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Tim Keller says “This is the best book for laypeople on this subject.” This book is Union with Christ: The Way to Know and Enjoy God by Rankin Wilbourne. I think he is right.

Union with Christ is one of the more neglected doctrines in the contemporary church. This neglect has been addressed with a few releases in the past few years like the books by J. Todd Billings and Robert Letham. These tend toward the more academic or pastoral in nature. Wilbourne’s book is written for the lay person and is easy to understand, though the topic can still stretch our minds. He provides a number of good illustrations to help us understand this rather nebulous concept. Or perhaps enchanted, for in his introduction he relates this to our disenchanted (materialistic) culture, and to understand union we need our imaginations again.

“Coming to see your union with Christ is like finally putting on a pair of desperately needed glasses- Wow!”

He begins with reality of a gap between what the Bible says and our experience of that reality. We can often feel exhausted by our efforts and discouraged by a lack of “progress”. The gap is real and must be acknowledged. But God’s answer to all this is union with Christ.

“First, we must understand that as long as Christ remains outside of us, and we are separated from him, all that he has suffered and done for the salvation of the human race remains useless and of no value to us. Therefore … he had to become ours and to dwell within us.” John Calvin

Calvin, particularly his Institutes of the Christian Religion, is very present in this volume. United to Christ we have all the blessings of God (Eph. 1). Christ also dwells in us by the Spirit so we are empowered by Him to enjoy these many blessings. While this was understood by many in history (he quotes from Edwards and Goodwin, for instance) such talk is like a foreign language to many/most western Christians.

“If it ‘s true that nothing is more central or basic than union with Christ, and this book aims to show that it is, then it is fair to ask this: Why is union with Christ neither central nor basic to so many of us? Why, rather, is union with Christ, if it is talked about at all, reduced to some vague or optional aspect of Christian living…”

The only way we partake of the gospel promises is …. union with Christ. When we neglect this, the work of Christ for us is separated from the person of Christ in us and the gap between beliefs and experience begins to increasingly widen.

He moves on to what it actually is. One aspect of union is imputation: what happened to Him happened to us; what He earned we receive; and what we earned He paid the price for. Paul frequently uses the term “in Christ” to talk about how we live before God. Christ represents us so His death is our death to guilt & sin (Rom. 6; Gal. 2:20). His resurrection is our newness of life (Rom. 6; Eph. 2; Gal. 2:20). His obedience becomes our obedience. We have even been seated with Him at the Father’s right hand (Eph. 2).

“Faith is how union with Christ becomes operative and powerful in your life. Faith is a God-given gift that allows you to take hold of God’s having taken hold of you. … Your life, your story, becomes enfolded by another story- Another’s story.”

As Paul says in Colossians our life is hidden with Christ in God. United to Christ, Calvin says, we receive the double grace of justification and sanctification. Though distinct they are a package deal given simultaneously. We partake of His redemption because we are united to Christ, covenantally and spiritually. We enjoy our salvation as He works in us to transform us. Our faith is not simply in Christ’s work for us, but also that Christ continues to work in us and through us. He became like us to make us like Him so we look to Him to accomplish these things that are so beyond our doing.

Union with Christ also holds together some of the tensions that tend to tear God’s people apart. For instance, he mentions extravagant grace and radical discipleship. We see them both in Calvin’s double grace, but our tendency is to separate them. Apart from discipleship extravagant grace lapses into Bonhoeffer’s cheap grace. Apart from extravagant grace discipleship degenerates into legalism. This conflict that has periodically emerged in the church is resolved in union with Christ. These two songs, as he terms them, meet in harmony in Christ. They cannot be separated because Christ cannot be separated (Ferguson makes the same argument in The Whole Christ). Wilbourne then explains and applies the “double grace”.

“Because we are relentless in trying to justify our lives, because we will use anything, even our virtue, to keep God at a distance, we can’t hear this song of grace too loudly or too often. … That hit home because that’s exactly what I had been doing- using grace as an excuse not to follow Jesus. … Undiluted grace and uncompromising obedience meet in the person of Jesus. He is always full of both.”

Rankin then spends a chapter showing us where all this is in the Scripture, a chapter on where it pops up in Church History (Augustine, Athanasius, Irenaeus, Bernard of Clairvaux, Luther, Owen and Lewis) and then what happened that we have fallen to this low estate. As mentioned, there is the disenchanted or materialistic worldview, the increase in self-centeredness (due to the eclipse of the gospel), our poor pneumatology, sound-bite culture, and pragmatism.

“Paul is saying union with Christ not only gives you a new identity; it gives you a new mindset, a new grid through which to filter everything that happens to you. For it’s not so much what happens that defines you, as how you interpret what happens to you.”

From there he delves into the problems union with Christ solves. We have a new identity, new destiny, new purpose and new hope. So many of the stories we love focus on people seeking to discover their identity. We think we have to establish our identity so we are insecure and exhausted. Many famous musicians (interviews with Madonna and John Mayer come to mind) feel the need to re-establish themselves, prove themselves. In Christ, we receive an identity we neither win or can lose. We don’t have to prove ourselves. This identity also shapes how we live, providing appropriate boundaries for us. We have a new destination too- not simply to decompose in the ground or simply cease to exist. Our destiny is to be what Adam and Eve once were, the image of God. Jesus, in His humanity, the perfect image of God restores God’s distorted image of us. We don’t lose our sense of self (just as in a healthy marriage we are one flesh but don’t lose your sense of self). You become more fully you with the unique gifts and experiences but without the sin and weakness.

“The purpose of the gospel [is] to make us sooner or later like God; indeed it is, so to speak, a kind of deification.” John Calvin

“Because love was central in the life of Christ, love is at the heart of the image of God. Your win is learning how to love. And your greatest losses are your failures to love.”

