Christianity: Doctrine and Ethics

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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.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

What Is Certainty? (II)

Certainty: Scientific, Theological, and Practical

We are investigating Herman Bavinck’s work The Certainty of Faith (De zekerheid des geloofs). In the first foray into Bavinck’s explanation we noted that he concentrated on the rights of faith and the ground of biblical certainty that was prevalent in his time (1854-1921). Postmodernism and the Emergent church movement have thrust the question of certainty back into the foreground. Emergent church writers and leaders teach what I’ll call “selective certainty.” One example will suffice. In 2005, Zondervan released a book by Rob Bell entitled Velvet Elvis. For 176 pages, Bell regales us with how certainty is overrated and that the Christian Church needs to stop being so dogmatic (contrary to conventional wisdom, dogmatics is not an automatic transmission on a dog) and admit that we don’t have all the various loci of theology nailed down or in a hermetic container on a shelf somewhere. That is very helpful.

Anyway, at the end of this “journey” (There are actually pages in the very back of the book for notes. That’s phunny. What kinds of uncertain notes would you want to write?) we are told something quite incongruous. Bell has been telling us to avoid arrogant and impious certainty and then, at the very end of his book, he destroys everything he’s said. He tells us that his way is “better.” (p. 177.) This begs the question: How does Bell know? Is he completely certain that it’s better? But there is more. The last sentence undoes Bell’s entire thesis in the book. His editors must have been asleep at the switch or were merely thankful that they had arrived at the end. With certainty, Bell ends his book with these words: “It’s what Jesus had in mind.” (Ibid.) Really? How does Bell know? Is he sure; certain? Just as Bell and his wife still have the Bible as the center of their lives—it is, according to them, just a different kind of center now. Get it?—they apparently have a different kind of certainty as well. Okay.

It’s truly refreshing to read someone who doesn’t play silly games with you. In the PCA we are dealing with playing games on an increasing basis these days. You hear things like, “Oh, I hold to the Westminster Standards, I just don’t believe…” Fill in the rest. Or, “I believe that the Standards are true, but…” Same drill. Because Bavinck is so straightforwardly and unashamedly Reformed, it makes him a delight and joy to read. He’s refreshing in a very honest way. So when he asks in his second chapter on the certainty of faith: “What is Certainty?” He’s not going to spin it and he’s actually going to answer the question he raised. I look forward to what he’s going to say. In terms of his intellectual prowess, Bavinck is unsurpassed. His grasp of theology and the history of theology are masterful, to say the least. As he walks you through the various loci of theology, he invites you to a veritable feast. He plumbs the depths of a subject and then lays it out so that we can all understand it. Bavinck was a scholar, theologian, pastor, and churchman. This combination provides the reader with a Reformed theology that is unsurpassed and with a man who can be trusted not to play games with you.

He opens the second chapter of his little work in the following manner: “The question regarding certainty of faith is not only of scientific, theological but also of practical, religious importance.”[1] In other words, the whole notion of the certainty of faith is not mental gymnastics for the technical theologian, but it is of primary importance to the man and woman in the pew as well.[2] Bavinck believed that all dogmatics was to be done in service to the Church of Jesus Christ. He was not trying to draw crowds or impress people, although he ended up doing both. Bavinck’s aim, rather, was to be faithful to Scripture in all things. As brilliant as he was—and he was brilliant—he remained a servant of the Word of God. Scripture says it all and was sufficient for him. Unlike some of the mega-church and most of the Emergent church movement folks, Bavinck was not ashamed of what Bible said on any given topic. We might not like it, it might cut against the grain of what we believe, like, or want to believe, and it might upset our preconceived notions of who God is and what his nature and characteristics are, but for Bavinck Scripture was completely sufficient and the final court of appeal for things Christian; for things spiritual. Therefore, for him, certainty of faith “is not just a theoretical, academic issue but preeminently one of life and practice.”[3]

So, for example, when McLaren, Osteen, Shuller, Hybels, Bell, Miller, Pagitt, McManus, Burke, and others play footloose and fancy free with the issues of hell, homosexuality, the atonement of Christ, the Second Coming, and universalism, just to mention a few, they may appear cute to some, but for the serious student of the Bible these folks are playing games with the Christian life and its practice. What is worse is that once a person has invested a decade of his or her life in something like the mega-church or Emergent church movements, it’s next to impossible to admit that he was wrong and to walk away from it. Not only has the damage been done, but it will continue to perpetuate itself. So while the non-leader leaders lead the adherents farther down the lane of pseudo-intellectualism and pseudo-church, the members become the proverbial lambs are being led to the slaughter.

I’ll give just one example of what I mean. Jim Wallis wrote a book entitled God’s Politics and McLaren’s latest work Everything Must Change. Both claim to tackle the problem of poverty, yet neither offers either any practical or biblical solutions to the problem. The books are merely utopia-esque words that signify nothing. They offer no real solutions to any real problems. It’s the stuff that will enthrall college students, as I recently observed while in Grand Rapids, MI and men my age with ponytails, but the proposals in those books cannot and will not change anything, ever.

Both the mega-church as well as the Emergent church movements took root in a time of relative prosperity. Bigger is better was the motto for the mega-church crowd. Pastors threw off the robe and opted for tailor made suits, large, opulent, and ornate places to meet. The praise songs and praise bands dethroned “traditional” worship and slice-of-life drama supplanted serious preaching. In fact, the proclamation of the Word of God was relegated to a relatively insignificant part of the entertainment process. Meaty sermons became a relic from the past.

The advent of the Emergent church movement was merely a continuation of the consumerism of the mega-church. To parody Rob Bell, it was simply a different kind of consumerism. In place of the tailor made suits, Birkenstocks and earth tones sufficed. The large gathering gave way to the smaller, more intimate, everybody sit in a circle so there’s no apparent leader mentality. Certainty—what was left of it after the mega-church crowd ran it through the grinder—was passé and candles and prayer labyrinths were the accoutrements du jour. Grab a coffee, designer water, or a beer and let’s create a new way of “doing church” was the prevailing attitude.

