Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Biblical Patriarchy: Defining the Issue

At its most basic, patriarchy is the recognition that God has created men and women with different and complementary roles and that in that glorious design God has called men to servant leadership in the home and in the church. Because of this there are some things that God lays on men as their calling, a calling that is unique to men and not something that can or should be assumed or deferred to women, partly because doing so impedes a woman’s ability to function as God has intended but primarily because God has called men, and men specifically, to these tasks. That means that while there are things that a woman perhaps is able to do, many of those functions are things that they ought not do.

Examining this issue is tough in 2011. For most of western history, this topic was not really in question. Trying to tread lightly here but the egalitarian outcry is something of a modern invention, even in my lifetime. Patriarchy has fallen on hard times and I blame much of that for the culture around us, a culture that has impacted the way the church views this doctrine. For example, look at how the term is commonly defined in our culture. Merriam-Webster defines patriarchy as:

1: social organization marked by the supremacy of the father in the clan or family, the legal dependence of wives and children, and the reckoning of descent and inheritance in the male line; broadly : control by men of a disproportionately large share of power
That definition is faulty for our purposes because it is describing patriarchy in an entirely secular and cultural sense. Note also the subtle negative terminology: “supremacy”, “legal dependence”, “control” and “disproportionately large share of power”. Even in what is on the surface an innocuous definition of an ancient word demonstrates a bias against it. Arguing about the definition of patriarchy as defined and rejected by the prevailing culture is not my goal here.

I am fully capable and perhaps overly willing to attack feminism in our culture but our concern here is not for a political, “culture war” conversation but an examination of Scripture. So for purposes of this study, I am going to try to restrict my argument to the text of Scripture and not throw in examples of the pernicious impact of feminism on our culture. Oops, see how easy that was!

From a Scriptural sense, patriarchy as I said above is a recognition that God intentionally, purposefully and for His own gory created men and women differently and in a complementary manner so that men and women are necessarily incomplete. As a result and for His own glory in Creation God from the very beginning of the Bible and throughout the Old and New Testaments and under both the Old and New Covenants has called men and women to different functions and restricted men and more often if we are honest women from certain functions in the church and in the home.

So what does that mean? When we step away from books and blogs, how is this lived out? What does it look like? Holding as I do to a non-traditional view of the church means that I see the home/church role distinctions as less distinct and also see the concept of leadership in the church quite differently. I don’t see elders as men selected from the local body to make all of the decisions, decisions that everyone else just needs to suck it up and obey. Elders in the local church, as I see them and believe the Bible depicts them, are men who have demonstrated wisdom and humility over time through service and the manner of their lives. The local church turns to these men for leadership because they have already demonstrated by their lives that they are men to be followed and deferred to, not because of the title they hold but because of the life they live.

To put it more simply, we follow men who are elders because they have demonstrated that we should emulate them and respect their maturity, not because simply because of the title they hold or even worse because they have been hired for the task. When decisions are made in the church, they should be made by consensus but deference should be given to those who are elders because by definition they are men we should imitate and respect for their maturity. That doesn’t mean that women have no voice or cannot serve but it manifests itself differently (more on this in the post on the New Testament evidence for patriarchy). All Christians are equal in the eyes of Christ and all should serve but not all are recognized as elders. As Paul eloquently wrote in Romans 12: 4-8 and 1 Corinthians 12: 14-26, the church is made up of different and complementary parts. A foot doesn’t act like an ear and a wrist doesn’t act like a nose but all of them work in different ways and are necessary for a healthy body Likewise in the church we function in different ways but all work together when the Body is healthy. God has called men to lead in general and more specifically to functions like teaching and equipping other men, something that is specifically prohibited to women (who are called to a similar function with children and other women) Again, more on this in a later post.

In the home, patriarchy is more overt. The Bible is quite clear about the roles and relationships in the family and it is even more obvious in the New Testament than the Old, which seems counter-intuitive. What is most important here is that God calls fathers to lead in the family by working to support his family and by teaching his children. That is not something that can be deferred to wives. I know there are some people who operate their family differently and I don’t condemn them for that but that doesn’t change what I believe is the best and the intended roles within the family.

I recognize that there are lots of assertions in this post and not much Scripture, that is intentional. The next two posts will look at the Scriptural basis for these sweeping assertions because that is where we separate opinion from doctrine.


esztertun said...

Woman though I be,I have to say, I agree. God really did give us roles to play. It is not a question of equality, intelligence, or who God likes best. But we sometimes confuse ourselves because of our fallen nature, and the havoc we wreak on one another. Our sinful desires for power and esteem cause all the confusion.

It's natural (and I feel safest)when a man leads life, a strong man with a good head on his shoulders...but here's the catch: he must be producing fruits of the Spirit. Otherwise his nature, and the strength behind it, will hurt the rest of us. (A woman cannot fulfill her role either, without living by the life of the Spirit.)
My Creator is my Father. I am thankful for His strength and order.

Arthur Sido said...


That is exactly what I am saying. This has nothing to do with worth or with ability. Thanks for your comment, I hope you continue to follow along and interact. My goal is not to bludgeon people into believing my position, it is to get people to think it through.


Misplaced Honor said...

this falls right in line with everything I've been taught from a complementarian perspective. I share the same opinion with you regarding our differing roles and I liked the analogy you drew to the body being made of many different parts. This is why I have been rethinking so much on the authoritative aspects of patriarchy. You haven't dealt much with authority so I'm not gonna get off on a tangent here. Just want you to know I'm reading and anxious to see what is coming.

Arlan said...

Commenting as I read here, not through the series yet. Your definition of patriarchy is as unfair as the other. You just managed a definition of patriarchy that had nothing to do with fathers.

I understand and appreciate your introductory remark about using patriarchy and complementarianism interchangably because most people can't tell the difference any way, but when you are sitting down to give the definition of a specific term it's not appropriate to ignore what it means. Paternal, patristic, pater nos, patricide, patriotism - all of these words describe something about men, more specifically about fathers, and are not terms about "men and women." If you want to say that the Bible shows theocracy (theo-archy) not patriarchy I'll play along, but please don't try to remove pater from patriarchy. That's not straight dealing.

Arthur Sido said...

Arlan, my intent was not to remove any reference to fathers from a patriarchal sense but to look at how the word is understood (or misunderstood) in common cultural use as well as the way that bleeds over into the church.