Monday, August 31, 2015

My Perspective: Women in Combat

In recent news, The Pentagon is expected to open most combat roles to women soon. The decision has been in the making for quite some time. More than two and a half years ago, my friend, Joe Carter, wrote a thought-provoking article called Battles are Ugly when Women Fight, in which he predicts that young women will soon be required to register for the Selected Service, to eventually be subjected to the draft.

Anyone who knows me, knows I'm not a fan of putting women in combat, nor am I a fan of "slippery-slope" argumentation. It seems unlikely to me that 1) the American public will likely support any form of a draft at this point, given the overwhelming success of an all-volunteer Army, and 2) that the American public should easily make the leap from women being allowed to do something to forcing women into the specific fields where they have to serve. We really don't need to look much further than the track record that science and engineering fields have had for attracting and recruiting young women. STEM programs and diversity clubs everywhere have actively recruited women for more than 20 years in those fields and the actual ratio still remains at a meager 8-10%, even in best case scenarios.

However, even though I find it unlikely that the public will force women to enlist into combat any time soon, I strongly believe we should advocate for the right for women to claim  conscientious objector status, should legislation be passed in the near future. Without having to prove that they are full-blown pacifists, women should be able to opt-out, solely on the grounds that they are women. That's something that I'd like to see put into place with any future legislature.

All of that said, I'm still in accord with Mr. Carter's position here, particularly because I've lived through three decades of first hand knowledge regarding the changes in our military forces. Long before 9/11/2001, the slide toward women on the front lines has been in full effect. However, the tables went into full-tilt when the lines between combat and service support roles were irreversibly blurred by the asymmetric style of warfare employed by our cowardly enemies.

The global threats presented by a post-Cold War environment necessarily thrust every military member into the "warrior" role. The days of either young men or young women joining the military in a support capacity have been gone for longer than a decade. Just think about it, and remember that Jessica Lynch was a supply specialist (service support) who became a POW after she and her fellow soldier were engaged in a fire-fight. Not your typical supply specialist job description, right?

In my case, this change in roles was one of the main reasons why I left the military to move on to better callings. It was never my intent to have to shoot a weapon at another person. In fact, through most of my career, my job mostly involved shooting a camera and wielding a pen (or a typewriter back in the day). Even that role was rewritten and changed to mobile/combat camera more than 15 years ago. When our unit got called to go to Iraq, I invoked my 20-year letter option and retired as a matter of conscience.

Finally, anyone who reads this stuff knows that I'm a full-fledged PCA church member, who values my denomination's Biblical teaching and positions on topics such as these. Many years ago, in 2001, my denomination formed an Interim Study Committee, that wrote this Consensus Report, and made these Recommendations for the Wise Counsel of the Church, specifically pertaining this topic. Back in 2007, as I was wrestling with my own issues of "Should I Stay or Should I Go" regarding my military status. I was directed to these documents by the wise counsel of a Godly PCA elder, who I met while one of our presbytery events. (Chaplain Lee served in the military for many years and is currently the Executive Director of the Presbyterian & Reformed Commission on Chaplains and Military Personnel for our denomination.)


Fix Complementarity by Re-Affirming The Danvers Statement


As I've stated in numerous previous posts, I'm a complementarian woman and a fully participating member of a PCA church that teaches the complementarian position. As such, I find myself compelled to defend what I have come to regard as the thoroughly scriptural teaching of the Bible on the issue of manhood and womanhood. I wrote a brief introductory background on my coming to a complementarian understanding in my previous post, but did not actually describe in full what I in fact believe that position to be.
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What I'm interested in doing here is to actually look at what the complementarian position is, according to vast majority of Biblical churches, and especially my own denomination, the PCA. Nearly every minister and body in our denomination that I'm aware of subscribes to The Danvers Statement, which was written in December, 1987, by the original council members of the Center for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW).

The Affirmations are as follows:
1. Both Adam and Eve were created in God’s image, equal before God as persons and distinct in their manhood and womanhood. 
2. Distinctions in masculine and feminine roles are ordained by God as part of the created order, and should find an echo in every human heart.
3. Adam’s headship in marriage was established by God before the Fall, and was not a result of sin. 
4. The Fall introduced distortions into the relationship between men and women. · In the home, the husband’s loving, humble headship tends to be replaced by domination or passivity; the wife’s intelligent, willing submission tends to be replaced by usurpation or servility. · In the church, sin inclines men toward a worldly love of power or an abdication of spiritual responsibility, and inclines women to resist limitations on their roles or to neglect the use of their gifts in appropriate ministries.
5. The Old Testament, as well as the New Testament, manifests the equally high value and dignity which God attached to the roles of both men and women. Both Old and New Testament also affirm the principle of male headship in the family and in the covenant community.
6. Redemption in Christ aims at removing the distortions introduced by the curse. · In the family, husbands should forsake harsh or selfish leadership and grow in love and care for their wives; wives should forsake resistance to their husband’s authority and grow in willing, joyful submission to their husbands’ leadership. · In the church, redemption in Christ gives men and women an equal share in the blessings of salvation; nevertheless, some governing and teaching roles within the church are restricted to men. 
7. In all of life Christ is the supreme authority and guide for men and women, so that no earthly submission—domestic, religious or civil—ever implies a mandate to follow a human authority into sin.  
8. In both men and women a heartfelt sense of call to ministry should never be used to set aside biblical criteria for particular ministries. Rather, biblical teaching should remain the authority for testing our subjective discernment of God’s will. 
9. With half the world’s population outside the reach of indigenous evangelism; with countless other lost people in those societies that have heard the gospel; with the stresses and miseries of sickness, malnutrition, homelessness, illiteracy, ignorance, aging, addiction, crime, incarceration, neuroses, and loneliness, no man or woman who feels a passion from God to make His grace known in word and deed need ever live without a fulfilling ministry for the glory of Christ and the good of this fallen world. 
10. We are convinced that a denial or neglect of these principles will lead to increasingly destructive consequences in our families, our churches, and the culture at large.

The importance of the carefulness and the clarity with which these original affirmations were written cannot be overstated. In each of these affirmations, the latitude spared for individual application and cultural differentiation is self-evident. Hard and fast rules not presented in scripture are excluded. Prescriptive behaviors that fall outside of those given by the Word of God are not mentioned. The overt wisdom of deliberately chosen words must not be overlooked.

