On Leaving and Cleaving

NickImage

While this essay is not about marriage, I nevertheless wish to begin by considering the key biblical text that addresses marriage. This text, originally given in Genesis 2:24, is cited authoritatively by both Jesus (Mark 10:7-8) and Paul (Eph. 5:31). It essentially offers us a definition of marriage: a man must leave his father and his mother, must be faithfully devoted to his wife, and the two of them must be one flesh.

The final clause is, of course, highly interesting. It suggests the biblical description of the proper use of human sexuality according to its holy and undefiled purpose. Rich as this clause is in theological and ethical overtones, however, it is not my focus at the moment.

Nor is the middle clause, which gives us a concise biblical definition of marriage. Evidently, it is the committing of one’s self to another in faithful devotion that transforms one into a spouse. While only the man’s side of this commitment is overtly specified in the text, the commitment of the woman is almost certainly understood. This commitment is what identifies one individual as the marital property (I use this term advisedly—1 Cor. 7:4-5) of another human being. For the commitment to perform this function, it must be made publicly. For it to be solemn and binding, it must take the form of an oath.

As I say, however, this clause is not my primary focus. The implications of this clause are both interesting and ethically indispensable. They deserve defense and development. Nevertheless, my present purpose excludes that kind of careful treatment. Instead, I wish to examine the first clause, which states that a man is to leave his father and his mother.

This command seems odd when compared to the social context of the Old Testament. Very often young men did not leave their fathers and mothers—at least not right away. While this phenomenon puzzles us, perhaps it should give us no more pause than the occurrence of polygamy and divorce in the Old Testament. These social customs seemed to have lagged behind the middle clause of the Bible’s teaching about marriage, even among the people of God. It would not be surprising if other social customs lagged behind the biblical ideal expressed in the first clause.

What is that ideal? What does the text mean when it says that a man must leave his father and his mother? First, it is worth noting that “father and mother” probably stands as a synecdoche for all non-spousal relationships. Since the relationship of child to parent is naturally the closest of human connections, to demote this relationship entails the demotion of all others.

Second, this text clearly does require a demotion. While a man surely must continue to honor his father and his mother (for this is God’s moral law), he no longer prioritizes his relationship to his parents. His life does not revolve around them. He is not dependent upon them. He is capable of living his life without their constant presence and support. He is capable of providing, not only for himself, but for a family. He no longer needs to be told what to do, but rather exercises his own judgment, enjoys his own successes, and learns from the consequences of his own mistakes.

A good analogy can be found in Paul’s description of spiritual maturity (Eph. 4:13-16). A child is unstable and easily taken advantage of, while a mature person exercises sound judgment and, by his unique role, contributes to the orderly functioning of a larger whole. Such a person not only knows what is true, but knows how to express the truth.

Inescapably, the primary feature of leaving one’s father and mother is the exercise of independent judgment. While the counsel of one’s parents should be welcome at every stage of life, a mature person does not need to rely upon his parents (or other authorities) to tell him what to do. He can and does make wise choices on his own.

In other words, a man is not ready to marry—indeed, he is not a man—until he can think for himself. He is not ready to marry until he can provide for himself. He is not ready to marry until he can provide for his family. He is not ready to marry if he has to shelter under his parents’ roof or let his parents do his thinking for him. He is not ready to marry until he has the maturity to recognize the gravity of a marriage oath and the level of commitment that will see it through to the end.

That is what it means for a man to leave his father and mother. But what about the woman? Is she also required to leave her father and mother?

In a way, the answer to this question is assumed in the text. When Moses wrote Genesis 2:24, men did not typically go to live in their wives’ homes. Instead, the wives went to live with their husbands. Of course wives also left their fathers and mothers.

Yet this answer may not be adequate. Somehow a goofy view of female subjection has gone abroad among some Christians today. These dear saints hold that a woman (of whatever age) is to remain in her father’s house and under her father’s authority until she marries, when the authority is transferred to her husband.

Try telling that to Lydia. This woman of God exercised exactly the independence and judgment that should characterize a man who has left his father and mother. She lived her own life, made her own decisions, and secured her own support. Because she was able to do these things, she accomplished great good for the cause of the Lord through the ministry of the apostle Paul.

