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Thinking and Living Biblically in a Gender-nuteral Society - Christ's Example

Series: Biblical Manhood and Womanhood

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on Jul 20, 2003

1 Corinthians 11:2-16

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Thinking and Living Biblically in a Gender-neutral Society

Biblical Manhood and Womanhood series
First Presbyterian Church
Jackson, MS
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan

1 Corinthians 11:2-16
Christ's Example

I'd invite you to turn with me to 1 Corinthians, chapter 11. In this study we've been promoting a biblical view of male/female role relationships that we call complementarianism. That is, that God has created men and women equal in their essential dignity and human personhood, but different and complementary in their function with male headship and in the home and believing community, the church, being understood as a part of God's created design. So, men and women are equal in Christ but they are distinct and they have different functions in the home and in the church.

This view is denied widely in evangelical churches today. It is most easily manifest in churches which promote women as officers and preachers in the church and of course it's also manifest in homes where the argument is that there should be no single person who is the head of a home; that headship is something jointly exercised by both husband and wife. Now that's an appealing concept because most of the time that's really how it works. Most of the time there's not just some sort of unilateral directive from on high; it's always in the sticky points that you get into the question of who is going to break the tie.

So, life doesn't normally operate in a dictatorial chain of command from the top to the bottom, covering every aspect of life together. But what happens when there is disagreement amongst the parents in a family? How is a family led in that particular situation?

What we've said all along is that we want to foster a biblical view of manhood and womanhood in the family and in the church. We believe that this is vital for at least four reasons. First of all, it's never safe for the church to act unbiblically. If the Bible speaks to this issue and we ignore it, we can assume that there will be trouble for the life of the church.

Secondly, we said that when biblical manhood and womanhood is denied, altered, or unpracticed, it results in disasters for marriages and families. Role reversal not only played a role in the fall of Adam and Eve into sin, and of course, the plunging of the whole of our human race into sin and misery, but it plays a significant role in the breakdown of families in our own culture and in the gender confusion which occurs in our culture.

Thirdly, the issue of the nature of manhood and womanhood is very much at the heart of the cultural transition that we find ourselves in the midst of right now. And our culture/gender issues, male/female role relationships, sexuality–especially homosexuality and heterosexuality and transitions in morality in those areas— are at the very heart of the cultural struggle that we see going on. They are symptoms of a deeper problem. They are symptoms of the rejection of our culture of the idea of a transcendent Creator, but they are very important bellwethers to get a picture of where our culture is going.

If you have been following this particular issue, you see it manifesting itself in various ways. One of the most common ways is to see, for instance, to see in various churches, typically, Protestant churches, for the ordination of homosexuals to the ministry. About thirty years ago, when the first Protestant church began to ordain women to the office of the pastorate, various evangelicals in denominations in the country and around the world said, “If you do this, the next thing that you will do is ordain homosexuals.” And of course, that was met with howls of vitriolic response, “That's demeaning to women. How could you say that? That's not our intention.” Well, thirty years later all of those denominations are now in the process of attempting to ordain homosexuals. Why? Because the whole sexuality issue is a bellwether for our culture. And the re-definition of the family, the re-definition of sexuality, is one piece in the component of the agenda to replace a classic, Christian, western, worldview with basically a pagan worldview. We've said in our studies already this summer that it is no mistake that in many of the pagan religions, in animism, that the central focal spiritual figure is ambiguous sexually. Oftentimes, the shaman is a bi-sexual himself and that is part and parcel of pagan religion which wants to do what? Deny the Creator/creature distinction and talk about the Creator being in the creation and the creation being in the Creator. Whereas, in Christianity, the distinction between the Creator and the creature, between the transcendent Lawgiver and our human response to the transcendent Lawgiver is very, very vital and obvious. So, this is all part of a larger cultural agenda.

