Daily Archives: July 25, 2014

Questions about the Church: What Roles Can Women Fill in Ministry?

 

Women in ministry is an issue upon which Bible-believing Christians can and do disagree. The point of separation centers on the passages of Scripture that forbid women to speak in church or “assume authority over a man” (1 Timothy 2:12; cf. 1 Corinthians 14:34). The disagreement is whether or not those passages were relevant only to the era in which they were penned. Some contend that, since there is neither “Jew nor Greek … male nor female … but you are all one in Christ” (Galatians 3:28), women are free to pursue any field of ministry open to men. Others hold that 1 Timothy 2:12 still applies today, since the basis for the command is not cultural but universal, being rooted in the order of creation (1 Timothy 2:13–14).

First Peter 5:1–4 details the qualifications for an elder. Presbuteros is the Greek word used sixty-six times in the New Testament to indicate “seasoned male overseer.” It is the masculine form of the word. The feminine form, presbutera, is never used in reference to elders or shepherds. Based on the qualifications found in 1 Timothy 3:1–7, the role of an elder is interchangeable with the bishop/pastor/overseer (Titus 1:6–9; 1 Peter 5:1–3). And since, according to 1 Timothy 2:12, a woman should not “teach or exercise authority over a man,” it seems clear that the position of elders and pastors—who must be equipped to teach, lead the congregation, and oversee their spiritual growth (1 Timothy 3:2)—should be reserved for men only.

However, elder/bishop/pastor appears to be the only office reserved for men. Women have always played a significant role in the growth of the church, even being among the few who witnessed the crucifixion of Christ when most of the disciples had run away (Matthew 27:55; John 19:25). The apostle Paul held women in high regard, and in many of his letters to the churches he greeted specific women by name (Romans 16:6, 12; Colossians 4:15; Philippians 4:2–3; Philemon 1:2). Paul addresses these women as “co-workers,” and they clearly served the Lord to the benefit of the whole church (Philippians 4:3; Colossians 4:15).

Offices were created in the early church to fit the needs of the body. Although many modern churches interchange the positions of elder and deacon, they were not the same office. Deacons were appointed to serve in a physical capacity as the need arose (Acts 6:2–3). There is no clear prohibition against women serving in this way. In fact, Romans 16:1 may indicate that a woman named Phoebe was a respected deaconess in the church at Rome.

There is no scriptural precedent that forbids women from also serving as worship leaders, youth ministers, or children’s directors. The only restriction is that they do not assume a role of spiritual authority over adult men. Since the concern in Scripture appears to be the issue of spiritual authority rather than function, any role that does not bestow such spiritual authority over adult men is permissible.[1]

 

[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about Salvation: What Is Free Grace? What Is Free Grace Theology?

 

Free Grace Theology is essentially a view of soteriology grown from more traditional Baptist roots. It was systematized by theologians such as Dr.’s Charles Ryrie and Zane Hodges in the 1980s, mainly as a response to its antithesis, Lordship Theology or Lordship Salvation, which has its roots in Reformed theology. Today, Free Grace is still going strong, supported by such Christian voices as Tony Evans, Erwin Lutzer, Bruce Wilkinson, Dallas Theological Seminary, and the Grace Evangelical Society.

The basic teaching of Free Grace Theology is that responding to the “call to believe” in Jesus Christ through faith alone is all that is necessary to receive eternal life. This basic, simple belief brings assurance of “entering” the kingdom of God. Then, if a person further responds to the “call to follow” Jesus, he becomes a disciple and undergoes sanctification. The follower of Christ has the opportunity to “inherit” the kingdom of God, which includes receiving particular rewards based on works accomplished for God on earth.

Free Grace theologians point to a number of passages to validate their distinction between having saving faith and following Christ, mainly from the Gospel of John and the Pauline Epistles. For instance, Jesus’ explanation to the woman at the well of how to receive salvation—that she simply ask Him for it (John 4:10)—is compared to Jesus’ words to the disciples a few minutes later—that they must “do the will of him who sent me” (John 4:34).

Other verses in John’s Gospel mention the act of belief as the sole requirement for salvation, including John 3:16 and John 5:24. And John 6:47 says, “The one who believes has eternal life.” The fact that works lead to rewards in heaven may be seen in passages such as Matthew 5:1–15; 1 Corinthians 3:11–15; and Hebrews 10:32–36, particularly verse 36, which reads, “For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised.”

Many Reformed theologians are appalled by the assertions of Free Grace theologians, accusing them of “easy believism” or even antinomianism. Antinomianism is the heretical belief that a Christian is under no law whatsoever, whether biblical or moral, and thus may do whatever he pleases. The fact of the matter is that Free Grace Theology can make it easier to arrive at antinomianism. However, Free Grace teaching is not antinomian per se. Free Grace theologians consider their position more biblical than Lordship Salvation, which they consider to be a works-based theology. According to Free Grace theologians, Lordship Salvation holds that saving faith includes inherently the “act” of accomplishing radical internal change leading to good works.

This leads to the Free Grace emphasis on assurance of salvation, again based on the basic promises in John’s Gospel, that belief is all that is necessary for salvation. To the Free Grace theologian, this is a simple, cut-and-dried issue—if you believe, you are saved. For the Lordship Salvation camp, assurance of salvation comes through the observation of change in the professing believer, i.e., that he is accomplishing good works. Each camp views the other as possibly leading to heresy.

