The Patriarchs Are Coming! -- By: Del Birkey

Journal: Priscilla Papers
Volume: PP 014:2 (Spring 2000)
Article: The Patriarchs Are Coming!
Author: Del Birkey


The Patriarchs Are Coming!

Why Are They Arriving On The Scene And In Our Churches?

Del Birkey

Del Birkey is a graduate of Columbia International University, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and holds the D.Min. from Bethany Theological Seminary. His pastoral and teaching ministry includes intentional church renewal through the house church model; he is the author of The House Church: A Model for Renewing the Church (Herald, 1988).

The partriarchs are coming to church! But what kind of persons would claim such an epithet? In fact, the neopatriarchs who are now coming are those who identify with the ancient, old-order patriarchy. And why are they now arriving on the scene and in our churches? And what is their agenda, hidden or spoken?

Simply put, the neopatriarchs now coming are men who perceive a personal advantage by identifying with ancient, old-order patriarchy. They prefer to be known as complementarians. Regardless, this description is ambiguous, since rather than “complementing” equal relationships with women these men advocate perpetuating an authoritative “chain-of-command” lordship over them. They are, in fact, traditional hierarchalists who are promoting an agenda that advocates “Christian patriarchy” for the twenty-first century church and seeking a firmer base to practice hierarchical headship in the church and home.

What Patriarchy Is

What exactly is patriarchy? Socially and culturally defined, it is that form of social organization in which the father is the head of the family, clan, or tribe . . . in which power is held and transferred through males (and) the principles or philosophy upon which control by male authority is based. It is government, rule, power, and domination by men.1 As such, patriarchy is a de facto system of sovereign ownership based on gender.

In the early biblical narrative, patriarchy (patriarches) refers specifically to the forefathers of Israel—Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph and his brothers, and to the direct descendants of David. These Old Testament patriarchs were sovereign chiefs of pastoral-nomadic clans wherein they wielded great power. They were very wealthy, they owned slaves, and they were usually polygamous.

In light of that description of biblical patriarchy and of hierarchalists’ affirmation and defense of it, we wonder: Are these modern men also direct blood descendants of David? Are they Middle Eastern agrarian leaders of roaming clans, or do they live with their minuscule nuclear family in suburbia? And defending the authority of the patriarchs as their own authority as well, do they also defend their right to o...

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