I serve on the board of a Christian work which seeks to highlight some of these issues in the culture today, and one of the things that was shared with us about nine or ten months ago was a photograph from Italy from the runway of the major fashion show in Florence in which men were given devices so that they anatomically looked like women in their upper body in the clothes that they were wearing. And this kind of androgyny, and in fact, this kind of attempt to make men look like women, is literally all the rage. There was an article that came across the news wires just this past week that talked about a new group of men called metrosexuals–that was the term. I don't know where it comes from but the idea is this. It's men who like to dress in more feminine ways; they like to wear their hair in more feminine ways, they like to wear nail polish and makeup. They are not homosexual, but they like to look feminine and it goes on to say how they like to go out shopping with their female friends in choosing clothes and suggesting china patterns and wallpapering, etc. At any rate, there is this tremendous cultural transition that we are going through and this whole issue of manhood and womanhood is a part of that.

Fourth and finally, we have said that denying or changing or twisting the Bible's clear teaching on biblical manhood and womanhood is one of the central ways that biblical authority is being undermined in our own day. People in this area generally don't say, “Well, the Bible's wrong.” What they say is, “Well, that's your interpretation. You’re just interpreting the Bible in such a way that you’re making the Bible out to be misogynistic, to being anti-woman, demeaning towards women, to being exclusive towards women, to being discriminating towards women, and if you only understood the Bible correctly, you would understand that the Bible is not teaching this particular view.” But when you can do that to what the Bible teaches on manhood and womanhood, you can pretty much get the Bible to say anything you want because the Bible is very clear in these areas. So, for all these reasons, we've said that it is important for us to study biblical manhood and womanhood.

As we get ready to look at the passage before us, I just want to remind you of a few things. First of all, Paul is entering a section in 1 Corinthians 11, and by the way, verse 2 of 1 Corinthians 11 is probably the heading for this whole section that runs all the way to the end of chapter 14. Remember, the Book of 1 Corinthians deals with a lot of ethical issues in the church in Corinth, and in this section in particular, Paul deals with three problems in the church life and worship of Corinth. He starts out here in chapter 11:3-16, dealing with the issue of male/female role relationships and how that is reflected in the worship of the church in Corinth. Then, he goes to problems of abuses of the Lord's Supper in the church in Corinth. Then, he goes to the issue of spiritual gifts and some of the controversies that have grown up about prophecies and tongues and extraordinary spiritual gifts in the church in Corinth. So he is in an ethical section now where he is dealing with problem issues in the life of the church. With that background in mind, let's hear God's word in 1 Corinthians 11, beginning in verse 2.

“Now I praise you because you remember me in everything and hold firmly to the traditions, just as I delivered them to you. But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ. Every man who has something on his head while praying or prophesying disgraces his head. But every woman who has her head uncovered while praying or prophesying disgraces her head, for she is one and the same with her whose head is shaved. For if a woman does not cover her head, let her also have her head cut off; but if it disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, let her cover her head. For a man ought not to have his head covered, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man. For man does not originate from woman, but woman from man; for indeed man was not created for the woman's sake, but woman for the man's sake. Therefore the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. However, in the Lord, neither is woman independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as the woman originates from the man, so also the man has his birth through the woman; and all things originate from God. Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him, but if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her? For her hair is given to her for a covering. But if one is inclined to be contentious, we have no other practice, nor have the churches o f God.”

Amen. This is God's Word. May He add His blessing to it. Let's pray.

Heavenly Father, as we deal with this difficult passage, we pray that you would give us light from your word. Teach us how we ought to relate to one another in the church of our Lord Jesus Christ, and in doing that, we pray that we would bear witness to the image of God, the glory of God, that we would show forth the relations of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit; and that we would show the harmony in the life of the church when men and women die to themselves and live for one another and live for one another's best interest and live for the glory of Christ. We ask these things in Jesus' name, Amen.

Let me outline this passage for you very quickly. I want to do that because I don't want to dodge the tough issues in the passage. I really want to focus on one point, but in order for you to get a feel for the whole passage, let's walk through the passage in outline—six points.

The main principle stated in the passage is stated in verse 3. That's point one. The principle that Christ has authority over man; that man has authority over woman; and God the Father has the authority over Christ. That is the principle Paul is going to be contending for throughout this passage. Everything else is just an application of that principle. He believes that that principle is being violated in Corinth. We've got a little bit of a rebellion on our hands in Corinth, and there are apparently some women in the congregation who want to show that they are liberated. There are different ways that ladies in the 1960s and 70s used to show that they were liberated; the Corinthians have their own unique way of showing that they are liberated, and Paul is speaking to that particular issue in the context of worship. So there's your principle in verse 3.

