Most of what passes for “restoring male leadership in the church” these days is in fact suppressing female initiative and decreasing areas of legitimate action and involvement by women. It’s not difficult to predict that this won’t lead to more men leaders and more obedient wives but to more complacent and tyrannical men and more frustrated wives. You can’t make a leader out of a man by telling his wife what she shouldn’t do.1 ~
Throughout history, philosophical ideas have had negative effects on family life. The Enlightenment, by demeaning woman’s role, set the stage for the reactionary feminist movement and the recent so-called patriarchy movement appears to be a hyper-reaction to feminism. Each movement skewed, exaggerated, undermined, and often ignored the Biblical perspective on the woman’s role as wife and mother. In fact, what is taught from the pulpit and in Bible studies contributes to the frustration women experience in our day. There needs to be a lot of work to recover a clear understanding on marriage and the role of marriage in reclaiming the culture.
Proverbs 31 talks about a wife looking well to the ways of her household. Thus, women are the managers of their homes. Some take exception to this assertion because they consider it a usurpation of the role of husbands as head of the household. However, the Scripture says that the man is the head of the wife (Eph. 5:23); it does not instruct him to be the manager of the household. The real usurpation actually occurs when the wife is robbed of her area of dominion, thereby disregarding her co-vicegerency alongside her husband within her sphere—the home. If a woman is nothing more than her husband’s stand-in, rather than his full partner in all matters, not only is the dominion mandate lessened in the home, but the surrounding culture is affected, as well.
Business enterprises have owners, general managers, and department managers. Whether it is a restaurant, a hospital, a car dealership, or a sports team, there is a chain of authority that is defined, along with job descriptions outlining roles and responsibilities. When run well, those higher up in the chain of command allow those who are in subordinate positions to do their jobs without bypassing them or interfering.
Because we have lost the high view of women outlined in Scripture, we are left with women being much more akin to slaves than full partners with their husbands. This negates the statement by God in Genesis that it is not good that the man should be alone. As I argued in an earlier essay, “Loyal Opposition,”2 the woman’s role is to be a useful reflection of her husband, so that she can serve in a corrective capacity in the case of an intentional or inadvertent transgression by him of God’s law.
A Biblical Example
In 1 Samuel we have the account of Abigail assuming authority and setting policy when her husband acted recklessly and insulted David (1 Samuel 25). Rather than sit back and allow her entire family and community to reap the consequences of Nabal’s foolishness, she executed her authority by directing considerable amount of the family wealth and possessions to appease David’s anger. In the process, her actions not only saved those she cared for, but convicted David that the move he was about to make would have been wrong. Abigail is a good illustration of a wife’s power—a power that is recognized by God and respected by men.
For certain, not all Christian men are of Nabal’s poor character. But how often do they fail to see the big picture or consult their wives when important decisions that will affect more than just themselves arise? Part of the gift of a wife to a husband (Prov. 18:22) is an extra set of loyal eyes to help him as he works to advance the culture for Christ and His Kingdom.
Foundation of the Family is the Foundation of the Culture
When two people contemplate marriage they should spend time ensuring that their worldviews and application of God’s law-word are in harmony with each other. This will help avoid problems of priority and practice in the marriage. The man needs to ask himself if the woman he is considering shares his vision for his calling of dominion. He should desire a woman who is versed in Biblical law and who has experience applying it to all aspects of life, and who is willing to be a full-partner in whatever he is involved in. The woman needs to determine if the man she is considering loves God enough to stand on His Word faithfully and is looking for a wife who does likewise. She needs to observe whether or not a prospective spouse is already exercising dominion in his calling, willing to stand for God’s truth and not compromising just to get ahead. She needs to see that the person whose covering she will be under respects her and welcomes her full participation in all aspects of the marriage.3
This is contrary to the modern, humanistic view that romantic love and social status should constitute the basis for marriage. Rushdoony points out,
Love, in [the] Biblical sense means, moreover, that the basis of the marriage and of the new family is not personal but Christian. In romantic love, the family is started when romantic feeling draws a man and woman together, and it ends with the death of those feelings. Marriage is thus made a purely personal affair. But the family is a God-given institution and it is the basic social institution. No decision concerning the family therefore can be purely personal. At all times, the family is under God’s law, and its beginning and ending must be in terms of obedience to God’s law.4
This perspective can be expanded to include the wife having a stake and a say in all aspects of the decisions of the family. Could it be that our modern aberration of this fact is a significant reason that we don’t see more evidence of dominion-taking on the part of Christian men? Could their focus be too inwardly directed toward the day-to-day affairs of their families, abandoning their roles in the public square? In the process of usurping the position of the wife in many matters, husbands abandon their primary focus of working in their cultural dominion calling.
