Kephalē and Context: Toward a Biblical Understanding of Headship

mwFor more thirty years, an exegetical debate has raged between complementarians and egalitarians over a single word: Kephalē, the Greek word for ‘head.’

The former argue that this word means “authority over,” while the latter argues the word means “source.” In the New Testament, this word can be found to have both connotations, even in the same book. For instance, Colossians identifies Christ as the preeminent head of the church and the nourishing head from which the church derives its life and growth.

Colossians 1:18. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent

Colossians 2:19. . . . the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.

Still, debate remains. Without getting into all the exegetical evidence—of which there is plenty; Wayne Grudem tracks down 2336 uses of kephalē in one article—I want to show how the claim that “authority over” is exegetically unsubstantiated is actually unfounded. Far better to see kephalē as a word that wonderfully displays the original design of Genesis 1–2, men and women equal in value, distinct in roles. Continue reading

Revisiting the Lord’s Supper: A Sermon on 1 Corinthians 11:17–34

mealYesterday our church took the Lord’s Supper. Detouring from the book of Titus for a week, we considered the significance of Jesus’s gospel-proclaiming meal.

In my sermon on 1 Corinthians 11:17–34, we observed how Paul corrected the twin problems of (1) divisions at the Lord’s Supper and (2) indifference to the divisions with three solutions (vv. 17–22). First, he rehearsed the gospel of Jesus Christ by re-explaining to the Corinthians what the bread and cup symbolize (vv.23–26). Next, he called for all participants to examine themselves before taking of the meal (vv.27–32). And last, he challenged the church to “receive one another” as they came to the Table (vv.33–34).

Paul’s view of the Lord’s Supper is a worthwhile reminder of how serious this meal is. He warns that when divisions go unchecked at the Lord’s Table, the church and its members eat the meal in vain (v. 20). While the bread, the cup, and the church may be gathered, it is possible that the people eat their “own meal,” not the Lord’s Supper (v. 21). Such a sober reminder calls us to examine our hearts and repent of anything that would bring division in the body of Christ.

At the same time, those who are resisting sin and trusting daily in the gospel need not worry about taking the meal in an unworthy manner, as many earnest saints often do. The warning is directed to those resisting repentance, not resisting sin. On this point, Ray Van Neste offers a helpful corrective about the meaning of 1 Corinthians 11:28.

It is a fairly common practice for believers voluntarily to abstain from Communion because they feel they are not properly prepared at that given time. They think they should not partake of Communion if they are struggling with sin. This . . . arises from a misunderstanding of the call to examine ourselves. The warning . . . is against partaking in an unworthy manner, referring to the unrepentant self-centeredness of the Corinthians who were ignoring other members of the body. The warning does not apply to those who are struggling with sin but are looking to the cross in repentance, hating their sin and yearning to be pleasing to God. (Ray Van Neste, “The Lord’s Supper in the Context of the Local Church,” in The Lord’s Suppered. Thomas R. Schreiner and Matthew R. Crawford, 386)

All in all, the Lord’s Supper is a vital part of the Christian experience. It calls the hard-hearted to repentance and it invites the broken-hearted believer to taste afresh the grace of God. Sadly, it has been misunderstand and misapplied in too many contexts. Hence, the reason why we considered it yesterday.

If you desire to better understand how Paul speaks about this meal in 1 Corinthians, I pray that yesterday’s message might serve you. You can find it here: “Revisiting the Lord’s Supper: A Holy Heart for a Holy Meal.”

At the same time, for those interested in diving deeper into the theology, history, and practice of the Lord’s Supper, let me encourage you to pick up The Lord’s Supper: Remembering and Proclaiming Christ Until He Comesedited by Thomas R. Schreiner and Matthew R. Crawford. As I preached on 1 Corinthians 11, I found Jim Hamilton’s chapter particularly helpful.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

 

The Mystery of Marriage: A Quasi-Ordinance

[This is a follow-up post from The Mystery of Marriage: A Parable of Christ and Church  which reflected on George Knight’s article on Ephesians 5 in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism, edited by John Piper and Wayne Grudem [Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1991], 175-76)].

