Monday, August 31, 2015

My Perspective: Women in Combat

In recent news, The Pentagon is expected to open most combat roles to women soon.

UPDATE: Today, the Pentagon announced that they will open all combat roles to women.

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 Joe 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.)

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

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

The Value of 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 describe what I in fact believe that position to be.

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 Council on 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 my opinion. In each of these affirmations, the latitude spared for individual application and cultural differentiation seems self-evident. Hard and fast rules that are not presented in scripture are excluded. Prescriptive behaviors that fall outside of those given by the Word of God are also not mentioned. The overt wisdom of these deliberately chosen words ought not be overlooked, friends.

The Affirmations in The Danvers Statement Summarize Matters of Agreement

Again, the vast majority of church leaders, including 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 some of the recent articles or books written by authors associated with the CBMW would also agree with the affirmations as written.

Rekindling the Danvers Statement at this time is a way to provide a plumb-line -- a historical representation of what the founders 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, from all sides. With the latest generation of CBMW leaders and authors at the helm, I'm most hopeful that their renewed sense of clarity will enable us all to better engage cultural issues.

One thing that might help is for us to not start with the culture or with psychological categories of "what is", but rather, for us to start with how God's Word states things "should" or "ought to be". This is not nearly as easy as it sounds. Quite often, because of our own sinful nature, we tend toward seeing the overwhelming presence of cultural dilemmas in our world in zero sum terms -- as either all or nothing propositions or in win or lose categories. Thus, I think it's important for each of us to check our assumptions by the Word of God before we engage in cultural applications of Biblical teaching. Far too much of the advice floating on the internet is reactionary and even somewhat embarrassing.

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.

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 culturally-contrived universal prescriptions and rules that do not have a specific Biblical warrant.  
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 a wrongly contrived cultural Christianity that has no relevance for their own life situations . 

I do not think we need to create a new "label", friends. Nor do we need to adapt the arguments of egalitarians, whose position is unbiblical. But I believe we do need to reclaim and revitalize complementarian teaching.  If we are going to represent the Lord's authoritative teaching on this issue. while at the same time not presenting silly stumbling blocks to the Gospel in the future, I say we should consider getting back to basics of complementarian teaching.

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. 


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 via The Affirmations of the Danvers Statement.)


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

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

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

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.

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, and women will not learn these principles outside of the church. 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.

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


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

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