Bojidar Marinov has pointed out that
A brief theological analysis of the covenantal position of the wife in the family is necessary … A wife is not a simple addendum to the family, as she was in the pagan, patriarchal times. She is one with her husband, in everything, and especially in the management of his property. In fact, she is so united to him that she is a co-owner of his property, and by default—not by delegation, as some incorrectly claim—she holds sovereign rights over his property, mitigated only by his right to veto her decisions (Num. 30). The veto, however, has certain limitations on the husband (not on the wife), and failure to confirm or to annul her actions leads to automatic confirmation, that is, a decision of favor of the wife’s actions. Outside of that veto, the wife’s decisions are as good as the husband’s decisions, when management of the home is concerned.5
In many Christian circles, there are women who are certain that they cannot make any important decisions on their own. Often this is how they have been instructed. When the power of the wife is minimized, trampled upon, or nonexistent, her status is much more akin to a concubine than wife, in that she is not viewed as a full partner in the marriage, but merely as the baby maker, child care provider, maid, cook, etc.
A concubine in the Old Testament was a wife who was given in marriage without a dowry, that is, without her own economic or financial stake in the new family. She had no inheritance, and her children had no inheritance in the family. For all covenantal purposes, a concubine was a servant. And indeed, while as a legal wife she was entitled to food, clothes, and “duty of marriage” (Exod. 21:7–11), she didn’t have the same authority in her husband’s household as the wife. The story of Sarah and Hagar very plainly shows this truth. She couldn’t rule the house as a wife, unless her husband delegated that task to her. This, of course, would put her in a position of being a servant to the true wife who could rule the house. The concubine was a servant to the wife, as Hagar was to Sarah.6
The Bible gives the woman of the house the status of house manager in that she is commanded to look well to the ways of her household. This position is one of authority and decision making and, while being under the authority of her husband, she has a domain that even he needs to respect and not undermine.
The virtuous wife in Proverbs 31 is described as one who freely administers the property of the family while her husband is away. The lack of direct involvement by the husband there doesn’t necessarily mean that he shouldn’t get involved; but it does reveal the covenantal principle that the wife is fully empowered to make decisions without asking her husband for permission. Paul admonishes the young women to get married and “rule a house,” (1 Tim. 5:14; the word in Greek is literally a “house despot”).7
R. J. Rushdoony explains, in his comments on Proverbs 31,
The Biblical doctrine shows us the wife as the competent manager who is able to take over all business affairs if needed, so that her husband can assume public office as a civil magistrate; in the words of Prov. 31:23, he can “sit in the gates,” that is, preside as a ruler or judge.8
Far from the Enlightenment view of a woman as being ornamental or an add-on to the family, the Biblical doctrine of women puts forth the image of one who rules alongside her husband in household, property, and business enterprises. With her focus being the core of the family, she enables her husband to make a difference in the surrounding culture, bringing to bear God’s law-word.
In addition to having an overly romantic view of marriage, few today recognize the importance of Biblical marriage as central to reconstructing the culture. Is it any wonder that the church has a difficult time in standing up to arguments in favor of same-sex marriage when it fails to teach why and how the wife is integral to the dominion mandate? Her role is not a purely personal one when it comes to her husband and her main emphasis is not on her purity or spirituality. As Marinov states,
True, a wife is supposed to keep herself pure. But her main concern after the marriage is not purity itself. Her main concern is rulership and management. The Proverbs 31 woman is not described in terms of her successful resistance to temptations, or her mystical spirituality, or her participation in prayer events or Bible groups. She is described as a manager of a household.
A legal wife … owns all things together with her Husband; and she has full authority over them by default, by the very nature of her covenantal and redeemed position. She is expected to take charge as the virtuous wife of Proverbs 31. Her Husband is in the gates, sitting as a Judge of the world. She is over His property, bringing all things to obey the household rules, that is, the Law of God.9
A Personal Example
My husband has worked in sales for most of our married life, and has commented to me on a number of occasions how integral my support and counsel have been to him in his professional life. He has told me that my ability and willingness to share aspects of his dominion calling on his job has made it possible for him to be faithful to God’s Word when challenged by customers, coworkers, or superiors. Because he knows I support building the Kingdom of God, he feels free to be bold in sharing his faith and Biblical worldview.