We are here for holiness, which for many of us, as he notes, is like broccoli. Good for us but …. (personally I like broccoli). Holiness is good, beautiful and attractive. It is something we only pursue properly in union with Christ (see Walter Marshall’s The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification).  We are positionally holy due to our union with Christ, and dwelling in us He works to make us personally holy. These two tensions are brought together in harmony in Christ. The more holy we become the more we enjoy communion with God, in part because we now find His holiness more attractive and a greater source of joy.

“God wants us to grow in holiness, not as some sort of test or punishment, not even just as preparation for the future, but because he wants us to enjoy life with him more. The more we grow in holiness, the more we can enjoy his presence. He wants us not simply to press on but to soar. He wants holiness for us, for our joy.”

Our hope is life in the presence of God where Jesus currently is. This is unattainable for us apart from our union with Christ. He is there now, seated and interceding for us (Heb. 7:25). This means that our continuing sin does not separate us from God. We don’t have to look to our circumstances to gauge if God is pleased with us, we look to Jesus and know He is. Union with Christ holds the facts that God with for us and with us together.

“John Calvin said, ‘Let us therefore labor more to feel Christ living in us.’ John Owen added, ‘Labor, therefore, to fill your hearts with the cross of Christ.’ And Jonathan Edwards exhorted, ‘We should labor to be continually growing in divine love.'”

Wilbourne then moves into our daily life as people united to Christ. He begins with abiding. He brings up the illustration of sailing. Sailing depends on the wind, but you still need skills to get where you want to go in the power of the wind. This is communion with Christ, the subjective or experiential aspect of our union with Christ. We cannot be more or less united to Christ. But our sense of communion with Christ grows or diminishes. Faith always precedes our sense of communion for faith lays ahold of Christ. He warns us of our tendency to drift (pride, complacency etc.). If we are not manning the sail and the tiller we will not go where we long to go. He moves into the means of abiding, or the means of grace. Our sense of communion is tied to prayer, meditation on Scripture, and worship including the sacraments (signs of our union). This does not mean all will be exciting. There will be doldrums, just like in sailing. There will be times when all seems stagnant, and no progress is made.

“Jesus lived a perfect life and terrible things still happened to him. Jesus was the only one who ever trusted and obeyed God perfectly, yet he nevertheless was made to walk the way of suffering unto death…”

We are united to the Christ who suffered. As a result we should expect to suffer (Rom. 8; Phil. 1 & 3; 1 Peter 2-4). Because He suffered, He is able to comfort us in our suffering. He also provided an example for us in suffering, to continue to do good and entrust ourselves to our Creator. Will our suffering drive us from God, or deeper into God?

He then moves into the fact that each of us is united not only to Christ individually but also to one another. In Christ we are the people of God. Here, in a footnote, he surmises, that the tension revealed by the New Perspective of Paul finds reconciliation. In Christ we are justified by the imputation of His righteousness AND we are part of the community of God; soteriology and ecclesiology are united in Christ. Another tension that tends to tear the church apart is also reconciled in Christ: we declare and demonstrate the love of God to the nations. Many conservatives so fear the social gospel that they deny the social aspects of the gospel (and throw accusations at any who do). This is because Jesus not just declared God’s love but demonstrated it (see 1 John 3-4) and calls us to do the same (see also 1 Peter 2).

I found this to be a very encouraging book. He had a number of helpful ways to explain our union and its implications. I heartily recommend it to pastors, elders and ordinary people who want to grow in grace. He makes a difficult subject understandable, interesting and practical.

 


Someone recently sent me a link to R.C. Sproul’s lesson on The Role of Women in the Church. She had only a little info about the PCA study committee and was concerned. I allayed some fears, but since this is probably one of the few older Sproul lessons I haven’t heard I decided to listen to it with the officers of our congregation at a combined meeting.

This is so old that Bill Hybels made a guest appearance. I believe the context is that R.C. was asked to talk to a group of people at Willow Creek. In the intervening years, it would be safe to say that they have probably changed their position on this subject.

Here is something of a summary from the notes that I took.

Protest movements have real pain behind them at their roots despite their sometimes illegitimate actions. The Feminist movement is no different. It is a response to patronizing attitudes and exploitation. Women have not been treated well by men in society, and in the church.

On the other hand, the church has not missed the truth about women and ministry for 2,000 years. The question of who may be ordained is either determined by God, or my subjective evaluation of who is gifted to serve. The qualifications, particularly with regard to character, either matter or they don’t.

R.C. alluded to when he was in the United Presbyterian Church. The largely egalitarian denomination permitted men to hold the complementarian position. This changed after an ecclesiastical court case and officers like R.C. were told to change their views, leave for another denomination or face disciplinary action.

R.C. noted that he wrote a minority report for the PCA favoring the ordination of women. This requires some explanation, obviously. He has no prejudice against women. He wants to be as liberal on this question as the Scriptures allow him to be. In this context he mentioned a debate at Gordon-Conwell (or perhaps he said Gordon College where he taught for a time) years earlier when he was the only faculty member willing to take up the complementarian position. For him, the question always traces back to 1 Timothy 2.

11 Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve; 14 and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.

This passage, he believes and I concur, does not allow women in positions of authority in the church. Some kind of teaching and some kind of authority are prohibited. He noted there were different kinds of “authority”. There can the authority of expertise or influence. The type in question is judicial or governing authority.

Judicial authority is the right to command and demand the actions of others. Paul restricts judicial authority over men in the church. The context is ecclesiastical, so this is limited by that context. Women may have authority in the workplace or school and other contexts. He rejects patriarchy.

There is also the general vs. technical sense of teaching. He believes this refers to teaching with ecclesiastical authority.

The general term for office is diaconos- service. Church office is an office of service. We do not lord it over others like the Gentiles do.

Women are not allowed to sit in judicial power- to be on the session or an elder.