The Affirmations in The Danvers Statement Summarize Matters of Agreement

Again, the vast majority of church leaders, and those whose writing and teaching on the subject that I trust, subscribe to the above affirmations. In fact, I'd venture to say that even my fellow bloggers and writers who are currently challenging recent articles or books written by authors associated with the CBMW would also agree to all or most of these affirmations as written.

Rekindling the Danvers Statement at this time is a way to provide a plumb-line -- a historical representation of what the fathers (and mothers) of the complementarian position actually meant when the word was coined and the movement was launched.

Over time, the complementarian position has been misrepresented, misunderstood, and in many cases overstated or misapplied. With the latest generation of CBMW leaders and authors at the helm, it is my hope for a continued and renewed sense of clarity to emerge, especially in regard to engaging with cultural issues. We must not start with the culture or with biological categories of "what is", but rather, we must start with how God's Word states things "should be". Quite often, because of our human nature, we may tend toward seeing the overwhelming presence of cultural dilemmas in our world as zero sum equations: in either all or nothing, win or lose categories. Thus, I think it's important for all of us to check ourselves and our assumptions before we engage in cultural application of Biblical teaching.

In my case, I'm constantly on guard against the fact that I came from a rather unique, secular upbringing, where I was exposed to a strange mixture of personal independence and freedom, during a time when traditional and progressive gender roles were being radically re-written (sometimes for good; but often, not so much).

For others, being raised with a 1950's style of family ethics can be equally confusing, especially if Ozzie and Harriet are viewed as the prototypical "Second Adam" and "Second Eve" from a theological reference point. (Many excellent, complementarian Christian authors have challenged this mistaken notion of the idealized American family - see Carolyn McCulley or Nancey Pearcy for starters).

Accordingly, my two-fold purpose in advocating for the Affirmations of The Danvers Statment as a baseline description of what it means to be complementarian follows:
1) To dispel confusion on the one side of the complementarian debate that tracks either toward a patriarchal system or certain culturally-contrived universal proscriptions and rules that do not have a specific Biblical warrant.  
and 
2) To encourage the other side of the debate to recover and reclaim the complementarian moniker, based on the affirmations and sound teaching of scripture, rather than rejecting it as a manifestation of patriarchy or a contrived cultural Christianity that has no relevance for their own life situations . 

We don't need to create a new "label". Nor do we need to agree with the egalitarians, whose position is unbiblical.

But we do need to fix complementarity, if we are going to represent the Lord's authoritative teaching on this issue -- and not present silly stumbling blocks to the Gospel in the future.

 I'm hoping my complementarian friends will see how important this is and join/support me!!! God bless.


  

Monday, August 24, 2015

My personal take on complementarian gender roles

In recent days, I’ve been following along, reading, and watching while a bit of a firestorm brews over the issue of the complimentarian position on women in our reformed churches. Here are a few of them, if you need to get caught up: Aimee Bird | Carl Trueman1 | Todd PruittCarl Trueman2 | Wendy Alsup.

My concern is that folks on both sides of this debate may be devaluing the relevance and significance of the Biblical complementarian teaching on the issue of womanhood. As someone who came from a completely secular upbringing, surrounded by mostly boys and men in childhood, and who spent 24 years of my adult life in the military (again, with mostly men), I’d like to think that I have a unique perspective and hopefully some valuable insights to contribute to the discussion.

First, I’d like to start by giving a bit of my personal background, and then follow up in another post by directly responding to the recent issues raised surrounding complementarian teaching. 

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When I first joined the church, the last thing on earth that I wanted was to be sent to a Bible study with a bunch of women. I did not want to be considered that type of a weak woman -- one who found her identity in a husband and children (and knitting and doilies)!! As someone who was used to leading squads, platoons, and even an entire company for a while -- groups made up of mostly men -- I couldn’t help but relate to their women’s ministries as something, quite frankly, alien and foreign. The seemingly frivolous nature of everything that lots of the churches I encountered had associated with women's ministry had very little substantive to offer a woman of my occupation and station in life. 
Furthermore, because of my upbringing and professional career, I never particularly bonded well with women and didn’t need to. In fact, even after being a Christian and a member of a Presbyterian church for a few years, I still greatly disliked women and was pretty unhappy with the idea that I should be one of those blanket-knitting, doily-making, fluff-and-stuff creatures that gathered together for tea-times sporting their fine china ensembles. I was quite content with male-led Bible studies, where I could interact theologically with the men and have substantive conversations about interesting things like mission, outreach, evangelism, and cars.
In those days, I was convinced that my only hope as a reformed Christian woman was to become a missionary, because female missionaries embodied the type of Christian woman that I respected and could envision myself emulating. This missionary focus enabled me to see my vocation in the military as a mission field, where I had the privilege of watching as the Lord saved many young men and women around me. He used me -- my testimony, my friendships, and my personal study of the Word -- as one of His means to draw them to Himself. Twice when my unit deployed to another country (Japan and Germany), we left this county with only one known Christian in the unit (moi) and returned with several others who would go on to profess faith in Christ soon after, and eventually join a Biblical church as a participating active member.  The joy of hearing someone who adamantly fought tooth and nail during the train-up process against even admitting that God existed, return to the states months later only to proclaim that at church that Sunday he had heard the best sermon ever – and it was on the topic of sin and repentance—is immeasurable.
Still though, there was such a huge disconnect between what I heard coming from women’s ministry and the kind of teaching and work that I longed for. Whenever the topic of men's and women’s roles came up, I recoiled, sneered, and often walked out of the room. I didn’t mind the women’s Bible studies (although they were a bit more touchy-feely than I cared for). What I did mind was the contrived cultural roles that made no sense at all. If the chairs needed to be moved to expand the room, we had to call the men to rearrange them. I would think, “Really?! Are these women so frail and dependent that they can’t even move some chairs? Or are these men so fearful that they would feel threatened by women strong enough to move some chairs?” If the church needed meals to be made for particular a function, the women’s ministry had to send around a sign-up sheet. And then I would think about how my father was such a great chef and loved to cook, and about my male sergeant friend in the Army who had designed and implemented a new nutritional menu plan that was about to be adopted by the sergeant majors’ academy. I began to wonder if there were scripture verses that directed the proper protocol for chair shuffling or food preparation, and decided to check it out when I got home. Needless to say, the scriptures didn’t seem to comport with these strange applications.
After many years as a Christian woman and feeling such a serious gender divide between myself and my church, I had become jaded about gender-divided events or ministries and mostly avoided the women only stuff. I rarely attended the women’s groups and avoided the conferences like a plague. I had a great dislike for women and anything feminine before becoming a Christian, but now I would say my attitude was more like one of contempt.  It was just safer and a whole lot easier for everyone involved if I could just maintain gender-neutrality. Until a good friend dragged/invited me to one of our denomination’s women’s conferences which was put on by our presbytery.
The woman speaking at the event would completely disrupt all of my prejudices and false thinking about what it meant to be a woman in the church. This speaker was thoroughly Biblical, personally engaging, and uncompromisingly challenging. She spoke from the heart, from her own life experience, and also through the lens of Biblical teaching and counsel.  She spoke about everything important to me – the Gospel, God’s Word, sin, repentance, and reformed theology! And she also spoke about the very thing that I had been running from and avoiding – men and women in the church. She even said that she loved being a woman! That she loved submitting to her husband and to her elders at her church. “Loved” it?? Really? And I could tell that she really meant it.
Finally, she said that at these conferences there’s usually a woman sitting there in the audience thinking that she's the only one who feels “different”, “alone”, “alienated”. That was me. Well, except that she also went to say that at every event dozens of these women come up to her and say that that described them – that they were the one who felt different and alone. Over the course of the years, she would tell you there have been thousands.  
This event opened a door for me that had been locked tight for far too long. I had seen a new perspective and a new outlook on women’s ministry that I never expected. I started to devour the teaching that this speaker recommended on her website. Teaching by some of the premiere PCA teachers on the complementarian view, like Ligon Duncan and Susan Hunt. I began to embrace the idea of womanhood – female gender identity – as I grappled with what that would look like for me, as an Army Captain, a company commander, and a Christian woman.
As unlikely as you might imagine, in 2007, I was asked to become a member of my local church’s women’s ministry committee. Shortly thereafter, I retired from my role in the military and was invited to become a council member on our presbytery’s women’s ministry, where I have served for about seven years in various roles.  Honestly… who’d a thunk it?
All of this personal backdrop is to say that my passion for women’s ministry is not driven by a need to maintain a stodgy, status-quo, patriarchal interpretation of womanhood, because I’ve never been part of that world. Similarly, my passion for women’s ministry is not driven by the need to fix some outmoded cultural Christianity that defines women by some type of silly, hard-wired fluff-and-stuff, because that is not what the people in my PCA circles teach. In fact, the PCA discipleship committee (led by a male elder of the church) specifically focuses its teaching for women’s ministry on how to Think Biblically and to Live Covenantally. Unpacking that two-sided coin continues to be a great privilege for me and many others. Thus, this is the legacy of sound Biblical womanhood, based on the clear teaching of scripture, which is my passion.  

