Should a woman submit to her husband if he forbids her to attend church?

I’m very aware that many of my contributions here centre around the topic of men and women, so I apologise for another one :slight_smile:

I recently had a discussion under a post that condemned church leaders who shut their churches during the lockdowns. Somehow we got to the point where I appealed to a hypothetical situation where a wife would submit to her husband if he forbade her to attend church.

I was surprised at the reaction. I assumed this was a given - not that a wife would cut herself off from all fellowship, but that she would not attend Sunday church if her husband told her not to go. Apparently I was the only one who believed that.

So I’m interested in what people here on the good ship Sanityville believe.

Do you think a wife’s submission would mean that she should not attend church if her husband forbade her?

Temporarily, like during a pandemic, when the command is more general than don’t attend church, there’s room to agree that she should obey. Or if she’s forbidden from attending a particular church or group of churches, there’s room to obey if she has other acceptable churches to choose from.

But I suspect that a believing wife has the right and even obligation to be a churchgoer even if her husband forbids her.


Sounds like an Elsie Dinsmore plot.

If the church and husband disagree about this, it’s persecution from him, right? Christians find ways to have church even when threatened. She should win him over with her conduct in every other area.

I suppose it would also depend on what they believe about non-church Christian fellowship. There are people who think coffee with friends can be church; missing Sunday shouldn’t matter much to such a wife. On the other hand, if I told my wife she was going to be denied Word and Sacrament, and then told her she’s not cut off from all fellowship, so it should be fine, she would think I was mocking those specific gifts on top of everything else.

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Thanks @michael and @projanen. I don’t know.

What biblical evidence is there? I’m looking at Peter’s use of Sarah who obeyed Abraham to insane lengths and was held up as an example.

In the example you brought up of Sarah, it is right to assume her general obedience, but don’t presume that Abraham’s most outrageous demands were more than very infrequent and temporary. And his demands may not seem so outrageous from their particular perspective as it does to us today.

No, there are not many, many examples to follow of disobedience. The principle is to obey all authorities.

What are you trying to figure out? If this is just hypothetical, I don’t think we’ll get very far.

I have always understood women shpuld obey their husband regarding church attendence, but I think that comes from testimonies I read as a younger man where women were encouraged to obey, and their husbands came to faith through their sweet spirits, per 1 Peter.

I was shocked to have a pile up of people sharply disagree, but they were a group of people I believe to be proud of their rebellion against authority when they disagree with authority’s demands.

So, the broader question is about authority in various realms, but I am hoping for some insight to this particular - yes, hypothetical - situation so as to apply christian truth in my lay teaching.

This is a key part of the problem you recognized. Such disagreement generally needs to be brought to a higher authority. Which is certainly difficult if the husband is an unbeliever.

The example you presented, is it an unbelieving husband forbidding attendance to all churches?


In reality, of course, there are a number things that could be done, including discussion, but for the sake of clarity, he doesn’t wabther going to any church, he wants her home on Sunday.

Does he merely want her to spend their Sundays with him, or does he also forbid her from church activities when he is apart from her?

I’m thinking just Sundays.

The Day Our Family Went Smash

Conscience and Covid: In Defense of Sphere Authority (Evangel Presbytery)


Then I’m thinking it’s not as bad as if they had chosen she should work outside the home, and also not as bad as if they had chosen her a job which required her to work on Sundays. I like to think this is an avoidable situation, but, through history, this is not an uncommon challenge faced and dealt with by faithful Christians and their church family.

Tim, I like the article - it’s late here so I haven’t looked at the sphere statement. From reading other things you have written, I think we agree on the appropriateness of obeying the government during COVID, even if they did overreact.

My question is more specific, i.e. is gathering with the church on Sunday something a wife should forgo if her husband forbids it, not for three weeks, but indefinitely?

From Conscience and Covid: In Defense of Sphere Authority:

Yet deference to each sphere’s ministers is not absolute (Acts 5:29; Matt. 22:20–22). Ministers of any sphere must not command what God has forbidden, nor forbid what God has commanded. When a husband forbids his wife from attending Christian worship, she must obey God rather than man. When a pastor requires his parishioner to deny the Holy Trinity, that parishioner must not comply. Throughout Scripture, we see examples of such conscientious disobedience, including, for example, the Hebrew midwives’ refusal to kill the newborn baby boys, and Jonathan’s protection of David from Saul, his father and king. Today, soldiers must not intentionally target civilians when commanded to do so. Pastors must not comply with hate crime laws forbidding condemnation of sodomy. Doctors and pharmacists must not prescribe abortifacient drugs when healthcare authorities command them to do so. Nurses must not starve patients by withholding food and water when commanded to do so by the patient’s family, physician, or a judge. In such cases, again, we too “must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).


There we go. A specific answer. Thanks. And yet, I’m not entirely convinced it is correct in that instance. More scriptural reflection for me to do.

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Now I appreciate the public health angle, but it seems to me that going by the excerpt you provided, you could not discipline the wife in Tim’s first article for going to church, though the disrespectful way she objected was sinful.

Perhaps, but this is why Paul’s questions above are applicable. Are you really willing to say that the two women are the same with regard to forsaking the assembly?

The quote you gave had no qualification.

I believe there were extraordinary circumstances during COVID that caused the spheres to overlap, i.e. the state was within their rights to say churches should not meet because of health concerns. In the article, the husband was submitting to the authority of the state by staying home, and his wife should have submitted to him.

I’m confused as to why a wife should not submit to her husband if he has different, even godless reasons to say she should stay home. Do church leaders have a right to encourage her to rebel? Is she neglecting meeting together if she submits to her husband (her absence is not, after all, neglect as in Hebrews 10:24-25) or is she submitting to her husband as per 1 Peter 3:1-2?

I think it the latter. I can’t see a biblical argument against it, but I’m trying.

Right. Thus I took it to mean blanket forbidding, such as you are describing, which is very different from the qualified forbidding of the other article.

I think the answer becomes clear in Acts 5:29 and several other places in Scripture where people obey God rather than men and are commended for it. The various spheres do have an impact on how much of a subordinate’s life an authority is over. A man has a high degree of authority over his wife, but it is certainly not absolute.

I’m curious. What limits do you see to his authority over his wife?


Fair question. Overall, I’d say a husband cannot abuse his wife or direct her to sin. But that is a very quick, general answer.

I think, perhaps, the sticking point is that I do not consider a wife obeying her husband to be sinning if he forbids her from attending church. She needs fellowship, yes, but that can be achieved other ways.

What does it look like for a wife to disobey her husband in this matter? The husband is taking the family out on a regular Sunday outing and the wife is instead waiting for a ride/driving to church? The husband hasn’t planned anything else but still has asked his wife to stay at home with him and she refuses and walks out the door? Neither of these - and there are a million other possible examples - seem to reflect what 1 Peter 3:1-2 is about.

I’m not being obtuse, here. I’m genuinely surprised we disagree.