“Wives, submit to your husbands,” says Ephesians 5:22. Just be careful not to commit idolatry while you’re submitting.
The complementarians I know insist that husbands and wives should listen to each other and make big decisions together. The purpose, they say, of Paul’s instruction to wives is to prevent paralysis in decision-making. If the husband and wife face an important decision and they cannot agree, then the wife should yield to her husband’s view. This is God’s way of keeping order when the two are deadlocked.
But is it really God’s way, or is it idolatry?
Imagine my husband, Mark, and I cannot agree on an important decision. The answer is not obvious from Scripture. But I think my way is the way of obedience, and Mark is convinced that his way is the way of obedience. If we are truly deadlocked, it should be because each of us thinks our own way is the will of God, not merely a matter of personal preference.
If I think God is telling us to do A, and Mark thinks God is directing us to do B, then at least one of us is wrong. God is not telling us to do two mutually exclusive things. At least one of us is not hearing God properly. (Perhaps neither of us has the right answer.) If God offers wisdom freely to those who ask (James 1:5), then one of us is resisting God’s instruction on some level.
Many complementarians say my response should be, “God says I should submit to you, Mark, so we’ll go with what you think.”
If I am the one resisting God, then for me to abandon my position would be a good thing. But if Mark is the one resisting God, then for me to go his way would be to join him in his resistance. I would be following my husband instead of God, and that is idolatry.
Is there a better way? Start with the reality that God is not giving the husband and wife contradictory messages. Someone is not hearing God right. The biblical response is to seek the Lord anew. At least one party needs to repent because they are refusing to listen to God. Perhaps both need to yield some ground. Once both parties are responding to God with an attitude of obedience, the message of God will be clearer. And the husband and wife will not be at odds. This is the harmony that God has in mind for married couples.
Some may object, “Yes, in a perfect world, your way would work. But sometimes people will not repent, and you must choose one way or the other.” Complementarians would tell me to follow my husband. But if the husband is wrong, it’s the equivalent of saying, “When the husband won’t repent, it’s the will of God for the wife to follow him in disobedience.”
Then what does “wives, submit,” mean? A wife should put her husband’s needs and desires above her own. But is this not synonymous with what husbands are called to do in Eph 5:25 when Paul tells them to love their wives? To love someone is to submit – to consider the other person’s needs first.
But still we’re left with Paul’s comment in verse 23 that says the husband is the head of the wife. What does this mean? I don’t know, and that’s why I need the CBE community. What do you think?