Patriarchy – Five Grave Concerns

I hope you are able to check the Matt Holst article on Patriarchy over at the Reformation 21 blog which appeared a while back.

I am sure many of you who have been fighting for the restoration of biblical family life, and particularly for its instruction on manhood and womanhood, were happy to see the article by pastor Matt Holst, who lives just down the road from me in Raleigh. I was delighted to read it. I agree with almost everything he says. He has identified most of the egregious problems of the distorted understanding of male headship that we have heard about in recent times. Here are the five grave concerns:

1. Christian Patriarchy tends to supplant ecclesiastical authority.
2. Christian Patriarchy tends to supplant ecclesiastical community.
3. Christian Patriarchy tends to pervert the father’s God-given role in the home as prophet, priest and king.
4. Christian Patriarchy tends to pervert the mother’s God-given role in the home.
5. Christian Patriarchy tends to be a man-made, law based system.

Much of that distortion arises from zealous family reformers who practice poor exegesis, draw unwarranted conclusions, and misapply Scripture on the one hand and from feminism and homosexualism on the other.

But who are these people? Who are the writers who articulate these views? The are hard to find… At least, its hard to find them publishing anything. Instead, there seems to be some sort of “patriarchy underground” among professing Christians, and pastors and church members are concerned about them. These scattered individuals might show up in your church, but it is hard to identify specific teachers, so that you can quote them, or reference them in proper footnotes. Over the years, I have heard the errors Pastor Holst mentions, and have spoken against them; but I can’t say that I presently know any leaders or writers who publicly advocate the errors Holst exposes. But it’s not hard to find pastors who have had bad experiences with individuals who showed up in their congregations and caused a disturbance that was directly tied to one or more of Holst’s grave concerns.

The term, “patriarchy,” certainly has fallen on hard times and can hardly be used anymore without misunderstanding or without writing hundreds of words explaining what you mean by your use of the term. In Websters 1828 Dictionary, the definition is simple, “noun [Latin patriarcha; Gr. a family, father, and a chief.] 1. The father and ruler of a family; one who governs by paternal right. It is usually applied to the progenitors of the Israelites, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and the sons of Jacob, or to the heads of families before the flood; as the antediluvian patriarchs.” My impression is that most people who are writing or speaking against patriarchy are not exactly referring to this definition.

I liked Justin Taylor on the Gospel Coalition blog framed patriarchy in his article, “Why Does the Tale of Redemption Come to Us in the Language of Patriarchal Society?

From my vantage point, there are at least two uses of the word patriarchy currently used in a disparaging fashion. First, for the feminists, it simply means, anyone who believes in male headship. To them, male headship always means male abuse of women. But the Bible will have none of this. Christ Himself is “head” of the church, and He is not an abuser of His church. Second, there is what christian writers call “the patriarchy movement.” The people who disparagingly use this term often mean many things, including male domination and tyranny. Sometimes it is used to include various flavors of complementarians who are striving to be faithful to the biblical categories and commands of scripture regarding manhood and womanhood in marriage. Over the years, Ive known some good men who have been thrown in with the extremist hyper patriarchal pigs because they were somehow associated with this or that person or that they used the word “head” in the context of the male role in marriage.

When people ask me if I believe in patriarchy, I try to remember to ask, “what do YOU mean by patriarchy?”  After some conversation, I usually end up saying something like, “I do embrace patriarchy in this sense: I believe in the kind of headship that Jesus Christ displayed. As head of His church, He loved her and gave Himself up for her and He always leads her to green pastures.” That’s what I call biblical patriarchy (Ephesians 5:21-33; 1 Peter 3:7, 1-12).

While we are working for the recovery of biblical manhood and womanhood, we need the Lord’s help to discern truth from error and to shepherd churches to embrace the Headship of Christ in everything.

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