The Grateful Christian

Essays, opinions, and works-in-progress by a conservative Lutheran pastor.

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Location: West Michigan, United States

In order of importance, I am a: Husband, father, pastor, hobby programmer, writer. Thoughts are but coins. Let me not trust instead
Of Thee, their thin-worn image of Thy head.

--C.S.Lewis, The Apologist's Evening Prayer

Thursday, September 02, 2010

On Headship and Submission, pt. 2

When Paul wrote to the Christians in Ephesus, he talked about submitting to one another in the fear of Christ. That leads us to the first modern difficulty. Most of us don’t understand what it means “to submit” to someone else. Unless we’ve had a job with a clear chain-of-command, we’ve never had to be under the authority of another. We Americans are an egalitarian lot, and we bristle at any situation where we don’t get a vote in making the decisions.

The first myth is that “submit” means “obey.” That simply isn’t true, and I will demonstrate that with two examples, which I am putting at the end of this post, so they don’t bog down my basic thesis. But first let’s be clear about one thing. The Christian’s ultimate authority in all things is God, and the only expression of God’s will that you can rely on 100% is the Bible. That is the Christian position. It’s not what this post is about, so please don’t flame me or challenge me to debate this, not here anyway.

Read more...God’s inerrant Word says that the first believers in Jesus were commanded not to continue promoting this troubling message that the Jewish religious authorities had executed the Jewish Messiah, but He was resurrected. They replied, “We must obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree” (Acts 5:29-30 ESV). God’s Word commands us to subject ourselves to government officials: Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment… one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience (Romans 13:1-2,5 ESV). Read the whole section, it’s worth your while! Anyway, the thing I’d like to point out here is that the “be subject” verb is exactly the same one that is used in Ephesians 5. In today’s world of gender role confusion, drenched in feminist rhetoric, you commonly hear that it’s only women who have to be subject. That’s just not true. I have to be subject to the rule of law, and so do you; but if the governing authority commands me to do something that goes contrary to the expressly revealed will of God, I have to respectfully refuse to obey. But I can disobey while remaining in a subordinate position. (See examples at the end.)

So in my work with a couple preparing to marry, when it comes time for us to read Ephesians 5 together, I tell them what this passage is about: mutual submission to each other under the authority of Christ.

When we read the part written to wives, I tell the bride-to-be something like this:
This doesn’t mean you act like a doormat and let him walk on you!
You don’t meekly accept his judgments on everything: “Oh I don’t care, honey, whatever you decide is fine with me, I don’t have an opinion.” That isn’t submission, that’s subtraction!: withdrawal from the relationship.
This doesn’t mean you have to go against your conscience.

What it does mean is this: In a situation where you’ve talked it through and can’t come to an agreement--where a compromise is impossible--you willingly grant him the right to cast the tie-breaking vote.

Compromise is always best. But sometimes no compromise is possible. In some situations, one will win, and one will lose. How do you decide? If you mean to stay together, you can’t just each go your separate ways. Most couples have one person with a stronger personality, more forceful, more decisive. That’s nature. It’s not a good idea to let nature take its course in human relationships, since we are fallen creatures. God, in effect, says, “I don’t care who is smarter, who is stronger, or which one of you can present a case more convincingly. Girl—if you two can’t agree, let the guy win.”

That brings me to the second myth. Submission, in the Bible view, is not about power. The power view is that submission is the weak yielding to the strong, having been forced into surrendering. When a strong person, for some unfathomable (to the world) reason, submits to a weaker person, that is a weak thing to do, and makes the strong weak. When the Bible says, “Subject yourself to…” it is clear that God is commanding us to offer our subjection freely, as a voluntary accommodation to another, not because we were forced into it. Paul wrote to Philemon, asking him—well, almost commanding him—to accept Philemon’s escaped slave, Onesimus, back as a forgiven fellow-Christian. to resume his service to Philemon with a clean slate. He says in verse 13 and 14 that he would have kept Onesimus with him, to help Paul during his imprisonment, but “I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own free will.” This is how God wants us to submit to Him, and to the authorities, and to each other: as a voluntary love offering, a grace freely offered. Those who cry out against this teaching about Biblical headship and submission are stuck in a worldly construct of winners and losers, weak and strong—and they haven’t yet learned some of the lessons that God has to teach on the subject of weakness and strength.

Next time: How the husband subjects himself to his wife.

-------------- Examples ---------------

Example #1 (military): a soldier is commanded by someone over him in the chain of command, to do something illegal or immoral. The conversation might go like this:
“These locals are out of control—look at that guy carrying that TV. We have to get their attention! Soldier, take your sidearm and shoot that looter!”
“Sir, I can’t do that, Sir!”
“Soldier, I gave you an order!”
“Yes Sir, copy that Sir, but no can do, Sir.”
“Soldier, you are being insubordinate! Don’t you know I can court-martial your ass?”
“Yes Sir, you definitely have that right, Sir; I look forward to the opportunity to defend my non-compliance in court, with all due respect, Sir!”
He is still subject to his commanding officer, even in his refusal to carry out an order, because he is still in the hierarchy, and will accept whatever consequences the hierarchy may give him as a result of his disobedience. In that regard, his commanding officer is wrong: this soldier is not guilty of insubordination. If he disobeyed and then went AWOL, that would be disobedience that is also insubordination.

Example #2 (legal): I, a pastor, get a subpoena to appear in a court of law to testify in a case where someone is accused of dealing in child pornography. The man had been seen coming to my office, and the prosecuting attorney hopes that I can add some evidence to help prosecute him. So I show up at court, because I am subject to the law. The prosecutor asks me, “Did the defendant make an appointment with you on April 10th to talk about his sexual addictions?”
“To answer that question would violate the sanctity of the confessional. I took an oath that I would never reveal what is said to me in my role as a pastor.”
“Did the defendant visit your office on April 10th?”
“Yes sir, he did.”
“So what did you talk about?”
“To answer that question would violate the sanctity of the confessional.”
The judge intervenes at this point and says, “Mr. Fremer—Reverend Fremer—I must insist that you answer the question.”
“Your Honor, with respect, I took an oath.”
“I don’t care what you did! If you do not answer the prosecutor’s question, I will find you in contempt of court!”
“Yes, sir, I guess you will. But if I answer that question, I must answer to a higher Court than yours.”
You get the picture. I will not tell what someone told me in my pastoral confessor-role. The authorities may have the right to punish me. I may wish, personally, to do whatever I can to help this creep go to jail. Because of my oath to God and my congregation, I am forbidden to do so. But while I am resisting this pressure to cave in to the intimidation, I must remain respectful. My problem isn’t with rule-of-law in general, just this particular situation.

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