image courtesy of free-extras.com
Is marriage a partnership or a hierarchy?
This was the subject of discussion several weeks ago on one of the blogs I follow. The author, a female, wrote of her frustration with Christians who view holy matrimony as a hierarchy rather than a partnership. While she did so graciously and tactfully, I believe the entire discussion was based on a false premise: A marriage must be either a partnership or a hierarchy; it cannot be both.
I don’t believe that statement is a biblical (or logical) one. A hierarchy does not in any way exclude union and cooperation.
I’ll go even further to say that neither does a hierarchy necessarily exclude equality.
Jesus is fully God, as is the Holy Spirit. Yet Jesus used his authority to send the Holy Spirit to us. And Christ was himself sent by the Father (being under his authority). It seems to me this is an egalitarian relationship in which one person of the Trinity has willingly decided to submit to another. Father, then Son, then Spirit. It is at this moment of submission that a partnership becomes a hierarchy — while still remaining a partnership. The Trinity is not a hierarchy because the Father has greater power or worth than the Son, but rather because there has been a willingness to submit by one or more parties.
I see marriage as a partnership. I believe men and women are equal. But I also believe marriage was intended to work best 1) when the husband gives his life fully for his bride (“as Christ loves the church”), and 2) when the wife willingly submits to her husband out of love. What I’m afraid we often forget is that when a man loves a woman like Christ loves the church, it looks a whole lot like submission to her. And when a wife submits to a husband who acts like Christ, it looks a whole lot like submitting to Christ himself.
Christian marriage presupposes that both parties have submitted first, and fully, to Christ. A wife who is in submission to Christ cannot conceivably offer full submission to a husband who is not. No man — or woman — can serve two masters.
Only when I am in submission to Christ can I love my wife as Christ loves the church. And only when we are both in submission to Christ can she willingly and fully submit to me.
Of course I don’t believe it’s only marriage that’s supposed to work this way. The church is certainly a partnership as well. Yet, I have willingly and out of love submitted to the shepherds at Stones River Church. I trust they love me as Christ loves the church, and I see that they are, even now, sacrificing themselves in service to that very church. These men are in partnership with my family as we serve in Tanzania, although we recognize their Spirit-given responsibility of nurturing and protecting us, and we follow the example they have given us for living in God’s kingdom.
Paul urged the Corinthian church to follow his example as he followed Christ. I figure the God-given role of a husband and father isn’t far at all from that.
Series continued: marriage to an unbeliever (and sanctification the result) and marriage as a (misunderstood) play