Fatherhood's twin dangers...

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Since the Fall, two sins melded together have been the death of fatherly authority. Let’s pull them kicking and screaming into the open so we can take their measure and become more adept at fighting them. The Scylla and Charybdis upon which so much fatherhood is wrecked, these are the twin sins of abdication and rebellion and between them exists a parasitic symbiosis—they feed on each other.

Abdication feeds rebellion, rebellion confirms abdication, and between the two of them fatherhood shrivels and dies.

What is abdication?

It is to cast off an office and evade a responsibility...

This is characteristic of fathers today. We deny that fatherhood is an office and this allows us to evade our office’s heavy responsibilities. Pastors have removed the bride’s vow to “obey” her husband, making the husband just one of a pair of “spouses” and rendering his obligation to “husband” his wife moot. So the wife is not called to submit, the husband denies his office, and responsibility is evaded.

Why do pastors remove the word ‘obey’ from the bride’s vows in their wedding liturgies?

Because the pastor's wife hates the word. Because the pastor once tried to use it and the mother of the bride threw a fit. The bride herself threw a fit. The father of the bride and all the relatives threw a fit. If the word 'obey' is kept in the historic wedding liturgy, everyone always throws fits. 

Anyhow, someone threw a fit and that was enough for the pastor to remove the word from his wedding liturgy. Same with his mini-sermon at the weddings: he chooses his words with exquisite care so that his wedding ceremonies are entirely inoffensive. Even the most hardened rebel gets warm vibes at his weddings, and if you listen closely, you will note that nothing is said directly to one sex or the other. Matched to an androgynous age, his weddings are neutered and the people love it that way.

So it goes across our lives.

Those under authority rebel, leading those in authority to abdicate their office and responsibilities. Both sins are locked in a death grip and we must open our eyes to both, seeing how prevalent they are everywhere among everyone God has placed in authority. We must also become expert at recognizing the devious rhetorical ploys enabling these rebellions and abdications—especially those employed by Christians and especially those employed to hide abdication.

One of the most devious ploys is to pit authority against love claiming that the God of the Old Testament was a god of wrath and justice whereas the God of the New Testament is a god of grace and love. This leaves us free to side with the angels in our rebellion and abdication. We claim God is finally among us in love, and pastors and elders should be as loving as Jesus.

What’s wrong with this?

It’s wrong because all God’s perfections exist in perfect harmony. God is not authority and judgment in opposition to Jesus’s grace and love with the Holy Spirit mediating the conflict. Remember the statement of Scripture that “God so loved the world that He sent His Only Begotten Son?” The Son was sent from the love of the Father!

Further, in Christ both justice and mercy kiss. They embrace. Again, all God’s attributes are perfections and every perfection exists in perfect harmony with every other perfection in the Godhead, from eternity past to eternity future.

Let’s get specific. God disciplines His adopted sons today just as He disciplined the Sons of Israel while they wandered in the wilderness. Discipline is not Old Testament and love New Testament. Discipline and love exist in perfect harmony in both Testaments, and only where there is fatherly discipline is there fatherly love. In fact, only where there is fatherly discipline is there any true sonship.

Tell this to the young men and women of your life; explain that their father-hunger is crying out for a father’s love that is most clearly demonstrated by their father’s authority and discipline and you’ll be met with disbelief.

Yet it’s true. We don’t begin to understand the aching void of father-hunger until we understand that fatherhood without authority is fatherhood without love. Hebrews makes this clear: the son who is not disciplined is an illegitimate child. He is no son owned and loved by his father:

But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. (Hebrews 12:8)

In other words, no attempt at restoring loving fatherhood that does not at the same time restore the father’s disciplinary authority can ever be faithful to God or fruitful in His blessing. In fact, those searching for a father’s love will never know love until they’re disciplined. Let me take that a bit further: those wanting to be loved will never feel loved until they’re disciplined.

Parents see this in their children all the time. Loving discipline often produces the most tender moments between father and child. Countless fathers and mothers have seen children in Walmart who are obvious in their pleadings for boundaries, which is to say authority. It’s as if they escalate their actions seeing how much they can get away with, while at the same time desperately hoping they won’t get away with it. Desperately seeking to be loved.

Fathers, do we want our sons to feel loved? Sons, do we want to feel the love of our fathers?

If so, we must recognize it is the discipline that flows from their authority and responsibility for us that proves their love. They keep watch over our souls as men who must give an account to God. The officers—elders and pastors and deacons—of the church are fathers of God’s Household of Faith and this is the command given by God to the sons of His Household:

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.[2]

Fatherhood in the church, society, and the home is heavy with responsibility to God Who Himself made us responsible for these loved ones. God has delegated responsibility for others to us and every man is accountable to God to use this responsibility and authority for the good of the souls under his watch-care.

Every father will give an account for those he’s responsible for, and those he is responsible for will give an account for the way they have or have not submitted to his authority; they will be held accountable for their rebellion that caused him grief or for their submission that gave him joy in his work. Rebellion is always unprofitable and abdication feeds rebellion.

[1] Hebrews 12:8.

[2] Hebrews 13:17. Although this text addresses submission to church leaders (cf. Calvin’s commentary), as with the Fifth Commandment, synecdoche leads to this application to fatherhood as well.

Tim Bayly

Tim serves Clearnote Church, Bloomington, Indiana. He and Mary Lee have five children and big lots of grandchildren.

Want to get in touch? Send Tim an email!