what he did? I grew up under false patriarchy and I now live under biblical patriarchy so I know the difference. I see the lives of my peers… Read more »
BPG — Not sure who is condemning shepherding, and I don’t think you read any screeds against “reading” here, nor has anyone claimed Pastor Wilson taught “father mediation with God.” I do happen to know a few young ladies who think (perhaps falsely) that this has seeped into the patriarchy/dominionist movement. If not, great. If so, not so good.
One more observation before I dump this tempest in a teapot (which is all it really is at the end of the day–much of the real power of religious institutions having been essentially crushed in Western civilization, thank God). Here is a puzzle: As politically conservative fundamentalist Christians, we resent and oppose government intrusion into and control of our lives. When such intrusion and control is attempted by politicians and bureaucrats in clerical garb, however, some welcome it with open arms. Such is the case with this patriarch nonsense. Spiritual gurus are unabashedly attempting to micromanage and dominate extremely personal… Read more »
Presented for contrast with the above tempest: “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men.” — 1Pet 2:13-15“Obey your leaders, and submit; for they keep watch over your souls, as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be… Read more »
Thank you, Katecho. I’ll be sure to forward those to Martin Luther, George Washington and Robert E. Lee–those godless upstarts.
Martin Luther, George Washington, and Robert E Lee weren’t against God’s established authorities, in principle, as Pearson seems to be. They were against abuses of authority, because no human authority is absolute (as Doug has often pointed out). Doug is against abuses of human authority, but not against the authority structures that God has established (including the authority of the husband in the covenant of marriage). Pearson appears to be an anarchist of some flavor. His contempt seems to be more general, directed against authority and submission within marriage, church, and state. Pearson won’t find any support for that position… Read more »
Just thought I’d chime in to point out this misplaced modifier– “conservative outliers in compounds with weird beards.” You might want to reword that. :)
Jim Riley wrote, “Not sure who is condemning shepherding,” Jason Pearson seems to be, at least. The reactionary distrust of all authority after betrayal is understandable, but it does not mean that all biblical authority should be abolished. I am quite disgusted at the abuse of power by a vast majority of those holding public office in America, but I will vehemently disagree with any idea that abolished biblical authority. God forbid! “and I don’t think you read any screeds against ‘reading’ here” Less of a “screed” and more of a general practice, as in refusing to accept a writer’s… Read more »
Once again, katecho, you are clearer and more succinct than I. Thank you, and well done Sir.
BPG — good points all. I’ve invited the young ladies in question to examine this thread and learn from it. I hope it was clear I took no issue with the theses presented here by Pastor Wilson, only that I wanted clarification on the mediation issue. I grew up hearing a version of that in Mormonism, and I wondered, quite honestly, if a version of that was part of a larger heresy circulating in the church for centuries. I guess the reason I’m so attracted to this topic (I can’t seem to help examining any blog on the topic of… Read more »
So how does this submission thing play out in reality?
Do guys pretty much make all the decisions while the wife just says “Yes, Sir”? Is she even allowed to voice her opinion?
If husbands are supposed to love their wives as much Christ loved the Church, what’s the issue? Isn’t he going to do everything he can to make her feel loved and desired?
Or is this just about making sure men have a female person in the house to satisfy his sexual and culinary appetites?
James Bradshaw: so you don’t pay any taxes, right?
Not to pile on, but are you even married?
That’s what a lot of us who wonder what the big deal is about teaching the biblical principles of marriage wonder, too. Abuse of authority is not about following the Bible’s teaching on leadership and submission, it’s about not following it.
James Bradshaw wrote: “So how does this submission thing play out in reality?” Quite beautifully, actually. Hello, James. I would encourage you to read Doug’s seven thesis above; they are quite good. Let me see if I can explain it a bit further, from a wife’s perspective. “Do guys pretty much make all the decisions while the wife just says “Yes, Sir”? Is she even allowed to voice her opinion?” No, my submission to my husband does not mean that my husband makes all the decisions without me ever having any say. Yes, I am allowed to voice my opinion.… Read more »
In a large and reputable complementarian church, the limits to submission were never taught. My husband refused me permission to do many normal things on a whim, to test his power, etc. I used to hide in the cupboard when I knew he was going to beat me but eventually I learned to take the blows standing up, until he knocked me over. Not a single sermon in twenty years on the limits of submission and what to do if you were abused. My lack of submission was usually demonstrated by my inability to remember lengthly scripted lines for when… Read more »
So this is not a serious blog?
Apologies. I thought my comment had been removed. Thanks for posting it.
I thought I was done with this nonsense, but I heard this song today and was amazed how nicely it summed up the patriarchals attitude toward women who publicize how they have been abused by that system. Sounds like you can relate Wyn–sorry to hear about your abuse by these sick freaks. Trust me, your not alone. And these people will regret their foolishness in the end. “Little girl, little girl Why are you crying? Inside your restless soul Your heart is dying Little one, little one Your soul is purging Of love and razor blades Your blood is surging… Read more »