A Cry For Justice

Awakening the Evangelical Church to Domestic Violence and Abuse in its Midst

Taken Captive by the Philosophies of Man

Spiritual abuse and domestic abuse often join hand in hand.  Many, if not most, of the readers of this blog have experienced abuse from a spouse who claims the name of Christ, using distortions of Scripture to justify his evil.  The Apostle Paul warned us against being taken captive by man-made doctrines that are not in accord with the truth of Christ:

Colossians 2:6-8 ESV(6)  Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him,(7)  rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.(8)  See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.

Traditions that claim to be from God and thus supposedly carry the authority of God, enslave.  Christ’s truth sets captives free.  Man’s deceitful lies result in bondage.  Typically these traditions are like a kind of codebook – “do not handle, do not taste, do not touch.”  If you keep the code, you are a good Christian and God is pleased with you.  You have His acceptance.  Break the code and you are going to get a “cease operations” sticker slapped on you.  Spiritual abuse uses man-made traditions to coerce people into serving the desires of the writer of the codebook:  a church leader, a parent, an abusive spouse, or a fellow Christian.  Abusers of all sorts want to be served and worshiped themselves.  Shaming is the name of their game.  We are to see to it that none of them take us captive by their deceitful systems.

One of the very common philosophies used to enslave people is what I will call patriarchy.  It isn’t a bad word in itself.  Abraham was a patriarch.  Literally the word is formed from the word for father, pater, and arche, which means something like first or chief.  But patriarchy is a philosophy that says that “fathers are first,” or to broaden the idea a bit, “men are first.”  In other words, the notion that men are superior to women.  Innately.  By their very nature.  Superior and inferior.  The Bible does not teach this.  God says that both men and women are created in the image of God.  But then, you know abusers.  If something can be distorted and twisted, they will find a way.   Scriptures such as Ephesians 5 do not teach patriarchy-

Ephesians 5:23-25 ESV(23)  For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.(24)  Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.(25)  Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…

Whatever our take on these instructions, they do not teach that a man is superior to a woman.  “Head” does not teach the idea of patriarchy.  It is important then that we get our terms straight.

Now, this business of patriarchy often rears up among Christians, and along with it comes a whole package of enslaving traditions masquerading as “Bible.”  The man is first.  The father is superior.  The husband is the priest of his wife and family.  The family must be structured carefully around this patriarchal system.  The preacher says so from the pulpit on the authority, he says, of God’s Word. The books in the men’s and women’s Bible studies say so.  If your marriage and family are going to be pleasing to God, then here is the codebook of patriarchy (written by several authors in many editions) that must be followed.  There are chapters on code for the education of your children, on cooking for the patriarch, on respecting the patriarch, on proper demeanor in the sanctuary at church, on titles to be used in addressing the patriarch, on obtaining the permission of the patriarch.  Lots of chapters.  Lots.

Just this past week I was asked to fill out a questionnaire that addressed the issue of whether an adult aged daughter is still under the authority of her father.  Must she be granted permission by her father to marry and who to marry?  Is she in sin if she does not obey her father’s commands regarding who she marries?  Should the church discipline her if she does go contrary here?  That is patriarchy.  [Note from a father, ie, ME.  If you think that you have the ability to pick the perfect husband or wife for your children, let me tell you that you think too highly of yourself!]  Patriarchy is the abuser’s friend.

Let me give you another example of patriarchy that I have just recently held me in some degree of bondage (false guilt) for a long time.  You might not think of it as patriarchy, but in my experience it comes along with the package.  It concerns what is often called “family worship” or “the family altar.”  The teaching is that the father of the house (Les Miserables song popping into brain here — master of the house, keeper of the…) – that the father of the house is, on a daily basis, to gather the family together for worship.  Patriarchal “manuals of worship order” vary on their description of how this is all to go down, but normally it would include Bible reading, an exposition of that reading by the father, the singing of a hymn or two, Scripture memorization, and prayer.  There is also instruction regarding how the father is to deal with a reluctant or sleepy member of this little family church.

Now I do not want to be misunderstood.  Is such a regular family time a good thing?  Can it be a good thing?  Yes!  Absolutely.  But like all good things, once it is run through the filter of man’s distorting tradition – in this case, patriarchy – it is no longer good.  Patriarchy exalts the father/husband to the status of family priest.  Simply because he is the man.  This “family altar” time is used then to reinforce that notion.  Such a time, in a patriarchal environment, will not be one of give and take, with input from all members of the family.  It will be dominated and ruled by the patriarch.  Such is the ideal family.  Such is the noble Christian man.  He will be exalted among his fellow patriarchs at church.

