Patriarchy in Christ's Church, Pt. 1
"I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man." - St. Paul
In the same way believers are transformed into the likeness of Christ from one degree of glory to the next (2 Cor. 3:18), so the next Christendom will surpass the glory of the first. There will be elements in the next Christendom that, while present at some times and some places in the first, will become pillars in the new iteration. For example, the next Christendom will be thoroughly reformed in its doctrine—justification by faith, covenant theology, doctrines of grace, etc. These existed in the first Christendom, but they were regional and late in time. They will be pervasive in the next Christendom.
On the other hand, there are good elements that characterized the first Christendom which have fallen out of fashion in the years of our un-Enlightenment—Western Civilization turning away from the Light of the world in the pursuit of secular humanism. One such element is patriarchy.
Patriarchy is Inevitable
The world has always been patriarchal, for it is the natural order of things. But the natural order of things was twisted through the entrance of sin into the world, and remains bent and broken until Christ fully and finally redeems and restores all things, both in history and at the last day. Patriarchy is no exception. Having been corrupted by sin, many evil patriarchs have arisen across all history in all domains. Kings and emperors, presidents and politicians, popes and priests, husbands and fathers.
Yet Christ came to restore all things, and that includes the broken patriarchy. Jesus came as a man not merely for the purpose of redeeming mankind, but to save manhood. Where Adam failed to lead his wife and exercise rule in the Garden, Christ succeeded, overcoming the devil and exercising his authority across history on behalf of his bride, the Church (Matt. 28:18-20; Eph. 1:19-23). Where evil patriarchs emerged to “lord over” those over whom they ruled (Mark 10:42), Christ came not to be served, but to sacrificially serve those he rules (Mark 10:45).
In short, Christ came not to destroy the patriarchy, but to redeem and perfect it.
In the first Christendom, patriarchy characterized the church, imperfect though it was and prone to abuse (especially in the See of Rome). Today, in the ruins of that Christendom, patriarchy is distasteful, both the word itself and the divine order to which it refers. Nevertheless, the next Christendom will recover patriarchy in the home, church, and civil government. Or, perhaps we should say that the next Christendom will be built on nothing less (though certainly more) than the recovery and redemption of patriarchy in these spheres. If we are to build, we must build in line with God’s design, lest we labor in vain.
It will be godly men who build households, churches, and communities for the glory of God, or it will be no one at all.
Patriarchy in the Church
In his first epistle to Timothy, St. Paul delivers a real zinger to our modern, feminized ears:
Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.
1 Tim. 2:11-14
Look. I am neither a biblical scholar, nor the son of a biblical scholar. The zeitgeist of modern biblical scholarship and theology has produced thousands of books and articles, complete with gazillions of footnotes, dozens of transliterated Greek terms, and not a few high profile endorsements, arguing that St. Paul was not saying what it very much sounds like he’s saying in the passage just quoted. This is not the place to engage in such arguments, and readers are encouraged to seek out the scholarly material if they desire. I will simply make four observations about the issue before concluding this installment.
First, a plain reading of Scripture indicates that elders and overseers in Christ’s church—tasked with protecting and propagating sound doctrine, administering the sacraments, and disciplining unrepentant sinners—is a vocation for men only.
If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife… He must manage his own household well.
1 Tim. 3:1-2, 5
This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you—if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife… He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.
Titus 1:5-6, 9
Read the above passages in their full context. No one with basic comprehension skills will walk away from a plain reading of the text thinking that overseers and elders can be women. Such a jump in interpretation requires a Ph.D, or at the very least tutelage under a Ph.D.
Second, the New Testament instructions regarding male leadership in the church are consistent with the Old Testament prescriptions for a male-only priesthood. Aaron and his sons were permitted to the priesthood, and their sons after them. The worship of God’s people was specifically entrusted to godly men, and this did not change with the transition to the New Covenant.
Third, until the 20th century, the universal church always and everywhere only ordained men to the office of elder or overseer. Why is this significant? Because to divert from this 1,900 year old church practice (or 3,400 year old practice if we include the Old Testament church) is something called innovation. In the world of theology, innovation is a technical term, and it should be avoided like the plague. To innovate theologically is to promote doctrine or practice that has never been held by the church historically.
Now this may not sound like a problem to innovation-obsessed modern ears, but it is a serious problem for Christians, because innovation implies that God has not provided all things necessary for the church’s life and godliness in Christ and through the Holy Spirit (2 Pet. 1:3). Christ promised his apostles that he would send them the Spirit, who would supply them—the apostles—with all truth (John 16:12-13). This truth is contained in the apostolic writings of the New Testament, and through this truth the Holy Spirit has nurtured and developed the body of Christ from its earliest days in Jerusalem to its present form in the world today. And when the Holy Spirit has given the church one mind, without exception, for 95% of its life (i.e., the first 1,900 out of 2,000 years), to then perform a series of theological gymnastics on the plain text of Scripture in order to arrive at a different conclusion than the historic church is not only a fools’s errand; it is a violation of the principle contained within the Fifth Commandment.
Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.
To innovate theologically is to say to the Holy Spirit and the church he formed across history: “I have no need of you; get with the times.” Such a rebellious insult carried a hefty penalty under the Old Covenant (Deut. 21:18-21), and I would suggest it reaps its own consequences today.
Fourth, and finally, every major American denomination I’m aware of that altered its doctrine and practice with regard to women’s ordination in the mid to late twentieth century is open and affirming of homosexual sin today. The Episcopal Church USA, the Presbyterian Church USA, the United Methodist Church, and the Lutheran Church in America (now the ELCA), all began ordaining women between the 1950s and 1970s. They all affirm the goodness of homosexuality, and all but the UMC ordain homosexual clergy today.
Why is this issue of women’s ordination a demonstrably “slippery slope” into the abandoning other biblically clear and historically held doctrines? Simple: the same posture and approach toward the Scriptures—the same hermeneutical gymnastics—applied to the one are later applied to the other.
Does this mean that every church which ordains women to the pastorate will eventually approve of homosexuality?
But likely, judging by the evidence.
Irreverent theology—despising the Scriptures and the historic mind of the church—spreads like gangrene (2 Tim. 2:16). Embrace it at your own risk.
Indeed, this is the question. Why does this matter? What is at stake if the church defies Scripture and tradition through theological innovation? What are the natural consequences that will result from our disobedience to the Lord in this matter? How is the church better served with men in the pastorate and not women?
That’s what I’ll flesh out next time.
p.s. Find the next installment below.