Ad Hominem

Posted on March 10, 2013
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I realize for some it will seem that I am trying to cover up the inherent inequality I have advocated with hand-waving about “beauty” and Jesus. I am sensible to the fact that comparison of husbands to masters and wives to servants requires at least one kind of inequality between the married couple.  This has bothered me for years. Why should a human be unequal to another human due to a happenstance of birth — in this case, gender?

Eventually I realized that humans are always being born unequally. Leaving aside gender entirely, some are born healthy and some are born sick. Some are born dead, for that matter. Some are born to wealthy parents and some to poor. Some are born into society full of opportunity and some are born into society with no opportunity to be found. It is a very deep part of the American mythos that all humans are born equal and have equal opportunity to succeed, but this is simply not true. You cannot make the stillborn equal to the healthy and wealthy.

Infant health can be statistically related to economic wealth. Prosperous societies tend to have more healthy babies. But the trend is not a rule. Ultimately God gives life and health. The unwanted girl in China was put there just as much as the cherished daughter was given to the affluent couple in the United States. If inherent inequality is a disgrace, God is already disgraced; nobody through their free will can choose their parents.

I do only speak of certain kinds of inequality. If we speak of the inherent worth of a human, the unwanted girl in China is worth exactly what any other boy or girl on the planet is worth. If we speak of the ultimate state of humanity, we know that there will be no gender-based differences in role in the new creation. We know that the new creation will fully show the presence of God in all of his light, love, justice, and grace.

But we also know that this creation often shows the nature of God indirectly. Our demand that everyone have the exact same material circumstances for fairness is simply not in line with the manner of God’s revealing himself and his son. Adam and Eve ate the same fruit but received different penalties. Woman, as the bearer of the promised Seed, has a different role all throughout scriptural typology, a library of images constituted by the entire creation. Nothing was created apart from Christ and the purpose of anything cannot be understood apart from Christ.

It is not a person’s circumstances which determine his moral or spiritual worth but his attitude. Today we almost always mean emotions when we speak of ‘attitude,’ but the word has its roots in the position or orientation of a thing. Merriam-Webster online says that attitude can refer to “the position of an aircraft or spacecraft determined by the relationship between its axes and a reference datum (as the horizon or a particular star).” It is our attitude relative to Christ that determines our worth. We are either oriented to him and by him, pointing toward him, revealing his nature; or we are oriented away from him and against him. This attitude is not constrained by our circumstances (or by our emotions). Just as there are an infinite number of lines that can intersect a given point, so also we can point to Christ from countless different places. Beginning from a certain place does not make us more or less Christ-like. It is our attitude that shows our true service.

I have grown up mistrustful of authority in principle, and extremely unwilling to admit that anyone has any right of authority over me. It was a crusade of mine, positively a holy war, to make sure I never submitted to my oldest brother unless I thought I should. Oddly enough I am quite obsequious around some authorities. I am not likely to talk back to police officers or to deliberately snub authorities I see as several levels “above” me. But in the main I am not fond of authority on principle, and I will always try to convince myself that I am respecting someone’s merits when I listen to them, not their mere authority.

I particularly don’t like authority in Christianity–neither in theory nor in practice. For some years I pondered off an on how to explain away every reference to authority in the New Testament. Authority to me was a synonym for Satanic usurpation of the just order of things in order to establish oppressive power over others.

Because I saw having authority as synonymous with pursuing evil designs, I also thought of myself as abstaining from the exercise of authority myself. I wanted to avoid any position of authority in the workplace because such authority was an institution of man designed to coerce and exploit others.

And certainly workplace authority has been used to coerce and exploit others. Notwithstanding abuses that have taken place and do take place, however, it turns out that a great deal of contemporary teaching on authority emphasizes that coercion is the least effective form of authority and really a failure of authority. The boss who says “do it because I’m the boss” has the least useful and effective authority. The most effective authority is trust; people comply to their best ability and understanding (fulfilling not just the “letter” of the request but also the “spirit”) when they trust that doing so will result in the best outcome. I can aspire to be trustworthy without a qualm.