Both of these movements suffered from a lack of true biblical spirituality. Bavinck cites a writer who opined, “Happiness leads to paganism, but suffering lead us to Christ.”[4] We have certainly seen the phenomenon Bavinck describes in what is now broadly termed evangelicalism, haven’t we? The “happiness” of many evangelicals was simply being able to live and act like a pagan, while claiming to be a Christian. It meant not being a good steward with our money and living beyond our means. It meant tacitly supporting the abortion industry by voting for a presidential candidate who had a 100% approval rating from Planned Parenthood. It meant believing that global warming and global poverty were somehow more important that human life. Evangelicals were happy, but now the house of cards is tumbling down in terms of true, biblical spirituality and certainty in faith. But then again, if everyone is saved, who needs certainty anyway?

Bavinck expresses what I’m talking about this way: “When the drunken stupor in which we often live wears off, when the happy glow dulls and the conscience awakens, when we are overcome by the mystery of life or the pain of suffering, then we all become conscious of death and the grave, of judgment and eternity. Then no one can maintain indifference or hid behind the shield of neutrality.”[5] We can talk a good game about not being certain about anything, but Bavinck is correct that when people face eternal destinies up close and personal, all the silly theorizing leaves the building.

Apart from the fact that the Bible is so crystal clear on the believer’s certainty, what would be the pastoral value of telling a member of your congregation who is dying from cancer that no one can be certain about where we’ll spend eternity or even if there is an eternity? Go back in time with me to the book of Job. Job lost everything. My wife and I know what it’s like to have to return a child to the Lord much earlier than expected. It’s tough, but Job lost 10 children! His cattle and livestock: all gone! Mrs. Job was no help; in fact, she acted like a pagan. And his friends were the poster boys for “with friends like this, you don’t need enemies.” Yet, what did this man of God say? In 19:25, he says, “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth.”

What today is worn as a badge regarding spiritual certainty is a sham. The leaders and adherents may claim that they neither want nor need certainty, but in the daily living of life, certainty is essential, indispensable. Even old Bri and Rob Bell avoid certain types of mushrooms. They are certain they don’t want to eat the poison ones. I’ll bet they even stop a red lights. When push comes to shove and in the face of death, we will all get pretty “religious” and be crying out for some certainty. Right now, it’s global warming, global poverty, and hugging Mother Earth. Leisure, cool, hip, relevant topics. We can debate whether we can really know anything over a designer coffee and argue certainty in the hallowed halls or academia, but when our shield of perceived indestructibility is down, we want to know that our Redeemer lives.

[1] Herman Bavinck, The Certainty of Faith, (Harry der Nederlanden [trans.]), (St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada: Paideia Press, 1980), p. 11.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid. Emphasis added.


Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Gleason Family Christmas Letter

Dear Friends & Family,

It is that time of the year when you make up as many lies as you can about your family, telling the world how great you are. Being completely disingenuous at least once a year assuages the conscience. So here goes!

This past year was a good one in the Gleason household! We’ll start with Sally (a.k.a Sister Sarah) who is in green and sitting in the chair at the right of the photograph. Right next to her is Jennifer, wife of Ronnie. She’s from Canada and isn’t used to electricity. Earlier that day, she stuck a paper clip into an electrical socket which explains why her hair is so curly. She’s a good sport. (She’d have to be to put up with this family for over twenty years!) Anyway, Sally has had a very eventful year. She continues to serve on the PCA National Board for Women in the Church. In both March and May, Sally spoke at women’s conferences. One of them was in Oahu, Hawaii, so Nicky, Janneke, and I decided to tag along to keep her company. We had a great time meeting Christians in Hawaii and enjoying the beauty that enveloped us there. Sally cares for my mom and Janneke, makes sure our family stays close and connected, keeps our home, and opens it up to others, befriends and mentors many young women in our church, teaches Bible studies, and makes me a happy man. After years of threats, she has finally embarked on writing a book on marriage. I still love our Fridays at the beach together. She remains the joy of my life and my best critic.

Ron II is at the back left and not at the side of his beloved Jennifer which is normally where he is whenever she is around. Their four children are practically grown up—Laura (20), Avery (19), Cailen (17), and Cole (16). Except for Avery who is wearing a blue sweater and sitting on the floor, they are all sitting to the left of Sally on the couch. Ron is part owner and CEO of a large vegetable farm in Bradford, Ontario, Canada. Though there are certainly challenges in farming, Ron is doing an excellent job. He is also a wise family leader. They are all thriving spiritually and are very active in their church. Jennifer loves books and learning. She is a gracious hostess and organized homemaker. Laura, who attends Providence College here in California, lives with us during the school year. Avery’s interested in writing poetry and creative writing. Cailen enjoys Irish dancing and Cole loves to write music.

Geoff (back row next to the lamp) and Lisa (back row in white sweatshirt) and their eight children (just about everyone in the photo I haven’t mentioned yet!) will be moving to Jackson, Mississippi for Geoff to study at Reformed Theological Seminary in 2009. Geoff observed my life for a few years and decided the working one hour a week thing wasn’t a bad gig. Their children are Rachel (glasses, second row), Laken (orange shirt, second row), Naya (already asleep), Sawyer (front row, blue shark shirt), Noel (front row, yellow shirt), Marin (sleeping), Emma (with Lisa), and Charlotte (sleeping). In whatever spare time they can find, Lisa and Geoff teach “Growing Kids God’s Way”, a Bible-based parenting course. They have an amazing family! Lisa home schools them all and they both are dedicated parents who work together to teach and train their children well. God has blessed their labors! Until they move, Geoff will continue to work as a graphic designer for Duca Credit Union in Toronto.

Janneke (in front of Sally) turned 31 this year and still lives at home with us. She works for Real Challenges and FedEx. She loves everything she does, especially getting pay checks. Janneke has a steady nature and an upbeat attitude, but who wouldn’t with a social calendar like she has! Every Tuesday she has Bible study in downtown Orange and Saturday mornings she goes bowling. Shopping is her favorite activity and her favorite thing to buy is markers. She loves church and her Sunday school teachers, Mr. Randall and Mrs. Olson. She is joyful in worship and her enthusiasm for singing gets even the “frozen chosen” revved up! She is a faithful prayer warrior.

Nicky (back row, red shirt) continues working as a paralegal for Klein and Wilson, a law firm in Newport Beach, California. She has a very demanding job, but is really good at it. Her mom keeps bugging the Nickster to make time for her singing. Nicky sang Panis Angelicus at Hans’ and Blanca’s wedding and was magnificent! She bought a bike that she rides back and forth to work for exercise, has her own apartment in Costa Mesa, loves to cook, and is active in many ways at Grace. She is still looking for Mr. Right and when he comes along, he will find a woman who has her act together. She visits us on Sundays and calls in between, mostly to have some girl chat with Sally in the mornings.

