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Volume 8, Issue 2: Husbandry

Masculinism Revisited

Douglas Wilson

Several issues ago I wrote on the problem of masculinism, which I defined as the problem of seeing women generally having to submit to men generally. In contrast, the biblical pattern is that particular women are to be in submission to particular fathers and husbands. This prevents their submission to other men, which, considering some of the men out there, is a good thing.

I wrote further that a particular noble woman could in many respects be the superior of a particular man. She would not be his weaker vessel. This would be an excellent reason for her not to marry such a man; because, from that point on, Scripture would require her to be a respectful and dutiful wife to him. He is able to be a biblical head to some women, but not to all. She is able to submit joyfully to some men, but not to all. Understanding this will take us back to the biblical pattern of complex hierarchy in society, and also bring us to reject the simplistic hierarchy of "Me, Tarzan; You, Any Given Female."
C.S. Lewis once commented on this pattern as he contrasted the station of a very great woman (who was a submissive wife) and the station of a common man: "But I should feel sorry for the common man, such as myself, who was led by this speech into the egregious mistake of walking into Belmont and behaving as though Portia really were an unlessoned girl. A man's forehead reddens to think of it. She may speak thus to Bassanio: but we had better remember that we are dealing with a great lady." 1 Anyone familiar with the writing of Lewis knows how much he detested feminism, but this passage shows that he also was embarrassed by men who think more highly of themselves than they ought. He recognized that God had made a world hostile to isms , and friendly to humility.
In that earlier column I had mentioned in passing that an elder of a Christian church who is committed to one woman, as Paul says, will soon find that his wife has a great deal of influence in the churchmore perhaps than many of the individual men in the church. In response, one reader wrote with a legitimate concern which requires some careful consideration. "Is not this kind of conjecture just the sort which opens the crack for pushy preachers' and elders' wives to become de facto 'Eldettes'? You might have unwittingly legitimized an opportunity for 'influence' and thus authority for women in the church which Scripture expressly prohibits."
The first point to be made is that this pattern is not really conjecture. An elder who is married, and who has the kind of helper he must have if he is managing his household as Scripture requires, will be a far more effective elder because of the influence of his wife on him. This help is not limited to having his children and preparing his meals. At the same time, her influence on the church is indirect and is wielded through her ministry to him . Esther, a submissive wife, had more influence than all the elders of Israel. Given the nature of this influence, no scriptural fault can be found with it. Mordecai was even prepared to blame her if she tried to get away from her influence through submission. In a similar submissive way, a godly pastor's wife will be a tremendous blessing in the church. "How do you think John is doing? Do you think you should give him a call?"
The second point to make is that truth can always be distorted, and until the resurrection, it always will be. When those who distort it are pushy women, it can be distorted in remarkably destructive ways. Scripture does not establish a separate office called "married to an elder," giving the bearer the right to be offended if anything in the church does not go her way. Certainly, no woman may have any personal authority in the government of the church. And certainly, an unsubmissive woman may grab and run off with any comments here indicating that some women must have influence in the church. But she could also justify her behavior by pointing out the unbiblical behavior of reactionary males, who cannot defend their doctrine of blanket male superiority from Scripture and whose only defense for their behavior is that feminism is unscriptural, and that their position is "not feminism."
The real issue is whether or not a particular teaching is true . If it is true, this will certainly not prevent distortions. After all, Peter tells us that ignorant and unstable people twisted Paul's writingsdifficult to understand as they were. And Paul himself tells us people mangled his words, but went on to add their condemnation was just. The question is therefore not, "What could so-and-so do with this?" but rather, "Is it scriptural?" If those women who want to run the show can get around the Scripture, they can also get around anything else.
My objection is that the masculinist position is just as unbiblical as the feminist position. Men who are not leaders in the home, where Scripture requires it, are commonly tempted to make up for this abdication elsewhere. This is sometimes found in the comfort of knowing that "men" have it over "women." But this is no-cost authority. A generally diffused masculinist bluster is no substitute for the godly authority which flows from consistent service in the home.
In the final analysis, the problem of women who overstep their bounds in a church is not their problem. The difficulty is with the men who let them.

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