Why the New Testament Did Not Give Us Christianity (In 90 Seconds)

The New Testament did not give us the Resurrection; the Resurrection gave us the New Testament. Some Christians strangely think this is controversial. But this is spot on. Thanks, Frank Turek. It all comes down to the Risen Jesus.

Praise the Lord! HE IS RISEN INDEED!!


The Church Needs Both Fathers and Mothers: A Plea for Unity and Truth

FINALLY, the last in a series on women in ministry in the church.

In the midst of this Holy Week, I want to close out this series with some personal reflections, as I “land the plane,” and propose a vision of how to move forward in the complementarian vs. egalitarian discussion, with respect to ministry to the world around us. At the outset, I will acknowledge that a lot of my Christian friends, to either side of me, will disagree with me. I will admit, right off, I might be quite wrong about a lot of this. Nevertheless, I am quite OK about going out on a limb here. So, let us see if I fall off or not.

All I ask is for you to hear me out, look back over the previous 19 or so blog posts, to see how I built my argument, and then engage me on that basis, and show me where I am falling off balance. Most of my critics have either not read the whole series, or have selectively read what I have written, which is a pattern I have come to expect. If I need correction, I encourage you to provide it. Just please engage the actual arguments I present. Thanks!

Christians today are divided by many issues. Whether it be the age of the earth, the nature of the millennium, the timing of the Rapture, infant vs. believer’s baptism, charismatic gifts, etc., the opportunities for division come up quite frequently. The problem is that the Evil One enjoys seeing believers in conflict with one another, as it is part of the demonic strategy to divide and conquer the church of God. When Christians are involved in pitched battles with one another, the witness of the church is compromised.

A word of wisdom I have gained over the years, as relayed by a pastor in my church:  Divisions in the church breeds atheism in the world.

The question of “should women serve as elders, deacons, or pastors” is a particularly sensitive topic in this category. Whereas topics like “science vs. the Bible” typically generate interest only among a few, the relationship between men and women in the church impacts everyone who calls themselves a Christian. Pile on top of this, the cultural pressures in recent times, that seek to redefine gender, in all sorts of areas, one could argue that gender-related issues might well become more overpowering than a “disputable matters” approach can bear. Time will tell.


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Notre Dame Cathedral Spire Collapse

What a way to start off Holy Week….

As many already know, on April 15, 2019, the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris, France caught fire, resulting in the collapse of its roof and signature spire. Mostly completed in 1260, the Notre Dame Cathedral has been an icon of medieval architecture, known throughout the world, for centuries. To lose this structure is a catastrophe, not just for the citizens of France, but the Roman Catholic Church in particular. I wish I had seen it in person. I grieve with my Roman Catholic friends. Hug your Roman Catholic neighbor today.

What will be interesting is to see what type of kooky conspiracy theories get dreamed up, and how many of those ideas will come from otherwise earnest Christians.

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UPDATE 7pm:

Absolutely heartbreaking.


An Interdenominational Church Asks: What Are the Core Doctrines of the Faith?

It is kind of hard to know what it means to celebrate our unity in the midst of our diversity, when we do not even know what that diversity is.”

— Troy Knapp, philosopher, poet, Michigan Tech fan, and fellow connoisseur of Mexican fajitas

The 19th post in a multipart series.

I am part of what might be called an evangelical interdenominational church. What I really appreciate about it is that there is a core set of fundamental beliefs (eight, to be exact), that guide the life and practice of the community. In a more denominational church setting, you will find certain doctrines or beliefs that are elevated in such a way, that it becomes difficult for other believers to fully subscribe to those beliefs, without going, “And, so, why is this such a big deal here? Can we not just focus on the essentials of the faith?”

The problem with being an evangelical interdenominational church is that it is not always that easy to figure out what a core doctrine is, versus a non-core doctrine. My Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox friends do not have this problem. It is all a “package deal,” my friends across the Tiber or across the Bosphorus might say.

In the meantime, we Protestants have to wrestle with how much our interpretation of the Bible bears on determining what an essential matter is, versus a “disputable matter.” I have been a Protestant evangelical long enough to realize that what might be an essential matter for one Christian, might not be an essential matter for another Christian. Some like and value confessional creeds, to help guide the faith of the church membership. Others believe creeds to be too divisive, and that all you need is the Bible. Therefore, you do not need a creed! Without a magisterium authority to settle matters, it is pretty difficult to know exactly where to draw the line. This is why there are so many thousands of Protestant denominations to begin with!

So, while I may cringe at some of the things that my Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox friends have to swallow somehow, they come back to me, looking around at all of the GAZILLION Protestant denominations we have, and they ask, “So, tell me, Clarke. How is that whole ‘sola scriptura’ thing working out for ya?

