Hold Fast

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you--unless you believed in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:1-2, ESV)

Location: Cochrane, Alberta, Canada

Monday, June 26, 2006

Okay. This is really the last one on the women pastors thing....

And, actually, they're not even mine. This is simply to direct attention to a couple really insightful articles I've seen recently.

First is by Al Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Read it here - he makes many of the same points I did, but better. His previous look at the newly elected female presiding bishop of the U.S. Episcopalian church also provides ample evidence that the issues of female leadership in church and acceptance of homosexuality are highly correlated.

And, just in case someone still thinks I'm only some bent-out-of-shape misogynistic woman-beater for holding this particular take on Scripture, take a look at Libbie's opinions here. Like Betty and Nicole earlier, she puts it plainly:

But always, it has come down to the scripture. My passion for scripture, and for those entrusted with the responsibilities of preaching to be faithful to it, demands that I am faithful too. There are passages that explicitly say that women are not to teach or have authority over men. They are not fuzzy passages that require a koine greek concordance to understand the plain meaning of them.

And that should be the final word for all of us.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

One Last Note On Women Pastors

I was deeply encouraged to see some of the comments on my last post of the "To Address Some Concerns" series, especially this one:

I agree. And I'm a woman, and I don't think you hate me :P Thanks, Betty!

Interestingly, it was all women who responded, and two of the three that did were strongly supportive (the second of the three, I must confess, left me rather confused...)

Betty's insights cut right to the heart of the issue. As she pointed out, our purpose as Christians is not self-fulfillment - though Christ is the most fulfilling of all things! No, our ultimate purpose is much higher than selfish concerns:

And most of all, it isn't about us anyway; it is for the glory of God, so to get caught up in it otherwise, I would argue, is selfish and missing the point of serving God. It isn't for self-fulfillment. It IS servanthood as you mentioned, and ultimately it is for God.

Nicole, for her part, directed us to look toward the danger of such practice:

I think it's a shame how our Christian churches today feel the need to put aside scriptural truths to make Chritianity more appealing and acceptable to the world. The Bible could not be more clear on this subject!!!

No, it could not. And this is what I was getting at when I said, "To explain away Scripture's commands about the function of women in the church and household is to do tremendous damage to the authority of Scripture, and opens the door for practically any other doctrine to be similarly 'contextualized' and ignored."

Am I simply being alarmist by pointing this out? I'm not. Consider this: in a poll released in January 2004, the Barna Group, which specializes in church statistics, determined that of the 601 Protestant pastors they surveyed across North America, merely 51% of them have a Biblical worldview (defined as belief in several key Biblical teachings, such as absolute moral truth, the Biblical basis of such truth, sinlessness of Jesus, existence of Satan, etc.) This is shocking in itself, but when broken down by gender, it gets far worse:

The survey brought to light some unexpected differences based on pastoral background... The largest gap related to gender. Whereas 53% of male pastors have a biblical worldview, the same can be said for just 15% of female pastors. (emphasis added)

Barely one in seven women who hold a pastoral role believe in fundamental doctrines of the Christian church. Why is that? Well, first of all, I hate to point out the obvious, but there are always people out there who will take what you say out of the context it's offered - and so I will say this clearly:

It is NOT because women are in some way less capable of grasping Biblical truth - they certainly are able to do so! Personally, I know many, many women who possess a biblical worldview and a firm grasp of Christian teachings. I'm married to one, and count many others as good friends and among my family. The Bible, by assigning the responsibility to older women of teaching younger women the Christian faith (Titus 2:3-5), presupposes that women are fully capable of grasping Scripture. The picture in Acts of Priscilla, together with her husband, correcting and instructing Apollos in the true message of the faith (Acts 18:26) should dispel this idea.

So why is it? It's quite simple: in order to justify allowing women to hold positions of authority in preaching and teaching in the church, one must adopt a method of interpreting Scripture that allows you to ignore and reinterpret teachings that contradict one's beliefs. Or, in other words, one must appeal to culture, or to secular philosophy, or a worldly assumption about the roles of women, and then impose that on Scripture.

And once this has been done for one issue, and the tacit admission has been made that the Bible must be interpreted by some external (and higher / more relevant / more enlightened) authority, this hermeneutic (method for interpreting Scripture) opens the door for practically any other doctrinal deviation - be it abortion, homosexuality, rejection of the sinlessness or even deity of Christ, etc.

