Thursday, June 21, 2018

Does Ephesians Five Really Tell Wives to Submit to their Husbands? Responding to DTS Professor, Darrell Bock and Sandra Gahn

With all the rage over feminist issues going on as a result of the #MeToo movement, it isn’t shocking that pastors and professors holding to a more culturally friendly position on the issue of male-female roles in the family and the church should start to come out of the shadows into the light. After all, it seems a bit safer these days to do so. In an article over at The Christian Post, Michael Gryboski reports that Darrell Bock and Sandra Gahn are two professors who are inching their way out of the shadows. Gryboski reports the following:

Sandra Glahn, associate professor in Media Arts and Worship at Dallas Theological Seminary who teaches a gender studies course, and Darrell Bock, senior research professor of New Testament at DTS, disagree with those who interpret the passage as meaning that wives must be subservient to their husbands.

The text does not mean that wives are to be “subservient to their husbands.” Bock says that the countercultural text has been misused. Bock says that it’s the word submission that is the problem. To some people the idea of submission is a four-letter word. Gahn chimes in to tell us that people reading this passage need to pay attention to the verbs used in Scripture, especially for the husband. I wonder why we only have to pay attention to the verbs used “especially for the husband.” That seems a bit out of place to me. "Often, when we look at the verbs, the wife gets submit, and it gets taught that the husband gets to lead. But that's not his verb. That verb is not there. His verb is love, and it's not phileo love, it's agape love, which looks a whole lot like submission," said Glahn. Glahn goes on to say that submission is not a woman word, it’s a human word. And then she brings out the old argument that husbands and wives are to submit to one another. And now we get to the idea of mutual submission which really isn’t submission at all. Think about that for a second. If two people are supposed to submit to one another, then no one is really submitting to anyone. There is no leader to whom the other person must submit.

Now, let’s take a quick look at the passage in question and see if we can ascertain the meaning of the passage so that we can apply it to how we live as Christians in the current environment. Let’s begin with the first verb in this pericope: Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. The verb is actually in the previous verse and it is a participle. Verse 21 is a transitional verse and the participle likely carries an imperatival sense being supplied by the imperative “be filled” with the Spirit. The wife’s submission hearkens back to Gen. 3:16 where God recognizes that Eve will desire to rule her husband but he shall rule over her. The hoti clause points clearly in this direction. This subordinate clause is a causal clause. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. In other words, because the husband is the head of the wife, the wife should submit to the husband. What does being the head of something mean? Well, look into the next clause, “as Christ is the head of the church.” Just as Christ is the head of the church, the husband is the head of his wife. Because of this, wives are to submit to their husbands.

Now, if this isn’t clear enough, it gets even clearer: Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Just as the church is subordinate to Christ, the wife is to be subordinate to her husband. So far, it seems farfetched that one could read this text without understanding it to simply mean that wives are to submit to their husbands just as the church submits to Christ. This clearly places the husband in a leadership position. How could it not? I do not have to say to the husband, now, you must lead. If I have said to the wife, you must submit to your husband, implicit in that statement is a corresponding statement to the husband to lead those who are submitting to him. That goes without saying. For a professor at DTS to miss that strikes me as odd. I am having a hard time deciding if these professors are as inept as they seem sometimes or if they are just trying to save their necks from a culture that is increasingly calling for their heads.

So far, the only significant verb at this point occurs in v. 24 and it is, hypotassō. It is the word translated “submit.” Paul now turns his attention to the husbands. The wife has her instructions: submit, be subordinate to your husband. Paul issues the command: Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. The Greek imperative is used for love and it means in this context, to have a warm regard for someone, to cherish and have affection for another. Paul repeats this command in v. 28 and 33. As Christ loves the church, each husband is to love his own wife.

There is nothing in the meaning or use of the word agape here that should lead any reasonable exegete to see submission in its meaning. It just isn’t there. But Gahn says clearly that agape love looks a lot like submission. Maybe this is the problem. Those who work with the languages as a matter of routine have come to realize that there isn’t a neat category for phileo love and then another one for agape love, etc. The fact is that these words are used with overlapping meaning on numerous occasions. The best way to determine the meaning of a word is to read it in its context. Gahn is apparently ignoring that exegetical principle.