The PCA ties government to ministry in what he thinks is an unbiblical way. This is why he generally supports women deacons, but doesn’t in the PCA. The BOCO indicates that though an office of service, it has power or authority (though not a court so it is fairly confusing and one of those things I’d love to see clarified in the BOCO). Sproul thinks that preaching does not necessarily have governmental authority because the court is not in session during preaching. At this point R.C. and Bill discussed Elizabeth Elliot who refused to preach at Willow Creek on a Sunday morning. Bill invited her to come during the week. R.C. had her “speak” a few times at Ligonier c0nferences (that is not a local church and does not have an ecclesiastical governing body).

Our officers commented that perhaps this means a woman could be an assistant pastor since they don’t serve on the Session. But they do serve in the courts of presbytery and General Assembly so don’t take the joke seriously.

R.C. noted that he sometimes worries that his position is too liberal (and some PCA pastors would agree). But he needs to be faithful to the text, which is opponent in the aforementioned debate agreed supports the complementarian position. P.K. Jewett agreed that the complementarian interpretation of the text was correct. As a result, Jewett denied the authority of the text in his defense of women’s ordination.

Different denominations have different working definitions of ordination. All it means is to be consecrated to an purpose or office. Scripture nowhere explicitly says women are not to be ordained. We have to talk about the particular office in question, and build an implicit argument regarding ordination in general.

He main principle was that the parameter are to be those set forth in Scripture, not culture or the “light of nature.”


In light of the PCA study committee on the role of women in the church, and our own congregation’s study in order to evaluate the study committee’s report and recommendations, I decided to read Women in the Church: An Analysis and Application of 1 Timothy 2:9-15 edited by Kostenberger and Schreiner (2nd edition). It is more of an academic than a popular treatment of the material, as you might imagine. It contains 6 chapters defending and explaining the basis for the complementarian interpretation of this passage so central to the discussion of women in the church, particularly church leadership. I am planning on summarizing the chapters for the purpose of our own study committee, so this “review” will be done in an as yet unknown number of parts.

The volume begins with a chapter by S.M. Baugh, professor of New Testament at Westminster California, about the cultural context of Ephesus. This is pertinent because of many egalitarian claims about the role of women in ancient Ephesus that are used to justify contextualizing Paul’s words into obscurity. Part of the problem is that work regarding the cities of Asia Minor from that time period are seriously lacking. As Baugh notes, we should not equate 1st century Ephesus with either Roman culture or classical Greek culture. It is perhaps even unwise to assume that Ephesus is like other Asia Minor cities, as Paul Trebilco does in his work. Trebilco notes that in Asia Minor we have records that 28 women held the municipal magistracy. He neglects to mention that we have no record of any women in 1st-century Ephesus holding that position. We do have the name of quite a few men. Baugh also notes that this position in Ephesus had little to no power. After the reign of Augustus it was changed  “to a minor priesthood of Hestia Boulaia, held sometimes by unmarried girls probably in their early teens years or younger.” (pp. 14) There were also major economic and social changes in the second and third centuries, so studies about first-century Ephesus can’t be based on what we learn then.

Ephesus had been under a series of foreign rulers from the 6th century B.C. In many ways it was quite traditional, and was not controlled by radical elements. “Ephesus never adopted an egalitarian democratic ideology that would necessitate feminism or, minimally, the inclusion of women in public offices.” (pp.17) It was generally pragmatic and accommodated its foreign rulers. In Paul’s day it was accommodating Rome, which was by no means feminist.

It political structure resembled the Athenian model with the state assembly derived from the male citizen body. No women are known to have filled any of these offices, and there were no known women’s civic groups like them. Religiously they were typical Hellenistic polytheists. “The majority of these deities, even the goddesses, were served by male priests at Ephesus.” (pp. 19) The temple of Artemis/Diana dominated the city. This temple was the largest building in the Greek world, 4x bigger than the Parthenon. Tourism, as a result, was a significant part of the economy. It was also a banking center.

There would appear to be no basis for claims that Ephesus was marked by feminism. Women did not dominate the city. The priestesses of Artemis were listed according to their parent(s), not the name of their husbands which was customary in the Greek world. This leads Baugh to believe these priestesses were young, unmarried women, which means they were likely 14 or younger. Based on the roles of these positions, their father’s were wealthy benefactors. There is no record of a High Priestess until 25-30 years after Paul wrote his letters to Timothy. To speak of her influence shaping the Ephesian church doesn’t make sense. “Like the high priests, their most important function was financial…” (pp. 33).

Women are not noted in records of “graduate schools”. But to fulfill their roles in managing larger households, at the least upper class women could read and write, understood math etc. Some of these upper class women seem to be in the congregation. The women in the church there were not uneducated or illiterate. As a result, we shouldn’t think they were disqualified from leadership on the basis of education.

During the 1st century, Ephesus was increasingly influenced by Roman culture. Greek hairstyles were pretty simple (parted in the middle, pinned back or held with a scarf/headband). The Roman imperial household began to influence hairstyles, sort of like the capital in The Hunger Games: elaborate curls, braids, wigs, pins and ornaments. The richer the family, apparently the more elaborate the hairstyle. The immodesty of the Ephesian women was not about low necklines but displays of wealth imitating the expensive fashions of Rome.

“Paul positively opens the road to learning to all women by enjoining them to learn in the church. Furthermore, Paul does not tell women to remain cloistered at home but to exercise their gifts in the practice of public good works and especially in the discipleship of younger women.”

We see neither the denigration nor the exaltation of women in Ephesian culture. Their role in the home included authority over servants/slaves and management of domestic affairs. There is no evidence for the claims of egalitarians that Paul’s comments were meant to keep overly bossy and heretical women from dominating the church.

