What do biblical leadership and submission look like in the “real world”? I find partner dancing to present a fairly accurate picture of what God intends for these roles in marriage. And I was encouraged in this by what I learned in a recent study taught by Dr. John Yates, rector of Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Raleigh, N.C. (also mentioned in my previous post).
Contention over marriage roles, inside and outside the Christian community, results from the fall, accentuated by viewing the scriptures through the context of our culture. Based on Dr. Yates’ thoroughly researched study, I challenge the following culturally accepted myths about the biblical roles in marriage. Read to the end for an explanation of how partner dance reflects the scriptural truths.
Myth 1: Submission is ascribed to the wife alone.
I’ve long been puzzled how some “teachers” seem to miss verse 21 in Ephesians 5: Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ (NIV). In Dr. Yates’ study, I learned that this verse is part of a set of instructions for living out verse 18: …be filled with the Spirit. (NIV) To live out the instructions, we must depend on the power available to us through the presence of the Holy Spirit and Christ’s leadership in our lives. It’s impossible by human effort alone.
As Christians, both men and women are instructed to submit to Christ’s leadership and therefore to “one another.” Submission is ascribed to everyone. Paul expands on this concept in verses 22-25, addressing what submission looks like in the individual and complementary roles of both husbands and wives.
Myth 2: Submission is subjugation.
“‘Submit’ sounds awful in our cultural context,” notes Dr. Yates. “In a post-feminist world the overtones of a word like ‘submit’ are entirely negative. This is unfortunate because our preconceptions deafen us to what Paul is saying.”
Dr. Yates defines the term “to order oneself under a leader.” That leader is Christ for his disciples, both male and female; for a wife, it includes her husband.
“There is an aspect here of authority – even though the word is never used in the passage,” Dr. Yates explains. “Submission means the respect freely given to one who loves you sacrificially. It comes in the context of a covenant partnership in which a couple stands side-by-side before God.”
Submission is not “unquestioning obedience.” Making an intentional choice to submit to a trustworthy leader honors God and, in the case of a wife, honors her husband.
Myth 3: The husband’s leadership gives him “last word” decision-making authority.
“The headship of the husband signifies responsibility and demands the willingness to give oneself for the good of the other through service and self-sacrifice,” notes Dr. Yates. “But the role gives no license to boss around, to force submission, to denigrate or abuse (that was as result of the fall). This authority is a mantle of responsibility demanding wise, brave and sacrificial care for one’s wife.”
As in Christ‘s headship of the church, the husband‘s headship denotes “care rather than control, responsibility rather than rule.”
How partner dance reflects the biblical truth
In recounting the experience of ballroom dance lessons, the following blog posts portray the biblical intention for marital roles. The first, posted by a wife, addresses the first two myths:
If you view marriage as a dance, you’ll come to realize that it can be exciting to let go and enjoy life together. Both husbands and wives have to submit to each other …
I realized that if I was ever going to learn how to dance, I was going to have to submit to both the music and my partner.
I always viewed submission in a negative light. I saw it as a threat to my independence. I never wanted to be under anyone’s control – that’s what I thought it meant.
It took learning how to ballroom dance in order for me to figure out that submitting to my husband is not a threatening thing, but a necessary part – we both can‘t lead things or else we’re going to continue to bump into each other and other people.
The second post, written by a husband, describes how dancing with his wife compares to leading in real life, addressing the third myth:
In our dancing lesson Val and I depended on the teacher to teach us the steps but it was my responsibility to lead us on the floor. In a similar way we must treat our relationship with God the same. God is the teacher and I follow his lead to lead my wife.
I lead her the best when I have spent time with the Lord and spent time knowing her. … By dancing with Valerie I earned more of her trust because I listened to her and guarded her needs. …There will come a day when I really need to lead Valerie and it’s these smaller moments of service and trust building that will give me the credibility she needs to make a decision that matters. In that moment if I have taken the time to hear from the Lord, to know the next step and to understand the needs of my wife we are less likely to falter on the dance floor.
Returning to Dr. Yates’ study, he concludes: “The husband’s love and the wife’s submission are simultaneous, high-risk offerings made to one another in the presence and under the power of Christ.”
Jesus provides his disciples the necessary grace … for dancing and relating in marriage.