Who's the Head?
And there arose also a dispute among them as to which one of them was regarded to be greatest. And He said to them, "The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who have authority over them are called 'Benefactors.' But it is not this way with you, but the one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant. For who is greater, the one who reclines at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at the table? But I am among you as the one who serves." (Luke 22:24-27)
There is a battle royal shaping up over not just the issue of ordaining women to public ministry within the church, but more fundamentally the definition and function of what is referred to as headship, both in the church and in the social structure of the family. These debates are sharpening and the rhetoric is heating up as both sides dig in their positions and even take them to extremes at times.
I doubt that my input will make much difference given the vast amount of mud being slung around about these issues. However I would like to simply share what is impressing me from the words of Jesus in particular and how this affects my own thinking along these lines.
I find the whole practice of ordination as it is currently practiced within the church to be contradictory to the above clear instructions of the One we claim to be following. But that is another topic too involved for what I want to share here though certainly relevant. What I do want to examine is just what does it mean to be the head. I don't think it is inaccurate to correlate this heated debate with the repeated arguments that arose among Jesus' disciples about who of them should be considered the greatest. This spirit of contention over who was where in the pecking order of hierarchy among their group was a repeated occurrence that prevented them from feeling comfortable around Jesus while they engaged in these arguments. And sadly I'm afraid it may be having a very similar effect on us today as we get caught up in the heat of debating who is supposed to be considered most important or in charge.
At that time the disciples came to Jesus and said, "Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" And He called a child to Himself and set him before them, and said, "Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 18:1-4)
Jesus explicitly instructed His disciples that to be the head, or the greatest, one must become the most humble, the most serving, the least esteemed from the perspective we typically use to value people. He said that He had not come to be served but to serve and give His life for many. All the descriptions of Jesus, particularly throughout the New Testament where His character is most clearly revealed, explain that true greatness is recognized in those who are the most humble, who are a useful servant, not clamoring to be the one in charge to order others around and tell them what to do.
They came to Capernaum; and when He was in the house, He began to question them, "What were you discussing on the way?" But they kept silent, for on the way they had discussed with one another which of them was the greatest. Sitting down, He called the twelve and said to them, "If anyone wants to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all." Taking a child, He set him before them, and taking him in His arms, He said to them, "Whoever receives one child like this in My name receives Me; and whoever receives Me does not receive Me, but Him who sent Me." (Mark 9:33-37)
I have a question for anyone contemplating where the real truth might be discovered in all the arguments being put forth from so many directions. In honestly considering our own social structure we commonly experience, especially among those who insist that women must be subordinate to men and that headship means being the one in charge, what kind of activities are usually expected of the women? What role in the family are women in such circles supposed to fill?
In my experience, the wife of the family almost always is expected to be the one waiting on the husband's needs, attending to the children and taking care of much of the household chores. The man is expected to work hard, usually outside the home, be responsible for heavier maintenance problems around the house, earn enough income to support the family and provide 'leadership' (which usually implies having the last word in any differences of opinion).
In this typical description of the expected roles by those insisting on male headship as it is typically defined, I find a curious anomaly. The description of the duties, function and even attitude of the women in such homes bears a striking resemblance to the passages listed here that I am finding, revealing Jesus' definition of those He considers the greatest. And as we have already pointed out it is not unrealistic to equate the term greatest with the term head.
An argument started among them as to which of them might be the greatest. But Jesus, knowing what they were thinking in their heart, took a child and stood him by His side, and said to them, "Whoever receives this child in My name receives Me, and whoever receives Me receives Him who sent Me; for the one who is least among all of you, this is the one who is great." (Luke 9:46-48)
Repeatedly when this issue came up around Jesus, He would use a little child to make His point about what a great person would be found doing – accepting, nurturing and tenderly caring for a child and even reflecting the spirit of a child. Now isn't it a bit strange that the very things we expect to be the woman's job happens to be the very same criteria that Jesus used repeatedly to describe who is to be considered greatest in the kingdom of God?
Consider for a moment how Jesus described the typical male mentality of His day which doesn't seem to have changed at all in over two thousand years, and then His assessment of such.
