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I am a 1967 graduate of The Citadel (Distinguished Military Student, member of the Economic Honor Society, Dean's List), a 1975 graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (M.Div., magna cum laude, member of the Phi Alpha Chi academic honor society); I attended the Free University of Amsterdam and completed my History of Dogma there and then received a full scholarship from the Dutch government to transfer to the sister school in Kampen, Holland. In 1979 I graduated from the Theological Seminary of the Reformed Churches of Holland (Drs. with honors in Ethics). My New Testament minor was completed with Herman Ridderbos. I am also a 2001 Ph.D. graduate of Westminster Theological Seminary (Systematic Theology) in Philly with a dissertation on the "unio mystica" in the theology of Dr. Herman Bavinck (1854-1921). I am a former tank commander, and instructor in the US Army Armor School at Ft. Knox, KY. I have been happily married to my childhood sweetheart and best friend, Sally, for 43 years. We have 6 children, one of whom is with the Lord, and 14 wonderful grandchildren.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Christian Feminism? (XIII)

A Rose by Any Other Name

In our last issue I promised that I would spend some time in this installment unpacking and discussing some of the statements by Rev. Sam Downing, a PCA pastor in Denver, CO. We have been discussing his paper, “The PCA and Gospel Ministry in an Urban, Egalitarian Environment: Toward a Theologically Accurate, Culturally Appropriate Apologetic.” In addition, last time I brought in some statements—used by permission—from last year’s Moderator of the PCA General Assembly, Dominic Aquila, who is in Rev. Downing’s Presbytery.

There are a couple of statements that I want to examine in light of what Rev. Downing has asserted to ascertain if they can be verified and can stand the test of scrutiny. In the last issue I quoted from Rev. Downing’s paper and want to come back to his—to my mind unguarded—statement. Regarding the women at City Presbyterian Church in Denver Rev. Downing informs us that they “are allowed to use their gifts in a number of ways, all of which are both biblical and permissible according to the PCA BCO, such as: reading scripture, offering prayers, assisting with ushering during worship service, helping teach adult Sunday School, leading Community Groups (small groups that meet during the week), serving on the Finance Team (which oversees the church budget), and assisting the pastoral staff in ministering to women in the congregation. In other words, unless a woman were to feel strongly called by God to be ordained as an elder (and the vast majority do not) she will not be denied a meaningful opportunity to use her gifts in the life of our church.” (Ibid., 2-3. Emphases mine.)

In a footnote (number 4 to be precise), Rev. Downing asserts the following: “Allowing women to assist in public worship is a commonly accepted practice throughout the PCA.” (Emphasis mine.)

What Does the PCA Allow and Disallow?

It’s one thing to describe what occurs in a local church and it’s quite another thing to submit that what transpires in say, City Presbyterian in Denver, is normative for the entire PCA. So when Rev. Downing gives us the litany of what is commonplace in the PCA I’m hoping that he does not expect us merely to take him at his word. For example, in the PCA Book of Church Order (BCO), 50-1 we read the following: “The public reading of the Holy Scriptures is performed by the minister as God’s servant.” Those looking for loopholes will cite 50-2, which appears to be contradictory: “The reading of the Holy Scriptures in the congregation is part of the public worship of God and should be done by the minister or some other person.” A woman seeking a “meaningful opportunity” thus qualifies as “some other person” it is suggested.

Those interested in comparisons can turn to Q/A 156 of the Westminster Larger Catechism where we read, Is the Word of God to be read by all? A. Although all are not to be permitted to read the Word publicly to the congregation, yet all sorts of people are bound to read it apart by themselves, and with their families: to which end, the Holy Scriptures are to be translated out of the original into common languages.” It would be a tough sell and a groin-pulling stretch to submit that the Westminster divines would have concluded that it was just fine for a woman to read Scripture in the worship service as takes place in some PCA churches and church plants today.

Some Illustrations

When we turn to Scripture, we do not find a single incidence of a woman reading Scripture during worship. In fact, we find just the opposite. This needs to be explained to the egalitarian cultured despisers and PCA pastors and church planters need to have the fortitude and wisdom to explain this effectively and resolutely. Allow me to explain what I mean through a few illustrations. Aesop has a fable about the Lion and the Woodsman. I want to use this because I believe it is pertinent to the PCA not merely in the case of the unbiblical use of women in our worship services and other places, but also as it applies to allowing something like the Federal Vision to go unchecked. Here’s the fable:

A lion was very much in love with a woodsman’s daughter (remember folks: it’s a fable!). The fair maid referred him to her father and the lion applied for the girl. The father replied: “Your teeth are too long.” So the lion went to a dentist and had them extracted (clearly he was in the country illegally because all the other lions couldn’t have afforded such a procedure!). Returning, he asked for his bride. “No,” said the woodsman, “your claws are too long.” Going back to a doctor he had his claws removed. Then he returned to claim his bride, and the woodsman, seeing that the lion had neither teeth nor claws, beat out his brains.

