A Reformed Baptist Perspective on Public Theology: The Pauline Epistles, Part VII – 1 Corinthians 11

You can read earlier posts in this series by clicking on the links below:

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As mentioned in the previous blog, Paul wrote his first letter to the Corinthian church in order to address several issues within the Church. We now move into a section in which Paul address an issue that directly intersects with our society today: gender and sexuality. Within the Church, 1 Corinthians 11:1-16 has been discussed extensively and the text has been central to numerous debates (such as the egalitarian/complementarian debate and the debate regarding head coverings). However, this passage has much to teach us regarding the meaning of gender and the relationship between the sexes.

The Foundational Analogy

We begin with v. 2-3

Now I praise you because you remember me in everything and hold firmly to the traditions, just as I delivered them to you. But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ. (1 Corinthians 11:2-3, NASB)

We begin with the first statement that Christ is the head of every man. This affirms the truth that since Christ is the Creator and Preserver of all men, he must therefore be the head (or master and ruler) of mankind. Christ is the head of all men in that all gifts are derived from him and as the Lord of the nations, all are subject to Him. Moreover, He is the head of all believers since he is the head of the Church. As John Gill writes:

Yea, he is a natural head, or is that to his church, as an human head is to an human body: he is a true and proper head, is of the same nature with his body, is in union to it, communicates life to it, is superior to it, and more excellent than it.

In an analogous way, the head of Christ is God. This is not a reference to the divine nature of Christ because they are one in nature and essence. However, as to the human nature of Christ and the office that He fulfills, Scripture is abundantly clear that Christ hoped in God, believed and trusted in Him, loved Him, and was obedient to Him, even to the point of death. Christ voluntarily performed these tasks as our Mediator and voluntarily submitted to the Father. Therefore, it is proper to say that God is the head of Christ, in His humanity as the Mediator.

The Interdependence of the Sexes

In an analogous way, Paul states that man is the head of woman. Just as God is the head of Christ and Christ is the head of mankind, so is man the head of the two sexes. Paul grounds this argument based not on the Fall, but based on the order of creation. Since the man was formed first (v. 7) and since the woman was made for the man (v. 8), this implies that man must be the head and chief of the mankind.

However, it’s important to note that this statement is an analogy, not an identity. In other words, although man is the head of the two sexes, his headship is not identical to the headship that Christ has over mankind or the headship that God has over Christ. This point should be emphasized in order to prevent the historical error of believing that women are essentially inferior to man in all matters (whether within the Church or within civil society). Man exercises his headship in ways that are analogous to Christ’s headship over mankind. As the head of the woman, man is to provide and care for her, to nourish and cherish her, and to protect and defend her against all insults and threats. Therefore, there is a sense of authority and rule within the context of headship, but the connotation of the term is properly attached to beneficent governance.

It’s also important to note that although man is the head of his own wife , both man and woman are dependent upon each other (v. 11-12). Consider the following commentary on this passage from 19th century pastor F.B. Meyer:

No soul is complete in itself. The man is not complete apart from Christ, as the woman is not complete apart from man… But it is very interesting to notice that while the Gospel so clearly insists on the divine order, it has elevated woman to be man’s true helpmeet, and has caused her to be honored and loved as the glory of man. Neither society, nor family life, nor woman herself, can be happy unless she attains her true position. On the one hand she finds her completion in man; on the other she is his queen and he ministers to her in all gentleness and tenderness and strength.

The Consequences

This statement is worth emphasizing because of the historical error of undervaluing women (within the Church and within civic society). Contrary to popular belief, it was the proclamation and spread of the gospel that liberated women and elevated their worth because it is God who defines and determines the purpose of His creation. Insofar as  we reject God’s intention for the creation both sexes as complements to each other, we diminish and devalue their value.

