Each healthy marriage is healthy in its own way
There’s a brand of men who are tone-deaf regarding love and intimacy and think Adam being created first, then Eve, along with Scripture’s command to wives that they submit to their husbands, comprise the entire operating manual for marriage and family life. Full stop. Yes, the Bible also commands husbands to love their wives, so they buy their wives flowers or a new vacuum now and then, but when the husband brags, he tells other men how frugal and what a hard worker his wife is. For her part, his wife brags about what a godly leader she has in her husband and how she just loves to submit to him.
As it turns out, my emphasis on the order of creation of Adam first, then Eve, is a real hit with such men, so I’ve come to know them pretty well. One of the things I’ve noticed is how they tend to be engineers or coders who are quite limited in their ability to understand nuance, let alone teasing and word play. Objectivity is their forte and subjectivity throws them into a tizzy. They want to be told what to think—not how to think. They are very suspicious of anything that sounds even remotely like a threat to the order of the universe, especially the rebellion of feminism.
For new readers, I can say it’s likely few pastors have written more words teaching the Biblical doctrine of Adam’s federal headship nor spilled as much bandwidth on the web defending that doctrine against all attacks it has sustained from seminary profs, false shepherds, shrews, effeminates, philosophers, and homeschooling moms over the course of the past couple decades. I don’t say this from pride, but from obsession. Mary Lee and I are reformed feminists, so this is my lifelong apostolate producing fruit for God from our repentance. The words are burning within me.
Backing up this claim, here’s a link to posts having to do with feminism on our previous online home, Baylyblog. Baylyblog started back in March of 2004. (I was writing on the web a number of years before that on online forums.) If one clicks on Baylyblog’s category “feminism,” seventy-two pages of links are produced.
From March 2004 through July 2017, we gave ourselves to opposing feminism in 727 individual posts, and this doesn’t include the posts we have done opposing feminism here on Warhorn Media’s “Out of Our Minds” the past two years. (Some enterprising soul could do us all a favor by assembling those posts into several books.)
Times without number I have repeated God’s command in 1Timothy 2 that woman not teach or exercise authority over man. I’ve been relentless quoting this and other texts declaring and applying God’s order of creation of Adam first, then Eve.
Nevermind, engineerish men claim I’m a feminist. They write posts saying Tim Bayly is a feminist. Tim Bayly is an egalitarian. Tim Bayly is a betrayer of Adam’s dignity. Tim Bayly cowers before women. Tim Bayly cowers before his wife. Tim Bayly serves a feminist church. Tim Bayly whimpers and quavers before women.
These criticisms strike me as slightly humorous, but mostly sad.
Bound up with the feminist’s rebellion against God the Father’s authority writ large across all creation are a host of other errors, and those errors rear their heads on both sides of the rebellion. I’ve written lots on the companion errors on the feminist side of the rebellion, so here let me talk a bit about the errors dogging those reclaiming father-rule. Let’s deal with just a couple.
When submission is used as a cover for faithless passivity
Women who hear the call of God to submit to their creation order, desiring to honor the fundamental fact of their existence that they have been created man’s helpmate, will often retire into a cringeworthy servitude unbecoming their station in life. God created them a helpmate, but a wife who doesn’t confront and argue with her husband at certain critical junctures of life is no help to him. We are to help one another grow into conformity with Jesus Christ—all of us, both male and female—and husbands who leave pornographic images in their web browser or trash should be confronted by their wife.
When she does, it’s likely to go badly as concerning the harmony of the home, immediately speaking. He will respond with some combination of denial, anger, and attack, and the most ready point of attack will be to tell her to leave him alone. The carefully unstated, but underlying, message will be that he is her head and she is to submit to him.
So, what? She leaves him alone because to confront and argue with him is to rebel against her call to be his helpmate?
Yet not to confront him is to forsake being his helpmate. If he gets angry and argues, not to argue back is to obey man rather than God.
Ironically, many such women would also fail to go to the elders of their church, seeing appealing to God’s higher authority of church officers also as rebellion against her husband. So her home being left in danger is the result of her improper understanding of the nature of authority and submission in the husband-wife relationship.