In the process, I have been the person who handles the family finances and has kept us out of debt for decades. I am responsible to pay our tithes and offerings, along with making decisions regarding health, nutrition, and fellowship opportunities. It has always been a priority for me to have my husband’s trust (Prov. 31:11) as I look well to the ways of our household (Prov. 31:27). And although we have had our bumps and bruises along the way, the fact that we both have a passionate desire to keep the commandments of God has allowed us to weather the storms of marriage that are part and parcel of the relationship.
A Proper View of Marriage
This perspective is not at odds with the Scriptural position of the husband as head of the wife. On the contrary, it presupposes that each will take his or her participation in their marriage’s dominion calling seriously enough to focus on the Kingdom of God rather than competing with each other.
Rushdoony, as he discusses the principle of life, points out that regarding the relationship of husband and wife,
The knowledge required of husbands in dwelling with their wives is not a knowledge of feminine psychology, but of the word of God. Here, too, the principle of life is associated with the government and authority of God and our rest therein. Most men today cannot rule in the Lord because they are unwilling themselves to submit to God’s rule and to rest in Him. They are either tyrants, ruling according to their word, or they are hen-pecked and ruled by their wives. No man has any authority in and of himself over any woman, or anything. All authority is from God and must be exercised according to His word. Too many men assume it is godly to rule a woman for their convenience. They forget that the biblical standard of authority is ruling to serve (Matt. 20:28; Luke 22:26; John 13:1–17, etc.). Too many husbands are tyrants, not godly heads of households. Clearly, Ephesians 5:21–23 requires that the husband rule with the same self-sacrificing spirit as Christ the church. He must serve the Lord, and meet his wife’s needs in the Lord. If not, the grace of life is denied.
Similarly, the wife must serve her husband as he serves the Lord. To rebel against his obedience to the Lord is to rebel against God Himself and manifest a reprobate heart.
A major problem in our time is such rebellion by wives and husbands. To illustrate, a very considerable percentage of married seminarians have major problems with their wives, who refuse to agree to their calling and show it by rejecting the conditions of their husband’s calling. They refuse to go to the mission field, or to a city church, or a country church, or away from family and friends. In the name and under the cover of objecting to the terms of their husband’s calling, they are denying God in a disguised but real warfare. It is their goal to break their husband and laugh at their victory over God. A reprobate heart produces reprobate courses of action …
All such women are manifesting a reprobate nature, and they can never be dealt with until this is recognized. Men who submit to such wives become castaways, useless to God because they are unfaithful to Him. Peter is clear-cut: the prayers of all such couples are not heard by God, and they are denied the grace of life. God’s principle of life rests on His authority and government, and our rest therein. Parents are required to rule according to God’s law and themselves to be under Him and His law. Husband and wife, in their relationship one to another, must likewise be in submission to the Lord, resting in Him, content and giving thanks, or else they will fall prey to a “root of bitterness” (Heb. 12:15) which will destroy them.10
God’s design for the family is specifically to further the Kingdom of God. Thus the emphasis of both husband and wife needs to be in enhancing each other’s ability to serve God in their appointed roles and dominion spheres. 1 Corinthians 11:9–10 speaks of the woman being created for the man, in that God proclaimed in Genesis that is was not good for man to be alone. Furthermore, it is said that she should have a symbol of power on her head. The question remains, power for what purpose? Surely it is for more than cooking and cleaning and raising her children, for Proverbs 31 gives a much more expanded explanation of what a worthy woman is to concern herself with.
When men and women realize that God wants much more than what we are currently giving Him, and change the basis upon which we operate, we may yet see the transformation of the culture so many of us prayerfully desire.
1. Bojidar Marinov, Facebook post November 10, 2014.\
2. See Andrea Schwartz, A House for God: Building a Kingdom-Driven Family (Vallecito, CA: Chalcedon/Ross House Books, 2014), 66–76.
3. The Biblical dowry served to demonstrate the earnestness of the man in the proposal of marriage. Although too extensive a discussion for the purpose of this essay, see R. J. Rushdoony, the Institutes of Biblical Law, Vol. 1, 176ff., 363ff., 417.
4. R. J. Rushdoony, Law & Liberty (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books,  2009), 107.
5. Bojidar Marinov, “Eschatology and the Covenantal Status of the Church” in Faith for All of Life, May/June 2013.
8. R. J. Rushdoony, Institutes of Biblical Law, Vol. 1 (n. p: The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1973), 352.
9. Marinov, ibid.
10. R.J. Rushdoony, Institutes of Biblical Law, Vol. 2, Law & Society (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 1982), 505–506.