For centuries, Christians have endured the worst kinds of stereotypes the world could offer. When early Christians recited John 6:53 (“unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink of his blood, you have no life in you”), Romans labeled them cannibals. When Christians protested the drunkenness and gambling of Elizabethan England, they were mocked as “Puritans.” After losing the battle for the Ten Commandments in public schools, even a name like “fundamentalist” was turned into a pejorative term. Today the name-calling continues. This month Princeton Seminary rescinded their Abraham Kuyper Prize of Excellence from New York pastor Tim Keller for his position opposing the ordination of women, a position held for millennia as the orthodox teaching of the church. The Presbyterian pastor’s stance (identical to Abraham Kuyper’s) has been called everything from “toxic” to “abuse.” Today, in more and more corners of the country, a church that speaks out in support of unborn life can be accused of “hate speech” against women. In America as in ancient Rome, you will know them by their fruits…and their stereotypes.
Unfortunately, today’s stereotypes not only come from unbelievers; they also come from inside the church. Unfamiliar with a bygone age of “I Love Lucy” and “Leave It To Beaver,” a new generation of younger Christians now emerges without the cultural assumptions that were made 50 years ago. In churches that neglect to teach the beauty of God’s design and order between the sexes, words like “authority” and “head” appear increasingly oppressive and archaic. (2 Tim. 2:12-13) Even inside the church, popular stereotypes can begin to take shape in Christians’ minds when pastors discuss the “submission” of the wife to the husband. (1 Pet. 3:1) Images of exhausted, frail women with aprons or skillets or brooms are accompanied with mental pictures of overworked, detached husbands sleeping lazily on the couch waiting for dinner. It’s a stereotype. And unless it’s confronted with Scripture, it persists in the direction that our world chooses to take it. The problem is worsened when, instead of clarifying the misunderstandings about gender and wiping away the cultural caricatures, the church chooses something worse than silence: it surrenders to the sexual revolution. Instead of celebrating the differences between the sexes as a unique reflection of the Christ-church relationship, a church can begin to wipe them out completely, as if roles were interchangeable instead of God-designed and Gospel-driven. (1 Cor. 11:3, Eph. 5:22-33)
In order to address the rampant stereotypes that exist in the church concerning gender roles, pastors and parents must be willing to stand confidently upon the Scriptures that speak so clearly about the beautiful dynamic between man and woman. Contrary to modern stereotypes, the Bible doesn’t present women as inferior or needy or “lower” than men, but as imagers of God and co-heirs in His kingdom whose mutual interdependence with men is the basis for human life itself. (1 Cor. 11:12, 1 Pet. 3:7) However, it takes much more than reciting Bible verses to demonstrate the beauty of marriage as God purposed it. Like Eve’s frustration in the garden, the gender stereotypes faced by the church today emerge from a fundamental hatred of God’s sovereign ability to determine how His universe is ordered. (Gen. 3:4-5, 16) For pastors and parents to successfully combat this Satanic spirit of rebellion, the Gospel must be presented as clearly in the kitchen as it is from the pulpit.
The best way to squash an unbiblical stereotype in the church is by living out a biblical marriage in the home. Two Christ-exalting, self-emptying spouses can do more to confirm the truth of the Gospel than two Americanized cultural co-parents can do to discredit it. The war of stereotypes in the church began with an abundance of Christian couples that professed Christ with their lips but their marriages were far from Him. Thankfully, the war of stereotypes is won with the initiating, self-sacrificing leadership of the husband coupled with the loving, humble submission of the wife, not merely confessing gender roles but celebrating them as a picture of the Gospel. A faithful husband and wife with complementing roles proclaim the Gospel best when the world can see that they agree with God in his Garden verdict: this is very good. (Gen. 1:31) Being unashamed of the Gospel means being unashamed of a marriage that reflects that very message.
Believe it or not, a Christian marriage centered on the Gospel is quite unstereotypical. The husband doesn’t take advantage of the woman or ignore her feelings. On the contrary, like Jesus and the church, he is the initiator. He faithfully pursues her years after the wedding. He gives his life for her. He doesn’t take her for granted. He loves her. Conversely, in a biblical marriage, the woman doesn’t feel trapped. Her hopes and dreams aren’t stunted underneath an oppressive and domineering husband. According to God’s design in a marriage with complementing roles, a woman is fulfilled and is able to express her personality best when she serves her husband and is cherished and supported by him. Want to kill a bad Christian marital stereotype? Meet a husband and wife who desire solely to reflect the beauty of Christ and the church in their marriage. (Eph. 5:22-33) There you won’t find bondage and bullying. Only the freedom to give everything.