This topic is very important, and I have put a lot of thought into this before writing this post. The main question that I am going to address in this post is:
Is being ‘too controlling’ a sin for leadership positions?
Is it a sin for a wife to be ‘subservient’ in marriage?
Generally speaking, in Christian — or shall we say Churchian — circles there’s the implicit or explicit “acknowledgement” by teachers that those who are in leadership are in sin if they are “too controlling.” Obviously, the greatest area where this topic comes up is in marriage.
Many women are “fearful” or “worried” if a husband is being too controlling. Hence, if a husband is “too controlling” and a wife submits to this she is in also in the “sin of subservience.”
As a firm advocate of Patriarchy I believe these both to be false. Dalrock has explored this in a number of recent posts including this one: Sarah was a doormat by complementarian standards as are her daughters.
Generally speaking, churchian leadership likes to be intrusive into various marriages dictating what is true and what is false. This is to say that husbands are called to be “servant leaders” or “spiritual leaders” rather than just “headship” as the Scriptures call it because they need qualifiers and limitations on how husbands are to act in their own marriages.
This appears to be a mistake as the Scriptures affirm that marriages have a separate authority structure which connects in the Church in different ways. Indeed, the Scriptures affirm headship as Christ loved to Church and to treat her as his own body thrice; however, they don’t necessarily prescribe the ways in how this is to occur.
Ephesians 5:22 Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 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. 24 But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.
25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, 26 so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 that He might present to Himself the church [q]in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. 28 So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; 29 for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, 30 because we are members of His body. 31 For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and shall be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. 32 This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church. 33 Nevertheless, each individual among you also is to love his own wife even as himself, and the wife must see to it that she [r]respects her husband.
Similarly, wives are called to submit to their husbands in all things. This includes teaching at the Church.
1 Corinthians 15:34 The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says. 35 If they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is [n]improper for a woman to speak in church. 36 [o]Was it from you that the word of God first went forth? Or has it come to you only?
Why are women — or perhaps wives — told to keep silent in Churches? Well, 1 Corinthians latter chapters speak mostly of order in the Church. That is those who speak out in Church are disruptive. God is not a God of chaos but of order. However, the other lesson that is less brought up here is that tasks are delegated to the husband because of the way authority work in establishing order. This is important because the Scriptures continually affirm headship and submission in marriage as it’s own sphere.
Now, the reason why “being too controlling” as a husband is not a sin and why I do not believe in the “sin of subservience” is because each marriage is different. What works for one marriage within the bounds of Scriptural guidelines may be different from another. However, is one better than the other? No. Is one wrong while the other is right? No again.
For example, take a supposedly “controlling husband” and a “subservient wife.” The husband likes order in everything he does, and he wants everything done a specific way. This is not wrong. It is simply a leadership preference. Likewise, a wife who submits to her husband in such a manner is not in sin. She likes and needs a strict structure in order to be the most effective helpmeet in her marriage. This is a pairing where both obedient to the Scripture and fulfilled in their roles and responsibilities. However, many churchian leaders would call such a marriage a sin.
Simply put, there are many different types of leadership styles that men may have. Some range from strict to loose. In the same way, there are many different types of personalities that women have as well. Some do well with more structure, and some do well with less. This is important because it means that a woman who wants to be a wife and mother should only accept marriage to a man who meets her particular leadership style. If she wants more structure then she is not in sin even if others say she is sinning because she is subservient to husband.
If the husband wants an “egalitarian marriage” then it is up to him to use his headship in that manner. I think it is unwise to do this because this makes making final decisions much more difficult. However, it is his choice to rule his own household in this way. This does not make a marriage in reality an “egalitarian marriage” because the husband is still commanded by God to the role and responsibility of headship.
This leads me to my main point: Churchian leaders and Christians need to butt out of other people’s marriages, especially calling them a “sin” when there is more structure than what they would call “normal.”
“Normal” is an ambiguous standard because it is most often defined by culture. What is “normal” in culture regarding marriage? Egalitarian marriage. Hence, we see that complementarians have gone to great lengths to define marriage closer to what culture has said is “normal” so that they aren’t classified as extremists. They shy away from calling headship as it is and lean toward the gerrymandered phases of “servant leader” and “spiritual leader” that I mentioned prior.
A health marriage may take on many forms. Some will have a lot of structure within them which may make them appear strict and controlling. However, such structures are not a sin because they are all within the bounds of the headship-submission marriage relationship. Some will have very little structure which may make them appear with more “freedom.” However, these are not inherently “better” than a stricter marriage.
