Sometimes I just have to speak out…
Last week, Pastor D. Scott Meadows, of Calvary Baptist Church, Exeter, New Hampshire, posted A Christian Wife’s Marriage Catechism, followed a few days later by A Christian Husband’s Marriage Catechism. Frankly, both the advice and the theology in both these pieces are so poor, it’s hard to know where to start.
Thankfully, the first piece quickly caught the attention of several groups advocating for victims of domestic abuse who flooded the post with comments explaining how harmful the posted ‘catechism’ could be to someone in an abusive marriage.
Let me start by saying I completely agree with the positions stated in most of the comments by victim advocacy groups. They’re completely correct in recognizing how harmful this sort of declaration can be to a victim of domestic abuse, especially to a Christian victim, whose religious convictions are used as a tool to enforce continued enslavement to an abusive spouse. Most of the statements made in these two ‘catechism’ posts play directly into the ‘c’hristian abuser mind games (by ‘c’hristian abuser, I mean an abuser who professes to be a follower of Christ, but who actually uses scriptures taken out of context as tools to enslave his/her victim and perpetuate the abuse).
Many of the victim advocacy comments include statements indicating that while the posts may be helpful for Christians in healthy marriages, they are potentially harmful for those in abusive marriages…and they called for some sort of statement indicating that these posts are not applicable to those in abusive relationships.
And that’s where I want to focus in this post…because while I agree that these ‘catechism’ posts (and other similar positions published on many websites and preached in many churches) are especially harmful to victims of abuse, I believe they also present an unbiblical false doctrine that is potentially harmful to those in healthier marriages…and, in fact, create an unhealthy atmosphere that invites abuse.
So…let’s start with Meadows’ introduction to his ‘catechism’ for Christian wives, which reads as follows:
A Christian Wife’s Marriage Catechism
Providentially, many Christian wives are married to unbelieving husbands. This is a great trial for them, especially if the man is very ungodly. Pastoral counseling discovers that many of these sisters in the Lord are perplexed about how God wants them to relate to their husbands in such a case. I have prepared this brief catechism for some guidance, suggesting that she should memorize it and find supporting Scripture references for its counsel, with careful study of those passages.
I am convinced that even though these are basic biblical truths, many Christian wives would know more peace and confidence in their God-ordained role if they called them to mind every day for practical application in their marriages. Also, these truths should prove helpful even when the husband is a godly man.
May the Lord use this simple catechism to bless His precious daughters in difficult marriages.
Meadows sets the stage by clarifying that this ‘catechism’ is intended specifically for Christian women married to unbelievers, and especially for those married to ‘very ungodly’ men. To me, the description ‘very ungodly’ refers to behavior, rather than professed faith, and sounds like a probable abusive scenario. Whether or not the husband professes faith in Christ, if he is characterized by the description ‘very ungodly’ then he is almost certainly abusive…because that’s what ‘very ungodly’ people do…they abuse relationships.
Yet, Meadows begins his introduction with the word providentially. He is describing this situation of a dear child of God being married to a ‘very ungodly’ spouse as being providential.
So, with his opening sentence, Pastor Meadows has declared a position that I find to be both unbiblical and morally reprehensible, by declaring potentially horrific circumstances to be providential…brought about by the specific intent and will of our benevolent God.
This is not the first time I’ve encountered this sort of position. The false logic seems to run something like this: God ordained the institution of marriage…therefore, all marriages are directly ordained of God…therefore, anything that happens within a marriage, no matter how horrific, must be the direct intent and will of God.
This fatalistic position is completely indefensible from either a logical or biblical perspective, because it completely disregards human free will, our fallen sin nature, the depravity of fallen man, and the current fallen state of the world in which we now live…all very clear biblical principles. Anyone who believes that every circumstance in this world is brought about by the direct providential will of God lacks even an elementary understanding of biblical truth.
Furthermore, by referring to abusive marriages as being providential, Pastor Meadows displays his unspoken stance on divorce…a stance that is portrayed throughout his ‘catechism’ without ever actually being clearly stated. In reading both the introduction and the entire ‘catechism,’ it is clear that Pastor Meadows falls in the no-divorce-for-any-reason permanence-view of marriage. Only someone trying to defend this scripturally and morally indefensible position would refer to the marriage of a sincere follower of Christ to a ‘very ungodly’ spouse as being providential.
To refer to every marriage of a Christian to a ‘very ungodly’ spouse as providential is a direct contradiction of the Apostle Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 6:14:
Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness?