But let me suggest that this business is all man-made tradition.  For years and years I have been put on the guilt-train because I did not follow this model in my own family.  I was told I was supposed to.  “Well, when do YOU have YOUR family altar?”  Visions of Douglas Wilson book covers come flashing into your mind – there sits the godly family (ca. 1700’s) by the butter churn and fireplace, children at the feet of father, Bible open on father’s lap, mother in bonnet sitting to the side.  Then the picture of Jeff and his family.  “I don’t feel like reading my Bible tonight.”  “Can anyone tell me what we learned last night?” (silence).  The tradition says that I’m not much of a patriarch.

Want to know what God really has to say about “family worship”?  It actually is quite different from this patriarchal model.  And guess what?  If you are someone who truly loves Christ, you CAN do this.  And it will NOT exalt a man just because he is a man.  Here it is -

Deuteronomy 6:6-9 ESV(6)  And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.(7)  You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.(8)  You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.(9)  You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

The very best times of interaction about the Lord and His ways that I ever had with my children were not when I played the role of patriarch.  They came rather unexpectedly – naturally.  In the mountains in Montana cutting firewood.  At a lake in northern British Columbia.  Under a car changing the oil.  In the house of mourning when a loved one died.  Hiking in to the South Jetty on Tillamook Bay to go after clams.

Those times weren’t forced.  No one was exalted.  Christ was there, and everyone knew their dad and husband loved them.  And he by them.  No one was bored.  Listen to what Barnabasintraining has to say about this:

I think that comes from a failure to remember (or maybe they were never taught) that all of life is supposed to be worship.  Yes, we gather corporately on Sundays to worship formally as a body, but for each person worship is supposed to be a continual thing.  It’s not there’s worship and then there’s the rest of life.  Christ’s life is in us all the time, not just on Sunday morning.  Therefore, I think the whole idea of family worship per se is contrived.  Some families may enjoy doing this and that is fine.  But as soon as it’s made a command for all Christians, the whole thing is lost.

It’s all part of the natural flow of life.  I don’t have kids I have to teach but I find it to be the case myself as well.  There are so many moments through the day where I find some kind of spiritual application or proof of the validity of the faith, or other kind of lesson it’s like God is always trying to teach me something, like He does this kind of Deuteronomy 6:7 fathering of me Himself and He’ll often provide opportunities for me to share what I’ve learned with someone else just in the normal course of things.

Guess what?  These kind of “family worship” times continue right on down through the years.  When children grow up and they experience the trials of life – especially the trials of living for Christ in this evil world – they aren’t going to be real anxious to call a patriarch.  But a dad or mother who taught them about the Lord when they sat in their house, and when they walked by the way, and whey they lay down at night and when they got up in the morning while cooking the pancakes, oh yeah – they are going to call that mom or dad right quick.  “Hi dad, can you give me some advice?”

Love reigns in our homes when we are doing things as Jesus tells us.

2 Corinthians 3:17 ESV(17)  Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

18 Comments

  1. Amen, Jeff! It is the difference between making your faith a lifestyle and compartmentalizing it. We are taught to have a daily quiet time to the point it has become a dogma of the evangelical church. Somehow you are spiritually inferior if you don’t get up early, and follow the ritual.

    I think the same is true in the Great Commission. Our translations always translate the Greek to “Go and teach all nations…”. My Greek prof shocked us when he said that the phrase should be translated “As you go…”, denoting that making disciples should be a part of everyday life and not just a call to missionary work. Now, I never really verified that, but given the verses in Deuteronomy you quoted and what I see in the Bible about our faith being an integral part of our daily life, it makes sense.

    Would the earth really collapse if the wife was allowed or encouraged to lead the “family altar”, or even one of the children once they are old enough and are known to be saved? I think not! Perhaps us high and mighty men (said tongue firmly planted in cheek) might actually learn something!

    • This would also keep a wife from being resentful when he husband isn’t “filling the bill” so to speak,because the church says this is how it is supposed to be, so when her husband doesn’t do this, she sees him as failing his duties.

