Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Does Scripture Teach 1) Consistent Male Headship, or 2) that Parents have Equal Authority in Raising Children?

by Steve C. Halbrook

Should male headship be consistent, or restricted? While one would think that those in conservative Christian circles would advocate the former, there are some who advocate the following: "While wives must submit to their husbands in some respects, husbands and wives have equal authority in teaching and raising children."

Such a view bases itself on texts that require children to submit to both parents, such as the following: 
Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. "Honor your father and mother " ... " (Ephesians 6:1-2a)
My son, keep your father's commandment, and forsake not your mother's teaching. (Proverbs 6:20) (see also Colossians 3:20, Proverbs 6:20, 10:1, 19:26)
For those who advocate this position, patriachy, which consistently advocates male headship in all aspects of family lifeis in error; and some may go so far as to say that it demeans women and is destructive to the family. Here we examine the validity of this position.

Commands to submit to more than one person do not necessarily imply equal authority

(Above: General Douglas MacArthur lands
at the Phillipines)

Hierarchical authority is exemplified in
the military, where all officers have
authority, but officers of higher rank
have more authority than
officers of lesser rank.
Proponents of this position, however, must do better than simply raise the aforementioned passages to prove that in parenting, both fathers and mothers have equal authority, and that fathers do not have more authority than mothers. 

Here's why: a command to submit to two parties does not tell us one way or another about whether those parties have equal authorityor whether one party has more authority than another. 

If this is all we have to go on, then we certainly can't rule out the possibility that one party has more authority than another. There is no law of logic that opposes the idea of hierarchical authority. When it comes to military matters, for example, we have no problem understanding the idea that a soldier is to submit to both a sergeant and a general, but that when their orders conflict, the general is to be obeyed over the sergeant.

Scripture assumes the concept of hierarchical authority in 1 Peter 2: 
Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. (1 Peter 2:13, 14).
Here we see a chain of human authority: "the emperor as supreme"then "governors as sent by him."

We further see the concept of hierarchical authority in God's requirements to submit to both Him and to our earthly superiors. Children are required to submit to parents; wives are required to submit to husbands; servants are required to submit to masters; subjects are required to submit to civil rulers; and church members are required to submit to church elders. However, all of this is only insofar that God is not disobeyed in the process. When faced with disobeying God and disobeying man, one's answer must be: “We must obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29b).

If one holds that fathers and mothers have equal parenting authority simply because Scripture stresses obedience to both, then, if consistent, one would also hold that fathers and mothers have equal authority to the great God Almighty. After all, Scripture requires children to obey God as well as fathers and mothers. But surely they would not advocate such a wicked position, but would instead assume hierarchical authority by holding that God has greater authority than parents.

The doctrine of male headship opposes equal parental authority

Now that it has been shown that commands to submit to both parents do not rule out the possibility that fathers have more authority than mothers, we will now rule out the possibility that such commands could mean that fathers and mothers have equal authority in parenting. In giving instructions to the church, the Apostle Paul writes:
Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. (1 Timothy 2:11-14)
Surely this passage has implications beyond the sphere of the church gathering; indeed, neither Adam's creation nor Eve's deception occurred during church services. 

In advocating man's authority over woman, Paul appeals to man's priority in creation ("Adam was formed first"). Now, creation has implications for all situations; for instance, man and woman are no less created beings when it comes to parenting than in other matters. Therefore, a husband's authority over his wife cannot be restricted to particular situations, but must apply to all lawful situations—including matters of parenting.

Likewise, in advocating man's authority over woman, Paul appeals to the woman's deception ("the woman was deceived"). And since deception can just as easily occur in one situation as in another, again, a husband's authority over his wife cannot be restricted to particular situations; it must apply to all situations—parenting included.

Now, how is it that one can say that women have equal authority in educating their children, if women are more prone to deception than men? If a woman's deception is a reason that men should be in charge of teaching at church, wouldn't it also be a reason that men should be in charge of teaching their children? 

Elsewhere in Scripture, Paul, writing instructions to the church, says:
As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church. (1 Corinthians 14:33b-35)
Here we see that at home, the husband is to be the teacher of his wife. With this being the case, how can husband and wife have equal authority in teaching their children? 

Indeed, 1 Corinthians 11 very explicitly outlines the chain of hierarchical authority that surely applies to all lawful situations between husband and wife:
the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God. (1 Corinthians 11:3b)
Finally, consider the following:
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. (Ephesians 5:22-24)
Since wives must "submit in everything to their husbands," it seems hard to believe that a husband's authority over his wife is restricted to simply the husband-wife relationship, and does not touch matters of parenting. 

Restricted male headship as a formula for confusion

The teaching that fathers and mothers
have equal authority in raising children
breeds confusion in the home over
when a father's authority begins and
when it ends.
Imagine the confusion that could occur in a household that holds that husbands only have authority over their wives in matters that don't involve child-rearing. 

For instance, if husband and wife have equal authority in raising children, what happens when they disagree about a child rearing issue? They won't necessarily agree 100% of the time. If they can't come to an agreement, then the children are forced into a no-win situation of obeying one parent and disobeying the other, or disobeying both parents. 

