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When I posted Is Jesus a Sinner According to Bill Gothard’s Teachings? a few weeks back I could vividly recall Bill Gothard’s question to me the first time I went through the ramifications of his teaching with him. His response was, “Are you saying there is no authority over the wife and children?” In his mind, rejection of his definitions equals rejecting biblical teaching. He seems unaware or is intentionally obtuse as to the idea that he is reading something into the text that simply doesn’t exist there. One of the comments in response to the blog posting was from Pastor Ron Aldridge:

Having attended Gothard’s seminars in the early 90′s, I am familiar with these teachings. Although I don’t disallow everything you said (Jesus WAS sinless), I would take exception to your take on authority and what “you” left out. What about Paul’s writings in Ephesians where he stated in 5:22-24, “Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the [ head of the wife ], as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives [ ought ] to be to their husbands in everything.

Fortunately both Pastor Aldridge and Bill Gothard agree that Jesus was sinless, but that is in clear conflict with the definition of authority Gothard provides. I was a little confused about where Pastor Aldridge was taking exception to my “take on authority” since the point of the blog was to evaluate Gothard’s definition and out-of-context attempt to support his claims, and as far as I can tell, Ephesians 5:22-24 doesn’t really impact that question one way of the other. But, Pastor Aldridge does raise an important question. How do we understand such passages? If authority is not some top-down “chain of command,” “umbrella of protection” authoritarianism such as there is in the military, what is it? I think the context of the passage really helps us understand what the apostle is saying, and it is very relational rather than authoritarian. What follows verse 24 helps us to see a more color-filled picture of the marital relationship. The Apostle Paul writes in 5:25-32:

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.

Paul devotes much more time to developing the attitudes, responsibilities, and behaviors of the husband than he does the wife. The reason is obvious. Christ could have exerted Himself as the boss to be feared and obeyed, but instead, He served those who followed Him. Instead of being a cattle herder, shouting and commanding the herd, He was a shepherd Who was gentle, and the sheep followed. As a general statement, men tend to be less relational and more task oriented. Keeping the little woman in line is just a task to be completed. Serving her, building into her and encouraging her is much more difficult and time-consuming but brings great benefits. A biblical marriage that I think exemplifies this is, oddly enough, in Proverbs 31. Most of us have read books on or heard sermons about the Proverbs 31 woman. I don’t think I have ever really heard anyone discuss the Proverbs 31 man, though and there couldn’t have been a Proverbs 31 woman without him. He trusted her (Prov. 31:11), and he prospered. She did good by him and not evil. It seems there was complete trust and no rivalry between them. She was productive (v:13), was an importer (v:14), not only fed her family but served her servants (v:15), was a real estate investor and wine producer, and there is no indication she asked permission to make the purchase (v:16) we are not even told if he has a job!

I don’t want to read too much into this, but to point out that she respected him, and he trusted and encouraged her. How all of that works out will vary from marriage to marriage because different people are involved with different personalities, strengths, and weaknesses. After developing his thoughts in Eph. 5:22-32 Paul says:

However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.

“Love his wife as himself” is a profound and, in too many cases, an under-emphasized aspect of marriage. The responsibility to be a servant is greater on the husband. But there is another aspect within the context, and that is verse 21:

submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.

As believers, we are to be mutually submitted to one another and each working to out-serve one another. For believers, there is no top-down authority structure but a bottom-up servant leadership. Those who ascend higher in leadership, whether in a family, local church, or the wider church at large, the more accountable they are to a larger number of people. As a husband, is it totally inappropriate, for example, for me to make a major life-changing decision without my wife’s input and then order her to live with it? That is how Gothard’s view of authority works. As I reflect on this, I don’t think I left anything out, but rather that I find biblical servant self-sacrificial leadership is the opposite and perhaps is diametrically opposed to the pagan, militaristic leadership which Gothard promotes.Ω


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