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At this year’s General Assembly they decided to have a study committee on women in the church. This was met with mixed reviews. Some were glad. I was glad, but I will not impute the reason for my joy to others. I want to better understand the Scriptures, in particular one text of Scripture, and for our church life to be more fully conformed to those Scriptures. In other words, I believe that notion of Reformed and reforming.

Some were upset seeing this as a move toward liberalism. They believe they fully understand the Scriptures and haven’t imported any erroneous cultural notions into our understanding of the Scriptures.

I don’t see this as the on ramp to women elders. This is especially true when I look at the people on the study committee. We’re talking Ligon Duncan and Susan Hunt for Pete’s sake.

Our Session decided we wanted to study this subject for ourselves so we can better evaluate any majority and minority reports. In fact, our men’s ministry has decided to look at this too. So I’ve done some shopping to add to the books I own and have read on this subject. One of the books I added was Jesus, Justice, & Gender Roles by Kathy Keller. Kathy is also on this study committee and this was a book I wanted to read anyway.

In addition to being the wife of Tim Keller, Kathy has an MA in Theological Studies from Gordon-Conwell and spent some time as an editor for Great Commission Publications.

To call this a book is generous. It is more like a booklet, being 39 pages (plus a few pages of end notes). This increases the likelihood of it being read by my very busy elders. It also means that it won’t cover everything I might want it to cover or as in depth as I might want it covered.

Let’s lay the card on the table first. She is a complementarian. This is a broad term, and there are a few differences of opinion within this movement. Many want to claim their version as the only version. This, in fact, is one of the reasons for this book. She tries to nail down the essential point of complementarianism.

She divides the book into two chapters. The first focuses on hermeneutical issues and two key texts. The second focuses on how this plays out as she feels pressure from both egalitarians and more “conservative” complementarians (or those who may actually hold to a view of patriarchialism).

She begins by describing how she arrived at these conclusions (and to hold to the inspiration, infallibility and authority of the Scriptures) though she didn’t grow up believing them and they threatened her career ambitions. Hermeneutically she affirms that the analogy of Scripture (clear texts interpret unclear texts) and each text has a context (historical, cultural, social, and I might add theological) that affects its meaning. The two texts she focuses on are 1 Corinthians 14:33b-38 and 1 Timothy 2:11-12. In some ways she views the first as less clear and the second as more clear such that 1 Timothy helps us understand 1 Corinthians.

We cannot isolate 1 Corinthians 14 from the rest of 1 Corinthians. This means that we cannot use it to mean that women must be absolutely silent in a worship service. For instance, 1 Corinthians 11:5 mentions women praying and prophesying in the public worship service. While we might claim the prayer is silent, clearly the prophesying is not. As a result she notes “Paul in 1 Corinthians is not condemning the public ministry of women, but regulating it.” In other words, public exercise of spiritual gifts is to retain “divinely ordained gender roles.”

She does mention Miriam, Deborah and Huldah as women leaders. She, unfortunately, just mentions this in passing. Since these women are used by egalitarians like Sarah Sumner to justify their views, I think this bore more attention. Miriam, for instance, while publicly leading, was publicly leading women in the chorus of the song.

In its context, she understands (quite reasonably) this text to be about the elders evaluating and judging the content of prophecy in the worship service. They were discussing it and speaking authoritatively upon it. Women were not to be interjecting and disrupting this process which involved only the elders. This happened prior to the completion of the canon and the elders were to guard the deposit of truth they had (and were still receiving). We do this less formally now that the canon is complete by holding pastors to confessional standards. If I begin to preach deviant views, the elders are charged with admonishing me, and presbytery will be involved if I persist.

These view is supported by what we find in 1 Timothy 2. Debate has raged over whether “teach or have authority” (NIV), “teach or exercise authority” (ESV),  refers to two separate functions or one function (teaching in a position of authority). She, following James Hurley (who used to teach at RTS Jackson), Craig Blomberg and Philip Payne believes this is a hendiadys in which the conjunction connects the two verbs so they are mutually defining.

“So what is being forbidden to women in 1 Timothy 2 (and by extension in 1 Corinthians 14) is authoritative teaching- some kind of teaching that carried with it an authority not found in other, allowable forms of oral discourse.”

