Helping husbands be husbands

The final night of synod saw the somewhat controversial issue of the marriage vows be debated.

One of the aims of our new prayer book, Common Worship, is to safeguard the Word of God in the context of a rapidly changing world. Given this aim, some of the discussion about the second form of the marriage service was somewhat interesting.

Two seemingly opposite motions were before synod. One was to remove the only form of the marriage service that retained any gender distinctions for marriage roles. The other asked that this service be retained, but that the distinctions are strengthened.

The argument to remove the service was twofold and, I believe, flawed. The first argument was that the issue was making us unpopular in our society. There is no doubt it is, as we have experienced in recent times. However, unpopularity is part of being Christian.

Our faithfulness to the Word of God is far more important, which brings us to the second argument – that Ephesians 5 is teaching ‘mutual submission’. The context alone, in which the passage goes on to instruct children to submit to parents and likewise slaves to masters, makes this improbable. And the parallel of human marriage to the relationship between Jesus and the church makes it inconceivable on exegetical grounds.

A proper understanding of God’s Word will not be popular in a secular society, any more than Jesus was popular in first century Palestine. We are continually warned that it will not, and there is enough pressure on young Christian engaged couples to adopt secular worldviews.

While it must be remembered that Form 1 provides an option that minimises the distinctions, the very intent of Form 2 is to provide ‘for a more explicit expression of the different obligations of a man and women in Christian marriage’.

It is hard enough for young Christian couples to grapple with the Bible through the confusion of our society. I am thankful that our synod voted to strengthen the distinctions in this option. It provides a unique opportunity to talk and pray with Christians as they marry about the radical claims of the Word of God that have implications for all of life, including marriage.

The Rev Raj Gupta is the senior minister of Toongabbie Anglican Church, member of Standing Committee, and Mission Area Leader of the Parramatta Mission Area. He is also a partner with the 'Exploring Effective Ministry under God' team, and currently undertaking a Doctor of Ministry at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (TEDs).

Comments (3)

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  • Richard Blight
    October 31, 12 - 10:11am
    Hi Raj, a good summary of the issues.

    On the 'mutual submission', I found this article by Lionel Windsor spells out the details well: 'Mutual Submission? Scrutinizing a Lazy Slogan'
  • Dane Courtney
    October 31, 12 - 4:16pm
    Raj, your comments are mostly fair enough, but I would take issue with you on this:
    One was to remove the only form of the marriage service that retained any gender distinctions for marriage roles.

    The assertion that only form 2 retains any gender distinction is not true.
    The first form in Common Prayer is a variant form of AAPB Form 2. This service was created back in the 1970s and it did not seek to remove gender distinction. However, it does express gender distinction in a different way by explaining it in the introduction to the service, where it clearly sets the context for the marriage. The promises made by the husband and wife are then identical, but they are made in that context of the distinct gender differences which have already been set out.
    It is true that some feel this approach is not as clear as they would like and want an alternative which is stronger. But it is not really fair to suggest that the difference is about gender distinction vs no distinction - it is about different ways of approaching how that difference is expressed.
  • narelle jarrett
    November 7, 12 - 5:57pm
    I believe there would be fewer problems with the word 'submission' if we first carefully explained the teaching of Ephesians on the duty of the husband and the 'life laying down love' he is to daily live out in serving his wife. Unfortunately we seem fixated on explaining 'submission' which of course seems oppressive and sexist when spoken of in isolation from the husband's responsibility to love as Christ loved the church. Having attended many marriage services, I am always discomfitted by the headship of the husband being either ignored or spoken about only in terms of the wife's need to submit.