Count it all joy when you face various trials. --James the brother of Jesus

Monday, July 28, 2008

Are You Old Enough to Be a Church Member?

Upon completion of my M.Div. I went to another state and served as a full time pastor for the first time. While in the interview process I discovered something that I had never seen before in their constitution and by-laws. This particular church required that individuals must be 18 years old before they could join as church members. I thought it was odd, and I expressed my disagreement with such an idea, but I agreed to go along with it in hopes that it would change after I had taught what I believed the Bible says about church membership. In God's providence, I wasn't at the church long enough to lead that kind of change, and I really never thought of the issue again . . . until yesterday.

Yesterday I visited a baptismal service at one of the mega-churches in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. The church was not a "Baptist" church, but it did hold to baptism of believers alone by immersion. As I looked over the bulletin, I noticed on the back it gave the church's requirements for membership. The statement included the same requirement for membership that I had seen before. A candidate for membership must be 18 years of age before being considered for membership.

Upon seeing this statement, my mind began racing to think of all the reasons why I disagree with such a position. I think that I will list these reasons in case anyone else that reads this runs into a similar situation. However, I must admit many of the reasons overlap and run together.

1. This just seems to be a business understanding of how to conduct church life, rather than a biblical one. Nowhere in the Bible does it give us any warrant to withhold church membership to someone because they are a "minor." I can understand that the motivation may be good. This policy may be in place in order to keep decision making in the hands of those who have the maturity to understand what is involved in many areas of the business of a local church. Or, it may be in place in order to prevent manipulation when it comes to church votes. However, at the root, it is an arbitrary age that depends more on business than the Bible.

2. Membership in a local church ought to be closely tied to baptism. If a church does not believe that individuals under 18 years old are competent to be church members, then they ought to withhold baptism as well. I'm not advocating withholding baptism, but rather, I'm just showing what should be the logical implications of a policy like this one.

3. If membership is reserved to those over 18 then there is no biblical recourse to follow when church discipline is needed for those who are younger. Matthew 18 and the Corinthian letters give us clear instructions on how and why to practice church discipline. But if we do not recognize baptized believing children as members, we have no biblical recourse to follow when a professed believing child falls into unrepentant sin. It may be that this is one of the reasons for such a policy. In our society it would be shocking to think of practicing church discipline on a child. However, in my mind, if someone is old enough to give credible evidence of conversion and to follow the Lord in baptism, then they ought to be held accountable just as any other church member.

4. The policy goes against a biblical view of what church membership is about. Church membership is the covenanting together of a body of believers to worship together, agreeing to hold one another accountable in the pursuit of following Christ. Such a policy excludes from membership many of those who need this accountability.

Conclusion

I must admit that there is a dual danger. On the one hand, we must be vigilant to make sure that those who we baptize are of an age that they are competent to understand and embrace the gospel. I do not want to advocate infant baptism by any stretch of the imagination. On the other hand, I see no biblical warrant to withhold the benefits of church membership from any baptized believing person--so long as they are not under discipline.

Off the top of my head that is about all of the reasons I can think of. Anyone reading is welcome to add reasons, or to challenge the reasons that I gave.

Monday, July 21, 2008

My Position on Women in Ministry and a Biblical Justification

I recently had an interview with a church where I was asked what my position was on women in ministry. I answered with what I thought to be biblical, though I knew that it would be an unpopular answer. I tried to be gracious and loving, yet I do not thing that I could avoid offending some that were in the room. Later, someone who I love very much and who loves me very much asked me how the interview went, and they were shocked to find out what my position was. So I thought it would be good to post on my blog what my answer to that question is.

My Position

The first thing that I must say is that I believe that there are countless opportunities for women to minister in the church in a biblical way. I believe that the Bible permits women to serve in just about any serving capacity that you can find within the church. Teaching children, teaching women, hospitality, and even counseling other women are all biblical ways that women can serve. However, I do believe that the New Testament gives a limitation when it comes to certain things—that is, teaching or exercising authority over a man. Basically, I do not believe that the Bible permits a woman to be a pastor, or an elder. I also believe that in regard to Sunday School or other discipleship classes within the church a woman should not be put in a position of teaching or exercising authority over men. There are those that take offense to that saying, “why do you think that I can only teach other women and children?” However, I don’t believe that teaching women and children is any kind of put down. That kind of ministry is vitally important and of great value to the church and to the kingdom of God—it should never be looked down on as if it were subordinate to the teaching of men.

Biblical Justification

Brace yourselves. To modern and post-modern ears that have been thoroughly saturated with the feminism of our day, the biblical text that I’m about to quote is quite possibly one of the most offensive passages in the Bible. I must remind you that this is a direct quote and it is not my own words. This is what Paul said to Timothy:

Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing--if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.
(1Ti 2:11-15)

