Fellow blogger, Lisa Blue, recently asked a question about a wife's responsibility to submit to an unbelieving husband. Lisa and I often have spirited conversations on Facebook, and I enjoy the interactions. This particular conversation, I expect will generate some energy, and I wanted to craft a response that was deeper than a FB post allows. In our modern world, do the directives of the New Testament need to be amended, re-interpreted, or obeyed, if we are seeking to please God?
In 1 Peter, Peter, one of Jesus's chosen apostles and the one to whom Jesus gave the initial responsibility to "feed my lambs" and "feed my sheep," writes, in his opening paragraph, about the wonderful inheritance we have received through faith in Christ. After the glowing affirmation, he writes the following caveat: "In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith—the salvation of your souls"(1Pe 1:6-9). Later on, he further develops the idea that this faith may call for a different type of lifestyle than that of our unsaved fellow-humans, writing, "but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct"(1Pe 1:15).
The rest of the letter discusses the variety of ways in which Christians, living out this call to holiness of character, will have to do things which are counter-intuitive, going against the grain of the normal ways of modern-day Americans. As Christians, we are called to serve others, to accept a vulnerability in the natural realm, based upon our complete confidence in God oversight of our lives. When Peter wrote this letter, of course, he was writing as a person who lived in a society which was shaped by both Greco-Roman and Jewish sensibilities of the 1st Century C.E. (Common Era). Egalitarianism was not a strongly held conception in relationships, and the idea of hierarchy was pervasive in both public and private life. By contrast, our modern views of equality, which were born out of the Enlightenment, make the very idea of submission and acceptance of what God has allowed, difficult pills to swallow.
The family, rather than the individual, was the basic unit of society in both Roman and Jewish society. In the home, both Roman and Jewish culture made the father the authority figure in the home. Everything revolved around the father; in Roman society, the "paterfamilias" (Father of the Family), even had life and death power over his children. Any new-born child that he rejected was exposed to the elements, subject to either death or slavery. Divorce was relatively easy to obtain; and in Roman society, only wives could be charged with adultery.
In such a background, feminist ideology made no impact upon either theology or practice, such concepts would have to wait 1900 years. A woman could exercise influence behind the scenes, but the man was formally the "master of his domain." He was also responsible for the providing for the members of the family, including his adult children, until he died. In return, the family members helped maintain the family honor. Honor and shame were very important concepts at that time. Today, we are more interested in fame and fortune, and with such a focus, fame and notoriety are kissing cousins.
But I digress. We no longer live in close-knit family units like those of ancient Rome, unless maybe our last name happens to be "Kennedy." As a rule, the father is a poor guy with all of the responsibility, but whose authority is easily challenged on the basis of personal autonomy. Looking at modern entertainment, the man is even the regular butt of humor - clumsy, inept, lacking in wisdom, his sole claim to authority lies in occasional salutes to "the good old days" of Ozzie and Harriet. A lot of us don't even know who Ozzie and Harriet are anymore. We chant, as if it were the 11th Commandment, "respect isn't given, it is earned," not even thinking about the practical implications of such an idea. In a society that values the self above all, how long does it take for someone to earn authority? On what basis does anyone stake a claim for authority that merits acceptance?
Against such cultural static, the Christian lifestyle seems quaint and archaic, and perhaps it is. Certainly, it is old rather than new, about 2000 years old, in fact. Accepting the biblical exhortations and promises requires one to lay aside every weight of modernity and even post-modernity, and embrace becoming the biblically-informed men and women into which the Spirit of God is transforming us. I, as a husband and father, am to love my family sacrificially, laying down my very life for it's sake, as well as "the Church of God which He purchased with His own blood" (Acts 20:28). My children are to submit to me, not because I have earned it through doing what they think I should, but because God, their Heavenly Father, has commanded it (Eph 5:22). My wife is to submit to me, not because I embody the husband as expressed by Dr. Phil, Oprah, or Deepak Chopra, but because God said to do so (Eph 6:1), praying for me, that if I am struggling in my call to godliness, the Lord will work in me both to will and to do for His good pleasure (Phi 2:13). The only way I can get around those statements is to ignore them, as some are willing to do, in the name of being "relevant," "cutting edge," or some other nice euphemism for rebellious. Since the entire culture is sliding into decadence, the Church, standing for holiness, can't help but stand out.
I think that this is a good thing. Instead of artificial standards of holiness, based upon picking things to dislike simply because others like them, we will be holy, as He is holy, because we live biblically grounded lives, based not only on appearance, but on a real difference of world-view. Some will admire us, and others will dislike us, just like they did the church in Jerusalem, and just like they did Jesus, Himself. Since Jesus never said that he was trying to win a popularity contest, I think that we can live with that, don't you?