Feminism and the Church

The fifth tooth of the wolf is feminism. This post will be very politically incorrect, I realize, but it must be said. The other caveat I would issue here is that the church, in reacting against feminism, should not denigrate the gifts God has given to women, and should be actively looking for ways in which women can use their gifts in proper settings. Sometimes it seems as if the attitude towards women in conservative churches is more focused on what women cannot do, as opposed to encouraging women to do what they should do.

One other caveat should be given here, and that is that not all forms of feminism are the same. Not all feminists, for instance, would agree with every point of Sittema’s description. There is definitely a range of opinions on these matters. All these caveats aside, there is no doubt that the feminism Sittema describes is very dangerous to the church.

Here are the points that Sittema summarizes from James Dobson’s analysis of the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women. In other words, this appears to be fairly mainline feminism. For those of us used to kinder, gentler forms of feminism, this may come as something of a shock. But this is their agenda: 1. Marriage is the enemy for women, since men are by definition oppressors. 2. The family is to blame for violence suffered by women. 3. The sex of a baby is something imposed on them from birth, and is not biological (i.e., it is entirely a social construct, and is therefore oppressive). 4. The language of “wife, husband, son, daughter, sister, brother,” etc. must be changed to “parent, spouse, child, and sibling.” 5. The government needs to mandate that household responsibilities be divided 50/50, and so must the military also. 6. Abortion is a mandated right for all women. 7. The homosexual agenda walks hand in hand with feminism in its redefinition of traditional roles and sex. 8. All patriarchal religions must be oppressed. 9. The Bible is not authoritative when it oppresses women by forbidding teaching roles to them over men. If the Bible does not speak to modern women’s experience, then it has no authority there. 10. Traditional Christian doctrines need to be redefined, including the doctrine of man, God, sin, redemption, and Christology, to be more favorable to women.

One can quickly see, first of all, that what many of us would regard as “radical” feminism is actually more mainstream. This is what the world council on feminism has said.

Second of all, one can see that if feminism has its way, then the Bible’s authority will be completely undermined. I have seen two approaches to the Bible in feminism. The first approach is to deny the Bible’s authority. This is actually the more honest approach. The other approach (especially with passages such as 1 Timothy 2) is to “interpret” the passage to make it mean pretty much the opposite of what it actually says. This is done by the so-called “evangelical feminists,” who still want to cling to the authority of the Bible. As Ligon Duncan said, if one can make “I do not permit a women to teach or have authority over a man” to mean “I do permit a women to teach or have authority over a man,” then one can make the Bible say absolutely anything.

Sittema suggests four ways of fighting feminism in the church: 1. Teach the Biblical model of gender relationships. 2. Don’t over-react. We must remember that there are a range of views. Just because someone might say something like one of the above 10 points doesn’t mean that they believe all of them. 3. Use women and their gifts in the church. He quotes the memorable dictum “cults are the unpaid debts of the church.” If the church were to encourage women to use their gifts to the best of their ability, and in the right setting, then feminism would not have much room to make inroads into our churches. 4. Honor marriage, family, and motherhood within the church. Show the church how much the Bible praises these things, and what a high calling these are for women. I would add 5. Be sympathetic towards women who really have been abused by men. This should never be tolerated, even though our definitions of “abuse” will be different from the feminists’ definition. We would not regard keeping men as elders and deacons in the church as a form of abusing women, for instance. But verbal and physical abuse of women does happen, and we should never become soft on such abuse just because we’re reacting against feminism.

Pragmatism and the Church

The fourth tooth of the wolf is pragmatism, and it is a real doozy. I can’t tell how many times I’ve seen people make decisions on this basis, completely ignoring what the Bible might say. Here is Sittema’s excellent definition of pragmatism: “Pragmatism means first you determine whether an act seems practical, whether its consequences bring you pleasure or pain, and by that process you determine what is right or wrong” (p. 67). What is right is what will increase my pleasure. What is wrong is what will increase my pain. Have a difficult marriage? The pragmatic approach says get out, whether or not such a divorce has biblical grounds or not. Have an unwanted pregnancy that will cramp your style? Just get rid of the child in an abortion. We don’t need to worry about what the Bible says, do we? This is the approach of pragmatism, and it is part and parcel of the world’s philosophy of life. Everything is calculated down to a nicety on the scale of pleasure and pain, or convenience, or advantage. But have you noticed what happens in such a philosophy? The Bible gets thrown out the window. All of a sudden, it doesn’t matter anymore what the Bible says. What matters is what will work. Another example: if a church is getting low on men who are willing to lead, then since we have to have leaders, why not elect a woman to fill the spot? Pragmatism over-rides the Biblical mandates. This is a very insidious philosophy, since it overturns the law of God, thus constituting a direct attack on the authority of the Law-giver, God Himself.