Not only does agape love in this case not carry any hint of the notion of submission, the model for the husband wife relationship is parallel to Christ and the church. Christ loves the church. That is agape love as well. Does that mean that Christ submits to the church? We are in the immediate context of this pericope. If not, why not? How can we say that this kind of love that the husband owes to the wife sounds a lot like submission but not so with Christ and the when especially when they are within spitting distance of one another?

So, are Sandra Gahn and Darrell Bock correct when they say that this pericope has been widely misused? Is it the case that this text is pointing us to the concept of mutual submission between the husband and the wife? I cannot see how such an interpretation could be considered feasible for even a second. The word translated submit is pretty straightforward. The model for that submission is Christ and the church. That seems pretty easy to understand to me. Moreover, there isn’t a hint of submission in the word “agape.” And if there is, then this would mean that Christ should love (submit to) the church the same way that Gahn and Bock say that a husband should submit to his wife. Mutual submission is nothing more than a concept invented by scholars are who either inept in their ability to handle the text or dishonest and motivated by the fear of losing their credibility among a pagan culture who, as the professors themselves put it, think of wifely submission to their husbands as if it were a four-letter-word. Well, it’s not a four-letter-word. What it is, is the commandment of our sovereign Lord whom we are obligated to fear and obey and acknowledge in all we say and do. That is what it is.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Recovering the Christian Church

 When one surveys the history of Christianity and compares that history with the original teachings of Christianity, it can be an eye-opening experience. For example, we know that the Christian church is built by Christ, not men. We know that the church belongs to Christ, not men. And we know that Satan wants to destroy the church. Jesus told Peter in Matt. 16:18, And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. Notice that Jesus calls the church “my church.” Also, note that Jesus says, “I will build my church.” Jesus goes on to say quite literally, whatever you might bind on earth WILL HAVE BEEN BOUND in heaven and whatever you might loose on earth WILL HAVE BEEN LOOSED in heaven. The use of the perfect tense focuses the reader on the fact that Matthew is emphasizing the heaven’s action of this verb, over the action of the apostle’s binding and loosing which are both in the aorist tense.

Whatever authority Peter and the apostles had, it’s source would be in heaven. It is wrong to think of this language in a way that has Heaven backing the apostle’s play. Better, it should be understood that apostolic authority, the spiritual authority of the church is restricted to divine authority. This makes is possible for leaders in the church to go beyond their authority. And indeed, when Christianity roles into the 4th century, this is exactly what happens. Men have turned to eyes to temporal and political authority and power and have assumed that God will back their play. They begin to misuse and abuse their spiritual authority. They begin to exceed their authority, failing to understand the treason they are committing when they do so. It is not just abuse for a pastor/elder to exceed his spiritual authority, it is the highest form of treason.

The path to recovering the church lies in returning to the absolute authority of Scripture. This means that Scripture informs the structure of our churches locally from the standpoint of leadership and it means that the entire service centers around the Christ revealed in Scripture. In Titus 1:5, Paul writes, This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you. There are a few things worth noting in this verse. First, there are some things that are lacking that need to be corrected. Apparently, one of these items, likely, the most important one is the appointing of elders in every town. The clear inference here is that a lack of elders means that your church has a deficiency that requires correction. Commenting on this verse, George Knight writes,

κατὰ πόλιν is used in the distributive sense: “city by city” or “in every city” (BAGD s.v. κατά II.1d; cf. Acts 15:21; 20:23; also κατʼ κκλησίαν, Acts 14:23). This means that plural πρεσβυτέρους relates to each city that has a church: Several elders/overseers are appointed in each church. This corresponds to what was done in the cities of Philippi (Phil. 1:1) and Ephesus (Acts 20:17, 28; cf. 14:23; 1 Thes. 5:12, 13; 1 Tim. 5:17).[1]

Every local church is to have a plurality of elders. The lack of a plurality of elders in the local church is considered by Paul a problem that must be rectified. He deliberately left Titus in Crete so that he would work toward this end. If your local church does not have a plurality of elders, each man being equal in authority as the next man, then your church is deficient in a critical area and it should address this deficiency promptly and with a sense of urgency. It does not matter what kind of ecclesiology the people have become accustomed to. As an elder, you are obligated to train them according to the authority of Scripture and fix it. Do it now. Only then can you begin to recover a NT church.