In her understanding there are times when a teacher doesn’t have authority. You can disagree with a SS teacher or small group leader but it isn’t a problem. The problem is if we disagree with the elders on an important issue (it may be prompted by the disagreement with the SS teacher). The SS teacher can’t excommunicate you, but the Session can!

The main tenant of complementarianism is male headship in the church (and home). In the church it is male elders (there is disagreement on the question of deacons which means we have disagreements on the nature of a deacon or “ordination” behind the scenes).

Keller than briefly mentions the common reasons why people think we don’t have to obey these instructions by Paul: misogyny by Paul, only binding on the church then, and outdated commands. She notes how unconventional Paul was in his relationships with women and how the charge of misogyny really doesn’t have any legs. The second charge is based on a fallacy since every part of Scripture is written to a specific group at a specific time for a specific reason. We do distinguish between descriptive and prescriptive passages however. Scripture describes polygamous marriages, for instance, but never prescribes or affirms them. This second excuse also denies Paul’s instruction about Scripture in 2 Timothy 3. The third excuse essentially is that we have more light now. Another version of this would be the trajectory hermeneutic of some progressives like Rob Bell where we try to project what Paul might think & say today.

“Consider the enormous hubris in appointing our present cultural moment as the yardstick against which God’s Word must be measured.”

We should not give into the impulse to fall back onto “love” since the issue is so “complicated and confusing.” She reminds us that the great creeds and confessions of the church were the produces of (often) vigorous debate. It is better to dig deeper into the Scriptures and submit ourselves to what they say. This is not simply a personal project but a community project (regarding both time and space).

“I have found it fruitless, leading only to self-pity and anger in my own life, to question God’s disposition of things when I do not understand. Confidence in his goodness has been a better choice.”

The second section is really about trying to address those who disagree with her, both the women who are egalitarian and the men who are more patriarchical (my term) or those who have a more restrictive view of women in the church. She distinguishes between gifts and roles. We tend to conflate them. A woman can have a shepherding gift and she can exercise it, but not in the role of pastor. She brings up her now deceased professor Elizabeth Elliot in discussing this. We should want women to fully exercise their gifts even as we recognize that there is a role (or two?) they cannot fulfill. She puts forward a common formulation that a woman can do anything an unordained man do.

This is a SHORT book, as I mentioned. As a result there are a number of things I thought went unaddressed. I would have preferred some discussion about deacons. That was beyond her scope and is really not an egalitarian vs. complementarian question.

She does affirm the voluntary submission of the Son as Mediator in the economic Trinity. In the footnote in that paragraph she clearly denies Eternal Submission of the Son, which is proposed by some complementarians or at least seems to be. She rightly calls this, in my opinion, a heresy. Some people, like Wayne Grudem, keep doubling down on their ESS views (which are also found in the ESV Study Bible). Frame’s comments are quite tentative on this issue.

Anyway, this was a helpful booklet to read even though its scope was limited. Reading this I see no reason for my more “conservative” brothers (I am a conservative, by the way) to fear the PCA sliding into liberalism with Kathy’s inclusion on the study committee.


The other day I was about to check the newest Jeffery Deaver novel out of the library for the long weekend when I noticed Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates on the shelf. I hesitated. The subject interested me. It was written by Fox News Channel’s Brian Kilmeade and Don Yaeger. I know some of the Bill O’Reilly books could use some more research. I bounced it back and forth in my mind for a few minutes and finally decided to go for it.

I’m glad I did. It was a fairly quick read as I finished it on Monday morning after starting Friday afternoon. It was an interesting read as well.

In some ways the story begins before the 1790’s as the Barbary coast pirates had been active for centuries making a living off of other nation’s trade. Some nations, like Britain had paid tribute to the Barbary nations of north Africa. This made no sense to me since they (Britain, France & Spain) had the more powerful navies in the world. Invest a little time and they could solve the problem once and for all.

While they were foreign ministers, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams debated this problem. Adams recommended a treaty based on tribute. Jefferson, uncharacteristically, recommended a military solution.

After the Revolutionary War was completed America was deeply in debt. They had sold off their warships to pay off some of that that debt. To become economically strong they needed to trade with other nations. That became difficult without a navy to protect their merchant ships.