What are we supposed to do with a Scripture text like this? There are really only three options available:
1) You could say that Paul is saying exactly what it sounds like Paul is saying—that women are not aloud to teach or exercise authority over a man—but that we know better now and that Paul was wrong. This is often the tactic that liberals will try to take. After all, to a liberal, the Bible is a human document where men wrote about their experience with God. If our experience with God is different then the Bible must be outdated. However, I don’t think that this position could be accepted by those who want to accept the Bible as the authoritative Word of God. Those who want to allow women to teach men in the church today, but who still hold that the Bible is authoritative will usually go with option number two below.
2) You could say that this passage in 1 Timothy doesn’t really mean what it says. Commonly they way that this works out is there will be the explanation that Paul was dealing with a church that had some women that were being disruptive, so he was writing to correct that specific error. Since we don’t have that problem today, then what Paul said must not apply to us. I think that the problem with this is that nowhere in the text does it ever tell us that the church was having that kind of problem. This solution is merely a conjecture. Modern interpreters have accepted that we know that it is perfectly ok for a woman to teach men, so they read back into the text a hypothetical situation in order to get around the plain meaning of the text. Another way of saying exactly the same thing is that Paul’s situation was culturally conditioned. According to this view, there were cultural reasons in Paul’s day for why he said what he said. However, this is problematic because Paul actually gives his reasons for saying it in the next verses. He does not name anything to do with culture but he grounds his teaching in the created order, and in the order of the Fall. This is extremely unpopular and offensive to modern ears. We just don’t argue this way anymore, but this is what Paul said, and I believe that he was inspired by God and inerrant when he wrote those words. Therefore, I believe that option number three is the most tenable option available if we want to be faithful to Scripture.
3) Paul meant exactly what he said, and that is still authoritative and binding for the church today. Therefore, any role within the church that consists in teaching or exercising authority over men ought to be limited to men only.

Conclusion

At the heart of this issue is not a chauvinistic agenda to keep women in their place, and it is not about who can teach a mixed Sunday School class. The heart of the issue is the authority of the Bible. If I didn’t believe that the authority of the Bible was at stake I would drop the issue and I wouldn’t care at all. But at the heart, I don’t think we can get away from the fact that we have a clear statement in the Bible about the issue. If we want to go along with our culture into the blurring of gender roles so that there are no distinctions, then we have to follow one of the two first options I gave. Either we must say the Bible is wrong, or we try to find some explanation of why we don’t have to obey this clear command.

I know that my position is unpopular, and I know that I’m at disagreement with some of the people who have always been closest to me throughout my entire life. However, in order to be faithful to the Bible and to my Lord Jesus who inspired those words, I must submit to him and not to social, traditional, or even familial pressures.

Friday, July 18, 2008

They Don't Speak for Me: Part II (revised)

3. Calvinism Makes People Into Robots.

This too is an unfair straw-man mis-characterization of Calvinism. No true Calvinist believes such nonsense. The most common explanation that I know of for human freedom given by Calvinists such as myself is what is called "Compatiblist Freedom." Basically, it means that man makes real free choices and God is sovereignly in control of all things and that those two truths do not conflict with one another. There are two common examples of this truth: 1)Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers and at the end of the Joseph story it says that though his brothers meant it for evil, God meant it for good. The brothers made real choices that they were responsible for yet God was the one who sent Joseph ahead for the salvation of many people. 2)The book of acts says that Jesus was crucified by wicked men but that they were carrying out what God had determined would happen. The men who crucified Jesus were making real choices and were accountable for them, but they were ultimately doing what God had planned.

This may be a hard thing to understand, but I believe that it is what the Bible teaches, and the Bible doesn't seem to teach that the two contradict one another.

More on Calvinism to come.

ADDITION: I will add one other example of this truth that is very important in regaurd to the authority of the Bible. I belive in that God breathed the very words of Scripture. If the human authors of Scripture had complete and total freedom, then we can have no confidence that the Bible says what God wanted it to. A veiew that sees God as the ultimate cause of human actions is vital to our being able to say that the Bible is God's Word--otherwise all we have is man writing about his experiences with God.

Friday, July 11, 2008

They Don't Speak for Me

I've written before on this blog concerning the "issue" of Calvinism in the SBC, and I think my views are fairly clear. However, in the interest of being clear, I want to address a few things that are commonly assumed about Calvinists that do not describe what I believe.

1. Evangelism is unimportant since God has already chosen who will be saved.
I hold to a form of evangelical Calvinism that was held to by Baptists such as William Carey and Adoniram Judson. Carey is considered the father of the modern missionary movement. It is just not based in history to think that Calvinism is either anti-missionary or lacks zeal in evangelism.

Rather, I believe that God ordains both the "ends" and the "means" in salvation. He not only has ordained to save each person who will be saved, but he has also ordained the means by which they will be saved--the preaching of the gospel. The fact is that the lost world is dieing and going to Hell, and the only hope that they have is that they hear us preach the Gospel and believe. We don't know who is going to respond and who isn't, but if we don't preach lost sinners will die and their blood will be on our hands.

2. Calvinism is for Presbyterians

This is also not true. Baptists have had two streams from almost the beginning of the English speaking Baptist movement--General and Particular Baptists. Among the English Baptists most of the General Baptists fell into heresies such as Arianism--denying that Jesus was God. The Particular Baptists were the more enduring form which American and Southern Baptists trace their roots. The Particular Baptist confession that was most held to was the 2nd London Confession of 1689. This was brought to America as the Philadelphia Confession, and it was probably the most common confession of Baptists both North and South before the New Hampshire confession was written. This confession is a clearly evangelical Calvinistic document--which has been widely (though not uniformly) embraced by Baptists for over 300 years.

To calm any fears of a form of Presbyterian church government, I will say that I stand with the traditional Baptist church government of "congregationalism." I believe that it is taught in the Bible and I have written a lengthy paper defending this view in a previous post. To make it short and clear--I believe that the hightest authority for making decisions for any local church is the gathered congregation. No outside man made body can impose it's will against the will of the congregation, and no elder or church officer can be given the authority that belongs only to the gathered congregation. A gathered local church of Christ is ruled by Christ through the Biblie and by no other human authority.

I have more to say about this issue, but my time runs short. I will post again soon with some more common misconceptions about Calvinism in Baptist life.

Video: This Too Shall Be Made Right





Found this video on Saidatsouthern.com. It's an unofficial video of Derek Webb's song, "This Too Shall Be Made Right."

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