(In my next post, I plan to look specifically at the complementarian view from a theological perspective.)

  


Thursday, August 6, 2015

Women's Ministry in the Local Church: Part 3 - Ezers & Eves

The concept of Women's Ministry (WM) can often evoke strong emotions for many of us, perhaps because we've either seen or encountered poor examples of women's ministry in action. Whether it involved theologically false/unsound teaching or efforts that inadvertently challenged and usurped the authority of the male ordained leadership within the local church, our strong reactions against unfounded models for WM are surely warranted in those cases.

It seems though that the question at hand yet is whether or not there is a true Biblical warrant for having a WM in the local church at all. Since we could spend weeks or months citing the many ways that WM can go terribly wrong, and in the spirit of avoiding heresy hunts and conjuring up counterfeits, I'd like to continue (see Part 1 - Intro and FAQ and Part 2 - Ministry?) by attempting to put forth the positive case for a Biblical philosophy of WM in this post. I'll attempt to do so primarily by looking at Genesis as providing the essential groundwork and necessary attributes for an effective WM. Meanwhile, I'll be saving future posts for the topics of 1) unhelpful and unbiblical variants of WM and 2) the ever-popular Titus 2 model.


Genesis and Women's Ministry: Our 'Ezer' Calling

Perhaps the most important factor in considering the necessity for WM, according to the PCA's Committee on Discipleship Ministries, originates with the very creation of mankind in Genesis 1:27
"So God created mankind in his own image,    in the image of God he created them;    male and female he created them."
and in Genesis 2:18:
"The Lord said, 'It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him."
This suitable helper in Hebrew is signified by the word "Ezer", which is used throughout the Old Testament as a word that also describes particular attributes of God himself.


The following descriptions (from page 35 of Women's Ministry in the Local Church by J. Ligon Duncan and Susan Hunt) provide an excellent contrast of what the women's helper, life-giving ministry should look like in contrast to what our flesh, the world, and the devil would tempt us be like instead. These "Ezer" words are strong, compassionate, relational, life-giving words.

HELPER/LIFE-GIVER                                 HINDERER/LIFE-TAKER
----------------------------                                    ---------------------------------
Exodus 18:4: Defends                                       Attacks
Psalm 10:14: Sees, cares for oppressed           Indifferent, unconcerned for oppressed
Psalm 20:2: Supports                                        Weakens
Psalm 33:20: Shields, protects                          Leaves unprotected and defenseless
Psalm 70:5: Delivers from distress                    Causes distress
Psalm 72:12-14: Rescues poor, weak, needy    Ignores poor, weak, needy
Psalm 86:17; Comforts                                      Avoids, causes discomfort


The PCA's goal for WM is that each woman will “know Christ personally and be committed to extending His kingdom in her life, home, church, community, and throughout the world” and thus God will be glorified. This purpose for WM is ideally suited to enable us to glorify God, because it mirrors the Lord's own "Ezer" attributes.


Under the Ministry Umbrella

In an earlier post on the Mortification of Spin, Aimee Byrd insightfully asks, "What Goes Under the Umbrella of Women's Ministry?" In the article, Aimee points out many issues with the way that WMs are often employed in the local church context. As previously mentioned, in a future post, I hope to look at some of the unhelpful and unbiblical approaches to WM that are prevalent around us.  My initial reaction to the question of what goes under the umbrella of WM was that the underlying premise seemed off. It seems that the question ought not to be so much about what falls under the umbrella of  WM, but rather it ought to be about what umbrella WM falls under and about how WM functions within the framework of the Church
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Informal, non-public ministries in historically reformed churches traditionally operate under the oversight of a session or a presbytery. Whether we're considering the children's nursery, the outreach soup kitchen, elder care, or a campus ministry (just to name a few), each informal ministry ideally falls under the umbrella of authority given to the ordained, formal ministers of the Church (for a more thorough explanation, see my previous post on "Ministry?").

