On the State of Patriarchy Past and Present

An Interview with Zachary Garris on Honor Thy Fathers

Editor’s note: Some of the interview questions below appeared briefly at the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood and are used here with the permission of the author.

Q: Zachary, you have a new book, Honor Thy Fathers, out from New Christendom Press that’s creating quite a stir. Briefly, what’s the book about? Disclaimer: Mike Sabo has reviewed the book for American Reformer.

ZG: Honor Thy Fathers surveys 16th– and 17th-century Reformed theologians on the subject of male rule in the home, church, and commonwealth. The second part of the book then contrasts this with views found in the modern Reformed world, providing some biblical, theological, and historical critique. The general thesis of the book is that the church today, including many of those who use the labels “Reformed” and “complementarian,” have significantly deviated from traditional Reformed theology regarding male leadership.

Q: Tell us a bit about the impetus for writing and about the source material involved.

ZG: A few years ago, I wrote a book called Masculine Christianity, which was an exegetical and theological defense of the traditional Reformed view of male headship, as well as a critique of feminism and narrow complementarianism. That book interacted some with men like John Calvin and William Gouge, but I thought another book would complement this work by focusing more on the historical argument. I pulled some material from Masculine Christianity to start, but Honor Thy Fathers heavily expanded the material from the Reformers and Reformed orthodox, as well as the critiques of modern Reformed teachers like Tim Keller. The sources for older Reformed theologians have been significantly aided by increased accessibility of their works. This includes modern English translations of those who wrote in Latin and Dutch, as well as university websites making the original English works of Puritans easily accessible (e.g., Thomas Cartwright, William Perkins, and William Gouge).

Q: Is it fair to say that, historically speaking, present assumptions are an anomaly? What happened?

ZG: I think the simple answer is that feminism happened. Attacks on male headship began in the 19th century, but really came to dominate the Western landscape by the end of the 20th century. Of course, ideology has been aided by things like the birth control pill and legal abortion (reducing family size), technology (making the work at home easier), and industrialization (driving work outside the home). This has pushed wives away from the home and has minimized natural differences between men and women. All of this has made egalitarian ideology seem more realistic, as women are often able to carry out the same duties and work as men, despite obvious natural differences affecting child rearing and manual labor. Although such egalitarian ideology runs contrary to Scripture, it no longer has as large of a cultural hurdle.

Q: Retrieving the Reformed tradition the way you do would, one would think, make it difficult to argue with. Much of the book is just primary sources. That said, what’s the reception been like?

ZG: So far, the reception has been positive. I believe there is a deep hunger in the church for the plain teaching and application of Scripture, as well as the practical teaching of the Reformers and Reformed orthodox. Family life is so important to all of us, and we need guidance in how to relate to the spouse God has given us, how to raise our children, and how to structure and manage the home. Moreover, Christians continue to face pressure to accommodate feminism, both from inside and outside the church. So, my goal in writing on this subject is simply to take Christians back to the Bible and our spiritual forefathers in the faith. I hope this book will help persuade Christians and non-Christians of the goodness and usefulness of the traditional Christian teaching on the family and male rule.

Q: Let’s move to our contemporary context and some normative, we might say, answers from yourself which can, obviously, include things you’ve learned from putting your book together. What do you believe the Bible teaches about God’s design for men and women, particularly in the home and the church? How do you view the relationship between the Bible’s teaching on the proper order of the home and the proper order of the church?

ZG: God has designed men to be leaders in the home and church, and He has designed men to ordinarily lead in civil government. In the case of marriage, the husband as head is given the primary duties to protect and provide for his family. The wife is to submit to her husband, with her primary duties being toward children and the home (1 Tim. 5:14; Titus 2:4-5). The home is the “seminary” of the church and civil government, as older Reformed theologians like William Perkins said. This means that male headship extends out from the home to the church and the civil government, both of which are collections of families. The New Testament makes the connection between the home and church explicit, as an elder in the church is to manage his household well and thus model godly rule in the home (1 Tim. 3:4-5).   

Q: What limits, if any, do you believe the Bible places on women serving in the church?

ZG: The Bible prohibits women from holding church office, whether that be pastor (teaching elder), ruling elder, or deacon. However, in some cases women should assist the deacons (1 Tim. 3:11), and women should teach children and train younger women (Titus 2:3-5). When it comes to public worship, women are not permitted to speak publicly in the assembly but are to be “quiet” and “in submission”  (1 Tim. 2:11-12; 1 Cor. 14:34-35). This means women are not to preach sermons, lead prayer in public worship (which teaches by example and represents the congregation before God), or read Scripture in public worship (which is connected to the preaching of the Word). In accordance with the Reformed tradition, the entire public worship service is to be led by men, primarily those trained and set apart for the teaching of the Word (1 Tim. 3:2; Titus 1:9). By extension, women are prohibited from teaching theology to men in public settings, including Sunday school. Further, only pastors and elders should administer and distribute the sacraments because they are tied with the preaching of God’s Word.

Q: How would you evaluate the fidelity of your denomination as a whole and its member churches individually regarding the Bible’s teaching on men and women?

ZG: The constitution of the Presbyterian Church in America (the Westminster Standards and the Book of Church Order) is faithful to the Bible’s teaching on men and women. The PCA teaches male headship in the home, limits the offices of elder and deacon to men (BCO 7-2), and prohibits women from preaching sermons in public worship (BCO 12-5(e)). However, PCA churches vary in practice beyond this. Many churches only permit men, usually pastors and elders, to lead in public worship. However, some churches permit women to read Scripture and lead prayer in public worship (though generally not the “pastoral prayer”), and some even permit women to teach theology to men in public settings, such as Sunday school. Some churches also “commission” women as deaconesses instead of ordaining them (because women’s ordination is prohibited by the BCO), leading to confusion, especially when churches list such women along with men under their list of “deacons.”

Q: What direction would you like to see your denomination head regarding the Bible’s teaching on men and women?

ZG: I would like the PCA to embrace more fully its confessional standards and theological heritage by joyfully practicing and teaching male headship rather than shying away from God’s good design because of cultural pressure. Rather than seeking to involve women in as much of the public worship service as possible (short of preaching), we should entrust preaching, teaching, leading prayer, and the public reading of Scripture to the pastors and elders called by God for such tasks (along with licentiates and men training for the ministry). Rather than commissioning women as deaconesses, sessions should appoint men and women as “assistants to the deacons” (BCO 9-7). PCA pastors should also regularly praise and encourage women who take up the high calling of motherhood and homemaking instead of careers outside the home.

Image Credit: Unsplash

Print article

Share This

Timon Cline

Timon Cline is the Editor in Chief at American Reformer. He is an attorney and a fellow at the Craig Center at Westminster Theological Seminary and the Director of Scholarly Initiatives at the Hale Institute of New Saint Andrews College. His writing has appeared in the American Spectator, Mere Orthodoxy, American Greatness, Areo Magazine, and the American Mind, among others. He writes regularly at Modern Reformation and Conciliar Post.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *