Dan Popp
Mutual submission: An answer to what question?
By Dan Popp
May 22, 2014

The preacher said he was taking his wedding homily from Ephesians 5. He said that in that chapter God enjoins "mutual submission" – wife to husband and husband to wife – meaning that, as the husband puts his wife's needs first and loves her, she will love him in response. If you blinked, you may have missed the double switch: From whatever Ephesians 5 says, to "mutual submission," to sacrificial love and reciprocity.

A "shell game" isn't really a game.

Putting someone else's needs ahead of our own is not the submission to his or her authority. A father might die to save his child (meeting his needs), but he wouldn't let Junior pick the supper menu (submitting to the child's authority). This isn't confusing, unless we wish to be confused. Christ did, as the preacher went on to say, put the needs of His Bride ahead of His own physical needs. But Jesus is not therefore subject to her, nor are Christ and the Church co-regents of the universe. And yet the Church's needs are met completely when she yields to Him. Despite the feminist fallacy, the issue is not needs or status or even competence – it's simply authority.

If the preacher had actually quoted Ephesians 5, we would have heard:
    "...and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ. 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. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her.... (Ephesians 5:21-25, NAS95)
Feminists assert that men and women are equal; then they shuffle the shells so that equal becomes interchangeable so that the sexes have identical roles and ranks. Why the semantic gymnastics? The reason must be that they see all authority (except, perhaps, their own) as oppression.

Contrary to that, Jesus said, "The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who have authority over them are called 'Benefactors.' But it is not this way with you, but the one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant." (Luke 22:25, 26) There was no need for the wedding preacher to concoct a conflict between the wife's needs being met, and her taking the supporting role in a Christian marriage. In the world some are leaders, and others are servants. In the family of God the leaders are the servants.

The Christian concept of servant-leadership is a paradox, not a contradiction. It can be done. The assertion that two people can be both leaders and followers of each other in the same way and at the same time breaks the laws of logic. It runs afoul of Aristotle before it ever gets to Jesus.

The command in Ephesians, be subject to one another in the fear of Christ, doesn't pre-contradict what follows; it is explained by what follows. Wives are told to be subject to their own husbands (not to other men, note); but there is no parallel instruction for husbands. The husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is head of the church, because God is not fashioning a two-headed monster, but a beautiful, functioning family.

It turns out that "mutual submission" is the answer to a nonsensical question: "How can we reconcile the Bible with the anti-Christian assumptions of postmodern feminism?"

Paul is often dismissed as a "misogynist" because he doesn't accept the newfangled view that authority equals oppression. But Peter goes further, applying the teaching of the husband's headship to situations in which the husband is not a Christian:
    In the same way, you wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives, as they observe your chaste and respectful behavior. Your adornment must not be merely external – braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God. For in this way in former times the holy women also, who hoped in God, used to adorn themselves, being submissive to their own husbands; just as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, and you have become her children if you do what is right without being frightened by any fear. You husbands in the same way, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman; and show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered. (1 Peter 3:1-7)
Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord (recognizing his authority) not because her husband was smarter or stronger or holier; but because she hoped in God. She was a believing wife. She was not the opposite – frightened by any fear. The cry that a woman must lead or be crushed under patriarchal machismo is an appeal to fear.

Faith responds to what God has said, not to circumstances or culture. For husbands, it takes faith to provide for, protect, serve, love sacrificially, and honor a wife while allowing for her weaknesses. For wives, it takes faith to follow a husband, respect him and support him despite his weaknesses. A Christian marriage, like everything else in the Christian life, requires us to believe that God knows what He's talking about.

That's why this pattern is a distinctive mark of Christian families, and a testimony of Jesus to the world. That's why the world's pattern of confusion and fear has no place at a Christian wedding.

© Dan Popp


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