The second chapter, An Important Word by Henry Scott Baldwin, focuses on authenteo. This is one of the key words in the text. It only appears in this passage. In recent decades this word have been under attack with new, innovative meanings being offered. It is often claim that the word means “to dominate, to domineer” rather than to exercise authority. This claim is made to justify women exercising authority over men in the church. Paul, it was claimed, is trying to address bossy, domineering women.

Baldwin addresses the limitations of word studies. Lexical studies provide descriptions of what a word can mean (semantic range) rather than a prescription of what a word must mean. He examines a number of extra-biblical uses to show the range of meaning. It is not exciting reading. But, “There is not sufficient warrant to postulate a new meaning such as ‘tyrannize’ or ‘coerce.'” (pp. 46) When thinking about “to domineer” there is only one usage that substantiates this claim. “What we can say with certainty is that we have no instances of a pejorative use of the verb before the fourth century AD.” (pp. 49) There is no basis for the newer translations of the word as domineering thereby contextualizing Paul’s instruction away.


In moving thru 1 Corinthians we’ve affirmed the reality of covenant relationships, and therefore covenant heads. This reality needs to be reflected in our worship. Paul addresses this when women pray and prophesy.

We went back to this in terms of prayer and prophecy. Does this refer to women covering their heads when the pastor prays, or the congregation recites a prayer; or is the issue (as most Knight and others thought) a wife or woman praying extemporaneously? The question of ancient liturgies like St. James’ and St. Mark’s emerged. They had many prayers recited. While closer in time to the worship of the early church than ours, it might look more like their worship. Maybe.

Since it is connected to prophesying, the issue seems to be when a woman stands out among the congregation and therefore wearing a symbol of their submission to their covenant head or the created order. Those ancient liturgies didn’t offer room for these practices. The worship in Corinth seems to be different than that reflected in ancient liturgies, and our own worship today.

The question arose about prayer meetings. When women pray (pray aloud, differentiated from everyone else) she should continue to honor the created order and her covenant head.

Here in the U.S. the wearing of head coverings was throughout the whole service. That might be easier than putting it on and taking it off, but doesn’t seem to be required by the text. This practice seems to have declined with the rise of evangelical feminism and liberal theology.

Personally, I still lean toward these coverings being applications of the principle of honoring your covenant head. I struggle with trying to merely mimic what we think the practice was. This could be a remnant of my own cultural captivity. I don’t know. But I don’t want to major on a minor (this is only found once and seems far less significant as a result).

Now we move along in 1 Corinthians.

ESV NASB NIV
For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man. For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. 10 That is why a wife ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. 11 Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; 12 for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God. For a man ought not to have his head covered, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man. For man does not originate from woman, but woman from man; for indeed man was not created for the woman’s sake, but woman for the man’s sake. 10 Therefore the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. 11 However, in the Lord, neither is woman independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. 12 For as the woman originates from the man, so also the man has his birth through the woman; and all things originate from God. A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. 10 It is for this reason that a woman ought to have authority over her own head, because of the angels. 11 Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. 12 For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God.

Barnett believes Paul brings them back to the marriage of Adam and Eve here to establish the created order. At the very least vv. 12 is about Adam and Eve based on context.  It is odd that Paul doesn’t use their names which would have made this easier for them and use to understand exactly what is going in here.

Some questions quickly come to mind.

  1. Why does the ESV use “wife” instead of “woman” in verse 10? Why no consistency in usage based on the context?
  2. Why do most translations add phrases (see the words in italics in the NASB)? Clarity matters, yes.  Adding “a symbol of” can change the meaning as we’ll see below.
  3. How do the angels fit in?

vv. 7

For a man/husband ought not to cover (infinitive) the head, for he is the image and glory of God but the woman/wife is the glory of man

This includes some incomplete parallelism. She’s also in the image of God (Gen. 1). But Paul wouldn’t deny this. What is he getting at? This is still in the context of honoring and dishonoring your covenant head. Or better, the created order. Earlier Paul said Christ was the head of man. But in the created order we see Adam was created for God’s glory. We also see that Eve was created for Adam’s glory. The concept of “helpmate corresponding to him” matters. Men bring glory or dishonor to God by their actions. Women not only bring glory or dishonor to God but also their husbands by their actions. We see a glimpse of this in Proverbs 31 where her husband and children rise up and call the valiant woman blessed in the city gate.

“… for it is a great honor that God has appointed her to the man as the partner of his life, and a helper to him, and has made her subject to him as the body is to the head.” John Calvin

“She is related to man as his glory, a relationship that somehow appears to be jeopardized by her present actions.” Gordon Fee

“She is his ‘glory’ since she fulfills him at his deepest wellsprings of companionship, sexual fellowship and shared procreation.” Paul Barnett

vv. 8-9

For a man/husband is not out of a woman, but woman out of man, and man was not created through the woman, but woman through the man

Paul is obviously addressing creation here! The submission of a wife to a husband is rooted in creation, not the fall. The fall makes it a contentious and often abusive matter so headship is marked by sin and misery. The problem is the people involved, not the fact of headship. Eve was created ‘out of’ Adam, from his rib (Gen. 2). She was created for Adam, so he could fulfill God’s mandate. He could not fulfill God’s mandate alone.

“Man by himself is not complete; he is alone, without a companion or helper suitable to him.” Gordon Fee

vv. 10

Therefore the woman/wife ought to have authority upon/on/over her head on account of the angels/messengers.

This is one of the more difficult sentences that we come across. As we noted above, “symbol” is typically added.

