Why Not Women Elders?

Why not Women Elders?

Of all the qualifications for elders taught in scripture, the most controversial in our day is the requirement that they be men.

Why is this so controversial?

Because we live in an era when people both worship equality and misunderstand it.

The Bible is clear that both men and women are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). It is also clear that God, from the beginning, gave men and women different roles in his plan – even before the Fall. Adam was put in charge of the Garden to work it and take care of it (Genesis 2:15) and Eve was tasked with being his helper (Genesis 2:18).

Male and female roles across the board are beyond the scope of this article but the point is equality of worth does not require equality of function. Unfortunately many people today, even inside the church, do not understand that. They’ve drunk deeply from the well of the Spirit of the Age and believe that to deny women any role is to deny their worth and equality before God. This is the same spirit, by the way, that says men and women are completely interchangeable because gender itself is a merely social construct.  But, you do not have to do the same job as another person to be equal to that person in value. Even among the persons of the Trinity there are differing roles yet all are equally God.

Scripture tells us the church is made up of people with a variety of gifts and that each of those gifts is necessary for the church to be healthy (I Corinthians 12). If we all had the same gift we’d have the kind of equality our culture seeks but we’d have an unhealthy church. As Paul says, if everyone is an eye we’d never hear anything!

What is the biblical evidence for male only elders?

The clearest passage is I Timothy 2:12-14:

I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve; 14 and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.

 With a similar passage in I Corinthians 14:33-35:

For God is not a God of confusion but of peace. As in all the churches of the saints, 34 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. 35 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.

Notice the two functions Paul calls out in the I Timothy passage:

  • Exercise authority
  • Teach

These are the functions of elders. They are, when taken together, uniquely functions of elders. Elders are the ones given leadership responsibility for the local church (I Peter 5:1-3, I Timothy 5:17) and the ones responsible for teaching the congregation (I Timothy 3:2, Titus 1:9). There are other passages you can point to but if a woman is not permitted to do these two things with regard to men, she cannot function as an elder because she cannot lead and teach a large portion of the church.

It’s as simple as that.

Some people claim Paul is speaking from a cultural perspective, that this was true in the first century but does not apply today. Paul, however, doesn’t give us that option because he tells us why he forbids women to teach:

For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.

 This is not cultural it is creational. It goes back to the roles ordained by God for men and women from the beginning and to the dynamics of the Fall. Paul uses the same logic to argue against women teaching and exercising authority over men that Christ uses in Matthew 19 to uphold marriage as one man and one woman – that God ordained it so from the beginning.

So elders are to be men. Always, in every era and every culture.

 

Photo credit: twm1340 via Visual hunt / CC BY-NC-SA

A Time for Choosing

A Time for Choosing

 

In Jeremiah 26 we read an account of Jeremiah standing before the Temple preaching the word of the Lord to the people of Judah. He did this because the Lord commanded it so:

“Thus says the Lord: Stand in the court of the Lord’s house, and speak to all the cities of Judah that come to worship in the house of the Lord all the words that I command you to speak to them; do not hold back a word.” – Jeremiah 26:2

Notice the Lord’s command was not only to speak, but to speak everything – not to hold back a single word of God’s commands.

We never have the option of truncating or soft-selling God’s word. Our job is not to make it palatable but to make it clear. Unfortunately when you do that, people don’t like it.

In Jeremiah’s case, they wanted to kill him:

“When the officials of Judah heard these things, they came up from the king’s house to the house of the Lord and took their seat in the entry of the New Gate of the house of the Lord. Then the priests and the prophets said to the officials and to all the people, “This man deserves the sentence of death, because he has prophesied against this city, as you have heard with your own ears.” – Jeremiah 26:10-11

This will always be the result of sharing the truth of God’s word with a lost and dying world. They will not only not like you for it, they will in some cases actively seek to do you harm.

The problem with much of the church today is we can’t handle that. We want everyone to like us. We’ve confused loving people with making them feel good about themselves. And, as much as we say we do this out of a desire not to offend or to be loving, the reality is we do it for ourselves because we worship the idol of popularity and being liked. We are people pleasers (Galatians 1:10) rather than people lovers.

When we present God’s word and get the reaction Jeremiah got (or that Jesus got, for that matter), we think we’ve done something wrong when, in fact, we’ve done something right. We measure our effectiveness by people’s reactions rather than by our faithfulness to the message of scripture. We think by softening the edges or not speaking of things like sin or God’s wrath and judgment we will obtain a hearing for the gospel. But, with no understanding of sin or God’s wrath there can be no understanding of the gospel.

