If I were to write an article about the dangers of patriarchy, my blog hits would spike the way peoples’ hair stands on end in the cartoons when they get electrocuted. Start talking about the husband being the head of his wife or the wife’s sacred duty of submission to her own husband, and everybody and their sister shows up to point out all the dangers, potential pit falls, alternative interpretations, and so on. Even among those who unhesitatingly believe what Paul said in Ephesians 5 and Peter taught in 1 Peter 3, they’ve seen enough carnage done in the name of those passages, that they recognize the need to state clearly what headship is not and what submission is not. Headship is not biblical tyranny. Submission is not another word for “doormat.” If somebody stands up and gives a straightforward declaration that a Christian wife owes her husband obedience in the Lord, and that a Christian husband is responsible to lead and love his wife like Christ leads and loves the Church — nine times out of ten, even the conservative complementarians will wince just a touch and point out that without careful qualifiers the presentation may be twisted to suit the whims of chest thumping men who will use it as more ammo against brow beaten women.
But this article is not about the dangers of patriarchy.
It’s about the dangers of liturgy and sacraments.
But I want to write in much the same way that I would write an article about the dangers of patriarchy. I would write such an article as a committed patriarchalist. I believe whole-heartily in the goodness and blessing of father-rule. I recognize that there are some things in what Paul says “that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures” (2 Pet. 3:16). But this doesn’t mean we stop saying what Paul says, or studying what Paul teaches, or receiving what Paul delivered as the very Word of God. Likewise, when Paul says that as many as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ (Gal. 3:27) or that we have been buried with Christ in baptism (Rom. 6:3-4) or that the cup of blessing that we bless is participation in the blood of Christ (1 Cor. 10:16) — I speak as a committed sacramentalist. And when Scripture says that we are to present our bodies as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God, which is our spiritual worship (Rom. 12:1), I assume that he wants us to understand how the Old Testament sacrifices inform our spiritual worship today. When the writer of Hebrews says that we have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and that we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and therefore we are to offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe for our God is a consuming fire (Heb. 12:22-29), I assume that means we are to understand Christian worship as a fulfillment of Israel’s great covenant making ceremony at Sinai, the giving of the law, the feast in the presence of God, and the ongoing renewal of that moment in the ministries of the tabernacle and temple. And don’t forget John’s vision in Revelation, a glimpse into the worship of heaven where we have ascended by faith and through the powerful working of the Spirit (cf. Eph. 2:6). In other words, I write convinced that Christian worship is and ought to be a biblically and historically informed formal liturgy with the Word of God read and preached, saturated with Psalms and psalm-like hymns and prayers, all gathered around the Table of the Lord. This gathering should be like a high festival, full of loud and glorious singing and instrumentation, artistically adorned, full of heartfelt praise and joy, while we plead with God for the salvation of the lost, comfort for the suffering, and justice for the oppressed.
But just as someone might write a similar paean to the glories of men and women, to the strength of fatherhood, to the beauty of motherhood, to the dance of a man leading and his bride following — and there is certainly plenty of room for such poetry — the fact remains that every true and good and beautiful thing has a way of attracting people for all the wrong reasons, people who see in the rhetoric a bit of shadow to hide in. An abusive man might hide in the language of “headship” and cow his wife into a pseudo-submission using verses from Paul and certain snatches of sermons taken out of context. And wise pastors work overtime to thwart these attempts and protect the flock from these kinds of wolves. But there are certain kinds of passive and lazy men who are attracted to liturgy and sacramentalism and try to find room to hide in words like mystery and ritual and symbolism. You see, if God is mysteriously at work in ways we can’t understand, if you move your hand this way and you bow and you kneel and you light candles and somehow God is working, it can seem like a clever cover for how you sit on the couch all night. It can seem like a deep theological cover for why you aren’t diligently disciplining your children. It can seem like a pious pretense for not addressing sin head on in your family. You haven’t confronted your wife for her bitterness because that would create a mess, and so you insist that your family suffer through another agonizing session of chanting an anglican psalm that your kids are making mental notes to never care about. And your wife sort of puts up with it because at least you’re not actually leading her.
And all of this can apply to pastors attracted (for all the wrong reasons) to leading their congregations into a more liturgical style of worship. Shorter sermons, more discussion about what liturgy and symbolism and sacraments mean, and pretty soon there’s just not as much room for addressing the pettiness on the deacon board or the bitterness in the women’s Bible study or actually going out and sharing the gospel with unbelievers. Ah, but we all feel a lot more holy, now that the pastor is wearing a robe.
As it turns out liturgy and sacraments and family life are not nearly as different as we might have thought. Biblical liturgy is drenched in the patriarchy of God. Jesus taught us to pray, “Our Father…,” and all Christian liturgy from call to worship to benediction is an invitation to know our Father, through the blood and righteousness of His Eternal Son, by the life-giving power of His Spirit. This liturgical patriarchy has many elements, many dimensions, but just one for now: biblical liturgy is Word and Sacrament together. If lecture-hall style worship is oppressive because there is no love, no symbolism, no sacrament, perhaps it represents a certain form a dry, heartless, and overbearing patriarchy. But gooey sacramental worship without the authoritative word of the Father teaching, training, correcting, rebuking, and affirming — that is the other kind of oppressive, the oppression of laziness and cowardice and abdication.
The point isn’t to correct what God has given us. The point is to embrace it gladly, cheerfully, and keep your eyes out for the ignorant and unstable elements in the world (and in our hearts) that are all too eager to twist the good gifts of God to their own destruction.
Joshua Dockter says
Thank you for this!