The Two Shall Become One Flesh: Pastors, Wives, and Reformation

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I would argue that one of the crowning jewels of the Reformation was that Pastors were allowed to marry once again. I for one, am enjoying the blessings and challenges of being married as I go through seminary and head towards the ministry. What happened during the Reformation was that the Reformers raised the calling of a woman to be a godly wife of a pastor in the Church, and blessed the minister in his loneliness with a help-meet. I would argue that this Reformational initiative multiplied the effectiveness of pastoral ministery a hundred fold, at least when done Biblically. What a gift!

Just a bit of background. My Mom and a number of aunts are married to pastors. If the Lord wills, my wife will be married to a pastor. Now, notice that I didn’t use term, the Pastor’s wife. It’s not that I really make a big hoopla about that term, but sometimes we do need to switch up the terminology a bit.

I recently read an article on the Gospel Coalition by a lady named Shari Thomas. She made a lot of true statements, but I found it disappointing that she stated a lot of aspects of her identity as negative. She makes certain statements like this: “She’s not an appendage of the pastor. She may even have differing political, social, and biblical views than her spouse.” Again, she states: “After years of serving in pastoral ministry, some women confess a sense of loss, of not even knowing themselves. They were too busy serving where needed. On the other hand, others may be minimally involved in church ministry with a calling focused outside the church.”

Now, there are a lot of things a woman married to a Pastor has to struggle with. There are sinful expectations, gossip, sinful criticism, financial struggles, stress and ambiguity. Of course, these are the things that many Christian women have to struggle with in their various situations and with their husbands. That being said, these are also things that her husband has to struggle with, so maybe the question also is, how is he dealing with it?

This question is a question largely of identity. Well, both your pastor and his wife and every Christian believer must confess what the Bible confesses: “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” (Col. 1:3-4) So when a pastor and his wife serve and live godly lives they do this first of all as those who have been hidden with God in Christ.

Now, we all have a name. John, Mary, Tim, Susan, etc. That name which is sinful by nature is bathed by Christ. When John marries Mary and Tim marries Susan, something happens that touches down the very depth of their created nature. Jesus makes this plain in Mark 10: 6-9 “But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” So at point #2 in Shari’s article, I would suggest a rephrasing: I am not an appendage of my husband, we are a team, we have a joint calling to serve the Lord where He has placed us as a unit.

So lets back up and look at the qualifications for a bishop in I Tim. 3. Let’s not put the trailer before the pick-up truck. Paul doesn’t say that you have to be a certain way because you are a pastor and his wife. Paul lays out his expectations for office-bearers based on certain pre-requisites to becoming a pastor and his wife, these expectations are laid on the whole family. He must “be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive…” (I Tim. 3:2-4) So the Apostle Paul would look at a congregation and see the growth in holiness of certain individuals: he would see a husband loving his wife as his own body and a woman respectfully submitting to her husband (Eph. 5: 22-33). When he saw that family unit, he would recognize the gift in a man to lead in the church.

Back to the Reformation. Calvin and Bucer and Luther restored the glorious calling to be the wife of a pastor when they married godly Christian women who were willing to serve. I don’t know if Calvin’s wife was able to play piano, and I really don’t care. Luther’s wife definitely wasn’t a sweet mild woman who played the submissive doormat stereotypical of the Victorian era. They were Christian women who feared the Lord and not men, and suffered alongside their husbands as they worked for Reformation and the advance of the gospel. And a lot of suffering they had to take. Just consider the fire of criticism that Luther’s wife had to take for leaving behind her vows at the nunnery.

Various women who marry pastors have various gifts, but their calling is with their husbands, to be a helpmeet, to serve as a team, and to endure and rejoice in suffering together as husband and wife. You will not find a woman who has a different calling, maybe different gifts (which she can also use in her own way in the community), but their calling is together. Obviously there are a lot of points of wisdom, which all men who are leaders are in the process of learning, but there are also ways in which women can help their men to lead (which they are also in the process of learning). Just as we see a diversity of godly pastors, we also see a diversity of godly pastors wives. Just read about the women of the Reformation. Elise Crapuchettes has a wonderful speech entitled Reformational Women: Popes and Feminists; Reformers and Wives spoken here. She also brings out the wide range of personalities and gifts among the wives of the Reformers.

These are just a few reflections, and I invite interaction. But the whole point of this all is that alarm bells start ringing when I see certain women slowly driving a wedge between what God Himself has joined together. And negativity from either men or women start tapping that wedge into the marriage. I empathize with the pain, and I believe that certain people need rebuke. But that doesn’t deny the joyful norm. Let’s not go back to the painful days for leaders before the Reformation, that’s a deformation, not a Reformation.

What the Reformation produced were Biblical men who had experienced the joys and the challenges of marriage, and so has produced hundreds of good books and debates on marriage. The Reformation produced women who were called to a noble calling of serving alongside their husbands in the Church. Solomon states in Proverbs 12:4 “A wife of noble character is her husband’s crown, but a disgraceful wife is like decay in his bones.” So when the wife of a Pastor is of noble character, she is her husband’s crown, she has a glorious calling. And just because she is under fire doesn’t mean that she is decay. Why? “A woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.” (Prov. 31:30b) And when a godly woman fears the Lord, wicked men get angry. The young man in the Song of Solomon beholds such a woman: ““Who is this who looks down like the dawn, beautiful as the moon, bright as the sun, awesome as an army with banners?” (Song of Solomon 6:10)

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