When I was growing up, I had the privilege of helping my family in an extraordinary task; we flipped houses. That’s right, six houses, one cottage, and one hotel, restaurant, and coffee shop. Flipping houses definitely taught us valuable life lessons as we scrapped, painted, wallpapered, and designed our way through each house.
One of the lessons I learned is that the saying, “Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water,” is legit! Through renovating homes with my family, I was taught to look beyond what was “ruined,” and see the design of what could be. When we renovated the restaurant/coffee shop, there was this one table we found in the kitchen. A pitiful looking thing that had seen better days, scarred from being used as a butcher’s block, stained from decades of use, my parents were ready to chuck it out at first sight. But I saw potential. There was a rustic design element that with some elbow grease, I knew a good-looking table could be exposed. Days later, I was proven correct. The table became a center piece in the coffee shop, and my parents were so grateful that we didn’t throw it out.
When it comes to our views of hierarchy or patriarchy, it’s easy to see them as innately evil forms of male dominance. Because we live in a culture that promotes tolerance and individuality, the ideas expressed in these words can communicate oppression and inferiority. But much like the table in that coffee shop, the problem lies not in the design but in how it’s been used and abused in the past.
Defining our Terms
What do we mean when we say hierarchy or patriarchy? Dictionary.com defines hierarchy as “any system of persons or things ranked one above another.” It defines patriarchy as “a form of social organization in which the father is the supreme authority in the family.” In other words, hierarchy says, “It’s my way of doing things because I have more authority than you do.” And patriarchy says, “Dad holds the ultimate authority in a household.” While these definitions can come across as rigid, there’s something about their design that we must understand before we can just chuck them out.
Because God is good and only does good, if we believe that hierarchy and patriarchy are evil, then we’re saying something about the character of God.
From Genesis to Revelation, God has unabashedly been hierarchal. He’s the boss. It’s His way or the highway, and He makes no apologies for it being this way. The first commandment found in Exodus 20:2-3, God demands absolute worship. “I am the Lord your God. You shall have no other gods before me.” In Deuteronomy 6:5, He says, “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”
God set up patriarchy. At the onset of creation, God set up a patriarchal system. Adam was created first (Gen. 2:7, 8). God assigned Adam with the task of tending the Garden (Gen. 2:15). The marriage covenant was performed by Adam (Gen. 2:23). And that was all before sin came into play (Gen. 3). After that, God worked through patriarchs in establishing the covenant with His chosen people (Gen. 12:7). The reason Paul gives for woman’s silence in church refers back to the creation order (1 Tim. 2:13). He sets up patriarchy in the home during New Testament times many years and cultures after the Old Testament was written (Eph. 5:22-32).
Christ was hierarchal in His mission. Numerous times throughout the Gospels, Christ’s “ONE WAY” message is reiterated. In John 8, Christ says, “I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.” In John 14:6, He lays out the correct ranking order when He says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Even in the Godhead, we see forms of hierarchy and patriarchy. It was His Father’s house where Jesus ran off to when He was young…not God’s…His Father’s (Luke 2:41-51). When describing God, Christ says, “My Father is greater than all,” (John 10:29) In John 14:10, Christ recognizes that His authority comes from God, His Father.
Since God is not evil, but good, neither hierarchy nor patriarchy must be evil, because all that God creates is good.
Six times in Genesis 1, God considers His creation “good,” and at the end of it all, He considers it “very good.” And the only time God considers His creation “not good” is when He’s addressing the solidarity of Adam, “It is not good that man should be alone.” Woman is then created making His creation complete. Looking at Creation’s account, there’s no doubt that all God creates is good. Really, really good. Because God is good. Really, REALLY good. And it is not just a God who chose to do things this way; it is a good God that chose to set up a male leadership way of running things. All throughout Scripture, God’s covenant with Israel is through a man. It is man, not woman, who He chose to be the head of the home (Ephesians 5:23). It is man who He chose to lead His church (1 Tim. 3). And we can’t chalk this up to a cultural context, because the Word of God spans almost 2,000 years of cultures, thereby making it above culture and timeless. Since God isn’t evil, but good, hierarchy and patriarchy are not evil because all that God creates is good.
It is sin which distorts this good, as it does with all of God’s creation. Therefore, if a system created by God is seen as faulty, the problem lies not in the design of the system, but in the flawed individuals holding to that system.
In John 10:9-10, Christ says, “I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” Abundant life is the opposite of oppression and dominance. Christ reminds us in the rest of John 10, that we have this abundant life because of the sacrifice He made for us on the cross. Christ didn’t die for life to be stolen from us, He came to give us life – and an abundant one at that!
So if God’s way of running things seems faulty, the problem doesn’t lie in His order of leadership, but in the flawed individuals executing that leadership. Just like there was nothing wrong with the design of that table in the coffee shop, the problem was in how that table had been used or misused in the past. When sin entered the world, it distorted everything. Everything from then on was skewed, and Christ alone could redeem it all. Christ alone could make it right. And even though He has done this through His death on the cross, sin still exists. As does sinful man, each in need of redemption. Even as flawed individuals, however, we can still interpret God’s order of things by obeying the commandments He gives in His Word. If we have a saving knowledge of God, we are redeemed and therefore, patriarchy (in its biblical form) can be obtained through obedience to the Word of God. He has given us everything that pertains to life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3).
The alternatives to patriarchy, unfortunately, don’t achieve God’s glory… It’s only God’s plan – patriarchy – as God defined it that gives God the glory.
What gives God glory in the Bible gives God glory now because Scripture is above culture. It’s for God’s glory that He revealed Himself to mankind as a Father. It’s for God’s glory that He manifested bodily as His Son, Jesus Christ. It is for God’s glory that He set up male headship in the church and in the home (Ephesians 5:31). Really, patriarchy, in its biblical form, is all about God and His glory. Because as the leader, the father serves his family (Ps. 103:13). As a leader, the father sacrifices for his family (Eph. 5:25). As a leader, the father spiritually leads his family (Prov. 3:12; 14:26; Eph. 5:26,27). And while these are all tasks a woman has the ability to do as a capable human being with a keen mind, patriarchy was God’s design for His glory.
Terms like hierarchy and patriarchy can be confusing. With dominant and abusive men using them as their calling cards, it’s no wonder they have such negative connotations. But seen through the lens of Scripture, we can see that they’re not evils in and of themselves. In fact, they are quite opposite. They can be good and bring God glory when done in the biblical way they were created in. Just because something is flawed (by individuals, not by design), doesn’t mean you throw it out. Instead, we must humbly ask the Lord to show us areas in our lives that don’t match up to His way of doing things. Psalm 25:9 says, “He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way.” And then ultimately, trust in God’s way of doing things, even if it doesn’t make sense. In Isaiah 55, God reminds us, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways.” There are times when God has a plan or purpose that we, with our finite minds, cannot comprehend what an infinite God is doing…and that’s okay, we can trust Him. He is good. Really, really, REALLY good.