On headship and docility towards our bishops and the pope

Back in the 1990s, when I was a member of a seeker-friendly Baptist church, for which I will remain eternally grateful, I took a Winter Bible School, 10-week Saturday morning course on Cultivating Your Gifts and Calling with Pastor Penn Clark.

Penn also came and taught two retreats for women at Kanata Baptist in different years, and one of them was on headship—those troublesome-to feminists passages in I Corinthians 11 about Christ being the head of the Church and man being the head of woman and so on.

Yet, because he is so loving and so credible when he spoke of how a husband is supposed to love his wife as Christ loved the Church, he opened up to us a vision of the proper order and headship in the home that is so contrary to any negative view of patriarchy as might-makes right–but is one of love and service and submission to Christ.

Though Penn is a charismatic pastor who operates in supernatural spiritual gifts and helps others “stir up” the gifts within them given by the Holy Spirit, much of his ministry has involved correcting some of the excesses in the charismatic renewal that have led some to chaos, and to practices and beliefs that cannot be justified by Scripture and a not a little kooky.

Instead of the “let anything go” mode of worship, with unchecked speaking in tongues and untested prophesying that might be found in some venues, Penn talked about the importance of order, of testing the spirits, of hierarchy and how the Holy Spirit likes order and working through authority.  He also spoke of what happens to people when they step out from under the “covering” or protection of proper headship.   They become more vulnerable to spiritual attack, to discouragement, dismay, derision, rebellion, a critical spirit, he explained.   I even remember the little diagram he drew to illustrate this.

He also acknowledged that sometimes those in positions of authority over us do not seem to be worthy of that position, but encouraged us to still respect the position of authority anyway.  The example he used was a boss he once had who wore bright red lipstick and blew smoke rings while smoking a cigarette.   He said he was only discovering this principle of headship at the time, and tried applying it.  He said he was amazed to hear God speaking to him through those red lips and that haze of smoke.

Penn Clark, unbeknownst to him, prepared me to become Catholic, to accept proper authority and how it works through hierarchy.

Which brings me to Pope Francis.

Yesterday, Maureen Mullarkey published this post on her blog at First Things Magazine (now up at OnePeterFive) that prompted First Things editor  R. R. Reno to have it taken down and announce the magazine would no longer be hosting her blog.

Reno writes (with my emphases):

We’re all at odds with some aspect of the Church’s leadership. It’s not possible for Rome to teach in a way that entirely satisfies the social, moral, intellectual, and spiritual needs of more than one billion people. There’s a hierarchy of truth that helps us understand why some things are obligatory, while others are recommended to us for our consideration. What matters most, however, is our spiritual disposition. Are we docile to our bishops and their fraternal head, the pope? Are we willing to see and learn what they want to teach us? Will we accompany them, to use one of Francis’ favored images?

The Church asks us to be docile. That’s my goal. I don’t need to agree with Francis in all instances, even most. But I need to be open to instruction. I need to try to see what he’s trying to get us to see.


Docility.  Over the summer  I was having a bit of a struggle related to some doctrinal matters that led me to my reading jag on theologians of the Second Vatican Council.  One say, while praying before the Blessed Sacrament and feeling a kind of inner anguish and turmoil, the Lord gave me some phrases from Psalm 131 that helped me a great deal.

PSALM 131Domine, non est.

LORD, I am not high-minded: / I have no proud looks.
2 I do not exercise myself in great matters, / which are too high for me.
3 But I calm my soul and keep it quiet, like weaned child with his mother: / yea, my soul is even as a weaned child.
4 O Israel, trust in the LORD, / from this time forth for evermore.

Docility.  It’s something I also hope for and strive for, not always successfully.  And when I fall off the docility-wagon I find myself under the kind of spiritual attack Penn warned us about more than a decade ago. I find myself angry, judgmental, full of a critical spirit, and I lose that sense of closeness with God and the peace of Christ.  The fruits of the Spirit are love, joy and peace and  we cannot give them to ourselves, but they are like the gauges on the dashboard of my car telling me I have enough oil and gas and that I am going the right speed.  The fruits of the Spirit tell me how docile I am to the will of God.  If I am angry, fretting, worrying or upset, I am not docile and somehow I am no longer walking in the light, but in darkness.

I see so many bloggers and other representatives of social media out there who criticize the Pope in ways that are disrespectful of the office; I see others that criticize bishops in the same way.  And I see also evidence of much fretting, much falling prey to a critical spirit, much worry and anxiety, anger, discouragement and even among some a temptation to sedevacantism.  There is much division, much confusion, much anguish out there, and the only one who is happy about this is the enemy of our souls.

These are troubling times and while Scripture exhorts us to be watchful, Our Lord also tells us to “Let not your heart be troubled.”

26 But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.

27 Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.

28 Ye have heard how I said unto you, I go away, and come again unto you. If ye loved me, ye would rejoice, because I said, I go unto the Father: for my Father is greater than I. (John 14 KJV)

This is not to say, however, that there might be some, even many, who, in docility to the Holy Spirit, are called to exercise a prophetic voice, to lament the way Jeremiah did.  They will not be popular, but Jeremiah was not popular.  They will be criticized, even cast out from polite company.  It has often been this way, too, with the saints of the Church.  They are often not recognized in their own time.   How do we discern this?  The same source of the fruits of the Spirit can and will give us the gift of discerning spirits.   But not without docility, first.  If we are all pumped up with judgment, we will not discern.

The other thing I ask is this:  for those who are so critical of the bishops and the Pope, but who long for a pope and bishops who would discipline theologians, priests and others who stray from true Catholic teaching—would there be anyone around with a predisposition to obey in a docile way?


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4 Responses to On headship and docility towards our bishops and the pope

  1. EPMS says:

    I think your thoughts on this are particularly helpful because you are a person of conservative outlook who spent a number of years in the “continuing Anglican” movement, which by its nature, and apart from any positive elements, makes it easier for people to fall into the “everybody’s out of step except me” mentality, that is to say “everybody’s got it wrong except this tiny handful of True Believers”. But you have gone, not in a different direction, but deeper.

  2. Well said! Thank you for this.

  3. O. Felix Culpa says:

    The problem arises when trying to figure out who to be docile *to*. Cardinals Kasper and Burke are of equal “rank”, for example. Following what both of them say is an exercise in logical contradiction. Following one or the other is an exercise in using private judgement. Catch 22.

    • Foolishness says:

      I’m not saying this is easy! Ultimately it is the Holy Spirit we need to be docile to, while respecting the order Christ instituted. That does not mean we drink the proverbial KoolAid when a scoundrel abuses the office he holds.

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