Monday, November 7, 2011

Recovering Biblical Patriarchy

by Tony Konvalin

What is it about the word “Patriarchy” that sets many people into a rage and others into a mode of finding a way around even speaking about the word?  Now of course there is the usual argument that some person or other has abused the idea of patriarchy but that is not a valid mode of argumentation and actually avoids the nature of the subject.  Are we to remove every doctrine that is abused or are we to seek what scripture has to say and then seek to correct the errors that may exist?  Also, there exists the thinking that patriarchy is some sort of vestige of a bygone era that we are to jettison since we have evolved out of that archaic way of thinking.  Many evangelicals talk this way even if they do not use the idea of evolution in their language as they still speak of patriarchy as some form of Old Testament bondage.

I do not think the avoidance and rejection of “Biblical Patriarchy” is to be separated from the biblical illiteracy that exists in the church today.  Nor are we to separate it from the misguided view of the Christian life that does not see a need to follow God’s commands and principles that are found in the “entire” canon of scripture.  Both of these mindsets lead to denying or misunderstanding biblical patriarchy.  I do want to stress “Biblical” when speaking of patriarchy since I readily agree that there are many that have taken the biblical concept of patriarchy and run in their own, unbiblical, direction.  However as mentioned before, even if there are those that abuse correct doctrinal principles that does not necessitate the eradication of that doctrine.

So is patriarchy biblical?  I am not going to even come close to dealing with this subject exhaustively.  I think Phillip Lancaster in his book Family Man, Family Leader does a great job of setting out what biblical patriarchy looks like.  Will there be those that espouse the views of this book that do so imperfectly, or maybe even fail at them, I am sure there are. But the measure of a book is not simply how it is lived out, as we are imperfect people, but how it aligns with scripture. If one simply takes the text of the book and looks at the scripture given and does due diligence in seeking out God’s word I think you will see that the principles put forth are clearly biblical.  What I want to do in the rest of the article is to briefly see how the concept of patriarchy is intrinsic to Christianity and thus patriarchy as seen in the family is simply a living picture of God’s working in His world.

First let me make it clear that I not only find scripture infallible, sadly a place many stop, but also hold to scripture being sufficient for every good work that God has set out for us (2 Tim 3:16-17).  Thus not only has God set out the basics of life but also His word directs all areas of life, in precept and/or principle.  Also, we are not to limit our search for God’s directions for life to the last third of scripture, the New Testament, as many are wont to do but are to take 2 Timothy 3:16 seriously and seek God’s direction for a God glorifying life in all of His word and that includes the Old Testament.

That said, we need to start with the relationship in the Godhead.  In the trinity we see a patriarchal relationship between the Father, Son and Spirit in that the Father sends the Son (John  6:44, 16:28 ) and the Son sends the Spirit. (John 15:26)  We also see the Son do as the Father commands  (Luke 22:42; John 14:31).  So the relationship in the Godhead is a patriarchal one.

How about the relationship with Israel and the people of God seen in the Old Testament which foreshadows His relationship with us?  Throughout scripture God is seen as Father and thus His relationship with His people is patriarchal as one of a Father to His children.   Even the patriarchs, such as Abraham, Jacob and Joseph, are seen as the leaders of their families, which is not shown in scripture as a model to be done away with or to be modified.  We see in the Old Testament that the fathers were to lead as directed by God as fathers today are to lead as directed by the all sufficient word of God and as empowered by the Holy Spirit.  Yes, Christ is the head of the church as its bridegroom but God, as in the past, still works through fathers as a picture of Christ leading His church and thus we are to lead as God directs.  That is key since patriarchy is not about fathers leading families by their every whim.  But it is about fathers leading the families God has them over as directed by His Word and Spirit.

Lastly we see God has set men over the family in the context of marriage as clearly seen in Ephesians 5:22-31.  This is a passage much maligned and manipulated by those desiring to do away with patriarchy and male headship as set forth by God.  Also, this passage is often abused by those claiming to hold to patriarchy, I intentionally left out “biblical,” and is used to claim some sort of unbiblical leadership role.  The Ephesians 5 passage instead sets out that the relationship of the man to the women is one of head, as in leader, as Christ is the head of the church.  We have seen in our day not only the erosion of male headship and patriarchy but also, by practice, the dissolution of Christ as head of the church and I think this is a natural outcome.  When the doctrine of Christ and His relationship to the church is minimized or abandoned there are repercussions and the loss of a biblical understanding of patriarchy and family is one of those results.

This was by far not a thorough explanation of “Biblical Patriarchy” but I hope it showed a connection with the entirety of scripture and set some ground work for the recovery of biblical patriarchy.  We need to see that patriarchy is not simply a bygone practice of some other era but is how God has worked, and still works.  We need to not simply regain some outward form of male headship and fathers being leaders in the home but we need to recover a right view of patriarchy and see it being implemented in the home for God’s glory and the good of His people.

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