His six-week series of sermons on “The Divine Pattern for Marriage” progressed well until the topic, “The Wife’s Priorities.” Then, California pastor John MacArthur found himself in the national spotlight, bombarded by calls from the media, including a woman talk-show host who warned before her interview went on the air, “I’m going to tear you to shreds.”

MacArthur had said that wives and mothers should not work outside the home. He believes that if a family can’t live on the earnings of the husband, then its members are living beyond their God-intended means and their priorities are out of order.

The substance of the 39-year-old pastor’s remarks fueled controversy by itself; but an apparent media error further ignited the issue. A newspaper had headlined the mistaken information that “Grace Community Church in Panorama City Fires Secretaries” in the wake of MacArthur’s comments.

“We haven’t fired anybody and the press got the story all wrong,” the popular Bible expositor said in an interview. An anonymous person, one of up to 7,000 who gather each week for services in the nondenominational church, gave a Los Angeles newspaper reporter the impression that the pastor was discriminating against women. The reporter then phoned a friend, who was the wife of an elder in the church, and that resulted in a garbled story which since has been retracted. The woman apologized in writing after the story had hit the national news networks.

MacArthur is not unused to attention. His Grace Community Chapel ranks with Robert Schuller’s Garden Grove Community Church and Chuck Smith’s Calvary Chapel for size and influence among evangelical churches in the Los Angeles area. He is a former college football star who frequently leads Bible studies for Los Angeles professional sports teams, an author, a seminar leader, and has an extensive cassette and radio ministry.

“In my sermon on “The Wife’s Priorities,’ ” MacArthur said, “I was emphasizing what happens when women go to work outside the home. I had shown earlier that a woman’s priorities are in the home and I have listed her priorities: to the husband, to the children, to the poor, the needy, and so forth.”

MacArthur continued, “When this divine priority is cared for and she has time to be creative outside the home, great! All I did was urge my people to examine their priorities.”

MacArthur, a fifth generation clergyman, said “I am basically a Bible teacher trying to delineate what the Scripture says. If someone disagrees we don’t get on their case.”

The thirty-five elders at Grace Church support MacArthur’s teaching that a believer’s responsibility extends to the entire household of faith, not just to his own family. If a widow or divorced woman at the church is destitute and can’t support herself without working outside the home the elders are committed to contributing to her monthly income. The church currently provides financial assistance to several widows and plans to help more.

“Examine your priorities,” MacArthur admonishes his female members. “Society is pressuring you because it says that you have to get your identity from work or a career. The Bible gives you identity from your children and from your family. Take the example of the woman of Proverbs 31. After the priorities of the family are met properly, then a woman can buy land, plow it, plant it, make things for the community.… You’ve got to be a pretty sharp gal to pull off all she did!”

MacArthur calls his biblical definition of the home “neither novel nor new” and one which is taught in the “mainline evangelical churches.”

He bases his case on Ephesians 5:21 and 22, passages that he says exhort wives to follow the headship of the husband and for the husband to love the wife sacrificially. MacArthur supported his views from Genesis 3:16 where, he said, the “battle of the sexes began.” The verse reads in part, “and thy desire shall be to thy husband and he shall rule over thee.” MacArthur says the passage is a problem linguistically. He agrees with the conclusion of one writer who said that the Hebrew should be rendered, “Her desire is to overrule you. You must control her.” MacArthur says there is conflict in marriage pitting the unregenerate natural woman who desires supremacy against the man who rules despotically.

“Of course there is male chauvinism and unfortunately men abuse this right and become despots over women,” he said. “They often turn women into sex objects and in other ways also destroy their dignity and beauty. On the other hand there arises what one would expect—women’s liberation. We should expect women to try to usurp the place that isn’t theirs. Women seek to override the bounds of their situation and men dominate.

MacArthur advanced his teaching a step further. According to Genesis 3, the man is to be the breadwinner and the woman’s point of contact is the home, the children, he said. “It’s always been that way. The Epistle of Paul to Titus and his first letter to Timothy talk about older women teaching the young women to love their husbands and their children and to be keepers at home.”

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