As I have over the years been taught more about influence without authority, or soft authority, or inspirational leadership, or whatever you want to call it, I’ve realized that although I have never managed anyone officially, I have exercised authority. People have done as I asked and people have trusted my decisions. Talk about becoming what you hate!

Equally confounding for me, I have realized that some people really just want authoritative direction. I don’t mean that universally, as though some people want to be told every little thing to do or to live in abject slavery. But although I very much want to understand why something is a good idea before I do it, some other people only want to know what they are “supposed” to do so that they can go and do it. There are limits to this willingness; people are not looking for medical advice from their car mechanic. But in specific contexts, such as the work environment, there are people for whom evaluating the various options is a miserable process and who much prefer to follow an authority.

For me, willingness to follow an authority has always been tantamount to immorality; you should think and decide for yourself, not accept some person’s word for what is good! But this simplifies life into a constant parade of moral decisions. A moral question might arise over any decision, and in a moral quandary you cannot pass moral responsibility off to another. Your decision is always your own. But a person unaware of any moral question is not obliged to invent one so that he can then choose the “right” course of action. Outside of those moral choices, there is no harm or shame in leaning on the expertise of another.

Oftentimes decisions which seem benign at the moment can lead into moral quandaries down the road. This is another aspect of authority that I was always uncomfortable with. If you give someone else direction or advice and they follow it, they could wind up in an unpleasant situation or one which seems to force an impossible choice on them down the road. If you say to someone, “Sure, hire So-and-So, he’s a great guy,” but for some reason he turns out to be  a poor fit for the job, the manager will now have to decide between extra expense in training and possibly ongoing accommodation or the odious step of revoking someone’s livelihood. And you will have contributed to this impasse!

But life is full of such consequences, full to the brim beyond any possibility of avoiding them all. One can only avoid the most noticeable and try to ignore the rest. But this is no way to live, and no way we are called to live. Rather than avoiding having any kind of “authority” (really, responsibility) over anyone else, we are called to look out for the welfare of all our brothers and sisters. This does not mean imperiously commanding them to do just as we say, but it does mean that when they fall into hard times we come along side them, not step back and say “Whew!  Glad I have no part in THAT mess!”

A person rightly exercising authority often takes responsibility for more than he can control. Rather than saying “That wasn’t my decision so that’s not my problem,” the good leader understands that many things will happen outside his control but that his responsibility is always to make the best of things as they are, not point fingers for how they got that way.

In your life you have probably met some leaders better than others. The better leaders probably took more responsibility for things outside their control (not power-grabs to control things belonging to them, but a willingness to fix problems dumped in their laps) and probably demonstrated a concern for the well-being of those under their authority in their use of their authority. Beyond this there are often differences in style; some people leaders prefer a lot of discussion and dialogue, others just cut to the chase and move on. But loving care and intercession are hallmarks of a good leader, and you will find them in his actions whatever his style.

None of this personal commentary necessarily means that husbands ought to have authority over wives. I get that first from the scriptures, as I have done, and not from my personal observations and conclusions. But I will say that the marriages that have appeared to me to “work” always seem to have an aspect of the husband’s authority in them – even in those marriages where both spouses would insist that they are equal partners. There is not one simple way in which a husband’s authority is expressed. It is not as though there is a rule that he must balance the checkbook or he must always drive the car or this or that nonsense. Any one thing you might decide is an exercise of “authority” might be delegated. Wise leaders always delegate tasks to their most capable crew. But however it appears, in healthy marriages I always see respect from the wife for the decision of her husband.

Contrarily, when it is clear that a wife does not respect her husband, that marriage is always clearly unhealthy. Several marriages I know as well as I know any marriage aside from my parent’s have exhibited this disrespect, even while the wives in question might insist that they, as good Christian wives, respect their husbands exactly as they ought. Mere obedience is not really the same thing as submission. You can poison someone’s food and you can poison your own obedience. It is not pleasant to watch.

