Saturday, 31 August 2013

Love, submission and cultural blindness

I recently commented that I have not written a lot on the somewhat contentious issue of the relationship between husbands and wives. After a few recent comments on a recent post I thought I might expand on this topic.

There are, I think, several influences to our approach here such as: previous experience, our perception of fairness, our egalitarian Western culture, our dislike of submission, our concepts of freedom, our narcissism. With the emphasis on the word "our" in the previous list. But times and fads change therefore in any era parts of the Bible will align with cultural norms—the prohibition of murder currently—and other truths of the Bible will not—the various idolatries of this age. If egalitarianism is a biblical truth then we need to hold on to it while secularism spirals the West to its death; if complimentarianism is the correct interpretation then the church needs to resist secular definitions of liberty.

These ideas and influences that affect our approach to biblical commands need to be faced, especially when we find them harder to see. It is much easier to see the problems with arranged marriages in our culture which marries for love; but there are problems with the later which we, immersed in "till love do us part," struggle to identify. Paul's claim that there is no male or female (Gal 3) in a hierarchical society, or there is no Jew or Greek in a tribal or nationalist society—especially if you are the chosen race!—is a clear challenge. Incredibly shocking! This is not quite so radical in the 21st century after 2000 years of Christian influence. But tell slaves to submit to their masters... We reply no they should not, and then talk continuously about emancipation.

One of my concerns is the fallacy of abuse. The abuse of a principle does not invalidate the use of it. In this situation it would apply to leadership or dominion. A bad boss does not mean that businesses should not have them. Destruction of the environment does not mean that humans do not have dominion over the world. The abuse of wife by her husband does not disprove male headship (if it exists). The mistreatment of a child by his mother does not mean motherhood should be banned. The specific abuse in all these situations should be addressed. Consistent misuse of a situation may lead us to question whether the situation is indeed valid, and structural modifications may be needed to discourage abuse (taking fully into account the law of unintended consequences). But of itself, abuse speaks more of a fallen world than incorrect principles.

A second problem is, as my pastor puts it, reading other people's mail. One of the valid complaints by egalitarians is people who try to enforce what others are commanded to do. In Ephesians 5 Paul commands wives to submit to their own husbands. He is not saying that husbands are to force wives to submit to them. In as much as a wife is not submitting to her husband she is disobedient, yet for him to try and force obedience is not what the command is, and forced obedience is hardly submission. Further, he is disobeying his command which is to love his wife and nourish her and cherish her.

Likewise, a husband who does not love and cherish his wife is disobedient, yet if she tries to manipulate him to do so is not obedience to the command to love. The command is not to her and her actions may in fact make it more difficult for him to obey the command to love. Further, she is disobeying her command to submit to her husband.

The egalitarian complaint that husbands are not to enforce submission (and the unstated complaint that wives are not to enforce loving and cherishing) is valid. This should be acknowledged by all complimentarians.

Nevertheless, we are given our commands and we are to obey them irrespective of whether our spouse is being obedient to God in the matter. Husbands are to love, nourish and cherish their wives even if she never submits to him; likewise wives are to submit to their husbands and this command is not contingent on her husband's love.

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