Waifs With Manga Eyes

A few weeks ago Jen Wilkin wrote a piece for The Gospel Coalition that got some significant circulation, and I wanted to make a few comments about it. The post was entitled "3 Female Ghosts That Haunt the Church," and in the course of what she wrote, she made a number of observations that, in my view, could have been quite helpful in a lot of ways. But unfortunately, the way the whole thing was structured, it is awfully difficult to know how to do anything constructive with it. "If you're  a male staff member at a church, I ask you to consider a ghost story of sorts. I don't think for a minute that you hate women. I know there are valid reasons to take a measured approach to how you interact with us in ministry settings. I absolutely want you to be wise, but I don't want you to be haunted. Three female ghosts haunt most churches, and I want you to recognize them so you can banish them from yours." The ghosts that haunt most churches are, according to Wilkin, are the usurper, the … [Read more...]

But Blood Is Still Pretty Thick

We must begin with the foundational Christian axiom that water is thicker than blood. The call of baptism outranks every demand that might come from any other source. “He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Matt. 10:37). Our allegiance to Jesus Christ has to be the arche of all our other allegiances. He is the only one who can keep them from becoming devouring idols, with a maw like Molech. The foundational claims of households, tribes, and nations must all be surrendered completely. At the same time, precisely because Jesus is Lord, once surrendered, these other allegiances are supposed to be discipled, appropriately honored, and placed in their adjusted and very creaturely place. Some idols are destroyed upon repentance -- like Molech, Baal, Dagon. Other idols are simply demoted -- family, money, reputation, etc. The idols of households and tribes are idols that are called to come to … [Read more...]

The Difference Between Pastors and Teachers

I was talking recently with a friend about the difference between pastors and teachers, and it got my thoughts churning. You know what Wodehouse said about some minds being like the soup in a bad restaurant -- better left unstirred. But that's too bad, too late now, etc. Considered from one angle, this topic might seem a little theology wonkish -- three office/four office debate and so on. But considered from another angle it could be considered the more controversial things I have written. (Overheard in the faculty lounge at Westminster West: "We'll be the judge of that . . ."). First, let's get some of the biblical data out of the way. I understand the gifts that Paul describes in Ephesians to be four in number, not five (Eph. 4:11). That means that the fourth is a compound gift, that of pastor/teacher. This means that those who are called to this office should both instruct and shepherd the people of God. All pastors should be teachers. But it does not follow that all … [Read more...]

Don’t Waste Your Shake Up

If we adopt the policy I am suggesting in the larger church -- that of asking elders and ministers to step down if their children are excommunicate (or the moral equivalent) -- this solves some problems, but not all of them. It actually creates a few interesting problems. One interesting problem it could create is that of establishing an institutional disincentive when it comes to excommunicating the children of elders and ministers. Say that the child in question richly deserves it, but everybody knows that if this happened his father would lose his position -- so welcome to the world of perverse incentives. We don't want to get into a place where we disobey one text for the sake of obeying another one. There is another issue. Drawing the line at excommunication does address the problem of overt disqualification in a minister's family, but it doesn't address the trickier problem of moral authority. Say that a pastor has three daughters, and say that every two years, three times … [Read more...]

Parents Playing God

Not surprisingly, there are objections to this position I have been urging about the minister's qualification in his family. One of the more potent arguments is that this position presupposes that the father somehow has salvific powers, which runs counter to what we know the Bible teaches about the sovereignty of grace. Only God can forgive sins (Mark 2:7). This is why a minister who sees such questions being raised about his household might feel that his adversaries are just trying to pick a fight with him. When the king of Israel received a letter requesting that he heal Naaman's leprosy, his reasonable conclusion was that somebody was trying to pick a fight (2 Kings 5:7). When people start demanding that you do something that only God can do, it seems clear that they just want conflict. Now it is quite true that this truth -- and any other biblical truth -- can be used in this way. There are accusers -- devils -- in most congregations who can turn words of grace into spears … [Read more...]

A Minister’s Family As Pace Car

I have mentioned that we should begin any attempt to institute familial qualifications for the eldership with children who have been excommunicated. We could begin here for pragmatic reasons (we have to start somewhere), but I want to argue that there are exegetical grounds for having this be the place where we draw the basic line. Here are the key words from Titus again. The elder must have  "faithful children not accused of riot or unruly" (Titus 1:6). There are just eight words here in the English, but a lot rides on them. Let's begin with "not accused." The minister's children must not be open to the charge of certain things. We will get to what those things are shortly, but the word underneath accused here is kategoria. It is a legal term, and has to do with the bringing of formal charges. It is not a word you would use to describe a couple of gossips whispering about the minister's son's girlfriend. This is the same word that is used when Paul tells Timothy not to admit a … [Read more...]

A Reasonable Expectation

One of things we need to do in our discussion of family qualifications for ministry is examine some of our background assumptions. As with many other issues, our understanding of Paul's requirement here (1 Tim. 3:2-5; Tit. 1:5-6) is affected not only by what the text clearly says, but by the eyes we bring to the text. What we see is sometimes a function of what is there to be seen, and other times a function of how good our eyesight is. There are times when certain assumptions about what the text "could not possibly be saying" will shape what we allow it to say to us. One of those background assumptions (for moderns) is individualism. Now of course God did create us as distinct individuals, and we go to Heaven or Hell by ones. Moral responsibility is fundamentally located in the individual. But there is more to moral responsibility than that. Our lives are intertwined, and this is particularly the case when we are talking about parents and their children -- Girard calls us … [Read more...]

