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Posts Tagged ‘parachurch ministries’


Aimee Byrd’s 6th chapter, The Great Divorce That You Didn’t See Coming, addresses the problem of parachurch ministries and the discipleship being farmed out to them. This should not be be taken to mean that she is against parachurch ministries, but that she is advocating for the centrality of the church and its mission.

Parachurch ministries are intended to work alongside (para) and supplement the church, not to replace or supplant the church. When churches fail to do their job, people often turn to parachurch ministries to fill the gaps. As someone who used to work in a parachurch ministry, I understand this and lament that so many churches aren’t engaging and serving their people well. In our consumeristic age, many affiliate with parachurch ministries that are more visible and dynamic than the local church. A study a few years ago explained this in terms of people who were parts of parachurch ministries in high school and college still wanting similar ministry instead of the style employed by local congregations.

Byrd discusses a conversation with a friend who attends a local congregation but doesn’t think she needs it in light of the availability of her favorite celebrity pastor’s sermons. This problem has grown with the advent of the live streaming era thanks to Covid-19. It is great that those sermons are available to edify us and others but many rely on them or put a higher priority on them than their local pastor. In other words there is a fundamental misunderstanding of the Christian life. This indicates a breakdown in discipleship.

Others women she knows talk about discipling people who don’t go to their church. I understand if there is a pre-existing relationship but generally agree with Byrd’s concerns.

She is building on the previous chapter and points to the disconnect among many church members. She notes we should be friends, but not lovers, with the parachurch ministry (an odd metaphor). Many come to faith through parachurch ministries. Some have turned to them to be discipled. There is plenty of bad ecclesiology in our midst. Byrd notes that she knows leaders in parachurch ministries who are not members of a local church.

“But the popular mind-set is that while church is still recognized as important, the real ministry is taking place outside the church.”

Why Discipleship Is Leaving the Church

Byrd shifts to the reasons for this shift. She mentions the couple that splits when everyone thinks the marriage was strong. The couple has put on a happy face, but behind closed doors they have drifted apart or become combative. In congregations, people can feel forgotten and neglected so they begin to look for fellowship and opportunities to grow elsewhere. Others feel unneeded by their congregations, and want a way to serve but can’t find one. Some of these people change churches, but others stay and look to a parachurch ministry to meet this need.

So, these are two groups. There are those who seek from parachurch ministries the investment and growth that should be given from the local church. There are those who develop their own ministries to others disconnected from the local church.

We do need to be careful. Some parachurch ministries exist to help people serve in the local church. They really view themselves as coming alongside, being partners with the local church. Some, sadly, are people who have been hurt by the local church and don’t see themselves as partners so much as substitutes.

She mentions IF-Gatherings ministries which says “Discipleship is what we’re about.” This ministry has reached over a million women. Thousands of women attend their conferences. In some cases they take the place of discipleship in the local church, and for other people they supplement and assist local church ministry. The problem isn’t the ministry but how people utilize them.

“Church leaders, laypeople, and parachurch ministries need to stop and ask what our responsibilities are and how God’s people are discipled.”

Byrd thinks there needs to be an RDT or DTR (depending where you are from): a talk to define the relationship. This is not simply to chastise parachurch ministries, but also to prompt church officers to be more engaged. We need to engage the Word together and make sure people are providing and looking for discipleship in all the right places.

The Problem of Biblicism

She brings up the Biblicist method of teaching Scripture. I’m not sure how true that is, but in the case of CBMW many of the leaders do use such a method. I’m surprised this didn’t come up earlier, particularly when she was addressing ESS. As I noted in an earlier post, Matthew Emerson provides a fairly lengthy critique of Grudem’s Biblicist method of interpretation that leads him to some faulty conclusions (He Decended to the Dead, pp. 5-17, 67-74). ESS would be one of them, as well as denying that Jesus descended to the dead. But Byrd does address this here because Piper and Grudem are not the only ones who use this kind of method to interpret the Bible.

“Biblicists rightly uphold the authority of Scripture but often read the Bible with a narrow, flat lense of interpretation, zooming in on the words in the texts themselves while missing the history, context, and confessing tradition of the faith. Biblicists emphasize proof texting over a comprehensive biblical theology. What often happens unintentionally is that the Biblicist readers become their own authority, since they often don’t notice they are also looking through their own lens of preconceived theological assumptions.”

Sorry for the lengthy quote there, but Byrd briefly discusses what is wrong with such a method (ignoring historical context, theological context as well as the interpretive history) and the end result of becoming one’s own authority. Your interpretation becomes THE interpretation with no one to correct you. We see this, in my opinion, with Piper’s permanent marriage view, as well as ESS. Byrd brings it back to ESS as well. “Biblicists employ a fundamentalist approach to God’s Word that doesn’t take into account how the church and the Scriptures go hand in hand.” She warns that “Biblicist doesn’t mean biblical.”