The Barbary nations would steal ships, and their cargo and enslave their crews. These Muslim nations justified it on the basis of their faith. It was okay to take from and enslave the infidels (this is how they justified the beginnings of the African slave trade as well). A slave would be freed if they converted to Islam, but if you reverted to your other faith you would be killed.

So sailors and passengers would be held for ransom. Men who were not officers were subject to hard labor, and sometimes torture. It was such a big problem that when Jefferson was the ambassador to France for the young nation, he didn’t want his middle daughter to sail across the ocean after his youngest passed away.

Toward the end of Adams’ presidency, Congress approved the formation of a new navy. It was this slowly increasing navy that Jefferson used during his presidency to address the problem of the Barbary nations. This is the main focus on this book.

It is filled with early mistakes by captains, uncertainty of policy, utter incompetence and finally men committed to defending their nation, and its merchants.

In this history we see a few policies that would mark U.S. policy into the present. The first was not wanting to occupy other nations. The goal was not to colonize those nations, but simply end the conflict they initiated and restore the peace they would break in innumerable ways.

The second would be the beginning of the policy to not negotiate with terrorists, or terror states. The Barbary states, especially Tripoli exacerbated the situation by constantly changing the terms of the agreement and making outlandish demands on a new nation. They tried to take advantage of the fledgling nation.

We have generally kept this policy. It was violated recently when another Muslim state, Iran, captured one of our naval ships. Apparently our current President didn’t learn much from history, and shipped $40 million dollars to them for the soldiers’ release.

Thirdly, the plan that was being executed when Tobias Lear negotiated a treaty was regime change. The rightful ruler of Tripoli had been removed by his younger brother who was now living in exile in Egypt. His wife and children were hostages back home. The plan was to raise a large enough army to support his bid to take his rightful rule. The plan was working when Lear, who didn’t like the plan since it minimized his influence, jumped in to make a premature deal.

While Lear’s treaty brought peace in the short term, it didn’t solve the problem in the long term. During the War of 1812 the British encouraged them to resume plundering U.S. ships. After the war, our bigger navy was sent to set things aright in the Mediterranean. After this, future President John Quincy Adams wrote to Stephen Decatur “I most ardently pray that the example, which you have given, of rescuing our country from disgrace of a tributary treaty, may become the irrevocable law for all future times.”

This mission by Decatur, who served valiantly in the previous conflict with the Barbary nations, brought to an end “the centuries-old practice of building economies around kidnappings, theft, and terror”.

This is an interesting period in American history, one which is not considered very often. We see some similarities to some current problems and there may be lessons to be learned from the actions of our founding fathers in this affair. This is the point Kilmeade ends with, though not in a heavy handed way. He sees the parallels but does not belabor them. I found this to be an engaging book.


Last week I brought up the envy and discontentment that we can feel in church life because our church is as “x, y or z” as another church. We can kick against the goads and ignore the call of God who has placed us in His Body according to His wisdom and goodness. Many churches try to be something they are not instead of the church God has made them to be. Many pastors do the same thing.

But there is another danger, the dark opposite of envy and discontentmet: complacency. This is the notion that since I can’t be like that other pastor, I don’t really have to try. Since our church can’t be like that other church we don’t have to strive to be better.

Envy can drive obsession to be something you can’t be. Complacency drifts into being slack and ineffectual.

And so the tensions of church life, and pastoral ministry begin to arise. They can be seen in these ways.

Complacency <==> Faithfulness <==> Covetousnes

Ineffectual/lazy <==> Utilizing Gifts & Abilities <==> Over-taxing people

Status quo <==> Always improving <==> Over-reaching

Leaders need to honestly assess who they are as pastors, elders and congregations. There must be discussions and analysis of gifts, abilities and resources within a congregation, and the best way to use them to the glory of God.

Let’s look at music as an example. Each congregation has its own musical resources that are intended to shape their music ministry. Each church, therefore, has different limitations. When I first entered pastoral ministry the congregation had the self-proclaimed “piano lady” who was the wife of an elder. That was about it. When she was on vacation they used one of those digital hymnal boxes to lead singing. I dusted off my guitar, faced my inhibitions about playing in front of people, invested time most weeks practicing and played along on songs I could play. It was a small church and my mistakes weren’t the end of the world to most of the people.

