Adj. Pertaining to complementarianism and egalitarianism.

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Wednesday, February 6, 2008

What is Mutual Submission?

In response to my last post, Wayne asked how my views are different from the idea of "mutual submission." I would say that depends on what you mean by mutual submission. I am perfectly comfortable using the term mutual submission to describe my marriage, but that term means different things to different people.

In the "Myth of Mutual Submission," Wayne Grudem admits that there is a use of the term "mutual submission" which does not "nullify the husband’s authority within marriage," but he goes on to say, "egalitarians mean something so different by this phrase . . . that I think the expression 'mutual submission' only leads to confusion if we go on using it." In my opinion, Grudem surrenders a perfectly good term to the egalitarians, allowing egalitarians to define what it means.

This is akin to Calvinists squirming whenever they hear the term "free will," as if "free will" was not something they believed in. Calvinists absolutely believe in free will, as long as we understand in what sense the will is free (namely, that the unregenerate sinner is free to choose what he wants) and in what sense it is bound (because the unregenerate sinner's desires are evil, he will inevitably make sinful choices and is therefore unable to save himself). Just as Calvinists can affirm a belief in a form of "free will," I think complementarians can affirm a belief in "mutual submission," as long as it is clear what we do and do not mean by the term.

Egalitarians tend to define "mutual submission" as meaning that sometimes the husband leads and the wife submits, while at other times the wife leads and the husband submits. The analogy often used is of two friends walking side-by-side, each alternately helping the other along. In my view, this understanding of marriage simply does not resonate with the various Biblical descriptions of marriage.

Grudem describes an alternative understanding of mutual submission as follows: "If mutual submission means being considerate of one another, and caring for one another’s needs, and being thoughtful of one another, and sacrificing for one another, then of course I would agree that mutual submission is a good thing." My problem with his description of this kind of mutual submission is that he seems to trivialize it. Yes, he says, complementarians believe that husbands should defer to their wives, put their wives' needs first, etc. but he thinks it creates confusion to call that "submission."

I would push this idea of mutual submission further. As I see it, "submission" in its broadest sense means dying to oneself for the sake of another. "Dying to oneself" goes beyond merely "being considerate," because there is no limit to how far such self-mortification can go. Philippians 2 describes Jesus as making himself "nothing," taking the "form of a servant," "humbling himself," and becoming "obedient" to the point of death, even the most shameful, humiliating, agonizing death imaginable. He is our model of submission, because he spent himself for the needs of those who gave him nothing in return, all in obedience to the Father who has ultimately placed all things under his feet and given him the "name that is above every name."

As believers, we are to exhibit this depth of love and willingness to die for one another. In that respect, dying to oneself or "submission" is to be "mutual." Ephesians urges us to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ (5:21). Then it describes how that submission works itself out in various human relationships. As a complementarian, I do not see this passage as abrogating the underlying structure of these relationships. Rather, I see it as calling us, no matter where we fit into that structure, to follow Christ in letting go of our "rights" and laying down our lives for the "other" in those relationships. This is anything but easy, which is why the passage concludes with a call to "be strong in the Lord."

Laying down one's life requires strength, as Jesus demonstrated when he said, "No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord" (John 10:18). Likewise he said to Pilate, "You would have no authority over Me at all if it hadn’t been given you from above" (John 19:11). As a man who wants to be strong, Jesus' strength in laying down his life inspires me. As a complementarian, I do see myself as having great responsibility for, and some measure of authority over, my family. Yet if I see my "position" as "something to be used for [my] own advantage" (Philippians 2:6), I am not exhibiting Christ's strength but my own sinful weakness!

My wife, Lisa, is an incredibly strong woman. She dies to herself for my sake and the sake of our children every day. (And if you had to live with me, you would know how much strength that requires!) She does this because of her devotion to Christ, not because of some sense of marital or motherly duty. I want to show that same kind of strength, and that same depth of devotion to Christ, in my relationship with her and our children. Ultimately, that's what I mean by "mutual submission." I see it not as a retreat from "Biblical manhood and womanhood," but as the ultimate expression of it.