Hans (front row, baseball cap) and Blanca (next to Hans. Where else?) are the new item. It’s great to have another “Mrs. Gleason” in the family! This photograph was taken the day after their wedding. The next morning they left for a honeymoon week on Oahu. They are decorating their apartment and adjusting well to married life. Sally and I rejoice with them! Hans continues to enjoy his work as a police officer and is seriously working on becoming a strong spiritual leader in his home. Blanca has a new job and is learning to cook. That girl can fix a great lamb dinner! There is lots of laughter and life in that home!

My mom (not pictured) lives in Fullerton in a very nice assisted living facility. She turned 84 this year, is still in reasonably good health, and her mind is still quite quick. She still misses her friends back on Oak Island, NC, where she and dad lived for 15 years. But it’s good she is nearby where we can better help her.

Let me describe a few more folks in the picture. Aunt Bobbe (sitting near Hans on the left side) lives in Palos Verdes Estates. She is the only sister of Sally’s mom. She was with us for the wedding and took on her usual role of being the life of the party!

Bill and Amy Sullivan (back row, next to Geoff) and their daughter, Sarah (second row, black shirt, long red hair) also came to the wedding. Bill, like me, is fondly called an “outlaw” by the Yopp clan. He works in occupational therapy and Amy is a professor of dance at New York State University (Stony Brook) on Long Island.

Our dear Canadian friends, Chuck and Claudia Loopstra (to the right of Lisa) flew in from Toronto for the wedding, too. Chuck is a lawyer so he billed me for the hours of flying time (that’s a joke!). We had some time to catch up with each other and enjoy their company. We usually have a chance to see them at least once a year and it’s always a treat. They are wonderful friends.

Another set of dear friends with us, but not pictured are Rick and Jesse Hudson. Yes, it takes two of them to take the picture. Rick is a former-Marine. Maybe that explains why? We met Rick and Jesse at Fort Knox about two weeks after our marriage. God has kept us in touch and now we live near enough to each other to see them regularly. It has been so great to spend over forty years being friends with Jesse and Rick.

This year has been a good one for me. In addition to my pastoral work, I have been writing books. The first entitled Reforming or Conforming? co-edited with Gary Johnson was released by Crossway in September. Another on a Christian view of capital punishment will be released in January 2009. A sequel volume on the Christian and the Second Amendment will follow that volume sometime later in the year. Finally, I hope to complete my biography of Herman Bavinck, which will be published by Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co. sometime in 2009. I am particularly excited about that work because of my long term interest in Herman Bavinck and all I have learned from his writings. I will also be teaming up with Gary again to co-edit a Festschrift for David Wells that will be published by Crossway and is scheduled for 2009.

This coming year will be my fourteenth year at Grace Presbyterian Church in Yorba Linda. The time has flown! I must say that I have never been more blessed in ministry in my entire life. Recently a friend of mine commented to me that he was amazed at the talent and spiritual maturity present in this relatively small church of 200 members. Indeed, God has richly blessed this place through his people. I count it all joy to minister here! We have learned to mourn with those who mourn and rejoice with those who rejoice. The Lord continues to bless us with new faces and new lessons in life. We thank our God that our church building escaped the fires in Yorba Linda. The flames came within 200 feet of the front and back doors.

In closing, I need to remember one more family member, our German Shepherd, Hosanna. OK, I love my dog! Since I’m her Alpha, I just couldn’t sign off without telling you how much she is a part of the fun and joy in our family. Hosie turns 6 in January.

From our family to yours, we wish you the most blessed Christmas and a very happy New Year. May our Lord continue to go before you. It is my prayer that 2009 will be a year in which we all grow nearer to the Lord and deepen our understanding of the greatness of our God and the truth of His Word.


Ron and Sally and the Whole Gleason Clan


Thursday, December 18, 2008

Engaging the What?

Revelation and Culture

In the academic year 1908/1909, Dr. Herman Bavinck delivered the L. P. Stone Lectures at Princeton.[1] Of the eight lectures, only six were actually delivered. The English translation was performed by Bavinck’s lifelong friend, Geerhardus Vos, as well as Henry Dosker and Nicholas Steffens. For the next while, I want us to investigate Bavinck’s undelivered lecture, “Revelation and Culture,” especially in light of the fact that there is a renewed interest in culture in our time and that many evangelical and Reformed churches are greatly concerned about “engaging the culture,” to use the modern phrase.

It is not illegitimate to ask about and seek to engage “the culture,” but what seems to be missing from these discussions is the laying of a solid foundation so that all parties understand—fully—what we mean when we say “the culture” and precisely how we go about “engaging” it. The current discussion leaves too many questions unasked and therefore suffers from lack of clarity and precision. Let’s put it in the realm of Presbyterian and Reformed theology. If we engage the culture, what are acceptable and unacceptable areas of compromise? When we engage the culture, what are the most important presuppositions to mention first? How far, if at all, can we cooperate with Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Mormons, and Muslims in engaging the culture? If we join with these groups how do we make it clear that we do not embrace their theology? To what extent should we make our Christian worldview (i.e., our views of God, man, society, truth, knowledge, and ethics) known from the outset if we decide to engage the culture? Do we need any particular expertise if we engage the culture? What about military chaplains? If a Christian chaplain is commanded to lead a Mormon or Muslim service, must he do it?

In the past, I have had numerous conversations with laymen and –women, pastors, and seminary professors about culture and have encountered vagaries, generalities, and confusion. Most need to rethink or think about for the first time what culture actually is. We often use the word as if we’re all on the same page or that we all understand what we mean when we use the term. We aren’t and we don’t. Many within the Reformed camp have not yet read Kuyper’s lectures on Calvinism (currently published under the name Christianity: A Total World and Life System). Not that Kuyper is the end-all and be-all of cultural engagement, but he does supply us with a good leg up on what engaging the culture might entail.