Likewise, is a man wants to rule his marriage with egalitarian means I think it is unwise but he can do what he wishes. Let us not be under the delusion that it is actually an egalitarian marriage as that is the way that the man has chosen to rule. This is the same thing as gay marriage. Because God is the ultimate authority, gay marriage does not exist. Humans can think it exists and manufacture laws to govern it, but it still does not exist.
Submission taken too far?
There is no such thing as submission taken too far. However, there is such thing as false humility in submission. There are quite a few examples of wives on various blogs who have taken submission into their own hands. Let me explain.
For example, a husband has a particular way to rule his own family and the wife is doing well in that structure. However, after she has talked with a mentor, read a book, or read a blog or two on the topic of submission, she now has the impression that she was “not submitting properly to her husband before.” Now, instead of working well within her husbands structure for the family she becomes a self proclaimed “doormat” in which she never expresses her opinions, does everything her husband wants, and even does some things that her husband doesn’t want under the guise of “being more submissive.
What typically ends up happening is that this leaves the wife feeling poorly about everything and generally unfulfilled. Then the husband has to have some awkward conversation with his wife where he says he ‘just wants his wife back’ and that she was being weird about things.
Such examples are often used as an example to show that “being a doormat” or “subservience” in a marriage is bad thing. However, this is false.
In reality what happened is that the wife was embroiled in an example of the insidious nature of false humility. The wife decided unilaterally that she knew best what was the right way to be a helpmeet to husband. Although she had the right intentions of being submissive to her husband, she was actually being rebellious to how her husband wanted the marriage to be run in the first place. Thus, conflict came up between them which needed resolution.
Right intentions are good! However, the right intentions must be applied properly. After all, there is some truth to the phrase that “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.”
Therefore, wives often get the impression that “being a doormat” or “subservient” is a bad thing from this experience. However, what they miss from this scenario is that they were actually being inadvertently rebellious. They were listening to other people, books, or blogs on how to be submissive to their own husbands instead of listening to their own husband on how to be submissive to them.
Hence, when a wife who has went through this experience sees a marriage with “more structure,” she often believes that the wife is in sin because she is being a “doormat” or “subservient.” This wrong impression causes wives to attempt to butt into other people’s marriages in order to correct this sin when in reality they may be introducing dysfunction or malcontent into an otherwise Godly and healthy relationship.
- It is not a “sin” if a husband is “too controlling”
- Neither is it a “sin” if a wife is “too subservient”
- Some marriages have much more structure than other marriages which may make the husband appear ‘controlling’ and the wife appear ‘subservient.’ It is not a sin, unlike many Churchians would have you to believe. Calling them a sin may be the real sin.
- Churchian leaders and Christians need to butt out of other people’s marriages, especially calling them a “sin” when there is more structure than what they would call “normal.”
- Husbands have the choice to rule their marriages how they want: more structure, less structure, or even in an apparent ‘egalitarian manner.’
- A husband ruling his marriage in an ‘egalitarian manner’ is probably unwise due to making final decisions much more difficult.
- Wives who listen to other people, books, or blogs about how to be submissive tend to run into conflict with their husbands because they think they now know what ‘submission’ is and how to go about it. This is not a “sin of subservience” or “being a doormat” rather it is insidious false humility that others know more about your marriage than your husband.
- Wives who have had those ‘bad experiences’ with being ‘too submissive’ may see other marriages that are godly and healthy and offer incorrect teaching when they see “more structure” in a marriage than normal because they think it is dysfunctional when it is not. Hence, wives need to be vigilant about giving any other advice rather than “submit to your husband the way your husband sees fit” because they may introduce malcontent and dysfunction into other marriages if they offer any other advice.
Finally, for those who are single:
Christian men who desire to be married should aim to find a wife who meshes with his leadership style. If you want more structure in your marriage, then attempt to find a wife who thrives under more structure. If you want less structure in your marriage, then find a wife who thrives with more so-called freedom.
If a Christian woman who desires to be married likes more structure then only marry a Christian man who likes structure in his marriage. Likewise, if a Christian woman who desires to be married does not like a lot of structure then she should choose a man who has a more laid back leadership style. If each woman gets married to a man who has different leadership preferences than her then it will make things difficult.
Personally, I lead through a more laid back leadership style. I am very firm about things that are important to the health of the relationship. Yet, I am more laid back in the everyday choices of life, but I will make decisions easily if required. If I see marriages that have more or less structure and control than my relationship, I need to be vigilant that they are not necessarily “wrong” or “in sin” because they operate differently.
Be vigilant not to call marriages with more or less structure than yours sin as you may be heaping such judgment onto yourself.