CONCEPT EIGHT: AFFIRMATION OF MALE HEADSHIP
© Rosemary Bardsley 2005, 2015
We have seen that Jesus Christ radically confronted attitudes of male dominance and superiority. In this he was un-doing the impact of the curse of Genesis 3 in individual lives and specific circumstances. But the incarnation of Christ also strongly affirms the male leadership role assumed and implied by the Creation Factor.
A. MALE HEADSHIP DOES NOT MEAN SUPERIORITY AND INEQUALITY
A sound Biblical understanding of the incarnation outlaws any conclusion that the headship of the man over the woman means that the woman is inferior or of less worth or ability. This is easily seen by listening to the Word of God, which states, on the one hand:
‘… the head of Christ is God’ [1 Corinthians 11:3], and on the other hand:
‘I and the Father are one’ [John 10:30, and many other expressions of equality and shared identity.]
Headship is about role and responsibility, not about superiority and inequality. Jesus, the Son of God, possessed full and essential equality with God, the Father. He possessed the ability and authority to do and say things that only God can do and say, and he did them and said them. All four Gospels make this quite clear. However, the New Testament also makes it clear that Jesus acknowledged and lived within the boundaries of his Father’s headship.
In the following verses we see the headship of the Father over the Son and the equality of the Father and the Son held together:
John 3:34,35: The Son was sent by the Father and spoke the words of the Father. At the same time ‘everything’ was placed in the hands of the Son by the Father.
John 5:19,20a: The Son can do nothing independently from the Father. At the same time the Father shows the Son everything that he does.
John 5:21: The Son has the same life giving power and authority as the Father
John 5:22,23: The Father, who is the eternal Judge, has given all judgement into the hands of the Son with the purpose that everyone should give to the Son the identical honour that is due to the Father; in fact, if this identical honour is not given to the Son, then the Father is not honoured.
John 5:26,27: The Son has life in himself, just as the Father has life in himself. This was granted to the Son by the Father. The Father has also given the Son the authority to judge.
John 13:3-5: Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power.
John 17:7-8: Jesus acknowledged that everything he had, including his words, were given to him by the Father.
Matthew 26:42: Jesus asked about the possibility of a change of plan, but was submissive to the will of the Father
Matthew 26:53,54: Jesus is submissive to the Word of God
Hebrews 10:7-10: Jesus is committed to the will of the Father.
In view of these descriptions of Christ’s submission to his Father’s headship role, and of the responsibility delegated to him, we can understand that none of the following are threatening to equality, identity or authority or contrary to Biblical headship/submission principle:
For the man to delegate highly significant tasks and responsibilities to the woman.
For the woman to submit to the man’s instruction and example.
For the man to trust major undertakings totally to the woman.
For the woman to be given the same respect as the man.
For the woman to appear to be inferior.
For the woman to acknowledge dependence on man.
For the woman to ask if a change of the man’s decision is possible.
God is the head of Christ: but he was not threatened by handing massive authority over to Christ. Christ is equal with God the Father: but he was not threatened by the role of obedience, dependence and service. In the same way, a man assured and confident of his headship, is not threatened by the equality and ability of the woman; and the woman assured and confident of her equality, is not threatened by the headship of the man.
B. THE ROLE-MODEL FOR MALE HEADSHIP IS JESUS CHRIST
One of our biggest problems, whether we are a man or a woman, is that not one of us has actually seen a man’s leadership and a woman’s ‘submission’ as they were meant to be. The original, untainted, uncorrupted, uncursed relationship was in place only in Genesis 1 and 2. There it was not commanded or even discussed: it simply was. Without threat, without compromise, without question. Perfect. Pleasant. And ‘very good’.
However, in his incarnation Christ not only modelled ‘submission’, he also modelled the leadership role:
‘For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Saviour’ [Ephesians 5:23].
To understand the role and responsibility of the man’s headship we need to look at how Christ fulfilled and fulfils his role and responsibility as head of the church.
Ephesians 4:15-16; Colossians 2:19 - The strength and unity of the Church comes from Christ, the head.
Ephesians 5:23 - Christ, the Head is the Saviour of his body, the church.
Ephesians 5:25-27 - Christ, the head, loved the church, his body., and Christ, the head, gave himself up for the church, for the church’s good.
Ephesians 5:29-30 - Christ ‘feeds and cares for’ the church, his body.
Ephesuabs 5:30-32 - Christ shares a profoundly mysterious union with the church.
Colossians 1:18 - As head of the church, Christ is the one who led the way, and who shouldered the responsibility.
This headship of Christ over the church is the model for the headship of the man over the woman both in the context of marriage, and in the broader context of the church.