The books published on culture are legion—for they are many. Reinhold Niebuhr published Moral Man and Immoral Society in 1932. In 1979, the Theologischer Verlag in Zürich, Switzerland reissued Emil Brunner’s Christentum und Kultur. H. Richard Niebuhr’s Christ and Culture (1951) remains a seminal work on the relationship of Christ and Christians to culture. The late professor of Art History at the Free University of Amsterdam, Hans Rookmaaker’s Modern Art and the Death of a Culture is a fascinating read. (I got to know Rookmaaker when I studied at the Free. He was one of the Dutch experts on art and the history of art.) Almost anything written by Francis Schaeffer was his attempt to understand and engage culture. Ken Myers’ All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes. Christians and Popular Culture, remains a very worthwhile read. Most recently, D.A. Carson released his volume Christ & Culture Revisited (2008). Indeed, it is fruitful to revisit such a convoluted issue. Another work that is very valuable, but has not been translated into English is Klaas Schilder’s Dutch treatment in Christus en Cultuur. And with these books I’ve merely scratched the surface. I mentioned these particular works, however, because they put more ground under our feet than a great deal of what passes for culture.

For example, there is a magazine that is not an official publication of the PCA called byFaith. Quite often—almost every issue—there is a report of another PCA church plant that started up and prior to the service (or afterwards) there was an art exhibit, a jazz or classical quartet, brie cheese, and chardonnay for the initiates of finer culture. But is this actually engaging culture? There is a movement afoot today for Christians to be more involved in culture and cultural activities. I applaud that initiative and hope and pray that more Christians will become truly involved with “the arts.” I have a proviso, though. As Christians engage in “the arts” they will not jettison, compromise, or neglect good theology in the process.

I issue that warning because a real danger exists in this area. Once Christians begin “engaging the culture” there is a clear and present danger to compromise their faith at all levels. What lengths should a Christian actor or actress be willing to go to land a part in a movie? Should they be willing to perform scenes involving nudity or sexuality? How about swearing or taking the Lord’s Name in vain? What or who determines what good art is? Do you have to like opera to engage the culture? What if you cannot stand atonality? Are you a bigot or just uneducated—or both? What if you think movies generally are a waste of time, but go occasionally? Are you then a cultural Philistine or wise? What if you’ve never watched an episode of the most popular TV programs, have never seen, or care to see, American Idol, Oprah, Dr. Phil, or any “reality” show? In the realm of literature, do you have to read novels in order to engage the culture and be culturally hip? How do I, how does someone like Nancy Pelosi engage the auto industry? How politically savvy do I have to be in order to engage the culture at that level? Understand that I have not even begun to scratch the surface of questions that need to be asked and answered in a solid biblical fashion. We all live in culture, but to what degree ought we to engage it as Christians?

The late Dr. Klaas Schilder starts us in the right direction when he declares, “The problem of the relation between Christ and the culture immediately touches the foundational question of Christian thinking and behavior.”[2] Schilder was one of Bavinck’s students. He touches on the crux of the matter that has not yet come out of the woodwork in our current discussions regarding culture. Have we first asked the foundational questions based on Christian thinking and behavior? Some have; most haven’t. Schilder also reminds us that there is no undisputed definition of culture. Theists and pantheists are one-hundred-eighty degrees out of phase with one another with their respective definitions of culture. Christian theists are at odds with non-Christian theists on many points. Strict two kingdom Lutherans have disagreements with Calvinists about the nature of culture.[3]

Among the philosophers, Plato and Aristotle disagreed as did Spinoza and Descartes, Kant and Fichte, and Schleiermacher and Schlegel. In writing this series of articles, I’m not saying that Bavinck has the last word on the subject, but I am saying that we will do well to listen to a man such as Bavinck, who reflected long and hard God’s revelation to man and culture.

At the outset of the chapter “Revelation and Culture,” Bavinck outlines the situation historically. He writes, “When Christianity entered the world, it was immediately called on to face a difficult problem. Christianity, which is based on revelation, appeared in a world which had long existed and led its own life.”[4] The problem of autonomy remains today and vigorously refuses to be tamed. Secularists scream about Christians ramming their values down their throats and the reaction of some members of our culture to the rule of law is evident in the recent outbursts and threatened lawsuits in the Proposition 8 measure in California. In this sense, what Christianity initially experienced has not greatly changed in our time. The problem is still, although somewhat altered, pretty much the same. One of the changes, however, is that far too many Christians are not sure what the Bible says on any given issue or how to apply what Scripture says to the postmodern world in which we live. Since many Christians aren’t certain what the Bible says and a representative number of them believe truth is relative, these Christians are somewhat different from their early Church forebears. The other problem, however, which is autonomy, is the constant in the equation.

Of course, orthodox Christians take the reality of sin into account whereas many modern Christians from either the mega-church or Emergent church movements deal with leaders who refuse to use the word sin for fear it will “turn off” the “seeker.” McLaren despises the word sin, Osteen promises not to use it as does Schuller. (The young Schuller might use it of his father now that dad has fired him.) Hybels knew that if he used it, unchurched Harry and Harriet would walk out. So we have more than one generation of evangelical who must ask the question: Saved from what?

When you combine this with the fact that secularists now have a longer existence and have led their own life since the beginning of the New Testament Church, is it any wonder that our culture is hurting? The world has done more than establish a beachhead. In Thomas Sowell’s words, the barbarians are inside the gates. Life inside the gates is described by Bavinck this way: “A society had been formed which was full of intricate interests.”[5] Indeed. The territory had been marked off. Christ claimed all and everything as his, but man’s autonomous culture was not going to leave without a fight. Therefore, simply showing the culture that we’ve been to the latest avant garde movie or play or read the latest controversial book on the New York Times bestseller list isn’t going to cut it. Besides, all we do in such instances is to affirm that our IQs might be in the double digits and that, like many secularists, we need a therapist to care for our neuroses.

So, says Bavinck, when Christianity appeared on the scene there was already an established order, the arts and sciences had been practiced and perfected, morals and habits had assumed a fixed form, conquests had been undertaken, and the United Chariot Workers union was already in place. The economy was good and the three largest chariot manufacturers didn’t need a bailout. The Gospel found itself in this type of setting. “And thus the question was inevitably raised how the relations between the two should be adjusted.”[6] That is precisely the question that demands a clear and in depth answer today.