And a no-divorce-for-any-reason stance directly contradicts the words of Christ in Matthew 19:9, where Jesus clearly indicates that both divorce and remarriage may be a righteous godly course of action in the case of immorality (very ungodly behavior) within the marriage.
And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery. (emphasis added)
Then, while Meadows declares his confidence in his ‘catechism’ being ‘basic biblical truths,’ he provides absolutely no biblical reference, instead calling on the reader to ‘memorize it and find supporting Scripture references for its counsel, with careful study of those passages.’ Basically, “Take my word for it that these are biblical truths, now you go find scriptures to support these truths.” That is the exact opposite of how we should approach scripture. Rather than starting with preconceived notions of what the Bible should say and plucking verses taken out of context to support that position, we should read the Bible in context, asking the Holy Spirit to reveal God’s nature to us in the contextual reading.
Okay…enough on the introduction. Now let’s get down to the actual ‘catechism.’ For easier reading, I will post Pastor Meadows’ entire ‘catechism’ interspersed with my own commentary:
Q1. What is the main point of my marriage to my husband?
A1. To glorify God and enjoy Him forever, the same point of my existence and all my circumstances.
Pastor Meadows is confusing temporal marriage covenants with the believer’s eternal covenant with Christ. It is my eternal covenant with Christ that enables me to eternally glorify God and enjoy relationship with Him. This has absolutely nothing to do with the temporal marriage covenant, which is neither necessary for glorifying God, nor eternal.
The Bible is very clear that the primary purpose of marriage is companionship (Gen 2:18), intimacy (Gen 2:24), and sexual purity (1 Cor 7:8-9). Glorifying God is what we should seek to do in how we live our lives, and it is through our eternal covenant with Christ that the Holy Spirit conforms our hearts to Christ’s image, enabling us to glorify God (Rom 8:29).
Q2. Can my marriage ever be the source of true happiness to me?
A2. No, at best it can become an occasion of happiness, but all my joy is bound up and will remain forever in knowing God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and therefore my blessedness does not depend on the state of my marriage.
Granted, our deepest joy is to be found in Christ alone. Yet, it’s a bit silly to say we are not to also find joy in God’s blessings, especially in godly relationships. In fact, there are many scriptures clearly declaring the joy we may find in God’s blessings in this temporal life. If Pastor Meadow’s main point is that we should not look to earthly relationships as our primary source of joy and meaning, I would agree with that position. However, given his other statements, it appears his meaning is more that no matter how horrible a marriage relationship may become, we’re supposed to just endure and refuse to divorce no matter what…and that position I find to be both unbiblical and morally reprehensible.
Q3. How can I glorify God and enjoy Him forever in my marriage?
A3. By trusting God implicitly and doing His will in all things because I love Him with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength.
The question is completely wrong! This should not be a goal, because it’s not going to happen. My relationship with God is eternal, while my marriage is temporal (Matt 22:30). Therefore, while I fully expect to enjoy God forever, I will not enjoy Him forever “in my marriage.”
Both in Q1 and Q3, Pastor Meadows appears to have elevated his view of the temporal marriage covenant to the status of equivalency with our eternal covenant with Christ. This position is not only unbiblical, it is idolatrous.
Q4. What is the most important thing about how I relate to my husband?
A4. That I love him with gracious gospel love, respect him for his position over me, and submit to him as unto the Lord.
Certainly, both spouses are to love, honor and cherish each other, “submitting to one another in the fear the Lord” (Eph 5:21). And, yes, the following verse (Eph 5:22) does talk about a wife submitting to her husband…followed by the verse 25 admonition, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her…” I have to tell you, though, that my abuse radar goes up anytime I hear a woman being told she must submit to her husband…and most especially when that edict is given in regard to a marriage to a “very ungodly” man.
As a Christian husband, I regularly and frequently submit to my wife…yielding my will to hers, out of love for her and respect for her opinion. And she does the same for me. However, neither of us view ourself as subservient to the other, and we are both willing to face the hard conflict of disagreement when we feel strongly about a position, or if we feel we are not being heard and understood. I believe this mutual respect and willingness to face conflict is vital to a healthy relationship. If one party sees themself as occupying a subservient role and/or believes they have no right to voice a differing opinion, their rights and dignity will be unnecessarily trampled on…whether intentional or not. This overemphasis on wives submitting to husbands while underemphasizing the need for a husband to submit to his wife both invites and enables abuse in the marriage.
Q5. What is gracious, gospel love for my husband?
A5. A supernatural love from Christ that is large, constant, and free, and that does my husband good and not evil all the days of his life.
Q6. What is respect for my husband?
A6. It is a conscious recognition of his special authority over me as my husband on the basis of God’s Word and the covenant I freely entered when I married him.
