Saturday, December 27, 2014

Ruminations On Women's Ministries

So, I am thinking about women in the church and in the home, and about how difficult it can be to maintain a biblical view of so many things in the face of the pressures arrayed against us. Nevertheless we must strive to think biblically in all things. What else do we have, after all? Biblical thinking comes from biblical truth, and this truth is our safety (Philippians 3:1) and is for our joy (1 John 1:4); certainly not to keep us down.

Back to thinking about the roles of women, in the church in particular. Women's ministries in the church are such a fact that few question the need for them, or safety of them. So we have women directing other women into biblical truth, into doctrinal teaching, into understanding God's will for their lives. This is largely being done without a careful look at what the apostles have said to regulate women's roles in teaching. So here are a few places in the epistles that address various aspects of women's lives both as learners and teachers in the church. 

1 Timothy 2:11: "Let a woman learn quietly and 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; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor." 

1 Corinthians 14:33-35: "As in all the churches of the saints, 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." 

I hope that we desire to submit to, and not judge, the word of God.  The biblical remedy for all our ongoing sin resulting from the fall of our "first parents" is humility and lowliness. So for women in particular, this humility and lowliness calls for us to step back and take a sober look at the teaching of Scripture.

I don't see anywhere in Scripture where women are to serve as official teachers in the church, per se, since the biblical office of teacher is a leadership role. But women do have a job description for teaching, clearly stated in Titus 2:3-5: "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." You can see that the good teaching from the older women is for the purpose of training young women to love their families, living and serving so as not to bring shame upon the word of God. 

But in too many churches women, often younger women, are conducting Bible studies and instructing each other in sometimes complex doctrinal issues.  We know that teaching is an office of the church and that men in the church are to hold it. So in light of the clear instruction we are given for women's teaching in the church, and in light of the limitations on women's speaking in the church (based on the Law and on Eve's being deceived) we should fear to trespass in this area. 

Young women in the church desperately need mentoring and training in how to love their husbands and children; how to live so as to never bring discredit on the gospel. The sober-minded older women of the church are the designated drivers for this. There could be nothing more challenging and rewarding for a woman than to be part of this exciting ministry. So much is at stake! May the Lord grant us grace to repent of and forsake all lesser pursuits and turn wholeheartedly to the ones he has in his Word called us to. 

Friday, June 27, 2014

Luther's Theology of the Cross: Great Blessings Through Great Suffering

Martin Luther, the 16th century reformer, talked about something called the theology of the cross (as opposed to the theology of glory). The first theology is the good and right one, but harder for our human nature to embrace than the second one. Yet it's the only theology that offers sanity and hope in all the difficult experiences of this life. This excerpt from an article by Carl Trueman tells a little bit about how the theology of the cross is so very meaningful for our lives. I highly recommend following the link to and reading the whole article.

Luther...had a dramatically restrictive view of revelation. God revealed himself as merciful to humanity in the incarnation, when he manifested himself in human flesh, and the supreme moment of that revelation was on the cross at Calvary. Indeed, Luther sometimes referred enigmatically to Christ crucified as "God's backside"—the point at which God appeared to be the very contradiction of all that one might reasonably have anticipated him to be. The "theologians of glory," therefore, are those who build their theology in the light of what they expect God to be like—and, surprise, surprise, they make God to look something like themselves. The "theologians of the cross," however, are those who build their theology in the light of God's own revelation of himself in Christ hanging on the cross.

The cross is [the paradigm] for how God will deal with believers who are united to Christ by faith. In short, great blessing will come through great suffering.

This point is hard for those of us in the affluent West to swallow. For example, once I lectured at a church gathering on this topic and pointed out that the cross was not simply an atonement, but a revelation of how God deals with those whom he loves. I was challenged afterwards by an individual who argued that the cross and resurrection marked the start of the reversal of the curse, and that great blessings should thus be expected; to focus on suffering and weakness was therefore to miss the eschatological significance of Christ's ministry.

Of course, this individual had failed to apply Luther's theology of the cross as thoroughly as he should have done. All that he said was true, but he failed to understand what he was saying in light of the cross. Luther would agree that the curse is being rolled back, but that rollback is demonstrated by the fact that, thanks to the cross, evil is now utterly subverted in the cause of good. If the cross of Christ, the most evil act in human history, can be in line with God's will and be the source of the decisive defeat of the very evil that caused it, then any other evil can also be subverted to the cause of good.

More than that, if the death of Christ is mysteriously a blessing, then any evil that the believer experiences can be a blessing too. Yes, the curse is reversed; yes, blessings will flow; but who said that these blessings will line up with expectations of affluent America? The lesson of the cross for Luther is that the most blessed person upon earth, Jesus Christ himself, was revealed as blessed precisely in his suffering and death. And if that is the way that God deals with his beloved son, do those who are united to him by faith have any right to expect anything different?

This casts the problem of evil in a somewhat different light for Luther than, say, for Harold Kushner, the rabbi who wrote When Bad Things Happen to Good People. They happen, Luther would say, because that is how God blesses them. God accomplishes his work in the believer by doing his alien work (the opposite of what we expect); he really blesses by apparently cursing.

Indeed, when it is grasped that the death of Christ, the greatest crime in history, was willed in a deep and mysterious way by the triune God—yet without involving God in any kind of moral guilt—we see the solution to the age-old problem of absolving an all-powerful God of responsibility for evil. The answer to the problem of evil does not lie in trying to establish its point of origin, for that is simply not revealed to us. Rather, in the moment of the cross, it becomes clear that evil is utterly subverted for good. Romans 8:28 is true because of the cross of Christ: if God can take the greatest of evils and turn it to the greatest of goods, then how much more can he take the lesser evils which litter human history, from individual tragedies to international disasters, and turn them to his good purpose as well.

Luther's theology of the cross is too rich to be covered adequately in a single article, but I hope that my brief sketch above will indicate the rich vein of theological reflection which can be mined by those who reflect upon 1 Corinthians 1 and upon the dramatic antitheses between appearance and reality that are scattered throughout Scripture and marshaled with such force by Martin Luther. An antidote to sentimentality, prosperity doctrine, and an excessively worldly eschatology, this is theological gold dust. The cross is not simply the point at which God atones for sin; it is also a profound revelation of who God is and how he acts toward his creation.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Creeds and Confessions

I've been reading a good bit about the historical confessions of the Reformed church. The one most familiar to me has been the Westminster Confession. Three other historic Reformed confessions known as the "Three Forms of Unity" are the Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgic Confession, and the Canons of Dort. Reformed Baptists also have a historic confession, the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith, also called the Second London Confession.

The serious use of and adherence to such confessions has fallen out of favor, both among Reformed and Baptist churches. I think this is a problem! Without common beliefs about such weighty doctrines as the inability of man and the sovereignty of God in predestination and election, how can a local church maintain and enjoy the fellowship with one another God means us to maintain and enjoy?

Churches who don't use and adhere to these historic reformed Confessions will have members who disagree on all kinds of doctrinal issues. People who join the church will not have a clear idea on where the church stands on various important doctrines. Lack of commitment to a reformed confession seems to me to be a recipe for disunity. 

Here's an article by Carl Trueman about the importance of creeds and confessions and why we need to return to them. He has also written a book about the subject which can be purchased here.

The 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith can be found here.