Submission: What Does Ephesians 5 Tell Us?

Who should submit to whom? That question seems to be a pressing one for some. Recently in reviewing It’s Good To Be a Man, I took issue with the position of the book on submission. The authors state their position (from which I dissented) that “All leadership, whether in the Old or the New Testament, whether civil or domestic or ecclesiastical, is exclusively male.” (page 9 in the Kindle edition)

A commentator on the review questioned my use of Ephesians 5:

I’ve seen you bring up that Ephesians 5 proof text to back up your logic multiple times. Unfortunately, you use that text extremely vaguely. What does that verse mean? Are you implying that husbands are to submit to their wives as well? If that is the case, then interestingly enough, the interpretation you use is the same one that egalitarians use. Hmmm might not be the best company to be lodging with theologically, don’t ya think? (July 23, 2022, comment by Dd)

Ephesians 5:21 reads “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”(NIV). Paul did not insert paragraph and section breaks in his original letter, but for our convenience the NIV editors placed a section break entitled “Instructions for Christian Households” before verse 21. They make that verse a separate paragraph, and then the following paired instructions for wives and husbands, children and fathers,  and slaves and masters are each separated into a distinct paragraph. The ESV, on the other hand, puts a section break between Verse 21 and verse 22. Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, is making connections which our editorial breaks can obscure. Greek tends to use longer, more complex sentences than we do in English, and there can be good reason for a translation to separate a lengthy sentence into several for ease in reading. For instance, Ephesians 1:3–14 is all one sentence in Greek — trying to diagram (does anyone still diagram sentences?) it in Greek or English is a challenge!

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Lessons on Racism?

Guest author of this blog is Glenn Jerrell, retired OPC pastor. Recently he posted on The Aquila Report a response to  Bennie Castle’s “Lessons Learned? Allegations at the OPC General Assembly” posted on the Aquila Report, June 20, 2022. He has since revised his response and expanded it with a new third point. See here and here for the articles dealing with reports of racist behavior at the General Assembly.

The rapid response of the 88th General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, under the guiding hand of the moderator and others, was exactly what was needed regarding incidents of reported racial disparagement. Mr. Castle makes a salient point, which should not be lost, that we live in a negative culture.

  1. A negative world is nothing new. Ask the Suffering Servant about a negative culture. From our first parents Adam and Eve through Christ to the apostolic witness, sin is exposed in every generation and that is why the Word makes clear from beginning to end that a Savior from sin is absolutely necessary. Racial disparagement is a destructive and negative manifestation of sin.
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Jesus Christ Is Lord!

Well, of course, he is, you might respond, particularly if you, like myself, believe the Bible’s account that Jesus is not just a man, but that he is the eternal Son of God who became man. He was born of the Virgin Mary. He is the God man.

Wasn’t he always Lord, you might ask? True. As the second person of the Godhead, infinite glory and power always belonged to him and always will. Yet, without in any way compromising or diminishing his eternal power and glory, Paul can talk about an additional Lordship that is given to him by the Father as Jesus completes his work of redemption.

In Philippians 2:5, Paul tells you to have the attitude of Christ. Then, in verses 6–8 he describes the humility, suffering, and death of Jesus, as he gave his life in the place of sinners. Paul is calling us to reflect that servant’s attitude.

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The Mind of Christ

Why did the Apostle Paul include in his letter to the church at Philippi a hymn containing one of the richest Christological passages in all of Scripture (2:6–11)? Because Christ’s humiliation and subsequent exaltation are the motive for Christians to treat one another well (2:1–4)! In Chapter 4 he would call out two of the saints by name, but instead of harshly rebuking them, much less mocking them, he would plead with them to be of the same mind in the Lord. In Philippians 2 the entire church is urged to be like minded.

Clearly, harsh treatment of fellow believers is not a new problem. But in our world of instant electronic communication, the temptation to be quick to criticize is hard to resist. And the problem is exacerbated by Christians who have, perhaps unconsciously, adopted the censoriousness of the world. It is far too easy to treat even minor differences among brothers and sisters as though they were denials of the faith. Too often I have heard calls for moderation in how we communicate dismissed with a scornful, “Tone police!”

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The Gift of Suffering and the Usefulness of the Cross

The gift of suffering! Isn’t that the gift that nobody wants? To be sure, the Word of God doesn’t teach us to pursue suffering. But it does describe the life of the Christian, the life of the ordinary Christian, not just that of a martyr or some kind of super-saint, as a life of suffering. In fact, as Paul tells you in Philippians 1:29, if you believe in Christ you suffer with him: “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him….” (NIV)

In preparing to preach on that verse, I re-read a superb article, written over 40 years ago. A longish quote, followed by a brief comment:

“We tend to think only of persecution that follows on explicit witness to Christ, or perhaps also of intense physical suffering or economic hardships that may result from a stand taken for the gospel. … But the ‘sufferings of Christ’ are much broader. They are the Christian’s involvement in the ‘sufferings of the present time,’ as the time of comprehensive subjection of the entire creation to futility and frustration, to decay and pervasive, enervating weakness…. Where existence in creation under the curse on sin and in the mortal body is not simply borne, be it stoically or in whatever other sinfully self-centered, rebellious way, but borne for Christ and lived in his service, there, comprehensively, is ‘the fellowship of his sufferings.’”

