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” (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?” 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):
The main/national training conference is held in February in Atlanta. And in 2016, there will also be regional offerings!

In some of my next posts, I will delve into the overlapping concepts of women, ministry, vocation, calling, and reformed view of the priesthood of all believers.

Series on Women's Ministry in the Local Church ‪#‎fwiw‬

1. Women's Ministry in the Local Church: Intro & FAQ
2. Women's "Ministry"?

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  same-sex 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. The doctrine of our Union with Christ is essential. And, 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, Union with Christ that accompanies the theology of our adoption/sonship. Our communion and fellowship with the Father through the Son of God, by the Holy Spirit is key. 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 on these topics in future posts.

Soli Deo gloria!!