Thursday, April 14, 2011

Reconstructing my views on marriage: headship and submission

Here we go again. Bobby's breaking bonds with the reformed traditions. Well, in a way yes (at least as I've understood it), in another no. In the next couple of posts I will share how my marriage has been strengthened and put in danger by the teachings of complementarianism. In this post I'll talk about the roles men and women have as husband and wife. In the next I'll share how authority and decision making lines up under these roles. My guess is that most evryone will agree with this post but the next will be a bit controversial.

I've been thinking alot about what I have been taught about the roles of men and women in the home and family. What I have learned from my involvement in Sunday School, seminars and sermons is known as complimentarianism. Now, I'm not going to define that for you simply because I'm not trying to spell out some kind of doctrine or dogma. Google it and surely you will get numerous explinations for it's meaning. What I want to do in this post is elaborate on what I embrace in this tradition and what I must reject.

What I embrace is the different roles that a man and a woman have in a marriage. A man must lead his household and a woman must submit to his leadership. Many folks gasp at such a statement because we have our own preconceptions about what that means, but what does that really look like? Paul gives us a beautiful picture in Ephesians 5:22-33 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. "Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh." This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.

So clearly we see wives submitting to loving husbands. That is the key to this whole deal: LOVING husbands who act out of a love like Christ has for his bride. A self-abasing, self-sacrificing, relentless, passionate, pursuit of a bride who is flawless in his eyes simply because he says so. This is what a wife is to submit to. Not an authoritative decision maker but a lover who will stop at nothing to have his prize. Rather than running away or contending against his vision of her by pointing out her flaws to him, she is to submit to his view of her and reciprocate his love for her back to him.  She is to say "yes" to his loving advance and fall into his tender arms and trust him with all of herself because he has given himself up and is devoted to her good.

This is the picture I have of submission and headship.  It is beautiful don't you think?  Even so, that is just a scratch on the surface of this profound mystery.  How would you describe headship and submission in marriage?


  1. Bobby, I dont' see anything here that would be opposed to by complementarianism. I would say that a wives submission to her husband is not predicated on her husbands worthiness to receive it just as a husband is not to love his wife only if she is submissive to him.

  2. Arthur,

    well said. I didn't expect this post to have much opposition. It's the next post that I'm a little concerned about. Hang in there with me and be gracious as I try to articulate my thoughts as best I can.

  3. Amen. Well said. Simple yet supernatural.

  4. Bobby,

    Have you read What's with Paul and Women by Jon Zens? A short but excellent read dealing with Paul's statements on women, including the Ephesians 5 passage, and why verse 21 should also be included. Very enlightening book.

    Mark Lake


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