To sum up: a person (it's not just women, by any means!) who believes that women should be pastors does not derive this belief from Scripture - where all our faith and practice must come from - but from elsewhere. That person, therefore, is not in submission to God's Word - he or she submits that Word to human wisdom and understanding.

The comments left on my post are examples of women who seek to please God more than human beings - even themselves. And there are others out there - I think of bloggers like the Mahaney girls, Carla Rolfe, and Rebecca Stark, just to name a few. They're living proof that holding a Biblical view of manhood and womanhood is the foundation of freedom and fulfillment. May their tribe increase.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

What The Catholic Church Teaches

Those of you who frequent this blog may remember that on October 31 of last year, I wrote a post commemorating Reformation Day. I thought that it would be instructive for people to realize that it's not just Halloween - something far more important happened on that day of the year.

In my post, I mentioned what the Reformers stood for and against and what they accomplished. It was a call to remembrance and to thank God for His protection of the message of the Gospel.

Now, I don't usually keep an eye on previous posts and their comments. And so when a friend pointed me to a response to that post, I went back and read it. The responder's name is David, and he runs a joint blog with my friend Betty. Their blog focuses on Canadian politics, and is (I think) quite insightful. David's comments on contemporary social issues and the link between legalization of gay marriage and polygamy are worth reading.

David, in his response to my post, disputed my assessment of Catholic beliefs. Now, as a Protestant born and raised, I have to be careful that when I describe Catholic beliefs, I do so fairly and accurately - and this requires doing my homework! So to me, this was a chance to review my facts, check my sources, and ensure I was not bearing false witness.

Also, it's vital that we conduct such discussions in a spirit of grace and gentleness. The truth is worth the discussion and debate, but that debate must be done in keeping with the example of Him we are seeking to honour. David disagreed with me, but he did so graciously and with respect. I pray I did the same.

If anyone's interested in my response to David, it can be found here in the comments thread:

Happy Reformation Day!

And, if anyone's interested, here are some sources I used in formulating my response:


Canons of the Council of Trent

Catechism of the Catholic Church


Cambridge Declaration of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals

Calvin's Statements on Grace Alone: Conversion of the Will, and Justification by Grace Alone

Friday, June 02, 2006

To Address Some Concerns (Part IV)

Women in Ministry

A final concern raised by some when I made known my intent to attend a Baptist seminary was the question of women in church leadership. The concern stated was that Southern Baptists do not permit women to serve as pastors. This is an issue that has, indeed, been very controversial in the last century; the picture to the left comes from the magazine of a liberal mainline denomination that has grappled with this issue and settled on the side of embracing female pastors.

In Fredericton, I knew many who felt the same way. These people felt I should not attend a Southern Baptist seminary because their attitude towards women was wrong. One person, in fact, told me when I mentioned my decision, "You must hate women."

Yes, that's the level that theological dialogue and debate has descended to in the modern church.

So, first, I'll state categorically, as a happily married husband and as a Christian man, that I do NOT hate women. I believe God created man and woman in his image, not just man:

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:27)

And in Christ, there is no male or female (Galatians 3:28). Christian women are equal in the eyes of God to Christian men - they are just as valuable.

Now, the issue of gender and church leadership must first be rooted in a Biblical construct of church leadership. The New Testament describes three offices of the church: apostle, elder/pastor/bishop, and deacon. Apostles passed away with the death of John at the end of the first century, as one of the qualifications of the apostolic office was to have seen Christ in the flesh (1 Corinthians 9:1, 15:7-9), and so there are no "apostles" in the New Testament sense today. (This does not mean that certain apostolic functions, such as of beginning new works and coordinating the efforts of different churches, no longer exists - only that the infallible authority of the original apostles does not reside in any church office today). The terms elders, pastors, and bishops are used interchangeably in the New Testament and early patristic writings, and refer to the same office. They are the spiritual leaders and shepherds of the church. Deacons are those who are appointed by the church to minister to physical needs - the term diakonos in Greek means, literally, "servant."

Now, can women serve in these roles? Let's look at Paul's instructions about elders first:

The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. (1 Timothy 3:1-3)

This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you-- if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. For an overseer, as God's steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it. (Titus 1:5-9)

Note that Paul presupposes in his comments that the elders are men - "husband of one wife." More importantly, they must be "able to teach" and "give instruction." This is integral to the role of an elder. Particularly important with regards to this issue is this statement Paul made just a few verses before the qualifications found in Timothy:

Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. (1 Timothy 2:11-12)

If women are not permitted to teach men, and the ability to teach and rebuke is integral to the office of elder, it logically follows that women are precluded from such roles.

