Keep The Ordinances
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“Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ”.
Most commentators believe this verse actually belongs to the preceding chapter, the closing arguments of the doctrinal outline set out in chapter 10, and not to chapter 11. Paul is moving now from doctrine to practice, from what is to be believed to what is to be done. Others argue that this verse is in its proper place because Paul is making a transition from one theme to another yet desires to keep uniformity of focus. Whichever be the case, there is something to be gained by looking at this verse for its abiding direction and instruction. Paul is exhorting the Corinthian Church to follow him as he follows Christ. In other words, he is not asking the Corinthians to do something that he does not do himself. The word “follower” in verse one in the Greek is mimetes, where you might recognize the English word mime. It means to imitate, or to copy. Paul has used this word before in this letter in 4:16 “Wherefore I beseech you, be ye followers of me“. It goes without saying that Paul is asking for his example to be copied in doctrine, worship, and practice. He is in effect saying, “Do as I am doing. Follow my pattern, imitate me, as I imitate Christ.”
“Now I praise you, brethren, that ye remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances, as I delivered them to you.”
What first strikes the reader here is the word “remember”. We need to keep in mind that this was not the first letter Paul had written to Corinth. In chapter 5 verse 9 we read, “I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators“. Paul had communicated to Corinth at least once before, how they were to conduct themselves in the Church. Here he is drawing them back to his original instruction to remember him in all things, and keep the ordinances as he delivered them the first time. So this is a review for the Church at Corinth. Evidently some paid close attention to Paul’s first instruction, and others did not. The result was while Paul was absent, some had challenged his teaching on several things, not the least of which was head coverings, and the observation of the Lord’s Supper. So Paul dovetail’s two more abuses in the Church, placing them both under the common heading of “ordinances”. In doing so, Paul emphasis is that these two subjects were precious to Paul because they were precious to Christ. Remember the logical chain in this chapter; “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ”.
Have you ever wondered why the subject of head coverings is mentioned in the same chapter as the Lord’s Supper? If this was a doctrine relegated to the sphere of liberty of conscience, as many contend, why not place it in the chapter on meat sacrificed to idols (1 Corinthians 8)? It would seem to fit better in a chapter that states, “But meat commendeth us not to God: for neither, if we eat, are we the better; neither, if we eat not, are we the worse” (verse 8). He could have said, “But head coverings commendeth us not to God: for neither, if we wear, are we the better; neither, if we wear not, are we the worse”. But he did not do this. The reason is self-evident by the word Paul uses in verse 2 of chapter 11, “ordinances”. Before we look further at the word ordinances, it would be good to look at some of the smaller words Paul uses in building up to it. Our purpose is not to be laborious, but rather to be exhaustive. Isaiah’s words are fitting, “Whom shall he teach knowledge? and whom shall he make to understand doctrine? them that are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts. For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little (Isaiah 28:9,10). Having previously removed the modern opinion that this was a mere Corinthian custom, we can build a case based on the parts, to prove the whole.
The apostle does not begin his instruction on head coverings with a reminder of some of the things he has already taught, but all of them. “[R]remember me in all things“, says Paul, the lesser, as well as the greater items of faith. This is best demonstrated by Paul’s choice of words mnaomai mou pas, “Remember me in all things” (v.2). What stands out the most in this phrase is the emphasis on the totality of what has been delivered. The phrase in the Greek carries with it, “things individual as well as collective; each, every, any, and all the parts comprising the whole”. If this is the case, then this passage cannot be painted with the broad brush of male headship or ontological order but must be looked upon in all of its consummate parts. The directive is, “Remember even the details of the ordinances I am about to restate to you. Do not neglect the parts in relation to the whole.” True, this passage is about order and headship in the economy of the Church, but that truth must not be the altar upon which the details are sacrificed. This is more clearly demonstrated by the word “keep” in the same verse, “remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances”. Keep here in the original is a mariners term referring to the front of a ship. It literally means, “To hold back, from going away. To check a ship’s headway; to hold or head the ship.” Paul is saying here, “Do not forget even the small details when observing what I have delivered to you. By keeping the details, the Church maintains course and will sail straight.” We can begin to see now that this passage is dealing with more that an umbrella doctrine like male headship. It is dealing with a doctrine that is to be kept in its entirety without taking anything away from its parts. What then are we to remember in detail, and not neglect? What two things are we to keep without wavering? The same two things that the Church has kept for 2000 years, the ordinances of Holy Supper an head coverings. If we will take this chapter as an authority on one of these ordinances (Holy Supper), we must take them on both (head coverings).
The words “ordinances” and “delivered” in verse 2 are the noun and verb forms of the same Greek word, meaning “to ‘deliver” or “transmit”. Verse 2 could also read, “keep the deliveries, as I delivered them to you”. The verb form is also found in verse 23, “for I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread …”. The same verb form is also used when referring to the gospel in chapter 15:1-3 “I declare unto you the gospel … for I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received”. Head covering observance, Holy Supper, and the gospel are all apostolic ordinances given to the Church by Jesus Christ, transmitted from the apostles in both written form and by verbal declaration.
One of the main duties of the apostles of Jesus Christ, was to communicate to the Churches the commands of the Lord. Paul received the gospel directly, “the gospel which was preached of me is not after man, for I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ,”(Galatians 1:12). It is commonly believed that Paul received the substance of his apostolic message shortly after his conversion in Acts 9 when he, “went into Arabia, and returned again unto Damascus” (Galatians 1:17). What he learned in Christ’s school, he delivered to Corinth when he founded the church there as recorded in Acts 18:1,11 “After these things Paul departed from Athens, and came to Corinth; … and he continued there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.” The other apostles received instruction about the gospel and the Lord’s supper before Christ died, and they probably received the head covering ordinance right after Jesus’ resurrection when he “through the Holy Ghost had given commandments unto the apostles whom he had chosen, … being seen of them forty days” (Acts 1:2,3) The reason for this assertion is Paul did not set up all the Churches of the known world, yet he contends in verse 16 that all other Churches observe the ordinance of head coverings except Corinth (See: No Such Custom-Part 1).
The word ordinances could also be accurately translated traditions. The translators of the Authorized Version chose the equally acceptable word ordinances, to steer away from the Roman Catholic doctrine of the equality of tradition with verbal, plenary inspiration. The word itself has to do with the body of precepts delivered either by word of mouth or in writing. They are doctrines of the Church, and must be both believed and obeyed as given from Christ Himself. Why is it we have no problem applying this understanding to the doctrine of Holy Supper, but we stumble over it when it comes to head coverings? Paul is saying here that they are both to be understood principally on the same foundation, that is divine injunction. In the case of Holy Supper, Paul will appeal to Christ’s own example as its foundation as an ordinance. When speaking about head coverings, Paul will appeal not to custom, but to 4 governing criteria: Christ’s headship (v.3), creation (v. 8,9), the angels (v. 10), and common sense (v. 14). In this way, Paul is establishing the ordinance upon proofs that have nothing to do with custom, and timeless principles which makes this ordinance as lasting and abiding as Holy Supper. To quote Sproul once more, “Nowhere does (Paul) give cultural reasons for his teaching, i.e. abusive practices of a pagan society that placed prostitutes with shorn heads in the temple. Paul points back to God’s established order in nature. Whenever a teaching in Scripture refers to ‘creation ordinances’, that teaching is binding for all cultures in all ages…” (From ‘Table Talk’ Devotional Guide for June 17-24, 1996, pp. 36-43.).
I hope we are beginning to see the exegetical grounds for the practice of head coverings. Next time, Lord willing, we will look at the 4 governing criteria of this ordinance.