Many parachurch ministries are vulnerable to this precisely because they don’t have confessions of faith, or if they do it is minimal and lowest common denominator in nature. It becomes an interpretive community of 1 or 20, rather than the whole church through time.

Byrd is concerned that they mimic the church despite not having the same ecclesiastical offices. They have a board, typically following a business model. Yet they have “worship services” in their conferences. They sing songs, but there is generally no call to worship, confession of sin or faith, no sacraments etc. Some don’t allow women to speak even though they aren’t the church. As a result there are exclusively women’s parachurch ministries where gifted women get to contribute.

The Covenantal Context of Discipleship

Byrd advocates for the covenantal context of discipleship. The visible church is a covenant community. We’ve made promises to teach all as Christ commanded.

This is what makes some of the criticism she’s received from Reformed leaders confusing. She affirms qualified male elders in the church. She wants women to be discipled too. And she sees this in a covenantal context. This is all good, man. It seems an area of disagreement is maximized and the many areas of agreement are minimized.

She continues to bring out the Swain and Vanhoozer as she affirms that reading, and interpretation, is a communal exercise. I don’t just read the Bible with Jesus. We see the extremes here. Some think they don’t need to learn how to interpret the Bible, just pray. Others think it is so hard they won’t even try. Often the quiet time becomes a strange mystical experience utterly divorced from confessional boundaries, teachers of the present and past, as well as biblical theology. She advocates for more dogmatics, or systematic theology, to be taught to women. This is a common theme in her books.

Peel and Reveal

Rather than affirm historic confessions (like say, Ligonier did), many ministries form their own statements of faith. The CBMW did this with the Danvers Statement (which includes ESS). These statements, she argues, often further their own agenda and existence. This is true when you look at the introduction to the Danvers Statement.

“Parachurch often reinforces bad gender tropes, outfitting and amplifying many of the divisions between men and women in the church.”

In this context she returns to the use of “roles” by the CBMW. Yes, it should not be applied to “an ontological creational norm that women are subordinate to men.” As I noted, I don’t agree with her isolation of one meaning of the word, but I agree with Byrd that they fill their books, conferences, Bible studies and resources with erroneous stereotypes of men and women.

The problem didn’t stay limited to the CBMW. She notes that Southern Seminary has adopted the Danvers Statement to which employees must subscribe. Sadly, contrary to my vote, the PCA also adopted the Nashville Statement as if our own confessional material was insufficient. Yes, it does include the new terminology of recent days, but I think it clearly lacks the precision of the Westminster Standards. It affirms but does not define gender differences in Article 4. However, this is still written while affirming ESS as the basis for subordination.

“I belong to a church that already subscribes to historically faithful orthodox confessions. I am thankful that I don’t need to worry over signing additional statements with questionable theology.”

From here Byrd shifts to revealing who is exhorted to church. She brings up a number of “one another” texts that encourage Christians (not separated by sex) to exhort and teach one another. She notes “Laywomen in the Scriptures are not addressed as subordinate to laymen.” This is the view that riles up some people who embrace the CBMW view of men and women in terms of authority and submission rooted in ontology. These many verses she lists do not have qualifiers to limit the teaching of women. She then claims “It would be disobedient to Scripture to withhold women from teaching.” She certainly points out a theological oddity, not to be confused with a geographical oddity. As we apply the analogy of Scripture (WCF, I)the clear passages interpret the unclear, not the other way around. She will get to 1 Corinthians 11 and 14 in the next chapter. Even if you want to say a woman should be silent in the church, the context is the corporate worship service. That would not prohibit a woman from acting like any other lay person in a Bible study or Sunday School class.

She then shifts her attention back to parachurch ministries in general.

“We should not confuse the authority given to church officers with the authority of board members. We should not confuse the worship service, where God promises to bless us in Christ, with the classroom or the conference stage.”

She reminds us it is “helpful to distinguish between primary doctrinal issues, secondary issues, and even third-order issues of differences.” Oddly she footnotes an Al Mohler, of the aforementioned Southern Seminary, article from 2005 called “A Call for Theological Triage and Christian Maturity”. There is also a book by Gavin Ortlund called Finding the Right Hill to Die On: The Case for Theological Triage on this subject. She doesn’t say it, but most of what we discuss as differences between men and women would fall under third-order issues since they are not covered in ecumenical confessions of faith. As a result, we should allow one another latitude on that which is not clearly defined in Scripture (like the office of elder is). Parachurch ministries shouldn’t be organized around such third-order issues. It seems like straining at the gnat.

