Kathryn J. Riss (M.Div., Trinity Evangelical Divinity School; Th.M., Princeton Theological Seminary)
was ordained a pastor in 1992 with her husband, church historian Richard M. Riss. A gifted preacher, she serves on the FISH Hospitality Program Board and as CORE coordinator for United Protestant Marriage Encounter, New Jersey.” In her book, Journey’s End, Kathryn illuminates passages that have puzzled Christians for generations and have too often been misused to hurt women which God never intended. Let Journey’s End answer your questions and settle your heart. An excerpt from Chapter 7 of Journey’s End, Removing “Biblical” Barriers Between Women and their Destiny, Kathryn J. Riss, ThM, is included below. View the entire Chapter entitled “Authority Relationships Among Believers,” in pdf here. To
Order Journey's End Online.
Relationships Among Believers
Journey’s End, Removing
“Biblical” Barriers Between Women and Their Destiny
By Rev. Kathryn J. Riss,
the past 20-25 years, in many evangelical
circles, systems of "shepherding" or "authority
were vigorously promoted. Although the extremes of this movement are
self-evident and some repentance has taken place, we are still affected
by the aftermath of an ideology that exalted leaders
beyond their legitimate authority. This has affected teachings
regarding the relations between men and women, especially married couples.
We need to clarify the boundaries of legitimate authority, both so that
those who would benefit from it will not be afraid to submit to godly
authority and so that those called to leadership will understand the
limits of their responsibilities.
Authority is Always Limited; Only Divine
Authority is Absolute
we need to understand that only God has
absolute authority. We can trust Him to
exercise it, too! Each person and especially each believer is directly
answerable to God and is under God's own watchful, loving,
protective eye. No matter what mistakes a Christian makes, we can trust
that "He who has begun a good work in you will perform it to the
day of Jesus Christ" (Philippians 1:6).
That should take the pressure off of parents, pastors, and teachers
who watch over the souls of others. No one is liable for the sins of
other people! Nor does being in a position of authority give a license
to do whatever one likes. Even parents do not hold absolute authority
over their children; the law
sets limits they must abide by.
we should understand that since we have been created in God's
image, He has given each human
being a will. We will all be judged eternally for the choices we make
with the will God has given us. Therefore, we must all learn how to
make wise decisions. This is done by exercising the will and receiving
back the consequences of each choice, whether good or bad. In this way,
we learn from experience what God approves and what He does not. Through
Providence, God directs the reactions of other people and circumstances
to respond appropriately to our choices in a life-long process of learning
wisdom. Therefore, no capable adults should let others make their decisions
for them. No one has more knowledge about or concern for your affairs
than you do! And God holds you responsible for your stewardship over
your own life.
human will is neither good nor evil, but
the unregenerate will is fallen, and must be re-educated according to
God's Word. Our conscience is educated and
sensitized by God’s Word, as the Holy Spirit
uses Scripture to bring conviction and repentance
from sin. Thus, each Christian has the responsibility to study and apply
the Bible to his or her life. We are to cooperate with God as our Teacher,
growing in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus
we should understand that in His mercy, God
has given us means of correction and grace; that among these are secular
authorities, our parents, and the leadership
ministries of the Christian church. These
are all intended for our benefit. As young children,
we are to obey our parents; however as we
grow into adulthood, we must increasingly think through options and
learn to make our own decisions. Thus, parental authority
decreases over time, as adolescents mature.
adults, we are to obey secular authorities
in everything not contradictory to God's
Word. And we are to honor Christian leaders.
We are to respect their authority within
the church and we are to value their counsel
highly, taking other factors such as Scripture,
Providence, conscience and the advice of others into account. For example,
if church leaders decide that the Sunday service should start at 10:00,
we should be there at10:00, not 11:00. But if they counsel us not to
marry someone we are engaged to, we must
consider their counsel very carefully but make our own decision. God
has given the authority to make that kind of choice to those directly
affected, not to anybody else. Therefore, we must each develop good
the church, we are all equal
in that we have all received the Spirit of God.
We should acknowledge this by honoring all Christians; thus we honor
Christ. However, we are obviously not all equal in spiritual maturity
or Christian character. Therefore, God gives us leaders
who teach, preach,
and model His truth for us. Their role
is both supportive and corrective; supportive to our development into
greater maturity and usefulness and corrective when we stray from Christ.
Christian leaders are therefore admonished to pray for and love
the members of their flocks; Christian followers are admonished to love
and honor their leaders. But no leader is perfect or without sin, nor
is any follower without the Holy Spirit.
Therefore, counsel is always limited by the believer's responsibility
to decide. A leader should counsel and pray for followers, but is not
responsible for the choices they make. And followers should heed Godly
counsel, but cannot absolve themselves of the responsibility for their
actions. In everything, we are to be led by the Spirit of God speaking
through the Word of God.
believers who are married to each other, there is greater unity
and therefore greater mutual responsibility. Decisions that would ordinarily
be made by an adult alone now affect others, so they must be made mutually.
For example, a husband cannot unilaterally
decide that he will not come home until late at night, because his wife
needs his help with the children, and they
need time with their father. So, husband
and wife must talk it over and decide together
what is the best course of action. Usually, they will work out some
compromise. Nor can one parent decide to bank his or her own paycheck
and not pool resources to support the family.