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It’s Good To Be a Man — A Review

It’s Good To Be a Man: A Handbook for Godly Masculinity by Michael Foster and Dominic Bnonn Tennant. Canon Press, Moscow, Idaho, 2021. Paperback, 242 pages, $17.95 (Amazon), Kindle, $9.99. (Page references in the review are to the Kindle edition, which in my copy has 170 pages.)

Why is the book popular?

Our world’s attempt at autonomy and rebellion against God comes to expression, among other areas, in human sexuality. Gender fluidity contradicts the way that God created mankind, male and female. Even when rebellion is less explicit, one sees a great deal of gender confusion. Would be autonomous mankind denies the authority of the Creator by rejecting human authority. These are areas that Scripture addresses, and thus areas to which the church ought to speak. I believe this is why It’s Good To Be a Man (IGTBAM) appeals to so many. (Amazon’s “Best Sellers Rank” currently places the book as #12 in its category of “Christian Men’s Issues.”) The book is correct in telling us that our problem is sin. IGTBAM is seen as an antidote to that sin and confusion in society. Another positive reason for the book’s popularity may be that it does attempt to deal with aspects of a man’s life which are broader than his personal relationship with God and his family. Nevertheless, although we need something that encourages Christians to have a godly impact on the world around them, I do not believe IGTBAM meets that need. Instead, it seems to perpetuate the church’s sad history of rejecting an error on one side of the road and reacting by driving into the ditch on the opposite side.

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Excursus on the Fifth Commandment

A friend, knowing that I was concerned about the book, It’s Good To Be a Man (IGTBAM), put me in touch with one of the authors, the Rev. Michael Foster, pastor of East River Church (CREC) in Batavia, Ohio, and we exchanged a few emails as I was preparing to review the book, here. Mr. Foster responded graciously to my concern about the reference to the Shorter Catechism mentioned in my review. He suggested that the proof texts cited in support of Q. 129 of the Larger Catechism, which deals with the responsibilities of superiors, include Colossians 3:19 (calling husbands to love their wives) and 1 Peter 3:7 (commanding husbands to honor their wives as the weaker vessel) show that the authors of the catechisms “made it clear by citing these marriage relationship texts that they saw husbands as superiors (in rank, not essence) owing their wives loving care” [personal correspondence, January 29, 2022, quoted with permission]. He continues: “The point we were making in the chapter had to do with rank, not essence. Women aren’t ontologically inferior to men. Headship and submission isn’t due to women being lesser or men being greater. It’s simply part of our God’s created order.”

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Does Your Tongue Attack God?

Cursing, taking God’s name in vain, violates the Third Commandment (Exodus 20:7). In the third chapter of his Epistle, James warns how easily we sin with out tongues. He underscores that point when, in James 3:9–10, he points out the utter contradiction of using our tongues to bless God and then using the same organ to curse men, who are made in the likeness of God.

What sets mankind apart from the rest of creation? God made us in his image. Instead of just speaking us into existence, the pattern set earlier in Genesis 1, God deliberately creates mankind, male and female, in his own image and likeness. Although sin warps that image, mankind is still image of God. That gives value to human life (Genesis 9:6) and is reason to protect even the most vulnerable in our culture — the yet to be born and the elderly. Taking life unjustly sins, not only against the victim, but also against the God who created that person in his image.

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Ministerial Voices

Several years ago the presbytery of which I am a member was so seriously affected by divisions that the General Assembly appointed a committee to visit and seek to assist us. While there was a theological issue that was the focal point of much contention, the Committee to Visit the Presbytery of the Northwest reported to the General Assembly its view of underlying problems which had resulted in two congregations withdrawing from the OPC with their pastors and a third minister renouncing the jurisdiction of the OPC. The Committee spoke of “divisive speech and attitudes” in the presbytery. It reflected on “the mistaken notion that the PNW merely suffers from a theological dispute leads to an unhelpful tendency to inadequately address and acknowledge the more significant causes of division…. On the personal level, brothers within the presbytery have failed at crucial times to deal openly and honestly with one another about various personal grievances.” (quotes from the Minutes of the Eighty-third General Assembly, p. 326).

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Three Complaints, a Summary

When the General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church met last summer, how did it deal with three items on its agenda that involved how Aimee Byrd and Rachel Miller had been treated in some church circles? (The General Assembly is the broadest body in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.) A friend of mine recently asked if anyone had written a summary of the actions the assembly took regarding those items. I was not aware of such a summary, so I tried to help him by providing the following.

Introduction:

               A complaint, as the term is used in the constitution of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC), is not simply a gripe or objection, but rather, a written document “charging a judicatory with delinquency or error.” (Book of Discipline IX.1) A complaint is first brought to the body that the one complaining believes has erred, giving it the opportunity to make a satisfactory correction. If the complainant is not satisfied, the complaint may be appealed to the next higher judicatory.

               The Rev. Glenn D. Jerrell authored three complaints against the Presbytery of the Southeast (PSE), of which he is a member. All three dealt with actions, or failures to act, as the presbytery dealt with officers who had made sweeping, public attacks against several members of the OPC. When the presbytery denied his complaints, he appealed them to the 87th General Assembly (GA), where they were numbered Complaints 7, 8, and 9 (because the Assembly did not meet in 2020 due to the pandemic, an unusually large number of complaints were before the body).

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