As we think about these lifestyle issues, one of the challenges faced by both unbelievers and doubting Christians is the caricature of the biblical standards on these issues that is called “Christianity.” Our culture’s confusion about feminism is a good example.
The caricature is a concept of male headship that is colored by the abusive patriarchal model of many cults, domineering husbands and fathers operating under a misunderstood biblical mandate, and a vague notion of what the term “submission” implies. Attaching the Christian label to the abuse of male headship has thinking people running for the exits, and I don’t blame them. But the concept they are rejecting is not the biblical teaching but a cheap imitation.
The biblical concept of male headship is covered many places in Scripture, and the most succinct is, “But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ” (I Cor 11:3).
Our Christian bookshelves are filled with books about “the man is the head of a woman” running the gamut from the man is always in charge no matter what to trying to explain away the concept altogether as a first century cultural overprint. What I have rarely seen is a book that tackles “God is the head of Christ.” Maybe that concept is a little too much to get our minds around. I bring it up because a proper understanding of male headship is inextricably linked to understanding the relationship between God and Christ. And Jesus explains it for us in John, chapter 5. (Much of what follows here is based on a Christianity Today article Headship with a Heart by Steven Tracy.)
“For this reason therefore the Jews were seeking all the more to kill Him, because He not only was breaking the Sabbath, but also was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God. Therefore Jesus answered and was saying to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son does in like manner. For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that He Himself is doing; and the Father will show Him greater works than these, so that you will marvel” (Jn 5:18-20).
The Jews clearly understood Jesus’ repeated claim to equality with God, the Father; so much so that they sought to kill Him. In this passage we see this equality in action as the work of God the Father and the work of God the Son is shown as the collaboration of intimate equals. Their relationship is rooted in equality, not superiority. Does this equality diminish God’s headship? Apparently not. Thinking about how this applies to male headship, particularly in the marriage and family setting, this is the first application: we are to treat our wives as intimate equals.
Continuing, “For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son also gives life to whom He wishes. For not even the Father judges anyone, but He has given all judgement to the Son” (Jn 5:21-22). God shares His authority with the Son. Does this diminish God’s headship? Apparently not. Christ did not use His shared authority to usurp the Father. He was responsive to the Father’s authority; He did the will of the Father. We are to share authority with our wives.
Finally, God shares His honor with the Son. “So that all will honor the Son even as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him” (Jn 5:23). Isaiah wrote, many years before, “I am the Lord, that is My name; I will not give My glory to another” (Is 42:8). But God does share His honor and glory with the Son because He wants all people to honor the Son. Does honoring the Son diminish God’s headship? Apparently not. We are to honor our wives.
When we take this back to I Corinthians 11:3, we find the concept and practical implications of male headship are rooted in the relationship of God and Christ explained in John chapter 5. This approach to male headship also fits the example of Christ’s own ministry in which He honored women far above the cultural expectations.
The feminist answer to the abuse of male power is to reject the concept of male headship altogether. The biblical response is to clarify, explain, and celebrate headship with a heart.