From the foundation of the world, marriage was always designed to picture a greater reality.  Generation after generation of God’s covenant people knew of his marital designs and creation, but only in the fullness of time, as Jesus Christ came in the flesh and the Spirit of Christ inspired the apostles to elucidate the gospel of Jesus Christ, did the mystery of husband and wife become known.  Consider Knight’s concluding remarks:

But if this is so, then the order Paul is speaking of here (submission and love [in Ephesians 5:22-33]) is not accidental or temporary or culturally determined: it is part of the essence of marriage, part of God’s original plan for perfect, sinless, harmonious marriage.  This is a powerful argument for the fact that Christlike, loving headship and church-like, willing submission are rooted in creation and in God’s eternal purposes, not just in the passing trends of culture (176).

In our foolish and anti-Christ(ian) world, there are countless marriages that exist in rebellion against the very purpose for which they were designed.  God made marriage for his glory and the expression his covenant love with his bride, redeemed humanity.  Consequently, the establishment of marriage in Genesis 2 was intended to tesify to this reality. 

Today, unbelievers experience the mystery of marriage, but without knowing how to understand it.  They are blind to its salvific and cosmic significance.  Too non-Christian marriages are drenched in bitterness and guile, because unmitigated sin gnaws at their covenantal bond.  But unbelievers are not alone.  Christian marriages war against God’s design for marriage whenever they cast aside God’s intended order for husbands and wives (cf. 1 Cor. 11:7; Eph. 5:22-33; 1 Pet. 3:1-7).  This can be done by deliberate egalitarianism or by immature believers in need of marital sanctification.  Either way, in failing to recognize God’s wise design for husbands to lead and wives to follow, for men to love like Christ and women to submit like the church, they are dishonoring the Word of God, disobeying the Lord who bought them, and distorting God’s picture of salvation captured in the parable of marriage. 

God’s illustrative purposes for marriage is what makes it a mystery.  Just as the heavens testify to the glory of God, so marriage captures something of his grandeur–something that is seen in the best of marriages, to be sure.  Likewise, as baptism and the Lord’s supper resemble the salvation of Christ’s disciples, so marriage images something about Christ and the church.  In this way, marriage is a kind of quasi-ordinance.  It is not restricted to the church; it is rather for all people.  Yet, in its global enjoyment it testifies to heavenly realities and God’s cosmic plan of redemption in Christ.  In this way, marriage is perhaps one of the largest and potentially broadest means of sharing the gospel, as marriage itself can be called upon to witness to Christ and the church.  The impact of marriage biblically arranged and gloriously incarnated has great evangelistic potential.  Soberly, couples that disregard God’s word concerning marriage, cannot have such effect. 

God’s designs are not new, they are from before the foundation of the world.  Neither is Satan’s attack on marriage.  He attacked Eve in the Garden and he is still advancing towards marriages today.  May we who love the gospel and the biblical vision for marriage, fight to protect our homes from the corrosive effects of an anti-marriage culture, and may we by the power of the Spirit embrace and embody God’s glorious designs for marriage.  So that perhaps, the world around us might come to know Christ by the testimony of our marriages which point to the message we proclaim–Jesus Christ is Lord!

Sola Deo Gloria, dss

Gender-Specificity and the Gospel of Jesus Christ

When Paul speaks in Titus 2:1 about sound doctrine, he immediately turns to relationships. Rather than expatiating a systematic theology, Paul says that theology is worked out in the context of distinctly masculine and feminine roles, in youthful and elderly stages of life, and in varying spheres of leadership and influence (i.e. masters and slaves).  Clearly theology that is genuine is incarnated in the daily life of Christians.  In regards to husband and wife relations, Christopher Ash in his book Marriage: Sex in the Service of God  picks up this same idea– theologically-infused living– when he comments on another Pauline passage in 1 Corinthians 11.  He writes:

Paul’s teaching here (1 Cor. 11:2-16) seems to be conditioned by women (perhaps reacting against the abuses of patriarchy) behaving as if they can ‘go it alone’ in their behaviour, whether by ceasing to be gladly feminine or by reluctance to cooperate in the marriage partnership. By their contentious and disorderly behaviour they bring disrepute on the gospel. In the absence of proper order (which includes Christian subordination of the wife to the husband, and headship as sacrificial serving authority) there will be rivalry rather than partnership between the sexes. Perhaps in Corinth the women needed reminding both of their interdependence with the men and that they were made ‘for the sake of’ man, as partners in a shared God-given task. Disorder (and in particular a wrong attitude of subordination) leads to rivalry in which the weakest go to the wall; the task will be neglected. Proper order will promote sexual relations in the service of God (302).

