Christian Patriarchy Movement

Question for Schuyler:

Will you please give a summary of the Christian Patriarchy Movement and its dangers?


The Christian Patriarchy Movement (CPM) is one about which I had to educate myself by searching online. The main advocates of the CPM (sometimes called Biblical Patriarchy) are R.C. Sproul, Jr., Doug Phillips and Doug Wilson. Recently, Mr. Phillips fell into the public sin of adultery, and resigned from his organization called Vision Forum Ministries, and Doug Wilson is a well-known promoter of the Federal Vision heresy.  There is also a group called “Quiverfull” that promotes these ideas. The basic idea of “patriarchy” is the rule of fathers, which is then applied to the rule of men in every sphere of life.

One quotation from the tenets of the CPM immediately caught my attention and raised red flags for me: “… the church should proclaim the Gospel-centered doctrine of biblical patriarchy as an essential element of God’s ordained pattern for human relationships and institutions.” Did you notice the key word? Gospel-centered! Beware of men who make “Gospel-centered” that which is not part of the Gospel! The Gospel is not what we do, but what God has done in Jesus Christ. Christian Patriarchy tends to legalism.

There follows a summary of the main distinctive beliefs and practices of the CPM. Please bear in mind that the movement is varied and this summary of necessity must be general.

First, God reveals himself as masculine, not feminine. Second, God has ordained distinct gender roles for men and women as part of the created order. Third, the husband and father as head of his household has absolute authority over his wife and children. Fourth, while God has ordained the institutions of church and state, the family is the primary institution, and in that sphere the husband and father is lord (patriarch). Fifth, male leadership in the home should, where possible, apply to society at large. Therefore, the CPM opposes women working outside the home, women (for the most part) pursuing further education, and women having authority over men (such as in the business world, politics, the military, etc.). Sixth, since the woman was created to be a helper to her husband, the bearer of children and a keeper at home, the God-ordained sphere of wife is in the home. Seventh, unmarried women should prepare for domestic life and are under the authority of their fathers until they marry. Eighth, it is the calling of married women to have children, many children. Therefore, the CPM opposes contraception in almost all circumstances. Ninth, the education of children is the sole responsibility of fathers. Therefore, homeschooling is the preferred method of Christian instruction.   The CPM does not encourage Christian schools and rejects public school education.

With the statements above there is much with which we agree. Some of the problems we have are with emphasis rather than substance. However, I do have some criticisms.

First, the CPM so exalts the father as head that he dominates his wife and children. It teaches a kind of hierarchy within the home in which the father is above the mother. The Bible teaches that the father and mother have equal authority in the home. The CPM places a grave temptation before fathers to be tyrannical and to abuse their authority. Some in the movement have even placed the authority of the father above the church, so he is not answerable even to the elders. The Bible does not teach that the wife and mother is basically a servant of the husband and father. She is his helpmeet; she is his companion; she is (since marriage is a covenant relationship) his friend (Gen. 2:18, 23–24, Mal. 2:14, 1 Peter 3:7). Although the husband is certainly the head of his wife, and the wife has a calling to submit to his leadership, the Bible never calls the husband to rule over his wife, but to love her (Eph. 5:25) and to dwell with her, treating her with gentleness, understanding her weakness, not so he can crush her or dominate her, but so that he can cherish her (Eph. 5:28–29, 1 Peter 3:7). If a man wants someone he can dominate, let him hire a cook and housekeeper, not marry a wife! Besides all this, there is equality (spiritual equality) in marriage (“heirs together of the grace of life” [1 Peter 3:7]). In the New Testament, husbands and wives work together: the husband does not impose his will upon his wife. So much is this the case that Paul says (something shocking to the culture of his day) “the husband hath not power (authority) of his own body, but the wife” (1 Cor. 7:4). Therefore, should a couple decide to refrain from sexual intercourse for a time in marriage, it is “with consent” (v. 5). It is not for the husband to impose his will upon his wife in this or in other areas.

Second, the CPM finds much of its biblical proof in Old Testament examples (such as Abraham and other patriarchs), but it is dangerous and misleading to attempt to apply examples directly to Christians  An example is not always normative, that is, an example is not the same as a command. We need to apply the lives of the Old Testament saints wisely.

Third, the CPM makes much of the Old Testament law, much of which is not applicable to the New Testament believer. For example, Numbers 30 allows fathers and husbands to cancel the oaths made by their daughters/wives, so that their oath is not legally binding. Some in the CPM apply this to fathers who, they say, have veto power over their daughters’ choice of a husband. While it is certainly wise for a young Christian woman to seek the approval of her father, the Christian father must not be a tyrant in this area.

Fourth, while the Bible does not support mothers working outside the home, the CPM movement goes too far when it discourages or prohibits all work by women outside the home. For example, Titus 2:5 and 1Timothy 5:14 call young, married women with children to be “keepers at home” and to “guide the house.” While the Bible forbids women leadership roles in the church, it does not forbid leadership roles to women outside of the church.

Fifth, while a large family is a blessing from the Lord (Ps. 127:3–5), the CPM takes also this to extremes. Contraception is a contentious issue, but we cannot legislate for others.  Married couples must decide before the Lord, based on their circumstances (especially the health and well-being of the mother), how many children they are able to receive. However, this does not mean that God is not sovereign over the womb; it does not justify couples refusing to have children for selfish reasons; and it certainly does not imply that abortion is justifiable in any circumstances. We rightly abominate abortion as murder. Besides, the motivation within the CPM for having large families is for Christians to “outbreed” unbelievers, influence politics, and redeem society. This is not at all a biblical motivation for childrearing! The CPM is allied with unbiblical Postmillennialism and other movements.

Sixth, the CPM rightly reminds parents (although they emphasize fathers) of their God-given responsibility to educate their children in godliness. However, homeschooling is not the only (or even the best) way in which this should be done. Deuteronomy 6:7, a favorite text of the CPM and homeschoolers in general, does not limit the method of teaching children to the home. The fact that Deuteronomy is the Old Testament law should give us pause before we apply it too strictly. A strict literal application of verse 7 would include verses 8–9, which speak of binding God’s law upon your hand, putting it on frontlets between your eyes and writing it on your doorposts and gates. We take the principles of God’s word and apply them to our situation with the wisdom given by God. While parents must never abdicate responsibility for the spiritual education of their children, and while fathers certainly take a leading role in this, it is good to delegate teaching responsibility to other Christians if they are more capable of instructing the children in various disciplines. Christian schools are a great blessing to our churches. Where they cannot be used, prayerful consideration should be given to good alternatives.

I hope this summary has been helpful.


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