Headship and Masculinity
It occurs to me that my voice in these matters of headship and submission may be impaired somewhat by not being married myself yet. To that, all I can say is that I have studied marriage a long time (years), I have seen many marriages and how they work, and my voice is that of an outsider. Sometimes the voice of the outsider (what I sometimes call the "incompetant critic") is invaluable in pointing out things that should have been obvious, but simply became routine.
I should also point out that I am most certainly not attempting to use this topic as a way of "showing off" in order to get attention from the females. I simply see a need for biblical teaching on this subject, and I'm going for it.
Is there such a thing as good government? How about good governance? The feminists would have you believe that if a man is "in charge" of a marriage, then almost by definition he rules badly. Sadly, the charge does stick in many cases. However, I deny that poor quality of male leadership is a necessary consequence of male leadership. There is such a thing as good male governance of a marriage; I have seen it. Moreover, I believe the Bible commands it. What Scriptures can we bring to bear on this issue? Again, see my previous post on submission to witness my assumptions; they are the same ones.
First of all, I think it necessary to define "covenant." Here is Webster's 1828 dictionary definition, which I think quite adequate.
COVENANT, n. [Fr. convenant, the participle of convenir, to agree, L. convenio, con and venio, to come; Norm. conevence, a covenant; It. convenzione, from L. conventio. Literally, a coming together; a meeting or agreement of minds.]
1. A mutual consent or agreement of two or more persons, to do or to forbear some act or thing; a contract; stipulation. A covenant is created by deed in writing, sealed and executed; or it may be implied in the contract. Encyc. Blackstone.
2. A writing containing the terms of agreement or contract between parties; or the clause of agreement in a deed containing the covenant.
3. In theology, the covenant of works, is that implied in the commands, prohibitions, and promises of God; the promise of God to man, that man's perfect obedience should entitle him to happiness. This do, and live; that do, and die.
The covenant of redemption, is the mutual agreement between the Father and Son, respecting the redemption of sinners by Christ.
The covenant of grace, is that by which God engages to bestow salvation on man, upon the condition that man shall believe in Christ and yield obedience to the terms of the gospel. Cruden. Encyc.
4. In church affairs, a solemn agreement between the members of a church, that they will walk together according to the precepts of the gospel, in brotherly affection.
Next, I must define "head" as I will use it in this post. Again, here is Webster:
HEAD, n. hed [Sax. heafod, hefed, heafd; D. hoofd; Dan. hoved; Sw. hufvud; G. haupt. This word is a participle of the Sax. heafan, hefan, to heave, pret. hof, hove; G. heben, hob, &c. Heafod, heaved, the elevated part, the top. Class Gb.]
3. A chief; a principal person; a leader; a commander; one who has the first rank or place, and to whom others are subordinate; as the head or an army; the head of a sect or party. Eph. v.
Next comes "headship". You guessed it, Webster.
HEADSHIP, n. hed'ship. Authority; chief place. Hales.
Finally, I will define the term "covenant head". I have no recourse to Webster this time, so I will do the best I can. Many covenants have some sort of authority structure built into them. This is certainly true of the three covenants Webster mentioned in his definition of "covenant". For such a covenant with a built-in authority structure, the one who wields that authority is the covenant head. I will often shorten this term to simply "head". In the context here, there will be no confusion with the earlier definition of "head", because the authority in question is in the context of a covenant. I hope this is all fairly clear to you. Examples: a husband is the covenant head of his wife. A father is the covenant head of his unmarried daughters. God the Father is the covenant head of the Son. Jesus Christ is the covenant head of the church.
There are several passages relevant to this discussion. The first is 1 Cor. 11:3, which reads thus in the ESV (as usual):
3 But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.
Also relevant is the Ephesians 5 passage which reads as follows:
23 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... 25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. 28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body.
30 "Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh." 32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. 33 However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, ...