Ash does not only address women but men as well.  Writing later in his book, he furthers his argument of gender-specific gospel living by saying:

The love of husband for wife is to be modelled on the cross. It is to be self-sacrificial love and not the self-serving enjoyment of some misguided privilege. Christian headship in marriage is marriage in the shape of cross; most contemporary debate misses this central point. For Christ to be head of the church was not a cheap or comfortable calling; it involved crucifixion (322).

The purpose of marriage then, says Ash, is that “the husband takes upon himself the goal of being such a husband whose love will lead his wife into growth in personal and spiritual maturity (for there is not dichotomy between these two), so that his greatest aim in marriage is not his self-fulfillment but the blossoming of his wife. ‘Husbands should be utterly committed to the total well-being, especially the spiritual welfare, of their wives’ (Peter O’Brien 1999:422-424). This might sound a little self-righteous, as if he from his Olympian spiritual height can raise up his wife to his level; it is in fact deeply humbling. No husband can take responsibility seriously without himself being deeply conscious of his own need for cleansing, holiness and growth in grace” (324).

Both headship (expressed in sacrifice) and submissiveness (to unjust authority) are expressions of the way of the cross (327).

In these bold and counter-cultural statements, Christopher Ash is saying something twenty-first century Christians need to hear.  Both expressions of headship and submissiveness adorn the gospel of God and manifest, in part, the inner workings of the Trinity. In fleshing out male and female roles, husbands and wives, become more like the men and women God created them to be.  In other words, they more accurately display the gospel of Jesus Christ when they bear the fruits of biblical masculinity and feminity in the roles of head and helpmate.  Just as Jesus came as the perfect second Adam, so too married men and women, when they gladly take on their biblical roles, dignify humanity and call men and women living outside of God’s moral order to return to the truth. 

Realistically, the world’s response may not be commendation and praise, but rejection of the gospel light reflected in these godly marriages.  Nevertheless, when the world encounters a gracious patriarch willing to lay down his life for the care and protection of his family and gentle feminine companion unwilling to usurp his authority or combat his leadership, the world encounters something different, perhaps even transcedent.  When the world encounters a 1 Corinthians 11 woman or an Ephesians 5 man, it encounters a picture of Christ and the church! This is a powerful testimony and one the world can only hate. It cannot deny its Spirit-wrought reality!

May who claim the name of Christ all grow in grace and godliness, not as androgynous saints, but as brothers and sisters manifesting distinctly masculine and feminine godliness in the marriages God has given to us.

Sola Deo Gloria, dss

The Complementarian Task: Marriage, Gender Roles, and the Great Commission (pt. 2)

Yesterday, we considered the biblical theological continuity and discontinuity of the creational imperatives of ruling and bearing children and how they are picked up in Jesus’ Great Commission.  I concluded by asking how gender roles in marriage impact the presentation and the proclamation of the gospel.  In other words, I wanted to get at how gender roles in marriage interact with the Great Commission.   Are they necessary for the discipling of the nations in such a way that if abandoned the message of salvation would be distorted or denied?  Or are they merely inconsequential components that actually impede the progress of the gospel?   Would it be better to “get over” issues of gender so that we can reach the plethora of egalitarian socities that are resistant to the gospel?  Which is it? Surely Scripture which in its opening chapter distinguishes male and female has something to say about the matter. 