Parachurch ministries can come alongside the local church to help it fulfill its mission, rather than seek to fulfill that mission for it. What is drawing her ire is the later.

This chapter does advance her overall argument. It does point out some of the serious issues people should have with the CBMW, and some other parachurch ministries. Not everyone will agree with her statements. The question is, are those differences biblical or cultural? Are we sure?

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No Little Women: Equipping All Women in the Household of GodWhen No Little Women: Equipping All Women in the Household of God by Aimee Byrd came out, I bought copies for many of the key women in the church. I thought it would help them as they think about ministry to women in our congregation. They have been meeting periodically to discuss what they are reading.

My wife, after she read it, thought I should read it. It is also intended for the officers of the church to help them think through their congregation’s ministry to women. As a result, it was one of the books for my vacation/study leave.

“This is a book that aims to help the whole church by examining church initiatives for a group that makes up over half of our congregations- the women. … My hope is that this book will help both pastors and elders to shepherd the women in their congregations, and to encourage women to thrive under the ministry of Word and sacrament, so that it flows out to the whole church, to their homes, and to their communities.” From the Introduction

Aimee Byrd has been blogging as the Housewife Theologian for years. This has turned into being an author and a cohost of The Mortification of Spin podcast with Carl Trueman and Todd Pruitt. She, along with her husband and three children, are members of an OPC church.

She approaches this subject from a complementarian viewpoint. She affirms male headship of home and church. But she also pushes back against some forms of complementarianism as well as patriarchy. For instance, she takes issue with Piper on his views on which jobs are suitable for women outside the church. I think she is right to do so. In my opinion, in this view Piper sounds like he holds to patriarchy (he doesn’t, but is so far right on some points that it’s “leaky”, even though he affirmed women deacons on the left side of the spectrum). Byrd uses Pearl as an example of some bad theology, particular excerpts that espouse a form of patriarchy (the view that women are subject to men irrespective of their relationship).

She doesn’t see women as inferior or second class citizens of the kingdom of God. She has a vibrant view of ezer, or helper/ally. Women are called alongside their husbands to fulfill the creation mandate, not just to make babies and clean house. They are to study and learn, teach, encourage and serve the broader church. She wants to empower women to serve to the fullest of their abilities within the bounds God has established (though she doesn’t really interact with the different views on this, even among complementarians). Now that you know where she is coming from ….

Byrd breaks the book up into 4 parts. She begins with Pinpointing a Real Problem, then Examining Our Context, to Working toward a Solution and lastly Honing our Skills. There is a logical movement within the book. In the process there is plenty of theology, examples for illustration, and helpful ideas. There are also a few minor idiosyncrasies (I’m sure I’ve got a few myself). It is well-written and accomplishes its purpose. There was only one chapter in which I was left scratching my head because I was thinking “And…” since it really didn’t (in my opinion) answer the question.

What is the problem? It is two-fold in a sense. First, ministry to women is often isolated from the rest of the church. The officers of the church don’t want to be bothered and grant the women a fiefdom free from interference. Second, the books written for women are often filled with bad theology that often undermines the theology of the congregation. Byrd goes back to the temptation of Eve to understand this. Satan started with attacking Eve to undermine Adam. As Satan continues to war against the saints, he still employs this strategy. Why is this so important know? Often it is the women who are teaching the children. Multiple generations can be infected with bad theology or methods of interpretation.

“In his malevolent shrewdness, Satan when for the woman. He went after Adam’s gift from God, his bride. That was indeed a clever way to get to Adam. So it isn’t surprising today that Satan goes after Christ’s bride, his church, with the same distortion of God’s word.” (pp. 20)

She is right to point out these errors in books marketed especially for women. Many authors & speakers undermine the authority of the Scriptures by claiming to “hear” from God apart from the Scriptures (which is how the Spirit speaks, thru the Scriptures read or preached). Many are prone to eisegesis (reading into the text) rather than exegesis (reading out of the text). And there are all manner of doctrinal issues with regard to the Trinity, Christ, sin, redemption. Many promote false gospels as well. There is a profound lack of discernment, largely because church leaders haven’t been developing the skills for discernment to the women of the church (and often because pastors can exhibit some of these same problems in their sermons).

Aimee references how Paul addresses this problem in 2 Timothy 3:6-7.

For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth.

She spends quite a few pages interacting with this text. Women then were being targeted. In particular, weak women. Not all women are weak, or better translated gullible. False teachers don’t seek to corrupt competent and equipped women. Like wolves they look for those who are gullible, guilty and immature. In Timothy’s context and ours, those wolves were in the church. Godly leaders must seek these women out too and help them to become competent and equipped.