“It is possible, however, that the major translations have erred by inserting the words ‘a sign/symbol of.’ It is more in keeping with the Greek original to translate the verse ‘the woman ought to have authority over her head,’ meaning that women ought to exercise authority over their physical heads. This understanding indicates that Paul wanted women to act responsibly and on their own in the matter of head coverings. This more literal reading is confirmed by the next statement, ‘However, woman is not independent of man’. This clause appears to qualify an assertion of the women’s authority encouraged in 11:10.” Richard Pratt

As a result, it can be taken more literally as taking authority over her physical head, or being responsible. The idea is she should take responsibility for her actions, not that the husband should “make” her do this. This would be similar to Ephesians 5. The husband is not told to make his wife submit. He is told to love her like Christ loves the Church.

“But finally we must beg ignorance. Paul seems to be affirming the ‘freedom’ of women over their own heads; but what that means in this context remains a mystery.” Gordon Fee

Calvin seems to affirm that the token of her submission is at best unclear. He may also seem to be noting some level of contextualization for that token. This makes me feel better about not being certain what exactly the wives of Corinth were expected to do, and therefore what my wife might be expected to do.

“… for he means a token by which she declares herself to be under the power of her husband; and it is a covering, whether it be a robe, or a veil, or any other kind of covering.” John Calvin

Unfortunately Calvin does affirm a form of partriarchy in his comments on this passage. Sometimes I disagree with Calvin, and this is one of them. I reject that notion that women are subject to men. In the Bible I see the command to be in submission direct to wives toward their husbands, not men. That is a very important distinction. For instance, as an American I submit to the government of the United States including our President. I don’t care what Castro and Cuba say. I obey their laws while I may travel there since I don’t want to dishonor God and end up on a Cuban prison. But I don’t submit to all governments at all times.

“It is however a mistake (to limit this to wives), for Paul looks beyond this- to God’s eternal law, which has made the female sex subject to the authority of men. On this account all women are born, that they may acknowledge themselves inferior in consequences of the superiority of the male sex.” John Calvin

Angels can refer to supernatural beings or human messengers. In 1 Peter 2:9, for instance, the word commonly translated “proclaim” is a verbal form of angel.  Pratt for instance thinks this might refer to earthly visitors from other churches. These messengers, like those who bore this letter, could be scandalized by the women’s behavior. This could break the peace of the churches. Our they could wrong import the wrong practice of Corinth back to their home church or other churches and corrupt them.

Calvin notes that priests are called “angels” in Mal. 2:7. He thinks pastors were not referred to in this way, but this may be what is happening in Revelation 2-3. The angels of the churches could refer to their pastors, not angelic beings.

Another option  is presented by Fee: that this reflects the argument of the “liberated” women in Corinth who think they are now like the angels and need no such sign. This brings us back to the over-realized eschatology but doesn’t quite fit the grammar. He also notes it may also include the idea that they already speak in the tongues of angels. That reference in 1 Cor. 13 is probably rhetorical. The tongues in Corinth would be the same as the tongues in Acts 2- known languages understood by others.

“The apostles do not argue just for some authority in marriage, but explicitly and particularly for man’s authority and headship over woman and woman’s submission to man.” George Knight

vv. 11-12

however neither is (the) woman/wife apart/separate from (the) man/husband, nor is (the) man/husband apart/separate from (the) woman/wife in the Lord. For as the woman/wife (is) out of/from the man/husband, so also the man/husband through the woman/wife and all things out of/from God.

In union with Christ, spouses are not independent or separated from one another. Independent is probably not the best sense of the word. In the marriage union we are ‘one flesh’. We can wrongly act independently of our spouse, as if we aren’t married but this seems to go deeper.

Redemption does not undo creation. Redemption does not undo the marriage union until glorification. Yet men cannot preserve themselves (as a race) apart from women. We should not throw off the various yokes God has placed on us. We should also affirm our interdependence in the state of marriage. We may have different roles, but we very much need the role fulfilled by the spouse. This is not suspended while you are in public worship. You remain married, and need to continue honoring that marriage, your spouse and God’s order while in worship.

independent (cwris) adv. Separate, apart, without any, besides

 

“To be sure, a woman is that glory of a man, being created from him and for him, and therefore bearing the make of his authority on her.” Paul Barnett

“Husbands must not think that their headship implies independence from or superiority over their wives. Their dependence on their wives qualified their roles as heads. … To be sure, husbands have a headship role, but this role does not eliminate the need for wives to cultivate their own relationships with Christ.” Richard Pratt

Take Aways:

  • We can’t reject the possibility that feminism has infected/influenced many conservative churches in this matter. Perhaps the lack of coverings in our churches comes from this.
  • There may be worship practices that make a woman stand out. If she does, her goal should be to honor God and her head rather than herself.
  • Married women who serve in the church are not independent of their husbands but should continue to honor them in how they serve. This means involving him in decisions rather than willfully making decisions since they may affect family life in unintended or unanticipated ways.

I am loving the fact that Sinclair Ferguson is “retired”. He has been more active in writing, and those books have been excellent so far. Devoted to God: Blueprints for Sanctification is no exception. He previously submitted a chapter on the subject to Christian Spirituality in which a number of authors of different persuasions interacted on the subject of sanctification.

Like The Whole Christ, Devoted to God seems to be the fruit of a lifetime of fruitful ministry. You sense that he has thought long and hard about the Scriptures with regard to this subject. It is not superficial or breezy in its approach. In each chapter, Ferguson focuses on one text of Scripture. Those passages are: 1 Peter 1; Romans 12:1-2; Galatians 2:20; Romans 6:1-14; Galatians 5:16-17; Colossians 3:1-17; Romans 8:13; Matthew 5:17-20; Hebrews 12:1-14; and Romans 8:29. The principles are derived from the texts that Sinclair uses. This is not a “proof-texting” approach, but a very exegetical approach.