Sittema makes the excellent point that pragmatism is NOT practical (p. 68). We must distinguish between “pragmatic” and “practical.” They are not the same thing. Being truly practical means putting into practice what the Bible says. Being pragmatic means throwing out what the Bible says. Hard to believe as it may seem, therefore, oftentimes “practical” and “pragmatic” are actually complete opposites.

Sittema’s suggestions for combating this philosophy: 1. Ask “why” a lot as the elder visits his flock. Pragmatism is not that difficult to detect. Most of the time, it is a simple “fly by the seat of the pants” approach without any biblical considerations coming into play whatsoever. 2. Teach God’s standards as eternal, unchangeable truths. God’s unchanging law determines what is right and wrong, not what brings worldly happiness. 3. Discuss case studies with the youth and enable them to see the radically different ways that people make choices, and make clear to them what God says. I would add 4. Keep the law in front of the people often, with all the caveats that needs (distinguishing among the three uses of the law, etc.).

Inerrancy – A WTS Reminder

by Reed DePace

This past week I received a mailing from my alma mater, Westminster Theological Seminary. Sent to all teaching elders in the PCA, it included a cover letter from Dr. David B. Garner (asc. prof., syst. theo.) and a DVD on the subject of inerrancy.

The DVD provides a summary WTS’s defense of the doctrine of inerrancy. It includes three parts: 1) Dr. Garner’s introduction and then narration of the subject matter on the DVD, 2) WTS board-member Dr. Harry Reeder’s explanation of the seriousness of the need to defend inerrancy yet again in our current era, and 3) Dr. Vern Poythress’s explanation of WTS’ document, Affirmations and Denials on the Doctrine of Scripture.

This document was adopted by the Board of WTS in December, 2008. Since then it has been adopted by some PCA Presbyteries as a helpful clarification of chapter 1 of the Westminster Confession of Faith in relation to the recent attacks on the doctrine of inerrancy.

If you are a TE in the PCA, I urge you to consider taking two actions: 1) watching and listening to the DVD you’ve received from WTS, and 2) taking action to have your presbytery adopt this statement as a response to the current attacks on inerrancy. If you are not a PCA TE, I urge you to recommend these actions to any PCA TE’s you know.

We need to stand up now and defend this most vital doctrine of our faith. A whole new generation is in jeopardy. Let it not be said that our faith was faithless in response to this threat against God’s veracity.

by Reed DePace

Relativism and the Church

Relativism is the third tooth in the mouth of the wolf that attacks the church. This one is particularly nasty, in my opinion, because it is so prevalent, and so hard to fight. You can’t always even use logic to fight this one, because they usually reject logic outright (at least, they say they do). The consequences are severe for the church. Everything becomes “relational,” while commitment to truth simultaneously erodes (see Sittema, With a Shepherd’s Heart, p. 61). The only thing that is absolutely wrong is to hold absolute values (pp. 62-63). Church discipline becomes extremely difficult, since how dare those elders tell me that I am sinning! People lose conviction that the Bible is really God’s Word.

Sittema gives us five suggestions on how to fight this horrific error. 1. Proclaim loudly and often the infallible and absolute authority of the Bible; 2. Call sin by its rightful name: sin! 3. Teach the Bible (I would include with this Bible memorization); 4. Rebuke sinners with the Bible; and 5. Lead by example. I might add a few other suggestions here that will help, especially geared towards young people, who are the most affected by relativism. 6. Teach young people the catechisms, so that it’s in their blood. 7. Preach against the television (who can fight the indoctrination of relativism if the television has such a complete grasp of the time of our young people? Plus, there is usually little of value on the TV) 8. Teach apologetics to the youth groups and to college age folks, so that they are not only aware of relativism, but also how to understand it and avoid it, and even maybe help others avoid it.

Incredible Resource

Dennison has done it again. His second volume (which has been published for several months now) of confessional materials of the 16th and 17th centuries is just as helpful and full of good things as volume 1 was. Of the major, familiar confessions included in this volume we find the French Confession, the Scottish Confession, the Belgic Confession, the Thirty-Nine Articles, the Heidelberg Catechism, and the Second Helvetic Confession. The years covered in this volume are 1552-1566. Only fifteen years, and yet a volume of over 900 pages! Clearly, Reformed people like to confess their faith!