I just crawl back into my little hole and avoid giving an answer.

As a result, some think of an interdenominational church as simply a “pie-in-the-sky” wish dream. I do not think so, but I can see why there are those who disagree. It is just that such churches are really hard to find. But as my friend Troy says, a lot of times you may not even be aware of what the differences are that exist between believers.

In one of our foundational documents, in our church, we have the following statement: “Those other elements which have caused confusion and division in the past within the Church of Jesus Christ shall not be permitted to destroy the unity of this body. Accordingly, we urge that attitudes of Christian love and tolerance be expressed toward those within the Body of Christ holding different points of view.” But according to my friend Troy, many of us are simply not aware that there exists other believers in Jesus, who hold to “different points of view,” much less do we know how to love those people, despite those differences.

For three Sunday afternoons, my church held a series of teachings on the “Nature of the Chapel,” (the name of the church is the Williamsburg Community Chapel). The first week, led by our lead pastor, Travis Simone, and our Connect team leader, Hunter Rue, offers some teaching on the difference between biblical authority and biblical interpretation, a theme that shows up quite often here on the Veracity blog. The second week, led two other pastors, Rich Sylvester and Claude Marshall, focus on trying to figure out the difference between what is a core issue and what is a non-core issue in the church, using the issue of the charismatic gifts as a case study. The third week, led by Travis Simone again, looks at the issue of complementarianism versus egalitarianism, with respect to women in leadership in the local church.

It should be no mystery to realize that the question of having women as elders/pastor is the most contentious of these issues, particularly in view of the tremendous pressure being exerted on the church by the surrounding culture, regarding any and all matters pertaining to gender and sexuality, within the past few years. For an extended discussion, I would encourage the reader to go through the blog series I have been writing on the topic, that starts here.

The benefit of these sessions is that they demonstrate that there are some very real differences in biblical interpretation, held by members of our Christian community. Sadly, as with just about every evangelical church in America that I know, most people in our particular local church are unaware that such strongly held views even exist. Are the core values of this church core values for you? Or are there issues that are core values for you, that do not reflect the eight core values of this church? How do you live as a faithful follower of Christ, in your church, when everyone does not share the exact same core values as you do? How do you determine a core value, versus a “disputable matter” (Romans 14:1)?

After each presentation, a live Q&A session processes some of the content generated by the presentation, with another Q&A session recorded with just our pastors, the following week. I think all of our pastors did a fantastic job in their presentations. In the notes below, I offer some personal observations, that are mine and mine alone, that do not necessarily reflect the viewpoints of our church leadership. Enjoy!

  • First Video (General Session: Week One) 1:12:00 mark:  Guess who asked this question, about the timing of the Rapture, and the nature of the millennium?  Yours truly!! Your ever curious Veracity blogger!!!!
  • Second Video (Q&A: Week One) 44:50 mark: A question was asked about how decisions get made at our church. The response given was that we have an elder board, plus a leadership team, made up of pastors, where the lead pastor serves on both the elder board and the pastoral leadership team. When asked about the job description of elders, it is partially described as setting the “long term strategic direction” of the church (46:00). I address this perspective in the Veracity blog post series on the topic related to gender and church office.
  • Third Video (General Session: Week Two) 1:06:25 mark: To follow up on the previous point, this discussion of how the church handles matters of church discipline and protecting the church against false teaching is related to the function of elders, including pastors. Yes, to a certain degree, all believers should be on guard against false teaching and unrepentant public sin, in the church. But ultimately those responsible for stepping up, to do the most difficult things, in my view, as expressed by Cliff Brigham, are the elders (1:08:46).
  • Third Video (General Session: Week Two) 51:40 mark: Backing up a bit, after Rich Sylvestor’s excellent talk on the “Postures of Polemics,” perhaps my favorite part of the sessions, only to be slightly rivaled by Hunter Rue’s presentation, the previous week, Claude Marshall speaks here about the cessationist vs. charismatic controversy. Claude is right that this issue was more divisive 30+ years ago, but the issue is still ever present, as the Charismatic Movement continues to grow across the global world, as the fastest growing segment of the church, at an ever expanding rate. But to be rather frank, most folks in our church are completely unfamiliar with the Charismatic Movement, as is the case with the majority of American evangelicals.
  • Fifth Video (General Session: Week Three) 6:45 mark: Pastor Travis goes into the most treacherous territory of explaining four views of women in ministry, based on a book, Women in Ministry: Four Views, that I wrote about in a previous blog post. He did a fantastic job, in my view.  At about 54:00 mark, Travis goes into the heart of the egalitarian view, to end up with exegesis of Galatians 3:28, which is often regarded as the egalitarian “manifesto” verse. I need to think about Galatians 3:28 a bit more, but as I see it now, there are problems with both the typical egalitarian and complementarian readings of Galatians 3:28. But to get a fuller grasp of the difficulty, I would suggest that the Veracity look back at my most recent blog post on Andy Stanley.
  • Sixth Video (Q&A Session: Week Three) 50:00 mark: Pastor Rich relates a story of someone in his small group from a Salvation Army background. I will save my response for the next and final blog post in this series.