His approach focuses on sanctification as devotion. God is devoted to making us devoted to Him and His glory through our union with Christ by the Holy Spirit. This is realistic in its approach, as he notes “Instead of being wholly yielded to Christ we discover instead that a stubborn and sinful resistance movement retains a foothold in our lives.” (pp. 5)

Beginning with 1 Peter, he focuses on our identity in Christ in the face of affliction. We have graciously received a new identity which requires a new life. He notes the distinctions between justification and sanctification, but also notes that both are necessary for salvation tying these in to our union with Christ and the reality of regeneration. In our union we receive what Calvin calls the “double grace” of justification and sanctification. Regeneration which is necessary for justification (we won’t believe until God regenerates us) is also the beginning of our sanctification.

Another focus he begins in the first chapter is the trinitarian nature of our sanctification. The Father foreknew us and chose us, the Spirit sets us apart and we are purified by the Son. Your sanctification, if you are a Christian, is the desire and purpose of the Father, Son and Spirit. In 1 Peter we see that they use, among other things, trials to accomplish this great purpose.

In other chapters he reminds us that the commands (imperatives) flow from the gospel (indicatives). It is all of grace, being produced by the gospel. He reminds us, particularly in Romans 12 that our sanctification “takes place in and through the body.” We are not gnostics. We are a body/soul unity and sanctification includes both the inward devotion and the physical devotion. Sin and sins affect our bodies (weakness, addictions which are spiritual and bio-chemical, disease etc.) and so sanctification does as well. Just as sin affects our minds, so does sanctification.

Ferguson covers plenty of ground in this volume, and he covers it well. Some of these are difficult texts with difficult concepts, especially Romans 6, and he is very helpful in understanding them better as well as applying them to the subject at hand. As I preach through 1 Peter I find himself looking back to the material here on that letter. I anticipate returning to this book whenever I preach on any of these texts. I anticipate pointing others to this book and walking with others through this book for years to come.

Sinclair Ferguson has again written on the best and most helpful books I’ve read. His retirement has been very, very good to me. If you read his books, you will discover it was very good for you too.


We continue to examine 1 Corinthians 11 with an eye on the role of women in the life of the church. We have previously ruled out patriarchy (again) and noted the covenant relationships which include a covenant head.

 

ESV NASB NIV
Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, but every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since it is the same as if her head were shaven. For if a wife will not cover her head, then she should cut her hair short. But since it is disgraceful for a wife to cut off her hair or shave her head, let her cover her head. Every man who has something on his head while praying or prophesying disgraces his head. But every woman who has her head uncovered while praying or prophesying disgraces her head, for she is one and the same as the woman whose head is shaved. For if a woman does not cover her head, let her also have her hair cut off; but if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, let her cover her head. Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head. But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is the same as having her head shaved. For if a woman does not cover her head, she might as well have her hair cut off; but if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should cover her head.

vv. 4-5

Loose translation: Every man who prays or prophesies w/a covered head disgraces their head (Christ)

But

Every woman/wife who prays and prophesies disgraces her head

For

She is one and the same as she who is shaved.

 

Disgraces (kataiscunw) to dishonor, disgrace, to put to shame

Uncovered (akatakalupto~) adj. not covered, unveiled

Shaved (curaw) to shear, shave, to get one’s self shaved

 

  • Both men and women (husbands and wives) can pray and prophesy in public worship (since he moves to problems with the Lord’s Supper later in the chapter, and continues thru chapter 14 on issues related to worship).
  • In Acts 2 as a fulfillment of Joel 2, the Spirit was poured on men and women who prophesied.
  • Philip’s 4 unmarried daughters prophesied (Acts 21:9).
  • This means prophesy here does not mean simply the teaching/preaching of God’s word as the Puritans thought. Unless you want women to preach….
  • Kevin DeYoung notes the covering was for when they prayed and prophesied. He is the only one I read who explicitly made this connection.

“Second, the covering was not for all of life or even all of corporate worship; it was only necessary for women when praying or prophesying. Because the covering is only required in specific occasions, hair, which goes with a woman everywhere, cannot be the covering.” Kevin DeYoung

  • Calvin rejects the idea that women can pray & prophesy in corporate worship. He is one only one of the commentators I read how advocated this position. This position just doesn’t make sense of the text to me. It ignores the parallelism of the text itself.

“It may seem, however, to be superfluous for Paul to forbid the woman to prophesy with her head covered, while elsewhere he wholly prohibits women from speaking in the Church. (1 Tim. 2:12) It would not, therefore, be allowable for them to prophesy even with a head covering upon their head, and hence it follows that it is to no purpose that he argues here as to a covering. It may be replied, that the Apostle, by here condemning the one does not commend the other. For when he reproves them for prophesying with their head uncovered, he at the same time does not give them permission to prophesy in some other way, but rather delays his condemnation of that vice to another passage, namely in chapter 14.” John Calvin

  • The context of 1 Cor. 14 (which we’ll cover later) is the interpretation of prophecy. The woman were to be silent and ask questions at home while this judging process took place.
  • Prophecy here is not seen as authoritative. It is not “new revelation” for the whole church, but seems to connect to particular circumstances. For instance, the prophecy of a famine by Agabus, and the prophecy that Paul would be bound in Jerusalem. Paul judged it to be accurate, but their interpretation or application (don’t go to Jerusalem) to be erroneous. It was how Paul was going to get to Rome.