Then in verses 4-6, we get to the second point, and that has to do with the specific manifestation of how the principle works out in the church and culture. You see it in verses 4-6.

Then thirdly, in verses 7-10 we meet the underlying rationale for the requirement that Paul makes relating to men and women and how they go about praying and prophesying. In this passage Paul says that men are to pray and prophesy in one mode and one demeanor, and women are to pray and prophesy in another mode and demeanor. And so verses 7-10 give us the underlying rational for why they are to do this.

The fourth point is in verses 11 and 12, and it makes a qualification on this rationale that is given in verses 7-10. It gives a qualification and a warning against a misunderstanding or a misuse of the truth that Paul sets forth in verses 7-10.

The fifth point is in verses 13-15, and it is the practical application of the principles to a specific situation in Corinth. And then, verse 16, and actually verse 2 as well, are the sixth point and that has to do with the normative nature of Paul's teaching here. It's not just for this particular situation with no broader application. In fact, Paul makes it clear that what he is saying here is a principle for all the churches everywhere in all times. So there's the outline. Let's walk through that outline quickly glean as much as we can from those difficult passages, and then look at the main point that I want to drive home which really pertains to the principle recorded in verse 3. Let's start right there with the principle.

I. Biblical male-female role relationships, which are a reflection of the Trinitarian relationship, are to be manifest in our worship and church life.
Verse 3 tells us that Christ has authority over man; man has authority over woman; and God the Father over Christ. What is the principle enshrined there in verse 3 of 1 Corinthians 11? It is that biblical, male/female role relationships which are a reflection of the relationship that exists within the Trinitarian God. Our proper relationship to one another as men and women in the church is to be a reflection of the way God relates to Himself; the Father to the Son, the Son to the Father. So, biblical male/female role relationships which are a reflection of the Trinitarian relationships are to be manifest in the church in our worship and in our life. That is Paul's principle.

Notice several interesting things that are said in this verse. First of all, we're told that Christ is the head of every man and man is the head of woman and God is the head of Christ. Did you notice that in this verse there are three different people who are said to be under authority? First of all man is under authority. Who is man under authority to? Christ. Christ is the head of man so man is under authority. And we're told that man is under authority. To whom? To man, we are told. And then thirdly, Christ is under authority. Isn't it interesting that Paul doesn't say, “Christ or God is head over Christ, Christ is head over man, man is head over woman.” That is how you might have expected him to say it if you were taking an ontological order. But what he says is that “Christ is the head of man; man is the head of woman; and God is the head of Christ.” Lest you think that this was about inferiority. You get to the end and he says, “Man is the head over woman.” You’re thinking, “Ah, this is an inferiority thing.” And then he says, “God is head over Christ.” Immediately you know that it is not an inferiority issue. There's something far more profound than that in the passage.

Notice also that three of the people in this passage are said to under authority — man, woman and Christ; and two are said to be in authority — man is in authority over woman and Christ in authority over man. And of course, God the Father, we might add, a third is also said to be in authority as head of Christ. So again, by saying that God is head of Christ we see here in this passage that Christ's functional submission to the Father does not imply His inferiority. He is equal but distinct and with a different function, just as woman is equal but distinct from man and with a different function. Now, we’ll come back and apply that passage in just a few moments. The important thing to see is that Paul, throughout this whole passage, is concerned that that relationship that Christ sustains to the church and that relationship that Christ sustains to His heavenly Father in His work of redemption, is to be reflected in male/female role relationships in the church. He wants that relationship between the Father and the Son, and the Son and the Church, to be reflected in male/female role relationships. That is going to mean that, of necessity, there is going to have to be authority and submission manifested in the lives of men and women in role relationships. If Christ's own relationship of authority and submission is going to be manifested in our relationships, then authority and submission is going to be a part of our lives. By the way, that is not exclusively authority for men and submission for women. Both men and women in their proper role relationships in the course of this life will display both authority and submission in various relationships. But Paul is especially concerned to talk about the male/female role relationship in the Church. There's the principle.