With Laces Untied

So let's begin our work on this tough topic by getting two obvious things on the table. The first obvious thing is that the apostle Paul teaches us that how a man behaves in his home is a predictor or indicator of how he will behave in the church. If you want a godly and competent leader in the church, then you need to look for a godly and competent leader in his home. The apostle couldn't make his point plainer. "For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?" (1 Tim. 3:5) The word rendered rule here is proistemi, which means preside, rule, maintain. And the word used with regard to pastoral work is epimeleomai, which means to take care of, or provide for. This is a simple if, then statement. If a man does not know how to do x, then he will not be able to do y. We will examine what that connection is later, but it should suffice for the present to show that there is such a connection. We should refuse to call a pastor based on … [Read more...]

The Neglected Qualification

For various reasons, I need to begin an extended series of posts on "the neglected qualification." The spiritual state of the preacher's kids has long been proverbial, and not in a good way, and yet we continue to have the following in our Bibles. "A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife . . . One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?) (1 Tim. 3:2,4-5). "For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee: If any be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly. For a bishop must be blameless . . ." (Tit. 1:5-7). The majority of the Christian world has workarounds and explanations for these verses, while the minority that wants them to mean what they appear to mean, sometimes … [Read more...]

Representation in Church Government

My friend Steven Wedgeworth has some good thoughts about head of household voting here. Voting by household is fairly common in the CREC, but at the same time it is not so settled as to have no discussion swirling around it. So in addition to what Steven says, let me throw some loose pocket change into the mix. I believe the broad outlines of church government are taught to us in Scripture jure divino, but that this divine authority does not extend down into the details. For example, we have scriptural warrant for broad, representative assemblies of the church. We have no biblical warrant for the office of secretary or stated clerk, but we do have the full authority to create such offices -- using the light of Christian prudence. It is lawful for us to keep minutes (about which the Scriptures say nothing), and to follow a rudimentary form of Robert's Rules (about which the Bible says even less). The details of voting belong to both categories. We have ample scriptural warrant for … [Read more...]

The Right Kind of Bright in Their Eyes

Many conservative Christians know that the culture war we are fighting is a desperate battle for our children. Now fighting for your children and grandchildren is a noble enterprise. It is what we are called to do. When such fighting is necessary, as in a fallen world it constantly is, it is something we are called to do for the sake of others, and this includes our children. "And I looked, and rose up, and said unto the nobles, and to the rulers, and to the rest of the people, Be not ye afraid of them: remember the Lord, which is great and terrible, and fight for your brethren, your sons, and your daughters, your wives, and your houses" (Neh. 4:14). But as good as this is, we need to move past it. Once we realize that we are in a long war, a war in which the first blood shed was that of Abel, and the last blood shed will be that of the final martyr, an honored someone who will no doubt not be born for many centuries yet, we will finally recognize the importance of the time we are … [Read more...]

Some Kind of Zen Presbyterianism . . .

I received a good question from a friend about yesterday's post concerning Rachel Held Evans and communion, a question that had to do with how we fence the Table. In order to be able to get at the issues involved, let me remove it entirely from this dispute about RHE so we can grasp the general principles that apply. First, let me state how we fence the Table and why. In our printed weekly bulletin, we have a separate box with the heading " May I Come to the Table?" That question is answered affirmatively, provided the reader has been baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and is not under the discipline of the church. But this brings up two wild cards -- first, there are people out there who have been excommunicated who shouldn't have been, and there are also a bunch of people who haven't been who should have. What do we do with them? With the former, we assume the legitimacy of the discipline, seeking to honor the authority of a sister church. At the same … [Read more...]

Leaving the 99

Over the years I have written a good deal about one of the great neglected qualifications for the ministry, which is the spiritual state of the minister's family and home. Paul tells us plainly that a man whose house is not in order is not qualified to be a steward in the household of God. The stewardship abilities required in the one setting are comparable to those which are needed in the other. The texts seem plain enough. "If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work . . . One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?) (1 Tim. 3:1,4-5) "Ordain elders in every city . . . the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly. For a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God" (Tit. 1:5-7) Having stated the hard center of the position, let us go on to acknowledge that life is messy and the texts are … [Read more...]

Optimism About the Future of the Church

A doctrinal emphasis that you are very likely to find in CREC churches is, oddly enough, a doctrinal point that is not actually required by any of our approved doctrinal statements. When it comes to the question of eschatology (what will happen at the end of the world), the only thing that the universal church has agreed on thus far is that Jesus Christ will one day return in power and glory to judge “the quick and the dead.” When it comes to all the particular details surrounding and leading up to that glorious event, the broader church has not yet reached a consensus. Some denominations are premillennial dispensationalist, some are historic premillennial, some are amillennial, and so on. Someone once joked that the millennium is a thousand years of peace that Christians like to fight about. … [Read more...]

The Communion of Reformed Evangelical Churches

Here's something you all can help us spread the word on. I spent today in the gallery of the CREC Council meeting in Minneapolis. Yesterday all seven presbyteries met, and today two delegates from each presbytery formed our tri-annual seating of Council. One of the more significant items up for a decision today was a proposed name change. After due deliberation, the decision was made to change our name from the Confederation of Reformed Evangelical Churches to the Communion of Reformed Evangelical Churches. I will no doubt be writing more about this later, but there are two things to note about it right away. The first thing is that this does not constitute a change in our polity. We still function as a confederation or federation of churches -- it is simply that our continuing polity will no longer be reflected in our name. The second thing is that what we are always up against are the connotations of whatever name it is, not the denotation. The reason for this change is that a … [Read more...]