“Alongside the teaching offered by the presbyters and formal liturgical elements the proceedings also allowed free and extempore ministry of ‘prophesying’ and ‘praying’ by those ‘gifted’ to do so. … ‘Prophesying’ was the Spirit-inspired application of the gospel, the oral ‘tradition’ and the Scriptures to the life of the gathered people. Unlike the presbyter-teacher whose ministry was a matter of ‘office’ and regularity, those who prophesied did so on an occasional basis, as the perceived need arose.” Paul Barnett

“And (3) women may pray and prophesy in the church because those activities are expressly allowed in 1 Corinthians 11. I regard the third solution as the correct one. If that is correct, then it must be recognized that the apostle regards praying and prophesying on the one hand, and speaking that involves teaching on the other hand, as distinguishable and different activities. Praying publicly in the midst of others does not imply or involve any authority or headship over others. Likewise, prophesying, an activity in which the one prophesying is essentially a passive instrument through which God communicates, does not necessarily imply or involve an authority or headship of the one prophesying over others. What 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2 forbid, then, is authoritative speaking, teaching, and ruling.” George Knight

“If 1 Corinthians 11 details instructions for corporate worship- and I think it does- then we can say without a doubt that women are allowed to speak in church. Paul assumed that women could pray and prophesy. Services at Corinth were probably less structured than ours tend to be and women as well as men were able to give a spontaneous prayer, a song, a tongue or a word of prophecy. In short, women could, and did, speak in the church. Churches today which prohibit women from singing (because songs can teach), or praying (because it might be exhortative), or even giving announcements (because it’s speaking period) pull in the boundaries for participation in worship closer than the Bible demands.” Kevin DeYoung

  • Your literal head will bring honor or dishonor to your (covenantal) head.
  • We see a shift here from Jewish practice.
  • Because the man is not under the authority of any creature, he needs no such sign.
  • Is this referring to all women, or to wives? The Greek is unclear as we noted in vv. 2-3 and is reflected in the differences in translation.
  • What does it mean to be “covered”? Hat/veil or “hair up”. Barnett believes this is about how her hair is arranged, not the wearing of hats or veils.
  • Women with “hair down” were viewed as “free from authority” and often out of control (Delphi priestesses)
  • Women with short hair in Greco-Roman culture were often lesbians (Lucian) or women posing as men to avoid abduction & rape during war.
  • Shaved heads may have indicated adultery or prostitution (Dio Chrysostom).
  • Paul seems to be preserving cultural distinctions among Christians. Not unnecessarily subversive.
  • These cultural distinctions reflect created order which distinguishes between the sexes.
  • We honor the created order (unchanging)! Cultures may or may not reflect it, or in this particular way.
  • Unchanging created order & covenant headship => expression w/in local context
  • Worship in the early church: The elders taught & led worship. There was a time for gifted members to pray & prophesy.
  • Paul isn’t prohibiting women is participate in praying and prophesying, but addressing displays of disrespect while doing so.

“Hence, on the other hand, if the woman uncovers her head, she shakes off subjection- involving contempt of her husband.” John Calvin

“In a word, for a man to cover his head in the worship of Christ was to worship in the same way pagan men worshiped their gods. Imitating this practice mixed false religion into the worship of Christ, and therefore dishonored him. It is not possible that Paul intended this to be an absolute statement rather than a culturally specific statement because God himself commanded Aaron the high priest always to wear a turban when ministering. Moreover, throughout church history Christian men have covered their heads in worship for the sake of warmth and decoration. Paul’s teaching responded to the particular pagan influence in Corinth.” Richard Pratt

But .. why did he then move to creation? We’ll get there.

“Paul argues that our freedom in Christ does not allow us to overturn that order and the particular expression of it in Corinth and the apostolic age.” George Knight

“In the present context, 1 Corinthians 11 reads as an encouragement to retain divinely ordained gender roles (the current sign of which was head covering) even while women publicly exercised their spiritual gifts in a broad scope of ways.” Kathy Keller

“When she expresses her charismatic function within the church, she is to recognize that redemption does not release her from the order of creation.” R. Wayne House

“Women, on the other hand, could function in a prophetic role, but in order to preserve the social order given by the Creator, they must wear a sign of their subordination. Nothing concerning church leadership or teaching men is found in the verse.” R. Wayne House

vv. 6

For if a woman/wife does not (ou) cover/veil herself, she must also shear her hair, but if it is disgraceful for a woman to shear or to shave her hair, let her cover/veil herself.

Cover (katakaluptw) to cover up, to veil or cover one’s self

Cut off/shear (keirw) imperative; to sheer a sheep, to get or let be shorn, of shearing or cutting short the hair of the head

Disgraceful (aiscros) adj. filthy, baseness, dishonor (used in Gen. 2:25 [LXX])

Cover; present, middle, imperative

  • Sounds like Paul’s comment in Galatians about the circumcision party going all the way to emasculation- hyperbole.
  • Their false understanding of liberation, freedom from the created order, is disgraceful.

“Here Paul may have referred to the custom in the Mediterranean world of the first century that adulterous women were punished by having their heads shaved in disgrace.” Richard Pratt

“But Paul is saying that such thinking is over-realized eschatology. The present age continues and with it God’s ordering of husband-wife relationships. … Your femininity and your relationship with your husbands are inseparable. Do not deny the one or the other. Keep looking like a woman, a married woman.” Paul Barnett

“We thus have two things intertwined in this passage: the expression of the principle at stake in a particular practice, and the natural provision, long hair, that God has given and that expresses at all times the principle.” George Knight

“So let a woman feel no ‘shame’ at her husband by denying in the public meeting the cultural symbol of her ‘submission’ in marriage to him, her hair arranged ‘up’ and ‘covered’.” Paul Barnett

“Furthermore, we simply do not know what the practice was that they were abusing. Thus literal ‘obedience’ to the text is often merely symbolic. Unfortunately, the symbol that tends to be reinforced is the subordination of women, which is hardly Paul’s point.” Gordon Fee

Take Aways:

  • The nature of the covering is unclear: veil/burka, shawl/hood, hair put up.
  • This means we should be focused on how a woman responds to or treats her husband in the context of worship. She should honor her covenant head.
  • We should be charitable towards those who express this differently.
  • There may also be cultural expressions. In our culture we wear rings. If married she should look and act like she is married, not like she’s looking to be married.
  • We are uncertain how Paul would address the issue of adult single women who live away from home. In his day such women lived at home under the authority of their father or the pater familias. They were also married much younger than today.
  • Women are free to pray extemporaneously in the worship service, if the liturgy so permits.
  • If we were continuationists, we’d say that women were free to prophesy as well since this is not exerting authority.

