In the upcoming film Courageous (by the makers of Fireproof), four men make a commitment to love, protect, serve, and teach their wives and children, as “the spiritual leader” of their homes. “The Bible actually has a lot to say about fatherhood,” the main character asserts. The conclusions he reaches throughout his study of Scripture prompt him to write a resolution for fathers, which the men in the movie each sign, affirm publicly in a formal ceremony, and display proudly in their homes.
The resolution in Courageous encourages fathers to be engaged in their marriages and in raising their children. It challenges them to be people of prayer, to treat others with respect and kindness, and to live with integrity in every area of their lives. Without a doubt, these are all worthy goals. In fact, I find the vast majority of the manifesto to be an inspiring and refreshing call to live purposely and entirely for Christ.
But, I wonder, if the Bible teaches that men are the spiritual leaders of their homes as the Courageous characters suggest, and if this resolution fleshes out what that leadership looks like, then what is uniquely “male” about these challenges? Is it not also the calling of Christian women to be engaged, prayerful, respectful, kind, and integrity-filled? Do we not also find biblical examples of godly women loving, protecting, serving, and teaching their families? (See Abigail’s powerful story of protection in 1 Sam. 25 and Sarah’s God-given authority over Abraham in Gen. 21:8-14, to name a few.)
This idea that men are spiritual leaders solely based on their gender develops from interpretations of certain biblical texts like Ephesians 5:21-33 and 1 Corinthians 11:2-16—texts that discuss male “headship.” Christians have developed other ideas about these passages, too. Through my involvement with church congregations and a Christian college, I have personally heard believers, while citing texts like Ephesians 5, assert that:
- “Men are called by God to be the financial providers for their families.”
- “Men set the spiritual tone for their households.”
- “Husbands are to be their wives’ spiritual covering.”
- “As the head of their households, men should be the spiritual initiators.”
- “Husbands are the high priests of the home.”
I even read recently on a church website that the “spiritual health and wellbeing”of the home lies “squarely on the shoulders of men.”
The problem is, as egalitarians have often emphasized, nowhere do we find a biblical mandate that men alone should have authority as spiritual leaders, initiators, financial providers, spiritual coverings, or high priests. (And, actually, passages like Rom. 12:3-8; 1 Cor. 7:3-4; 1 Cor. 12; and Gal. 3:26-28 instruct men and women to share authority). So why do these ideas remain prevalent in the church? The resolution in Courageous is only the most recent example of the church’s confusion over passages on “headship.” As the authors in this issue of Mutuality highlight, rather than mandating a form of male-only authority in the home and church, Scripture uses the concept of “headship” to emphasize unity, sacrificial love, and mutual submission between men and women, as a means of imitating Christ and advancing God’s kingdom.
Therefore, may all believers—men and women alike—courageously take up the call to be engaged, prayerful, respectful, kind, and integrity-filled. May we all love, protect, serve, and teach one another, in unity and humility, because this is the example of our Savior.
We are excited to present this issue of Mutuality on “Headship,” in an effort to further explore together what the Bible teaches about men, women, and authority. Please be sure to take note of the recommended resources in sidebars throughout the issue; if you have questions, we have resources! Please also join us on our blog, The CBE Scroll (blog.cbeinternational.org), to read and comment on Liz Beyer’s post exploring Jesus’ teaching on authority. Blessings to you as you read and reflect!