Bavinck is aware that this question may be put in various forms because of its importance and extent, but, he adds, “the problem always remains the same.”[7] Furthermore, how Christians engage culture is not a merely theoretical matter that belongs to scientific or philosophical thought, but rather one that “forces itself upon every man in his every day life.”[8] Therefore, Christians are to be involved as much as possible in the arts, but simultaneously he must realize that engaging the culture is a 24/7, mundane task. That being the case, the primary step for any Christian in this sphere is to be thoroughly grounded in and acquainted with the contents of Scripture. It is conceivable that Christians—especially in this time when we have neglected the arts for so long—can become so enamored of culture and can look so kindly upon it that they fail “to do justice to the rights and requirements of the Christian confession.”[9]

This comes from a man who was very involved in culture as a teacher and equivalent to a U.S. Senator as Reformed dogmatician. Bavinck was at the forefront of the rise of Neo-Calvinism in the Netherlands and who lectured at the Theological Seminary in Kampen on both Dogmatics and Reformed Ethics. It is unwise, according to Bavinck, to go off half-cocked or with some half-baked notion of engaging the culture. First and foremost, he challenges us to do justice to the rights and requirements of the Christian confession. That simple statement clears up a great deal for the serious Christian. As we shall see in subsequent installments, this did not mean turning one’s back on culture or becoming 21st century ascetics. Next time, Lord willing, we’ll see how the relationship of Church and culture worked itself out in Anabaptism and among the Reformers.

[1] Herman Bavinck, Wijsbegeerte der Openbaring, (Kok: Kampen, 1908); E.T.: The Philosophy of Revelation. For these articles, I will naturally use the English translation.

[2] Klaas Schilder, Christus en Cultuur, (Jochem Douma, [ed.]), (Franeker: T. Wever, 19785), p. 8: “Het problem van de relatie tussen Christus en de cultuur raakt rechtstreeks de grondvragen van het christelijk denken and handelen.”

[3] Ibid., 9-10. Also comp. Henry Van Til, The Calvinistic Concept of Culture, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1959).

[4] Bavinck, TPR, 242.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid., 243.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid., 244.


Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Loss of Certainty

A Previous Paradigm Shift

It is in vogue these days to speak of paradigm shifts, getting traction, a theology’s trajectory, or throwing someone under the bus. We are a nation of buzz words. What old Bri and the Emergent church bar hoppers tell us is that we are in dire need of a mega-deep-power shift in the Christian Church. That remains to be seen, of course, but to the Emergent church devotees, old Bri is close to infallible. Not bad for someone who revels in the thought that he never studied theology. My take on non-leader Bri is that a quick read of his books makes it patently clear that he doesn’t have a clue theologically.

One of the hallmarks of the Emergent church movement—and the “pomos” (postmoderns) is the loss of certainty in faith. Recklessly flying in the face of Scripture, old Bri and the tribe of ardent enemies of certitude regale us with pointed diatribes of how certainty is yesterday’s news. They do this in spite of the fact that Scripture speaks repeatedly about Christians knowing this or that. They ignore Jesus’ words when he says, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32.) The Greek word for “know” (ginw,skw; ginōskō) carries with it the connotations of “know,” “come to know,” “comprehend,” “to be quite sure of.” In 1 Thessalonians 1:4, Paul possesses knowledge of the fact that those he addressed were chosen by God. In short, the Bible is filled with reference upon reference of Christians knowing all kinds of things and having certainty about God’s truth.

The great Dutch theologian, Herman Bavinck, wrote a little book dealing with the certainty of faith (De zekerheid des geloofs)[1] that is well worth the time it takes to read it anytime, but particularly during this time of the year it is a highly appropriate read. Moreover, without Bavinck ever hearing of the Emergent church movement and its emphasis on the lack of certainty and its de-emphasis on knowledge, he knew his Church History and that fads like the Emergent church movement came and went. Bavinck, as a good Reformed theologian, was concerned to point out that the Word of God points us to certainty and assurance. With his finger on the pulse of movements in the Netherlands that the Emergent church movement reflects today (there is nothing new under the sun), Bavinck shows us the path of Scripture as opposed to philosophy and ideology.

The work is divided into four chapters, with the first providing an introduction to the subject (The Loss of Certainty). In future installments, we’ll take some time and outline what Bavinck teaches in this valuable work. We will also draw comparisons to some of the modern movements such as the TBN[2] brand of pietism as well as modern preachers. Of course, we’ll also compare Bavinck’s words with what passes for theology in the Emergent church movement. We’ll begin where Bavinck does: with the French Revolution (1789).

The Loss of Certainty

The French Revolution was an earth shattering event in many ways. It marked a “radical change of direction introduced into the life and thought of the nations” that disrupted the continuity of history.[3] Prior to the French Revolution, there were ages of authority and objectivity. With the advent of the French Revolution, however, an era was ushered in where “the subject proclaims its freedom and asserts its rights in every area of human existence.”[4] Sound familiar? Bavinck could just as well be speaking about our time.

Bavinck contends that the Reformation struck a blow to oppressive authority, by taking its starting point in faith. “In the Reformation the believing subject arose against the oppressive authority of the infallible church and boldly shook off the painful yoke of an old tradition.”[5] In denouncing the oppressive nature of the Roman Catholic Church, Bavinck is reminding us that the Reformers returned to Scripture. The Reformers and the Reformation did not see the infallible scriptures as oppression. Quite the contrary was the case. The inerrancy and infallibility of God’s Word was true liberation providing absolute truth for God’s covenant people.[6]

It should be pointed out that the Reformers taught and envisaged both a formal and practical view of God’s Word. Formally, it was the deposit of God’s truth containing the doctrine Christians needed to live practical spiritual lives. In earlier Protestantism, Bavinck opines, “the authority of that Word was initially so unshakable that people rarely doubted it—not even in their heart. There was faith and there was certainty.”[7] This was neither, as some think today, a time of naïveté nor was it the vestige of Middle Ages superstition. To Bavinck’s mind, the fact that God’s people were convinced they possessed the truth was indicative of a “vital religious life.”[8] In such times of spiritual growth and joy “you don’t doubtingly examine the foundations of your hope. You speak as one having authority and not like the Pharisees.”[9] There is not arrogance, but humility; in that humility, however, the believer is assured that in his graciousness God has provided an infallible rule and norm for all of life.

