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Husband wife

A Necessary Partner

When Ephesians (and elsewhere) tells husbands to love their wives as Christ loves the church, it doesn’t include belittling, sidelining, or relegating them to a second tier status. Clearly, that is not what Christ did and does with His church.

Andrea G. Schwartz
  • Andrea G. Schwartz,
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I’ve heard from a number of women that their pastors seems to relish in woman-bashing in their sermons, blaming women for almost of the ills that have befallen our society. Seems like the war on women is as alive and well in the church as it is outside of it. While most think it awful that confused men are invading “women’s spaces” (a term I loathe by the way), there are others who don’t blink an eye when women aren’t treated as equals inside the church.

If one were to do a people scan of those Jesus interacted with while walking the earth, one would find that women played a pivotal role in financing his ministry, being committed followers, and having the honor of bringing others to Christ. Yet, somewhere along the line, instead of realizing that modern culture has spent a good deal of time deceiving women (think of the serpent and Eve), too few men have fulfilled their God-given role of protection and covering when it comes to their wives, mothers, sisters, and daughters.

Protection and covering is not about preventing girls and women from becoming educated in the Word of God and its application. In fact, these are vital prerequisites in being a godly wife and mother. Yet, many men feel threatened if the women in their lives might end up knowing more than they. Instead of taking this reality as a cue to step up their game, they decide it is best to hold women back. Instead of viewing their spouses as equal partners under the Lord, they feel they must proclaim loudly and outwardly that ostensibly, women should be seen and not heard – so long as they perform their conjugal duties and bear and raise children. I strongly disagree.

What man shouldn’t want the most knowledgeable and biblically literate partner in his marriage? From where I sit, it would be one who is either lazy in his own study, or one whose ego might be threatened if his wife were to bring up a biblical correction. All one has to do is think of Zipporah, Sara, Rebecca, Ruth, Jael, Abigail, Esther, and even Jesus’s mother to see that biblically speaking, the Bible honors women whose works manifest their faith. I’ve only mentioned a few; the list goes on.

When young women are discouraged from satisfying their hunger and thirst for the Word, by being told that their only function amounts to having and taking care of children, we fail to realize that we should promote having them become PhDs in practical application of the law-word of God. I have taught women for over two decades in biblical law, and not a one is a raving rebellious shrew. Yet, more and more tell me that is how they are referred to from pulpits.

One of the things I relished about Dr. Rushdoony in the 15 years I had to spend with him in person, is his high regard for women. Listen closely to most of his sermons and lectures, and you will hear women asking questions. He never shuts them up. In fact, more than a few times you can hear him say, “That is an excellent question.” There were times that a particular part of the Bible bothered me and I would press him on an issue. He never told me to be quiet. He took my earnest desire to understand and made sure I was satisfied with his answer – whether or not I liked it.

When Ephesians (and elsewhere) tells husbands to love their wives as Christ loves the church, it doesn’t include belittling, sidelining, or relegating them to a second tier status. Clearly, that is not what Christ did and does with His church. In fact, there is a way to look at Proverbs 31 as a blueprint for the church just as it is for a godly woman, since the Church is Christ’s bride/wife.

As I’ve written elsewhere, a man can sit at the city gates (obtain a position of civil authority) because his wife is managing all the affairs of the household and family. Too many men want to manage the home front and never make it to the city gates. Trust me, godly women want godly men to be at the city gates. Where else can they combat the assaults on women from hard core feminism and transgender erasure?

In Rushdoony’s book Salvation and Godly Rule, in the chapter on “Obedience” there is a telling commentary on the modern “reformed” view of women. Although lengthy, it is worth noting again.

The purpose of the revealed things is to command our obedience. The subject of obedience is important to an understanding of Scripture. In analyzing Christian liberty, we have seen that the world requires an obedience to itself as ultimate, which would deny the sovereignty of God. Too often, as men require obedience as a Christian virtue, they speak of it in terms more like the claims of totalitarian humanism, as the absolute claim of man over man.
To cite a specific example, St. Paul in Ephesians 5:24 declares, “Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing.” This is commonly interpreted to mean as total a subjection of women to their husbands as of the church to Christ. This would be a justifiable claim only if husbands were as perfect and sinless as Christ. Hodge, commenting on this verse, makes clear the fallacy of the totalitarian approach:
As verse 22 teaches the nature of the subjection of the wife to her husband, and verse 23 its ground, this verse teaches its extent. She is to be subject in every thing. That is, the subjection is not limited to any one sphere or department of the social life, but extends to all. The wife is not subject as to some things, and independent as to others, but she is subject as all. This of course does not mean that the authority of the husband is unlimited. It reaches its extent, not its degree. It extends over all departments, but is limited in all; first, by the nature of the relation; and secondly, by the higher authority of God. No superior, whether master, parent, husband or magistrate, can make it obligatory on us either to do what God forbids, or not to do what God commands. So long as our allegiance to God is preserved, and obedience to man is made part of our obedience to him, we retain our liberty and our integrity. [1]
The men who demand a totalitarian obedience from their wives forget that Sarah rebuked her husband Abraham, and God not only backed her up (Gen. 16), but also made her a type of the godly wife (1 Pet. 3:6). Moreover, these men are not ready to render unto civil authorities (kings, presidents, governors, prime ministers, tax collectors, etc.) any such obedience as they demand of their wives, although the word of God uses the same word “obey” in both instances (Rom. 13:1-8; 1 Pet. 2:13-17, etc.). Still further, servants or employees are required to “be subject to your masters (or employers) with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward” (1 Pet. 2:18). “Servants” in Eph. 6:5 means “slaves,” but in Peter the reference is plainly to paid employees.
How many men who demand a totalitarian obedience from their wives render such an obedience to their employers? We cannot have a pagan obedience in one realm and a Christian obedience in another, requiring people to render us a pagan obedience while we reserve the liberty of a Christian to ourselves. The degree of authority in every sphere of life is at all times limited by the prior authority of God. While the extent of the husband’s authority is unlimited, i.e., he is the authority in every sphere of the marriage, in every area it is also conditional in terms of the word of God. The authority of God is absolute; the authority of man is always conditional.
Adam in Eden no doubt had at least one pet dog from the moment of his creation as a mature man. He was created mature into a mature creation. If all he needed was someone or something to boss and to order to come at his whistle, or his beck and call, a dog would have been sufficient. But God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a help meet for him” (Gen. 2:18). A helpmate is not a doormat, but a subordinate and necessary partner.[2]