She develops the idea of woman as a necessary ally (ezer). She is in covenant with the man she helps, they are married. Women  are not helpers to men generally, but a specific man. God is also a necessary ally to those to whom He is covenantally bound. The OT use of this term for God means such an ally is not servile or inferior. The ally has resources and a commitment to use them for the well-being of the other. Byrd notes a quote by Spurgeon long before Toula’s mother said the same thing to her.

Theology is essential for women, not just men. Paul supported the idea of women learning, just as Jesus did. In this way the neck can turn the head in good directions.

Having identified the problem(s), she addresses the context in which we live. She goes back to Genesis 1-3. Eve, as Adam’s ally, entertained Adam’s enemy. Even in really good places like the Garden love is vulnerable. Satan didn’t want them to expand the garden-temple throughout the earth. What was important was God’s mission. Marriage, among believers, is about God’s mission. They work together to accomplish it, not their own personal dreams and kingdoms. She does some theology connected Adam the First with Adam the Second (aka, Jesus) to understand creation, fall & redemption. Christ is restoring our relationships, our households and our churches (the household of God) as He applies redemption in both justification and sanctification. Here she mentions another problem, women’s ministry often focuses on “being a woman”, not simply on being a mature Christian who happens to be a woman. But her primary focus is developing a robust view of competent, godly women. In their household and God’s. She mentions the many women in both the OT and NT who were highly involved in God’s mission as prophets, patrons, servants, etc.

In her zeal for the ministry of Word and Sacrament, she has one of her idiosyncrasies. She doesn’t like the term women’s ministry, thinking it devalues the ministry of Word and Sacrament. We don’t need to talk about women’s initiatives (or men’s, children’s etc.). I think we can all understand that though separate, they are not ultimately distinct. We are serving these portions of the church by and thru the Word even if it isn’t the Word preached.

When she moves toward a solution, she begins with the question of men learning from women. This was the headscratcher of a chapter. On the positive side she mentions how all of us learn from women who are in Scripture, like the songs of Hannah and Mary. There are also those instances when women taught men directly (Hulda, Pricilla). Those passages aren’t “for women only”. This is also a chapter in which she pushes back against some of Piper’s stranger comments.  There was also an odd rabbit trail on Anne Hutchinson and Aimee Semple McPherson. It reiterated the idea that in the quest to be heard, some women talk about hearing direct messages from God. This would be more suitable in the first section of the book. The head scratching came in discussing parachurch ministries and the use of women speakers at conferences. Conferences are confusing. They have times of worship utilizing many of the elements of worship, and I’m not sure how you differentiate between a conference speech/lecture and a sermon. She seemed to not be quite clear. I will not be excommunicated for disagreeing with any teaching given at a conference (though some churches should consider excommunicating people who go to particular conferences, I am sort of kidding). Conferences are voluntary and there is no “membership” or discipline. Personally I have no problem with a woman speaking at such a conference intended for mixed audience. Perhaps it is my experiences at Ligonier where women like Elizabeth Elliot and Joni would speak. They didn’t clear out the men, and I don’t think they should. I can learn from women, and should learn from women. Like reading this book. I just felt like she didn’t answer the question, and experienced some cognitive dissonance.

In later chapters she focuses on what it looks like to be a competent ally. While there were some good thoughts there, I wish she could have developed a few more and been a bit less reliant on John McKinley, adding some of her own ideas to the mix. She identifies the three traits of a competent ally as equipped, having resolve and discerning. This last one takes up much of the rest of the book as Byrd discusses how to read, how to interpret and how to assess false teaching (not all false teaching is equal since not all doctrines have equal priority). This is the most practical section, obviously. And she doesn’t short-change it. She then provides examples for the reader to apply what they have learned with excerpts of books with bad theology, methods of interpretation or statements that undermine the Scriptures. You are encouraged to note the problems to develop greater discernment. She provides a caveat, she doesn’t want to put authors on a “do not read” list. This is not a discernment blog approach, and we shouldn’t have such an approach. Discernment isn’t just about spotting the bad, but also affirming the good.

She wraps up with a chapter on preaching and teaching to women. The focus is on men, the officers of the church. She wants to help us help the women under our care. This is in keeping with her stated purpose for the book.

I think she did a good job fulfilling the purpose of the book. At times she put material that may have been better suited for another section. But as one whose book is in the process of being published, I recognize how hard it can be to do. There is no air lock between sections, sealing content or ideas. There was enough theology to keep me engaged (not simply personal stories strung together to make a point) and she applied it well. I think this is a good book for church officers and key women to read so congregations can better minister to (serve) the women in their midst so they become fully mature in Christ.

 

 

 

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