There are some really eye-popping additions of confessions most of us have never heard of before. The real surprise is the Hungarian Confessio Catholica, not because the Reformed faith made its way into Hungary, but rather because of its length: 200 pages! I would be surprised if there were any other confessions as large as this in existence in the Reformed world. It winds up being practically a churchly systematic theology. It also amazed me to know just how strong the Hungarian Reformed witness was. The Confession is not the only Hungarian Reformed material included in this volume. The last three documents are the synods of Gönc, Torda, and Gyulafahérvár and Marosvásárhely (try pronouncing them: I dare you…still waiting).

But what never ceases to amaze me is how far the Reformed faith traveled at the time. The Guanabara Confession is included in this volume. Guanabara Bay is the site of modern Rio de Janeiro! There was also a Reformed presence among the Spanish emigres in London. They were in Poland and Rumania. These volumes are now indispensable for the definition of the Reformed faith in the time of the Reformation.

One last parting shot: the FV will receive absolutely no help from these materials. It is clear that the FV is outside the bounds even of the broader confessional Reformed tradition of the 16-17th centuries. If you won’t take my word for it, though, then go buy the book yourself and read it without imposing your own categories on the text, or searching for something that kinda sorta sounds like what you believe. For that, of course, would be anachronistic.

A Baggins Comes of Age

J.R.R. Tolkien writes this about Frodo Baggins: “Frodo was going to be thirty-three, 33, an important number: the date of his ‘coming of age.'” According to this textual evidence (and it would seem that all the authoritative Tolkien texts have it; no major recensions have omitted it to this text critic’s knowledge), the meaning of it would appear to be that the age 33 is something of a watershed for hobbits. Elsewhere, when Tolkien describes Bilbo’s invitation to Frodo to come and live with him, he writes that “At that time, Frodo was still in his tweens, as the hobbits called the irresponsible twenties between childhood and coming of age at thirty-three.”

The reason this author brings it up is that today is the date on which another Baggins has come of age, namely, yours truly, the Green Baggins (for what the Green means, as well as the reason for “Baggins,” see here). I turn 33 today. I would normally not talk about my own birthday on my blog. However, it’s not every day that a Baggins comes of age, and I thought my readers might be interested in being made aware of it. Unfortunately for my readers, this Baggins is not rich enough to continue the time-honored hobbitly tradition of giving away presents to all who deserve them on his birthday, at least in this Baggins’s mind, so you will have to make do with this post, and a hearty thank-you to all my well-wishers (except, of course, the Sackville-Bagginses).

Materialism and the Church

The second “tooth” of the wolf that Sittema talks about is materialism. Secularism is the idea that the here and now is all that’s important. Materialism says that stuff is all that’s important. So, secularism has more to do with time, whereas materialism has more to do with space (see p. 55). The problem here is that the church is incredibly wealthy in the West. Basically, if you have any discretionary income at all, you are wealthy, and that would describe most Americans. But stuff breeds greed for more stuff. It is intoxicating to have more and more. And yet, those who are honest with themselves would admit that it’s never enough. John D. Rockefeller, a very rich American, was asked how much is enough, and his answer was the classic statement of the problem of materialism: “Just a little bit more.” It will not fill the God-shaped hole in anyone’s life.

The advertising world banks on materialism, because it uses the classic hook of dissatisfaction with what you have in order to entice you to want more. The danger here, as Sittema points out, is that materialism denies the spiritual dangers inherent in wealth (p. 58). Sittema is not here saying that wealth is inherently evil. Rather, he is saying that with much comes much temptation, and he’s certainly correct in this assessment. In the rest of the chapter, Sittema outlines a biblical response. I think the most helpful point here that he mentions in combating materialism is the principle of biblical stewardship, which includes a view of one’s possessions as not one’s own, but merely entrusted to us by God to be used for His kingdom. This makes giving away possessions and wealth much easier: it’s not really ours to begin with. Phillip Ryken would put it this way: “What’s mine is God’s.”

And, secondly, we need to realize what a terrible idol wealth has become, and we need to identify it and repent of our own idolatry. Our idolatry may not be as blatant as Rockefeller’s: it may come in the form of desiring our own comfort at the expense of the kingdom of God. But comfort is often just another way of saying “a little bit more.” Comfort is one idol I see up here in the Midwest. And it is not hard to find out why: North Dakota is absolutely brutal in the winter-time. It is not exactly comfortable. But people usually build things in order to make them comfortable here. There are different ways this idol makes itself manifest elsewhere in the US, so I’m not singling out North Dakota, by any means. But that’s just where I am, and that’s what I see.