II. Biblical male-female relationships should be manifest in the public prayer and prophesy of men and women.
Now let's move to the specific manifestation of that principle in verses 4-6. Here we see the manifestation of this principle in the Church, the cultural significance of this principle. The biblical male/female role relationship should be manifest, Paul says in verses 4-6, in public prayer and prophecy of men and women. Listen to what he says, “Every man who has something on his head while praying or prophesying disgraces his head, but every woman who has her head uncovered while praying or prophesying disgraces her head, for she is one and the same as the woman whose head is shaved. For if a woman does not cover her head, let her also have her hair cut off but if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off and her head shaved, let her cover her head.”

Now, the context is this: Men and women in Corinth are praying and prophesying in the context of the life of the church. You remember that part of the fulfillment of Acts 2, of Joel 2, is that “your sons and daughters would prophesy.” So, for instance, Phillip's daughters are called prophetesses in the Book of Acts, and in 1 Corinthians 11 and 14, instructions are given in regard to women participating in the prophesying of the local church. But Paul is saying here that men who pray and prophesy in the service and women who pray and prophesy in the service, are to be distinguished in their demeanor and in what they wear.

In verse 4 he says that men are not to pray and prophesy with their heads covered. That is, they are not to wear a physical covering over their head, a hat or veil or a shawl or something like this. Nor, he makes it clear, are they to wear long hair. Why? Because that's what women do. Paul's point in the passage is that men are to look distinctively like men and they are not to look like women when they go about their act of praying and prophesying.

In verse 5 he goes on to say, “Women are not to pray or prophesy without their head covered.” So immediately Paul says that when men pray and prophesy–no head covering. When women pray and prophesy, they must do it with their heads covered. And immediately you ask, “What kind of head covering are we talking about here?” Are we talking about hats, Islamic veils, or are we talking about long hair? Well, that's a really good question, and it is not, as far as we know, not anything like an Islamic veil. There is no testimony from anywhere in the early church that at any time was the kind of veiling that is practiced in Islam ever practiced by any branch of Christians. So the veil is out; you can throw that one out. That leaves you with something like a shawl or a small cloth such as that which is worn in cathedrals today, or a hat or hair. What's it going to be? Some sort of head covering like a hat or is it hair? Well, that's very difficult to decide and there are things in the passage which point in both directions. But you can be sure that it's referring either to the hat or to the woman wearing her long hair up over her head, perhaps in a bun. It seems that in Corinth, you were considered to be looking like an immoral woman if you wore your hair loose, because prostitutes wore their hair loose and down and flowing. And so, women of dignity, women who were in faithful marital relations, were to wear their hair up when they were in public. And the only women who did not follow that were prostitutes, immoral women, or slave women who had had their heads shaved.

Now that factors in to the passage as you continue reading. So Paul says, “Men are to pray with heads uncovered; women are to pray or prophesy with heads covered.” In verse 5 he goes on to say that if a woman does pray with her head uncovered, she disgraces herself. Why? Because she's dressing and acting like a man. Again, Paul's main point is that women should look like women; men should look like men; and they should act like it. Those distinctions should be honored in the context of the worship of the church. Their dress should reflect their gender distinction and their role relationship.

In verse 5, he goes on to say that if a woman wears her hair down or prays with her head uncovered, she disgraces herself and she becomes no different than a slave woman or a caught adulteress. In Corinth the only women who had their heads shaven were slave women or women who had been caught in adultery, as part of their punishment. It was sort of their scarlet letter–a shaved head. So, she is no different from them if she refuses to cover her head. In fact, if she refuses to cover her head, he says she ought to have her hair cut off, so he's saying, “Put it up.” Women can pray and prophesy in public, Paul says, but they must do so with the demeanor and attitude that supports male headship because in that culture, wearing a head covering communicated a submissive demeanor and a feminine adornment. In other words, they were looking like women and they were showing that they accepted the male/female role relationships set forth in Scripture.