Resources on the Complementarian vs. Egalitarian Discussion

18 in a multipart series.

Long before the current debates regarding sexual ethics and gender identity (think same-sex marriage, transgender, etc.) overwhelmed the cultural discussion, evangelical Christians have been embroiled in debates over “women in ministry” in the church.

Since as early as the English Quakers of the 17th century, and more recently, with groups like the Salvation Army, Free Methodists, and Nazarenes, starting around the late 19th century, some evangelical Christians have been ordaining women to the office of elder and/or pastor. However, this practice was largely outside of the evangelical mainstream, the peculiar quirks of particular groups. It has only been within the past 50 years, that the egalitarian vision of men and women, ministering in all levels of church leadership, went mainstream.

In the 1970s, Letha Scanzoni and Nancy Hardesty wrote their landmark book All We’re Meant to Be: Biblical Feminism for Today. Scanzoni, a graduate of Moody Bible Institute, and Hardesty, a graduate of Wheaton College, both institutions of higher learning in the evangelical heartlands of the American Midwest, made their case that women should be accepted as pastors and elders in evangelical churches. Together, the two helped to found the Evangelical Women’s Caucus, a movement that attempted to spread the cause of women serving in all levels of leadership in evangelical churches (Here is an interview with Letha Scanzoni, reviewing her life’s work).

However, the comprehensive union supporting the Caucus eventually collapsed over disputes regarding the prospect of permitting same-sex marriages in evangelical churches, and the conflict over biblical inerrancy. The more conservative of the two sides, that rejected same-sex relations, in any form, became the leading intellectual wing that led to the formation of the Willow Creek Association. Willow Creek remains one of evangelicalism’s largest and most influential egalitarian churches. The heirs of this more conservative movement helped to form Christians for Biblical Equality, that remains the premier evangelical intellectual resource for supporting an egalitarian interpretation of Scripture, within a biblical inerrancy framework.

A united response to the growing egalitarian movement was met by Crossway’s publication of Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism, in 1991, edited by Wayne Grudem, then a professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and John Piper, a Minneapolis pastor and founder of Desiring God ministries. Grudem and Piper had worked with a team a like-minded pastors and scholars that forged the Danvers Statement, that served as the backbone for the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, the premier evangelical resource for supporting a complementarian interpretation of Scripture, within a biblical inerrancy framework.

The timing of the founding of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood roughly coincided with the IVP publication of Women in Ministry: Four Views. This book entertained the writings of four evangelical scholars offering different perspectives on the topic at hand.

At the risk of oversimplifying their positions, Robert Culver wrote defending a traditional view, namely that women should not serve in positions of church leadership, basically assuming that women are more easily deceived than men. Susan T. Foh wrote defending a male-leadership view, a more nuanced re-evaluation of Culver’s view, that essentially summarizes the most common complementarian view promoted by the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. For Foh, women are equal in intelligence, competence, and spiritual status as men, but they are not equal in terms of function, and women are not to serve as elders or pastors in a local church. Walter Liefield wrote about a plural-ministry view, that effectively eliminates the gap between clergy and laity, thus making any distinction between men and women in church leadership, largely irrelevant. For Liefield, church leadership has essentially a utilitarian or practical function. It is all about getting the job done. Alvera Mickelson defended what is known to be the contemporary egalitarian view, affirming the role of women as pastors and elders, empowered to extend spiritual authority over a local congregation.

The strength of Women in Ministry: Four Views matches with its weakness. The book manages to describe the complexity of the debate, as not simply being about the role of men and women in church leadership, but it also highlights the complex nature of how church leadership itself should be constructed at the local level, in the first place. Yet the book risks being overly complex, in the presentation of the arguments. However, the greatest deficiency of the book is that it is dated. More recent scholarship has largely found a few elements of the arguments, being advanced by each school of thought, represented in the book, to be problematic.

