Hierarchy and Subordination vs. Headship and Household Mission
March 10, 2017
Brad Mason has been writing some thought-provoking and very helpful articles for his new website, Heart & Mouth. After posting an article on Complementarity Without Subordination yesterday, he tagged a few of us on Twitter, asking about our thoughts on this post and whether we would agree with his conclusions. I’m honored that Brad even cares what I think, much less that he would put himself out there and ask. I've been following his posts with interest.
I thought I would leave a comment over at his blog rather than a short tweet. He’s put a lot of good work into the post, which really contributes to the discussion on complementarianism and a tweet response would not do it justice. But then I noticed my comment was getting kind of long, so I’ve decided to just go ahead and respond here. There is so much that I appreciate about Brad’s post, and there is one area where I'd like to add a caveat, and also an added context that I deem important.
First of all, the title alone reveals that Brad is going after this question that has been lurking since the Trinity debate. I just want to thank him for saying this: "it is complementarity as grounded in ESS that produces the metaphysic of oppression." He explains this well in the article. Amen to that. Also, I appreciate his explaining the distinctions between Adam and Eve in creation, the purpose for creating woman, and that the emphasis that we see in creation is as one flesh union, not authority and submission. "None of this natural complementarity either presupposes or necessitates hierarchy of authority nor an order of right to command and duty to obey. It is only as a result of the cosmic and relational disorder introduced by sin that right to rule and duty to submit are mandated and a hierarchical order of human relationships is introduced."
Also, the discernment that headship is described for us in Eph. 5, not 1 Cor. 11, that all authority is delegated, that the wife’s submission is “to the Lord,” and the distinction between “role” and “function” are all helpful and good clarifications. Thank you!
Brad’s article works well in conjunction with Sam Powell's great article, Headship is not Hierarchy. And in reading and being sharpened by both articles, I would ask Brad if he affirms that the order of creation would indicate that there is headship before the fall, and that headship is not hierarchy. Both Sam and Brad firmly state that there is no pre-fall hierarchy where Eve is to submit to all of Adam's desires. Brad rightly affirms that both the woman and the man were given the cultural mandate:
Adam and Eve were created as complements and were, it must be made clear, together given authority and dominion to rule over creation: “Then God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth’” (Gen. 1:28).
And both Sam And Brad point to the curse in Gen. 3:16, explaining how the relationships between men and women go awry and hierarchy is introduced. They also both demonstrate how Christ’s work restores what we lost, and that complementarianism should never mean that a husband’s job is to rule over his wife. In Christ, we see a complete reversal of kingdom service. Jesus gives us an example of authority in John 13, and tells us to do the same (John 3:15).
One distinction between the two though is that Sam describes Gen. 3:16 as descriptive and Brad describes it as prescriptive:
There is nothing in Genesis 3:16 that is prescriptive. It is simply a description of what life will be like now that men and women have sold themselves into the slavery of sin and death. They will now be governed by the rules of the kingdom of the devil, rather than the law of God. And this will be the case until the Seed of the Woman comes and crushes the head of the oppressor, which happened when Christ gave himself to the death of the cross.
The pre-fall created complementarity is leveraged in the new order and dispensation introduced by sin, and is now legislated as an order of authority and submission. The hierarchy of authority is not in itself a curse, rather an amelioration of the disordering effects of sin.
To this distinction, I have to say that I agree with Sam’s exposition. You can read both posts for details.
My contribution to what both Brad and Sam are writing would be Chapter 3 (and maybe 4 too) of No Little Women. There, I unpack the idea that headship exists in connection with household, both personal households and God's household. Headship existed before the fall because Adam and Eve were in a household, the garden-temple-household of Eden. A household has a mission, and everyone belonging to the household is to be operating in furtherance of that mission. So, we have this cultural mandate that Adam and Eve were given as their mission to co-rule. I can’t condense a whole chapter into a couple hundred words, but here are my main points:
• Adam was the federal representative of mankind, not Eve. Related to this is his priority of order in creation and his call to guard and keep the garden temple (Gen. 2:15). In the book I suggest that this is also Satan’s strategy for going after the woman. To get to Adam, he went for a target of great value, his bride. (As a side note, I would say that even in natural law, we see that man’s strength equips him for his responsibility in laying down his life physically in protection of women and children, and that would extend to a spiritual component as well).
• The head of a household has the responsibility to tend to the mission and the purpose of the household. This is not a micromanaging role of authority, but one that trusts and points to the greater Household Manager. He is to promote the oikonomos theou, the stewardship of God (1 Tim. 1:3-5).
• By God’s grace, the mission did not change after the fall. We see it reestablished throughout the Old Testament and by Christ himself in the New Testament. But now that the common and the holy are separated, Jesus gives the household of God, his church, the Great Commission to preach the gospel, make disciples, and administer the sacraments (Matt. 28:18-20), but all households are subject to the Great Commandment to love the Lord God with all our heart, soul, and mind, and our neighbors as ourselves (Matt. 22:27-29). Christian homes will be functioning under both of these missions, with a better understanding of how they are connected.
• The social order or chaos within a household, both in Bible times and in this very day, is a witness to those on the outside. Sin introduced chaos, which is described in Gen. 3:16. This is why, even in Eph. 5, men and women are instructed how we serve as good stewards in our households.
• Our mission is to be summed up in Christ’s household, to be sanctified for his purposes, and to reign with him in the new heavens and the new earth. This eschatological goal shapes the mission of the household. This mission needs to reach the next generation and the ones after that. And so the head of the household needs to ensure that the household’s faith is articulated well, that the members of the household live according to that faith, and that it is passed down to the next generation. This is true of both of the family and the household of God---the church.
• As Brad and Sam both demonstrated, Eph. 5 teaches proper headship of the husband, which is far different than ruling over a wife and demanding submission from her. Christ as the head of God’s household, the church, did what man never could, and now man is restored to lay down his own life in service to his wife and family. Interestingly the language in these verses describes a husband doing woman’s work in service to her. He's called to take the lowest place to show his love and personal care, and in that way will be blessed in bringing order and peace to his household under God's mission. This is how the head serves the body.
Both Sam and Brad have shared important warnings against a complementarianism that teaches unbiblical subordination of women to men. Brad has demonstrated well how the unorthodox teaching of Eternal Subordination of the Son grounds complementarity in ESS and produces a metaphysic of oppression. Sam distinguishes well between hierarchy and headship and has offered an engaging exposition of Gen. 3:16, breaking down the meaning and context of woman’s “desire” and man’s “rule.” I hope my writing has upheld biblical headship, and explained its service in the context of household. I know that both Sam and Brad would agree with me that headship isn’t just an arbitrary delegation. I try to elaborate on how it is one that brings order to God’s mission to both personal households and the household of God. We look forward to Christ’s resurrection, when all will be holy again, and we will reign together with our Head, Jesus Christ, on the new heavens and the new earth, a garden-temple-city that he is preparing for us now!