We can show respect for another person both as a unique individual with unique gifts and perspectives and as having been created in the image of God, without the need for ‘conscious recognition’ of ‘special authority over me.’ Respect for a spouse is neither more nor less than simply wholeheartedly living out the marriage vows to love, honor, cherish, and forsaking all others cleave only to him or her.
Q7. What does it mean to submit to my husband as unto the Lord?
A7. That I will cheerfully acquiesce to my husband in all things consistent with the revealed will of Christ, but no further, from a sincere desire to please my husband and Christ for my husband’s good and Christ’s glory.
Why? Why should a wife feel compelled to “cheerfully acquiesce to my husband in all things…”? Are her opinions, preferences and needs of less value than his? Is she less a person than he? Does she, as a sincere Christian, possess less wisdom than her “very ungodly” husband? Certainly not!
This demand for cheerful acquiescence is not a biblical precept, but a human mandate born of man-made traditions…traditions leading to an unhealthy marriage relationship that both invites and enables abuse.
Q8. Will there be cases when I must obey Christ rather than my husband?
A8. Yes, if ever my husband expects me to disobey any of Christ’s commands, but even then I must keep loving and respecting my husband as my husband while Christ always has my greatest love and loyalty.
Really? For this to even be seen as a legitimate question requiring instruction shows a deplorably skewed perspective. We are to love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength (Luke 10:27). We are to love each other as Christ loves us (Luke 10:27, John 13:34). These are not difficult concepts. It only becomes complicated when we attempt to elevate the temporal marriage covenant to a level comparable to our eternal covenant with Christ. Idolatry always detracts from and confuses true worship of God as well as true love in human relationships.
Q9. What is the primary means by which I can influence my husband toward greater faith and obedience to God?
A9. Setting a good example before my husband, without a word of nagging or disrespectful rebuke.
Q10. Does this absolutely forbid addressing my husband about his responsibility for faith and duty as a man, a husband, and a father?
A10. No, but when it is right to address him about these things, I must speak the truth in love, with evident love and respect for him as my husband.
Q11. How good a husband is my husband to me?
A11. Much better than I deserve, and therefore I will thank God for him every day.
Q12. How good a wife am I to my husband?
A12. Much worse than I ought to be, and therefore I will confess my sins to God every day, asking forgiveness, and to my husband as needed, and continue in prayer for grace to grow into the excellent wife that God wants me to be, and that would be such a blessing to my husband.
This is where Meadows’ false doctrine leads. Telling an abused Christian that their “very ungodly” spouse is much better than they deserve while they, themselves, are much worse than they should be. What garbage!
This is blatant leveling of offenses…minimizing intentional unrepentant direct violations of sacred covenant vows while elevating unintentional well-meaning mistakes so as to treat both as equal. Except Meadows carries it one step further…to treat the intentional unrepentant violation of sacred covenant vows as completely inconsequential, while treating minor unintentional mistakes as being grossly egregious.
Compare Meadows’ words of demeaning judgment with what the Bible says of God’s children, in 1 Peter 2:9:
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light…
God sees us as new creations in Jesus Christ and as His own precious children…this is biblical truth.
Q13. How can I possibly love my husband so well, since he falls so short of the ideal husband, and I am such a sinful person?
A13. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me, even this, for I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me, and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me. Also, I know that God has given me His Spirit and all-sufficient grace to help me to do all He requires of me.
Honestly, I would not have any issue with this final Q/A in another setting. Loving one another is sometimes difficult, and 1 John 4:7-8 is very clear in stating that we can only fully love through the power of God being manifested in our lives. However, when stated in a case of abuse (as is the apparent situation being addressed) this admonition encourages an abuse victim to simply keep loving her abuser, with no regard for loving herself or her children enough to escape the abuse while trusting God for deliverance from evil.
Marriage is a very important relationship. Marriage vows are sacred covenant vows and should be treated accordingly. However, marriage is still a temporal human relationship and should not be elevated to a level comparable with our eternal covenant with Christ, nor treated as being of eternal significance.
Meadows’ presentation elevates marriage to an object of worship. In this view, marriage becomes an institution to be, not only revered, but also worshipped with the daily sacrifice of suffering, with no regard to the cost or the well-being of the individuals involved.
The thing is, anytime we elevate anything other than God to a place of worship, we actually devalue it. It becomes something much less than what God intended it to be, and no longer reflects His glory.
As sacred as the marriage vows are…and they are sacred…marriage is still temporal. It is neither eternal nor essential for salvation, and should not be treated as though it were.