A plurality of elders, when done biblically, guards against the dominant charismatic personality type. This helps protect all the elders and more importantly the church from adopting bad practices, unbiblical teachings, and guards against mission drift. To the elders at Ephesus, Paul wrote the following ominous warning: I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears. It should be noted that Paul called for the elders, plural, of the church at Ephesus to come down to him. Once they were assembled, Paul issued this very sober warning about the spiritual dangers of Christianity and the duties of these men to protect the church from these dangers. Of course, a plurality of elders doesn’t help much if there is one dominant personality (Sr. Pastor) who manipulates the composition of the body of elders.

Another component of recovering the church is getting the gospel right. The state of affairs that has obtained today regarding the gospel is quite disturbing. It seems to me that many Christian leaders have trouble distinguishing the gospel from the good works that result from the gospel. Opposing abortion is, to many, a gospel issue. Immigration has become a gospel issue. Stopping human trafficking has become a gospel issue. And if that isn’t bad enough, we still have the Billy Graham-Charles Finney revivalism hangover. Christianity is a product of human will. This is also known as decisional regeneration. As long as the churches fail to understand the gospel revealed in Scripture, there can be no recovery.

Another problem is the failure on the part of the churches to evangelize. Some people evangelize more than others. And some people don’t evangelize at all. They simply don’t open their mouth and share their faith with anyone, ever. In fact, asking someone if they go to church is as close as some people get to evangelism. If that is you, I hate to inform you that you are not evangelizing. To evangelize is to share the gospel. That requires some sort of confrontation. And it is that confrontation that we desperate want to avoid. It is impossible to recover the NT church in our churches without also recovering the practice of evangelism. Tell someone the truth about how Jesus Christ saved you from the darkness of sin and translated you into the kingdom of the light of the glorious gospel!

Another major piece of this puzzle is equipping the saints. If you are a pastor and you are not spending the overwhelming majority of your time and energy working a robust and healthy discipleship system of some sort, then you are doing it wrong. According to Eph. 4:11-12, God gave pastors…to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ. The saints are biblically inept today. They know very little about what the Bible actually teaches. They know less about any kind of systematic theology. And they know almost NOTHING about the history of Christianity. Most professing Christians spend very little energy becoming acquainted with the one person they say is the most important person in their life: the Triune God revealed in Scripture.

It is precisely this lack of discipleship and equipping that gives platforms to movements like the Charismatic movement, and people like Benny Hinn, T.D. Jakes, Steve Furtick, Beth Moore, Andy Stanley, and a plethora of charlatans ranging from outright heretics to those fleecing the church and slandering the name of Christ with their scandalous doctrines. Not only that, this lack of equipping and education in the churches makes the church far too dependent on men. In order for accountability to work, you have to have godly leaders holding the churches accountable and churches holding their godly leaders accountable. One of the most serious problems in our churches today is that our pastors are used to doing far too much without any oversight. Some churches have given their pastors far too much autonomy, thinking that this should make things run more smoothly. To the contrary, it places our pastors and our churches at tremendous risk. The churches have to be responsible for calling their elders/pastors. They have to be responsible for firing them if necessary. Our churches have to create structures where the elders are transparent, reporting on the details of projects and priorities. The leaders need to be able to provide biblical justification for the items that are on their radar. The communication between the elders/pastors should be free-flowing, clear and constant. If that is not the case in your church, I would encourage you to begin to work to change that. We are all sinners and we need to hold each other accountable.

The apostle Paul said it this way: submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. (Eph. 5:21)

[1] George W. Knight, The Pastoral Epistles: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle, England: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1992), 288.