A more recent study, that is backed by more current scholarship, is the second edition of Two Views on Women in Ministry (Counterpoints: Bible and Theology), published in 2005, by Zondervan. Two Views is a more mature presentation of the arguments, in comparison to the more extreme viewpoints presented in Women in Ministry: Four Views. In Two Views, Linda Belleville and Craig Keener offer nuanced perspectives supporting an egalitarian view, balanced against the essays by Craig Blomberg and Tom Schreiner, who offer nuanced perspectives supporting a complementarian view.

Two Views offers comparatively little difference between Belleville and Keener, in their egalitarian views. With respect to the complementarian views of Blomberg and Schreiner, Schreiner is the more rigorous, objecting to the practice of having women teach from a Sunday morning pulpit, or even in adult Bible classes. Blomberg, on the other hand, would allow for women to deliver sermons on an occasional, irregular basis, and allow for women teaching in adult Bible classes, at times. However, the primary functions of elder and pastor, the “highest office” in the local church, is reserved to be done by men only. In my reading of Two Views, it would appear that both Blomberg and Schreiner might allow for women to serve in a pastoral role, on a temporary basis, assuming there were no qualified men present to lead. But this would be a rare case, not sufficient to establish as a norm.

One of the best recent directive studies of Scripture, from a complementarian perspective, is the third edition of Women in the Church: An Interpretation and Application of 1 Timothy 2:9-13, edited by Andreas J. Köstenberger and Thomas R. Schreiner. Women in the Church focuses on the most contentious passage of 1 Timothy 2:8-13, in the current debate, and it takes to task the claim made by egalitarian scholars that the Apostle Paul was trying to address a particular local, cultural situation in the church of Ephesus, in his letter to Timothy, when he forbids a woman from teaching and/or having authority over a man, in the corporate structure of church leadership. The contributors of this book make the case that Paul’s teaching about women and men in 1 Timothy in church office is timeless and transcends cultures. Egalitarian scholars who wish to make their alternate case must contend with the evidence presented in Women in the Church.

In contrast, one of best recent studies from an egalitarian perspective is Paul and Gender: Reclaiming the Apostle’s Vision for Men and Women in Christ, by Cynthia Long Westfall. Westfall is a New Testament Greek scholar, who served on the editorial board for the Common English Bible. Westfall offers a fresh egalitarian reading of the relevant texts. In particular, Westfall makes the most helpful observation that the symbol of the veil, in 1 Corinthians 11, is much more profound than what most scholars and pastors realize.  In this passage, Paul insists that women should pray and prophecy, in worship services, with their heads covered. While this might be understand as a sign of submission of women to the authority of men, this interpretation does not fully grasp the larger radical force of what Paul was trying to convey.

Recent research indicates that married women in Ephesus, as elsewhere in the Roman Empire, were to wear veils, to signify that they were married. But this was meant to convey the idea that these particular women were not sexually available to other men. Contrast this with the status of female slaves in the Roman Empire. They were not allowed to wear veils, as they were subject to their masters. Without a head covering, it signaled to others that a female slave was sexually available to other men. Paul, on the other hand, in Westfall’s understanding, directs ALL women to wear the veil, as a sign that they were protected from exploitation. Paul was being counter-cultural in Corinth. In other words, Paul sees the wearing of the veil as an honor, for it demonstrated to vulnerable women, that through the Gospel, women are protected by Christ from exploitation. Complementarians would greatly benefit from this quality of egalitarian scholarship offered by Westfall.

A few “honorable mentions” include some books that I have not fully read, but that contain some really useful material. Catherine Clark Kroeger and Richard Clark Kroeger, who were instrumental in founding Christians for Biblical Equality, wrote the influential 1988 book, I Suffer Not a Woman: Rethinking 1 Timothy 2:11-15 In Light of Ancient Evidence. This is a very challenging book, but the Women in the Church volume by Köstenberger and Schreiner, mentioned above, serves as a useful rejoinder to the Kroegers, that critically examines the Kroegers’ claims.

Then there is Hannah Anderson’s Made for More, a recent book, accessible to the average Christian reader, that argues that before complementarians press their case for male and female “roles,” they need to consider what it means to be created in the image of God. I find this to be a bridge builder book between complementarians and egalitarians.

Much of the technical arguments advanced in the more academic books above assume at least some knowledge of New Testament Greek, which is unfortunate for someone like me who has had no formal training in the biblical languages. But the nature of the debate is technical, as it has a significant bearing on how Bible translation is done.

There are many dozens and dozens of books that address topics related to the complementarian vs. egalitarian debate. In the blog series that I developed, I looked to several of the above resources to develop the material in the blog, as I believe these are the cream of the crop. I recommend that interested readers consult these books and referenced websites for further information, useful for further biblical study.

 


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