I had the honor of presiding over a wedding last Saturday. It was a beautiful setting on the river. A bit chilly, but otherwise, picture perfect. The bride and groom stood before me. I led them through their vows and the exchange of wedding rings. Everything was clearly stated and the vows were biblically-based and traditional. This was, of course, a Christian wedding.
Here are the vows most often used in weddings I preside:
TO THE GROOM: Do you take this woman to be your wife, promising to keep, love, and defend her and to be her faithful and true husband so long as you both shall live? And do you, in Christ’s name, promise to love, honor, and respect her as Christ does the church, to be the spiritual leader in your home, to encourage and enable her to serve Christ in all ways and to help become all that Christ intends?
TO THE BRIDE: Do you take this man to be your husband, promising to adhere unalterably to him in all life’s changes, to be his loving and true wife until death divide you? And do you, in Christ’s name, promise to love, honor, and respect him with all that you are, to submit to him as the spiritual leader in your home, to be a help and an encourager in his life, enabling him to be all that Christ intends?
As you probably noted, the phrase "spiritual leader" is intentionally used in the vows.
Being the "spiritual leader" in the home has caused quite a bit of confusion over the past decades. Some question the validity of the role, as well as the biblical authority of such. In some cases, abusive husbands (not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually) have wrongly done ungodly things under the banner of "submission" which ultimately leaves women and children confused, frustrated and hurt.
However, there are men who love the Lord and seek to lead their wives and family spiritually. God has called us as men to love our wives loved the church. This type of love is what a spritual leader offers his family. Kevin East, Executive Director of Family Matters gives some practical steps for leading one's wife spiritually. . .
- Pursue Christ.
- Fine out who has led your wife spiritually in the past.
- Honor her publicly.
- Sacrifice for her.
- Be eager to serve.
- Pray with her.
The full article is available here.
There are many more articles and helps designed for husbands who seek to live out the biblical model in the home as Christ intends.
Yet, as I led the couple through their vows last Saturday, it hit me that our culture, with the continued shift and de-emphasis on the God-designed biblical marriage model is also forsaking this role of spiritual leadership in the home.
With godless weddings leading to humanistic marriages, self reigns supreme and God-focused spirituality is abandoned. The image of marriage as an picture of Christ (the bridegroom) and the church (the bride) is lost.
This is most obviously evident as the continued propitiation and acceptance of same-sex marriages sweeps across the land. If the spiritual headship role is gender-exclusive, the question about spiritual headship is unanswerable when a woman marries another woman. The same is true when a man marries a man.
When gender roles are redefined to fit cultural norms God's design is forsaken and ultimately we miss the fullness of the gospel.
I realize that on the surface, this sounds like a very sexist statement. Some may shoot back with "Are you saying women cannot be leaders?" The answer to that is NO. I'm not saying that at all. I'm just focusing in on one area where headship in the home is defined.
Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word. Ephesians 5:22-23 (ESV)
I fully acknowledge that some have soiled the term "submit" to such a degree that many women (and men, too) cringe at the thought. Yet, in its purity, the term is one that describes a loving, intimate relatinoship, as Christ and His church experience.
"Submission," she says, "is not about forced control."
"When a man leads his wife, he is leading her to depend on Christ, not on himself," she explains. "The kind of leadership a husband provides his wife is to encourage her growth in grace and prepare her to be a co-heir in the coming kingdom."
Also, submission is not about belittlement, inferiority or worthlessness, she adds.
"Scripture teaches that we are to 'encourage one another and build each other up' (1 Thessalonians 5:11)."
Fox borrows John Piper's definition to describe what submission is – "the divine calling of a wife to honor and affirm her husband's leadership and help carry it through according to her gifts. It's the disposition to follow a husband's authority and an inclination to yield to his leadership."
To illustrate this further, Fox points to the apostle Paul who shows that the purpose of marriage is to reflect the Gospel.
"A husband's call to lead and a wife's call to submit is a reflection of the relationship between Christ and the church," the Florida mother of two writes. "The unique roles that men and women have in marriage serve as a living message of the gospel."
She continues, "As a wife yields to her husband's leadership in their marriage, she reflects the heart of faith that characterizes Jesus's people. The church follows Jesus as her head and uses her gifts to carry out his mission in this world. Likewise, the wife respects and yields to her husband's leadership as she uses her gifts to complement his good purposes for their marriage and family."
The only way for biblical submission to play out correctly is when the married couple relies on the gospel, Fox says.
"It is only through the power of Jesus and his gospel at work in our lives that the beauty of submission can blossom in our marriages," she writes.
As the culture wars rage on and marriage is redefined and determined by court decisions and lack of decisions, the church must stand firm on the Word of God. This is easily said, but the church's history regarding the fidelity of marriage is not unmarred. One of the reasons the church suffers when speaking out against same-sex marriage is that many Christ-followers have viewed marriage as little more than a contract rather than a covenant relationship. This has been evidenced by the increased level of cohabitation and high divorce rate from those who claim to be followers of Christ.
I have heard some declare that "we need a revival in our land."
I don't think so. You cannot revive that which has always been dead.
We do need a revival in our churches and it begins with a revival in our homes. We need Christian husbands to step up and be spiritual leaders. We need Christian wives to live out biblical (not cultural) submission. We need revival in our Christian marriages. Until the church as a whole gives intentional focus on the health of biblical marriages (which must be more than hosting weddings in a church facility) we will continue to suffer a spiritual leadership vacuum and settle for mediocrity in an area that requires excellence.