They love the place of honor at banquets and the chief seats in the synagogues, and respectful greetings in the market places, and being called Rabbi (or Dr. so-and-so) by men. But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers (as in equal). Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. Do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ. But the greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted. (Matthew 23:6-12)
Am I mistaken, or are the arguments of those insisting on male 'headship' defined as being spiritually responsible and in control of their wive's relationship to God. And apparently the outcome of such thinking has actually produced a situation where they are creating the strongest evidence that literally undermines their very claims.
Be subject to one another (both men and women inclusively) out of reverence for Christ. Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Savior. Just as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be, in everything, to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, in order to make her holy by cleansing her with the washing of water by the word, so as to present the church to himself in splendor, without a spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind--yes, so that she may be holy and without blemish. In the same way, husbands should love their wives as they do their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hates his own body, but he nourishes and tenderly cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, because we are members of his body. (Ephesians 5:21-30 NRSV)
As I ponder the descriptions of what it really means to be a head, nearly every description given here fits far better to the traditional role that has been given to the woman of the house much more that what has been seen in the lives of men. How is it that we cannot see this?
Ironically, by imposing their version of headship (domination over women), a system that they insist was designed by God, such men are in reality pushing women into the very position of being the kind of person that Jesus described as the head, correlating to the one He Himself has in relation to His church. Isn't this just bizarre? If we take the words and definitions of greatness and headship as defined by Jesus, in the way this 'male headship doctrine' has been promoted, it seems such a concept actually inverts the places of the males and females to the exact opposite of what such people think they are trying to enforce.
As I contemplate the meaning of what it means to be a head as described in Ephesians and by Jesus when speaking of true greatness, I begin to realize how distorted our thinking has become in our selfish desires for supremacy, really no different than the petty arguments the disciples were caught engaged in and that were corrected by Jesus repeatedly.
But more significantly, in asserting that women be the servants while men should be exempt, are such ones not in fact molding themselves into the image of a head more like a beast? The kind of heads that the beast has as described in Revelation (even implied as perfected by the number seven) depicts a headship very opposite to the kind that Jesus came to demonstrate.
Then I saw a beast coming up out of the sea, having ten horns and seven heads, and on his horns were ten diadems, and on his heads were blasphemous names. (Revelation 13:1)
Interestingly in the Bible, the number ten is associated with law. Thus what can be seen in the seven-headed, ten-horned beast is a form of headship that is primarily based on laws, rules and enforcement, very different than the kind of heart-based loving headship illustrated in the opposite creature in Revelation, the violently-slaughtered Lamb who turns out to be the true hero who wins in the end.
What appears to be happening today, at least from my perspective, is that headship proponents seem to be attempting to amalgamate the teachings of Jesus with the underlying spirit and principles of the beast which can only result in the confusion that is called Babylon. Men, by exalting themselves as more important than women, more in charge and higher in some hierarchal scale than women, are in fact placing themselves in a position of demanding to be served rather than seeking to become the most effective servant. In short, we have substituted the definition of head as given by Jesus with the definition portrayed by the beast. Then we have tried to baptize it as the Christian thing to do. Is this not akin to blasphemy, the very thing the beast of Revelation is shown doing to God's reputation?
One of the underlying problems motivating such thinking is that we have for too long embraced the whole concept of hierarchy as itself legitimate and even God-ordained. As a result we move away from heaven's maturity-based family organization into hierarchy, kingship and control structures that suppress some for the benefit of others. Is this not the same as calling those in charge of everyone else benefactors just as Jesus talked about as the way of the Gentiles?
In essence, like Israel of old we are demanding to live under a king system just like what is seen in the world around us rather than seeking to encourage and allow every person to individually listen to the Spirit directly to know what is right for them. We resist the idea that the Spirit of the Almighty God is capable of directing His own church without our interference, and the sad results are seen everywhere.
Consider this. Solomon tried to integrate the kingship model with his gift of wisdom and look at the outcome. He certainly had wisdom, but he failed to use it wisely after awhile. The outcome was a man with more wives and more problems than nearly anyone else in history and a kingdom that fell apart soon after his death. There must be a reason God considered it a rejection of Himself for them to prefer the hierarchal system of kingship and authoritarian control rather than relying only on Him. We were meant to live free, to enjoy liberty responsibly, not to live in subjection to any other human being. And we will never be truly happy or satisfied until we learn to trust that God's methods are the best.
