Biblical Marriage is Like a Handgun

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.


Filed under Unsolicited Advice

3 responses to “Biblical Marriage is Like a Handgun

  1. Wade Davis

    I haven’t taken the time yet to read the rest of the posts on your blog but I like how you reiterated the above mentioned scenario and I also like the look and feel of your blog; it looks to be very”inviting”.

    I agree with most of what you said, mostly about how you summed up the roles in marriage, etc., particularly the role of the husband. The husband is in no way to be a bully and abuse the authority that he has been given in marriage. As roles are carried out, God comes first, then the wife and children and the husband being first in reality comes last in the actual execution of this Biblical teaching.

    I’m not so sure, however, if I can really agree with the following;

    “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 agree that the husband should accommodate his wife as much as possible and I also agree that it might be best if the gentleman refrained from marrying if he’s not comfortable with making certain changes that he would have to make in order to accommodate his wife. The statement you made, however, sounds as if the husband is being mean because he can’t fully endorse his wife’s participation in something that he doesn’t believe in. If a man really loves his wife then he wants what is best for her and I don’t possibly see how a loving husband can smile and fully support his wife in a belief that he doesn’t believe in. We’re not talking about a juvenile situation where you say I want my way and I’m going to get it because I’m the man, arg, arg, arg. We’re talking about a situation where you are making judgments to the best of your ability and out of the love you have for your wife, you want to protect her, etc. If Calvin really believes what he says he believes then he should want to convince his wife to believe in a similar view of God’s sovereignty the way he understands it. It’s not a matter of saying one denomination is better than the other but it is about wanting to protect your wife to the best of your ability and how can you do that if you have to leave the door open for a whole host of teachings, doctrines and practices that you believe to be false? As far as saying that someone would need to provide an environment for his wife to worship in according to the way God made her, how do we not know that God placed you in her life so that she would fall away from the practices that she’s in now? I believe it is dangerous to say that a religious practice that someone has now is because God “made” them that way. God works in mysterious ways and if He made a person to practice his or her faith in a charismatic way then who’s to say that God won’t make a person fall away from such practices and embrace a different set of practices. I, for example, was raised Armenian and I did not wake up one day and say, hmmm I think I’m going to renounce Armenianism today. My current station rests in a reformed approach and I have to say God has brought me here because it was not long ago I did not even have a clue as to what reformed theology is, etc.

    I’m not trying to give you a hard way and I hope it doesn’t appear to be that way and perhaps I misunderstood what you meant about the reference you made about “the way God made her”, etc., if so, then I apologize.

    I hope this finds you doing well.

    May it all be for His glory,

  2. etonjes

    Thanks for the comment! To clarify a bit, I think there’s a distinction that has to be made between theological conviction, theological permission and practical preference. Convictions are the things that the husband is convinced of, and which he must lead his wife in so that he can be working for her good. Theological permission is an area where the husband isn’t clearly convinced, and so he lets his wife work out her own convictions. Practical preference is just that – manifestations of personality and individuality which are a matter of preference rather than theological necessity.
    In the letter above, I think there’s a potential for all three of these categories to be seen.
    The doctrines of grace are clearly Calvin’s theological conviction (one which I applaud), and so that isn’t an area for compromise. Loving and tender decision, yes, but not compromise. He is morally obligated to lead in this area, since it’s for his wife’s good.
    The tongues-speaking thing is a little harder to tell. If it’s a theological conviction, then the above probably still applies. However, if the husband’s views on the issue aren’t clear, it’s probably better for him to find a church where the wife could still practice some sort of tongues-speaking while he did not need to. I personally might agree or disagree with that decision, but it’s generally unwise for a husband to lead on something that he isn’t firmly convinced is true.
    That said, what I had in mind in your quote is the less-discussed but still important issue of practical preference. Leaving aside the theological issues the couple has mentioned, they seem inclined toward very different approaches to the nitty-gritty of church life and worship. Speaking as someone who has first-hand experience with Pentecostalism, it’s often helpful to realize that a desire to be expressive or emotionally involved in worship does not necessitate being charismatic. If the wife finds such a culture of Sabbath worship helpful to her, then the husband should probably choose a church which helps her in these ways, even if that’s not what she’s used to. I realize I could have been clearer about that in the quote above, since it’s not as explicitly addressed in the letter.
    Thus, the “way God made her” is a manifestation of her personality, history and culture which manifests as she comes into the body to worship. I get the distinct impression that this cultural issue is probably almost as large for the couple as the theological one, it’s just harder to pin down. My concern is that, since we often don’t pay attention to this distinction, husbands end up asserting their authority across the board.
    If I could use a personal example to sum it up: I have a set of theological convictions which are the reason my wife and I are in the PCA (thankfully she happens to share most of them, but they’re issues I could not compromise). However, there are still an enormous variety of expressions of worship and church life within the PCA, and when it comes down to the question of which church in particular we attend, I have made the focus of that decision what is good for Elizabeth rather than the place I feel most comfortable. I think this balances servant-leadership in a way which allows biblical faithfulness but keeps us as men from confusing our own personal preferences with a biblical mandate.
    Hope that helps; love talking with you brother!

  3. Wade

    Hi Eric,

    What a wonderful clarification. Thank you for taking the time to address my post. I completely agree with your response. I’m not married but if I were I do not feel that I could take firm stands on Biblical issues that I wasn’t that sure about myself. I also completely agree that a wife should be given room to express her faith in respect to her personality, etc.

    This whole thing with this scenario seems to get rather complicated rather quickly, doesn’t it?

    I for one had a difficult time answering the question on Dr. Moore’s blog but wanted to force myself to search for an answer as an exercise. Being a single person, I have to address issues like this for myself so it is really helpful to have brethren that can help provide me with insight.

    Thank you for your help.

    God bless,

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