We played hymns and a few Scripture songs. We had a few snow birds, and one used to play organ for her church. She played for a few Sundays when our beloved piano lady was out of town. It didn’t go well. It would have been okay except for a man who was very vocal about his displeasure and she never tried again.

The “old days” of Cornerstone except the pianist is “missing”.

Eventually God brought another musician into the congregation. She had are greater abilities than the piano lady and we were able to significantly expand the range of music we sang as a congregation. For a period of time there was a third keyboardist who could spell the other two and we all loved her rendition of Amazing Grace. We identified a few people who sang well and had them lead the singing. For a small church, we had a very good music ministry. It was one that grew as God provided new resources, but sought to live within its limitations. The piano lady couldn’t do syncopated music. If she was the only keyboardist that day we didn’t do any.

One temptation would have been to be complacent. We could have refused to improve our ministry as God provided. We could have ignored the provision of new musicians. We could have refused to expand our musical options (adding songs and new styles). We also could have thought we were supposed to have a music ministry like the big church down the street and gotten bitter because our musicians weren’t semi-professional (or go bankrupt paying musicians).

The same thing has happened at my new congregation. We had some very good piano players and a very good guitarist. We have 2 people who can play bass, and one who plays the penny whistle. We had a violinist. I am the least skilled musician among us. The congregation sings well. We didn’t stick with the status quo. We’ve expanded our music. We bought a piano to replace the keyboard and made it the focal instrument. A new member added a beat box to the mix. One of the young women practiced to improve her skills and has gone from playing hymns alone to playing with other instruments. We’ve asked one of our strongest voices to help lead the singing, particularly important for new songs.

It hasn’t all been positive. We have one instrumentalist dealing with the realities of aging. Our violinist moved away. All of these things shift our gifts and abilities, expanding and contracting our musical boundaries as a congregation. Our music can and should be getting better rather than becoming stale through complacency.

That is how all ministries of a church should be. How are our resources changing? Are we able to do more or do we have to start thinking about doing less? How can we do what we do better?

This is the process of becoming the best church, to the glory of God, that we can be. That doesn’t mean trying to become like someone else, but growing more into who God has made us in His providential wisdom. That can be painful as we let of old ways and learn new ways. But we need to avoid the traps of both covetousness and complacency. This is difficult since we are prone to self-deception (each of us can mask either as ‘being faithful’). One way is to keep our focus on Christ and His principles instead of exalting our preferences. We can’t be all things to all men all at the same time. We are called to be the church God has made us to our particular community at this particular time.


It is easy to look over the fence, so to speak, and see how another church is better. When we are feeling smug and self-righteous we usually see how they are worse. But we can look and get discouraged.

I pastor one of 4 churches of my denomination in our city. We are the oldest, and the smallest. It is easy to look at them and go “why are we the small church?” We don’t simply want growth from people who move to town, we want to see conversion growth. Aside from our children we are not seeing much of that. Our gifted evangelist had been sick for years and died a year ago. Evangelism is a struggle for us.

It isn’t for a lack of trying, at least in some ways. In my series on John I emphasized His mission and therefore ours. I’ve done a SS class on evangelism in the past. We’ve done an outreach the last few years. But the bottom line seems to be we are generally introverted and busy people.

I want us to change, and pray for us to change. That is a good thing. I don’t want us to be disobedient to Christ.

But I also don’t want us to be filled with envy (look at those churches) or discouragement (from beating ourselves up).

Old SpurgeonEnter Spurgeon. I’m reading Morning and Evening this year. I didn’t bring it with me on vacation so I’m reading 2 days’ worth to catch up. Almost there! But I read July 18th today.

In the morning he covered Numbers 2 addressing the location of Dan in the camp. They took up the rear, but were not to be discouraged about their position in battle formation. He notes that they experienced all of the same spiritual blessings as the rest of the tribes.

They might have thought themselves useless as a result. Kinda like Grimes in Black Hawk Down whining about being the one who always makes the coffee and doesn’t go out on missions.

