We have been examining ways in which patriarchy teaches serious errors that threaten to put it outside the fence of Christian orthodoxy, and today we cover the third pillar (you can read about the first two pillars here and here). Our third pillar is that the teaching of male headship turns him into the functional high priest of his family, thereby erecting a barrier between women and children and the exclusive mediation of Christ. In this way they also turn the family into an idol, repeating the sin of Korah and his clan, who were destroyed in the wilderness.
The Father is Priest of His Family
The standard argument among patriarchalists and hierarchical-complimentarians is to see the father/husband/patriarch as the pastor and priest of his home. They actually use these terms. In Voddie Baucham’s book Family Shepherds (a title which indicates this by itself, he titles Part Two as follows: Family Discipleship and Evangelism: Equipping Men to be Priests and Prophets in their Homes. R. C. Sproul Jr.’s edited volume Family Practice includes a chapter called “The Father as Priest,” written to lay out the “difficult and intimidating task of priestly care of their families,” (p. 32). So how is a father a priest? Well, “God ordained the family as the basic social unit, a microcosm of society. A father, as head of this unit, carries responsibility for going before God to intercede for his family,” because “a priest is one who mediates” in order to “effect cleansing and renewal” and who “intercedes redemptively between the holy God and the sinful people who need restoration,” (p. 33). He finishes by writing that “a father shoulders the burden of priesthood in the family,” (p. 35). Sproul Jr. himself writes that after the father as prophet comes “the role of priest” which “we [men] take as Christ to our family, as fathers and husbands,” (Bound for Glory, 57). This involves fathers who “bring our families daily before the throne of God, before His mercy seat,” and by “interceding for our families, even as our Lord intercedes for us,” communicating to the household “As your priest I will bring you before the presence of our Lord,” (pp. 58, 59). But this isn’t just for the kids: “there is nothing your wife wants more than that you should do the same for her,” (p. 58). Wilson teaches the same thing, that the “Lord is not only our priest and king, He is also the prophet who instructs His people. In Paul’s teaching, he requires the husband to teach his wife in just the same way,” (Federal Husband, p. 24). The husband is “also a public person; he is vested with an office” and “in that office, he bears the responsibility for the spiritual state of the family,” (p. 24).
Because this is so, a woman is always required to have an authoritarian “head” to which she is in submission. Before marriage, her father is her head (Wilson, Her Hand in Marriage, pp. 18-22), and after marriage, that “headship” transfers to her husband. Now, some patriarchalists, teach that in the event of divorce or death of the husband, women become the “heads” of their households (Wilson, Her Hand, p. 21), though in practice this never actually happens. But others, equally “mainstream” evangelical, argue that a woman can never exist in a state where a man is not her “head.” R. C. Sproul Jr. writes about a woman in his church whose husband left her. So the session set her up in a trailer near another family and placed the father of this family over her as her head. “He was to be a father and a husband to this family in very ordinary, practical, and natural ways,” which also meant mediating for her as priest in family worship (Bound For Glory, p. 98).
In all this, patriarchalists equate the Kingdom of God with the family. “God ordained the family as the basic social unit, a microcosm of society,” (Sproul Jr., ed., Family Practice, 33). Sproul Jr. lists four institutions God established in creation, and the order is quite revealing: “One is the individual. The second is the family. After that comes the church and finally, He has also established the State,” (Bound for Glory, 31). Wilson doesn’t come out and say this, but he does argue for the necessity of partriarchal fathers for the flourishing and success of their families, a success that will return effectiveness and blessing to both families and the Church (Father Hunger, ch. 2-4).
The Family as Idol
The equation of the family with the Church is a serious error, one that is actually idolatrous. Patriarchalists read the creation of man and woman in Genesis in such a way that their position flows inevitably from it as an abiding creational ordinance. Such is the power of our presuppositions. They read Genesis 1 in a way that Eve’s creation after Adam makes her creationally subordinate to Adam. Even otherwise brilliant typological interpreters take this position as a natural assumption. But what was created in the Garden, the Church or the family? Most Old Testament scholars today see the Garden as representing a proto-Holy of Holies, a prefiguring of the innermost chamber of the Temple and Tabernacle (Jordan, Through New Eyes). God spoke to both Adam and Eve as one, giving them both rule and dominion and giving them both the task to be fruitful and multiply (Gen. 1:26-28), and allowed both to draw near in His Holy of Holies Garden/Sanctuary in order to be instructed equally by the angels (the angels ruled over humanity during the Old Covenant – Heb. 1-2; Gal. 3-4).