The greatest ministry that parents can perform for their children is to prepare them for independent existence. Godly parents will train their children to judge for themselves, choose for themselves, live by themselves, and provide for themselves. The moments that parents should cherish are not the moments when their children are the cutest and most dependent, but those moments when their children best demonstrate their developing capacity for wisdom in independent action.

Of course, the risk is that children who think for themselves might think differently from their parents. They may adopt different perspectives, mores, and standards. The solution is not to do their thinking for them, but to instruct them to think clearly, judge wisely, and love rightly. An adult who merely repeats a parent’s clichés is still acting as a child. All Christian parents want their children to walk in the truth, but we must never attempt to achieve this goal at the cost of dooming our children to perpetual immaturity. The one is as bad as the other.

At this late point in the essay, I have a confession to make. Even the most careful readers will justifiably believe that I have been writing primarily about family relationships. My point through this entire discussion, however, has been to draw attention to certain dynamics that ought to characterize church leaders and church members (or, perhaps more relevantly, parachurch leaders and their followers). Yet here I am, already having reached the allowable maximum length for these essays, and I have not drawn a single implication for church or parachurch relationships.

Can you guess what they might be?

There Is a Land of Pure Delight
Isaac Watts (1674-1748)

There is a land of pure delight,
Where saints immortal reign,
Infinite day excludes the night,
And pleasures banish pain.
There everlasting spring abides,
And never withering flowers:
Death, like a narrow sea, divides
This heav’nly land from ours.

Sweet fields beyond the swelling flood
Stand dressed in living green:
So to the Jews old Canaan stood,
While Jordan rolled between.
But timorous mortals start and shrink
To cross this narrow sea;
And linger, shivering on the brink,
And fear to launch away.

O could we make our doubts remove,
Those gloomy thoughts that rise,
And see the Canaan that we love
With unbeclouded eyes!
Could we but climb where Moses stood,
And view the landscape o’er,
Not Jordan’s stream, nor death’s cold flood,
Should fright us from the shore.

[node:bio/kevin-t-bauder body]

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There are 22 Comments

Steve Newman's picture

When a campus ministry is not plugged into a local church and becomes a ministry unto itself, students who graduate often suffer from "separation anxiety" and struggle to find a replacement. I'm so thankful for the ministries I was discipled by on the college campus that were extensions of a local church and not parachurch ministries. 

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

In other words, a man is not ready to marry—indeed, he is not a man—until he can think for himself. He is not ready to marry until he can provide for himself. He is not ready to marry until he can provide for his family. He is not ready to marry if he has to shelter under his parents' roof or let his parents do his thinking for him. He is not ready to marry until he has the maturity to recognize the gravity of a marriage oath and the level of commitment that will see it through to the end.

Well said!

and...

and I have not drawn a single implication for church or parachurch relationships.

Can you guess what they might be?

Mostly looking forward to what implications you're going draw. Couldn't really guess without knowing what you mean by "church or parachurch relationships." Is that man-woman relationships within church/parachurch or church-parachurch relationships or the role of women in relation to leaders in church/parachurch or the relationship between church/parachurch and maturing children? Lots of "relationships" involved!  Lumping church & parachurch together certainly intrigues me, since the two are more different than they are similar. But my curiosity is certainly piqued.

Robert Byers's picture

The pattern is clearly important, since Adam had no father and mother to leave, yet the command was given nonetheless.

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

Somehow a goofy view of female subjection has gone abroad among some Christians today. These dear saints hold that a woman (of whatever age) is to remain in her father's house and under her father's authority until she marries, when the authority is transferred to her husband.

Think that's goofy? How about the view that when a single woman joins the church, if there is no parental involvement or male siblings, she must place herself under the authority of the pastor or some other man in the church because she is never to be without a male 'head'. Also, she cannot make decisions for herself, but is allowed to offer her opinion after the decision has been made for her, and those in authority will graciously take her thoughts into consideration, but after the fact, ie Jacob and Dinah, Rebekah and Isaac, Leah, Rachel, and Laban...  