Within the local church, these informal ministries which have oversight by the formal ministry umbrella, may also be likened to the swirl in a marble cake. Rather than being silo-ed off as lone ranger groups, they ought to be interconnected and intentionally partnered along side the other works the church -- in order to support and build up the leadership and formal, overall Ministry of the local church.  Paul describes this overall concept for ministry even more clearly in Ephesians 4:15 - 16: 

"Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love."
In the case of WMs, women should proactively involve their sessions in planning and decision making, by at least submitting any materials and names of Bible study teachers for approval in advance. Likewise, the women chairpersons ought to coordinate and collaborate with the overall ministerial direction of the congregation, so the discipling efforts of the local church's WM projects its complementary nature of the "ezer" design on a corporate level.

Furthermore, this concept for a ministry model within the church, as well as our "Ezer" image-bearer design, dovetails nicely with the teaching of Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF) in Chapter 26, which states:


The Westminster Confession of Faith
Chapter XXVI

Of the Communion of Saints

I. All saints, that are united to Jesus Christ their Head, by His Spirit, and by faith, have fellowship with Him in His grace, sufferings, death, resurrection, and glory:[1] and, being united to one another in love, they have communion in each other's gifts and graces,[2] and are obliged to the performance of such duties, public and private, as do conduce to their mutual good, both in the inward and outward man.[3]
II. Saints by profession are bound to maintain an holy fellowship and communion in the worship of God, and in performing such other spiritual services as tend to their mutual edification;[4] as also in relieving each other in outward things, according to their several abilities and necessities. Which communion, as God offers opportunity, is to be extended unto all those who, in every place, call upon the name of the Lord Jesus.[5]


Thus, a healthy, Biblical WM will equip and encourage each woman to be better church members - and - to fulfill her "ezer" image-bearer function to glorify God in her life, home, church, community and throughout the world.
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Genesis and Women's Ministry: Eve as Life-Giver

In addition to our ezer/helper design, Susan Hunt also reminds us in her books and talks that women have been given the name and the promise of "life-giver". When Adam named Eve, Genesis 3:20 tells us that it was because the woman would be the mother of all the living. And we know that Eve literally means life-giver. God's promise of redemption by the Messiah, through the seed of the woman was also a promise that a key redemptive purpose for womanhood is tied to this aspect of "life-giving". Paul in 1 Timothy 2:15 also picks up on this redemptive theme in Eve as life-giver and the miracle of child birth. Matthew Henry writes in his commentary on the passage, "But there is a word of comfort; that those who continue in sobriety, shall be saved in child-bearing, or with child-bearing, by the Messiah, who was born of a woman. And the especial sorrow to which the female sex is subject (Gen. 3:16), should cause men to exercise their authority with much gentleness, tenderness, and affection."

In a healthy, vibrant WM that is Biblically informed, the theological foundation will specifically orient toward these building up and life-giving attributes that conform us to Christ and aid us in discerning His good and perfect will (Rom. 12:2). This includes all women, single, widowed, divorced, young, and old (another topic, for another post?)


For instance, let's take the recent exposure of Planned Parenthood's atrocities, and the notion that many Christians (especially many women) have been relatively silent on the topic. I know I have reserved my voice quite a bit compared to most of my friends. However, given that Planned Parenthood is the diabolic opposite of the name Adam gave to Eve and the promise that God gave to women in Genesis 3:20, I have to wonder whether we've become desensitized to the practical and functional outworking of what it means to be a Godly, life-giving woman? As those who are called and identified by God as "life-givers", we above all others should so overwhelmingly understand, embrace, and cherish the beauty and miracle of life that there would be no room for peace or tolerance for these gruesome and horrific actions of Planned Parenthood.


In the final analysis (or perhaps just in attempt wrap up this overly long and rambling post), whether a local church has an official women's ministry or not, we do need to answer the question of whether we are equipping women to be helpers and life-givers? These are specifically female callings that are God-given. We do need to ask ourselves if we are being intentional about how to build up distinctively feminine disciples - female image bearers and life-givers who live holy lives that glorify God in their homes, their church, their communities -- and all of life. The PCA has chosen to address these discipleship needs by providing denominational, presbytery level, and local level training in women's ministry. Visit this site for more information: PCA CDM Women's Ministry.

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Related resources: Women's Ministry in the Local Church by Dr. J. Ligon Duncan and Susan Hunt.
The Session and Women's Ministry, ByFaith Magazine
Philosophy of Women's Ministry by Susan Hunt

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Women's Ministry in the Local Church: Part 2 - "Ministry?"

(This is the second part of a series of posts on the topic of Women’s Ministries in the Local Church)
Read Part 1 here: Introduction and FAQ.

Two important doctrinal legacies of the Reformation are the concepts of vocation and the “priesthood of all believers”. The Reformers rejected the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) narrowly defined view of vocation which was limited to full-time church work primarily ascribed to priests. Ordinary occupations such as farmers, maids, soldiers, or bakers could not be acknowledged as legitimate vocations by the RCC, because these were seen as too worldly (1). In this view, the vocation of the priest (or perhaps to a lesser extent the monk, nun, or anchorite) as a full-time, spiritual commitment to the Lord was considered the only holy vocation(s) available to believers. Because women have always been banned from the priesthood in the RCC, the only holy vocational option to a woman in that system was to essentially take to heart the infamous advice of Shakespeare's Hamlet to Ophelia: “get thee to a nunnery”.  

As Dr. Gene Veith has written in his book “God at Work: Christian Vocation in All of Life”, the Reformers (especially Luther and Calvin) found that the scriptures supported a far more expansive view of vocation for all believers that includes all the various spheres of our lives: the workplace, the family, as citizens of our communities, and in the Church. All believers serve in callings in all of these spheres. The calling of ordained ministers of the church collapses two into one, the workplace and the church, just as full-time politicians or homemakers do as well. Once we admit that all Christians have vocational callings in each area of life, we can avoid extreme views that would limit certain spheres entirely, such as the home to wives and children or the church to men only. Vocation frees us by acknowledging that our work in all of these places matters immanently to God and also exhorts us to embrace our present station in all of these areas by seeking His glory and our neighbor’s good(2).  Veith, writing for Modern Reformation Magazine, states, "Every kind of work [including fathering and mothering] . . . is an occasion for priesthood, for exercising a holy service to God and to one's neighbor."(3)

Similarly, the RCC teaching on the doctrine priesthood limited the role of priest to a select and elite class of Christian, which was considered by the Reformers as a return to Old Testament shadows and a lack the understanding that the reality had come in Christ (4).  In contrast, the three main implications of the Reformed view of the priesthood of all believers are: 1) that we all have equal access to God the Father through our mediator and High Priest Jesus Christ which includes forgiveness of sins and prayer (contra the RCC understanding of priesthood, where the human mediator was required); 2) as previously mentioned, that every vocational calling in each sphere of life is of equal worth and value in the Kingdom; and 3) that every believer has an equally important and valuable role as ambassadors of the Gospel and as agents of reconciliation.

