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Rev. Riss
Kathryn J. Riss (M.Div., Trinity Evangelical Divinity School; Th.M., Princeton Theological Seminary) was ordained a pastor in 1992 with her husband, church historian Richard M. Riss. A gifted preacher, she serves on the FISH Hospitality Program Board and as CORE coordinator for United Protestant Marriage Encounter, New Jersey.” In her book, Journey’s End, Kathryn illuminates passages that have puzzled Christians for generations and have too often been misused to hurt women which God never intended. Let Journey’s End answer your questions and settle your heart. An excerpt from Chapter 7 of Journey’s End, Removing “Biblical” Barriers Between Women and their Destiny, Kathryn J. Riss, ThM, is included below. View the entire Chapter entitled “Authority Relationships Among Believers,” in pdf here. To Order Journey's End Online.

Authority Relationships Among Believers

Journey’s End, Removing “Biblical” Barriers Between Women and Their Destiny

By Rev. Kathryn J. Riss, ThM 

      Over the past 20-25 years, in many evangelical circles, systems of "shepherding" or "authority and submission" were vigorously promoted. Although the extremes of this movement are self-evident and some repentance has taken place, we are still affected by the aftermath of an ideology that exalted leaders beyond their legitimate authority. This has affected teachings regarding the relations between men and women, especially married couples. We need to clarify the boundaries of legitimate authority, both so that those who would benefit from it will not be afraid to submit to godly authority and so that those called to leadership will understand the limits of their responsibilities.

Human Authority is Always Limited; Only Divine Authority is Absolute

      First, we need to understand that only God has absolute authority. We can trust Him to exercise it, too! Each person and especially each believer is directly answerable to God and is under God's own watchful, loving, protective eye. No matter what mistakes a Christian makes, we can trust that "He who has begun a good work in you will perform it to the day of Jesus Christ" (Philippians 1:6). That should take the pressure off of parents, pastors, and teachers who watch over the souls of others. No one is liable for the sins of other people! Nor does being in a position of authority give a license to do whatever one likes. Even parents do not hold absolute authority over their children; the law sets limits they must abide by.

      Secondly, we should understand that since we have been created in God's image, He has given each human being a will. We will all be judged eternally for the choices we make with the will God has given us. Therefore, we must all learn how to make wise decisions. This is done by exercising the will and receiving back the consequences of each choice, whether good or bad. In this way, we learn from experience what God approves and what He does not. Through Providence, God directs the reactions of other people and circumstances to respond appropriately to our choices in a life-long process of learning wisdom. Therefore, no capable adults should let others make their decisions for them. No one has more knowledge about or concern for your affairs than you do! And God holds you responsible for your stewardship over your own life.

      The human will is neither good nor evil, but the unregenerate will is fallen, and must be re-educated according to God's Word. Our conscience is educated and sensitized by God’s Word, as the Holy Spirit uses Scripture to bring conviction and repentance from sin. Thus, each Christian has the responsibility to study and apply the Bible to his or her life. We are to cooperate with God as our Teacher, growing in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

      Thirdly, we should understand that in His mercy, God has given us means of correction and grace; that among these are secular authorities, our parents, and the leadership ministries of the Christian church. These are all intended for our benefit. As young children, we are to obey our parents; however as we grow into adulthood, we must increasingly think through options and learn to make our own decisions. Thus, parental authority  decreases over time, as adolescents mature.

      As adults, we are to obey secular authorities in everything not contradictory to God's Word. And we are to honor Christian leaders. We are to respect their authority within the church and we are to value their counsel highly, taking other factors such as Scripture, Providence, conscience and the advice of others into account. For example, if church leaders decide that the Sunday service should start at 10:00, we should be there at10:00, not 11:00. But if they counsel us not to marry someone we are engaged to, we must consider their counsel very carefully but make our own decision. God has given the authority to make that kind of choice to those directly affected, not to anybody else. Therefore, we must each develop good judgment.

      In the church, we are all equal in that we have all received the Spirit of God. We should acknowledge this by honoring all Christians; thus we honor Christ. However, we are obviously not all equal in spiritual maturity or Christian character. Therefore, God gives us leaders who teach, preach, and model His truth for us. Their role is both supportive and corrective; supportive to our development into greater maturity and usefulness and corrective when we stray from Christ. Christian leaders are therefore admonished to pray for and love the members of their flocks; Christian followers are admonished to love and honor their leaders. But no leader is perfect or without sin, nor is any follower without the Holy Spirit. Therefore, counsel is always limited by the believer's responsibility to decide. A leader should counsel and pray for followers, but is not responsible for the choices they make. And followers should heed Godly counsel, but cannot absolve themselves of the responsibility for their actions. In everything, we are to be led by the Spirit of God speaking through the Word of God.

      Among believers who are married to each other, there is greater unity and therefore greater mutual responsibility. Decisions that would ordinarily be made by an adult alone now affect others, so they must be made mutually. For example, a husband cannot unilaterally decide that he will not come home until late at night, because his wife needs his help with the children, and they need time with their father. So, husband and wife must talk it over and decide together what is the best course of action. Usually, they will work out some compromise. Nor can one parent decide to bank his or her own paycheck and not pool resources to support the family. God requires that parents provide for their children; this sort of selfishness is not an option, even if the other partner should agree to it. As husband and wife talk over and pray about decisions, Christian character and maturity develop in them both.

