God's Little Joke on the Church:
Governing Like a Bride!
Men, Women and Power: Overcoming One Curse of Sin
Perfect Creation Perfect No More
While we know that God is the Creator of all that exists, after Adam's sin, God cursed humanity, and all creation with them. Creation became cursed, and was no longer "very good," as it had been in the beginning. We can no longer look to Nature for complete guidance regarding how things ought to be, because Nature herself is cursed:
"For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God. for the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope. Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now." (Rom. 8:19-22].
What does this mean? It means that creation is not the way God originally designed it. When God finished creation, he pronounced it "very good" (Gen. 1:21). That includes the whole universe, including men and women, both made in the image of God (Gen. 1:27). Then they sinned.
Eve's Curse: the Perversion of Authority in Home, Society,
and the World,
through her Abdication of Responsibility
The next time we see Adam and Eve, they are being told what curses their sin will bring on them. I believe Eve's curse is most pertinent here, as it relates directly to how authority would be perverted in the new cursed world. I am not here suggesting that Adam's headship and Eve's supportive role originated in the curse on sin: I believe that these roles are implicit in Creation, but are distorted by sin and its curses1.
Eve's curse is threefold: 1) increased sorrow related to childbearing; 2) An excessive desire for her husband's love; and 3) being "ruled over" by her husband. I want to skip over the first curse, as it does not directly bear on the subject of this article, which is authority, but adds more to her physical work and burden, as Adam's curse of the soil, which would cause him to eat bread "in the sweat of his face." (Gen. 4:17-19)2
Woman's Abnormal Desire for Man's Love
is "your desire shall be to your husband." Obviously, this is not a normal desire, or it would not be a curse. It is that irrational and abnormal desire that makes a woman humiliate herself and put herself in danger in order to have the love of a man. It is a desire that robs a woman of her self-respect and best interest, and often causes her to make foolish decisions she will live to regret.
It is the kind of unreasoning desire that leads to the foolish choices that Dr. Laura Schlessinger rails against in her book, Ten Stupid Things Women Do to Mess Up Their Lives.
The Publisher's description includes the following:
"She urges women emphatically to lose a domineering jerk of a lover and pick one of the "good guys," to stay home and parent the babies they've made, and to follow the dream rather than some dreamboat. Above all, she exhorts women not to blame anybody or anything but themselves if they're unhappy and their lives seem a mess.
"10 Stupid Things Women Do to Mess Up Their Lives uses real-world examples from Schlessinger's radio show and private practice to drive the message home. And the message is that our reticence to be bold and brave often makes us act like stupid, submissive victims. Once we muster the courage to take responsibility for our own problems and to tolerate the discomforts of risk, the possibilities for personal growth and joy are limitless.
"If you're looking for an all-approving hand to hold, you won't find it here. If you're prepared to take a clear-eyed look at your self-diminishing behavior and to make the move to a quality existence, there's no one better than Schlessinger to keep you honest and to cheer you on. One thing's for sure: You'll never look at your relationships, behaviors and decisions the same way after you've finished reading this book."
One reader wrote:
Wake up and smell the coffee, November 19, 2001
Reviewer: A reader from Boston, MA United States
"It's a good book to read or give to a young woman as Schlesinger takes a ferocious and unsentimental stand on the value of independence, risk-taking, hard work, courage and accountability. She's very hard on women who choose to see themselves as the victim in their life and relationships--one of the reasons she's so rabidly disliked by those who find not only succor--but their complete identity--in female victimhood. Schlesinger's L.A. talk show in the early nineties was riveting stuff as she took on just about every cliched, whiny cop-out that came her way. She always had the guts to say what a lot of people think, but don't have the guts to express--and I think she truly helped many of her callers see the light. ... If you're looking for a self help book that will do more than tell you what you want to hear and repeat the same old cliches about how you are being vicitmized in your life by loser boyfriends, ex-husbands, "loving too much", "society", whatever, I recommend this.
available at: < http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0060976497>, accessed Jan. 11, 2002.