It is not helpful to refuse to confront your husband about his sin, ignorance, or unbelief. While it is true that some rebellious helpmates confront over every last thing about which they differ with their husband; and while it is also true some wifely rebellion consists in confronting husbands in front of the children, or with disrespect; the abuse of a thing does not negate its proper use. The one-anothers of Scripture’s doctrine of the Church apply to the family, too, and a critical part of those one-anothers is knowing when to disagree and exhort our brothers and sisters in Christ to wisdom, holiness, and faith.
When authority is used as a cover for rigidity, insecurity, and pride
This error naturally flows from the first. The wife who thinks it’s wrong to call out her husband for lust after strange flesh is sure to have a husband who has cultivated such wrong understanding of being both submissive and helpful in his wife.
Husbands aren’t necessarily gifted in leadership, so it’s an understandable error for husbands to respond to any confrontation by a wife, telling her he’s been ordained by God to be the head of the home as well as the head of his wife, and she should not be critical of him. Part of not understanding leadership is the failure to teach her (as well as their children) the process of respectful disagreement. This is where the engineering/coder mindset must be guarded against.
When you’re writing code or designing a bridge, there is no tolerance for ambiguity. Ambiguity keeps the code from running properly and busts up bridges, but ambiguity is the stuff of leadership of fellow human beings, each alike bearing the Image and Likeness of God. We can’t build a marriage or household (or church, for that matter) with the expectation that best practices and rightness will be as easy to find and apply between parents and children and husbands and wives as they are between bolts and nuts. The husband who comes home from designing bridges and squelches his helpmate’s suggestions by reminding her he’s the head of the home is looking for a cleanliness that is never possible between any two sinners.
My favorite recreational reading has, for a couple decades now, been navy stories of the Patrick O’Brian, C. S. Forester genre, and I read them principally for the understanding of leadership in the closed environment of a ship such stories teach. Whatever the branch of the military being chronicled, there are two lessons never more than ten pages from wherever one is reading in any book of this sort.
First, the captain is always demonstrating the quality of his leadership by whether he honors and responds with equanimity to subordinate’s appeal of his decisions. There are always times when the captain’s decision is bad and the wellbeing of the ship and its sailors and marines depends upon someone under his authority pointing out the error, appealing to the captain to change his mind or practice.
Captains who are insecure in their authority respond in a brittle way to subordinates who approach them prefacing their second-guessing with some sort of respectful verbal deference such as “permission to speak freely, sir?” Such captains see authority and submission in black and white and shut down their subordinate’s helpfulness. It’s no surprise such captains regularly face the threat of mutiny.
Second, even when a captain is exceedingly wise in his leadership and rarely has a subordinate respectfully disagree, he has to be vigilant in his cultivation of a knife’s-edge balance between the ship’s authority and love. Men fight best for comrades—not democracy or the fatherland—and the first man sailors need to defend is their captain. Sever the head and the body writhes in agony. On the other hand, the captain who is lax in discipline and allows bullying and rebellion among his subordinates has himself cut off the head and is responsible for the body writhing in agony.
In other words, it’s a finely tuned dance, and that dance never ends and is, in fact, best practices. This is the work—the exceedingly difficult and nuanced work—of the moderator of the session, the captain of the ship, and the husband of the wife and father of the household. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, think about the difference between good and bad bosses you’ve worked under. Or read Horatio Hornblower stories.
Good husbands and fathers are redirected and corrected by respectful wives and children, and part of the reason they respect and submit to their husband or father is their knowledge he will listen to their appeals. Good fathers also work hard intellectually, spiritually, physically, and emotionally to grow both respect and love in their marriage and household.
Now then, back to those who fear I’m an egalitarian feminist.
A year or so ago, I wrote of the excellent marriage between Martin Luther and Katie von Bora. Here are a few things I said:
Martin and Katie’s home was not Martin’s fiefdom, but Katie’s. Luther was a wise man who didn’t patronize women. He saw the division of authority God had decreed between man and woman and he didn’t infringe on Katie’s turf. She presided over the home and its domesticity, and he presided over the church and its instruction. Katie was the minister of internal affairs and Martin the minister of external affairs.
Did Martin respect Katie’s authority over the home? Yes. Martin affectionately referred to his wife as “My Lord Katie.”
Mrs. Martin Luther cooked for thirty-five to fifty members of the household. …Then there were ten to twenty students living with them, along with their tutors. These were paying guests. Also there were ten employees, the children’s teacher, the cook, Luther’s secretary, Luther’s assistant, various servants and maids, the swineherd, and the coachman. Also regularly present were houseguests visiting Wittenberg and Luther.