Although Free Grace Theology and Lordship Salvation are terms that have developed only recently, they represent concerns that have been around since the beginning of the church. At the end of the day, there is no question about the basic salvation of those who hold either view—which is ironic, since their disagreement is about salvation! Both views are within the limits of orthodoxy. Still, this does not mean it’s an insignificant discussion. One’s beliefs in this matter can change his view of himself, God, and salvation a great deal.[1]

 

[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Topical Bible Questions: What Is Spiritual Manipulation?

 

To manipulate is to negotiate, control or influence for one’s own advantage. Spiritual manipulation is a technique used by some abusive churches and cults to control individuals and acquire gain, all the while giving the impression that their teachings are based on the Bible.

Some religious groups take Scriptures out of context in order to support their beliefs. They isolate “proof texts” and “cherry pick” verses to persuade the uninformed that their interpretation is right, even to the extent of claiming they alone have “the truth” and everybody else is wrong. Some have even altered the Bible and produced their own translation to support their religious bias.

Some denominations use scholastic dishonesty to manipulate. They will use partial quotations from first-century Christians and eminent Bible scholars in suggesting that they agree with their views. Take, as an example, the booklet “Should You Believe in the Trinity?,” published by the Watchtower Society. Page 7 includes a partial quote from Justin Martyr: “Justin Martyr, who died about 165 C.E., called the prehuman Jesus a created angel who is ‘other than the God who made all things.’ He said that Jesus was inferior to God and ‘never did anything except what the Creator … willed him to do and say.’ ” What’s missing from this partial quotation is significant. Justin Martyr said that the “Son, who also, being the first-begotten Word of God, is even God.” Nowhere did Justin Martyr say the pre-human Jesus was a created angel.

Some individuals manipulate Scripture for their own personal benefit. An authoritarian husband might demand that his wife submit to him as the head of the house and quote Ephesians 5:22 (“Wives, submit to your husbands”). But that same man might purposefully overlook verse 26, which says, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” Instead of taking the bits of Scripture he approves of and using them to lord it over his family, he would do well to read 1 Corinthians 13 and practice the type of love that is patient, kind, protects, trust and perseveres, etc.

During a conversation between Christians, someone might say, “The Lord has told me that.…” This phrase essentially shuts down the conversation because it implies that, since God has spoken a word, there can’t be any further discussion. Don’t be fooled by this trick; it is a form of spiritual manipulation. Or a preacher says, “Sow into my ministry, and God will repay you. Sow, and you will reap! God is no man’s debtor.” Could such preaching simply be an exploitive appeal for money? Is the preacher trying to influence people for his own financial advantage? If so, it is spiritual manipulation.

Another form of spiritual manipulation occurs when abusive churches and cults twist Scripture to give more authority to the leadership and keep the members under their control. One example is the use of Hebrews 13:17 as a basis for demanding unquestioning loyalty and obedience to the leaders. Some religious groups view questioning the leaders as tantamount to questioning God. Some leaders claim to have divine authority and approval; thus, to disobey them is to disobey God. This is perhaps the most pernicious form of spiritual manipulation, and it has no place in a true church.

Victims of spiritual manipulation seldom realize what’s happening to them. Here are some indicators of a spiritually manipulative church:

Legalism Demands for obedience Unquestioning submission Punishment (loss of privileges, shunning or expulsion) Misplaced loyalty Emphasis on performance Exclusivism (“we alone are right, and everybody else is wrong”) Isolation (refusal to associate with anyone but spiritual brothers and sisters) Humiliation of the “disobedient”

Abusive churches train members to block out any information that is critical of the group. With enough thought and information control, the leaders can get those under their control to defend their new identity against their former identity. The first line of defense is denial—“What you say isn’t happening at all.” Next comes rationalization—“This is happening for a good reason.” After that, justification—“This is happening because it ought to.” Finally, wishful thinking—“I’d like it to be true, so maybe it really is.”

A characteristic of spiritually abusive systems is that a misplaced sense of loyalty is fostered and even demanded. This is not about loyalty to Christ, but about loyalty to an organization, church or leader. Because authority is assumed or legislated, following that authority must also be legislated. This is accomplished is by setting up a system where disloyalty or disagreement with the leadership is construed as disobeying God. Questioning leaders is not allowed. After all, the leader is the authority, and authority is always right. Such spiritual manipulation denies the truth of Ephesians 1:22, which says that Christ is the Head of the church. Our loyalty is due Him.

All Christians need to be alert to spiritual manipulation and follow this example from Acts 17:11: “Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” Did the apostle Paul take offense when the Bereans researched to ensure that his preaching was based on Scripture? Of course not, because Paul knew his preaching would stand up under exhaustive scrutiny. Likewise with all teaching and preaching—we must hold it up to the light of God’s Word before we accept it. Any religious group that prevents its members from doing independent research, or from challenging what the leadership says, must have something to fear.

Jesus told His disciples they would be like sheep among wolves and instructed them to be “shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16). The Master’s yoke is easy, and His burden is light. He gives us rest and is gentle and humble in heart (Matthew 11:28–29). That is the Christlike example all who shepherd Jesus’ flock must exemplify.[1]

 

[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.