There is a corollary with husbands to wives for which I cannot think of just the right word. You might call it consideration. You might even call it respect, but there is some subtle difference in the husband’s regard for the wife versus the wife’s regard for the husband. Perhaps you could call it affection; a wife must never lose the affection of her husband and a husband must never lose the respect of his wife. Of course they do, both of them, fail; we are as ever in need of grace. But even in cases where at first I would have said that a wife had the leading role in a healthy marriage, in time I have come to see it as only the more active role; more outspoken, perhaps. And authority runs deeper than merely having the last word.

I do not justify my conclusions with such observations, for my observations are few indeed and flawed. But I must confess that what I can see with my eyes matches what I read in the Bible, even if on principle I do not like what I read.

Particularly distasteful to me is the idea that a man can have the kind of authority over his wife that an unjust master has over his servant. But I have never said the Bible encourages this. No, a master should be kind and merciful, mindful of his own master; and a husband should be ever gracious. But to say that a husband doesn’t have the power to be an unjust master seems only wishful thinking. Domestic abuse is far and away a crime of men. Even in a society where women are relatively free to get away (relative to many ancient and contemporary societies) women still very often remain under the power of cruel men. I am not saying that abuse is right or justified or permissible, but pretending that men do not have power over women seems about as useful and worthwhile as pretending that we won’t all die. Far better to say that the power men have over women demands of men their extra concern and responsibility not to misuse that power. Given that it is so, consider well how you will live.

One last note. I have neglected to say much in my formal writing about the responsibilities men have to be Christ-like in their love for their wives. I have alluded to it throughout, I think, but not addressed it much head-on. This is a cultural accident. I think we see ourselves as Christians in America who all follow the Golden Rule and who love one another. All Americans have Christ-like love for their neighbor! Obviously this is absurd, but given that we think of ourselves this way it is stating nothing out of the ordinary to say that we should love like Christ.

I have never been happy to hear complementarians (who usually assign a priestly role to the husband as well as kingly) talk about how the husband’s role is harder than the wife’s, so it is all fair in the end. Nominally, yes, it is hard to be like Christ. It is impossible to fully be like Christ, in fact. But husbands and wives are both called to be like Christ. Christ in his submission came as a servant of all, not as the conquering king of all. Yes, he still exercised authority over his disciples, the church, but with respect to authority he showed us how to live under godless authority. And that is the example our wives will need! We are not going to succeed in being mini-Jesus so our wives will have to live with us as men who sin!

I have heard men talking who don’t care for their wives as they should. They complain about their wives’ needs and wants and do whatever they can get away with. They seem to think that their wives should be privileged to have them around and that if their wives want to leave, good riddance. This pretty nearly demonstrates the opposite attitude husbands ought to have toward their wives. For both the husband and the wife, the marriage relationship is an ongoing struggle to put the priority of self below the best interest of the other.

But, although I do not think the husband’s responsibility is easy, it is really the responsibility over the wife that I have the most trouble accepting. To me, unmarried that I am, selflessly saying “as you wish” to my wife’s every whim sounds only romantic; giving up on some personal ambition to better care for her, only chivalrous. “Do whatever you want, just be happy” is the simplest and easiest thing I can think of to say.

This extremely unhealthy, however. This is neglect disguised and benevolence. As with a sports team, project team, working group, military unit, or any other organization under authority, a marriage needs to operate with a single purpose. This purpose does not come wholly from one person. It is not merely the extension of the ego of the leader. But whoever is in charge does have the responsibility to draw the diverging goals of the member together into a unified purpose. “Do whatever you want” may sound permissive but it is actually dismissive.