God requires that parents provide for their
children; this sort of selfishness is not an option, even if the other
partner should agree to it. As husband and wife
talk over and pray about decisions, Christian character and maturity
develop in them both.
err in exercising authority when we take
it beyond its bounds, applying it inappropriately. Gender
hierarchy proponents teach
that husbands should make all the decisions and wives
should go along with them. That inappropriately removes responsibility
from the wife, treating her as if she were
not the Christian adult she is, but a child
incapable of making decisions. It also inappropriately treats the husband
as if he were infallible, which he obviously is not. Likewise, proponents
of the shepherding movement teach that everyone has to be "under
the covering" of someone else, and that no leader
can act independently. So much for Jesus
Christ, Deborah, and John the Baptist!
Such views are thin disguises for the desire to control others.
is not to say that there should not be accountability, which is greatly
needed. But among adults, it should occur within relationships of mutual
respect. I am accountable to my husband;
he is also accountable to me. As far as church
matters go, we are accountable to our pastor; likewise, she is accountable
to us, along with the other members of the church she planted. Children
are accountable to their parents, and while the child
has no power to make a parent accountable, he or she does have the protection
of other adults and the law.
taught something very important about authority
in His church. He taught that it is love
and servanthood that produce authority, not the other way around. If
we love others, we will earn credibility with them, and as we treat
them well, they will trust us more. For example, because my husband
demonstrates by his actions that he loves me and wants the best for
me, he has great credibility with me! I naturally turn to him
when I need someone to pray or talk things over with, and I value his
point of view highly, because in addition to his godly character, I
know that Richard is on my side. His love gives him authority with me,
just as my love gives me authority with him. But how do you think I
would react if one day my husband announced that I had to do everything
he wanted?! You're right, I'd react the same way you would. "Forget
it, Buster!" That wouldn't demonstrate love for me, but a desire
to control me. He would lose a lot of credibility in my book.
Paul's admonition to wives
to submit to their husbands
was based on legal requirements and the
assumption that nobody would love them as
much as their Christian husbands would, so they could safely trust in
them. Unfortunately, that's not always the case, as many abused wives
have experienced. First century wives had no rights and no options,
so for them, submission was the only choice.
It gave them an opportunity that might redeem
an abusive situation as a witness to Christ.
But the absolute authority Roman
husbands exercised over their wives and children,
even life and death, was never advocated by Jesus
was very wise when He said, "The princes of the Gentiles
exercise dominion over them and they that are great exercise authority
upon them, but it shall not be so among you. But whosoever will be great
among you, let him be your minister, and
whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant, even as
the Son of Man came not to be ministered
unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many."
shall NOT be so among you." More than a good idea, this is the
Word of God.
Purpose: To Set Us Free to Serve Him
God called the people of Israel out of Egypt,
He said to Pharoah through Moses, "Let my people go that they may
serve Me." That is the purpose of human
freedom and one reason why freedom is good.
Another reason is that only under freedom
can a human being fully reflect God's image
as Sovereign. Any institution or theology
that limits a person's freedom to serve Christ resists God's purposes
and prevents His full image from being displayed in His people.
who live in the 21st century enjoy choices those early believers could
hardly imagine. Restricting Christian women today as if this were God's
ideal instead of ancient practice absolutizes first-century culture
and relativizes eternal principle. This has misled many and reversed
the liberating message of the Bible.
who fail to see that God wants His people
to be free are in danger of misinterpreting Scripture
for their own benefit. Human selfishness
is very much alive, even in the best of born-again Christians. Using
Scripture to rationalize evil is not a new phenomenon. During the Abolitionist
movement to free U.S. slaves, evangelical
Christians defended their practice of chattel slavery
on the basis of Scripture. Believing that the sons of Ham were the ancestors
of Africans thus condemned to bondage, they cited Paul's
commandment that slaves should obey
their masters and give them good service. Several Pauline passages were
used, principally Ephesians
6:5-9, Colossians 3:22, I Timothy 6:1-2, and Titus 2:9. When the Civil
War came, U.S. denominations split right down the Mason Dixon line over
the interpretation of these passages.
did Paul condemn slavery
as an institution or direct Christian slaveholders to free their slaves.
Some scholars believe that as a prominent Roman
citizen, Paul himself may have owned slaves, including his physician,
Luke. Nineteenth century slaveholders used
these considerations to excuse themselves from ending slavery, even
though none of them would have wanted to endure it themselves. Like
conservative teachers on women today, they
rationalized that their subjects benefited from being subjugated and
would only be harmed by freedom, not being capable of self-government.
This allowed them the illusion that their oppressive and patronizing
practices were necessary and even beneficial. These arguments grew from
the assumption that the masters were superior to their servants. In
their minds, “all men” didn’t include blacks – or women. As
social inferiors, such were considered not fully human
– not “like us” — and therefore not deserving equal
argued then as they do today regarding women that the Bible
upheld the institutions that kept people separate and unequal. Love
of wealth, power and position hardened their hearts and blinded their
eyes. They could not see that for Scripture to instruct
Christians not to rebel against oppressive circumstances but to be good
witnesses by loving and serving their masters was not the same thing
as to approve the institutions that oppressed them! Because slave-holding
made them rich, they ignored the fact that the Bible also upholds the
truths that all people are equally created
in God's image
and are answerable to Him; that Christ died for all; and that all believers
are one in Christ by the indwelling Holy Spirit.
These precious, eternal truths are the leaven of God’s Kingdom that
is raising the whole batch of dough, bringing an increase of liberty
and justice to all people, as God’s love spreads to all. May it complete
its work quickly!
the Abolitionists pointed out, such eternal truths
transcend cultural practices, including
those practiced in Bible times. The principles
of submitting to those in authority and
voluntarily loving and serving them are
indeed timeless. But the institutions of slavery
and female subjection
are evil, and their immoralities and injustices rampant. To rationalize
them by Biblical arguments misuses Scripture. click here to continue reading this chapter in PDF...