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(Appeared originally on http://www.undermuchgrace.blogspot.com in Sept ’08.)

A further examination of the “spheres” of government or dominion will lay the foundation for understanding why a particular and increasingly popular interpretation of Calvin’s work and the work of some Theonomists necessitates family integrated worship. As previously stated, these spheres of government extend from the individual sphere into social spheres of family, church and then civil (secular) government – a grassroots approach only, from the bottom to the top.
Transformation in the life of the believer spills over into the sphere of family first, a sphere that is taught to be governed by a federal head in the person of husband/father or patriarch.

The preceding post mentioned a quote from Southern Seminary President Al Mohler that declared the seminary’s vision for a “family-centered vision of church ministry” when formalizing their Family Integrated Church (FIC) focus. As a seminary, bearing the tremendous and sober responsibility of preparing and guiding the ministers for the church, if one uses the conceptual framework of spheres as an hierarchical model for church governance, the seminary must consider all people who will benefit (directly and indirectly) from their ministry.

Sphere of the Church in Reverse,
Perceived as Hierarchy


All believers are members of one another, but they are perceived as components within the hierarchy of the spheres of dominion. Since the sphere of family falls immediately under the sphere of the church which then carries and mediates ministry to individuals, a family-centered vision for the seminary provides the best means of accomplishing this goal. The seminary thus supports the continual reformation of the sphere of the church (setting God’s House in order first) so it can be fully and expertly equipped to carry out the Great Commission. Hence, the “family-centered vision” and not a “Christ-centered vision”, when one considers the church ministry in terms of the four spheres.

Though these interpretations of the underlying beliefs concerning the spheres of dominion support the FIC, they are not mutually inclusive of one another. Please allow me to reiterate that the interpretations of the Reformed Faith that I describe here are not what “the father of modern Theonomy,” Rousas J. Rushdoony taught or advocated, often speaking against them in his “Armchair Tapes” series. (Please see this previous post.) Whenever Believers prefer man’s teachings over the Word of God and whenever human beings act as mediators between God and man, aberrations develop. Both FIC and non-FIC churches alike manifest some of these beliefs and practices, though the reader should understand that the beliefs themselves do not equate to doctrinal abarrency. Please also note that though these beliefs are very common within FICs, this in no way means that all FICs profess these beliefs or order their concepts as they are described here or that they manifest doctrinal error. The church divisions over doctrine, power struggles and many defrockings that characterize the history of the FIC attest to the varied wide array of desputed doctrines within the movement, wisely noted by the FBFI in their 2006-03 Resolution denouncing the FIC as errant and schismatic.

Variations on the Sphere of Family in the FIC

When interpreted as a structure of hierarchical order (rather than as a model for evangelism), women and children do not interact directly with the church but rather submit to a chain of command under their “federal head.” Note that “federal” derives from the same Latin word from which we derive “covenant.” The federal husband or representative is thus the “covenant representative” for his family. Paul speaks of the man as the kephale or head of the woman, and there are differences of opinion concerning whether the term refers to “authority/ruler” or “origin/source,” depending on how the text is translated and based upon one’s presupposition about the meaning of the passage. Those who prefer hierarchy will tend towards the “authority/rule” definition as this is how they best make sense of the world.

Under these more contemporary interpretations of Reformed Theology’s doctrine of federal headship however, not only does the woman precede from family through her federal head, (as Christ precedes from the Father within the economic aspects of the Trinity), she must also precede only from and through that origin in order to interact with any other sphere of dominion. The view of evangelism as proceeding from the individual into family and subsequently greater spheres applies very differently to women, because they are not seen as full individuals in the same sense and likeness of men. They are entities of the sphere of family only through the husband. (For this reason, marriage for women is “normative” if essential in many FIC churches.)

As she is not perceived as a separate and complete entity apart from her husband (a lesser derivative of the image of God), a wife must channel all of her activities through the various authorities that preside over the specific sphere for which that activity is appropriate, thus monitoring and restricting her ability to use her gifts in all of the spheres of human activity. All ministry of women must be governed and administrated through this chain of command, much like an enlisted person in the military must function within his chain of command as dictated by protocol within the established military rank hierarchy. Women, as with enlisted men, are separate, different, and inferior in role and function to the Officers. Whereas the enlisted man has a limited opportunity to raise his rank and station, women cannot ever rise to the “Officer Class” of this example. According to the view that women are ontologically (by essence) lesser beings than men, they lack the needed capabilities to function beyond the family sphere. In terms of hierarchy, a wife’s Christian witness and transformation in Christ function only to edify her federal head because she is ineffective and incomplete on her own. She may learn in quiet submission, and to learn and function outside of her sphere of family violates the hierarchy and is perceived as a type of insubordination against God’s created order.

In terms of receiving ministry from the church, wives within the hierarchy become entities that are dependent upon and within the family. The church, per the hierarchical view, becomes a family of many, many families over which the local elders preside. Men, as the heads of their families, become the focus of ministry in the local church, and ministry then proceeds from men to their individual family members. Church ministry is thus mediated by the federal head. As a consequence of this form of government, the wife holds no independent relationship to the church that is apart from the family or male headship. The primary source of spiritual edification for women (also for their children with whom they share many similar relationship positions) will NOT be her local Church (in the form of Elders and fellow saints in the Faith) but must come to her through the hierarchical order ending with her husband or a male deemed appropriate for this purpose by the local Church Elders. For this reason, in some FICs, the Lord’s Supper (a ministry of the local church) is offered to women only through their male head and cannot be shared with a woman apart from someone (male only) operating as her federal representative or her direct spiritual authority. (In her husband’s absence however, a woman may receive the host from one of her small children, if he his male.)