“Make your wife happy” is a command that sounds to me most pleasant to obey. I may live to find out differently, but the more superficial aspects of loving your wife and caring for her are all easy for me to assent to now. The harder thing to think is that it may sometimes be my responsibility to make my wife unhappy – not capriciously, for my own amusement, but from a sincere belief and decision on what would be best for her and for both of us as servants of the living God. It is much easier for me to think, “We’ll do what you want, and if it turns out badly – fine! I’ll manage and it will be your fault. You’ll have nobody to blame but yourself.” Far preferable to “I made the wrong decision. I’m sorry.”

So yes, I see an inequality of authority between a husband and a wife. I have thought it ought to be different and read or listened to arguments insisting that there is equality between the spouses. I have wished for the arguments to be more convincing. But the more I looked into my own disquiet the broader the problem became, until instead of inequality between husband and wife I was staring at the inequality between God and man. I am not saying the two inequalities are the same; they are extremely different in magnitude and scope. But you cannot “fix” the inequality between man and woman without fixing a million other things, one detail at a time, until eventually you have redesigned all of creation. Once you are done renovating creation, what separates you from God?

There are many unpleasant things about being a creature — many kinds of powerlessness, many kinds of suffering, and finally death. We will not find our happiness by complaining about these, or trying to abolish them, wishing them away or pretending they don’t exist. We find joy and freedom in these things which we would not esteem when we see Christ in them. The suffering of this present creation is truly inseparable from the grace of Christ extended to sinners. So also the differences in gender, joined in marriage, afford us opportunity to learn of the grace, mercy, love, and humility of Christ.

 

 

Christ and the Church (Part II)

Posted on March 10, 2013
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I interrupted my thoughts on the marriage relationship for an extended digression on authority because it seemed impossible to me to finish the thought without being seriously misunderstood. Expectations different from contemporary standards color the New Testament perspective  on authority and freedom in general. In contemporary discourse we tend to conflate a whole bunch of issues into anything touching on women in the Bible. Through this compression we drive a polarization of views between either keeping women chained in the kitchen dressed in burqas and not speaking unless spoken to, or just “normal” American middle-class mores of his and hers: two cars, two careers, two nominally interchangeable adults with accidentally different physiology. People live all up and down this spectrum, of course, but usually by unspoken agreement; those moderating positions are not arrived at through discussion or argument. If a discussion arises any amount of disagreement usually turns to accusations of extremism toward one end or the other.

My understanding of the authority of a husband is in some ways extreme. I do see a husbands authority as roughly that of a king over a household. The close proximity of instructions to masters and instructions to husbands in the epistles is not coincidence. For the authors of the New Testament there are similarities between the relationship of master to servant and husband to wife. But many others who advance such a view implicitly or even explicitly insist that kingship conveys righteousness. They insist that God speaks through this mini-king, ignoring the plenteous examples of sinful kings throughout the Bible; or they whimsically decide that this mini-king only should be obeyed if he is acceptably righteous (again, ignoring a multitude of contrary evidence). Although we are never expected under Biblical teaching to obey a command to directly participate in immorality, our usual obedience is not even a tacit indication of the moral quality of the authority we obey. In observing that New Testament authors expect wives to be under the authority of their husbands, I am drawing no conclusions about the moral, spiritual, or ethical superiority of men.

Let me reiterate that I am speaking now only of husbands and wives, not women in general. Whether a woman should ever have a commanding position over a man is a different subject. Clearly women can and do; Cleopatra predates the Gospels. There are a few examples of women in authority within the Bible as well. Examining those cases is beyond the present subject. Also, I am not addressing men and women within the church generally; that too requires consideration of some specific points that I am not now considering. For now I am considering only the relationship between husband and wife.