I’ve been wanting to read some of John Perkin’s books for some time now. His new book, Dream with Me: Race, Love and the Struggle We Must Win, is a great place to start.

This book is a little bit of everything. Partially autobiographical you get insight into the events that have shaped John’s life and ministry. This also gives people like me a better grasp of the black experience in America.

He also provides some background to Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) and summarizes the Three R’s (relocation, reconciliation and redistribution). He also allows himself to dream and invites us to share his dream.

So, there is a little bit of everything John is about in this book. Hopefully it will pique interest in his other books to develop areas on interest more deeply.

John has about a third grade education, and notes he had some help in the process of writing (we all need good editors). As a result the book is easy to understand and generally easy to read. It is not overly complex but not simplistic either. At times it does seem to change direction unexpectedly. There is a stream of consciousness feel to it as if you’re sitting down and listening to John over a cup of tea (you can have coffee if you’d like).

He begins with his story as part of the larger story of segregation in America. Things most of us take for granted were out of the realm of possibility for many/most black Americans. For instance, he noted not only blacks having different waiting rooms for the doctor, but not having appointments. They were for white people, and blacks got the left over time on a first come, first served basis. The medical clinic he founded in Mendenhall was intended to help blacks gain access to health care as if they were white people. And they didn’t exclude whites.

“Black citizens weren’t allowed to participate in the society they had spent centuries helping to build.”

He then shifts into the history of the CCDA. It is based on a biblical view of a new humanity in Christ living and working together for the common good. It is a vision of a “multiethnic, multicultural, multigenerational, multiclass” community based on the same elements in God’s kingdom.

Perkins returns to race relations more specifically in talking about poor whites. Often the only relationships in which they had an power was in their relationships with blacks. They were often damaged and gained some sense of power and worth by playing the oppressor toward the one group lower on the social scale then they were. This, in turn, damaged them even more (oppression damages both the oppressed and the oppressor).

“Wealthy whites also used the poor whites as tools of oppression, making them overseers or guards or sheriffs charged with taking care of the dirty work to keep black people in their place so they didn’t have to. In reality, though, this just fueled the resentment between blacks and poor whites.”

He moves toward his experience with non-violence in the face of oppression. The move away from this is one of the things that concerns him about the present and the future. He believes people have the power to win with love, but often think they don’t (or don’t have the time) and resort to violence and rioting that makes they no better than their oppressors.

“In the face of power, some resort to violence as a way to create chaos. That’s terrorism. That’s what people use when they don’t have the power to win. Nonviolence is a better way. It’s radical.”

“I quickly came to realize that nonviolence takes more strength than violence- and it takes more than just human strength. It takes God’s strength working in human beings to produce self-control, gentleness, and the other fruit of the Holy Spirit. God’s power comes in our weakness and brokenness.”

From here he moves into the 3 R’s mentioned above. To assist a community, he believes it is best to live there. This often means relocating into the community so you help from the inside, not the outside (and security of your gated community). While there you seek reconciliation between groups and individuals in conflict. This can be race, class, culture or other barriers used by sin to divide and impoverish. He speaks of the redistribution of opportunity, not free stuff. Not working robs people of dignity. He addresses stewardship- sharing our skills and opportunities (like networks) with people who don’t have those skills or opportunities. These new relationships give the poor new opportunities. In the Gospel we see Jesus “relocating” to planet Earth as a man, reconciling all creation to God through the cross and making Himself poor to enrich others. This notion of incarnation is addressed in the next chapter.

“Reconciliation is God bringing people into relationship with Himself and other people. Redistribution is caring for others’ needs as we care for our own.”

“I long to see the church give up its power and privilege the way Jesus did when he came to earth to give us the greatest of gifts.”

Perkins then talks about justice, and the differences between theology done by whites and blacks. He speaks in generalizations, obviously, but those differences affect how we view justice. White evangelical theology has focused on the personal side of redemption thanks to our commitment to individualism (among other things and despite some people’s commitment to covenant theology). Black theology, often written in response to white oppression sees redemption as communal as well as individual. Both are true and in tension with one another. But we tend to be polarized and talk past one another (on many topics unfortunately). He notes how both sides have sins in need of repentance and forgiveness.

After a very personal chapter about his son Spencer, he moves into human dignity, the final fight (love) and forgiveness. I’m not sure about the order there but all three are important if we are to discuss reconciliation and justice. He sees the church as the primary communicator of these truths. Sadly, we’ve allowed tribalism (Democrat vs. Republican, black vs. white, poor vs. rich etc.) to set in so we now disparage those who disagree with us (unAmerican, denier, homophobic etc.). He mentions immigration in particular (recognizing government’s role as possibly different from a Christian’s view) as a place we should be able to talk, and disagree, peaceably.

“So becoming a Christian is discovering God’s love for us, and being a Christian is learning to love God back- and then finding ways to show God’s overflowing love to the people around us.”

I certainly agree with him that the noise in our culture is too loud and we must move beyond it to think and act as responsible people instead of performing a series of knee jerk reactions that perpetuate the conflicts of our time.

“There is too much noise in our society right now, and that noise just keeps getting louder. We need quiet time for reflection. We need to be still and know that God is God.”

He briefly concludes with his dream which shouldn’t surprise us if we were paying attention throughout the book. It is the dream of a civil rights leader and Christian. It is a dream we should all share, one that is not simply about externals but about the heart. I leave John Perkins with the final word.

“I want to see a real community of love. Everyone wants to fight crime, fight violence, fight racism, and fight injustice, but love is still the final fight, and unless we have these communities of love, we will never see this dream realized.”

[I received a complementary copy from Baker Books for the purposes of review.]