In 2002, the participants at the Federal Vision conference (also called “Auburn Avenue Theology“) taught that membership in the covenant community through baptism was more significant to one’s salvation in Christ than was a personal confession of faith in and commitment to Jesus Christ. The group also formally advocated paedocommunion (any child baptized into the covenant community could partake of the Lord’s Supper without knowledge of or appreciation for the significance of the sacrament). Because the patriarch serves as an intercessor and mediator for his wife and children, he assumes the responsibility for determining who is worthy to partake, not the individual themselves. Thus an “age of accountability” concept for children becomes unnecessary. Many of these beliefs flow from skewed interpretations and applications of Calvinism and Theonomy, primarily because of the deceptive perception that sanctification is mediated through the federal head (the patriarch of a family). This mediation follows the hierarchical order descending through the spheres – before it meets the individual it must flow from the Church (this means the Church Elders) to the family (this means the patriarch of that family).


The covenant community itself holds and mediates some type of salvation in Federal Vision (and in other FICs), just as the patriarch mediates salvation for his family and those within his sphere of ‘divinely designated dominion.’ Exactly how and to what extent individual groups interpret the role and requirement for an intermediary and an intercessor between the individual and Christ varies widely, however the belief is present in many FICs and patriocentricity. Several Presbyterian denominations (RPCUS, OPC, PCA) determined the Federal Vision teaching as “Romanist”and defrocked several ministers as a consequence of teaching what was determined to be an aberrant view of the Gospel (including Douglas Wilson and Steve Schissel who were granted ordination under Wilson’s self-established CREC denomination). They also charged the Federal Visionists with sacerdotalism, an abuse of power on behalf of clergy by mediating aspects of salvation. This view has also been criticized as both obsequious and hegemonic because uses its institutions to formalize power and controls against rebellion through the dominant class within the culture.


A Few, General Comments in Contrast


I believe in the principle of male headship wherein a wife submits to her husband only and not all other men because it is expressly Biblical. For example, my single marriage vow to my husband and God and before many witnesses was “To submit unto my husband as unto the Lord” after Paul’s mandate found in Ephesians 5. My husband became my origin in an economic or functional sense (“economic” derives from the Greek oikos which means “house” and nomos which means “law”). My submission is based on my vow and obedience to the Word, not as a consequence of identity or lesser essence (ontology). Though I am under My husband’s authority, he is my place of functional origin, but is neither my despot nor my spiritual source of sanctification. I have both a relationship to the church as a vital part of our family under my husband’s leadership as well as a relationship to the church that is independent of him.

The church is not exclusively a family of families but also ministers to individuals apart from families. Husbands are called upon to model Christ’s love for the church through the manner in which they love their wives, but husbands neither serve as their wives’ means of sanctification nor as their spiritual mediators before God, occupying a place between their wives and the Lord that only a perfect Savior can fill. Rejection of husbands as mediators of spiritual sanctification based on a misreading of Ephesians 5 does not negate male headship. Rejection of this interpretation of Reformed Theology does not demand disdain for male leadership in the church as some people suggest that supposed “liberals” like me supposedly do. (This seems to be the standard comment regarding those who reject “hard patriarchy.”) Ongoing spiritual sanctification comes by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone and is not mediated to women or children through any agent other than Jesus Christ. Though husbands serve as protectors and providers for their wives in the economic sense and also support and nurture the spiritual growth of their wives, they are not the mediators of grace or holiness for their wives. Likewise, within the church, Christ alone mediates salvation and ongoing sanctification within individual Believers.

Is there any other Scripture that supports the concept that a woman has an independent relationship with the Body of Christ apart from her husband (not requiring his intercession for interaction within the Body?) I believe that Matthew 12:46-50 and Mark 3:31-35 indicate that in matters of Christian ministry within the Body, the affiliation of faith supersedes the relationship of the natural family. This does not give license to circumvent submission to my husband however, as marriage is considered a “creation mandate” in addition to the clear teachings of the Apostles. These synoptic Gospels explain how in response to being told that His mother and brothers desire to speak with Him, Jesus points to His disciples, saying that those who do the will of His Father are His family. Again, this does not dismiss submission to one’s husband, but it does indicate that spiritual salvation is not mediated through one’s earthly family since even Jesus’ own mother and siblings would fall within the limitations of this definition of family in the context of the circumstances described by Matthew and Mark. Jesus also alludes to Micah Chapter 7, also attesting that salvation does not come through one’s earthly family:

Matthew 10:34-36:
Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household.

This understanding is in no way presented here as an argument contending with a woman’s submission to her husband within marriage but is meant to demonstrate that our natural relatives do not take precedence over our relationships within the Body of Christ. Covenant community membership does not provide either an additional means or a more significant means of becoming born of the Spirit. One must believe in one’s heart and confess with their mouth that God raised Christ from the dead, forsaking sins and following the act of obedience of baptism. The Scriptures do not support baptismal regeneration or infused grace through baptism but describe baptism as the outward expression and the “seal” of the believer’s confession of faith in Christ.

An upcoming post further expands upon how the interpretation of the “spheres of government and dominion” as a chain of hierarchy for the purposes of church government necessitates a family integrated system of worship.

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