The natural, carnal woman's problem with power is that she doesn't value it properly. She doesn't want it. She gives it away. Her natural God-given power, mind, free will, and choice, her natural self-respect as an individual made in the image of God -- she casts aside, despising her birthright, like Esau, deferring to a man in order to fulfil that unnatural desire for his love and approval, without which she cannot feel like a complete human being.
This cursed obsessive desire for a man's love can lead not only to a woman's making her man an idol in place of God, so she obeys him over God, but also so she never thinks of her natural value to God as an individual in her own right. She thinks nothing of herself, does not value herself or her own dignity, and cannot love herself.
In society, we often see this leading not only to a woman's foolish acquiescence to seduction, which may lead to illegitimate pregnancy, shortened education, and too-early marriage, or later, to the seduction by another man who may show her more attention than her husband, thus breaking up her marriage. Women have even killed their own children when they threatened their relationship with a new man! And, in the realm of the murder of other adults, very few women initiate it: most women involved in murder "go along with it" because they are "in thrall" to a man who is a murderer. This abnormally-inflamed desire is a curse indeed!
This curse can also show up in an unnatural passivity of mind, where a woman lazily defers too much to male opinion, rather than developing her own reasoning and conclusions. It can also show up as a morbid physical passivity that can stifle, not only her personal moral and ethical responsibilities, but her personal ambition for achievement, so that, beyond simply assisting her mate in his goals, she subverts her entire existence, potential, and talents, enslaving all her efforts to the well-being and success, not only of her mate, but also of her children.
Women who have sown the seeds of this abnormal self-sacrifice in their prime years then reap the harvest of bitter resentment in later life, which they often use against their family to create guilt and an unnatural attachment to her. Often the wives of her sons will especially struggle with trying to pry their own husbands from the clutches of their mother-in-law who lives only for her family. Thankfully, many women do wake up, in mid-life, to their own identities, and begin on the road to personal responsibility for their own lives.
In every way, this curse leads a woman to abdicate her natural God-given position, to the point that she barely exists as a human being separate from the functions she fulfils, whether as a wife, mother, employee, church member, or volunteer -- she negates her entire being in order to continue in obsessive doing, in order to justify her very existence.
Martha is a perfect example of this, so overly concerned with domestic serving that she is missing out on being able to spend time listening to her Messiah -- and, like most such women, is jealous of anyone who chooses more freedom, so clamours to similarly enslave her own sister, Mary. Christ is having none of it. He makes it clear that Mary's choice, sitting at His feet as a student, while not traditional in Jewish culture, was the ideal, "the better way" (Luke 10:40-41).
Man's Harsh and Authoritarian Rule over Woman
is the reward for her desire, "he shall rule over you." Rather than having her love returned, a woman instead is bossed, bullied, ignored, and dominated. Her only value to the man is in the benefits of her slavery --domestic, maternal, and sexual.
Man's curse is that he sees women, from his mother, his sisters, and his wife, to any other women in his life, only in terms of how they can serve him and make his life comfortable, easy, and pleasurable. As C. S. Lewis puts it, when we hear a man "wants a woman," we instinctively know that a female human being is exactly what he does not want -- "he wants something for which a woman is simply the necessary equipment."
The natural, carnal man will dominate a woman, stifle her gifts, demand the she sacrifice her potential, her promise, her talents, her happiness, her self-respect, and her health, all for his own benefit. He will rule harshly, cruelly, and cause her emotional and often physical pain. From overworking her to being demanding or inconsiderate sexually, to burdening her with children she is not healthy enough to bear or rear, the carnal man will "Lord it over" his wife, and, indeed, all the women in his life: his sisters, daughters, and employees.
This can often overstep itself even farther, into physical or sexual abuse, incest, sexual harrassment at work, and physical beatings or torture of his wife or children.