One of the common mistakes made in Young, Restless, and Reformed circles is to view the priesthood of all believers as meaning that all believers should have equal access to pursuing ministerial vocational roles in the local church. That simply is not the case. Yes, our pastors and teachers equip us for works of service and good works in the body of Christ, but the ministerial offices of teaching and preaching and ruling are specific vocational callings not given to all believers. Also, important to note is that simply having a leadership aptitude or speaking ability does not equate to calling.  A man must be called by Christ and confirmed by the leaders of the Church. For women, we are prohibited from exercising authority over men in the church, so our leadership roles are always going to be limited by God's Word to only that which He permits.

The Reformers held that women and the majority of men were not called to the ordained ministerial offices of elder, pastor, or deacon, but recognized the clear teaching of scripture whereby all Christians have a form of vocational calling in the Church as lay church members.

 As an example, James Bannerman in “The Church of Christ”, specifically refers to “the ordinance of the ministry” and the “office of the ministry” as an “ordinance of Divine appointment”. He further describes the office of ordained pastors and teacher as men commissioned to expound the word and administer the sacraments, and instituted by Christ in His Church for dispensation of Word and Sacrament in the public ministry (5). The gift of the public ministry, as Bannerman sees it, should "not be apart and contradistinguished from the members of the Church. He further writes:

There is a certain office or duty with all Christians must discharge in the way of teaching, exhorting, and admonishing one another, distinct and separate from the teaching of ministers set apart to the work. There are many passages of Scripture which lay upon private believers the duty of ministering in the way of doctrine and instruction to all whom they can so profit, which yet come very far short of enjoining that all private Christians should take upon them the work of public ministry……. The private teaching of the truth by individual believers is wholly different from the official teaching of the truth by public ministers; and the passages of Scripture which enjoin the one are not to be held in countenancing the other. The Apostle Paul, in his Epistle to Titus, exhorts even “aged women” to be “teachers of good things;” but the same apostle in his Epistle to Timothy and to the Corinthians, declares that he “suffers not a woman to teach in the Church” (6).

I present all of the above in order to lay the foundation for understanding the concepts of formal or public ministry (given only to the ordained ministers) and the informal or private forms of ministry (works belonging to believers generally).  I hope these points will serve to help some folks understand that informal ministries of the church, which fall under the headship of Christ ultimately, also require conformity to and submission to the leaders of the church. Any informal ministry should always be leading and preparing folks to more readily participate in the corporate worship service – the formal ministry of the Church.  This is especially true for Women’s Ministry, where one of the chief purposes is to equip women to fulfill our distinctively feminine helper design as “ezers” in the church, in our homes, in our communities, and in all of life.  

I hope to address this focal point for women's ministry more fully in the next post. Stay tuned!

(1)    Challies, Tim. “Ordinary Christian Work” http://www.challies.com/articles/ordinary-christian-work (June 1, 2015)
(2)    Veith, Jr., Gene Edward. “God at Work: Your Christian Calling in All of Life” (Crossway, 2002) pp. 47-54.
(3)    Veith, Jr., Gene Edward. “The Doctrine of Vocation: How God Hides Himself in Human Work.” Modern Reformation, May/June 1999 Vol 8 No. 3, pp: 4-7.
(4)    Horton, Michael . “What About Bob?” http://calvaryurc.org/what-about-bob-the-meaning-of-ministry-in-the-reformed-tradition/ Modern Reformation, March/April 1997, pp. 8-15.
(5)    Bannerman, James. “The Church of Christ”. First Edition. Kindle location: 4920.
(6)    Ibid. Kindle location: 6740.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Women's Ministry in the Local Church: Part 1- Intro & FAQ

Steam has been building in the blogosphere surrounding the topic of women's ministry and women's roles in the church for some time. With The Gospel Coalition's announcement last week about the coming launch of a promising new book called "Word-Filled Women's Ministry: Loving and Serving the Church", some perennial questions and challenges have again been raised about the validity of women's ministry and Bible study. Aimee Bird has taken up the topic over at The Mortification of Spin. In the comment threads of  the TGC website and on their Facebook page, these same questions and concerns have renewed my own passion on the topic, compelling me to write a series of posts.

As a member of a healthy Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) church and member of my Presbytery's Women's Ministry Council, I have been greatly encouraged over the years by a rich heritage of teaching on women's ministry. In fact, it seems that the PCA may be one of the only denominations with a Biblical model for women's ministry taught from the denominational level to the presbyteries, and within the local churches. It is my hope and expectation that all of the PCA women involved with TGC will be imparting this same rich heritage to others in TGC who come from backgrounds without any or with only weaker frameworks for women's ministry.

From my experience, many Baptists migrate to the PCA and have never been previously exposed to this Biblical model for women's ministry. Once they lay hold of the foundational teaching, so many say that they grow by leaps and bounds in their effectiveness in all the various places they live and serve. In addition, many of our own denominational church plants are undergirded by the Acts29 Network and their ministry philosophy that intentionally avoids female specific models of ministry. Thus, the educational curve can sometimes be fairly dramatic, but I've been fortunate to serve in a very active presbytery with a vibrant legacy of teaching on the PCA's Philosophy for Women's Ministry in the Church that has been passed down from generation to generation.

That said, I plan to write a series of articles addressing this issue and some of the typical questions that are being raised. In this post, I'd like to share some of the foundational basis for vital women's ministry in the local church to get the ball rolling.