Beyond household work, Katie presided over brewing the beer, keeping the bees, growing the produce—everything that made Martin’s life and ministry possible.
[Over in Wittenberg, there is a picture exhibited in Luther’s home] showing the hierarchy of the table seating. Martin and Katie sat at the head, then men and women, girls and boys alternated down the sides with the order descending by age and rank until the smallest children were seated at the other end of the table.
After the evening meal, Martin retired to the living room with a small group of friends—and one woman, Katie. Here was the place where Luther’s “table talk” was recorded. Being the only woman present, Katie was no shrinking wallflower. She didn’t hesitate to express her disapproval of the talk—Martin’s in particular.
Then I made this observation concerning the very public failures of Reformed celebrities with hundreds of thousands of acolytes who loving to watch their preening:
What [these] reformed celebrities lack is “My Lord Katie.” She’d quickly put them in their place, and what a blessing it would be to the church of our time.
If the above (along with the rest of what we know about Martin and his Katie) does not describe a household in which Luther is its godly head and Katie lives in respect and submission to her Martin, Godly heads of households and submissive wives have never existed anywhere in history.
What some insecure and bitter husbands have taken special umbrage at is my quoting Martin “affectionately” referring to his Katie as “my lord Katie.”
Seriously? Anyone in the home knew this was Martin’s love of Katie. Men who condemn Martin for this teasing and wordplay wouldn’t last two years before the mast, let alone four years of marriage. Growing up, my Dad was the head of his home and all of us, including Dad, referred at times to my dear mother as “she who must be obeyed” and “the reverend mother.” What kind of rigid, truncated, insecure, brittle, manhood is tone deaf to the affection of such domestic honorifics? What kind of marriage does the husband create who doesn’t know that when Martin spoke of his wife as “my lord Katie,” he was reminding her in a very gentle way that, in fact, she was called by God to call him “lord,” while at the same time reminding the seventy or so members of his household that his authority was delegated to her in all but the most important domestic matters? Too, what sort of man cannot see that, at times, Martin’s referring to his Katie this way was a gentle rebuke?
Let me close with two stories.
First, about twenty-five years ago, I took a call to a rather typical Evangelical church where rebellion was rampant, but covered with very pious language and abused Scripture quotations. Taking the pulpit, I began to preach with a focus on God’s Order of Creation of Adam first, then Eve. Of course, many despised it, but others appreciated this call back to God’s truth and began to reform their homes and marriages according to Scripture.
One such couple were in their late twenties and had young children. They had expressed appreciation for the restoration of God’s authority and Word in the pulpit, so when the wife set up an appointment with me, I wasn’t expecting the criticisms pastoral appointments often involved at that time. It was a surprise, then, when this young mother used her appointment to rebuke me. She had heard Mary Lee or me mention that Mary Lee kept our checkbook and she declared that this was a violation of my headship over my wife. I was in rebellion against God in this matter and she commanded me to take over the checkbook.
One one level, I appreciated this sister’s concern for Mary Lee and my submission to God and the proper order of our home and marriage, so I didn’t get defensive and argue. However, I did explain that authority and submission aren’t at stake with whether the husband writes the checks and balances the account. I had delegated the authority and responsibility for this part of the order of our home to Mary Lee and this was fine. When I told Mary Lee of the criticism, it didn’t faze her, either. I still had responsibility and authority over our money regardless of which of us wrote the checks to pay the bills, and had I taken over those responsibilities myself as husband and father, Mary Lee would not have been any less frustrated at my sin of overspending and undersaving (if you hear what I’m saying).
Second, the story is told that one morning, coming downstairs, Martin noticed his dear Katie was dressed all in black. Surprised, he asked her if someone had died?
She responded God had died.
Martin was shocked at her sacrilege and demanded an explanation, to which she replied that she had concluded God was dead because he’d been in such a deep funk.
Now that’s a good marriage. If you think not, read some Horatio Hornblower, Middlemarch, or Gogol’s Dead Souls. For that matter, read the account of Abigail not confronting Nabal, but then confronting David. Read David’s response and note their subsequent marriage.
Chesterton once said marriage is the melding together of two incompatible forces—man and woman. He added that the question wasn’t whether or not it would be a quarrel, but to keep it a lover’s quarrel.