Breaking the Marital Impasse: How Authority and Submission Work When Spouses Disagree -- By: Heath Lambert

Journal: Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood
Volume: JBMW 15:2 (Fall 2010)
Article: Breaking the Marital Impasse: How Authority and Submission Work When Spouses Disagree
Author: Heath Lambert


Breaking the Marital Impasse:
How Authority and Submission Work
When Spouses Disagree

Heath Lambert

Assistant Professor of Biblical Counseling

Boyce College

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

Louisville, Kentucky

Ted and Elizabeth had been members of a church I pastored for many years. Both lived committed Christian lives and were integrally involved in ministry for our congregation. One morning Elizabeth requested a meeting with me to discuss a “very difficult” issue in their marriage. I met with her and Ted that afternoon. As we talked it became clear that the problem concerned Elizabeth’s leadership of our church’s preschool ministry. Elizabeth loved the work, but life in their home was crazy. Ted was forced to work longer hours at work, their family was growing, and another ministry they shared in the church was quickly multiplying. Ted did not believe it was wise for Elizabeth to continue to supervise the preschoolers.

They had been discussing this issue for weeks, but could not agree on a course of action. Finally, Ted “put his foot down” and made the final decision. Elizabeth would have to resign from the ministry. Elizabeth was stunned, angry, and hurt. In her anger she told him she would never quit. After 24 hours of conflict, Elizabeth called me for help.

How should complementarians evaluate this situation? With regard to the issues of headship and authority in marriage, biblically responsible complementarians have been faithful to articulate that wives must not submit to their husbands when to do so would lead them into sin. That qualification is good and biblical.1 It does not, however, answer all of the questions. What about the kinds of situations where the black and white of sin and righteousness blend into the muted gray of ambiguity? What would wise, biblical counsel sound like in real-life situations where conservative Christian spouses disagree about the nature of submission and the parameters of marital authority? What is a wife to do when she feels uncomfortable submitting to her husband in an area, but cannot quote “chapter and verse” that it is a sin. Any faithful pastor can attest that these are the kinds of issues that couples face every day as they try to work out a complementarian structure of marriage in the context of real life. How can Christians striving to be faithful to the biblical teaching on authority and submission in marriage work through these issues?

Steven Tracy raises these same concerns in his article, “What Does ‘Submit in Everything’ Really Mean? The Nature and Scope of Marital Submission,” in a 2008 issue of Trinity Jou...

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