There are three passages that link the submission of a wife and the submission of a servant, two from Paul and one from Peter. I will quote from them at length, since it is sometimes said that the instructions for wives are taken out of context. Note that in all three of these passages, there is a comment either before or after the instruction to wives on the conduct of believers toward one another generally. In Colossians it is “Put on […] compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.” In Ephesians it is “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” In 1 Peter it is “all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.” But also note that each of these passages deals not jut with husbands and wives, but also with masters and servants. Two of them also deal with parents and children. Therefore, the context that applies to and modifies the instructions to wives also applies to and modifies these relationships as well.

With that in mind, this is what Paul says to the wives in Colossae, in context:

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them. Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged. Bondservants, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality. Masters, treat your bondservants justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven. (Colossians 3:12-4:1 ESV)

Note that all believers are “called in one body.” This principle, however, does not exclude some serving others in a one-directional way, as bondservants are to “obey in everything,” a command not given to masters. The masters and servants are both part of the “one body” and both under the command of humility and meekness, but there is still a servant-master relationship. Note that the servants are to consider their service “as for the Lord” because they are “serving the Lord Christ.”  This does not mean that the masters have a relationship with Jesus which the servants do not have. It does not mean that the masters are more godly, wise, or righteous. It means only that our work serving one another, whether serving masters or “the least of these,” can be dedicated to Christ.

Essentially the same remarks apply to Paul’s words to the Ephesians:

Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 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. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 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. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free. Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him. (Ephesians 5:15-6:9 ESV)

Some commentators start the explanation of the instruction to wives with the verse about “submitting to one another.” In the ESV translation it is very hard to get that phrase to go with the instructions to wives, as it fits and flows with the preceding thought. That is not to say that “submitting to one another” is totally unrelated to what comes after, but it is easier and a more natural grouping (again, in the ESV translation; I don’t know Greek) to take the following verses as context for the instruction to wives. When bondservants are to “obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ,” this sounds very similar to and naturally pairs with “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.” The point again is not that a husband somehow “represents” Christ to a wife, but that a wife may dedicate her service to her husband to God, the same way a servant may consider his service to be not merely for a man. Distorting the significance of  “as to the Lord” leads to an equal distortion of “as Christ loved the church.” No man can “wash” his wife so that she is “without spot or wrinkle or any such thing […], holy and without blemish.” But a man can understand that caring for his wife does not make him “weak” or “whipped”, any more than Christ’s love for that man makes Christ weak. In all these cases the point is not to exalt the person in a position of power, but to exalt service as a sacrifice pleasing to God.

Paul is clear enough in comparing a wife’s service to her husband with a servant’s service to his master, but Peter is even more explicit. He writes:

Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.

Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct. Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.

Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.

Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. (1 Peter 2:13-38 ESV)

Summarized for our purpose, Peter’s instruction is to “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution […], not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. […]  For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. […] Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands.” Peter does not expect “more” submission or service from a wife than he expects from a servant. True, it is always possible for a woman to be one rung lower on the ladder than a man of equal station who is her husband. But position on the ladder is not something esteemed by Peter or Paul. It is never said “woe to you if you have many governors and institutions of man,” or “it is shameful for you to have more layers of human institutions bossing you around than your neighbor does.” Service offered to God is service to God, regardless of what godless men make of it.

It is in this connection that Peter admonishes us to “live as people who are free.” He does not mean that we should be subject to no authority, for he is at the same time telling us to submit to every authority. When modern commentators object that no Christian could be expected to submit to another Christian because “for freedom Christ has set us free” (Galatians 5:1 ESV), they misunderstand the meaning of freedom. For Paul and for Peter, freedom is not the lack of an earthly master who can boss you around. Freedom is the assurance that your life does not depend upon the performance of temporal things (whether obeying a master of keeping the Mosaic law). It is “through fear of death” that we are “subject to lifelong slavery” (Hebrews 2:15 ESV), and it is from this that we are set free (Romans 8:2, John 5:24). Even if we are “subject” to “unjust” masters in this life, still we are free because of our assurance of everlasting life in Christ. This is true whether it is a master or a husband who does not “obey the word.”

