This document reflects commonly held beliefs based on scripture which have been endorsed by the church's Commission on Doctrinal Purity and the Executive Presbytery.
What does the Assemblies of God believe about leadership in the home? How does the church generally interpret the biblical instruction that the husband is the head and the wife is to be submissive to him?
The directive for husbands to be the head of the home as stated in Ephesians 5:23 should not be viewed in terms of a class system or a power structure, but rather as a matter of the husband bearing ultimate responsibility for the family. This however does not diminish the role of the wife within the family.
There exists in the Assemblies of God a wide variety of practice concerning leadership in the home and relationships between husband and wife. Marriages, like people, have personalities. As in general society, there are some marriages in which the husband or the wife seems to be the natural leader, and the other spouse is content to be the follower. However, there are also some marriages in which there is a continuing struggle between husband and wife for the leadership role. It would seem these homes have not fully grasped the meaning of Scripture concerning husband-wife relationships.
The principal Scriptures that couples struggle with are Ephesians 5:21-32. Key phrases include: "Wives, submit to your husbands...in everything," "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church," "Husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies," and "Each one of you must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband."
Faulty applications of these instructions are frequently seen. Some husbands wave the "submit" verses over their spouses, becoming domineering, dictatorial, and sometimes even abusive. They use the Bible as license to make all the decisions and handle all expenditures without consultation, feeling that these matters are none of the wife’s business. This is wrong. Some wives, on the other hand, respond by saying, "I can’t respect him. If he loved me as Christ loves the Church, I would submit. But since he won’t, I won’t." Such action by either one creates a barrier in the marriage.
The key to proper relationships between husband and wife lies in the first verse of the passage: "Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ" (Ephesians 5:21). From another passage of Scripture comes a general directive that is greatly needed in the marriage relationship. "Be devoted to one another...Honor one another above yourselves" (Romans 12:10). When we put all these biblical admonitions together, we see the ideal relationship between husband and wife is that all decisions be shared openly, and made prayerfully and biblically, with each spouse desiring to please the other and to seek together what is best for the family.
Yet there will come times when a couple will disagree, even while each spouse is unselfishly seeking what he or she feels is best. It is obvious that family life cannot come to a halt because of a marital stalemate. In such rare instances, the Bible’s directive allows the husband’s decision to take precedence, and the wife is to defer to his decision. This pattern of last-resort decision making should not become normative for a Christian marriage; however it is God’s design, one that allows a family to make decisions in hard places and keep moving forward with His blessing. If it becomes a regular method of operation, something is wrong in the basic relationship between husband and wife. A good marriage is one in which the relationship between the husband and the wife is characterized by mutual love, respect, submission, and servanthood.
But what if one spouse ignores scriptural teaching altogether? What if the husband always behaves like a tyrant or the wife consistently wants her own selfish way? In such cases how can marriages survive?
Based on the Bible’s admonition of Mark 10:9 we know that God’s design for marriage is for a permanent, indissoluble covenant between husband and wife. The Bible says, "What God has joined together, let man not separate." In light of this truth each marriage partner should seek to lovingly obey and fulfill his or her part of the marriage regardless of how poorly a mate is personally fulfilling his or her role. Though responding in love to a seemingly uncaring and/or unloving spouse may be difficult, such action is scriptural (1 Corinthians 7:12, 13) and may lead to the healing of the relationship.
However, there may be times when the scriptural demands of the marriage covenant are so violated, as in the case of long-term or violent physical abuse, that serious assessment is needed (see question 8, concerning Abuse). Nowhere in scripture has God called wives or husbands to endure violence, physical battering, or habitual infidelity. In such cases the victimized spouse should seek competent Christian counsel. Every effort must be made to preserve the marriage whenever possible. Though society readily accepts divorce as the solution to unhappy marriages, Christians are called to give every effort to work through marital difficulties in obedience to God’s Word.
The above statement is based upon our common understanding of scriptural teaching.
All Scripture quotations are from the New International Version (NIV) unless otherwise specified.