You'll notice I omitted the sections pertaining to the wife's duties. I already dealt with that in my previous post. I'm talking to you guys in terms of what you're supposed to do. I'm only talking to the ladies in terms of what you're supposed to be looking for in a guy. Just as it is not the place of the husband to brow-beat his wife into submitting, just so is it not the place of the wife to see to it that her husband leads her. That would be her leading him! Many of you have, no doubt, seen the delightful movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Perhaps you recall the line Toula's mother delivers: "The man may be the head of the house, but the woman is the neck, and she can turn the head any way she wants." It's funny, but is it true? And if it is true, should it be true? I'd say that in many marriages, it probably is true. I would also just as readily say that it should not be true. This is not headship.
Now what do we learn from these passages? One thing is that, just as with submission, headship in no way implies superiority or inferiority in general: only in the sense of authority. Why is that? Because from the 1 Cor. 11:3 passage, we see that God the Father is the head of God the Son. Is there any superiority or inferiority there? I think not. As the Westminster Larger Catechism says:
Question 9: How many persons are there in the Godhead?
Answer: There be three persons in the Godhead, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one true, eternal God, the same in substance, equal in power and glory; although distinguished by their personal properties.
So evidently, there is no general superiority that can be implied from headship. Just like on board a ship, the captain is the "head", but he is not superior to his pilot, or first mate. There simply has to be one and only one person in charge, or chaos breaks loose. As Sproul wrote in his Ephesians commentary, "This passage [Eph. 5:22ff.] should put to rest once and for all the myth that marriages are to be fifty-fifty. I can't think of a worse scenario for a marriage than to have the authority in that relationship divided equally. When two people are together like that, then nobody has any authority. You are in a perpetual power-struggle where one is trying to get control of 51% of the stock. And that can be exceedingly destructive to a family."
A second thing we can learn from these passages is what Wilson wrote in Reforming Marriage: that Paul is using indicatives, not imperatives. Paul says that the husband is the head of the wife. Paul is most definitely not saying that the husband ought to be the head of the wife. Why is this important? Because it goes to the heart of what marriage is. The husband is the leader whether he likes it or not. "He cannot successfully refuse to lead." He may abdicate his role, in which case he leads by his absence. But he leads. Period. Again, as Wilson would say, arguing with this is like jumping off a cliff in order to argue with gravity. Marshall the arguments however you like, you will come to a messy refutation in the end. And as Sinclair Ferguson said in my previous post, the way worldly marriages end these days gives the lie to the prevailing notions about authority in the home. The feminist ideas simply don't work, because they misunderstand what exactly marriage is.
Now that I have established that the husband is the leader of the home, at least given my assumptions, I ask you this question: how is it best to do this leading? Again, these passages do not leave us in some great quandery here, but instead give us some rather pointed guidance.
I claim that the most important concept these passage give is that leadership equals service. Let me say that again: leadership equals service. That means a lot of things. It means no lording it over those under you; it means no selfish commands for those under you to serve you; it means, essentially, being the slave of the people under you. A husband is therefore the slave of his wife. Note to wives: wouldn't it make it easier for you to submit if your husband was your slave? If that doesn't bring a smile to your face, there's something wrong. Now I don't mean that you should nag him about leading or about serving. No. He's got his job, which is to love and serve you, and you've got your job, which is to submit to him. The best way to encourage him to do his job is quietly to do yours. Husbands, the same goes for you. Your wife will find it easier to submit to you if you just quietly serve her the way the Bible commands.
Being the servant of your wife also means not micro-managing her. This is probably going to look different for every couple. There's no reason to marry someone, men, if she doesn't have some significant competances, especially in areas in which you are weak. So let her do her thing in those areas! Yes, she is ultimately accountable to you in everything, but it is generally recognized that an over-controlling boss spells misery for those under him. Don't do it! You'll have to work out what that means with your wife, I'm sure. Now, wives, what if your husband does micro-manage? Well, surely you can complain about it, once or twice. But more than that becomes nagging, which I can definitely assure you is extremely distasteful to just about every male on the planet. So my recommendation is to talk with him about it once, and then let it go. If he continues, he continues. Your command to be submissive to him is not qualified by "only if he doesn't micro-manage you". If he continues to micro-manage, he's an idiot, but you're not accountable for his faults, and you are not his conscience.