Beginning with a vision for women's ministry, I've gleaned this from our denomination's website:
 "Women’s Ministry is important for every church to encourage and equip women for service to the church and for woman to woman discipleship." 
So, here we see that Women's Ministry falls under the leadership of the local church and that the purpose is for equipping and discipleship. The more mature women in the church help to equip the younger women and provide distinctively feminine/female discipleship - this is the Titus 2 Model
Dr. Ligon Duncan and Susan Hunt have both authored numerous books that lay out the Biblical foundations for why women's ministry is important. Our denomination offers these books and a few others as part of a Core Curriculum, which is written for the specific purpose of teaching a biblical philosophy of womanhood and some of the corporate implications of that philosophy. These corporate implications give definition and focus to a women’s ministry in a local church. One implication is that woman’s helper design equips us to cultivate community and to be channels of compassion in our homes, in our churches, and with our neighbors.
The book that has been most helpful for me and many others is called: "Women's Ministry in the Local Church". I highly recommend this book for every church! Here are a few of the FAQs that I've quoted or paraphrased from the book, which I've found to be helpful:
What is the purpose of Women's Ministry?
"The purpose of the Women's Ministry is that every woman know Christ personally and be committed to extending His Kingdom in her life, home, church, community and throughout the world."
Why does your church need a women's ministry?
1. Because through it we have the opportunity to address helpfully the issue of the nature of manhood and womanhood, an issue that is very much at the heart of the cultural transition we find ourselves in right now.

2. To have a deliberate, intentional ministry to women in the church because the Bible teaches so much on the distinctives of manhood and womanhood.

3. Because when biblical manhood and womanhood are denied, altered, or unpracticed, that results in disasters in marriages, families, and churches.

4. Because the denial or the twisting of the Bible's clear teaching on manhood and womanhood is one of the central ways that biblical authority is undermined in our times.

5. Because we ought to have an intentional, deliberate approach to female discipleship.
(The above was adapted from: "Women's Ministry in the Local Church" by J. Ligon Duncan and Susan Hunt, pg. 37-41.)
Why is discipleship that is distinctively feminine (#5 above) important to every local church?
Behind and underneath the church's approach to distinctly feminine discipleship is the fundamental issue of biblical authority. If we can change or deny what the Bible says about female and male relationships to fit the current feminist culture, then we can make the Bible say whatever we want it to say. Rather than being uncomfortable addressing biblical womanhood in the context of our local churches, we should "let the lion loose, let God be God, and let His Word speak and rule in our lives."
(paraphrased from: "Women's Ministry in the Local Church" by J. Ligon Duncan and Susan Hunt, pg. 42.)
These are just a few elements to whet your appetite. The entire curriculum mentioned above is geared to address these topics. In addition, the PCA's training conferences are hands-down the most edifying and God-glorifying examples of distinctively female ministry in action (all provided under the male headship of PCA leadership):
http://www.pcacdm.org/women/#t...
The main/national training conference is held in February in Atlanta. And in 2016, there will also be regional offerings!

In my next post, I plan to delve into the overlapping concepts of ministry, vocation, calling, and reformed view of the priesthood of all believers.

Friday, July 10, 2015

A Threefold Ministry

From Jude 18-25: 
“In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.” 19 It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit. 20 But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, 21 keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. 22 And have mercy on those who doubt; 23 save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.Doxology24 Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, 25 to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.
The epistle starts out by warning the church  against the antinomian false teachers who were leading people into error. There is sufficient evidence in the text, the context, and the historical teaching that those who "pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ" were guilty of many kinds of sensuality, but that homosexuality was included. They were warned of "a punishment of eternal fire" "just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire". 
Then, when Jude transitions from his greeting and his warning, he exhorts and encourages the church to persevere as the Lord's "Beloved". His instructions for how to deal with those who've been subjected to false teachers are threefold, and apply just as well for us today: 
1) have mercy on those who doubt; 
2) save others by snatching them out of the fire; 
3) to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.

John Calvin writes the following in his commentary on Jude:
"The meaning then is, that if we wish to consult the well-being of such as go astray, we must consider the character and disposition of every one; so that they who are meek and tractable may in a kind manner be restored to the right way, as being objects of pity; but if any be perverse, he is to be corrected with more severity. And as asperity is almost hateful, he excuses it on the ground of necessity; for otherwise, they who do not willingly follow good counsels, cannot be saved.
"Moreover, he employs a striking metaphor. When there is a danger of fire, we hesitate not to snatch away violently whom we desire to save; for it would not be enough to beckon with the finger, or kindly to stretch forth the hand. So also the salvation of some ought to be cared for, because they will not come to God, except when rudely drawn....
"'Hating even the garment'. This passage, which otherwise would appear obscure, will have no difficulty in it, when the metaphor is rightly explained. He would have the faithful not only to beware of contact with vices, but that no contagion might reach them, he reminds them that everything that borders on vices and is near to them ought to be avoided: as, when we speak of lasciviousness, we say that all excitements to lusts ought to be removed. The passage will also become clearer, when the whole sentence is filled up, that is, that we should hate not only the flesh, but also the garment, which, by a contact with it, is infected. The particle καὶ even serves to give greater emphasis. He, then, does not allow evil be cherished by indulgence, so that he bids all preparations and all accessories, as they say, to be cut off."

"SSA", The Lost Theology of Sin, and Its Remedies

I've long held that the recent public discussions about people in our churches who have left homosexuality behind have been terribly confused, partly because of the redefinition of terms used in recent years. In particular, the lack of teaching on the theology of sin generally has greatly contributed to the church's ineffectiveness to speak to the issue of homosexuality.

Only 15 or 20 years ago, when someone came to Christ with a gay or lesbian background, they were called to repentance and generally regarded themselves as having "left the lifestyle", as formerly homosexual, or ex-gay. Certain organizations pushed the reparative therapy model and sought to transform the person into a heterosexual. They did so under the ex-gay label, which has now tainted the use of that phrase into perpetuity. However, there were many smaller and more Biblically sound entities that understood that identity was not based on sexual orientation, but rather that a Christian's core identity is found in Christ and Christ alone. These organizations may have also used the term ex-gay, in light of 1 Corinthians Chapter 6, where Paul refers to the member of the church by saying, "Such Were Some of You". But since these other organizations were much smaller and received a lot less attention, they had little bearing on the public debate over future validity of ex-gay ministries. The ones that have survived the post-modern revisionist debates have still had to adapt to the new language by changing terms to describe the "experience of homosexuality" to fit novel and less helpful modes. I understand the need to do this to reach people outside of the church, but I also see a need for clarity of theological terms for us to use as Christians. Kevin DeYoung mentions the further need for clarity of terms in the second appendix of his new book on the topic of homosexuality.