III. These biblical male-female role relationships are rooted in the original creation.
Now, in verses 7-10 we get the underlying rationale for this requirement. These biblical male/female role relationships are rooted in the original creation. We are told in verse 7 that the reason a man should not have his head covered by a hat or long hair is because man is the image and glory of God. Whereas the reason that the woman ought to cover her head is that she is the glory of man. The point of the passage is not that man is in the image of God and woman is not. Paul makes it clear elsewhere that both man and woman are in the image of God, so the issue it that word “the glory.” Man is called the glory of God; woman is called the glory of man. What does that mean? If you look at the surrounding verses 8 and 9, it becomes very clear. Woman is the glory of man in the sense that she was created out of him, and for his sake. Notice what Paul says? Man does not originate from woman; woman originates from man. So he says man is the source of woman.

Secondly, man was not created for woman's sake, but woman was created for man's sake. She was created from him and for him to be his companion, and so one of the manifestations of her fulfilling the function for which she is created is respecting him, honoring him. So wearing her hair up or wearing the head covering while she prophesies is a way to honor the headship of man in the church and in the home. Therefore, the woman ought to visibly manifest the authority of the man in the way she dresses as she prays and prophesies, Paul says in verse 10. And then he adds those famous words, “Because of the angels.” Now, you ask me, “What does that mean?” And I tell you, “I have no idea.” I know that it has something to do with continuing Paul's argument, but I have no idea what it is. Ask me in another ten years and maybe I’ll have a good answer.

IV. Distinctions in biblical male-female relationships do not mean inequality nor contradict proper mutuality.
Now, look at verses 11 and 12. Here's the caveat. What message could you get if you read verses 3 through 10 in isolation? You could get idea that men are more important than women; men are first and women are second. You could get the idea that men are more in the image of God and women are less in the image of God. And so the Apostle Paul stops, and in verses 11 and 12 he says, “Look, in the Lord neither is woman independent of man nor is man independent of woman. For as the woman originates from the man, so also the man has his birth through the woman and all things originate from God.” In other words, distinctions in our male/female role relationships do not mean inequality between men and women, nor do they contradict he fact that we need one another and that we are utterly mutually dependent upon one another. In other words, distinctions in men and women don't undercut the mutuality between men and women, the interconnectedness. We need one another. That's the whole point of Genesis chapter 2, and so the apostle is reiterating this point. Distinctions in male/female role relationships as set forth in the Bible don't mean inequality or a lack of mutuality in the relationship. So Paul is undercutting anyone who would thereby undervalue women or think or women as less important than men by explicitly challenging those ideas in verses 11 and 12.

V. The particular natural/cultural application of the fundamental principle of male headship rooted in the creation order is for women to pray/prophesy in such a way to show their femininity and willing, glad, joyful submission.
In verses 13-15, we find the practical application of the passage. Paul does it via a question, and he expects an answer to his question. He says, “Judge for yourselves. Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered?” He's been arguing this case for ten verses and he's expecting you to be a quick learner and he's expecting you to say, “No, it's not proper for a woman to pray with her head uncovered.” Here we see the particular, natural, cultural application of the principle of male headship rooted in the creation order, and the application is for women to pray and prophesy in such a way to show their femininity and to show their willing, glad, and joyful submission. Paul says in verse 13 that women should not pray with uncovered heads. That's the answer and conclusion that he's expecting to his question.

In verse 14, he goes on to say, “Does not nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair it is a dishonor to him?” We could get on a rabbit trail on that one right there, but again, the point is that he wants men to look like men and women to look like women, and he wants their demeanor to reflect their relationship to Christ and to one another. He says that nature teaches that long hair is a dishonor to man, and that nature also teaches that long hair is a glory to woman, and therefore, those things are to be reflected in the way that they pray in the church.

VI. Paul's teaching here is normative and universal not ad hoc and merely local.
Now, somebody might say, “All of this is very interesting, but it is just a cultural artifact from ancient Corinth. There's a local church problem there; Paul writes to it and it has nothing to say to us today.” Well, look at verse 2 and look at verse 6. Paul says, “I praise you because you remember me in everything, holding firmly to the traditions just as I delivered them to you.” Notice that these traditions are not church traditions that have sort of accrued over the years; they are not man-made; they have not just sort of developed over time. Where did these traditions come from? “I delivered them to you.” So these are not traditions in the way that we think of tradition. A tradition, for example, is something that someone began in the 15th century and people have kept on doing it ever since. These traditions, however, are practices in the Church which Paul instructed them to do, and he congratulates them in doing the things that he had delivered to them.