My thought on the comparison between church leadership dynamics and child/parent/spousal relationships is that there are always limits or boundaries to authority. A parent's authority does not supercede God's authority and that of the individual, and ditto husband/wife or church/laity. At some point, a healthy leader/follower relationship demands that the leader grant that those under them have two brain cells to rub together and should make their own decisions, even if they are not exactly what the leader had in mind. Church leadership can exposit, admonish, and equip, but they can't act as the Holy Spirit. 

M. Osborne's picture

Susan R wrote:

At some point, a healthy leader/follower relationship demands that the leader grant that those under them have two brain cells to rub together and should make their own decisions, even if they are not exactly what the leader had in mind. Church leadership can exposit, admonish, and equip, but they can't act as the Holy Spirit. 

If that is indeed the direction Dr. Bauder is going, then he's already alluded to Ephesians 4:13-16. en route to talking about the family, en route to bringing it back to the church.

A pastor's goal is to get the congregation to stand on their own two feet spiritually, even if that means they disagree with him at times. As an adult Sunday school teacher, I prefer there to be some disagreement at times. If they agree with me all the time, they may not be engaged enough. (And as an aside, perpetually nodding heads can lull me into exegetical carelessness.) If the apostle Paul could hold out the hypothetical of his own damnation for preaching another gospel (implication: the Galatians have no excuse for going along with him were he to preach heresy), surely I can hold out the "hypothetical" Smile of my own occasional errors with the implication that the congregation says, "Uh, no."

Another direction he may be going is the exact scope of in loco parentis. There are ways to hold students accountable as adults are held accountable, and there are ways to hold students accountable as children are held accountable. You don't have to give up accountability when you treat someone as an adult.

Michael Osborne
Philadelphia, PA

Jim's picture

[quote=Susan R]

Think that’s goofy? How about the view that when a single woman joins the church, if there is no parental involvement or male siblings, she must place herself under the authority of the pastor or some other man in the church

I’ve never heard that view. Must not be very prevalent

Shaynus's picture

Here's a more off the wall guess if you're trying to look at relationships between churches: if it is not good for man to be alone, then it's also not good for a church to be alone. If a church has to do ecclesiastical separation and get out of a fellowship of churches, then it should also get into another one if it can. Leaving shouldn't be the end of a church's story it should cleave somewhere else. 

Barry L.'s picture

therefore, we cling to Christ.  Not sure how other churches fit in with the analogy.

Barry L.'s picture

What you mention in your first paragraph is really goofy. I don't know how anyone can biblically justify a pastor's authority over an unmarried woman. Actually, it's more than goofy, it's also creepy.

Phil Siefkes's picture

To set forth Lydia as a good example is anachronistic and goofy itself.  Yes she was a seemingly successful business woman, yet she was clearly unregenerate.  Her preconversion life choices are not necessarily worthy examples of what we would want our believing daughters to follow. Simply because God used her in her postconversion life to minister to believers does not mean that her preconversion life is necessarily exemplary. It seems a bit of a leap.

Discipling God's image-bearers to the glory of God.

JD Miller's picture

I initially had the same thought about Lydia.  Even though I do not agree with the extremes of the patriarchal movement, I was thinking there are much better ways to address it- the business decisions of the woman at the end of Proverbs come to mind.  But then I looked up the passage and was reminded that Lydia was already a worshipper of God.  That may mean that she was a Jewish convert and would thus give an insight into the Jewish mindset at that time.  I don't believe we should  think of her as a complete pagan at that point in her life.  Further it is possible that she was already a Christian who then got baptized rather than converted.   Perhaps Kevin has some reason for using Lydia that will come out later in his analogy (perhaps not).  I'm thinking back to a series of articles about a ship or something from a while back where he was saying something else while telling his story.  That reminds me, it has been a while since I have been where my gaze needs a rest (Phil is in a town called Sleepy Eye).

Lee's picture

Phil Siefkes wrote:

To set forth Lydia as a good example is anachronistic and goofy itself.  Yes she was a seemingly successful business woman, yet she was clearly unregenerate.  Her preconversion life choices are not necessarily worthy examples of what we would want our believing daughters to follow. Simply because God used her in her postconversion life to minister to believers does not mean that her preconversion life is necessarily exemplary. It seems a bit of a leap.

 

More like a plummet...............