      We err in exercising authority when we take it beyond its bounds, applying it inappropriately. Gender hierarchy proponents teach that husbands should make all the decisions and wives should go along with them. That inappropriately removes responsibility from the wife, treating her as if she were not the Christian adult she is, but a child incapable of making decisions. It also inappropriately treats the husband as if he were infallible, which he obviously is not. Likewise, proponents of the shepherding movement teach that everyone has to be "under the covering" of someone else, and that no leader can act independently. So much for Jesus Christ, Deborah, and John the Baptist!  Such views are thin disguises for the desire to control others.

      That is not to say that there should not be accountability, which is greatly needed. But among adults, it should occur within relationships of mutual respect. I am accountable to my husband; he is also accountable to me. As far as church matters go, we are accountable to our pastor; likewise, she is accountable to us, along with the other members of the church she planted. Children are accountable to their parents, and while the child has no power to make a parent accountable, he or she does have the protection of other adults and the law.

      Jesus taught something very important about authority in His church. He taught that it is love and servanthood that produce authority, not the other way around. If we love others, we will earn credibility with them, and as we treat them well, they will trust us more. For example, because my husband demonstrates by his actions that he loves me and wants the best for me, he has great credibility with me!  I naturally turn to him when I need someone to pray or talk things over with, and I value his point of view highly, because in addition to his godly character, I know that Richard is on my side. His love gives him authority with me, just as my love gives me authority with him. But how do you think I would react if one day my husband announced that I had to do everything he wanted?! You're right, I'd react the same way you would. "Forget it, Buster!" That wouldn't demonstrate love for me, but a desire to control me. He would lose a lot of credibility in my book.

      St. Paul's admonition to wives to submit to their husbands was based on legal requirements and the assumption that nobody would love them as much as their Christian husbands would, so they could safely trust in them. Unfortunately, that's not always the case, as many abused wives have experienced. First century wives had no rights and no options, so for them, submission was the only choice. It gave them an opportunity that might redeem an abusive situation as a witness to Christ. But the absolute authority Roman husbands exercised over their wives and children, even life and death, was never advocated by Jesus Christ.

      Jesus was very wise when He said, "The princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them and they that are great exercise authority upon them, but it shall not be so among you. But whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister, and whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant, even as the Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many." (Matthew 20:25-28)

      "It shall NOT be so among you." More than a good idea, this is the Word of God.

God's Purpose: To Set Us Free to Serve Him

      When God called the people of Israel out of Egypt, He said to Pharoah through Moses, "Let my people go that they may serve Me." That is the purpose of human freedom and one reason why freedom is good.

Another reason is that only under freedom can a human being fully reflect God's image as Sovereign. Any institution or theology that limits a person's freedom to serve Christ resists God's purposes and prevents His full image from being displayed in His people.

      We who live in the 21st century enjoy choices those early believers could hardly imagine. Restricting Christian women today as if this were God's ideal instead of ancient practice absolutizes first-century culture and relativizes eternal principle. This has misled many and reversed the liberating message of the Bible.

      Those who fail to see that God wants His people to be free are in danger of misinterpreting Scripture for their own benefit. Human selfishness is very much alive, even in the best of born-again Christians. Using Scripture to rationalize evil is not a new phenomenon. During the Abolitionist movement to free U.S. slaves, evangelical Christians defended their practice of chattel slavery on the basis of Scripture. Believing that the sons of Ham were the ancestors of Africans thus condemned to bondage, they cited Paul's commandment that slaves should obey their masters and give them good service. Several Pauline passages were used, principally Ephesians 6:5-9, Colossians 3:22, I Timothy 6:1-2, and Titus 2:9. When the Civil War came, U.S. denominations split right down the Mason Dixon line over the interpretation of these passages.

      Nowhere did Paul condemn slavery as an institution or direct Christian slaveholders to free their slaves. Some scholars believe that as a prominent Roman citizen, Paul himself may have owned slaves, including his physician, Luke. Nineteenth century slaveholders used these considerations to excuse themselves from ending slavery, even though none of them would have wanted to endure it themselves. Like conservative teachers on women today, they rationalized that their subjects benefited from being subjugated and would only be harmed by freedom, not being capable of self-government. This allowed them the illusion that their oppressive and patronizing practices were necessary and even beneficial. These arguments grew from the assumption that the masters were superior to their servants. In their minds, “all men” didn’t include blacks – or women. As social inferiors, such were considered not fully human – not “like us” — and therefore not deserving equal treatment.

      Traditionalists argued then as they do today regarding women that the Bible upheld the institutions that kept people separate and unequal. Love of wealth, power and position hardened their hearts and blinded their eyes. They could not see that for Scripture to instruct Christians not to rebel against oppressive circumstances but to be good witnesses by loving and serving their masters was not the same thing as to approve the institutions that oppressed them! Because slave-holding made them rich, they ignored the fact that the Bible also upholds the truths that all people are equally created in God's image and are answerable to Him; that Christ died for all; and that all believers are one in Christ by the indwelling Holy Spirit. These precious, eternal truths are the leaven of God’s Kingdom that is raising the whole batch of dough, bringing an increase of liberty and justice to all people, as God’s love spreads to all. May it complete its work quickly!

      As the Abolitionists pointed out, such eternal truths transcend cultural practices, including those practiced in Bible times. The principles of submitting to those in authority and voluntarily loving and serving them are indeed timeless. But the institutions of slavery and female subjection are evil, and their immoralities and injustices rampant. To rationalize them by Biblical arguments misuses Scripture. click here to continue reading this chapter in PDF...

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