One of the evidences regarding the growing secularism of our society involves the confusion of God’s purpose for creation. In the 20th century, we saw the rise of early feminism with regards to the fight for woman’s suffrage; however, the influence of second wave and third wave feminism has brought the discussion of biblical sexuality to the steps of the American Church. It was the influence of the second wave feminism of the 1960s that began to associate the “subjugation of women” with broader critiques of patriarchy, normative heterosexuality, and the woman’s role as wife and mother. Furthermore, it was during the second wave of feminism in which sex and gender were differentiated from each other. In the 21st century, we are now in the position of observing the next evolution of third wave feminism. This current wave of feminism stepped onto the public stage as strong and empowered, eschewing victimization, and defining feminine beauty for themselves (not as object of male patriarchy). Whereas second wave feminism separated sex and gender, third-wave feminism has asserted that the very notion of gender discourages experimentation and creative thought. This has led to the commentary from many secular sources that we are creating a society of feminized men and masculine women.

 

Fortunately, the Word of God has not left us in the dark in addressing this issue. Throughout 1 Corinthians 11:3-16, Paul grounds his argument for headcoverings based on observable realities about the differences between man and woman. This means that Paul assumes that the Corinthian church understood that there are substantive differences between men and women (i.e. differences that extend beyond customs and cultures). Hence, in Paul’s mind, the audience of his letter already knew that sex and the modern concept of gender cannot be separated. Because God is the Creator, He alone has the prerogative to determine the purpose of His creation and this passage clearly teaches that woman was created for man (v. 9) and that woman is the crowning glory of man (v. 7). Hence, the modern idea of blurring the distinctions between men and women is a movement that is in rebellion against God’s original intention for woman to be the complementary pair of the human race.

Not only does God determine the original intention for woman and her relationship to her own husband , but He also determines feminine beauty. Consider Paul’s argument in v.13-15. Paul argues that special revelation is not needed to determine whether or not long hair is a woman’s glory. It is clear to all that long hair adorns a woman and is fitting for her sex. In modern terms, a woman’s biological features are consistent with her identity as a woman. This reiterates the point that it was never God’s intention to separate one’s sex (i.e. the biological construct) with one’s gender. Rather than seeing one’s biological makeup as a potential form of subjugation and oppression (which is becoming a common perspective among third wave feminists), God designed woman in such a way to fulfill her role as her husband’s  helpmeet and complement.

The Lord’s Supper

Paul concludes chapter 11 with a discussion of the Lord’s Supper. In this discussion, Paul gradually begins to return his readers to the discussion of love. He focuses the Corinthian church back on their attitudes toward one another, and he tells them yet again to stop being selfish. They were hosting love feasts but, ironically, they were not conducting them in a loving manner. As a result, Paul told them that they were partaking of the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner. Given that our present this section does not have any immediate implications for our study of Public Theology, we will not explore it further here.

A Reformed Baptist Perspective on Public Theology: The Pauline Epistles, Part I – Romans 1-8

You can read earlier posts in this series by clicking on the links below:

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In our most recent posts, we have looked to the narrative portions of the New Testament to discover what they might teach us regarding Public Theology. We must caution ourselves not to read into the descriptive portions of Scripture anything that is not prescriptive. Thus, it has been our aim to stick only to examples in the words and actions of Christ and the apostles that can be proven by a closer examination of the more didactic portions of the New Testament. Today, we have finally arrived at those portions: the epistles.

A Preliminary Caution

We must be careful when discussing the different epistles within the New Testament canon, so that we do not speak in terms of a strictly Pauline theology, a Petrine theology, a Johannine theology, etc. The individual writers of Scripture did have different emphases because of their unique personalities and backgrounds. They also had different emphases because of their unique audiences and the occasions of their writings. However, insofar as the apostles were taught of the same Lord, led by the same Spirit, and inspired of the same God and Father of all to pen His holy word, they only confessed one faith.

Thus, as we begin the remainder of our study of New Testament public theology with the letters of Paul, we will take great care that we do not pit Paul’s public theology against any of the other New Testament authors. We will simply demonstrate some of his unique contributions to the faith once and for all delivered to the saints, particularly as it relates to public theology. What we will find is that there is much unexpected overlap between Paul’s emphases and those of the other New Testament authors. On the other side of the same coin, we will see that there is much unexpected variety of emphases from one of Paul’s letters to the next.

Romans 1-8

The Thesis Statement of Romans

Providentially, Paul wrote to the church at Rome about his desire to come and to minister the gospel to them and, as we shall see, four other books of the Bible (Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon) would later be written by Paul from a Roman imprisonment. Paul’s desire to preach the gospel to the church at Rome spilled over into a lengthy and greatly cherished letter. In fact, Paul’s mention of this desire in Romans 1:15-17 has been touted as the thesis statement that provides the structure for all that follows in the letter.