In 1 Corinthians, the Apostle Paul writes, “Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of the woman” (1 Cor. 11:2).  Just as Peter says, “wives, be submissive to your own husbands” (1 Pet. 3:1ff), commending them to be daughters of Sarah who showed her husband respect and deference by calling him “lord.”  “Likewise, husbands, live with your wifes in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life” (1 Pet. 3:7).  Even if the world lives to turn the Bible on its head and rejects these teachings in passionate unbelief, the Scriptural portrait is undeniable.  Men and women are equal, yet distinct.  Both made in the image of God, they are co-heirs; nevertheless in their roles and natural relations they are different.  Husbands are to lead and wives are to help.   This is the original pattern, and this is the restored relationship in the plan of redemption.  The man’s good works are uniquely masculine, while the woman also displays a particular feminine conformity into the image of Christ.  And in the Great Commission, these roles are not to be undermined.  Rather as mutually distinctive partners, husbands and wives, can, should, and must complement one another in the work, not compete for one another’s place of service.  Douglas Wilson writes about this in his book, Reforming Marriage:

A husband and wife are not to be shoulder-to-shoulder, marching off to work at the task together. Nor are they both to be home all the time, face-to-face, eternally and perpetually ‘in love.’ Rather, with both man and woman understanding their respective roles, he faces his future and calling under God, and she, by his side, faces him (Doug Wilson, 66).

The point is, Jesus’ Great Commision is not a sex-less enterprise. Rising from the dust of the original imperative to be fruitful and multiply, it is not to be accomplished by androgynous disciples; rather, it is to be fulfilled by redeemed men and women who are shaped by the Spirit into distinctly masculine and feminine representives of the kingdom. Paul commends this in Titus 2 when he instructs older women to teach younger women and older men to model the faith before younger men (cf. 2:1-10).  Though cross-gender evangelism is frequent and fruitful, this is not the same thing as biblical discipleship.  Men need godly men to whom they can pattern their lives, and women need mature females to train them in domestic holiness.

Likewise, we who claim the name of Christ must realize that the evangelistic task is not simply about winning disconnected individuals to the Lord, though many will come on their own (Matt. 10:34-36), but to see the families of the nations (Ps. 22:27)–men, women, and children–saved and adopted into the family of faith.   When this happens, relationships are built, roles are revived, the household of God flourishes, and the glory of the gospel is seen.  The gospel then does more than give eternal life to the transexual male who flees from their former lifestyle, it completes its task by “restor[ing] the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers” (Mal. 4:6).  Likewise, the gospel’s witness and effect is not only seen in that it redeems the soul of a pro-choice prostitute, it also dignifies that woman’s choice to become a mother, so that she may be saved through child-bearing as she “continue[s] in faith and love and sanctity with self-restraint” (1 Tim. 2:15).  Here we are not talking about the rudiments of the gospel–what must be believed–but the effects.  The gospel is seen in the transformed lives of men and women (cf. James 2:14ff, not coincidentally James includes a man and a woman in his illustration–Abraham and Rahab).

This kind of specific gospel transformation can only take place when gender roles are upheld.  Moreover, the Great Commission can only have its true effect when the nations obey all Scripture has to say about men and women’s roles.  This can take place in the jungle tribe that forsakes polygamy to conform their marriages into unions that resemble Christ and the church, or it can take place in the urban jungle where a young married couple decides against the pill and to pursue a family in a culture that normalizes two-person incomes.  In his wisdom, God designed his Spirit-indwelt children to find gender-specifc niches in his family–as mothers and fathers, sons and daughters–and in doing this the Great Commission is advanced.  To neglect this is to reject the whole counself of Scripture and the need to rightly reflect in our marriages and homes the gospel of Jesus Christ.  This is not optional, but absolutely essential.

Focusing on the need for marital conformity to the Great Commission is instructive because it calls Christian husbands and wives to consider their marital orientation and to ask, “How are we fulfilling the Great Commission?” For those who are married, this must be the central aim of their marriages. It must become the one thing that sets the agenda for everything else. Truly, this is a high and holy calling and one impossible without the Spirit, but then again, why should we settle for anything less?  Jesus promised to all those who believe in him, that he would come and live within them, until the end of the age, and that by his Spirit we would be bold witnesses (cf. Matt. 28:18-20; Acts 1:8).  This is the promise that accompanies the command to be worldwide witnesses. This reality is true personally and in marriage.

May the Spirit of Christ be pleased to grant us grace and wisdom to fulfill the task of winning the nations, through husbands who lead their families to love the kingdom of Christ and wives who come alongside their men to help accomplish the task.

Sola Deo Gloria, dss