The irony is, the more we try to be inoffensive, the more we compromise with the world, the more they dislike us – because nothing short of complete capitulation will satisfy the wicked.

That’s the choice we have, complete capitulation or faithfulness to the word of God. If our goal is to be honored by the world, we must choose the first, if our goal is to honor God we must choose the second. There is no in between. We must either be cold or hot (Revelation 3:15).

The Christian life is difficult. That’s a promise from the Lord (John 16:33). If we seek to make it easy and non-confrontational, we will end up being unfaithful. But, if we stand firm in the face of opposition and are uncompromising on the truth of the gospel, the reward is great (Matthew 5:11-12).

The time has come for the church of Jesus Christ to choose this day whom they will serve.

 

Photo credit: Sebastian Anthony via Visual hunt / CC BY-ND

Apple Pie Theology

Apple Pie TheologyOne of the questions that inevitably comes up when you study church history, especially the history of the Reformation, is whether the Roman Catholic Church should be considered Christian. On the one hand, they affirm the Nicene Creed which places them within the pale of historic Christianity along with Protestants and the Eastern Orthodox. On the other hand, they reject the notion of salvation by grace through faith alone. This puts them in the position of preaching a gospel other than the one affirmed by the apostles which, in turn, puts them under condemnation according to the Apostle Paul (Galatians 1:8-9).

So what are we to think about the Roman Catholic Church? Are they Christian because they are within the pale of Nicene orthodoxy or are they not Christian because they preach a false gospel? Additionally, how do we understand the difference between Nicene Roman Catholicism and something like Mormonism?

The answer lies in understanding the purpose of the creeds. The Nicene Creed in particular was not intended to be an exhaustive theological statement. It was formulated to address particular issues the church was facing at the time it was written – primarily the challenge to the divinity of Christ being put forth by the Arians. The Creed says nothing about the nature of the atonement, justification, etc. But, it does put up some boundaries beyond which a belief system cannot be Christian. So, from a historical and sociological perspective, religions within Nicene boundaries are considered Christian. But, this does not mean everyone who affirms Nicaea can be considered Christian from a theological perspective, as it is merely a starting point.

One way I’ve sorted this out is thinking of an apple pie. There are certain ingredients that must be present for a pie to be considered an apple pie. For argument’s sake, let’s say those ingredients are apples, sugar and nutmeg. Pies that contain apples, sugar and nutmeg can be classified as Apple Pies:

Nicene Apple Pie

Of course, we can add other things to the pie like rhubarb, for example, and it would still be an apple pie. But, are there things we can add that are so contrary to the pie’s purpose that, while technically still an apple pie, it becomes worthless as such? I think so:

A pie containing apples, sugar, nutmeg, sardines and garlic may be in the apple pie category technically but will not function as an apple pie in any meaningful sense.

Roman Catholicism is like an apple pie with sardines and garlic added – technically in the category of Christian but containing so many extra ingredients that are in conflict with the basics that it ceases to be Christian in reality.

For Mormonism and other anti-Nicene cults who call themselves Christian, the apple pie looks like this:

Mormon Apple Pie

They use peaches but call it an apple pie even though it is nothing of the kind and never has been. Mormonism began, not with Nicene orthodoxy from which they’ve strayed, but with heresy in which they’ve continued. They’re a peach pie masquerading as apple.

So while the Nicene Creed addresses essential beliefs it is not an exhaustive list of those essentials. The crux of Christianity is the gospel. If I affirm the divinity of Christ and the reality of the Trinity in sync with Nicaea but deny that the work of Christ alone is sufficient for my salvation, I have denied the gospel and forfeited the right to call myself a Christian. That is why, though we don’t place Roman Catholicism in the category of a cult like Mormonism, we must still place it outside the faith once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo credit: WinstonWong* via Visual hunt / CC BY-NC-SA

Why (Insert Group Name Here) Leave the Church

You’ve seen the blog posts and articles – why group X is leaving the church, men, millennials, college students, teens, etc.