“So, for my part, I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘But the righteous man shall live by faith,’” (Romans 1:15-17; NASB).

Being that these verses set the framework for all that follows, we will use them as the lens through which we examine the rest of the book of Romans. In this article, we will focus on principles found in this thesis statement that help us to understand why Paul teaches what he teaches in chapters 1-8.

A Gospel for the Church

Notice firstly the fact that Paul is talking to the church of God: “to all who are beloved of God in Rome, called as saints,” (vs. 7a; NASB). Paul tells these believers that he desires to preach the gospel to them. He does not say he desires to preach moralism, jokes, stories, or any other thing modern, pragmatic churches might use in an attempt to attract unbelievers. Paul recognized one thing, and he recognized it very well: the corporate worship of God in general, and the preaching of His word in particular, are privileges given to His people. Paul had no desire to preach secular psychology, the traditions of men, or the wisdom of the world. Paul was concerned with preaching that which has the power to save the soul: the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Sanctification. He desired to preach this gospel to the church, a message that we often relegate to the task of evangelism. Why did he want to preach it to the church? He wanted to do so in order that, through the preaching of the gospel, they might be saved. But aren’t they already saved? I mean, they are the church aren’t they? When we think along these lines, we fall into the error of oversimplifying the doctrine of salvation.

Paul recognized the fact that his readers were already justified through the cross-work of Jesus Christ. He was not speaking of a desire to preach the gospel to them for the furtherance of their justification. Rather, his desire was to preach the gospel to them for their further sanctification (an essential element of overall salvation), that they might grow in their appreciation for the gospel of Jesus Christ and, thus, walk according to the knowledge they had accumulated.

The sufficiency of the gospel. Now, some may be confused as to how this teaching has anything to do with Public Theology. If the gospel is the power of God unto salvation for the already saved church, we must be very precise in how we define the gospel. As we will see in our study of Galatians, adding anything to the gospel that is not intrinsic to the gospel makes it no gospel at all.

The first thing we must do is recognize the difference between the gospel and “gospel issues.” There are many pastors and theologians in the blogosphere today who use the term gospel issue as a social justice sledge-hammer to force people to do what they want them to do. We must first recognize that every sin is a “gospel issue,” because the gospel is what holistically saves us from sin. Furthermore, we should not confuse the gospel itself with the fruit that the gospel produces. The mission of the church must be centered on the preaching of the gospel.

Gospel preaching. We say that it saves us holistically, because the gospel saves us from beginning to end. Notice again that the gospel Paul is bringing, he is bringing to the church. Gospel preaching makes disciples; gospel preaching also teaches and guides disciples.

To say that we need anything other than gospel preaching to cure ethnic strife (for example) in Christian churches is like saying, “I stopped spanking my child, because it didn’t work.” Where we do not see immediate success in what God has commanded that we do, we do not have the justification to inject worldly philosophy and the traditions of man. Let us recall that Abraham had an illegitimate child with Hagar, because he would not wait on the Lord (cf. Genesis 16). Saul offered the sacrifice he had not been commanded to offer and lost his throne, because he would not wait on the Lord (cf. 1 Samuel 15). We will explore this notion more when we get to our study of Colossians.

The Power of God

Notice secondly that the gospel is the power of God to save. The Law has no power to save (Rom. 3:20, 28). Good feelings have no power to save. A sense of belonging and getting “plugged into a church ministry” have no power to save. The power of God for the salvation of all who believe is the gospel itself.

The goal of every valid, Christian pulpit ministry is wrapped up in this singular concept. Godly preaching has as its goal the salvation of the hearers (1Cor. 1:21; 15:2). There is a definite moment when that salvation is brought to the sinner, when he is called, regenerated, justified, and adopted into the family of God (Rom. 2:29; 5:5; 8:14-17, 29-30). However, the result of that initial grace is that the newly regenerate saint will identify with the visible church through baptism in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Then, he will come under the teaching of the word of God and be taught all that Christ commanded. This is true discipleship: that sinners would repent, be baptized, and sit under the preached word of Christ (Mt. 28:19-20). It is that preached word, that gospel of Jesus Christ, that is the power of God unto final salvation (Rom. 8:30; 10:11-14).