Gradually, however, after the middle of the eighteenth century things began to change. The deep paradigm shift that occurred then is precisely what ole Bri, Joel Osteen, Robert Schuller, and others advocate: it really is all about me. Bavinck describes the same phenomenon as the subject coming into its own.[10] That is to say, if the Reformation and early Post-Reformation were about the authority of God’s Word, by mid-eighteenth century people turned their gaze inward. They weren’t immediately consummate navel gazers, but were definitely heading in that direction. Critical reason awakened and on the backs of horse drawn carriages and on the flanks of horse and oxen there were bumper stickers that read: Question everything. Of course, this was not an isolated event. This new, unlimited sense of freedom brought with it emancipation from almost everything the past held sacred.

And when you stop and ponder this for a moment, it becomes patently clear that this is one of contemporary society’s foundational pillars. We call it by different names, but it’s really the same old pile. While postmoderns speak of relativism, Bri and the boys descry everything sacred from the past, except—for whatever reason—the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds. Has anyone ever asked Bri why he settled on those two, especially since he finds Scripture so unclear on major issues, except, of course, global poverty and global warming.

Like today, Bavinck describes his time (1854-1921) as dominated by doubt, which he deems to be the sickness of his century, bringing with it “a string of moral problems and plagues.”[11] Again I ask: sound familiar? Have relativism and the Emergent church movement solved the moral problems facing our country; the world? Has, for example, McLaren’s pseudo-ethics, Everything Must Change, pointed in a clear direction regarding what God says about Christians ethics in a secular world? The short answer is: No. Why you’re well past page 200 before you find the word “sin” on ole Bri’s lips. Once he used it describing what someone else said, but hip Bri is way cool and knows (sort of) that modern man doesn’t like to hear words like that; neither does Bri for that matter. Bavinck’s assessment of his era is spot on concerning modern man and the mega-church and Emergent church movements: “There is much noise and movement, but little genuine spirit, little genuine enthusiasm issuing from an upright, fervent, sincere faith.”[12]

What are the roots of such a lack of true faith? In fact, what is true faith anyway? Let’s begin with the latter question and work backwards. It may constitute knocking down an open door, but in a day and age when the movement known as evangelicalism has embraced the most aberrant and heterodox movements we dare not assume that we all know what constitutes biblical faith. To my mind, the simplicity of the Heidelberg Catechism (Lord’s Day 7, Q/A 21) summarizes Scripture best when it says:

Q. What is true faith?

A. True faith is a sure knowledge whereby I accept as true all that God has revealed to us in his Word. At the same time, it is a firm confidence that not only to others, but also to me, God has granted forgiveness of sins, everlasting righteousness, and salvation, out of mere grace, only for the sake of Christ’s merits. This faith the Holy Spirit works in my heart by the gospel.[13]

What, then are the roots of such a lack of true faith? Bavinck’s belief is that “Nowhere is this more true than among theologians.”[14] Now hold on a minute! Don’t jump to conclusions. There are a lot of very, very good theologians out there today, but there are also some very, very bad ones. These theologians, for better or worse, teach the pastors, who, in turn, for better or worse, teach Christians. For the sake of illustration, let’s say that the theologians are unorthodox.[15] They teach heterodoxy and pride themselves in either being way left of center or in having no theological training whatsoever. These men and women attack every doctrine in Scripture, cherry picking what they like and jettisoning what they don’t. These folks cannot decide whether YHWH was male or female and are pretty sure that Jesus was a pacifist who tolerated every sin on the planet and never judged anyone for anything. Obviously, there are all kinds of gradations to this scenario, but each one of them impacts the dominating question both in Bavinck’s time as well as in ours: the ground of spiritual certainty.[16]

Bavinck was instrumental in teaching the Reformed Christians in the Netherlands the importance of a biblical life and worldview. He was very involved in his country as a cultural analyst, a Senator, and a teacher of Dogmatics and Ethics. Bavinck sought to view all of life as an organic whole. He insisted that both of these had to be operative in the Christian’s life and that both had to be dependent on Scripture for their content. His definition of the relationship between Dogmatics and Ethics is well worth learning.

Dogmatics describes the deeds of God done for, to, and in human beings; ethics describes what renewed human beings now do on the basis of and in the strength of those divine deeds. In dogmatics human beings are passive; they receive and believe; in ethics they are themselves active agents. In dogmatics, the articles of the faith are treated; in ethics, the precepts of the Decalogue. In the former, that which concerns faith is dealt with; in the latter, that which concerns love, obedience, and good works. Dogmatics sets forth what God is and does for human beings and causes them to know God as their Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier; ethics sets forth what human beings are and do for God now; how, with everything they are and have, with intellect and will and all their strength, they devote themselves to God out of gratitude and love. Dogmatics is the system of the knowledge of God; ethics is that of the service of God. The two disciplines, far from facing each other as two independent entities, together form a single system; they are related members of a single organism.[17]

The Dutch ethicist, Jochem Douma, put the matter a little more succinctly, but makes the same point: “Dogmatics without ethics is empty; ethics without dogmatics is blind.”[18] Much of modern evangelicalism has distanced itself from both Bavinck and Douma and what it has left in its wake is the collateral damage of people who call themselves Christians not knowing the fundamental, rudimentary, indispensable elementary truths of Scripture, a group of people who are blatantly ignorant of the history of the Church, along with its traditions, and people who call themselves Christians, who are moral relativists. Let me give you a few examples of what I mean.

During the last presidential election I wondered how someone with even a basic understanding of Scripture could vote for a man who is so outspokenly pro-abortion. For any reasonable believer, who read what the Bible says about man being created in the image of God and of the sanctity of life, it was both inconceivable and unconscionable that they could cast a vote for a man who has a 100% rating with Planned Parenthood and every known pro-abortion group in America. How can anyone who calls him- or herself a Christian rationalize those deaths?

How can anyone, who calls him- or herself a Christian, believe that the Bible is unclear about homosexuality? How can pastors believe that? How can anyone who has studied the scriptures in the original languages come to that conclusion? The answer is actually rather simple. Once we strip away all the disclaimers about not wanting to sacrifice one’s intelligence and honest research and investigation, we come to the conclusion that a biblical worldview is lacking and these people would rather stand above the Bible than under its authority. It happened with the JEDP hypothesis, it happened with limited inspirationists, it happened with the Social Gospel crowd, and it still happens today with every theological hack and ideologue that comes down the pike.

