by Brian Carpenter
I've held a number of interesting jobs in my time; I'm sort of a Jack-of-All-Trades. I was a welder in a river barge manufacturing company. I've driven trucks. I've been a roofer, a concrete worker, a framing carpenter, and I installed vinyl siding and replacement windows. One of my favorite jobs, (besides pastoral ministry) was driving a wrecker. I put myself through college in the late '80's and early '90's as a wrecker driver/mechanic/general shop monkey for I-70 Shell and then for Bennett's Northside Conoco in Columbia, Missouri.
I like driving a wrecker because you got to meet all kinds of different people. The word "different" especially applies to the people you meet in Columbia. It's the home of the University of Missouri, Columbia College, and Stephens College. It draws quite an eclectic crowd, and since it's a fairly small city (about 60,000 in the early '90's) you're probably going to meet a lot of these folks in your comings and goings.
While I was working for Bennett's Northside Conoco we had some customers come in to have some pretty major work done on an old VW Microbus. Glen (who was old hat at air cooled VW engines) fixed it, or so we thought, and we sent them out the door.
The next day I came to work at 4 PM as usual, and my boss, Ray, was waiting for me. "Brian, I want you to take a wrecker and drive to a rest area in Illinois, about 20 miles past Collinsville. That VW van made it as far as Paducah, Kentucky and broke down again. The owners are having it towed from Paducah to that rest area. You're to pick it up and bring it and the owners back here." There was a smirk on his face, and I knew something was up. I just didn't know what.
The rest area was three hours away, and I would have to fight the last gasps of rush hour traffic in St. Louis, so I climbed in the truck and took off immediately. About three hours later I met the other wrecker. As the driver dropped the bus off his hook he whispered, "Good luck with them" and climbed in his truck and took off back to Paducah.
It was then that I really noticed my passengers and understood both the other driver's comment and Ray's smirk. There before me stood three women. Large women. Large women in denim and black leather with butch haircuts. Three large, interesting, denim and leather clad women with butch haircuts and B.O. with me in the cab of a one ton Chevy truck for three hours. Did I mention that personal hygiene was apparently not a priority?
I hooked up the VW, and we all piled into the cab of my wrecker and took off down the road. We started talking. They told me that they were three lesbians in a committed relationship. They were Wiccans. They were performance artists and also made these little drums which they sold and used during their performances. They had bought a piece of ground in north central Arkansas and put up a large tent on it. They lived in the tent during the winter, making drums and whatnot (the local lesbian performance art scene not being too lively in rural Arkansas, I suppose.) During the summer they went from place to place, living in their VW Microbus and performing with and selling their little drums.
Now, I have to admit, I was fascinated. I had never met Wiccan, lesbian, drum-making performance artists before. They seem kind of rare. I had to wait another three whole years, until I attended Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, to meet another one. But that's another story.
They seemed friendly and open to me asking questions, and quite willing to share. So we all smoked cigarettes and went down the road having a far-ranging conversation. (I had quit smoking by then, but started again on that trip because of the B.O. Did I mention that personal hygiene wasn't a priority?)
I've forgotten most of the conversation, but one part stands out very clearly in my mind. It was their analysis of the main problem with the world. Most of the world's problems would disappear, they thought, if we did away with what they called "power over." Nobody should have authority or power over anyone else. Parent should not have power over child, man over woman, government official over citizen, commanding officer over soldier. Nobody. Power over was inherently evil. Do away with it, and Eden would probably return.
I've run into various species of this argument several times. Various hierarchies are wicked and must be flattened, and everyone must be counted as the same. In part, I think, it springs from a noble longing. The strong have preyed upon the weak all throughout human history. Men abuse women. Adults abuse children. Police officers and judges abuse their office. Commanding officers exercise arbitrary control over their soldiers and sailors. The rich oppress the poor. It would be nice if this didn't happen anymore.
But you can't get away from hierarchy. It's built into the fabric of the universe. It's built into us as human beings. Some people are smarter than others. Some are more motivated than others. Some are better looking. Some are more physically capable. Some are richer. Some are more aggressive.