Men's problem with power is that they want it, they revel in it, and they abuse it, and exploit those under them. And women abdicate their own power, and through their passivity and acquiescence -- and often, aid -- enable men to succeed in their abuse of authority.
Should We Labour Under This Curse?
We are Called to Blessings, not Cursings
But does the fact that God pronounced this curse in Eden mean we should not fight against it? No, we are not called to cursings, but to blessings, and whenever we enter into covenant with God, He takes away many curses (Deut. 30:19). In Christ, the new Adam, we are no longer under the curse of sin (1 Cor. 15:45; Eph. 1:3; Gal. 3:13) -- and that includes this curse of the perversion of authority. We are told that, in Christ, "there is neither male nor female." (Gal. 3:28) This is the ideal, though we still live in this world, and must bow somewhat to the constraints inherent in a cursed creation.
Purposes of These Curses in the World
Even these curses work towards God's purpose, in that a carnal man is such an unattractive object that no sane woman would want to live with him -- and many women do remain single for this very reason. The curse of woman's overly-exaggerated desire for a man's love overcomes her natural revulsion to a brutish, insensitive man, and marriages occur, children are produced, and society is perpetuated. It will be, by the nature of the curse, an unjust society, in which women suffer for many of the sins of men, but this curse takes over the function of the natural, godly love that Adam and Eve were meant to have for each other.
Softening the Burden of these Curses in the World:
Knowledge of the True God
Historically, as God intervened in history, and revealed Himself, the knowledge of Him in society has meant a softening of the worst of these curses. Both Judaism and Christianity have tended to raise the level of respect given to women, and have worked against the worst abominations of the ungodly nations, such as female infanticide, footbinding, suttee, female genital mutilation, and honour killings -- though many of these things still occur in the world. Generally, a knowledge of the true God in a society has tended to increase the respect given to women, which in some societies is no more than that given to an animal.
Honourable Marriage and Family Life
In the natural world, in a society that teaches ethics and self-respect, a good marriage helps men and women become more what they should be, giving men a sense of nurturing and consideration, giving women the confidence to take authority and make decisions.
Over time, a good marriage will make both the husband and wife more well-rounded individuals. As they raise their children with love, discipline, and instruction, they become better able to exercise the right measure of loving authority. The fruits of a good, mature marriage are a happy and fulfilled wife with her own identity and accomplishments, a successful and content man who feels no need to force his will on others, and well-adjusted, emotionally healthy and well-behaved children who know they are loved, and respect themselves, and are willing to work towards their own highest destiny, both physically and spiritually.
Lifting the Curse in the Church: the Fruit of the Holy Spirit
In the church, this process is aided by the Holy Spirit. Learning the right use of authority in a godly marriage is the best way to undo the damage done by the curse of Adam's sin on men's and women's natural expression of power.
God's Men and Women are not under Sin's Curse
Churches often discuss the roles of men and women as though this curse for sin were God's ideal: the domineering, totalitarian husband lording it over the meek, submissive, doormat of a wife. Then, they replicate this pattern in their churches, with church leaders lording it over the church like an abusive husband terrorizing his beaten-down, spirit-crushed wife.
God's Church should not follow a Cursed Pattern
Instead, the ideal pattern of church government is more like the democratic, cooperative pattern of governing by consultation and consensus that arises naturally among groups of women than it is like the normal, hierarchical, authoritarian structure that men naturally build.
God's Paradoxical Ideal of Government: The Bride Style
But God's ideal is much subtler than this. While I would characterize the ideal church government guided by the Spirit of God as being more female in style than male -- as befits the Bride of Christ, submissive to her Lord (no human man should take this role, but be a servant to all) -- yet we see, in the New Testament, that it operates as a blend of male and female styles, much as we find in a good, mature marriage.
Humble Leadership Unnatural for Carnal Man
It is very unnatural for a carnal man to operate in this way: carnally, men will always tend to build hierarchies. Only in the Spirit can men become submissive to our Lord Jesus Christ as a Bride is submissive to her Bridegroom, and in that spirit of submissiveness, they are to be "servants," of all, and to "minister to each other." Who naturally does this? Women! Women are raised, in every society, to serve others, whether their parents or their husband and children.