As many of us have tried to proclaim lately, we are called to mortify the indwelling sin nature and even natural temptations. Anything found in ourselves - heart or mind - that would seek to set itself up against the truth and the glory of God must be rejected. We were to turn to Christ and His Word, to submit to his power and authority in scripture, which in turn by the power of the Holy Spirit renews our hearts and our minds so that we would know and love his good and perfect will. By God's grace our hearts of stone were changed into a heart of flesh, the very place where the Spirit would write the Law of God. Our disposition was changed from that of enmity against God's holiness and perfect law to that of one which loves His commandments and desires to submit to Him in all areas of life. The old "lifestyle" was crucified and now we are new creations in Christ!

In the last five or ten years, a whole new crop of teaching has crept into the church, partially from those of a particular Roman Catholic tradition and partially from secular psychological and philosophical fields. In this new teaching (which most of our contemporary churches have embraced), the sin nature is being baptized as human identity. One's sinful temptations toward sexual deviance have been recast as inborn "Same Sex Attractions" and used as modifiers that people now use to publicly introduce themselves. The concepts of sexual orientation and same sex attraction have been adopted and embraced by the individual, the community, and the church as viable options of one's biologically determined status. The church bought the new paradigm, hook, line, and sinker, with one minor caveat: as long as "they" don't act on "their attractions", we'll co-sign the rest of this paradigm.

Meanwhile, the voices of those who've dealt with this for many, many years have been ignored. We have watched while "Gay Christians" have been "teaching" the church what to do, what to say, and what to preach. Men and women not ashamed to introduce themselves as "Same Sex Attracted" have been propped up to help us learn the new theology - by their experience. Sound, thorough, reformed theological arguments from men like Denny Burk, Owen Strachan, and Heath Lambert have largely been ignored and marginalized on this topic.
"We who have been speaking out stand to be undone not so much by the noise of our enemies as by the silence of our friends." -Carl Trueman

There are many possible reasons why the church has been led astray on the issue. Perhaps it has been a timidity, not wanting to offend the culture. Perhaps it has been an attempt to be compassionate toward those who struggle to be faithful, but whose theological views are outside of our own tradition. Perhaps it has been an avoidance of dealing with the depth of the church's own hidden sin in the areas of sexuality. Perhaps we have simply gotten so far away from teaching a theology of sin that we don't know how to even get to the root of our most pressing problems any longer.
Perhaps... Perhaps...

I propose that the main reason why we've lost credibility on how to talk about the issue of homosexuality is because we've capitulated on the theology of sin in general. It is perplexing.. no baffling.. that we are so vulnerable to being deceived into thinking that sexual attraction is an immutable medical condition, like blindness, that can only be "healed" by a miraculous act of God, rather than a sinful affection of the heart, that must be repented of and which can be mortified and replaced with God-glorifying affection. Many have adopted the Roman Catholic teaching that Paul's thorn in the flesh was inordinate sexual desire. However, such a view is not supported by the scriptures. Would the Lord have told Paul to cease praying for disordered sexual desire to be removed? No. Would Paul have boasted in disoriented sexual desire? No. Would the Lord tempt him to sin? No. Would Paul have acquiesced contentedly to sin's power in his life (12:10)? No. Would Paul refer to his celibacy a gift, if he still experienced repeated sexual lust? No. Biblically, it is incorrect to equate the root issue of the experience of homosexual feelings as something other than a sinfully disordered affection of the heart.

Yes, we will continue to struggle against the effects of our fallen nature until we die or Christ returns. And that means any inclination or proclivity of the flesh, whether it is pride or fear of man or covetousness or lust, which still resides in us and wars against our soul. And this is specifically where a robust theology of sin can help us to connect with unbelievers and strugglers. We share the experience of the sin nature - the great levelers, as Rosaria states. But the experience of something like a specific same-sex attraction (not an underlying, general proclivity or inclination, but the specific attraction) is always sin and requires confession and repentance. It's not a reputable badge or salutation to be advertised on a high-profile, professional Christian conference brochure.

In her new book, Rosaria Butterfield states that she does not subscribe to the 19th century notions of sexual orientation and eschews the label of "same sex attraction" for Christians, preferring to use the descriptive phrase of "unwanted same-sex attraction". Of course, this is a far more Biblically grounded way of describing the way that a Christian might struggle with and seek help of being rescued from ensnaring sins. In terms of making connections with strugglers it seems quite helpful, just as in Paul's experience in Romans 7 where he continues to do what he doesn't want to do and feeling the crushing weight of his indwelling sin, cries out, "Who will rescue me from this body of death?" Fortunately, Paul does not leave us at Romans 7, but he continues on from Romans 8 forward to describe the process of sanctification in the Christian life.

This brings us to the secondary problem that I believe must also be addressed. We've lost a robust theology of the work of the Holy Spirit and how faithful Christians should and can experience newness of life as we walk in step with the Spirit. A persistent obedience in one direction, whereby our minds are renewed by the Spirit and we are transformed more and more into Christ's image, rather than conformed to the world, has the effect of changing (though not entirely eliminating) our regular experience of sinful desires. This is not to say we will be in this world entirely without sin or that we embrace a Keswick style of sanctification. But we can and should expect regular, on-going relief from sinful attractions that are either obsessive or seem to ambush us, just as surely as Paul promised in Romans 8 by walking in step with the Spirit.

I believe the secondary issue of the work of the Holy Spirit and the Christian experience of walking in step with the Spirit (an aspect of discipleship) is ultimately the key. Because, while a lost theology of sin is foundational to evangelism, I think that the lack of an alternative paradigm for post-conversion discipleship is what keeps the church anemic over the long haul. Some have begun to focus attention on the fact that the Church and Christ are a huge part of the paradigm that will enable and empower single Christians; however, I would go further. So, yes, we need to be better at creating community in the church and developing familial relationships that go deeper than blood or marital relations. Some of these efforts have already been amazingly impactful, such as those within my own denomination (PCA). However, we also need to more fully address the flip side of the coin, which is growth in personal piety, accompanied by the theology of adoption/sonship, whereby we have communion and fellowship with the Father. Romans 8 forward really unfolds these themes, along with many other places in the New Testament scriptures. Sinclair Ferguson, J.I. Packer, Joel Beeke, John Owen, Jonathan Edwards, and D. Martyn Lloyd Jones are just a few of the go-to authors that I look forward to perhaps delving into in future posts.

Soli Deo gloria!!

Monday, June 29, 2015

Who am I & What's Really Wrong with MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator)?

Lately, the WIRED article titled, "The Myers-Briggs Personality Test is Bunk But I Don't Care" has been making its rounds in my social networking spheres. I thought I'd take a few moments to weigh in with my reflections on this particular phenomenon.