Spurgeon notes they had a useful place. As the “stragglers” they picked up lost property. He expands:

“Fiery spirits may dash forward over untrodden paths to learn fresh truth, and win more souls to Jesus; but some of a more conservative spirit may be well engaged in reminding the church of her ancient faith, and restoring her fainting sons.”

In other words, every church has a place in the kingdom but a different place. Some are gifted evangelistically and it shows, and some are not. But they can be a refuge for Christians who have been burned out or used up, hurt or …. introverts and doctrinally oriented folks.

Spurgeon notes that they are the rear guard, which is also a place of danger. Dan suffered attack from Amalek, for instance. All churches are vulnerable to spiritual attack, to false teaching and habitual sins.

Just because your congregation isn’t on the “cutting edge” or growing quickly doesn’t mean your church isn’t a disobedient or bad church. It may just be a different church.

In the evening he looks at Joel 2:8 and talks about balance. He mentions how the virtues should all be there- we don’t focus on one at the expense of others. But just as importantly the same is true for duties. We can not become preoccupied with one duty and neglect others. It is easy for a church that isn’t growing quickly to obsess about it and neglect their other duties.

“We must minister as the Spirit has given us ability, and not intrude upon our fellow servant’s domain.”

We tend to think of this within congregational life, which is true. We should enable all to serve according to their gifts, abilities and passions. None of us can do everything. But in the Body of Christ everything gets done.

The same is true on a larger scale, I suspect. No one church can do everything- though the bigger they are the more they can do. Smaller churches live with greater limits. This can be frustrating to members (and pastors) who see we aren’t doing something and think we should. It requires wisdom in accessing abilities, gifts and resources.

Some of us are Type-A Christians. We always want more. The answer is not to attend a Type-A church. Smaller churches do need a push, someone who calls them out of complacency. But there is a balance must be sought. We can’t help our congregations be the best they can be in light of who God has made them. And God has not given all churches the same gifts, abilities and resources. As part of a larger Body we recognize our place in the Body, the function we are to perform which means our church won’t be like other churches who have different functions to perform.

Don’t be embarrassed to be like Dan, in the rearguard. But rejoice in Christ who has made you a part of the Body and given you a role to fulfill in that Body. Seek to understand that role your congregation plays instead of trying to be a congregation you aren’t- by the providence of God.

 


Like many Americans (and many Christians) I have been shaking my head for the last year or so as the primaries have shaken the list of Presidential candidates down to (essentially) two. I feel very much in a quandary. Like many people I feel like I have to choose between two unsavory choices. Both main party candidates have baggage, and lots of it.

The Libertarian candidate is getting a bit more press than usual. I know more people than usual are considering voting for Johnson. While I agree with many elements of the libertarian ethos, particularly those about the size of government. In this regard I prefer the Libertarians to the Donkey and the Elephant. But there are the social issues, and I don’t have an affinity for laissez-faire morality. So the quandary continues.

I did consider playing the part of obstuctionist. Since Johnson doesn’t actually have a chance to win, voting for him my help him get enough votes to mess up the electoral college so that neither Hillary nor Donald win. That, however is hedging a huge bet.

So … what should I do? I should do what everyone should do whether they are a Christian or not. Here is what I think we should all do:

  1. Read the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights. There is plenty of rhetoric in the campaigns. Some promises I’ve heard would seem to be contrary to the Constitution and Bill of Rights.
  2. If you are a Christian (or other person of faith) read your Bible (or the book for your faith). Actually it is a bit late for that, but perhaps look up pertinent passages as needed to sort through the moral issues that present themselves.  This is because I want you to …
  3. Read their political platforms. After deciding to write this post, I saw Joe Carter’s post on the Gospel Coalition. He notes that Republicans vote according to the platform 89% of the time and Democrats 79% of the time.  This is a very good indicator of how they will vote, more so than the speeches candidates may give. Here are links for the Republican, Democratic and Libertarian platforms. They can be lengthy but don’t listen to Nancy Pelosi’s famous statement about the ACA: “You can read it when we pass it.” Know what you are getting yourself into!
  4. Weigh their platforms by your values. Don’t expect to agree with everything, or disagree with everything. For instance, I think most of us believe that the lives of minorities matter too. You will have to differentiate between meaningful/significant differences and less meaningful/significant differences. For instance, I’m not a one issue voter, but one of the significant issues for me is abortion. If a political party celebrates abortion, and wants to force everyone to pay for abortions (repealing the Hyde Amendment), that is huge for me. May not be huge for you.