Christian discipleship. One thing that often gets overlooked in our discussion of Public Theology is the necessity of discipleship. We must recognize the fact that no one comes to the Christian religion with a philosophical clean slate. By the time we come to faith in Christ, and even after we come to faith in Him, we will have imbibed the world’s way of thinking on a host of issues (e.g. gender, economics, science, ethnic relations, work ethic, etc.). These are all issues on which our thinking must be brought in line with the word of God.

There are two ways in which our thinking on these issues can be brought in line with Scripture: gospel preaching and intentional discipleship. There are at least two terms in the Greek Scriptures that are commonly translated preaching: κηρύσσω, or I herald (proclaim; cf. Lk. 24:46-47), and εὐαγγελίζω, or I bring good news (preach the gospel; 1Pt. 1:12). These are not the only two terms used in the Greek Scriptures, but they will suffice to demonstrate how preaching is discussed in the Word of God. Modern evangelicals, thanks to expository preaching, will be more clear on what we mean by gospel preaching than intentional discipleship. By gospel preaching, we simply mean the week-in / week-out preaching of the whole counsel of God, it’s central, unifying message being that of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Intentional discipleship is less uniform from church to church. Some elders are more drawn to a very intense one-on-one approach to discipleship. Others prefer group settings like Sunday School, small groups, etc. It is not our purpose here to tell pastors which of these is the only right and proper approach to intentional discipleship. The point is that intentional discipleship is a necessary element of church life. If this were not true, Paul might not have written Romans 12-16.

It is this intentional discipleship Paul wrote about when he told his child in the faith, Timothy, “The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also,” (2Tim. 2:2; NASB). The term used in 2 Timothy 2:2 for teach is the word διδάσκω from which we get the English term didactic. This approach might be seen as more lecture based. In Romans 2:18 and Galatians 6:6, Paul uses a much more intimate term: κατηχέω, from which we get the English term catechetical. Strong’s concordance gives as one definition: “to learn by nuanced repetition.” Where a more didactic approach might take place in a lecture-based setting, like a small group or Sunday School class, the catechetical approach might be encouraged in one-on-one settings like an intimate fellowship or in the home. Either way, the discipleship of Christians, and children of Christian parents, is essential for the Christian life.

Gospel-centered discipleship. Even the discipleship of Christians is to have the gospel of Jesus Christ as its central focus, because the gospel is God’s power unto salvation and ultimate salvation requires growth in holiness. “Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord,” (Heb. 12:14; NKJV). Christians who do not pursue holiness will not see the Lord; they will not be saved. Let us recall what is the power of God unto this salvation: the gospel. So, if salvation requires holiness and the gospel of God is sufficient for our salvation, it is clear that the gospel is sufficient for making Christians holy.

This means that all sin is to be addressed with the gospel, whether in our preaching or in our personal discipleship. When addressing homosexual marriage, we respond with gospel preaching and gospel discipleship. When addressing ethnic strife, we respond with gospel preaching and gospel discipleship. When addressing parental neglect, laziness, drunkenness, abuse, insubordination, etc., we respond with gospel preaching and gospel discipleship.

Conclusion

Romans 1-8 is a thorough teaching on the gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul labors for chapters to help his readers to understand Christ’s gospel. Why? Simple. He wants them to know the gospel through which they have been justified, through which they are being sanctified, and through which they will be glorified. As a result of having a precise knowledge of the gospel of saving grace, believers are equipped to walk according to the statutes given them in God’s word. Having been declared holy as a result of Christ’s active and passive obedience, Christians are emboldened to walk in holiness by the power of the Spirit through the word preached.

In our next article, we will focus on principles found in Paul’s thesis statement that help us to understand why Paul teaches what he teaches in chapters 9-11.

What do Christian Egalitarians Believe?

