One of the boundary markers of contemporary evangelicalism is how you feel about the role of wives and husbands in marriage and whether those two are partners or whether the latter has a God-ordained authority over the former.
I’ve come to the conclusion that Ephesians 5, which is commonly referred to in this debate, can’t be used to answer the question of “Who gets to be in charge?” when its focus is on husbands and wives serving each other. Appealing to a text about servanthood to justify the ultimate authority of husbands is just weird to me. If anything, it seems to reflect a desire for power that Jesus specifically told his disciples to avoid.
Disciples: “Which of us will be great in the kingdom of heaven?”
Jesus: “The world pursues power and lords it over others, but it must not be so with you. Whoever would be the greatest among you, let him be the least.”
Disciples: “Yes, yes … but who gets to be the leader of the least?“
On Wednesday, I looked at Rachel Held Evans’ blog because a guest writer, Kristen Rosser, had posted an article on Ephesians 5 and whether marriages reflect the relationship of Christ and the church. The whole thing is worth the read, but I want to refer you to a particular part:
The illustration being given here is not general, but specific. Husbands and wives are to imitate this particular picture of Christ and the church.
And this is where I start whispering my Amen’s.
She went on to write:
The husbands were the ones with control in that society. Wives were not in a position to be able to make any substantive changes to turn marriage as it was understood, into marriage as the Lord wanted it in the church. It was husbands who had that power. So husbands are instructed to imitate Christ’s love for the church. But the specific picture/illustration given them to imitate is not one of authority and leadership, but of giving and sacrifice. Husbands were told to love their wives the way Christ loved the church when He gave Himself up for her—gave up His power and position to come down to the level of a servant— so that He could raise the church up to His holiness.
Husbands’ imitation of this picture of Christ would not involve holding onto their society-given rights and powers, but emptying themselves of them.
I agree with Rosser. The fact that the apostle Paul actually limits in what way a husband can be said to be like Christ in marriage is an indication that this metaphor doesn’t provide husbands with a blank check of authority. Husbands are specifically told in what way they’re to act as Christ does toward the church–and it isn’t by insisting that they’re the ones who get to lead. That attitude reflects the disciples, salivating at the thought of their heavenly promotions, than it does the mindset of our Lord.
Go check out her article when you get the chance.