Can I just say something? I’m tired of that approach. There are two and only two reasons people “give up on the church” no matter their demographic:

  • They are immature Christians. (Hebrews 5:12)
  • They were not Christians to start with. (I John 2:19, 3:10)

Listen to what God’s Word says about the importance of the church to the Lord and, by extension, to His people:

  • Christ died for the church, not for a collection of autonomous individuals. (Ephesians 5:25, Acts 20:28)
  • The church is Christ’s bride (Revelation 21:2)
  • The church is Christ’s body (Colossians 1:24)
  • The church is God’s plan to sanctify His people (I Corinthians 12, Ephesians 5:26-27)
  • The church is God’s plan to evangelize the lost (Matthew 28:18-20)
  • The church glorifies God to all creation (Ephesians 3:10)

Someone who does not see the church as essential to the Christian life is not viewing life through the lens of scripture, not viewing life from the perspective of one transformed by the Holy Spirit. That’s not to deny that sometimes one must leave a particular local congregation. However, a mature Christian will always seek another local expression of the Body of Christ with which to affiliate, no matter how difficult or hurtful their experience at a specific local church. Being part of a church is what Christians do. To say I’m a Christian who has given up on the church is like saying I’m a husband who has given up living with my wife. “Husband” implies relationship with the wife. “Christian” implies relationship with the church.

So next time you see an article on “5 Reasons Why Duck Hunters in the Midwest Leave the Church,” you can save yourself some reading: they are leaving because they are either immature Christians or not Christians at all.

 

Church History: What was Donatism?

Augustine_and_donatists

Suppose you came to Christ and were baptized as a teenager. Suppose years later, while at another church, you found out the pastor who baptized you was having an illicit affair with the church organist the whole time you’d been at his church, including during the time you were baptized. Was your baptism valid? Should you be re-baptized now by a ‘real’ pastor? Most of us would not think twice about answering those questions ‘yes’ and ‘no’ respectively but the answers were not always so obvious to believers.

There were two great persecutions of the church in the pre-Christian Roman Empire. One under the emperor Nero who ruled from 54 A.D. to 68 A.D. and the other under Diocletian who ruled from 284 A.D. to 305 A.D.

However, things changed dramatically for the church after Diocletian. By 312 A.D. Constantine, a professed Christian, had unified the eastern and western empire under his rule and Christianity was on it’s way to becoming the majority religion of the Roman world.

As the church found rest from external enemies, internal tensions began to surface. During the Diocletian persecution, church officials were often ordered to turn over copies of the scriptures to the imperial authorities for destruction. Some were jailed or even killed for refusing to do so. Others, however, turned over the scriptures or, in some cases, lesser church documents, knowing the government authorities would not know the difference between those and true scripture documents. After the persecution ended, those in this second category became known as traditors , Latin for “those who handed over.”

In the important North African city of Carthage, a dispute arose over whether traditors could ever again hold church office. Some felt they should be forgiven and allowed to again be priests or bishops. Others felt, though they may be forgiven and welcomed into the church as members, they should be forever banned from holding office in the church. This second group went so far as to say that baptisms and ordinations performed by repentant traditors were invalid.

This dispute came to a head in 311 A.D. when Caecilian became Bishop of Carthage. It was reported that one of the men who’d ordained him (three were required) had been a traditor. This, according to many in North Africa invalidated Caecilian’s ordination, making him ineligible to be a bishop. Those in opposition to Caecilian elected Majorinus calling him the ‘true’ Bishop of Carthage. Before the controversy could be settled, however, Majorinus died and was replaced by Donatus, from whom the movement gained its name.

Eventually (in 314) the emperor Constantine called a council at Arles to settle the matter. The council decided the Donatists were in error and validated Caecilian as the bishop of Carthage. The Donatists, however, refused to acknowledge this and continued to worship separately under their own bishops for hundreds of years, sometimes facing persecution for their beliefs. They were still a force during Augustine’s tenure as Bishop of Hippo (also in North Africa) and he often disputed with them. Donatism finally faded away only after the Muslim conquest of North Africa in the 7th Century.

Why is this controversy important? There are certainly some things that would disqualify a man from the pastorate and refusing to stand for Christ during persecution could reasonably be one of them. However, there was more at issue here than who could or could not be a bishop. The underlying issue was where the power and authority came from to admit someone to the fellowship of the church (or remove them for that matter). Donatists said that power came from the purity of the individual and only baptisms performed by worthy priests or bishops were valid. Their opponents argued that the keys to the kingdom had been given to the church and baptisms done by the church were valid baptisms, even if the person administering the baptism had been a traditor.

Most protestant churches today also see the Ministry of the Keys (from Matthew 16:19, 18:18) as belonging to the church, not to specific individuals, meaning, for example, the moral condition of a pastor has no bearing on the legitimacy of baptisms he performs. That’s not to say the pastor’s moral condition is unimportant, just that it’s the Holy Spirit, not the pastor’s personal righteousness that empowers the means of grace.