Friday, April 15, 2011

Rethinking marriage: making decisions together

[Okay, deep breath, here we go.] In my first post in this series I said that I've been doing some thinking about the roles of men and women in marriage. I plan to break this up into a series of posts to layout where I both agree and disagree with what I understand to be complimentarianism.

In the last post I dealt with the actual roles of the husband and wife. If you haven't read that, go there first. That post lays the groundwork for what I am writing today. In this post I'm dealing with how those roles are applied concerning authority in marriage.

As we saw in the previous post, the husband is head of the wife and the wife is to submit to the husband. Does that mean that he is the boss and she must do whatever he says? Does that mean that he makes all the decisions and she must go along with him even if she disagrees? Many who are complimentarians think so but I think not.

Here's why. When talking about authority between men and women many are quick to point out passages like Ephesians 5 about roles, 1 Tim 2:11-15 about teaching and 1 Cor 11 about head coverings but seldom bring 1 Cor 7 into the equation. Lets look at that passage.

1 Cor 7:3-5 The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.

Now there are those that believe that this passage deals only with what happens in the bedroom. I don't think so. If this is Paul's instruction regarding authority over one another during physical intimacy then the implications of this verse are astounding in my opinion. After all, the physical union between a man and woman is the fleshing out of them coming together spiritually. Physical intimacy is the apex of our togetherness. It is the consummation of the sworn union of a husband and wife. It is of the highest importance in a relationship.

If we should only separate physically from one another when we are in agreement why should wives be expected to follow orders or give their husbands a blank check to make decisions? Are those decisions more important than their sexual relationship and therefore above the necessity for agreement? The answer is an emphatic NO!

It is very true to say that any man who makes decisions without coming to some agreement with his spouse is in serious error. To do so drives in the lane of disunity between partners and casts off a very important member of the decision making body. The result is either a disgruntled and violated wife or a silenced voice from a woman who must shut herself down in order to be obedient.

The words of Derek Webb come to mind:

Like style made by slaves.
Like bribes to throw the race.
Like women who know their place.

Like security for Libery you gotta admit it,
it was never quite worth what you gave up to get it. 

So what say you, can we walk in our God given roles as husband and wife and still strive to come to agreements in decision making without violating those roles? Should we? Is it important to consider 1 Cor 7 in decision making?  What are more pro's and con's of both sides?


  1. Scripture is clear we need to be unselfish in how we deal with others.

    My wife and I joke that this is how we've worked it out:

    She lets me make the final decision, and I have to make the decision based on what is best for her. Who gets the better deal? I get to feel in control, and she gets her way. :)

  2. I am not sure that 1 Corinthians 7 can be used more universally to deal with relations between husbands and wives. There are places where we narrowly interpret a Scripture in error (like unequally yoked refering to marriage) but I don't think this is one of them. 1 Cornthians 7 is dealing with a very specific topic, i.e. sexuality and while there are principles to be gleaned from this, I would hesitate to go too far and trump the more explicit passages.

    I would also question whether complementarians hold to the the belief that "submission means doing what I say, make me turkey pot pie woman!". I am a staunch complementarian but I always get my wife's counsel on major decisions. She does defer to my leadership and sometimes that might mean that she disagrees but her submission to me is not contingent on her agreement with me. Even when I fail to excercise godly leadership, that doesn't give her warrant to step into my place. We see this a lot in the church, men have failed to lead and women have stepped into the void and what that ends up doing is compounding the disobedience.

  3. Jonathan,

    that's funny :) thanks for sharing. It works somewhat the same in our home but not as smoothly all the time. My wife and I are both very opinionated. I appreciate that about her so often I have to step back and re-evaluate the disagreement and figure out what is most important. Obedience to God comes first, my marriage comes second yet is included in the first. It makes things complicated.

  4. Arthur,

    thank you for engaging in this conversation. It's good to have brothers that will help keep me from straying from truth as I seek to find it.

    you said " while there are principles to be gleaned from this, I would hesitate to go too far and trump the more explicit passages. "

    what are the principles we can glean from this passage?
    what are the more explicit passages?

    I completely agree on the problems rooted in a lack of godly, male leadership. Even so I do see examples of female leadership in the scripture. Of course how one defines a "leader" is going to affect how we interpret those passages. I define a leader as someone who lives a life worthy of emulating. In this definition I think women can and should be leaders yet are still called to submit to their husband.

  5. I've found that when we communicate and really listen to the other person that there is rarely a time when I have to submit unwillingly. I think it has a lot to do with the fact that we are each others best friend and we go at everything the mindset that we're on the same team. With that in mind if we have a disagreement then usually talk it out and compromise. That usually works great.

  6. Bobby

    I would point to Ephesians 5 and 1 Corinthians 11 specifically as passages that deal more broadly with the issue of the relations between genders. As far as leadership, I agree that women lead in the Scriptures but also that it looks different from how men lead. For example:

    Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct. Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear—but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is very precious. For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.(1 Peter 3:1-6 ESV)

    A woman's quiet and godly conduct in submission to her husband is leadership and influential while for a male leader we see things like ability to teach, a good reputation, a well run household, etc.

    I think the reason some people get in a twist about the gender relationship roles is that their idea of leadership and submission is based on the world's understanding. In other words, if a woman isn't recognized as an elder or if she is not permitted to be up front teaching that she is somehow discounted. Scripture puts very clear guidelines around gender relationships.

    Ultimately the biggest problem here is that there is a horrific lack of godly men in the church who will lead their families and serve the church.


As in a biblical church gathering, my word is not complete or final. Participation is allowed, encouraged and expected. Please, don't leave without adding something.