Though it’s a cliché, it’s true- who defines the terms wins the debate. Before we determine how to avoid this kind of error, let’s be sure we know what we are talking about. One could argue that in the church there is a spectrum of views on the relationships between husbands and wives. On the far right is hyper-patriarchy. One step to the left is patriarchy. One more step is complementarianism, and one more step egalitarianism. And I suppose on the far left would be hyper-egalitarianism. Trouble is, there are not clear, easily discernible lines separating these views from each other. I honestly wouldn’t know how to define the difference between a patriarch and a complementarian, save that the patriarch is less likely to be afraid of an egalitarian.
Both the patriarch and the complementarian affirm that husbands are called to lead their families. Both agree that wives and children are their equals in the eyes of God, that the husband/father’s authority isn’t the fruit of being a superior form of humanity. Both affirm that wives are called to be helps in their families’ call to fulfill the dominion mandate. Again, I’m not clear on what the difference between these views might be.
A hyper-patriarch, I would suggest, is someone who is eager to affirm his authority over others, but unwilling to affirm the authority of others over him. This person refuses to submit to the civil government, except when it is convenient for him. He refuses to be under the authority of the elders of the local church. He boldly affirms that all lines of authority run straight from him to Jesus.
A hyper-patriarch in turn is someone who sees his wife and children not as co-laborers, but as laborers. That is, they are not seen as sharing in a single calling to make manifest the reign of Jesus over all things. Instead the hyper-patriarch thinks he has a job, a calling, and that those under him exist to help him reach his goal. They work for him, rather than with him.
How do you avoid this? You remember what a big, fat jerk you are. That is, as husbands and fathers are mindful of their own sinful inclinations they will first understand the importance of being under authority. I know me, and know that I am not to be trusted. That’s why I need elders over me. That’s why I need civil rulers over me. That’s why I need a boss at my work.
As I remember what a big, fat jerk I am I in turn remember my constant need for grace, for forgiveness. I do not exasperate my children by growing exasperated with them because I know how often, and how spectacularly I fail. This helps me remember that while I may be captain of the ship, albeit under authority, we are all going to the same place. We are all working together. We are all seeking together to grow in grace and wisdom. Which means in turn that when I cause the little ones to stumble, I lead in repentance. If we are regularly repenting not just about but to your children, there is a good chance you will avoid hyper-patriarchy. If, however, you find such beneath the dignity of your office, you’ve already arrived.