We know that this picture is ecclesial, not primarily familial; the family images the Church, not the other way around (Eph. 5). Marriage was made as a picture of Christ and the Church, but this is not a reversible idea. Christ and the Church were not made to image marriage. Adam and Eve, as representivative persons, represent Christ and the Church in the Garden. This ecclesial-centrism continues throughout Scripture. Abraham might have been a patriarch, but this patriarchy is a lineage of covenant faithfulness, not bloodline, as the NT repeatedly tells us. God can raise up sons of Abraham from the rocks of the ground (Matt. 3:9). The Abrahamic covenant was conditional upon Israel doing justice and righteousness, not bloodline rites (Gen. 18:19; Jer. 7:22-23), and any who lived such lives of liberation and Jubilee would be accepted as children of Abraham (Rom. 2:13-16; Gal. 3-4). God’s covenant people and God’s Church always advanced by adoption and faithfulness, with the family playing a more or less marginal role. Name for me how many “successful” or “victorious” families there are in Scripture? David? Solomon? Aaron? Adam and Eve? How many of the great heroes of Hebrews 11 raised great families? Was God’s Kingdom or His Church hindered in any way by this? It was unfaithful Israel who always failed to understand this.
Patriarchal interpretations of the Old Covenant are questionable at best, but even if the OT proves to have been patriarchal, there is no leg to stand on when we come to the New Covenant. Note Ephesians 5: “giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus the Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ, wives to your own husband, as to the Lord,” (vv. 20-22). This is how the passage reads in Greek; our English translations insert “submit” after “wife,” where it does not appear, and make v. 22 its own sentence (Eph. 5:15-24 is all a single sentence in the Greek). Notice how this changes the meaning. Not “wives submit,” but both each “submitting to one another…as to the Lord.” Each are to submit to the other as they would to Christ, because both image Christ and both stand under the mediation of Christ independent of one another, as equals. Anyone, at any time, regardless of gender, may come into the Holy of Holies and speak directly to our sole mediator, Jesus the High Priest, for any reason (Heb. 2:17-18; 4:14-16; 6:19-20; 7:26-28; 8:1-2; 9:11-15; 13:11-13). In baptism we all, regardless of gender, put on Christ, which serves to bring down the barrier between male and female (Gal. 3:27-28). In Hebrews, baptism brings down the barrier between priests and people, so that we can all enter into the Holy of Holies in union with our High Priest, making us all co-High Priests with Him in the heavenly Temple (Heb. 10:19-22).
By placing men in between their wives and Christ, patriarchy makes the family hierarchy into a rival Church, an idolatrous rebellion against God’s duly-appointed structures of redemption and creation. By equating the family with the Church and the Kingdom of God, these patriarchs have repeated the sin of Israel who wrongly believed that the Kingdom advanced by blood, not by grace. By such reckless equivocation, patriarchy undoes baptism and endangers the exclusive mediation of Christ for female and children believers, rebuilding barriers around them which Christ broke down.
In this way, patriarchy repeats the sin of Korah and all his clan (Num. 16). After the establishment of Aaron and his sons as the priestly mediators for the whole people of God (Num. 15), Korah came before them with “250 chiefs of the congregation” (v. 2) and argued that Moses and Aaron had raised themselves up against the congregation by now preventing the Levites from doing priestly work also (vv.3-11). Each side offered incense to see which would be accepted by Yahweh, and Moses set out the challenge: “But if Yahweh creates something new, and the ground opens its mouth and swallows them up with all that belongs to them, and they go down alive into Sheol, then you shall know that these men have despised Yahweh,” (v. 30).
And as soon as he had finished speaking all these words, the ground under them split apart. And the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, with their households and all the people who belonged to Korah and all their goods. So they and all that belonged to them went down alive into Sheol, and the earth closed over them, and they perished from the midst of the assembly…And fire came out from Yahweh and consumed the 250 men offering the incense (Num. 16:31-33, 35).
It is serious business to place oneself between God and His people as a mediator when you have not been authorized to do so, and fathers/husbands have not been authorized to mediate for their children or their wives. This ought to concern patriarchalists much more than it does. It is a fearful thing to provoke God’s displeasure.