Secondly, look at verse 16. “If one is inclined to be contentious, we have no other practice nor have the churches of God.” He's saying that if somebody is inclined to argue or take him on about this, he is saying, “Let me just remind you that we have no other practice.” The apostles of the church of the Lord Jesus Christ have determined this practice and this is the only practice we have, and if you don't like it, you can cease being a Christian and go somewhere else. And then he says, “And furthermore, it's the practice of the Church universal.” We have no other practice, nor do any of the other churches. This is the practice in all of the churches of God. The practice outlined here is the only Pauline option, the only apostolic option, and the only practice of the Church universal. It is clear that Paul's teaching here is normative and universal. This isn't ad hoc to a specific situation and merely local.

Well, as you can see, this is a passage fraught with difficulties and interpretation, and frankly, it rubs up against us–it's countercultural and may seem way out of date and outmoded. But here's the one thing I want you to see.

Look at verse 3. My one-point sermon is simply this: Isn't it beautiful that in this passage, Paul gives Jesus as the example of how men are to relate to women and how women are to relate to men. Isn't that interesting? In this passage Jesus is not merely the Lord of the Church and thus showing how men ought to relate to women, but He is also the example of the submission of the church to the Lord in that He submits to His heavenly Father. So that the woman looks to Jesus as her example for how she relates to her husband and to the men in authority in the church, just as men look to Jesus as their example of how to be self-denying, self-sacrificing, interested in the best interest of their wives husbands, just like Jesus loved the Church. So Jesus is the example for men as to how they relate to women, and He is the example to women as they are to relate to men. Look at the verse again. “I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and man is the head of a woman.” There in that part of the verse, man learns that his exercise of headship is to mirror the way that Jesus exercised headship. And how does Paul say in Ephesians 5 that he exercised that headship? “That He loved the Church and He gave Himself for her.” This is leadership that dies on behalf of the one lead. And I want to suggest to you that that is easy leadership to follow. Leadership that will go so far as to die for the one lead is easy leadership to follow.

But it doesn't stop there. Man is the head of woman and God is the head of Christ. So woman is called upon to engage in this very difficult task of submitting to the spiritual guidance and leadership and showing respect to a fallible, goofy, human male. How do you do that? Well, it says that Jesus Himself has submitted Himself to the Father. And the woman says, “Uh, uh, I see a fallacy in that argument.” Jesus gets to submit to the glorious God the Father; I get Bozo the Clown over here.” And then you remember what Isaiah 53 says of the Father in His relationship to the Son. “It pleased the Lord to bruise Him. He has put Him to grief.” And then you see Jesus in the garden saying, “Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me. Nevertheless, not My will, but Thine be done.” And suddenly, you realize that Jesus’ submission in the great covenant of redemption was the most difficult submission ever attempted and accomplished by a human being.

And so, no matter how difficult your marital situation may be, and it may be enormously difficult. Your challenge of spiritual respect for the spiritual leadership of a husband is trumped by the challenge of Jesus submitting His own will to His heavenly Father when it meant dying. Isn't it interesting in that way both men and women are called to die to self in their relationships as they relate to one another and mirror the relationship of the eternal, heavenly, holy Trinity. What an awesome responsibility we have. And the way we relate to one another in marriages and the Church is the only picture the world sees of how the Father related to the Son and the Son to the Father. That is a task of great dignity as well as great responsibility and challenge. May He bless you, as you, in humble reliance upon the grace of the Holy Spirit, attempt to follow in those roles.

Let's pray:

Our Lord and our God, in our own strength, we will utterly fail at this. It cuts against the grain of every self-centered molecule in our being, but You can help us do this. You can give us the grace to do it. Command what You will and give what You command. We ask this in Jesus' name. Amen.

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Should there be questions regarding grammar or theological content, the reader should presume any website error to be with the webmaster/transcriber/editor rather than with the original speaker. For full copyright, reproduction and permission information, please visit the First Presbyterian Church Copyright, Reproduction & Permission statement.