I’ve heard a pastor say recently that he doesn’t allow his wife to read material he has not approved. Moreover, his reasoning is that he doesn’t want her to “get ahead of him” in matters theological. When things are off his plate, he’ll get to that subject, but until then it is a “no go” for his wife.

I wonder about his biblical rather than comfortable rationale for this. Could it not be that God places important things in the minds and hearts of women first? After all, Isaac didn’t get the word from God about his twin boys; Rebecca (his God-ordained wife) did. What’s more, when the time came, she determined it was better to honor God than stand on protocol. Jesus ignited a massive revival in Samaria by speaking to the woman at the well.

It is hoped that the dynamic behind these restrictions on learning and applying God’s Word isn’t anchored in what Dr. Rushdoony called “the failure of men,”[3] where maintaining appearances outweighs substance. We live in a world where men are intent upon “hiding the decline,” whether by changing SAT scoring to hide academic declines, tampering with climate change data to hide the decline, or whatever else is required to protect the false masks we tend to wear. If we have a bicycle with a flat tire, the solution isn’t to slash the other tire, it’s to repair the flat. We know from Hebrews 5:12 that Christ expects us to be competent teachers,[4] and husbands teaching their wives is not an exception to this. Hiding the problem by giving the wife a straitjacket is no solution, as Rushdoony points out in his radio message when speaking of those who prefer masks and appearances, who

hate everything that threatens surface appearance. … Because these masked men demand appearances, they therefore seek out and build churches that will bless and approve of surface appearances and justify them, and of the building of such churches there is no end. … The true church which wages war against all appearances becomes a troublemaker and a public enemy to all masked men.[5]

Studying to show oneself a workman approved, not ashamed, is commended. But if the wife’s zeal shames the husband, the solution is for him to study and excel, not to tap the brakes on his wife’s faith. Blaming the wife for a zeal for the Word becomes a form of victim blaming, by ignoring the husband’s responsibility and making the wife the author of division in the family. But to “have more understanding than all my teachers” (Ps. 119:99) by studying God’s law is a cause for joy, not concern. A problem stemming from male responsibility cannot be solved by masking appearances.[6] The man’s authority, as Rushdoony observed, is tied to man’s responsibilities:

Of course, men insisted on all the Biblical authority given to a man while denying its responsibilities, forgetting that all human authority in Scripture is conditional upon obedience to God. No absolute authority is given to man in any sphere, and all authority has service to God and man as its purpose, not self-promotion or aggrandizement.[7]
The remarkable fact of our era is not that we have had at times aggressive women’s liberation movements but that the vast majority of women have patiently endured the willful immaturity of men.[8]
The abdication of men from their responsibilities as husbands and fathers is having sad results in family life.[9]

The God who punctures appearances and masks will not honor counsel that quenches His Word or His Spirit. But the entering in of His Word bringeth light: a promise husbands and wives can all rely on.

I hope men don’t believe the media narrative that most women are unruly, defiant, and rebellious when it comes to marriage and biblical norms. We aren’t. We just don’t appreciate the caricatures and insinuations. And, just so it is clear: the Bible doesn’t tell men to teach their spouses how to be wives and mothers. That was assigned to older women in Paul’s second chapter of Titus. The more women read, learn, and apply the law-word of God to every area of life and thought, the better they will be in all of their roles, eventually serving as an older woman to other women who are struggling in their calling.

[1] Charles Hodge, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Ephesians (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1950), 314f.
[2] R. J. Rushdoony, Salvation and Godly Rule (Vallecito, CA; Ross House Books (1983, 2004), 494-96.
[5] R. J. Rushdoony, Good Morning Friends, Vol. 1 (Vallecito, CA: Chalcedon/Ross House Books, 2017), pp. 71-73.
[6] In some rare cases, it has been alleged that such studious wives have too much free time on their hands and should be kept working harder in the home. This certainly was Pharaoh’s position regarding the Hebrews, and so he demanded that they make bricks without straw. Pharaoh is hardly a defensible role model here for male authority in the family, as he did this out of his hard-heartedness.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Ibid.