Lee

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

Jim wrote:
Susan R wrote:

Think that's goofy? How about the view that when a single woman joins the church, if there is no parental involvement or male siblings, she must place herself under the authority of the pastor or some other man in the church

I've never heard that view. Must not be very prevalent

It is prevalent in über patriarchy circles. 

Back to the essay, this thought came to mind this morning-

a man is not ready to marry—indeed, he is not a man—until he can think for himself. He is not ready to marry until he can provide for himself. He is not ready to marry until he can provide for his family. He is not ready to marry if he has to shelter under his parents' roof or let his parents do his thinking for him. He is not ready to marry until he has the maturity to recognize the gravity of a marriage oath and the level of commitment that will see it through to the end.

A man is also not ready to lead a church until he qualifies for ministry as per 2 Tim. 3, Titus 2, etc. There are too many novices in church leadership.

DavidO's picture

I think Mrs R. is on the right track with this:

 

At some point, a healthy leader/follower relationship demands that the leader grant that those under them have two brain cells to rub together and should make their own decisions, even if they are not exactly what the leader had in mind.

 

If a parent always demands total agreement and never listens or discusses with them ideas alternate to his, he is potentially hobbling their ability to think and decide for themselves before the Lord and/or he may be removing himself from any significant position of influence in their thinking. 

 

How much more should a Christian College or University be willing to allow a certain amount of dissenting thought.  How can there be true exchange of ideas without it?  But who hasn't gone to one of these schools and recognized the limits of what one could say in class without being at least mildly suspicioned?

 

Perhaps we should be happy and cheerfully engage our children/students when they challenge our ideas about life or faith or, say, how abuse is handled in a given ecclesiastical circle. 

handerson's picture

This view is more than prevalent and it's not simply restricted to strongly patriarchal circles. Nancy Leigh Demoss espouses it in respect to her own ministry and regards Dr. Bruce Ware (perhaps among others) as having a type of headship over her writing and speaking. It seemed weird to me, but then I heard him speak at an evangelical church we attended, and he referenced the fact that he provides "headship" for her ministry. (Mind you, not oversight as a member of a board of directors, but headship as a specific theological concept.) Both my husband and I found it unsettling and while we value these individuals' ministries, we felt like it was an unnecessary (and potentially dangerous) application to make.

KevinM's picture

handerson wrote:
Nancy Leigh Demoss....regards Dr. Bruce Ware (perhaps among others) as having a type of headship over her writing and speaking.

Maybe we should temporarily look past the gender and "headship" labels. I might have sympathy for some parts of Nancy's idea, if we could explain it in terms that are not laden with Gothardism.

I view my pastor's spiritual authority as extending over my writing and editing ministry, and often ask him to read difficult passages before I publish them. [I especially do this this when writing about worship and church music, becuase I also lead some of the services at our church. I would be uncomfortable advocating something in print that would contradict what my pastor is trying to teach our local congregation.]

In general, I view my writing ministry as public ministry--technically, a form of Bible teaching. And as soon as you phrase it this way, it becomes much easier to accept your pastor's spiritual authority over your writing and speaking. Here's a test question for my writer friends (and blogging friends): How would you react if your pastor read something and asked you to revise it before its release?

I'm not trying to sidetrack the discussion--but if we substitute "spiritual authority" to describe a pastor's role, instead of "headship," many of us [single or married] would comfortable with the idea.

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

KevinM wrote:

How would you react if your pastor read something and asked you to revise it before its release?


If it was something having to do with the church or its ministries, I would definitely think it his place to ask for revisions. Even if I would disagree, it's a matter for the whole church, not just my opinion. No issue there.

If it is something I am doing personally, not connected to the church in any way, then I would be open to his persuading me or convincing me that revisions are necessary, but would not think it his place to tell me I can't write it in the way I'm doing it, especially if he could give no persuasive scriptural justification for the revisions he is requesting.

I have a good relationship with my pastor, and would always be open to a discussion or hearing him out -- but the two situations above are different, and he would have to approach them differently. In reality, I'd want him to tell me if I'm writing heresy, and I'd thank him for pointing it out. However, if it's simply a difference of opinion or interpretation, we'd have to work out the details!