  2. Jeff, thank so much for this article! It is spot on, brother! The concept that “EVERYTHING we do is worship” is so biblical. I went for years with a compartmentalized understanding of worship. Work, service, and worship are all THE SAME thing, biblically speaking; there is no apparent distinction in God’s mind…

    See Gen. 2:15…”The Lord God took the man and placed him in the garden of Eden to WORK it…” See also Gen. 29:18…”Jacob loved Rachel, so he answered Laban, ‘I will SERVE you seven years…'” Finally, see Exodus 3:12…God said to Moses, “When you bring the people out of Egypt, you will all WORSHIP God at this mountain.” All three of these words (WORK, SERVE, AND WORSHIP) are the same Hebrew word. It is “abodah” and appears hundreds of times in the Old Testamant in its noun and verb forms (cf., abad).

    In other words, our work and our service to each other and to the Lord is the same as (and a part of our) worship of God. Our God does not segregate these concepts. The idea that we worship regardless of what we do or where we are (at home, work and everywhere) is not commonly understood, at least from my experience. Worship, of course, is not just a time to gather on Sunday and raise our hands in praise, or sing and study the Scriptures. (These things are very important, of course!) But MOST of our life is spent the other six days of the week, as we worship wherever He leads us, wherever we go.

    When parents authenticate their faith in daily “worship” (living their faith out in the workplace, at home, in the community, in every day activity, etc.), then their children have real models to emulate for all of life ahead. THAT is real family worship, as I see it. Thanks again for this, and blessings to you and your awesome ministry!

    • David, I’m jumping for joy on seeing your comment. (bounce, bounce bounce)
      Just to have you comment on the blog is fantabulous in itself . . .
      but that thing you said about Work, Serve and Worship being the same word! I never knew that. Why hasn’t anyone told me this before? It’s so liberating. :)

      Oh, I can guess one reason why: the Patriarchs want to keep that truth secret so we won’t be liberated from their clutches.

  3. Katy

    Hey Jeff – I had a close friend growing up whose family lived strictly by the patriarchy rules. Her dad made them all have devotions every night. Everything was by the book – nobody questioned dad.
    The part that really confounded me was the “hair rules” – my friend had naturally curly hair and her dad forced her to straighten it. He felt her “big” hair was inappropriate in some way – I gathered that it had a sexual meaning to him. My friend acted like she was confused why her dad made her do that – I always secretly thought that DaddyO had a thing for women with big hair and was working out his issues on his girls. Creeped me right out.

    How do we even get to that point as Christians? how can we get that crazy and disregard everything Paul said and go “NOPE! we’re gonna do this thing RIGHT! Everyone get out your hair irons and make sure that pantyhose is OPAQUE!”

  4. iamdarlene

    This was excellent and I truly appreciate you letting us know more about abuse. Thank you!!

    • So glad to see you at the blog, Iamdarlene!
      it’s exciting when a new reader starts to comment. :)

  5. The whole patriarchy thing reminds me of what my children and I studied years and years ago about Marcion. We read somewhere (I can’t tell you where now–my mind is like a sieve anymore!) that he taught that women were inferior. Of course, so many of his teachings were just flat out blasphemous but have somehow cropped up here and there in the church, i.e., as I have heard it preached in “Bible believing churches”: “We are a New Testament people. The Old Testament does not apply to us.” All watered down Marcionite teachings!

    I always think about Timothy who learned scripture from his mother and grandmother. And, then there are the numerous Jewish celebrations with roles for the mother and the father, giving the mother honor. Of course, Marcion’s teachings would steer us away from anything remotely Jewish so neither the Jewish holidays nor Timothy’s upbringing would prove anything to someone of that belief system.

    I bought into for awhile even though I’ve always maintained Deut 6 as my reason for home schooling. On one hand I fully understood all of life being worship and the instruction to guide our children throughout the normal course of the day. My grandfather had clearly taught me that. But, I accepted the whole Vision Forum garb as though it was a necessary additive. And, boy, did I resent my husband. I did not resent him for choking the children and me. I did not resent him for not providing but rather quitting one job after another. I did not resent him for his adultery or squandering of the family money. I resented him for not leading us in family worship following the evening meal! How ridiculous is that?

    Katy, my great grandmother told how she and her siblings were forced to sit in absolute silence on Sundays and either listen to their father read the Bible or read it silently to themselves. No other activity was allowed on Sunday. If they spoke at all they were severely punished. Her father was devout and a strict adherent to patriarchy, taking his role very seriously. My great grandma grew up to reject her father’s “faith,” living her life as a very liberal atheist. All that family altar did was turn her off to the things of God.

  6. Jeff C, while I was reading this post, I was singing out “freedom!”
    I’m so glad you put that last verse at the end – where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom – because it sums it up perfectly.