Many turn to the story of our first parents to justify their insistence that God designed men to rule over women. But again they fail to appreciate the real issues involved even in that story because they have become blinded by the selfish desires of the flesh. Today with our fallen natures, our urges and tendencies are generally always backwards from how we were originally designed to live. Thus the woman who was first created as equal and complimentary to man has since become suppressed by men and forced to take on the role of the servant, the role that Jesus told His disciples they were to have.
And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be saved through childbearing-- if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety. (1 Timothy 2:14-15 NIV)
When Paul spoke of women being saved through childbirth, most people interpret that as literal child-bearing. But I don't believe that is what Paul had in mind at all. Paul was speaking in spiritual terms throughout that passage and it makes no sense to suddenly believe he switched over to literal language here. Child-bearing in spiritual terms actually describes what today has almost been exclusively reserved as the activity for men, the role of evangelizing and bringing unbelievers into a new birth experience to join the body of Christ as children of God.
Now let us consider the function of men. Those who are the sons of Adam, the one who chose to sin willfully, not being deceived, are now called to help reverse the effects of that choice by stepping up to take responsibility (the opposite of what Adam did) and making right decisions instead of simply following the path of least resistance as Adam did with Eve. With both both men and women, God is calling us to do what does not necessarily feel natural for us but rather what is needed to address the weakness created in our gender by our first parents. Yet because we gravitate toward protecting and nursing our weaknesses instead of facing and challenging them, we feel more natural living in opposition to what God is calling us to do.
This idea may seem radical when first encountered. Yet if we take seriously Jesus' description of what it means to be a head, to be greatest in His kingdom, we may have to admit that it is time to humble ourselves, challenge long-held assumptions and begin taking up the servant-type roles that we have currently pushed off on the women in our lives. Conversely, the women who take seriously this Word of God may find Him calling them to do things that don't feel so natural to them either and may need to step forward to take up a work that men have kept from them throughout much of history.
This does not imply in the least that somehow women or men are supposed to switch roles of who becomes the more dominant gender. Jesus made it very clear neither is supposed to dominate in a relationship. Jesus is our only safe example and He and His apostles both have instructed us to live in humility and to submit ourselves in love to each other, both men and women. We are to live lives of humble, loving service to each other in ways that uniquely redeem what was lost at the fall in our own gender so that God's original plan for humanity may once again begin to be revealed and the image of God's glory may be reflected in the united partnership of loving relationships between men and women, parents and children, brothers and sisters.
But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, "Know the LORD," for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the LORD; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more. (Jeremiah 31:33-34 NRSV)
When hierarchy has been abolished in the lives of those willing to take God seriously, we will see in the true body of believers the same spirit and power that marked the lives of the early believers after Pentecost. And when that happens I believe we will begin to see this prophecy fulfilled, for we will no longer have to urge each other to get to know God personally for everyone filled with His Spirit will already know Him and we will no longer view each other with bias or prejudice.
Notice how Jeremiah uses the phrase from the least of them to the greatest. This connects this prophecy directly with the teachings of Jesus who used this same terminology to define the very nature of His own kingdom.
An analogy came to me today as I was thinking about this least and greatest paradigm. In Revelation the message of Jesus to the church of Laodacia included a warning about being neither hot or cold. As I thought about this I imagined a pan of water heating up on the stove. Before it reaches the boiling point that water is stratified in layers not unlike a system of hierarchy. But once it begins to boil and roil in the pan something interesting takes place.
Bubbles form at the bottom, a place we could easily refer to as the position of being the least. But those bubbles quickly are propelled to the top of the water while the water begins circulating, eliminating all stratification that previously existed within the water. Now all you can see is the least (the water and bubbles at the bottom) rising quickly to the top (the place we consider the greatest) and this process creates a new condition where all the water now becomes equal.
Could this be something analagous to what God has in mind for the body of Christ when our love for Him finally begins to heat up enough to eliminate all notions of importance or hierarchy among His children? And according to this passage from Jeremiah, when we finally come to that point we will all know the Lord.