Dave Barnhart

handerson's picture

I completely agree with the need for pastoral/elder oversight over parachurch ministries--there are far too many loose cannons in my opinion. But this isn't what NLD is emphasizing nor what Dr. Bauder alluded to when he mentioned single women and their father's headship. 

In referencing headship, NLD has said: "One of the commitments I made years ago is a commitment that I would have male theological review of each of my books before they came out."

It may be splitting hairs (and may possibly even be a moot point given the fact that we hold to male eldership), but it seems like this approach emphasizes gender/headship instead of local church, pastoral oversight. The truth is that a pastor or board of elders' authority is rooted in more than their maleness; their oversight is directly tied to their ordination and their responsibility to care for the flock. Because while the Scripture teaches that elders must be male, it does not teach that simply being male is enough to qualify as an elder. (I know I have a tendency to be a bit of a purist but HOW you arrive at an application is just as important as getting there.)  

And in answer to your specific question about whether I would revise something if my pastor asked me to, I guess I'm lucky: my husband is the pastor of our church and he regularly reads and provides feedback for my writing.

KevinM's picture

Oh, here's my shot at a  Bauder summary: If the pastor is leading as he should, he is equipping church members to be "fully convinced in their own minds," capable of exercising spiritual discernment, capable teachers themselves.

Such pastors are burdened by congregation members who cannot think for themselves, or can be influenced to violate their own consciences (AKA weaker brothers and sisters).

But such pastors are also benevolent leaders--in fostering indepenent decision making, they have come to expect that their church members will hold a range of positions on the "lesser" issues of the Christian life.

In addition to describing local church relationships, Dr. Bauder seems to be addressing parachurch leadership. I've been talking about this with several friends lately...I've noticed how our ideas about leadership are shaped by our own experiences in fundamentalism. Some of us come from fundy branches where Big Men lead--this seems to have shaped our attitudes (and apprehensions) quite a bit. Those of us sitting on other fundy branches have a hard time understanding those who've lived through authoritarian regimes--it's a different life, really.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Kevin B must be enjoying our speculation about how he intends to apply what he's said so far. Biggrin But, hey, it's an interesting conversation (to me, anyway) so why not?

I suspect that many who balk at "headship" balk also at "spiritual authority." The quandary we're in is really not new: so many have misused spiritual authority there is a general aversion to it and feeling that the solution is less or even no authority. But I think there is really no solution other than better wielders of authority. You can only deconcentrate, dilute and "make accountable" so much before you have no leadership at all in any meaningful sense of the word. But this has been a problem since at least the late middle ages... so, so many bishops, priests, cardinals and popes who were knowing to be self-serving, immoral, power-mongers.

What's new(ish) is...

a. We have way more ability and opportunity to function independently of spiritual authority (literacy, access to cheap and abundant copies of the Scriptures)

b. We have egalitarianism and populism in our blood to a degree never drempt of during the thousand years or so before the 18th and 19th centuries. Yielding to authority seems weak, humiliating and wrong to us now.

It's always been right for leaders not to "lord it" over those entrusted to them. The difference is that Peter told the Elders (1 Peter 5.1ff I believe) not to Lord it. Today we tell followers not to allow their leaders to lord it over them. See the difference?

handerson's picture

but would add that leadership is also only meaningful to the degree that there is relationship and responsibility. Authority is not an arbitrary power vested simply in gender or postion. The responsiblities that accompany headship and pastoral authority (even parental authority, to get back to Dr. Bauder's orignial illustration) are what make the leadership meaningful and productive. In this sense, I have absolutely no issue with my husband's headship over me precisely because there is specific relationship. At the same time, I take tremendous issue with a man exercising headship over a woman where there is no marital/fatherly relationship or responsibility.

Having said that, I also agree with you that a failure to fulfill the responsiblities that accompanying leadership does not free people from their responsibility to submit to leaders. But the failure DOES underscore and highlight precisely what SHOULD be taking place and what makes God-ordained leadership hierarchies work in the first place. (The exception proves the rule, etc..)   Because as much as followers should not fall into the trap of "not allowing" their leaders to lord it over them, leaders should not fall into the trap of demanding that they be followed when they haven't earned their authority by relationship and responsibility.

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