All three of these passages show clear parallelism between instructions to wives and instructions to servants. In this third passage, Peter’s opening remark on service in general, “for this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people,” complements his latter comment to wives specifically: “be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives.” For Peter it is explicitly possible that a master or husband may not seem to deserve honor or respect. The suggestion some people offer, that slavery in Biblical times was “different,” glosses over the three slave rebellions in Roman history. The third happened about as many years before the New Testament was written as the Civil War was before now. None of the three ended in emancipation. The rebellious slaves were killed. By the third revolt the penalty had to be obvious, but they revolted anyway. The cause was probably more severe than a missed Cost of Living Adjustment. Masters could be “unjust” in a way that caused “suffering” like that of Christ. Still, Peter tells servants (and wives) to submit.

It is appropriate here to point out what submission of wives to husbands, or servants to masters, does not mean:

The New Testament writers did not abolish, nor attempt to abolish, slavery. Neither did they attempt to abolish childhood or parenthood. Neither did they attempt to abolish government. These are all regarded as persistent institutions of man, and of the present creation generally. (Slavery, as I have pointed out elsewhere, is not clearly separated in the Bible from servanthood or employment generally.) In the same way, the husband and wife relationship is expected by the authors of the New Testament to continue with the husband generally having authority over the wife, and wives are enjoined to cooperate in making it so. Although some people consider Jesus to be abolishing authority of any kind for Christians when he washes his disciples’ feet, a reading of any of the gospels will only show the apostles doing the bidding of Jesus, never Jesus doing the bidding of the apostles. Jesus does show a far more gentle and patient authority with mankind in general than any other man will ever demonstrate, but his patience and humility is not an abdication of his authority. Jesus expects to be obeyed as well as to be loved.

This relationship of power and love illustrates the relationship of Jesus to his people: positively, as  an illustration, when the husband loves his wife in preference to himself; but also, negatively, demonstrating the unworthiness of anyone else to take Christ’s place when the husband fails to be Christ-like. And it is not as though only some husbands fail to be Christ-like; all do, and we notice some more than others. The husband who is not Christ-like is to be compared to the Adulterous Woman in scripture, who represents the people of God who are not faithful to him. You see the Adulterous Woman a lot in scripture because in this world the people of God are never fully faithful to him. Only when Christ returns is the Perfect Bride revealed; only when Christ returns is the Perfect Groom revealed. He is also the perfect Bread of Life, the perfect Water of Life, the perfect Light; all these things speak of Christ and illustrate his nature even when they are not perfect, even if only by contrast. Thus marriage always speaks of Christ, regardless of the faith of the couple; and in faith the picture should only become more vibrant and beautiful.

 

Try again

Posted on March 3, 2013
Filed Under Church Signs | 1 Comment

I visited another church this morning, after a long sabbatical, and left feeling grumpy and discontent all the way around. What do people in a church have in common that people at a sporting event don’t? Just that the other team never shows up. Our team is the right one; we listen to a pep talk, watch a performance, leave in a rush.

I am sure Christians are meant, generally and usually, to help one another. I am sure we are meant to help one another without preference for riches, status, or intelligence. As I am sitting there silently cataloging all the things that this man up front is misrepresenting about God, Jesus, and the Bible, I am also berating myself that fellowship is not based on excellence of doctrine. It’s not, or it shouldn’t be.

But it is not the well who need a physician. The guy up front who knows everything doesn’t want your help. He may want to be helped to accomplish his program and goals, but he’s not the least interested in what you might sincerely think to be in his own best interest. He already knows about his own best interest. He even already knows what’s in your best interest, even though he never saw you till today: You should come back here, listen to me, and do what I say.

Maybe some of the other people sitting around do need help. But you are not allowed to talk to them and they are not allowed to listen to you. You are only allowed to do those Things Which Need To Be Done, which have already been determined by The People Who Know What You Need. And then get out of here and mind your own business.

Well… okay. Goodbye.