If you believe that God has ordained whatsoever comes to pass (as I do), then you have to deal with that fact. And if you believe your Bible, then you have to come to the conclusion that hierarchy is actually a part of God's good creation, and not a part of the Fall. You can even go so far as to say that God himself, in a strange way, exists in a hierarchy.
When we look at what the Bible says about the life of God within himself, we find that he exists as one God in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Church had a dickens of a time hammering this out, but the Bible clearly supports it. The three persons are all coequal, coeternal, and coessential. They're all made of the same God-stuff. Nobody existed before anyone else. They are equals in every way. They are truly three and truly one.
And yet the church has over and over again had to deal with various heresies that try to say that the three persons aren't equal. These heresies are still with us today. We find them, among other places, at the local Kingdom Hall of Jehovah's Witnesses, among some Pentecostals, at the Mormon Stake, and among most theological liberals.
The church has had to do that because of what the Scriptures say about the three persons. Over and over again we see Christ taking an apparently subordinate position to the Father. Indeed, the Ten Commandments teach us that very word "Son" implies a subordinate position, do they not?
He has come, he says, with the Father's authority to do the Father's will (John 5:43). He says about himself that he can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing (John 5:19). Luke tells us that Peter said it was God's good will to put him to death (Acts 2:23). Paul says that even though he was in very nature God, he did not consider equality with God something to be grasped at. He was obedient to the Father and humbled himself to the point of death, even the shameful death of the cross (Philippians 2:6-7). And so the Father glorifies the Son and makes him the heir of all things (Hebrews 1:2). The Father and the Son both send the Spirit (John 15:26). The Spirit does not speak on his own. He only speaks what the Father and the Son say to speak (John 16:13).
Within the Godhead, there is true equality. Within the Godhead there is true hierarchy. They're all equals, yet Someone is giving orders to Someone Else, and the One to whom the orders are given delights in carrying them out. One is obedient to Two. The Father is well pleased with the Son. The Son says, "Here I am. I delight to do Your will, O Lord" (Heb 10:7) .
The universe God has created is a graded, or hierarchical universe. Everything has its created place. A man is higher than a dog, but a dog has its place. A dog is higher than a tree, but a tree has its place. Augustine's special contribution to theology was to show us that evil arises when something gets out of its God-ordained place in the created order. When it tries to rise higher than it ought, it is the sin of pride. When it tries to sink lower than it ought, it is the sin of sensuality. Everything God has created is good in its place. Anything God has created can become an occasion for sin when it is removed from its proper place.
One of the most important things God has created is us—human beings. We are made in his image. And what do we find? Not surprisingly, we find, right there at the pristine beginning of the whole thing, equality and hierarchy. The man is created first. He is given the mandate to work the garden. He names the animals God brings to him. He is to subdue the creation and rule over it. But he has a big job, and there is no helper suitable to him. So God makes the woman. She is flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone. Here is equality. He is given priority in creation. He is the first Prophet (in that he speaks God's words to her concerning the eating from the tree) He is the first Priest (in that he mediates God to her.) He is King (in that he rules over the whole of the creation.) She is to help him fulfill his mandate. Here is hierarchy.
When they fall, God pronounces judgment on them. There is much we could say about their sin where hierarchy is concerned. I'll leave that for another essay. What is fascinating is the curse God pronounces upon each of them in turn. Adam's job in subduing and ruling the creation becomes a lot harder. The ground produces weeds instead of food. He makes his living by the sweat of his face. But his job concerning his wife gets a lot harder too. She is no longer his true help-meet. She becomes his competitor.
God tells her that her desire will be for her husband, but he must rule over her. A lot of ink has been spilled over that word "desire." I think it's very significant that it occurs only one other place in Genesis (I think it actually occurs one other place in the whole Pentateuch, but I'd have to double check that.) The only other place in Genesis it occurs in Genesis 4:7.
