“You Are Still a Mother”

“I’m sorry. There is no heartbeat.” One week away from her due date, Jackie Gibson and her husband, Jonny, heard those words cut through the silence of the room in the hospital. Their daughter, Leila, died before she was born. In You Are Still a Mother,[1] Jackie Gibson quotes those crushing words several times as she chronicles navigating her grief.

The Gibsons know, and knew at the time of Leila’s death, the Good Shepherd, the Man of Sorrows, who knows our grief and suffering. He, his person and work, form the basis for the hope mentioned in the subtitle. Yet the book is utterly honest. There is no shortcut through grief. It continues. Jackie writes:

I am not the same person I was before Leila died. The trauma of my devastating loss has etched itself onto my heart and body. Grief has taken up residence in my heart and is now my companion for life. Sometimes its presence is loud and clanging, and other times it is tucked away and so quiet that I forget for a moment that it is there. But grief is there. And whenever I feel that pang in my heart, I remember that Leila’s death has changed me. (54)

Wisely she wishes that debriefing in the hospital had included information about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

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The Use and Abuse of ‘Superiors, Inferiors, or Equals’

Painting by John Rogers of debate in the Westminster Assembly on a portion of the Confession of Faith. Insert: Title page of the first printing of the Shorter Catechism for members of Parliament

What Don’t the Westminster Catechisms Say?

“The Westminster Shorter Catechism speaks of the husband as superior to the wife, and of lay people as inferior to their leaders” state Michael Foster and Dominic Bnonn Tennant in their popular book, It’s Good To Be a Man.[1] Prior to reviewing the book, when I suggested to one of the authors that the Shorter Catechism lacks that statement,[2] I was told that the intended reference is to the Larger Catechism and that the correction will be made. However, as I pointed out in my review, while Q. 64 speaks of “preserving the honor, and performing the duties, belonging to every one in their several places and relations, as superiors, inferiors, or equals” (and Q. 123–133 of the Larger Catechism use similar language), neither those answers, nor any others in the catechisms describe “the husband as superior to the wife” or “lay people as inferior to their leaders.”[3] Messrs. Foster and Tennant appear to be appealing to the catechetical language of “superiors, inferiors, or equals” to support their view of the inferiority of wives and of those holding the general office of believer, although, since neither catechism states what they suggest, their argument lies somewhere on the spectrum between sloppy writing and improper use of sources.

            While the example above is blatant, one does not have to spend extended time on social media to realize that those authors are not alone in seeing the phrase in the catechisms as supporting the view that husbands are superior to their wives, or even that women are ontologically inferior to men. Is that a proper use of the Westminster Catechisms? Or is it a misuse, possibly even an abuse, of those standards?

Catechisms, a glance at history

            Why do the Westminster Larger and Shorter Catechisms use the language of “superiors, inferiors, or equals” with reference to the Fifth Commandment, particularly when some earlier catechisms of the Reformation did not?

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When Shepherds Harm the Sheep

In the church of Jesus Christ, those serving under the Good Shepherd have the responsibility of protecting the flock entrusted to their care. For pastors and other leaders to harm the sheep ought to be unthinkable — but it happens. Equally tragic is the fact that too often fellow officers in the church fail to take action to protect the sheep.

Michael J. Kruger, President of Reformed Theological Seminary, Charlotte, NC, is well known for his academic work on early church history and the formation of the canon. He recently authored Bully Pulpit: Confronting the Problem of Spiritual Abuse in the Church.

This post is not a book review. An excellent review can be found here (p. 20). Rather, this gathers some thoughts used as I discussed the book with some fellow pastors a few weeks ago.

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Grace and Truth for Life

Grace and Truth for Life: Charles H. Spurgeon’s devotionals from his 1865 classic, Morning by Morning, paraphrased, updated, and adapted for following Jesus in the 21st century, by Larry E. Wilson, 2023, paper, 368 pages (available from Amazon here, $US 9.99)

For a number of years I received regular emails from my fellow pastor, Larry Wilson, with the slightly cryptic subject line. “G&T4L.” To help him concentrate on his own devotional reading (beyond the Scriptures themselves) he was working through Spurgeon’s daily devotional, Morning by Morning, doing exactly what the lengthy subtitle of this book suggests — making a well-loved classic more accessible for contemporary readers. As quite a few of us discovered what he was doing, we requested to be included in his email distribution list.

As the email recipient list grew, so did encouragements to Wilson to make his work available in more permanent form, which he has now done. Not only did he update the language, he also has tried to identify Spurgeon’s biblical quotes and allusions, as well as other references the great preacher made. Spurgeon generally did not cite sources, perhaps assuming (probably correctly) a certain degree of biblical literacy and familiarity with hymns.

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The Lasting Benefits of Overture 2: Part 2: History — How Do We Recognize Abuse?

Guest author of this blog is Glenn Jerrell, retired OPC pastor. Recently he posted on The Aquila Report “The Lasting Benefits of Overture 2: Part 1: The Overture Itself.” Here is the second part of his reflections.

A story is told about Dr. Edmund P. Clowney in a faculty discussion at Westminster Theological Seminary. They were weighing the pros and cons of establishing a seminary on the west coast. Dr. Clowney presented reasons to go forward with a new seminary. No one presented reasons why they shouldn’t. As a faithful presbyterian he wanted to hear the other side, but there was silence. What did he do? He summarized the reasons why they should not begin a new seminary. In giving the “other side” he convinced them, at that point in time, not to propose a new faculty on the west coast.

Dr. Clowney’s urge for both sides to be heard is so typical of the OPC. Concerns raised about Overture 2 at the recent OPC General Assembly were heard and were instructive. Brothers in the faith were genuinely divided over issues that bring into focus pastoral care on all levels of the church. If the OPC is anything, it is about Christ’s undershepherds serving Christ and his people by being willing to bring even painful issues to the assemblies of the church. To put it casually we are willing to “hash it out, while listening and hearing each other.” That hashing it out can range from painful, to tedious, all the way to gracious and edifying. So, when substantive concerns are raised, we take them seriously, we engage with each other, we don’t bury the subject/issue no matter where our opinions fall in the spectrum of things. We help each other in discussions.

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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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