But there's more. What should be done when the two areas of husband/wife relationship and child rearing conflict? If, say, a husband asks his wife to do something not directly related to educating children, but his wife is busy educating their children, what does she do? On the one hand, she must submit to her husband in matters outside of child-rearing; on the other hand, her husband has no authority over her in child-rearing. 

By obeying the husband in this regard, the wife is giving the husband authority over education, since she is being required to cease educating temporarily. On the other hand, by not obeying her husband, the wife disregards the husband's authority over her in matters that don't involve child-rearing.

Moreover, where does one draw the line between a husband's authority over a wife, and a husband's and wife's "equal" authority over children? When are a husband's actions not ultimately a matter of child rearing? He works to provide for his children. He instructs his wife in the word of God, which shows her how to be a better mother. All of his actions are (or should be) examples for his children to follow. And so on.

Dangers of ignoring consistent male headship

In all of this we see that consistent male headship (biblical patriarchy) is in line with Scripture, and that the teaching that parents have equal authority in raising children is false and breeds confusion. Here are some dangers in ignoring consistent male headship:

It opposes Christ's total headship over the church 

Scripture teaches the following:
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. (Ephesians 5:22-24)
This text affirms that just as the church should submit to Christ in all things, so should wives submit to their husbands in all things; "the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church." 

Due to this analogy of authority, if one were to say that a husband's lawful authority is partial, then one opposes the force of this text about consistent male headship—and in the process, opposes the force of this text about Christ's authority over the church in all things. Even if he would not consciously oppose Christ's total authority over the church, his doctrine opens the door for others to do so.

It deprives wives of spiritual and physical protection

In leading their wives, Christian husbands must model Christ's self-sacrificing leadership:  "Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her ... " (Ephesians 5:25). In short, male headship is intended to benefit and protect wives—even to the point of the husband dying for his wife. To the extent, then, that male headship is denied, wives are deprived of the protection that they need, and are vulnerable to spiritual and physical dangers. 

It damages the father's role as spiritual leader

The view that parents have equal authority in raising and teaching children opposes the teaching that family worship must be led by fathers (at least when fathers are present). In such a scenario, mothers can lead family worship and thereby teach their husbands. This destroys the father's role as spiritual leader. While not all proponents of this view would advocate this position, it seems their own teaching logically leads to it.

It opposes elder qualifications and endangers the church

In listing elder qualifications, Scripture says that an elder must be
One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?) (1 Timothy 3:4, 5)
One cannot rule his house well by relinquishing male headship in matters of parenting. Therefore the teaching that parents have equal authority in raising children can produce unqualified eldersto the detriment of the church. For, as the cited passage says, "if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?"

It devalues women

God designed woman as man's helper (Genesis 2:18)—not to be an equal in leadership, but to serve man in his godly dominion endeavors. Thus Paul, while referring to Adam's priority in the order of creation (1 Timothy 2:11-14), stresses a woman’s duty to submit.

When a woman therefore behaves contrary to the role that God intends, then she is devalued, since God is the source of dignity. Wives are considered beautiful for submitting to their husbandsnot by refusing to submit in matters of parenting:
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)

Anarchy and tyranny are the logical outworkings of
gender confusion.

It is destructive to society

When husband and wife attempt to have equal roles in parenting, it is destructive to society (including family, church, and state). For, to function properly, all areas of life require proper gender roles, since all areas of life are subject to God's rules of creation. 

Once gender confusion occurs, then the door is wide open to everything from women in positions of leadership, to sodomite "marriage." Men exchange the strength and restraint of biblical manhood for anything from effeminate timidity to childlike aggression. Anarchy and tyranny are the result. This is certainly the case in our feministic age, where we have the curse referred to in Isaiah:
My people—infants are their oppressors, and women rule over them. O my people, your guides mislead you and they have swallowed up the course of your paths. (Isaiah 3:12)
And so, while some who say husband and wife have equal authority in parenting might maintain that consistent male headship (biblical patriarchy) is oppressive, it is actually the case that their view is oppressive. For it is God's law—not man's traditionsthat defines liberty; indeed, it is "the law of liberty" (James 2:12). 

Therefore, it is not consistent male headship—which is mandated by God's law—that fosters tyranny (although sinful man may abuse his responsibility, but this is a different matter entirely); rather, tyranny is fostered by denying consistent male headship. According to Isaiah 3:12, the rule of women is not considered liberating. 

It can provoke God's wrath

Disobedience to God can lead to judgment. If fathers relinquish a degree of their authority in the home, then their home could be at risk. 

Demeaning of Women?

Anyone who takes the doctrine of consistent male headship to mean that the mother cannot have a say in child rearing must ask himself whether he has been more influenced by feminism than by Scripture in this matter. Being in a higher position of authority than another does not necessarily preclude considering the suggestions of the latter. God created woman to help man, and the help she provides can include the wisdom that she has to offer. No one, not even leaders in high positions of authority, should neglect seeking out sound advice ("in an abundance of counselors there is safety," Proverbs 11:14b)—and one's wife can be the best place to start. 