Look at the churches that have abandoned orthodoxy. What is the result? It is similar to asking what it will be like to have Obama as President. You want to see what happens when Democrats take over? Look at Detroit, New Orleans, San Francisco, and the near-bankrupt state of California, where I live. What happens when the absolute authority of Scripture is abandoned? The mega-church movement where 90%-plus of those people cannot tell you where to find the Ten Commandments in the Bible, let alone tell you what they are, let alone tell you what they are in order. You see the same drill in the Emergent church movement. The leaders like McLaren, Wallis, Bell, Burke, Pagitt, Jones, Chalke, and others are confused and they confuse all those who hang around with them. They do it so tastefully though. Reading their works or listening to their lectures is tantamount to saying “Gamble responsibly” and “If you ever pose nude, make certain you do it tastefully.”

Listening to Bavinck, you get a very different sound. Here is an irenic, yet staunchly and unapologetically Reformed dogmatician, ethicist, and Christian man. He writes, “There is no more important question than the one concerning salvation, the rootedness of our hope in eternal life.”[19] Here is a man, who was an intellectual giant and one of the foremost and premier dogmaticians the Netherlands ever produced, speaking like a child of God. He continues, “Thus, our area of inquiry is circumscribed as holy ground, for it must be entered with reverence and fear. Here we touch the most intimate depths of the human heart. Here more than anywhere else we need a childlike and humble spirit, but at the same time a frank, unbiased attitude, in order to understand the life of religion in its inner essence and to purge it of all untruth and error.”[20] As we proceed, I’m convinced you’re going to observe that this is precisely what Bavinck does as a Reformed theologian.

[1] There is an English version entitled simply The Certainty of Faith, (St. Catherines, Ontario, Canada: Paideia Press, Inc., 1980). For convenience, I’ll use the pagination of the English version.

[2] Trinity Broadcast Network.

[3] Bavinck, Certainty, 7.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid. Bavinck writes, “Nevertheless, in the principles of the Reformation, Christians remained bound to God’s Word as it came to them in the Old and New Testaments.”

[7] Ibid., 7-8.

[8] Ibid., 8.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid., 9.

[13] Cf. John 17:3, 17; Heb. 11:1-3; James 2:19; Rom. 4:18-21; 5:1; 10:10; Heb. 4:16; Gal. 2:20; Rom. 1:17; Heb. 10:10; Rom. 3:20-26; Gal. 2:16; Eph. 2:8-10; Acts 16:14; Rom. 1:16; 10:17; 1 Cor. 1:21.

[14] Bavinck, Certainty, 9.

[15] For an excellent exposition of how this played out in the PCUSA, see John H. Leith, Crisis in the Church. The Plight of Theological Education, (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1997).

[16] Bavinck, Certainty, 9.

[17] Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 1, (John Bolt [ed.] & John Vriend [trans.]), (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003), p. 58.

[18] Jochem Douma, Responsible Conduct. Principles of Christian Ethics, (Nelson Kloosterman [trans.]), (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 2003), p. 41.

[19] Bavinck, Certainty, 10.

[20] Ibid.


Thursday, December 04, 2008

The PCA and Female Deaconesses (X)

Concluding Remarks

Ten is a good biblical number, so with this installment I will cease with the discussion surrounding ordained or unordained female deacons or deaconesses. In this issue, I will limit myself to looking at some of the most salient features of the discussion and then close with an appraisal of whether Dr. Keller and those who follow him in his desire to have deaconesses have made a biblical or historical case for their position. We shall also include what the PCA 36th General Assembly declared about the practice of not ordaining either male or female deacons. In other words, we will ask the question of whether Dr. Keller’s position comports with PCA policy and polity.

As we prepare to do this, there is a question that needs to be asked that as far as I know has not been asked to this point: Why did byFaith magazine run Dr. Keller’s and Dr. Duncan’s articles after the decision was made by the 36th General Assembly? Apparently, to the editor’s of byFaith’s mind, the decision of the assembly was sufficiently unclear or non-binding that they believed there should be more discussion on the matter. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying that the topic should not be discussed again, but it seems as if the churches have had precious little time to discuss what the 36th GA decided in the aftermath of the assembly.

No one can answer that question except the editors of byFaith. I suspect that we’ll wait in vain for an explanation. So let’s summarize what we’ve learned thus far. As we examined the early history of the Church we discovered the exact opposite of what Dr. Keller contends regarding deaconesses being rampant and fully accepted. Brian Schwertley also reminds us that “Deaconesses were needed not to perform all the functions of the male deacon’s office, but only to perform certain responsibilities toward women.”[1] Is this what Dr. Keller and the “Redeemer model” churches intend? I don’t think so.

Historically, the ordination of deaconesses became commonplace by 381A.D. in the Eastern Church. In fact, there was a “glut” of various people in the Eastern Church being “ordained” for a variety of “offices.” For example, “Deaconesses were ordained, but so were readers, singers, and porters. The ordination of deaconesses was an innovation of the eastern church. It was never universally accepted in the western church.”[2] Yet, even in the Eastern Church a clear difference was made between deacons and deaconesses. For instance, in the document, “The Ordo and the Canons concerning Ordination in the Holy Church,” canon 18 we read, “The deaconess is brought into the diaconicon, or place set apart for deaconesses, and the bishop prays over her; when he has placed her before the altar and she has bowed her head, the bishop then lays his hand upon her head and prays using a prayer that is known and that in no way resembles the prayer used in the ordination of a deacon.”[3] The reason? “The deaconess has a ministry only to women.”[4] Moreover, “The deaconess functioned as an intermediary between women in the church and the deacon and the bishop; thus, any appearance of impropriety was avoided.”[5]

In light of what we’ve learned in previous installments, it is also clear that early Church deaconesses were widows, and not CEOs, CFOs, or “professional” women. These were godly women who fit the description offered in Titus 2. This is not to say, in the least, that those Dr. Keller has in mind are godless women! What I have observed in my own Presbytery is that there is deference and preference given to women—usually in near-idolized positions in secular employment—who are in the work force over “stay-at-home” moms—as if the latter were not in the work force! Trying telling my wife that! Make certain your life insurance is paid up if you tell her that because you are going to have a very unpleasant conversation!

