November 14, 2015

Deconstructing Headship Relationships

What can't men do under the authority of Christ? Is there a point and time where Jesus steps down, shakes his head, and explains to the man that he does not have sufficient authority to do something? What does the submission of men to Christ look like? In Philippians 4:13, Paul says: "I can do all this through him who gives me strength." In Matthew 17:20, Jesus explains: "Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you."

What can't Christ do under the authority of God? Is there a point where God decides that Jesus has overstepped his bounds? What does the submission of Christ to God look like? Matthew 11:27 says; "All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him." According to John 3:35, "The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands." John 5 has a more extensive dialogue that speaks to the oneness of the Father and the Son.

What can't women do under the authority of men? What does the submission of women to men look like? 1 Timothy 2:11-12 says; "A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet." 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 concurs: "Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church." 1 Timothy 3 establishes the rule that leadership positions in the church are available to men only because of the use of masculine pronouns and and the rule that the leader must be faithful to his wife. 1 Corinthians 11 establishes headship teachings, than man is the head of the woman. It uses a similar metaphor to the one used in Ephesians 5:23 - "For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior."

The teachings of the Bible are one thing, but in practice, they can take on another form: rules that women might be expected to follow are that they must not wear make-up or they can wear a modest amount of make-up if they really need it, they must not wear jewelry or they can at least wear a modest amount of jewelry such as their wedding rings, they must wear long skirts or modest clothing (if they aren't sure if their clothes are sufficiently modest, they must ask their father or brother if it is), they must let their hair grow out long, while head covering is not a wide-spread tradition, the women who do wear them must have the approval of her husband to do so and he gets to decide if he likes her head covering or not. Older women may teach younger women (Titus 2:3-5), but because women may not teach men - at whatever age boys become men they must not learn from women anymore. The highest position in Christianity available to women is usually the minister of children's ministries or the wife a pastor, elder, or deacon. Marriage and having children is usually a prerequisite for serving as a leader of the church in these capacities.

God does not limit Christ, Christ does not limit man, but man limits woman. One of these relationships is not like the others. It makes me wonder, if man's relationship to woman is correct and God's and Christ's relationships are incorrect because they fail to understand authority; or if God's and Christ's relationships are correct and man's relationship to woman is incorrect because of a misunderstanding of authority and misapplication of the rules. For one, it would help if the rules and roles being compared were clearer. After all, God includes Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Christ is the Son. The Father and the Son are one. Christ is the head of the church, who is the body. There isn't really a consistent passage that clearly outlines who is who, what responsibilities they have, what authority looks like, and how they interact according to their roles and the established rules. The church includes men and women, but men are the head. A husband and wife are one, but the wife must always be in submission to her husband just as Jesus the son is always in submission to God the father. Wait - doesn't that border on the Eternal Submission of the Son (a.k.a. Subordinationism) , the belief that has at various times been deemed heretical? While it is true that the idea of the person Jesus being submitted eternally to God is seen as heresy, the relationship of a son being eternally submitted to his father is seen as acceptable as it is a consequence of his function, not an aspect of his being. Subordination suggests that the Holy Spirit and the Son are something other than the Father, hence the reason for their subordination; were they the same in that regard then they would be completely equal and there would be no difference and no need to be subordinate, not in person, not in relationship to one another. So are women something 'other' than men, 'other' than Christ, and 'other' than God so much so that they must be treated another way that is distinct from the other relationships?

Athanasius is largely responsible for the trinitarian theology we know today which was established at the Council of Nicaea. For him, Subordinationism in any and every form was a heresy (he said: "Jesus, who I know as my Redeemer, cannot be less than God."). The creed named after him states that the three person of the trinity are "almighty and Lord; no divine person is before or after another, none is greater or less than another … all three are co-equal." Could we say the same thing about men and women in Christianity: "no person is before or after another, none is greater or lesser than another ... both are equal"? No, Christianity cannot say the same thing about the relationship of its men and women. While gender role teachings do affirm that men and women are equal in person-hood, women are different from men and are to be subordinate to men. That's why the big teaching is male headship (not husband headship or father headship or elder headship or deacon headship; male headship is an umbrella term that gives all men authority over all women as a consequence of gender, not calling or gifting), though the verses used most often state that wives are to submit to their own husbands, male headship demands that daughters obey their fathers and widows fall under the authority of their male church elders and deacons. The real error of Subordinationism was the tendency to discount the Son and the Holy Spirit as being 'less' than fully God like the Father was. The ancient believers couldn't understand how God could be Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit and not be different; after all, if the Father and the Son are one, then why not just call God 'Son' and remove all references to 'Father' and 'Holy Spirit'? And if the Holy Spirit is as much God as the 'Son' and the 'Father' are, then why not just call God 'Holy Spirit' and remove all references to 'Son' and 'Father'? Perhaps it's our humanness that makes us think in such one dimensional terms; as if 'God' had three bodies with three distinct looks and three distinct roles and three sets of distinct rules that he couldn't be all three at the same time because we know that no human can be in two places at once. We forget that God is more spirit than He is man because we use such human terms to describe him - be it the arm of the Lord, his ears that he may hear, his eyes that he may see, or Isaiah's vision of him sitting on a throne, but we also have to remember 1 Kings 19:11-13 where the presence of the Lord passed by Elijah and there was wind, an earthquake, and a fire - but it was the gentle whisper that came after that which really happened to be His presence. On top of that, the use of 'He' 'Him' 'His' reinforces his inherent masculinity that Christianity teaches. We forget that God was ultimately the source of Eve's femininity just as much as he was the source of Adam's masculinity.

