Sunday, September 25, 2022

The nature of "submission" in general

As it pertains to the word "submission," Western Christianity in particular seem to have an extremely negative reaction to the word. For some strange reason, "submission" is treated like a cuss word even in supposed Christian circles, a fact very strange in the light of biblical commands for various peoples to submit to others.

Is the word "submission" really a "four-letter" word? What does "submit" mean? According to Merriam Webster, the word "submit" has the meaning of "yield to government or authority." In other words, the word submission is an act or disposition towards someone over the person. Christians are to submit to God and to the governing authorities, and therefore "submission" should not have negative connotations for the Christian.

That said, is "submission" necessarily tied to a differential of authority? For the secular world, perhaps that is almost always the case. Yet, for the Christian, that is not true. An obvious example would be the call for "mutual submission" in Ephesians 5:21, which even egalitarians must admit that there is no differential of authority or hierarchy in it. But if there is no hierarchy in Ephesians 5:21, then it must be the case that "submission" does not have to be associated with differential of authority or hierarchy. Therefore, when wives are called to submit to their husbands (Eph. 5:22, Col. 3:18), then one should not presuppose there is any necessary differential of authority of hierarchy in the relationship between husbands and wives. One should likewise not read any form of hierarchy in any use of the word "submission" as it pertains to the Son either, for "submission" in the Bible is not necessarily the "submission" of the world.

But if Christian "submission" is not necessarily due to differential of authority or hierarchy, then what does "submission" mean in the context of the Christian faith? I would suggest that Christian submission is to be seen in the life of the man Jesus Christ. Christian "submission" therefore is to follow the leading of another, just as Jesus obeyed the Father fully during the incarnation. There is no hierarchy between the Father and the Son, yet the Son submitted to the Father and followed His leading. Therefore, as opposed to the secular "submission," Christian "submission" should be seen as a "disposition to follow the leading of another." In other words, while the world's definition seem to require hierarchy or differential authority, this definition does not require either, keeping at its core meaning the idea of following another's lead. The world requires the one submitting to be inferior to the one leading, while the Bible does not require this to be the case.

This has many implications for how we live our Christian lives. On the issue of husbands and wives, it means that husbands should not be bossing their wives around. Husbands lead by love, patience and self-sacrifice, not by demanding their wives to act subservient to them. The submission expected of wives is one done out of love for the husband who leads them in love. It is a true act of submission ("putting oneself under") not because one is truly beneath the other in being, but because that is how one acts in love. Needless to say, any husband using the Bible to browbeat his wife into "submission" needs to be rebuked. Women are not second-class citizens, and are to be cherised and loved.

Likewise, in the doctrine of God, to say that the Son submits to the Father is merely to assert that the Son follows the Father's leading. The Father initiates, the Son does likewise after the manner of the Father. The Father has authority over the Son in the sense of leadership, but there is no differential in authority in the sense of forcing one will over another (a most repugnant image). It is an act of who initiates, and who follows; not an act of the demands of a king forcing his subject to obey. Any authority or submission in the Godhead is therefore economic, in the internal acts of the Father, Son and Spirit as they interact with each other in eternity and from eternity.

Christians therefore ought to recover a biblical view of "submission." While there is nothing necessarily wrong with hierarchy and differential authority, "submission" exists independent of these created things. All Christians are to live lives of submission, because none of us have the right to be the Head. Within our lives of submission, some take the lead over others in various roles and vocations, but they never stop being submissive to God. "Submission" should never be seen as a cuss word, or a word that only applies to women and children, as if men do not need to submit to anyone! Let me just put it bluntly, the man who will not submit to anyone is a wild man in sin, and woe is any woman who is married to that wild man!

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