I couldn’t help looking at this letter on Russel Moore’s blog and then skimming the comments. For those of you who don’t want to take the time to read it, the letter asks for advice from a Reformed Baptist man and a Pentecostal woman who are considering marriage. Moore says he’ll put up his thoughts later this week, but opened up the letter for commenters.
Now, before I critique the comments, I’ll give my initial thoughts. First, in the big idea realm, I see no reason why such a couple couldn’t marry. If marriage is an image of Christ and His church, then to claim that they couldn’t marry because of denominational differences is a betrayal of disbelief at the thought that Christ can love across such lines. However, this isn’t the sort of thing you should go into blindly. The temptation in such situations is to minimize the real differences the two of you have, and I promise that such a course will sow seeds of conflict whose harvest you will reap later.
That said, what I couldn’t help but notice was the commenters’ obsession with the complimentarian question. Almost all of them called attention to the fact that the wife (who was the Pentecostal) needed to submit to her husband (the Reformed Baptist), and should only marry him if she was comfortable with letting him choose the church. Now, there is an element of truth in this advice, but I want to push back a little.
The reigning error in complimentarian circles (and, should you be readying an assault, I am a complimentarian) is that the paradigm for discussion ends up being about power rather than about service. Scripture clearly teaches that the husband is the head of the wife, but this headship is meant to be one of self-sacrifice – of laying down his life and his desires in order to serve and protect her. He is to lead in service, both to God and to his spouse, exactly the way that Christ led in service to His church (including the beatings, the rejection, the loss of his independent ambitions and a blood-splattered cross.) When we take this fundamental truth out of the equation, we end up championing something other than the biblical teaching on marriage, instead defending what I in the past have referred to as “chauvimentarianism.”
In practice, this means that we might want to couple an admonition to the wife in Moore’s letter with one to the husband. He is responsible, in serving his wife, to promote sound teaching of God’s word, and this needs to factor into church choice. However, he is also responsible for finding a church where she can express and experience God in the ways that He has created her to, even if he as the husband doesn’t much like it. It might be worth telling the husband that he shouldn’t get married if he’s not willing to give up the churches he’s used to attending in order to serve his wife.
I don’t bring this up to be controversial, but rather honest. Complimentarianism is sort of like keeping a handgun under your bed. When used for its intended purpose, it can be a way for the husband to protect his wife and keep her safe. However, we know from statistics that too often its power ends up being wielded in domestic disputes, often with tragic results. I often feel the struggle of knowing that I have a certain measure of authority from God in my family and that this authority could easily be used to serve my own self-interest. But to do so would be (and is; it’s not like disobedience is just a theory for me) inexcusable. If a wife doesn’t submit to her husband, she’s just doing what the church does every day. If a husband uses his authority for something other than loving service to his wife, he is making a mockery of the work of Christ. And Jesus doesn’t take well to bullies who claim His authority for themselves.