In all this, either we don't have a blueprint for the headship teachings or we do and we just refuse to obey it; after all, just because God chooses not to limit Christ, it doesn't mean that he very easily could as the more powerful of the pair. And just because Christ chooses not to limit men, it doesn't mean that he very easily could as the more powerful of the pair. So it's only right that men do limit women because they are the more powerful of the pair and it looks like what the Bible wants. It's probably how the relationship of Christ and Men should be and the relationship of God and Christ should be, all about authority and rules and roles. That's probably how humanity justifies that tendency to believe that people must be kept in their place. But then I think about how Jesus' existence is in defiance of the rules of his day. God didn't ask Mary's father's permission to do what he did. He didn't get Joseph's consent to throw a wrench in his wedding plans. By ignoring patriarchal protocol and going around the men to partner with Mary, God reverses Joseph's role to be her helper. By justifying that people have to be in their place, we're denying them power by taking it away from them and keeping it for ourselves. Human nature tends to do that; want more and more power because it's a terrifying prospect to have less power or some powers taken away.

Is authority and power like a canteen of water in a harsh desert? There's only so much to go around and there's not enough for everyone to have an equal share? Or is it more like the widow's oil that kept on filling up jar after jar long after it should have run out? Does the authority that God gives Christ and the authority that Christ gives man run out entirely or have no effect when it becomes time for men to give women authority? I know that someone might ask, "Wouldn't giving women authority to teach and preach be breaking 1 Timothy 2:11-12?" Some would point out that Paul saying 'I' does not equate himself with God giving one of the Ten Commandments "Thou shalt ...". Others would say that because it's in the Bible, it's really God saying that 'I do not permit ...'  If it's Paul having said that, there's no contradiction. If it's God saying that, then wouldn't it be out of step with his example of not limiting Christ, Christ not limiting men that it's okay for men to limit women? I can understand how a patriarchal first century society might view the limitations of women as necessary for their well-being, seeing as how they received less education and had no legal status of their own; but any limitations placed on women but not men in an egalitarian twenty-first century society would prove to be a hindrance as they have access to equal education and legal status as the men and it would betray the core precepts of an equal society to treat a group of people as unequal persons.

Looking at 1 Corinthians 14, one might say that case against women speaking is air-tight, but 1 Corinthians 11 allows for women to pray and prophesy in the proper context; which some say was wearing a head covering. We know that some from Chloe's household reported division in the Corinthian church to Paul, we also know that Apollos was one of the teachers who was supported by a faction in that church and he was once corrected by Priscilla with the assistance of her husband Aquila, we know that oftentimes he would bring along women as co-workers to speak to those to whom he could not, we know that he pleaded that two women settle their differences, we know that he wrote to a number of sisters in the faith such as Junia and Phoebe; for having written that they were to keep silent, his actions show that he welcomed it when they broke that rule as often as necessary to advance the gospel.

I think we insist on these roles, rules, and traditions because we can, because it suits human nature to have more power and influence than others, because it's an amazing feeling to know that when we say "go" someone goes, "come" someone comes, "do this" and someone does it. It's much harder to know that have the authority and yet resist the temptation to order people around, decide what they wear, or chose how they will fulfill their religious duties. Jesus has that authority, but he's able to resist that temptation; whereas all too often, men do not. In two thousand years, almost every religious teaching that permitted women to teach was automatically declared a heresy. It was heresy in a world that was completely invested in patriarchy and gender roles and male headship; and it'll always be one today as we're doubling-down on gender roles to combat our changing world. But is that the example that God and Christ both set? What can't men do under the authority of Christ? Nothing. What won't men do with that authority? Follow Christ's example to share it freely.

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