When many Christians think about egalitarianism they often think about a number of things. Foremost is the belief that women also are gifted to serve as pastors and elders in churches, but other people may have more outlandish and extreme thoughts like: worshipping a feminine deity alongside worship with God, referring to God as “She”, rewriting the Bible to make it less oppressive to women (Elizabeth Cady Stanton did that in the early 1900s), accepting egalitarianism automatically causes one to accept homosexuality, and more. However, in my reading and research over the past few days, I’ve realized that like complementarianism, there is a spectrum to egalitarianism that must be kept in mind to approach this topic responsibly. So in my posts, I will draw a lot of my information from Christians for Biblical Equality (CBE) and the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW). I believe that this is probably the most fair and accurate treatment of this topic that I can give because they are both well-established organizations that have existed for over 20 years now.

Let me begin my first post by allowing Christian egalitarians to define themselves, and the best way to understand who they are is to know what they believe. According to CBE, they believe in 12 statements derived from their understanding of the Bible. The entirety of the document can be found here, but the 12 statements are below. For the sake of space, I am not including the Scripture references that they included, but you can see the references in the above link.

  1. The Bible teaches that both man and woman were created in God’s image, had a direct relationship with God, and shared jointly the responsibilities of bearing and rearing children and having dominion over the created order.
  2. The Bible teaches that woman and man were created for full and equal partnership. The word “helper” (ezer) used to designate woman in Genesis 2:18 refers to God in most instances of Old Testament usage. Consequently the word conveys no implication whatsoever of female subordination or inferiority.
  3. The Bible teaches that the forming of woman from man demonstrates the fundamental unity and equality of human beings. In Genesis 2:18, 20 the word “suitable” (kenegdo) denotes equality and adequacy.
  4. The Bible teaches that man and woman were co-participants in the Fall: Adam was no less culpable than Eve.
  5. The Bible teaches that the rulership of Adam over Eve resulted from the Fall and was therefore not a part of the original created order. Genesis 3:16 is a prediction of the Fall rather than a prescription of God’s ideal order.
  6. The Bible teaches that Jesus Christ came to redeem women as well as men. Through faith in Christ we all become children of God, one in Christ, and heirs to the blessings of salvation without reference to racial, social or gender distinctives.
  7. The Bible teaches that at Pentecost the Holy Spirit came on men and women alike. Without distinction, the Holy Spirit indwells women and men, and sovereignly distributes gifts without preference as to gender.
  8. The Bible teaches that both women and men are called to develop their spiritual gifts and to use them as stewards of the grace of God. Both men and women are divinely gifted and empowered to minister to the whole Body of Christ, under His authority.
  9. The Bible teaches that, in the New Testament economy, women as well as men exercise the prophetic, priestly and royal functions. Therefore, the few isolated texts that appear to restrict the full redemptive freedom of women must not be interpreted simplistically and in contradiction to the rest of Scripture, but their interpretation must take into account their relation to the broader teaching of Scripture and their total context.
  10. The Bible defines the function of leadership as the empowerment of others for service rather than as the exercise of power over them.
  11. The Bible teaches that husbands and wives are heirs together of the grace of life and that they are bound together in a relationship of mutual submission and responsibility. The husband’s function as “head” (kephale) is to be understood as self-giving love and service within this relationship of mutual submission.
  12. The Bible teaches that both mothers and father are to exercise leadership in the nurture, training, discipline and teaching of their children.

Now, if you have read the statements the way I have, from the complementarian lens, you probably had a few moments of disbelief, head shaking, and maybe some genuine anger. The most obvious problematic points that stand out are: the reinterpretation of classic Scripture passages, the redefinition of historically understood terms, a novel hermeneutical approach to the Bible, and the misunderstanding of the function and work of the Holy Spirit in accomplishing the purposes of the Godhead. Each of these points deserves a separate blog (maybe several), but before we engage in a critique of the egalitarian movement and their beliefs, I think it is wise to finish understanding what they believe.

In the case that we could understand them the wrong way, CBE does offer another useful section on the application of their beliefs within the same document. I will be bringing up their applications in my next blog and use it as a critique of the complementarian movement. I understand that this may be a bit of a surprising approach for most complementarians, but I don’t mind critiquing my own beliefs. We are all often guilty of over-correcting, under-correcting, over-emphasizing, and under-emphasizing many things in the Christian faith. However, the one thing that will always stand true and free from error is the Word of God. So the critique is headed our way first, and the ball will land in their court soon.