Armoring Men to Lead: My Response to “Men of Armor”

Armoring Men to Lead:  My Response to “Men of Armor”

A few years ago, the leader of a local church’s sports program, which we participated in, left to begin his own ministry.  As a result of having participated in the sports program, our emails were obtained, and we began to receive messages and invitations from this new ministry “Men of Armor.”

Recently, an invitation appeared in my inbox from “Men of Armor.”  This one described a Biblical-based sex education seminar for parents.  In reading the background on the presenters and the program, my interest peaked, and I was considering discussing registration with my husband when I reached the final line of the email,

Men, please lead the way by registering to attend with your wife…

After feeling engaged in the body of the email, I immediately felt marginalized and pushed back into the shadows.

After a day of prayer, I reached out to the leadership team of “Men of Armor” and wrote a letter detailing my concerns and our family’s beliefs. Click here to see that message: https://www.facebook.com/girlgonejunking/posts/252680125080381

The president of the company, Jimmy Stopper, returned my email with an invitation to call him and discuss my message.  I made the call on Friday and spoke with Jimmy for over an hour.

It was a gracious, healthy conversation between a brother and sister in Christ.  I am thankful to have had the opportunity to dialogue with him about these issues.

What follows are my responses to three of the statements of faith he and his organization have about women and women’s roles in marriage.

  1. As Christian Evangelicals, the word of God is the word of God and we are to read it as so. Directives are directives, and the explanation of marriage roles in Ephesians is God’s design directive for a Biblical marriage.

There are problematic things about this response.  First, it assumes interpretations of scripture which differ from his are less Biblical and less inspired by God.  Second, it erroneously characterizes Evangelical Christians as being literal doers of the word in all circumstances, which is simply not true. Christian Evangelicals DO decide what verses will and will not be practiced literally.  When asked if women in his church follow the directive to remain silent, he conceded women do not remain silent in the church.

There are many Christians (noted theologians and pastors) who study Paul’s epistles through the lens of historical and cultural context.  His letters are words of direction and edification for specific churches experiencing specific problems within a specific culture and time period (for a short list of prominent Egalitarian voices, click here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/189gbAb0yDYeXwv1iad47W-URKb87R86fyyrNC9jYkbg/edit?usp=sharing)

This does not mean the epistles lack value and application today; it simply means a literal application of all directives from those epistles is not something any church does today and for good reason, otherwise slaves would still be graciously submitting to their masters and women would still wear head coverings during prayer.

Additionally, to place the epistles within the appropriate context, to read and study Paul’s words as a unified message for a specific audience does not render the scriptures as any less inspired by God.

Paul’s directives on marriage to the Ephesians and Colossians in his epistles are actually quite novel and progressive for the intended readers of his letters.  Men during this time treated women/wives as property, which is why Paul includes references to wives and slaves consecutively multiple times in his letters.  Commanding husbands to love their wives as Christ loves the church was a radical notion for the time/culture.

Directing wives to submit unto their OWN husbands frees them from the cultural expectation of subservience to any male as per the patriarchal codes of law.  This, too, was a novel practice for women.

Including the notion of mutual submission probably had heads spinning, as Roman husbands never submitted to their wives just as slave masters never submitted to their slaves. (for more on Greco-Roman household codes, please click here http://rachelheldevans.com/blog/mutuality-household-codes)

Paul, in his letters to the Ephesians, Corinthians, Colossians, and to Philemon, works to move away from hierarchy to a more linear functioning of oneness and mutuality.  In his plea to Philemon, he longs for Onesimus to be restored, not as a lowly slave, but as an equal, a brother in Christ, joined together with Philemon through the flesh of Christ.

On the other hand, directing husbands to lead their wives when they already held roles of extreme leadership would have been redundant and pointless.  This precipitates the need to explore other connotative and metaphorical meanings of the word “head” in scripture (which I will address in my response to point 2 below).

The fact that Paul works within the cultural design of the household as he sets up a novel design for marriage does not mean the cultural design takes precedent over the ideas of oneness and mutual submission which permeate his epistle and mirror the whole of Jesus’ teachings.
  1. Ephesians 5 clearly sets up roles within a marriage in which the man is to act as the leader/head and the woman is to assume the role of helpmate (as directed in Genesis).

As previously stated, to teach husbands, who already held extreme roles of leadership in marriage, to lead their wives serves no point in Paul’s epistle. This gives rise to the question, could “head” have another connotative and/or metaphorical meaning that is better suited to the message of the epistle as a whole.