In other words, don’t vote for a candidate so much as for a platform. Take out the “who do you like factor”. This isn’t a popularity contest. Take out the sex o f the candidate, whether your vote for or against someone because she is a woman it is sexist. Get beyond the sound bytes, and memes, and get to what they actually stand for, in writing. Maybe there will be less nose holding, and more voting for something instead of against someone.


The Gospel-Centered Family: Becoming the Parents God Wants You to Be by Ed Moll and Tim Chester is another in a series put together by Tim Chester. I started reading this volume over 2 years ago, but when I packed up my office during the remodeling and expansion it sat in a box for over a year. When I unpacked in the new office it sat on a shelf until last week. I realized that I only had a few (short) chapters to read.

“Families offer security, acceptance, safety, love. But they also can be places of conflict, defiance, suspicion.”

It fits the layout of the other volumes in the series: 1 page intro based on a story, some Scripture to read, about 4 pages of material and a page of questions for reflection and ideas for action.

It is a very easy book to read, and the focus is on applying the material. Their goal is to help parents see themselves as under the rule of God through the gospel. He has made His enemies into His friends, His own children through the work of Christ.

“Parents are to model God’s good, liberating, just rule in the way they bring up their children. We’re to show that it is good to live under authority.”

While we want to see our children confess Christ, we can’t make them convert since regeneration is a sovereign work of the Holy Spirit. This provides us with responsibility and realistic hopes and expectations for our kids. The address the fact that grace and discipline are not opposed to one another since the Father disciplines us because He loves us. We discipline our kids because we love them. Often discipline is short-circuited by our selfish and sinful hearts. As a result parents need to live by grace too.

“The source of all actions- both good and bad- is the heart. And that means changing hearts matters more than controlling behavior.”

They remind us that children are a gift, something we forget when they won’t let us sleep in (or sleep period), won’t pick up anything, need new clothes etc. They provide some of the ways in which we can help our kids enjoy being in our families.

They move to a section about being a Word-centered family. We learn about grace from the Word. This also means we teach children to sort out the other voices they hear- friends, media etc. We also teach them to pray the Word.

“A family that’s turned inwards is not a gospel-centered family.”

The major contribution and what may be a big rebuke to many families is being a mission-centered family. Too many families are essentially ingrown (like churches). They idolize family instead of seeing family w/in the context of Genesis 1-2 and the creation mandate a.k.a mission. Instead of protecting your family through isolation, invite people into your family events, serve as a family, reach out as a family.

All in all this is a helpful little volume that many will find helpful.

 


Tim Chester has a number of books in a Gospel-Centered series. The latest I have read is Gospel-Centered Marriage: Becoming the Couple God Wants You to Be. It follows the same formula of the other books. It is short and has very short chapters. It begins with a page relating a scenario in marriage to introduce the need for the material. There is some Scripture to read, a short chapter and then some questions for discussion.

In some ways I was reminded of my book (hopefully to be released this fall). I cover some of the same ground though I develop a different theological orientation, and in more depth. I probably try to say too much. Here he seems to say too little at times. Being succinct is generally a good thing. But at times things beg for qualification.

For instance, in the 3 chapters on sex in marriage he talks of serving one another by being willing to have sex even when you aren’t interested (addressed primarily to women). This is not really qualified, and while the problem of pressuring is mentioned, the emphasis clearly is on serving. There are legitimate reasons for a spouse to say “not today”, and they shouldn’t feel guilty about it. But that really isn’t addressed. Brevity can create problems at times.

He covers more than sex. He addresses love and submission, grace, conflict and resolution and forgiveness. He rightly places marriage in the context of mission (or creation mandate). There are some subjects that are not covered directly: leaving & cleaving, honoring dignity, and finances for instance.

The majority of the material is very good. I’m not sure if I would use it for pre-marital counseling. But it does serve as a good check-up and could be used by counselors to supplement counseling sessions by providing some instruction and aiding discussion. A chapter can be read in less than 15 minutes.

It is a worthwhile book to read, but remember that Tim Chester isn’t trying to say everything, or even close to it.