Yet who, most of all, is being asked to operate this way? Men! How true it is that Paul says, "in Christ, there is neither male nor female," since the government of God is the loving, serving cooperation of a family of women. To God, we are all women, spiritually. God's curse on women was that their husbands would rule over them. We are told that a Christian man is to be, like Christ, loving and nurturing towards his wife, sacrificing himself for her (Eph. 5:25, 29-33). Note, women are seldom admonished to "love" their husbands, but to "respect" them; it is the men who must be encouraged to "love," their wives, even sexually, where they are encouraged to be "satisfied with her breasts at all times." (Prov. 5:19) Each curse needs its own corrective.
Christ, within Christian marriage and within Christian government, through His Holy Spirit, eliminates this Curse of Sin, that is, the perversion of government into domineering men and women willing to sacrifice their self-respect for their husband's love. As Adam and Eve would originally have ruled the earth, cooperatively, under Adam's loving, protecting, and nurturing headship, with Eve being a fit companion and partner in every way, so not only is Christian marriage meant to fit this Paradisal model -- the church is, as well.
Practical Reasons for Qualifications for Elders
This is another reason why leaders must have good family lives. If they cannot be good husbands and fathers, inspiring and encouraging and nurturing their wives and children, then they do not have what it takes for proper, loving, humble leadership in the church.
I don't mean to imply that the New Covenant polity is strictly feminine and is "unnatural" or effeminate for men to adopt -- I simply mean that the way men and women naturally deal with power now is carnal, and cursed, and both men and women need to be regenerated in the way they deal with power and authority in order to operate properly within the church. We know that both men and women are created in the image of God, and each is a slightly different image. Together, we form a more complete image of God, and in the resurrection, we know we will be neither male nor female, but like the angels -- like God -- complete (Matt. 22:30).
What is "The Bride Style" of Government?
So, what is "the Bride Style" of church government? Generally, teaching within the context of church services, and leading positions are held by men, though women may hold certain physical serving positions some people define as "deaconnesses."
We know the giftings of the Holy Spirit are given without respect to sex, and that both men and women can be given the gifts of prophesy, healing, etc. Periodically, God has even ordained women in certain leadership posts, as Deborah was a judge over Israel (Jd'g 4-5), but those exceptions are usually not done through the normal ordination channels, but are direct appointments by God, to avoid any confusion. Generally, women do not take leading roles in the church, but supportive ones.
Men Still Lead, but Spiritually, not Carnally
But the paradox is this: though men are called to lead, they are called to lead in a style that seems distinctly female! God calls them to "die daily," and "be crucified with Christ," and set aside any thoughts of personal power and authority. They are not to adopt the Gentile style of leadership: the governance the elders and other leaders use is not a typical "carnal male" curse-created authoritarian style, but instead to adopt a humbler, more female "servant style." Within the leadership, there is consultation, wisdom in taking counsel, prayer, seeking God's will, and finding consensus. Among the saints, there are avenues for bringing matters of concern before smaller groups, or if unresolved, before the whole church.
Ultimately, Christ is the only Authority, and He leads through the Holy Spirit. The administration of the work of the church is done by leaders, but they are not authorities in their own right, but those charged with a duty to perform before God, and are responsible to God, and must seek His will through the Holy Spirit, prayer, and consultation.
The Mystery of Circumcision
This makes clear one of the reasons for physical circumcision in the Old Covenant, and circumcision of the heart in the New -- men need to sacrifice their pride in their male power, and submit themselves to the power of God in order to enter into covenant with Him -- circumcision symbolically undoes the curse of the absoluteness of a man's wrong authoritarian power given to him because of sin. In the New Covenant, of course, circumcision is of the heart (Rom. 2:28-29), but emotionally, it should be the same as the willingness to mutilate the male member in order to be acceptable to God. Male pride must be crucified, in other words.
