Maybe it seems to some of my readers that this whole “Christian Patriarchy” is just one of those sub-culture issue about which Christians like to get their knickers in a twist, and maybe it seems like I need to “just get over it” and accept that there were problems with my family and move on with life. Everyone has their own issues, right?
I would posit that both these reactions are understandable, and that, in a way, I would agree. First: Christians too often care about things that shouldn’t matter, and neglect that which is vital to their identity as Christians (Jesus, grace, forgiveness, etc.). Second: yes, life is hard and everyone has their own story to tell and everyone has their own intensely personal pain to wrestle. Mine is not unusual and mine is not particularly remarkable. I’m not asking you to give me sympathy, I’m not out to get my parents (they’re super nice and I really admire them), and I’m not out to get a memoir deal with a big publisher.
However, I still feel compelled to write about Christian Patriarchy and the detrimental effects that this philosophy of God, life, and family has on churches, women, children, and good heavens, yes! the men involved in and affected by CP.
The reason this issue is so important is that CP–being primarily derived from interpretations of Scripture and reinforced by assertions about God’s character–is at its heart an issue of essential beliefs about God, his nature, and the nature of his relationship with man.
Christian Patriarchy assumes a particularly pernicious interpretation of the gospel, and does not reflect, at all, the God that I know or the grace that He has chosen to define His relationship with mankind. Because a right view of God and grace is vital to a saving faith in Jesus Christ, I feel that I have a sort of moral obligation to “give a damn” about what this school of thought teaches, and if I can intelligently engage with it to the furtherance of a right understanding of grace, I will do so.
I don’t think I can “fix” this issue or even that I have to “win” an argument about whether or not CP is based in heresy. But as someone who has encountered radical grace in my recovery from the legalistic oppression of CP, I have a sort of “mama bear” reaction when I see friends or acquaintances burdened by the mental guilt of CP’s “gospel” and live in a horizon-less, black-and-white world, when there are colors and shadows and sunrises to be found in living without striving to patch oneself together to achieve man-made approval. (Other elements of CP wake in me grief and compassion–more on that in another post.)
Let me unpack this in a bit more detail.
Christian Patriarchy assumes that God demands His people to be separate from the world, citing the Old Testament to back this up, as well as choice selections from Romans.
The idea is, that if His people are to be like Him, they can’t be like the world (e.g. sinful) and so they must live in a radically different manner from the world and separate themselves from sinful people. This thinking makes sense, on some levels, but it goes awry when they handily overlook the fact that there are two different sorts of separation going on between the OT and the NT, reflective of two different covenants with God and two different types of relationship between God and man.
The first (OT) covenant is one of law and ritual purification and a higher physical standard of living for religious purity reasons. God demands His people to be holy, they are sinful, they must obey the Law to appease Him, etc. This covenant, St. Paul later explains, was given to demonstrate man’s utter inability to meet God’s standard through holy living and separation from the world. Sin is a heart issue, and law cannot uproot it from human nature.
Hence, in the NT, God gives His people Christ as a substitute, the incarnate God bearing His people’s sins upon Himself to propitiate for their sinful nature. The focus from this point on is the unmerited grace that God gives through Jesus to those who trust in Him for redemption from themselves. Grace supersedes the need for the law, and grace becomes the motivator for a believer to live a holy life. The relationship between God and man is no longer based upon fear and obligation, and is transformed to be centered upon unmerited, unceasing love and a transformed heart that will naturally desire to live in a way that pleases God.
The Christian Patriarchy movement misses the whole point of the second covenant, the new relationship forged in blood by Christ. CP teachings are classically monocovenantal, which basically means that these people believe that God didn’t make two separate covenants (OT, NT), but rather that the life of Jesus was an addition to the first covenant and that the obligations of the OT law still hold some sway over those who profess faith in Christ.
The details of how the patriarchal Christian is supposed to work to please God by obeying various laws or rules varies from group to group–Bill Gothard is famously detailed in his law-based teachings, Vision Forum is slightly less standardized, and Sovereign Grace Ministries functions almost entirely upon unspoken social mores that function as spiritual laws. However, the focus on outward behavior, undue confession of sin (to parties uninvolved, male authority figures, etc., rather than God or privately to an offended brother), a perverse obsession with personal guilt and striving to improve the self, and a constant feeling among CP individuals that they can’t quite measure up or that they are unworthy of ____ (fill in the blank!)–all these things bear the marks of CP beliefs about God.
In the minds of CP adherents, God becomes a taskmaster, an angry judge, and an indifferent and offended authority figure; all these reflect the sort of men and fathers involved in CP, which suggests to me that they have created this system of theology to mirror God after themselves. And such an action is classic of any heretical teaching: man forming God in his own image is as old as Adam and still just as damning.
This shift in how God is viewed is poisonous to the faith of believers in CP, and stunts the faith of those raised in it, and frightens those to whom CP tries to “witness” or “share their faith”–but it’s not the gospel of grace in Christ that they’re selling. It’s a man-made system of appeasing authority in hopes of purifying oneself and the culture enough to make a lasting difference (in what? it differs, depending on the group. VF would say: America!, Gothard would say: The Church!, others would vary by turns).
A right understanding of God is vital to the Christian walk and vital to the redemption of human hearts desperate for grace. And that’s why I give a damn about this.