C. THE HEADSHIP OF JESUS EXPRESSES UNITY AND IDENTIFICATION
Although one of the passages below was applied specifically to the marriage relationship, they can all teach us from Christ’s model headship the kind of headship men are expected to exercise in the church.
Jesus Christ’s headship of his body the church is a function of his humanity, not simply an expression of his deity. As Lord, he is Lord of all, whether they acknowledge him or not. As Head of the body he is the leader or head of the church – of those who have identified with him and he with them. This is evident in the following Scripture passages:
C.1 Ephesians 5:28-32
‘… husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church – for we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery – but I am talking about Christ and the church.’ [Ephesians 5:28-32]
In this passage Paul uses the Genesis reference to the marriage union as a reference to the union between Christ and his church. Christ and the church are ‘one flesh’. Here headship is portrayed as loving, protective union and identity.
C.2 Colossians 1:18:
‘He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy’ [Colossians 1:18].
Paul connects Christ’s headship with the resurrection of his human body from the dead: he is the first, the leader, the one who brings the church out of death into life. And by virtue of this victory over death he is in the position of authority over all whom he rescues from death.
C.3 This same concept of Christ’s leading out of death those who are his ‘brothers’ is taught in Hebrews 2:9-18. Christ shared our humanity so that as a human he could share our death and rescue us from it. As a human being he is the ‘author of’ our salvation – the ‘one who takes the lead in’ our salvation. The concept of leadership in this and the previous reference, is not that Jesus Christ, as God, leads us out of death and into salvation and resurrection life, but that Jesus Christ as a human being just like us is our leader. Christ deliberately identified with us as human, so that he could do all that he did as one of us.
D. THE HEADSHIP OF CHRIST EXPRESSES AN INCREDIBLE STRENGTH AND HUMILITY
The incarnation models the embodiment of servant leadership [Philippians 2:3-8]. Christ, who is the eternal Lord of all, the almighty Creator, put aside his glory and came to earth incognito, subjecting himself to misunderstanding and rejection, to obtain the salvation of his bride, the church.
Every Christian is commanded to follow Christ’s example of strong, humble consideration for the well being of each other. Yet this example of Christ is acutely applicable to the man in his headship role and responsibility. If it is difficult for any of us to follow Christ’s example here, it is even more difficult for the man to follow it in relation to his woman. [Note that it is also a challenge to the woman to show this attitude to the man, despite her equality.]
We hear a lot about being ‘totally committed’ to Christ. As far as the Bible is concerned it is Christ who was ‘totally committed’ to us: he who by nature is our divine Lord and Master, in a way that is far beyond any authority any human being has over another human being, became our servant, totally focused on our spiritual well-being, disregarding all the recognition and respect that was rightfully his, heedless of the misconstructions that would be placed upon his poverty, his humiliation, his degradation, his powerlessness, his servanthood.
As the Philippians passage states, he did not ‘grasp’ at his rights. He let them all go, so that he could be one with us in our humanity, in our suffering, in our condemnation, in our death. He let them all go so that he could lead us out of that condemnation and death into resurrection life. Thus he models the protective, saving, self-denying, sacrificial care and love that both men and women are expected to have towards each other.
Christ’s well-known saying encapsulates this key aspect of his leadership and his submission that is taught in the passages referred to above: ‘The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many’ [Mark 10:45].
E. IMPLEMENTING THE ROLE MODEL OF THE INCARNATION
As we have seen, and as we will see again later, we do not live in the perfect world of Genesis 1 and 2. The man/woman complementarity of the order of Creation has been destroyed by the Sin Factor. The original, spontaneous, unmentioned, unthreatening leader/led relationship, has been devastated:
 By the inner death and division and by the inter-personal death and division that we saw in Concept 3. We are each insecure. We each feel a need to defend, preserve and justify ourselves. We tend to see every other human being either as a challenge we have to master or as a threat against whom we have to protect ourselves. And we are no longer at peace with the other.
 By the curse and condemnation we saw in Concept 4. In our incompleteness and our chosen independence from God, the man/woman distinction, which was originally meant to be the location of the closest, most joyful human union, is now the focus of our most acute inter-personal pain. The original complementary roles of the man and woman are now fraught with division and conflict. The man, as a sinner, now ‘leads’ with dominance and suppression. The woman, as a sinner, now ‘follows’ in an unsatisfied, demanding way.
But the incarnation models a new possibility. It calls us with the words of Jesus ‘Follow me’ – live as I lived, loved as I loved. We will be looking further at this ‘as I …’ in the next section.