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.