Moreover, fathers are not the ultimate authority in the home. Jesus Christ, the King of kings, is. We previously mentioned the chain of biblical authority—"the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God" (1 Corinthians 11:3b). Thus if one complains that a father's higher authority in child rearing demeans the mother, then would he also complain that Christ's higher authority than the father demeans the father? (Christ is of course of an infinitely higher value than man, but that is besides the point.) We must rid ourselves of this egalitarian mindset that finds it intolerable to not have equal authority with another. 

We must also point out that there are some circumstances that are less than ideal for mothers raising children. Sometimes, the father disregards his headship duties, and the mother is by default left to make the child-rearing decisions. Or there may be no father around at all. 

Finally, since God's authority trumps the father's, if the father makes decisions that can endanger the children physically (e.g., letting them play on a busy road) or spiritually (teaching them soul-damning heresies), then the mother may need to interpose, just as lesser magistrates may need to interpose against the tyranny of higher magistrates. Thus we see more leeway that mothers have than fathers when it comes to obedience in the chain of authority: mothers, when necessary, may interpose against the father, while fathers may never interpose against God.

The wise husband considers the wisdom that his wife
has to offer.

Concluding Remarks

As has been shown, fathers and mothers do not have equal authority in parenting and teaching children. While they are both required to perform these tasks, their authority is hierarchical, with the father being of higher authority than the mother. 

Hatred for the notion of patriarchy is not an argument against this position. It is a red herring and a straw man to attack abuses (actual or perceived) done in the name of patriarchy to oppose hierarchical parenting authority. 

First, I am unaware of any popular proponent in the Reformed patriarchy movement that advocates demeaning and abusing wives. Second, and to the point, the issue is, "what does Scripture teach?" Since Scripture teaches consistent male headship (which entails hierarchical parenting), then Scripture teaches patriarchy (since patriarchy means "father rule"). Since Scripture teaches patriarchy, patriarchy cannot lead to abusive relationships.

However, to distinguish this kind of rule by fathers from any tyrannical and non-Christian versions of father rule, we use the term biblical patriarchy. Biblical patriarchy emphasizes leadership not to the detriment of wives, but a self-sacrificing leadership for their welfare: "Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her ... " (Ephesians 5:25). 

As for the position that says that fathers and mothers have equal parenting authority, I'm not sure how this differs from egalitarian feminism (at least in the sphere of parenting). At the very least, it reinforces the deadly influence that feminism already has in Christian circles.

When fathers relinquish their leadership duties and become passive husbands, the consequences could be disastrous. Remember Adam, who did not exercise his authority by protecting Eve from the temptations of the serpent. Instead, he went along with her as an equal, and plunged all of humanity into death. We should have learned from this mistake by now.

In our strong defense of our position, we do not mean to suggest that those who disagree are necessarily bad fathers and bad Christians. Here we are challenging their doctrine (and not everyone is consistent with the doctrine that he promotes); and we all need correction at some point. We do hope, however, that they consider the dangers of their position.

With that being said, we will say in closing that instead of being passive, let fathers embrace consistent headship—even if it goes against the cultural grain of the world and even within the church. When it comes to leading their families, let fathers have the attitude of Joshua:
And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. (Joshua 24:15)


Note: a good article that we found helpful in writing this is "The Patriarchy Paradigm" by William O. Einwechter, where Einwechter refutes an article by P. Andrew Sandlin arguing that parents have equal authority in raising children. Unfortunately, Einwechter's article no longer appears to be online. 


Doug said...

Steve—When speaking of headship, Paul is referring to body anatomy and corresponding body function, not "hierarchical authority" as you describe. There is a big difference. You probably don't consider your physical head as having "authority" over your heart. Harmony of action is the goal. Even so, we must base the weight of our position on what the "Scriptures —OT" say, not primarily the few letters from Paul. When we do this, we see that in the beginning "God said to them". Woman was given to man to help man in the way of righteousness. This can include instruction and rebuke when needed. This is what Peter expected of Sapphira in the Acts. Yes, woman was made to help the man; it is because the man needs help.

Andrew C. Romanowitz said...

Doug, the head is where the information is processed, the decisions are made, and the directions are given for the body. That's the point of the analogy.

Doug said...

Andrew, I do not deny that, although some bible scholars claim the common belief in Paul's day was "thinking" occurred in the physical heart. Even so, my point is that Paul did not have authoritative hierarchy in mind, but instead the body concept of mutual love. He was not saying the husband is the CEO of the wife. To husbands it is emphasized: love your wives, not exercise authority. Christ had to rebuke his disciples for arguing over who was the greatest, or rather, who had authority. From our children's perspective, they should only see a unified husband-wife, not Dad the authority figure. Husbands should lead in love, not authority. Christ is the image both husband and wife should be transforming into. The wife is not to conform to her man.

Steve C. Halbrook said...

Doug, Scripture very clearly teaches the husband has higher authority than his wife. There is no way around it.

crainierv said...

"Husband love your wife... Wife submit to your husband."
-Who has the authority?
-How should that authority be exercised?
Just pondering...