I came out of graduate school in 1979 as a well-educated Christian feminist. My dad and I fought over this. He could not let go of the traditional notion that the husband should be the head of the family. I regaled him with my egalitarian beliefs, though untried by me in the real world. He had several Scripture passages and some real life experience on his side. Still, I was unbending and he got rather agitated with me. Though disappointed, he loved me none the less as we agreed to disagree.
I recall being proud of my academic honors but deep inside, I knew I did not understand the contradictions between God’s word and my more culturally relevant theories. So I continued to study God’s word, not for grades but with a passion for understanding. After a decade, my gender neutral presumptions began to breakdown.
As I see it today, God’s word clearly calls husbands to serve in marriage as Christ-like heads of their families. The word “head” (and the headship role) is defined by Jesus Himself and his relationship with the church. My knowledge of biblical Greek and Hebrew and all the cultural conditions then and now were of no use as the clear meaning of the text kept emerging through the fog in my heart and mind. Here’s the passage that would not go away:
For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church. (Ephesians 5:23)
The apostle Paul plainly rooted the headship role of the husband in Jesus Christ, not in the culture of the day. Thus, no man understands headship for the Christian husband unless he knows Jesus. Paul continued:
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her. (Ephesians 5:25)
The biblical mandate for a husband to be the head of his wife was also a mandate to be Christ-like. That’s right, the same Jesus who came “not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45), is the primary model for Christian leadership (headship ) in the home.
In my “Introduction to the Bible” class back in my adjunct professor days, when we got to Ephesians 5, I always asked the class. “What unique contributions do women make to humanity and to human relationships?” My class freely identified a long list of unique contributions by women. When I asked the same question regarding men, no one ever raised a hand. Neither the men or the women wanted to suggest that a man could offer something unique to humanity. I pointed out that for men to be equal in worth to women, their unique contributions to humanity and to relationships must also be recognized. Maybe that’s why Scripture uniquely calls men to Christ-like leadership.
I finally embraced the biblical mandate of Christ-like headship for husbands, it was a surrender for me. I much preferred the social approval that would come with a more egalitarian view. But the Bible changed my mind. I surrendered to the conviction that that God’s word is a better guide for understanding His will than my preferences or my culture’s values. I finally went to my dad and admitted that he had been right all along. I saw that proverbial light-bulb that many sons have seen before me as I realized that my dad was a lot smarter than I had once thought.