It is interesting that, under the Old Covenant, no one deformed or mutilated could draw near to the sanctuary (Lev. 21:20), but this one mutilation was necessary in order for a man to be accepted: even the stranger had to be circumcised in order to keep the Passover (Ex. 12:48). The uncircumcised phallus symbolized, I believe, the carnal man under the curse of sin, and the foreskin had to be sacrificed in order to allow the man to enter into relationship with God. Man had taken to himself power and authority that belonged only to God: radical surgery was necessary in order to acknowledge that God was the supreme power, and no individual man.
While this was mainly done to infants, when all was well, there were many occasions when this was done to adults, and in each case, I believe it is to drive home a point. God is the Powerful One, God is the supreme Male to whom all other males are a pale reflection, and in those historical cases, it was such that they had to experience, in adulthood, not only the pain and suffering, but the willingness to go against every natural instinct in a man to protect the male member from injury.
Adult circumcision is a blow to male pride, a humbling of the self. It is also a reminder that his sexual power comes from God, and must be subject to God. Idolatry is not only associated metaphorically with adultery in the Bible, but it is often literally connected, since many pagan rituals included sexual elements or idols, such as the lingam (phallic object), often thought to be the "standing stones" mentioned in the Bible. In ancient times, pagan worship often included sexual enticements, such as temple prostitutes, both male and female. Even today, some extreme cults, like the Children of God, are known to entice would-be converts sexually.
God makes it clear that a man's body belongs to Him, as the man's Creator and Redeemer, and every part is to be subject to Him, even -- and especially -- his most treasured part. Any man who would not ritually sacrifice this part of his anatomy had to be excluded from the company of Israel, and could not eat of the Passover.
The Church is the Bride, only One Man is the Bridegroom -- Christ!
It takes great humility for a man to lay aside what he perceives as his "natural right" to strong authority, and to be a servant, like a Bride. The only One who is allowed to wield strong, independent authority in the Church is Christ, Who is the Bridegroom. Any man who tries to use this authoritarian style is setting himself up in headship as Christ, which is rebellion, and those who follow him can thus be led into idolatry. I believe following Christ's leading in this way is one of the hardest things a man can be called to do.
That does not mean that, in the church, both men and women are not sometimes called to bring to light abuses in the church, and rebuke others for wrongs done, and call for proper judgment and justice. Sometimes these times of correction may seem harsh, but they should be relatively rare and are only for sin and severe heresy (not minor matters of conscience), and are done in love, and following procedures to prevent individuals ruling over the church with terror and oppression (Matt. 18:15-17).
The Test of Spirit-Led Government
If the Sabbath is the "test" commandment for obedience to God, then "the Bride style" of government is the "test" for whether a church is led by the Spirit of God or the carnal spirits of men. In this area, even more than any other, "the carnal mind is enmity against God...so that they that are in the flesh cannot please God." (Romans 8:7,8)
Proverbs 31 is What the Church Should be Like!
If you read Proverbs 31 and think about the church, you can easily see whether any particular church organization fits this picture of the service of a virtuous wife.
10 A good wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels. 11 The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain. 12 She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life. 13 She seeks wool and flax, and works with willing hands. 14 She is like the ships of the merchant, she brings her food from afar. 15
She rises while it is yet night and provides food for her household and tasks for her maidens. 16 She considers a field and buys it; with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard. 17 She girds her loins with strength and makes her arms strong. 18 She perceives that her merchandise is profitable. Her lamp does not go out at night. 19 She puts her hands to the distaff, and her hands hold the spindle. 20
She opens her hand to the poor, and reaches out her hands to the needy. 21 She is not afraid of snow for her household, for all her household are clothed in scarlet. 22 She makes herself coverings; her clothing is fine linen and purple.
23 Her husband is known in the gates, when he sits among the elders of the land. 24 She makes linen garments and sells them; she delivers girdles to the merchant. 25 Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come.