In Genesis 4:7 God speaks to Cain, who is jealous of Abel and is about to murder him: "The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it." The word "desire" in Genesis 3 does not indicate a sexual longing. Every married man knows that his sexual desire is more frequent and more intense than his wife's most of the time. It's the stuff of tired old jokes and cliches. No, "desire" here indicates a grasping, a desire to dominate by hook or by crook. It's a desire for his position. It represents her getting out of her place in the God-ordained hierarchy and him abdicating his.
When we turn to the New Testament, we find two things. It is very concerned that the old pristine hierarchy be re-instituted. Wives are to submit to their husbands as to the Lord. Husbands are to love their wives (Eph 5:22-25). Wives are to have a gentle and quiet spirit. Husbands are to dwell with their wives in wisdom and show them honor (1 Peter 3:1-7).
Women are not to teach men or have authority over them in the church, and Paul gives as part of his rationale that she was created for him (I Tim 2:11-13). In another place he specifically says that woman was made from man, and woman was made for man, and this fact indicates that he has a headship over her (1 Cor 11:9-10). He references the hierarchy of the old, unfallen created order.
And yet, there is also equality. In Christ there is not Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor free (Gal 3:28). Neither man nor woman are independent of each other (1 Cor 11:10). Just as it is in the Godhead, so it is in those who are made in the image of God. There is no contradiction here between equality and hierarchy. One does not subsume the other.
But now there is an eschatological element added to the mix. The relationship between husband and wife is now also defined by the relationship between Christ and the Church. The wife is to submit to the husband as to the Lord. The husband is to love the wife as Christ loves the Church—sacrificially, carefully, wisely. As a matter of fact, Paul seems to indicate that one of the reasons God gave marriage for our time on earth is to picture that very relationship (Eph 5:22-32). The head of every man is Christ. The head of a wife is her husband. And just so we know what he means by headship, he says, "and the head of Christ is God" (I Cor 11:3). Notice the verbs here. They are in the indicative, not the imperative. He says the husband IS the head of his wife, not the husband OUGHT to be the head of his wife. In other words, it is a fact, whether we recognize it or not. We make statements about Christ and his church with our behavior as husbands and wives, men and women. We are collectively feminine to his masculine. When we obey the Bible in these things, we tell the truth about Christ and his church. When we don't, we tell lies about Christ and his church.
The First Adam was prophet, priest, and king, who was to rule over the creation with the help of his bride. The Last Adam is prophet, priest, and king who will rule over the restored creation with the help of his bride. Women's ordination to positions of leadership in the church, women's domination of the spiritual life of our families, along with the concurrent male abdication, tells lies about Christ and his church. It tells the world that the Church rules over Christ, and that he submits to her. Or it mixes the message again and tells the world that the church and Christ are equal partners, interchangeable, identical units like the results of modern mass production. She might have just as easily given herself up for Him, to wash Him from His sins as He from hers. Christ will discipline those who make such statements, whether they realize they're making them or not. Churches that ordain women will inevitably decline and fall. They will stumble from one error to another, and each more ridiculous than the last, as He writes "Ichabod" over the doorpost and his glory departs. He will not share his glory with another.
No amount of feminist propaganda and no amount of Evangelical capitulation can make the Bible stop saying what it clearly says, or start saying what it doesn't. Hierarchy is a good thing, and it's time both Eve's daughters and Adam's sons recognized it and adjusted their beliefs and behavior accordingly.
Brian Carpenter is the pastor of Foothills Community Church (PCA) in Sturgis, South Dakota. He and his wife Laura have two lovely daughters, Evelyn and Jordan, ages 2 and 3. His interests include automotive and motorcycle repair and rebuilding, welding and metal fabrication, economics and monetary theory, philosophy, classical education, church history, and really expensive Scotch whiskey. Brian blogs at TheHappyTR and AFiresideChat. His sermons are available online at SermonAudio.com.
Recommended further reading:
Sign up for the daily Christian Reader email update by clicking here.