Paul continually builds on the metaphor of the physical body in Ephesians, starting in 1:22-23, “And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him fills all in all.”

Head in Ephesians 5 is better understood as the head of the body.  This physical metaphor is used throughout the gospels to help clarify the unification of the body of Christ and the importance of functioning as a single unit as the Church of Christ (see Romans 12:5, 1 Corinthians 10:17, 1 Corinthians 12:27, Ephesians 1:22-23, Ephesians 4:12, Ephesians 5:23, Colossians 1:24, Hebrews 13:3).

Therefore, if head references anatomy, it’s valuable to explore what the head represented metaphorically during Biblical times.  Many noted theologians, including Ronald Pierce, professor of Biblical and Theological studies at Biola University and former complementarian, believe the head was seen as the source of life and provision.

(to view Dr. Pierce’s complete lecture on Ephesians 5, click here: open.biola.edu/resources/mutual-submission-in-marriage-eph-5-col-3)

Were husbands, who obtained and viewed wives as property, being called to act as a source of life and provision for their wives, to love them as Christ loved the church?

Were they being told to lay down their lives and their power for their wives out of Christ-like love for her just as Jesus sacrificed his power as the Son of God when he gave His life out of love for the body of the Church?

This fits with the overall context of the epistle and Paul’s repeated imagery of oneness.  It also moves more naturally to Paul’s final conclusion about the functioning of marriage at the end of Ephesians 5:

“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh (31).”

Paul is not directing husbands of Ephesus to lead their wives.

Paul is not directing wives to submit in a subservient way to their husbands.

Husbands today who use Ephesians 5 to support man-made titles like “spiritual leader,” “head-of-the-family,” and “male headship,” are missing the point of Paul’s message (which by the way never defines roles such as those listed).

Wives who yield all power to the husband also miss the novelty of Paul’s directive.

Paul calls for a husband to act as a life source for his wife, to love her in a sacrificial way, and to put aside power and roles which elevate one over the other.

The wife, in yielding to her husband, basically commits a synonymous act of relenting. 

It’s a new model of mutual submission; a model which allows for the two to become one functioning body in Christ.

  1. Gifts of the Holy Spirit do not apply to all situations. For example, I may speak better than my pastor, but I’m not going to challenge his leadership or authority in his role as pastor with my gifts.  A wife can use her gifts to help her husband but her gifts cannot usurp her husband’s leadership.

The church is not just a building.  The church is the body of Christ which includes marriage and work and any arena embodied by Christians.

1 Corinthians 12:11 states, “All of these (gifts) are the work of one and the same Spirit, and He distributes them to each one (each person) just as He determines.”

God determines our gifts.  “The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” (1 Corinthians 12:21).  Men do not get to tell women, husbands do not get to tell wives, when and how they can utilize the gifts given to them by God.

To tell women they can’t fully exercise their spiritual gifts within their marriages is disallowing the body of Christ to function as it is meant to function.  The body can’t function without a head, without a hand, without a foot, yet wives are being told to put their body part (their gift) to sleep while in the role of wife (again note the fact that the head, even in these verses, does not lead the rest of the body, but each part works in harmony with, not over, the other body parts).

What’s happening then to the body?  It’s not functioning to its complete capacity. “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it” (1 Corinthians 12: 27).

Prioritizing a husband’s leadership over a wife’s gifts separates husband and wife into a hierarchy which prevents the two from truly being one in marriage.

Final Note

Encouraging men to armor up in preparation for leading their wives and families places the man in the forefront with wife and children trailing behind.

A better image is husband and wife armoring up together, helping each other with straps of compassionate hearts and helmets of kindness, each handing the other a shield of humility and a sword of patience and walking together, bearing with one another, into the light of the one great leader, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ (Colossians 3: 12-13).

7 Comments

  1. Mike f.
    Apr 12, 2016

    Very well written.

    • admin
      Apr 12, 2016

      Thanks honey for your continued support. I love you!

  2. Marcia Payne
    Apr 12, 2016

    Well done Mrs. Fernandez! I’m proud to call you my sister in Christ!

    Much love ~

    • admin
      Apr 12, 2016

      We get to be Earthly sisters and sisters in Christ. I count you a blessing of faithfulness. I love you!

  3. Angie
    Apr 12, 2016

    Yes! Great post. May this message be heard far and wide.

    • admin
      Apr 12, 2016

      Thank you.

  4. Rusty
    Apr 12, 2016

    Very well put!

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