26 She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue. 27 She looks well to the ways of her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness.
28 Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: 29 "Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all." 30 Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised. 31 Give her of the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates.
The Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version [Online], Available: http://www.bibleontheweb.com/Bible.asp [2002, Jan. 2].
The Bride Style Offends the Carnal Man
And any man who is offended by the suggestion that he needs to follow the Bride Style of government is carnal, and not spiritual: this style of government ("the servant style"), like the Sabbath, is a simple, easy test, and enables even the newest believers to judge an organization "by their fruits".
Very few men in the world, even "religious men," are willing to give up the excessive power they have been given only through the curse of sin, and lay down any personal authority, and be submissive to Christ, and servants to the church, as Christ commanded:
"And there was also strife among them [the disciples], which of them should be accounted the greatest. And he said unto them, The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and they that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors. But ye shall not be so: but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve. For whether is greater, he that sitteth at meat, or he that serveth? is not he that sitteth at meat? but I am among you as he that serveth." (Luke 22:24-27)
Where you find this true humility, you will find the Spirit of God.
"Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross." (Ph'p. 2:5-6).
In another article, I warn against Satan's Counterfeit of this leadership in humility: The Wolf in Sheep's Clothing, who appears for all the world to be the world's most humble man, a true shepherd, while secretly he rules abusively and oppresses the flock, and preys upon it.
Lewis, C. S., Collected Essays. [In a future revision, I will quote the essay and collection quoted from]
Schlessinger, Dr. Laura, 1995. Ten Stupid Things Women Do to Mess Up Their Lives. Reprint ed. Harperperennial Library.
The Holy Bible, KJV. Scripture quotations given in parentheses.
Erwin, Gayle D., 1983, 1988. The Jesus Style. Palm Springs, California: R. N. Haynes Publishers, ISBN: 0-8499-2989-X
This book explores Jesus' exemplification of the "servant style" he wants his followers to adopt. The author examines Jesus' teachings and life, to show how He put this principle into practice.
I discovered this book after writing this article: Erwin expounds on the Servant Style of Jesus, but does not compare it to the Bride, or use the imagery and metaphors I use in this article. It is a good book to read to see how this style can be put into practice. The chapter discussing how Christ's servanthood still did not mean he was willing to be a doormat, or to be abused or exploited for other men's purposes I found particularly appropriate for women struggling with the cursed desire to abdicate their right to choose. Christ sacrificed himself willingly, and at the time He chose: His Father's time, not the time of the Pharisees and Sadducees, though they fit into God's plan and timing.
©2002, Jesse Ancona. All rights reserved. For permission to copy or use any material on this page, please email Jesse Ancona at firstname.lastname@example.org. No permission is required for fair use, which includes short quotations in other work with citation. For information on citation of Internet sources using the Harvard System, see Library - BRIDGES: Harvard System - Electronic Material.
Dr. Samuele Bacchiochi presents a concise, reasoned, Biblical view of this issue in two parts, in his Roles Within Marriage and Practicing Headship and Submission.
Keith Hunt has a differing view on the cursing of Adam and Eve, seeing these as specific to the individuals. While I think it possible that Adam and Eve themselves may have borne the hardest brunt of their curses, I do think that, in Adam, we still suffer under many of the generalities of these curses, and that only in Christ are we free of them all, yet, while we are on this earth, we ourselves groan, with creation, awaiting our redemption. While many women have painless births, most do not; while some parts of the world are blessed with easy-growing conditions, most are not, and nowhere in the world are growers free from the need for "rain in due season" as Adam was, when the mist coming from the ground ensured proper moisture at all times. Also, many Edenic conditions will be restored in the Milennium, as Isaiah prophesies -- this would be unnecessary if all the curses pronounced on Adam died with him, or were cleansed in the Flood.
So, whether we have a true difference of opinion, or are simply looking at these things from another perspective, you may find it instructive to read Keith's view on these things at: Adam's Curse, is it with us today?