Notice furthermore that the teaching requirement is not repeated for deacons. The diaconate is not a teaching body:

Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain. They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless. Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things. Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well. (1 Timothy 3:8-12)

So, although Paul presupposes men as deacons here as well, the deacons do not hold a teaching or authority role. Furthermore, Paul demands that the deacons' wives must meet the same standards - a requirement not expressly stated for elders. It is as if he expected husband-and-wife teams to cooperate in such service. If so, we would expect the New Testament to refer to female deacons - and, actually, there is such a reference:

I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deaconness of the church at Cenchreae... (Romans 16:1, Revised Standard Version)

Most contemporary versions render Phoebe's description as "servant," but as stated above, the Greek for servant is the same as for deacon - hence my choice of the RSV.

So, in short, women may not serve churches in positions of teaching or other authority over men. This is stated repeatedly by Paul:

Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. (1 Timothy 2:11-12)

As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church. (1 Corinthians 14:33-35)

This precludes women from being pastors, or elders, or bishops in the church. Also forbidden, then, is the curious role - increasingly seen in charismatic and non-denominational churches - of women as "co-pastor" alongside their husbands.

Womens' submission is not, as is argued by some, simply an effect of the Fall and thus voided by salvation in Christ. This argument is based on a reading of Galatians 3:28 that ignores its context - it speaks of equality in salvation, not equality of function or the end of physical distinctions. Rather, Paul stresses that the functional differences between men and women - and a woman's submissiveness - are, in fact, God's design and rooted in creation itself, prior to the Fall:

Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve... (1 Timothy 2:11-13)

Furthermore, the submission of women to their husbands and in church life is NOT simply a peculiar feature of the first-century context. I have heard many people argue that Paul's instructions addressed a particular situation in a particular historical and geographical context, and thus is not normative today. This view is wrong - not only does it sound eerily similar to liberal arguments against the Bible's prohibitions of homosexuality, but as observed above, the distinction and function of men and women is rooted in Creation itself. It has been applicable ever since. Finally, Paul repeated his commands about women in submission not to just one church, but to churches in Corinth, Ephesus, and Colossae, to Timothy and to Titus, and even Peter affirmed the doctrine in his letter! To explain away Scripture's commands about the function of women in the church and household is to do tremendous damage to the authority of Scripture, and opens the door for practically any other doctrine to be similarly "contextualized" and ignored.

Now, does this mean women cannot serve in ministry? Not at all!

First, as stated above, I see no Scriptural reason why women cannot serve as deaconesses. Now, many Baptist churches, for instance, use the deacons as a ruling body and invest them with authority and teaching responsibility. If this is the case, these "deacons" are closer to elders in their responsibilities, and such a church would be precluded from allowing women to serve as "deacons." But in churches that recognize the Scriptural qualifications for deacons and use them accordingly, without teaching or ruling authority, women can (and should!) be called as deacons.

Second, Paul tells Titus - and us - that one of the responsibilities of older women is to teach and shape the younger women of the church:

Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. (Titus 2:3-5)

Therefore, there is certainly a Scriptural mandate for women to serve in positions of authority over other women - as, say, women's ministers. Such a position would not be an elder's or pastor's position - for that would entail authority over the church in general and men in particular. Rather, it would be a particular service to the church, and could be described as a deaconness' role.

Third, there is no Scriptural prohibition of women serving as children's ministers - again, as a particular type of deaconness. Remember that the spiritual development of children is first and foremost a family matter, not a church responsibility - and so is ultimately something God will hold their parents, and particularly their fathers, accountable for. Any church activities like childrens' Sunday School or Vacation Bible School could certainly be organized and taught by women, though, as long as the priority of family is recognized.

Southern Baptists have historically recongnized these truths. I agree with them. This issue, for me, served to confirm my seminary choice - the Bible's views on women in leadership are hardly politically correct, and so standing against the culture on this issue shows a respect for God's Word - respect that I looked for in making my decision.

Additional Resources

The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood - an organization that promotes Biblical teaching on gender and the church.

The Danvers Statement - a declaration summarizing the Biblical view on this issue.