Heath Lambert: Our guest on the podcast this week is Caroline Newheiser. She is a certified member of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors, and she is the wife to Jim Neweiser, a fellow at ACBC and a member of the board. And we are here this week with Caroline to talk about the issue, not just of submission of a wife to her husband, but a wife’s submission to her husband when she actually believes he’s wrong. Before we get to the most sensitive areas of the discussion, Caroline, I want to ask you just initially, why should Christians be concerned about the topic of submission at all? What’s the issue with a wife submitting to her husband, and why is that a concern for Christians?
Caroline Newheiser: That is a very good question, Heath, because our culture is teaching against submission. So our culture is telling us that we should be our own women and not honor the structure which God gives in the Bible. Clearly, in the beginning, He said Eve was to be a help to her husband, and that is the role of a wife, and submission fits into that because her job as a helper is to follow his leadership respectfully. And because God wrote the plan for marriage, and it’s the best plan, then that’s why we want to talk about it.
Heath Lambert: Okay, so Christians care about submission because God does, and He tells us about it in the Bible. What is submission, though? There are so many different understandings of it out there; people can have a negative response to the idea and find out later they didn’t even really understand what they are upset about. So when Christians say a wife should submit to her husband, what does that mean?
Caroline Newheiser: It means to follow the leadership structure which God has set up. As God is the head of the man, and the man is the head of the wife, that is His perfect plan. And we see Christ fitting into that. He was submitted to the Father, we learn in 1 Corinthians 11. It doesn’t mean inferiority because Christ was obviously not inferior to the Father, and He submitted Himself. So it’s just an organizational structure that works the best way because God set it up the best way.
Heath Lambert: Okay, so a husband is designed by God in the institution of marriage to have real authority over his wife. And yet, we would probably want to argue as Christians that that authority is not exhaustive, right?
Caroline Newheiser: That’s right.
Heath Lambert: So what are some times when a wife should not submit to the real authority of her husband?
Caroline Newheiser: That is a good question, and this is when women struggle. And thankfully, the Bible gives principles such as Acts 5:29, which says, “we must obey God, rather than men.” So God says He is the ultimate authority. So we come to God, and we might pray and say, well, we need to ask God’s help to understand what we should do—especially when her husband is not following God’s way. But the husband never has the right to tell a wife to sin. So, his authority is limited in that aspect. So he can’t say that women are not to go to church or that his wife should keep a secret that he wants to be kept in the home, but if it’s a secret that is endangering his spiritual life, he doesn’t have the authority to tell her to not get help.
Heath Lambert: To tell the pastor, for example.
Caroline Newheiser: Exactly.
Heath Lambert: So when a husband asks his wife to sin, she should not submit to that. What about when a husband asks his wife to do something that is not a sin but that she just really doesn’t like—it is not her preference at all? Maybe in a situation where there are two great churches, for example, and a wife really, really loves one church, they’re not Unitarian or anything like that, but for all kinds of reasons, the husband decides that we’re going to go to the second church and the wife just really doesn’t prefer it. How can a wife work through submission when she disagrees with a non-sinful decision that her husband makes?
Caroline Newheiser: I’m so glad you asked that because so many women come to counseling with that question. What she needs to realize is she’s not prohibited from giving her opinion and giving counsel. That is being a help to her husband. So she has a right to say her opinion and give all the reasons. But it’s not submission if he just goes along and does what she wants, right? So submission is defined as following when you have a different idea, which that’s why I love the question. But her first position is to realize she’s placed under God, and God is her head as well. So prayer is what should happen. She should pray. 1 Peter 3 says that she should not be fearful and be respectful. So, we’re so thankful that those principles are there. And in my personal situation, a few times, I have said to my husband, “I will pray for you to have wisdom in making that decision.” And my husband’s response to that is, “I realize I am under God, so I’m thankful I have a wife who’s helping me. And if she doesn’t agree..” Again, you’re placing yourself under God in His loving leadership over her husband, which is over her, and realizing that she doesn’t need to fear because she’s held in God’s hands.
Heath Lambert: So there can be hope and joy even if your husband goes a different way. Okay, sometimes it can be really challenging to know whether something is a sin or not. In the context of a conflict in marriage, sometimes preferences can be so strong that it’s hard to know that it’s not a sin. Or, sometimes, a sinful request can be so subtle that it’s hard to know that this isn’t a preference. And so, what counsel would you give for a wife and a husband, maybe even together, to decide whether this is a sinful request or not?
Caroline Newheiser: I would even start before that and say that this is the beauty of women working with other women, that a woman can go and ask advice from another lady without gossiping. Saying, “I’m in this struggle. Can you tell me what you think is best as a wiser older woman?” That’s the Titus principle. So she could do that, but the husband and wife together, if a decision is not made hastily, then we have time to pray and search the Scriptures.