The Sufficiency of the Word Compared to “Christendom”

I was reading in J.C. Ryle today on the Gospel of Matthew for evening sermon preparation, and I came across this simple statement: “But the sword is not to be used in the propagation and maintenance of the Gospel” (p. 368). As I got to thinking about it, the natural comparison between the governmental sword, and the Sword of the Spirit (which is Scripture) came to mind. Then I saw it: the reason why the sword cannot be used in the defense and propagation of the Gospel is that such a use proclaims the Scriptures to be insufficient. The Sword that God has provided for the Gospel propagation is entirely sufficient. It does not need modern gimmicks, and it does not need old swords. The Holy Spirit keeps the Word ever sharp to break down defenses and penetrate to the very heart of man. What other sword does the Gospel need than the Sword of the Spirit? This might also have an indirect bearing on the Two Kingdoms discussion. God has two swords.

Inerrancy – Is God a False Prophet?

by Reed DePace

I recently finished reading the most recent issue of the Westminster Theological Journal. In it Gregory K. Beale has an excellent article in which he offers an exegetical defense of the necessity of inerrancy. I won’t offer a review of that article here, but rather encourage y’all to get a hold of it. It is pretty good.

In the article Beale uses God’s standards for prophets speaking His word to make the case that inerrancy is indeed an essential and necessary characteristic of the Bible. Centered mostly in an excursive in Revelation, Beale offers a pretty convincing argument. (But, of course, I’m already a kool-aide drinker, so what do I know?)

As I read the argument I was reminded of a passage pressed upon me in my early days of discipleship, Deut. 18:20-22:

20 But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.’ 21 And if you say in your heart, ‘How may we know the word that the LORD has not spoken?’ – 22 when a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the LORD has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him.

So, is not God’s word written by men called under the standards of prophetic ministry? Yes, of course. And do these standards not require that their words be true? Yes, of course. Specifically, is not the characteristic of truth in the above passage specifically historical truthfulness, that is accuracy in terms of what actually does happen in time? The passage certainly does say that.

So, if it be maintained that God’s word does indeed contain historical inaccuracies (e.g., no real Adam), does this not mean, at the very least, that Moses (and any inspired editor of the Pentateuch), fails the Deuteronomical test for a prophet speaking for God?

At the very least, we should not “be afraid” of Moses. Let’s throw out any book he had a hand in writing, and of course any book dependent upon his writings. (Uhh, wait a minute, that includes the whole Bible.)

Wait, here is a worse thought! Suppose you want to maintain inspiration, but deny inerrancy. That would mean that Moses really was speaking for God. So, if there are errors in the Bible, that would mean God Himself is guilty of being a false prophet. Now we’re facing a real dilemma. If false prophets should die, God should die for authoring error in His own name.

I don’t know about you, but I’m sure not going to start throwing stones at God. Instead, I’m going to stick with my conviction about inerrancy. It is much simpler to believe the Bible is what is says it is, God’s own inspired, infallible, AND inerrant word, than to spend the time trying to figure a way out of the mental knots one ties himself in when he denies inerrancy.

God’s word is inerrant. Stay away from the stones.

Reed DePace

Secularism and the Church

John Sittema’s excellent book entitled With a Shepherd’s Heart has several good chapters on what he calls the “teeth of the wolves.” These are the ways in which Satan is generally attacking the church today. He lists five main attacks: secularism, materialism, relativism, pragmatism, and feminism (p. 49). I’d like to do a few blog posts on these “teeth.” It is crucial for us to recognize these enemies and not only be on guard ourselves, but also guard our flocks from these teeth.

So the first one is secularism. Sittema’s definition is quite excellent: “There is a timed-ness to God’s creation; and according to God’s own assessment, it is good! (par. break, LK) But when that timed-ness of creation, when the here and now of our creatureliness, gobbles up any sense of our eternity and occupies all of man’s heart and mind and attention, you have secularism” (p. 50). The upshot of it is that “Only if religion has value for the here and now is it of any real significance” (ibid.). The consequences for people’s thinking are several-fold: 1. instant gratification; 2. dualistic dichotomy (rather than a simple distinction) between secular and sacred, 3. obsession with relevance (pp. 51-52).

Sittema offers three suggestions for how to fight this enemy: 1. Point out the enemy of instant gratification (self-delusion and blindness are often key characteristics of secularism), 2. Teach the principles of biblical stewardship (especially equip the deacons to do this). 3. Ask people whether they have this rigid divide between secular and sacred, rather than a simple distinction. And a few more suggestions I would add: teach people the principle of pilgrimage. Noting the etymological connection of “secularism” to “this worldliness” or “this aged-ness,” I would strongly suggest pointing out the blessedness of the new heavens and the new earth, since this world is not our home. We are looking for a better country. Now, obviously, we should take care of this world as good stewards of what God has entrusted to us. Nevertheless, we are pilgrims, and that should color everything, and give us an eschatological perspective on life.