"....submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ." - Ephesians 5:21
Submission has become sort of a dirty word in our culture. We often associate it with phrases like "being beaten into submission". In other words, submission is seen as something that is forced on a weak person or group by a more powerful person or group. One gender, race, or group is told they must submit to another. Submission is seen as synonymous with oppression and injustice or at the very least, support of the status quo.
But the truth is that submission, when it is rightly understood not as something forced upon us but as a willful choice to put another's needs ahead of our own, is an essential part of every relationship. Think about the relationships in your own life. They are all built, to varying degrees, upon mutual submission. Our best friendships are often those in which we find a person who is often thinking of our needs but for whose sake we also are happy to put our needs aside. Usually, a friendship in which one person is always submitting and the other is always getting their way doesn't last long as a friendship. Likewise, the relationship between a husband and wife is a constant give and take with each spouse mutually submitting to the other, each working to accommodate the other.
Of course, if the couple has children, they both learn to submit their own needs to the needs of the children. This is not a submission forced on the parents by a more powerful party. In fact, the child is too weak and helpless to make anyone do anything. The parents submission of their own needs to that of the child is not coerced but is done out of love and a recognition of their responsibility as parents. Of course, as the child grows older, they too must begin to learn that the world does not revolve around them, that there are times when they will need to put someone else's needs ahead of their own. In fact, it might not be an overstatement to say that the journey from childhood through adolescence to maturity is a movement from self-centeredness to submission.
Churches are like any other relationship in this way. We can only exist as a community as we are willing to submit to one another, putting what we want aside to give others the opportunity to grow in Christ. This doesn't mean that one person or group should always get their way, expecting others to submit but that we should all be mutually submitting to one another, each giving up something that is important to us so that others might be able to share in this life with Christ. In fact, just as the mature parent is the one who submits willingly to the needs of a child out of love for the child, the mature Christian is not the one who demands that things been done his or her way. Instead, Christian maturity is exhibited by those who are willing to submit and sacrifice the most for the sake of another's growth in Christ.
Perhaps most telling is that Paul says that this submission to one another is done out of reverence for Christ. Our submission to one another in the Church is not merely a principle for getting along with one another. It is a testimony to the love of Christ at work in our lives. To put it simply: to be a part of a community of faith means things will not always be done as we would like. However, as we continue to love and participate in that community, submitting our own preferences to the needs of others, we testify to the reality that, as the Church, we are more than merely a collection of individuals. Instead, we are called to be a community that is faithful image of God's love.