    I love God! Truly, his yoke truly is easy and his burden light.

  7. WOW Jeff C! It took me all afternoon to read this post because it was so full of taggers for me, but it was exactly what I needed to work though. My abuser was so spiritually abusive that I couldn’t read scripture without hearing it in his voice and I have only recently been able to open a bible without having a panic attack. I am so grateful that I was given a solid biblical foundation as a child because it was the only thing keeping me from being completely void of scripture for the past 6 mos. When I needed a verse the Spirit would bring it to me so that I wouldn’t have to open a bible.
    As for “family warship” that was a monster all of its own. When we did do it, it would be anywhere form 45min-2hr and would consist of a lot of yelling at the children for not sitting still and paying attention the whole time! When we didn’t do it, it was my fault for not reminding him it needed to be done or not having the house cleaned, dinner served, and children ready for bed soon enough for the 2hr session to take place (I worked a full time job and sometimes didn’t get home until 6pm). I would be verbally abused and told that I was a horrible Christian and a horrible mother who didn’t care about my children’s souls. If I did remind him that we needed to do family worship I was told I was nagging and not the head of the house so I had no business telling him when he should do it.
    This post has been so freeing! Thank you so much for letting me know that I am not a horrible mother who devalues her children’s souls!

    • Bethany, I don’t know whether that was a typo or purposeful, but you phrase ‘family warship’ is brilliant.

      • it was a typo that was apparently Spiritually led :) Thank you for pointing it out, it made me laugh. It is brilliant :)

      • I thought that was a purposeful phrasing! WELL CALLED!

  8. Annie

    For me, the telling statement is this – “Patriarchy is the abuser’s friend.” I think that’s why my gut finds it so objectionable and puke-inciting. The problem is that I lived under its rule without knowing there was a name for it. How do you fight something you don’t recognize because it hasn’t been identified and labelled? Then, after I came across that term, I didn’t dare voice too much opposition since it seemed Biblical enough, and after all, was I not reacting (or over-reacting) to every little thing due to my newfound anger against abuse? Maybe it was the extremes or abuses of patriarchy that deserved the loud chorus of condemnation. But the more I look at it, the more I draw the same conclusion as everyone here – that patriarchy is offensive because it is the abuser’s friend.

  9. Still Scared( but getting angry)

    I did family worship for 4 or so years with my kids when most of then had reached over 11 and I wasn’t reading to them every night and doing Bible and prayer with them.So God laid it on my heart to do family worship and it was sweet and wonderful and united the kids and I. We did it mostly with out my ex, even when he was still living with us. He always had excuses and the few times he joined he acted bored and would interrupt whomever’s turn it was to read the chapter and share their favorite verse or always had a headache so we couldn’t sing a song. We got in the habit of doing it when he was occupied elsewhere and was such a relief when he moved out. Honestly it was 15 minutes out of our day and such a sweet time. Now, with my work schedule it doesn’t happen. But I trust God to do what he prompts me too. And the kids can all now lead prayer and a simple Bible study just because of that time. ( Not to say that I don’t live out Deut. 6 before and after and during…God is just always a real part of my life and I always shared that with my kids all the time)

    • S.S. I am so glad that you were able to have a positive experience with Family Worship!

    • Good job! You did it for the right motives and in the right way. And you did it freely and without the interference (generally) of an abusive person who is just the kind that patriarchy can so easily turn into a tyrant.

  10. Now Free

    Jeff, your second last paragraph had me feeling sad, that our children had a father that would have nothing to do with teaching them spiritual matters. Actually he also would not engage the children in any other truly meaningful life lessons.

    It was up to me to read the Bible to our children and teach them spiritually in other ways, such as take them to Sunday School. I read my Bible on a daily basis, and he knew that, and would often interrupt me while I was reading. I finally told him to stop this and either speak before or after I finished.

    In the 40+ years of our marriage I don’t recall him even once reading the Bible, unless it was in church. As controlling and abusive as he was, he wouldn’t go to church unless I attended…if I were ill and couldn’t go to church, he would also not attend, and not because he was concerned about me. Baptism, church membership…he would follow me in these matters also. I was really uncomfortable with this, as I knew it was unbiblical, to have me, as the wife, be the head in spiritual matters, and not my husband.

    I never even saw or heard him pray unless it was in church. He loved going to church, to wear his wonderful pious man persona. Church was the place where he would be the “perfect” husband, always smiling, always agreeable and charming.

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