In the past, I have typically tended to follow the author's view that "The biggest problem with Myers-Briggs is what happens when any useful descriptor gets turned into dogma." In a practical sense this is true, because the most effective uses that I've experienced have been more in a team building setting where co-workers use the self-evaluation questions to provide helpful descriptors to try to better understand each other. When I worked at a local scientific company, this helped because the ratio of engineers, scientists, and chemists to marketing, advertising and creative types was significantly imbalanced. Helping each other understand that there were different work styles to be valued and appropriated actually improved the overall effectiveness of our product division. In that sense, I've held a positive view of the use of Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI).


Likewise, my negative experiences with MBTI were mostly concerned with the dogmatic application of categories. Teachers and school counselors would use the results of the test to pigeon hole young students into particular fields of study and to rule out "non-compatible" fields. Human resource directors would use the results of the test to qualify or rank employment candidates based whether their type indicator was a good projected fit for the role. Given the fact that any given test taker's results can change from hour to hour, both of these have always seemed like tenuous and possibly tragic applications of the test theory. 


Some will argue that the key to the test is answering the test authentically from some immutable sense of the truth of our inner being. In my case, I had taken the test so many times, I could manipulate the outcome of the test by answering the questions to fit basically any personality type desired.

A few years ago, our church hosted TruthExchange author and speaker Peter Jones, and since then I've come to learn more about the influences of neo-paganism, 
eastern religions, and the "new spirituality" on our rapidly changing culture. Although I do remember reading that the MBTI originated with Carl Jung, I had never considered how the "new spirituality" paradigm of its originator could matter much in terms of something that seemed so logical. scientific, and matter of fact to the professional community. 

In the WIRED article, the author asserts that another key problem with the test was that it creates dichotomies between the various types and that the issue is that many people fall in between in the gray areas. However, I disagree that creating such dichotomies is really an issue. On the purely practical level, most of the later programs that utilize MBTI, such as the Keirsey Temperament Sorter, provide a methodology of interpretation for these gray areas.

So, What's Really Wrong with the MBTI?


The real issue, as I see it, emanates from the fact that MBTI results in justifying our preferences and feelings -- even our sinful tendencies -- by convincing ourselves and others that preferences and tendencies actually define who we are. The test accepts as normal and codifies things that should not be. 

Let's look at a few of the questions on one of the MBTI tests to see whether or not they are morally neutral:
You are almost never late for your appointments. Yes or No  
Observance of the established rules is likely to prevent a good outcome. Yes or No  
You tend to sympathize with other people.  Yes or No  
You prefer to isolate yourself. Yes or No  
You avoid being bound by obligations. Yes or No  
You have good control over your desires and temptations. Yes or No  
You try to stand firmly by your principles. Yes or No  
When considering a situation you pay more attention to the current situation and less to consequences.Yes or No  
Your decisions are based more on the feeling of a moment than on the thorough understanding.  Yes or No  
Your decisions are easily affected by strong emotions.  Yes or No  
You often think about humankind and its destiny. Yes or No  
The fact that the MBTI allows the test taker to answer yes or no is not the real problem, as the author of the original article supposes.The issue is that the MBTI codifies and normalizes both answers by providing us with labels that are socially respected and psychologically accepted. Peter Jones tells us that the synthesis of opposites is a key modus operandi of the new age movement. "New spirituality" oneness removes distinctions of good and evil, blurring the lines between Creator and creature. 

Folks, our identity is not found in our preferences. Our identity is found in our Creator and Redeemer alone. If our tendencies or preferences don't match His pattern for what is good and right, then we should not baptize those tendencies by adopting psychologically acceptable labels that remove the need for a Savior and to change/repent. 

At the beginning of the article, the author quips that astrology is mere superstition and rubbish. And while I am not in anyway trying to get all "conspiracy theory" here, let us not be fooled. New age spirituality and neo-paganism are nothing new under the sun. They go all the way back to the serpent in the garden.

Many
 people will harmlessly use the MBTI as a fun and interesting way of describing themselves. Some teachers, counselors, and employers will dogmatically apply the results in ways that are counterproductive. However, we as Christians need to realize not only the limitations, but the possible self-delusional nature of relying on the test results to inform our identities and who we believe ourselves to be. If we recognize the inherent weaknesses found in each of the profile types and understand them as ways to grow and improve -- rather than writing them off as excuses -- the MBTI could prove to be a beneficial tool for improving relationships. 

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Ascribing Repentance

To Whom Do We Ascribe Repentance?
From Monergism.com
We cannot ascribe our repenting and believing to our own wisdom, humility, sound judgment or good sense, but, rather, to Christ alone. We turn our trust from ourselves to Christ only  because He first opened our eyes, unplugged our ears and turned our stoney heart to a heart of flesh (Ezek 36:26) that we might believe the gospel. (Deut 29:4, 30:6) Arminian prevenenient grace actually begs the question - if two persons receive the same prevenient grace, why does one man believe the gospel and not the other? What makes them to differ?  It is obviously not grace which makes them to differ since both had grace so all that is left is some native good will or good inclination that the other did not have. But who makes the will good? Where does the wisdom or humility to come to Christ come from?  No man is naturally willing to submit to the humbling terms of the gospel. The Bible declares it: Jesus says, "the Spirit quickens, the flesh counts for nothing...that is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father who sent me grants it." (John 6:63, 54).  and just before this Jesus also declares "All that the Father gives me will come to me" (John 6:37) 
So together in the texts Jesus in no uncertain terms declares 2 things: 1) that NO ONE can come to faith in Him UNLESS granted by the Father, and that through the quickening work of the Spirit AND 2) ALL whom He so grants will come to faith in Him.  It leaves no room for the synergistic view. But you say "God commands all people to repent and believe the gospel." This is true... and its in the Bible ... the gospel summons to all people without exception  but apart from grace NO ONE responds to it positively... left to themselves all people turn aside from the one true God. (See Rom 2, 3; and 1 Cor 2:14)  And "No one can say "Jesus is Lord" apart from the Holy Spirit" (1 Cor 12:3).
So is it (even partly) by our own doing that we are in Christ? No it is..."...by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, so that, just as it is written, “Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.” 1 Cor 1:30-31 
We repent, yes, and we believe, but it is God who, by his great mercy, changed our hardened heart to do so. It was not our natural wisdom or humility or good will that set us apart but it was the grace of God in Jesus Christ which granted all of these.  Salvation is of the Lord.