Buried Talents: Reconciling Egalitarianism and Hierarchicalism, Part 1

A. Egalitarian or Hierarchalist?

We earlier considered Osburn’s suggestion that there are four schools of thought as to the role of women: paternalism, hierarchicalism, egalitarianism, and radical feminism. We rejected radical feminism because this view does not accept the inerrancy of scripture. We rejected paternalism because it is based on shallow methods of interpreting the scriptures and insists on adding rules that admittedly are not found in the Bible.

Hierarchicalism has a strong appeal to those within the Churches of Christ. This view supports the inerrancy of scripture and makes a serious effort at careful Bible study in textual and historical context while retaining the long-standing teaching that there is a principle of male leadership.

And yet the egalitarian view also has much appeal. While distinctly non-traditional, it also supports the inerrancy of scripture. It appeals to our innate sense of justice and fair play and certainly has much support in the doctrine of gifts and talents. Accordingly, it is appropriate to consider how far apart the schools of thought really are.

B. The Marriage Relationship

Our difficulty in understanding the verses dealing with marriage can be largely resolved by a deeper understanding of the nature of Christ. While the verses compel wives to be submissive to their husbands, husbands are commanded to emulate Christ’s example of giving himself up for the church. Both schools of thought concede that husbands must give themselves up — even to the point of death — for their wives.

(Phil. 2:5-8) Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death — even death on a cross!

(Heb. 5:8-9) Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him

We cannot interpret the role of husbands with a blind eye toward what it means to be like Christ. As tempting as it is to us males to claim the throne of Jesus and insist on having all authority, our lot as husbands is not nearly so grand. There is a price to be paid to claim this throne, and the price is becoming nothing, a servant, humble, obedient, and suffering. It is giving oneself up. And after we’ve learned this lesson, and only after learning this lesson, can we claim to be heads of our wives “as Christ is head of the church.” Only after learning these lessons can we claim to love our wives “just as” Christ loves the church.

Mere maleness does not a lord make. If men would truly honor this portion of the passages — on which all schools of thought agree — the distinction between the egalitarian and hierarchicalist views in the marriage relationship would become nearly one of semantics.

Thus, the key to reconciling the egalitarian and hierarchicalist views of marriage is for the hierarchicalist to acknowledge that the headship of the husband is conditioned on the husband’s having the sacrificial, servant heart of Christ. Few women would struggle to submit to such a man.

That the husband’s headship is conditioned is amply demonstrated by the fact that Christ’s headship was conditioned on His obedience:

(Heb. 5:8-10) Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek.

Jesus did not become high priest until he’d first learned obedience.

(Phil. 2:8-11) And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death — even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

God only exalted Christ and called on every knee to bow to Him as a consequence of Christ’s death on the cross.

(Heb. 2:9) But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

Plainly, even Jesus’ Lordship is conditioned on His humility, His service, and His giving up of Himself. We men can hardly claim a greater right to headship than Jesus has, and so our headship must be considered conditional on having the heart of Christ.

Any other interpretation of the passages referring to husbands as heads of their wives would subject women to the headship of the abusive, the selfish, and the domineering. We’d be hopelessly naive to believe that there are no such husbands within our churches, and we’d be hopelessly irresponsible to teach these men that they are entitled to have their way.

Thus, understood in this way, the hierarchicalist view of husbands is nearly indistinguishable from the egalitarian view in the context of marriage. It is hard to imagine a real-life situation where the headship of a truly Christ-like husband would reach a different practical result from the sharing or partnership that egalitarians find as the pattern for Christian marriages. Certainly, either approach to marriage would be a vast improvement over what many of our wives are subjected to.

[to be continued]

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
This entry was posted in Role of Women, Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Buried Talents: Reconciling Egalitarianism and Hierarchicalism, Part 1

  1. Alan says:

    Amen, Jay! God's plan addresses both roles, and both must be followed in order to have the kind of marriage God designed.

    Neither partner is likely to be perfect in following the given role. Those imperfections should not be seen as a license for the other party to abandon God's instructions for their role. In counseling I generally call for each party to do what God instructs without preconditions. But in my experience, the key is to get the husband to follow his biblical role.

    Of course extreme cases by either party call for some kind of intervention.

  2. Vashra says:

    "to be continued" .. when?!?

  3. Jay Guin says:


    Links to the entire series are at /index-under-construction/b

    The links on the left of screen are an index to the series that I've posted here over the years.

  4. Dave says:

    I appreciate the effort at finding common ground…but in the process, it's easy to overstate the case.

    For example, the Lordship of Jesus was in a very important sense…not actually conditioned upon his humility. As God, Jesus had always been Lord. As Lord and God, Jesus was under constraint to be humble. What Jesus had not always been was our 'savior'. In order to become our savior, he had to become human and that required humility both as an attitude or disposition and as an ontological fact. The incarnation required both sorts of humility…but we must be careful not to confuse the two.

    Husbands and wives do not make the ontological choice. The role that God has given to husbands is based (according to Paul in 1st Tim. 2:13) on the order in which God chose to create man and woman. The ontological question is already settled and stands as an historic fact. This is the point at which the disconnect between the 'hierarchicalists and the egalitarians takes place. Egalitarians would not agree that the man ought to serve as the head of the household any more than a woman should.

    Once we consider the ontological matter settled, we are left with the question of attitude and conduct. In that area, I agree wholeheartedly with the instructions that you have set out above from the book of Ephesians. As head of their families, husbands are commanded to be like Jesus and to serve as the spiritual leaders of their homes. They are not given a 'blank check' and cannot do as they wish with respect to actions, words or attitudes. What God has put in place ontologically must be guided and governed by the words and the example of Jesus.



  5. Dave says:

    Correction: The sentence above should read …

    As God, Jesus had always been Lord. As Lord and God, Jesus was under no constraint to be humble


Comments are closed.