The moral of the story: remove enough of the things that protect you and you are easy prey for anything and everything. Another illustration closely related to this “moral” is taken from military history. There was a Roman general whose name was Fabius Cunctator—Fabius the Delayer. When a Carthaginian army under Hannibal invaded Italy in the third century B.C., Fabius worried that Rome’s entire army might be decimated in a frontal attack against a formidable foe like Hannibal. So Fabius began to wage a kind of guerilla warfare, picking away at the fringes of Hannibal’s army, wearing him out with small attacks and raids and avoiding direct confrontation. Fabius’ strategy saved Rome—for the time being. The “Fabian Society” that was founded in England in 1884 defeated capitalism in that country by introducing socialist “reforms” that, taken by themselves, seemed insignificant and inconsequential, but in the long haul proved to be the undoing of capitalism in Britain. The efforts of the “Fabians” led to the Labour Party in England

My final example is multifaceted. It is an appeal to both the younger and older men in the PCA to “man up” and to stop acting according to the tenets of the “chickification” of our modern culture whereby men are pleased to be wussified metro-sexuals. The Boston Globe carried an article on June 6th entitled “Graying duo keep passenger in check.” On a Northwest Airlines flight (# 720) from Minneapolis to Boston an unruly passenger frightened most of the 150 other passengers aboard—most. Bob Hayden, a 65-year-old former police commander was unimpressed with the antics and intimidation tactics of the unruly passenger and his cohort. He arranged a signal with a flight attendant to wave the plastic handcuffs the airliner carried for emergencies when she had them. Sitting next to Hayden was another gray-haired gentleman. Hayden told the AP, “I had looked around the plane for help, and all the younger guys had averted their eyes. When I asked the guy next to me if he was up to it, all he said was, “Retired captain. USMC.’ I said, “You’ll do.” The two grandfathers subdued both rowdy passengers and stood guard over them until the plane safely landed at Logan Airport and the two unruly passengers were arrested and taken off the plane.

An interesting twist to the story is that Hayden’s wife of 42 years sat calmly reading a book throughout the entire episode. When asked why she continued quietly to read during the episode, she said that she knew what her husband was like and that he knew how to handle this type of situation. She commented, “I figured he would go up there and step on somebody’s neck, and that would be the end of it. I knew how the situation would end. I didn’t know how the book would end.” Classic! Two guys getting the job done while the rest sat timidly by watching.

Finally this: I’m not a big movie buff, but do you remember Jurassic Park? There’s a scene where the survivors are barricaded in a building while the dinosaurs rape, pillage, and plunder outside. In the course of the scene it becomes evident that somebody has to go out to another building to throw the circuit-breaker in order to restore electricity. The Laura Dern character volunteers. The old dude—the billionaire, whose name escapes me—offers to go instead. Here’s the way the scene plays out: the Laura Dern character asks, “Why?” He replies, “Well, I’m a…and you’re a…” He’s so much of an egalitarian that he cannot bring himself to utter the words man and woman. Thank you, Mr. Spielberg. Xena rushes out into the danger after she rolls her eyes and says, “Look, we can discuss the sexism in survival situations when I get back.” Richard Poe comments, “With that, she shoulders a rifle and troops out of the door to face what seems certain death. And the man lets her go.”[1]

Rather than giving women—any woman—what she or I might perceive to be a “meaningful opportunity”—I mean, really, what in the world is that phrase other than some saccharine, quasi-effeminate, quasi-caring, and quasi-intellectual bunch of gobbledygook? That phrase can be twisted, spun, and skewed to mean almost anything anyone wants it to mean. Why not give the women—any woman—the unvarnished truth of what the Word of God says?

You see, folks, where Rev. Downing is headed with all this is the hiring by City Presbyterian of Sara Bartley in November of 2004 as Minister of Church Life. Rev. Downing attempts to bolster his argument by pointing out that Sara is one of the first women to graduate from Covenant Theological Seminary (the official seminar of the PCA, Downing adds) with a Master of Divinity degree. What precisely are her duties? “Her areas of responsibility include not only women’s & children’s ministry but also assimilation, discipleship, outreach/mercy ministry and teaching. Sara’s arrival greatly assured many of the women (and men) in our congregation who were egalitarian and seeking evidence that women’s gifts and calling were indeed going to be taken seriously within our church.” Really? Is City Presbyterian really that shallow and prejudiced? It would seem reasonable that if the existing church leadership sat down with the congregation and conveyed to them that even without a female Minister of Church Life that women would be honored and respected in a biblical fashion that that would suffice, but that’s probably just me.

In our earlier quotation, Rev. Downing has taken absolutely no time to elucidate where he finds biblical warrant for a woman to read Scripture in the worship service or for her to pray. Where are the church leaders? Why aren’t they doing it? When Rev. Downing speaks of “helping teach adult Sunday School” does this entail giving authoritative instruction to men? The same applies to “leading Community Groups.” Moreover, when Rev. Downing declares that allowing women to assist in public worship is a common practice, I, for one, would like very much to see some hard facts. I do believe that certain churches and church plants do according to a particular “model” would accept that type of thing, but then to extrapolate that into a common practice seems to beg for some statistics.