So leadership is service, and it is not micro-management. Is it anything else? Yes, it is sacrificial. Christ sacrificed his very life for the church, as the Ephesians passage points out. You are to do the same. Jesus Christ lived for the church, and He died for the church. Therefore, husbands are to live for their wives, and die for their wives. What does that mean? A daily sacrifice of your wishes for hers. Doing things for her that you know she likes, especially if you don't like doing them. An example showing God's grace: I absolutely hate opening doors for ladies, even though I was brought up to do it. It's a pain, especially these days when ladies don't expect it. You have to contrive to be on the hinge-side as you walk up to the door so that you don't have to shove the lady aside in order to open the door for her. (Yes, that was tongue-in-cheek.) It's a waste of time from many viewpoints. It's inefficient. So why do I do it? Because the ladies can't? Ok, I'm on the floor laughing at that one. Of course they can physically open the door for themselves. The point is showing honor to them. And I could never do this were it not for God's grace working in me to do it, so no kudos to me. Finally, it means dying for her if necessary. As Aragorn said to Frodo in The Fellowship of the Ring, "If by my life or death I can protect you, I will."
Headship means loving your wife. Now loving your wife doesn't go like this: "Let me see: I like it when people do ____ to me, therefore, that's what I'm going to do for my wife." That may be a start, but your wife may not like ____. You have to love her the way she needs to be loved. That has more than one side to it. On the one hand, if she likes something, and you know it's not sinful, then go ahead with it. On the other hand, there may be things she doesn't like, but you know will drive her closer to Christ. Go ahead with those, too, as wisdom dictates. In any case, loving your wife the way the Bible commands means taking trouble for her, not just the avoidance of giving her trouble. You must put yourself out of your way to be good to her.
This is biblical masculinity. It occurs to me that there are certain kinds of men out there who talk a good deal about "being a man," "being masculine," etc, but end up spending more time talking about it than doing it. That doesn't count, though I suppose talking about it some could be beneficial. I claim it's not necessary, though. To tell the truth, my Dad, never even once in my memory, talked about what it meant to be a man. He just lived it, and I got the benefit of a great example. My Mom talked about it more, but it was things like, "Don't be a wimp." Still, I can't point to even one occasion when she did that, I just remember once or twice she did. My parents didn't harp on it: they lived it.
The Promise-Keepers, while certainly having its good points, is a movement that succumbs, I think, to this charge. And even then, I think their notion of masculinity is a bit messed up. For a more complete critique of that movement, see Douglas Wilson and David Hagopian's book Beyond Promises, which unfortunately appears to be out of print.
The Bible doesn't talk about "masculinity" versus "femininity" nearly as much as it talks about being right with God. Evidently, that's more important. More important than being a good husband is being right with God, which is something we can't do. Christ has to do it for us. And then, only after that is done, can we focus on the lesser good (but still a great good) of being a good husband.
All this reminds me: my previous post on submission was rather inadequate in at least one striking way: grace. Where does grace fit in? Well, the central place, I think, where grace fits in is that submission is impossible without it. The natural man or woman is not going to submit to anyone, because of pride, that root sin that causes all others. We need God's grace to overcome pride, the same as any other sin. When we thus see who we really are, submission becomes, if not easy, at least easier. Similarly, headship as properly outlined in Ephesians, is impossible without grace. Why? Becase headship is also humbling: you have to serve someone else, you have to love that person the way they need to be loved. That involves a great deal of selflessness that is impossible without grace.
I love Shakespeare's 116th Sonnet, probably familiar to many of you. Here it is:
Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments; love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.
O, no, it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wand'ring bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.
Love alters not when it alteration finds. This is God's love for us, and it is the love we are to have for one another. It is the love a husband is commanded to have for his wife. It is a choice to do certain actions for the good of another, not a feeling that just happens to us.
There is so much more to be said on this topic, but I shall rest for now.