On Christian Male Headship: Is There a Better Way?

Phyllis Nissila

I was listening to a couple who subscribe to a particular brand of Christian male headship. The husband spent several minutes justifying his (superior) decision-making position in the family and with his wife, in particular. Both agreed that when a final decision has to be made on a particular item it is the husband’s decision that must win out. He may even see great merit in the wife’s view, but his word must be final. After all, he attested, this is God’s mandate, isn’t it?

“Somebody has to make the final decision,” he said, while he disparaged couples who believe in spiritual equality, that is, the belief that both of them submit to one another under the headship of Jesus Christ as co-heirs of His redemption.


To take this idea a little further, I once heard another husband of this mindset say that it is even men’s duty to interpret the Scriptures for their wives and women in general. As of our last discussion, however, he does admit that he “sees the Holy Spirit leading the Church in another direction.” (One has to wonder then: does the Holy Spirit evolve?)


It seems that some men actually believe that women have something wrong with their mental and/or spiritual ability to perceive what the Holy Spirit is revealing. I think they must believe that because they have male genitalia (as what other evidence is there of differentiation?) they have more ability to receive and understand what the Holy Spirit is saying, that somehow testosterone enhances the ability to discern Truth. (At least we’ve come further than some of a previous era who seriously questioned whether women had souls [1].)

I wonder if these men, few, I think, but in positions of power, understand the fruit of their belief system. Consider:

-According to this concept taken to its logical conclusion, when a woman is told by a man that if she counters him while he speaks ex cathedra, one might put it, even if she may have, by virtue of her own intelligence, expertise and spiritual calling, more insight or maturity, that she is in effect countering God, Himself.

-When a woman believes she can’t at certain times know God’s will for her and the family other than her husband’s opinions on God’s will for her and the family, the fruit for her is likely to be self-doubt, dependency, discouragement, and the tendency to second-guess her thoughts and impressions, indeed, to doubt her very walk with God and freedom in Christ Jesus. I think of this analogy: Ginger Rogers, of the famed dancing duo Rogers and Astaire, once said “I did everything Fred did only backwards and in high heels.” Spiritually speaking, a woman has twice the work in a male-headship dance of this sort: learning the steps and learning the man, if you will, who, unlike the true Head of the Body of Christ, Jesus, is NOT the “same, yesterday, today, and forever.” He is only human, too, and subject to stumbles, falls, and misinterpretations of his own (see an illustration in “Who Serves Whom,” below).

-When anyone gives over their spiritual life to another human being, even in the smallest degree, without operating in the gift of discernment she is in danger of being led astray no matter how nice the person is. Fact is, he is not infallible. He can hear God wrong. He can insert his own motivations in the decision. He may even be controlling and abusive—as nice as he may appear to be on the outside. (Have we learned nothing from the cults?)


I once heard a pastor who now leads a major denomination say, point-blank, “My wife told me before we were married that God told her to take care of me.”

Now, I wonder why, if women, as the thinking goes, are less able to hear God, this pastor didn’t question, at the time, her (young girl’s) belief and perhaps wonder if it wasn’t just a little too self-serving?

I wonder if this pastor and others like him has given serious thought to the possibility of his quenching the work of the Holy Spirit in his wife’s life if his view is that she is to live primarily to take care of him?

And what if he changes his mind on a major doctrinal issue? Or several? Sadly, this man is now in leadership of a denomination that is fast becoming overtaken by Emergent Church/Seeker Friendly/Contemplative Prayer teachings and practices. I pray for his wife.

I also wonder if those in the male-superiority camp truly realize that “whom the Son has set free is free, indeed” (John 8:36). No gender restrictions indicated. Free from what? Sin, as the context indicates. Free from performance-based salvation, redeemed by faith in Jesus Christ, and in Him alone, Who later sent the teacher, the Holy Spirit, for all believers (also, no gender restrictions indicated) to “teach us all things” (1 John 2:27).


One more observation. From this same group, I have often read and heard that wives have to be mindful of their husband’s fragile egos. One wonders, of course, if male egos differ in size and complexity and fragility and any number of other variables wives needs to be aware of and educated about lest the wives transgress and then have to pay some price. All the while, what of a woman’s ego? For, according the “apostle” as it were of the Ego Doctrine, Sigmund Freud, the concept of “ego” is not gender-restricted. But, of course, as far as I know, Freud’s treatise is not part of biblical canon.


Ah, gentlemen of this mindset, life with women must be frustrating. If God had just not given them a brain and the same Spirit of His Son, Jesus, upon rebirth, and the same Holy Spirit to lead and guide them, too. And if He had just not set a woman to rule and judge Israel, others to prophecy, exhort, teach, and another to receive and to preach the very first Gospel message ever, that morning, from the Garden… [2].

But, more to the point. Consider the greater mystery, here; a higher calling of submission “one to another” so that neither “thinks more highly of himself (or herself) than he (or she) ought” but rather yields to the ultimate role for all believers: servanthood. And consider how Jesus, the One and only Head of the Body of Christ into Whose image we are daily formed as we (no gender indicated) yield to the power of the Holy Spirit, laid aside all to show us the Way, Truth and Life. As (even) St. Paul put it:

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature[a] God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature[b] of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!

(Philippians 2:5-8, NIV)

Consider the fruit of this relationship, i.e., our relationship with Jesus Christ who leads and guides each of us individually by the power of the Holy Spirit not to wrangling over who gets to do what, when, and where by virtue of the luck of the genetic draw (XX or XY chromosomes), but to the end result of “[…]love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control […]” (Galatians 5:22-23, NIV).


I encourage you, brothers and sisters in Christ, to remain in the love of the Lord. Set aside gender strife and competition and give each his and her due respect as a helper “meet” (ezer [3]) for our singular and mutual work, even as we rely on the Lord, Who is our ezer and shield (Psalm 33:20).

For the days, beloved co-heirs, are short.


[1] https://mellenpress.com/mellenpress.cfm?bookid=5707&pc=9

[2] See: Bible, both Old and New Testaments

[3] http://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=H5828&t=KJV

This entry was posted in Christian Women Topics, Commentaries, Featuring Women in the Bible, most recent posts, Patriarchy/Complementarianism and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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