I will return to this, Lord willing, after our General Assembly in Memphis, TN. For the time being I’ll simply say that the whole discussion is tedious and so 1970s. I’ve been through this drill before; I’ve heard the arguments and the proposed nuances. My mind wasn’t changed in the 1970s and it remains unchanged to this day. Having said that, let me hasten to add that I have been married to an awesome, highly gifted woman for almost forty years, am privileged to know quite a few wonderful women, and have been given a congregation that contains some of the most gifted and intelligent women I’ve ever met in my life—except for the blondes, of course. What strikes me about my wife and these gifted women is that they are godly women. That is their goal in life. From Scripture they are more than aware that they are equally created in the image of God and they also know that there are role differences and distinctions that are God-ordained; God-given. As godly women they accept this as given to them from the hands of their sovereign, loving covenant God. It really is that simple.


[1] Richard Poe, “The End of Manhood, in The Seven Myths of Gun Control, (Roseville, CA: Forum, 2001), p. 206.

9 Comments:

Blogger Morris Brooks said...

Ron,

I have greatly appreciated your series and your gentle forthrightness. Incrementalism is killing the church, not just in the area of women in minstry, but in seemingly every area. Pastors and church leaders need to get their lines drawn in the sand and stick to them. In an age where every thing is negotiable because everything is viewed subjectively we need to stand on the non-negotiables of the truth of the Word.

7:55 AM  
Blogger gullchasedship said...

I can tell by your comment on blondes where you're coming from.

11:39 AM  
Blogger Pastor St. John said...

Loved the airplane story!

11:55 AM  
Blogger Rattlesnake6 said...

Gullchasedship,
My wife's a blonde! Next week she hopes to get her IQ into double digits! It was a joke.

4:42 PM  
Blogger Deb said...

My family and I visited City Church while looking for a new church home about two years ago. We were sorely disappointed and never went back. Traditional liturgy was used, but usually preceeded with an "apology" of sorts. The place was too hip for our tastes. You are greeted by bagels and bottled water when entering, Pastor Downing sports an earring, and the music is provided by a loud jazz group (albeit a good one). I kept thinking someone was going to come by and take my drink order.

The message was very elementary. The couple next to us raved about the church and had been there for three years. Although, now that I think of it, I think it was actually the wife who picked out the church and did all the raving. Which, of course, goes right along with your chickification theory!

Keep up the good work.

9:55 PM  
Blogger Rattlesnake6 said...

Deb,
Thank you so much for your insightful comments. It is quite instructive to hear from someone who has actually been there. If you will permit me, I'd like to get your permission to use part of your comments in a future Ethos. If you say No then, of course, I won't. Where did you and your husband finally end up? Thanks for dropping by.

7:02 AM  
Blogger Deb said...

Ron,

Yes, you may use my comments. To be fair, please include that we only visited once. We got no indication that the Sunday we visited was out of the ordinary, and we found it so repugnant that we had no desire to investigate any further (i.e., visit again).

The PCA church close to us didn't suit us either. I described it as lacking a soul. There were certain criteria we wanted to continue from our previous PCA church: weekly communion with wine where children are allowed to partake, a liturgy-rich service with a high view of worship, and the singing of real hymns. Good teaching was desired, but we doubted we'd find that, too. After searching for a year, we ended up at a local Anglican church. (AKA Episcopal church, she says, cringing...I hate to say that in reformed circles.) Initially, we never considered darkening its doorway, but we heard that it was sort of a renegade church. It's entering stormy seas versus the US Episcopal church at large, and we're sticking around to stand up for the truth.

8:14 AM  
Blogger Mrs Scharpen said...

Ron.

As a former City Pres member, I'm glad you can see what is happening there in it's true light. They have a flashy package but there is a wolf ready to devour those that enter it's doors.

8:57 AM  
Blogger Gene said...

This is a email I sent to Sam Downing, who now is RCA. Typical.
Sam,


I am VERY disappointed to see that you have fallen into the theological trap of Evangelical Feminism. Even a blind man who takes the Bible seriously can understand I Tim. 2:12-15, I Tim. and Titus 1 makes very clear that only men are to be in spiritual authority over churches. I say "It figures" because I am NOT surprised that you are just one of my former classmates that fell for the crap those in leadership "preached" when they justified granting the M.Div. for women at Covenant and then pretending it was "not for ordination". All I can say is that your position on this issue makes me nauseous and makes me all the more thankful we left at the end of the semester they announced the new "policy". Just like the people at Covenant who started the M.Div. for women made me nauseous so much so we had to leave, while I made a stink about it. I find it sad that probably few students left in disgust, but was happy to hear George Knight and Bob Reymond left and went to Knox, partly because they would not "go along" with the drivel of those who perpetuate these false doctrines.


Brian Chapell assigned to our class to preach on 2 Timothy 4:3, I find it funny in a pathetic sort of way that you have become one of those "ear ticklers".


In Christ,

Gene Douglass

5:31 PM  

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