From a historical perspective, it has become evident to us in this series of investigations that in the early Church deaconesses were widows around the age of 60. In the Eastern Church, the age limit was eventually dropped to 40. These “deaconesses” also took a vow of perpetual celibacy and were no longer permitted to either watch or discuss Desperate Housewives. Schwertley summarizes the subject this way: “What modern women-deacon advocates are advocating (what else would an advocate do?—RG) is not women deacons who serve in a separate office from men deacons, who have different qualifications that are based on 1 Timothy 5:9ff. They are advocating something totally foreign to the early church. They believe women deacons would have the same qualifications and serve in the same office as male deacons.”[6] Some might argue that this is not precisely the case, but it is close enough for government work. Seriously, I would like to know where Dr. Keller and those who support his position differ from Schwertley’s summary.

John Calvin

There is not time to engage in a lengthy discussion about what Calvin taught on this matter, but some pertinent quotes will help. In the Institutes (4.3.9 [1061]) Calvin writes, “The care of the poor was entrusted to the deacons. However, two kinds are mentioned in the letter to the Romans: ‘He that gives, let him do it with simplicity; …he that shows mercy, with cheerfulness’ [Rom. 12:8, cf. Vg.]. Since it is certain that Paul is speaking of the public office of the church, there must have been two distinct grades. Unless my judgment deceives me, in the first clause he designates the deacons who distribute the alms. But the second refers to those who had devoted themselves to the care of the poor and sick. Of this sort were the widows whom Paul mentions to Timothy [I Tim. 5:9-10]. Women could fill no other public office than to devote themselves to the care of the poor.”[7] What is noteworthy here is the manner in which Calvin ties the females to 1 Timothy 5 and not to 1 Timothy 3. Dr. Keller has not given a reasonable response to what Calvin wrote and how Dr. Keller is applying that in his congregation. Schwertley opines, “The early church and Calvin had an order of office of widows who happened to be called deaconesses. They were not the same as deacons, as modern advocates of deaconesses assert.”[8] In 4.13.19, Calvin reiterates the fact that the “deaconesses” of his day vowed celibacy. Moreover, these were not young women but those who promised continence from the age of 60 on, according to 1 Timothy 5:9.[9]

What Did the 36th General Assembly of the PCA Decide?

In one sense, all of this is somewhat academic. In the cases of Northern California and Philadelphia Presbyteries, who granted exceptions on women serving as deacons or deaconesses serving on diaconates, the GA said No.[10] It seems that what is needed now is for the Presbyteries in question—in fact, for all Presbyteries in the PCA—to conform to the decision. If they wish to attempt a revision of the Book of Church Order, there are ecclesiastical steps that can be taken. In the meantime, however, what is most needed is compliance. Unfortunately, a number of PCA congregations are refusing to play by the rules that we all agreed were “kosher.”

The exceptions taken are standard, talking-points exceptions. I heard it in my Presbytery and it’s repeated so frequently that it seems like someone faxed or emailed the talking points and now it’s standard fare. It goes like this: “Ordination and obedience to deacons (specifically BCO 24-5, 24-6). Whereas the BCO correctly identifies Deacons as an office in the church, I believe it misinterprets Scripture regarding their ordination. The question to the congregation in 24-5 asks them to yield obedience to Deacons. In 24-6 (and various other places) the Deacons are referred to as ordained in the same manner as Elders. Until the BCO is amended, I intend to elect and install unordained deaconesses. This is allowable under BCO 9-7.”[11] That is almost verbatim what I heard on the floor of South Coast Presbytery.

As I have pointed out before, BCO 9-7 merely states that the Session can select and appoint godly men and women of the congregation to assist the deacons in caring for the sick, the widows, the orphans, the prisoners, and others who may be in distress or need. The precise wording of the GA to the reference to BCO 9-7 reads, “The appeal to BCO 9-7 is flawed because 9-7 addresses people appointed by the Session, not members of a diaconate (Board of Deacons, 9-4). According to BCO 9-3 and 9-4, a diaconate may only include men that are elected, ordained, and installed.”[12]

What is most disturbing is the in-your-face ultimatum issued by the candidates: Until the BCO is amended, I intend to elect and install unordained deaconesses. Why does the PCA allow this kind of attitude? Someone needs to be taken out to the woodshed. Why would any Presbytery tolerate such an attitude from a candidate, even if that candidate has been ordained in another Presbytery? Is it the case that presbyters lack the necessary masculinity to stand up in the face of such attitudes? Are we afraid? Have we become so effeminate that we no longer possess a resolve to do what we have agreed is the right thing to do? Again, please hear me well: I am not saying that we can never revisit the issue, but there are two things worthy of reasoned reflection. First, the matter is settled in the Book of Church Order. Presbyters made a vow, gave their word that they would uphold it. That BCO is unequivocally clear about Elders and Deacons. Presbyteries are called upon to uphold what is there, irrespective of personal opinion, friendships, or ecclesiastical allegiances.

Second, until the BCO is changed—if it ever is—then what we vow is the “rule of law.” It is hard to imagine a pastor encouraging a member not to follow the rule of law in society, but in point of fact, there are PCA pastors who hold to the rule of law in society and not in the Church. What have we vowed? The GA summarized it for us. It is clear: 1) Men only are to be elected by a congregation to the office of deacon. 2) Women cannot be elected by a congregation to the office of deacon. 3) Women cannot be commissioned or ordained as deacons. 4) Women cannot serve on diaconates.[13]

So what happens next? Do we continue to re-invent the wheel? Jeff Snyder wrote, “Our society has reached a pinnacle of self-expression and respect for individuality rare or unmatched in the history of civilization. Our entire popular culture—from fashion magazines to the cinema—positively screams the matchless worth of the individual, glories in eccentricity, nonconformity, independent judgment, and self-determination.”[14] It’s one thing when this description matches what we see in the world; it is quite another when it also describes those who call themselves evangelicals or Christians. It is ratcheted up several notches when it is applicable to ecclesiastical leaders, who have given their words to uphold certain standards.

You might recall the book by poet Robert Bly entitled Iron John: A Book About Men (1990). Bly was a liberal, antiwar activist, who eventually ended up giving a feminist seminar promoting New Age goddess worship. In his book, Bly is stilled concerned about what he called the “soft male.” His solution to this problem was ludicrous. He held seminars where men would put on warrior face-paint, beat drums, dance around camp fires (this sounds dumber the more I write about it!), as well as symbolic sword holding. All this occurred, in part, because of ideological feminism and the decline of real masculinity in this country.

A very interesting part of Bly’s book, however, was the rite of passage from boyhood to manhood, found in other cultures. There was a time when a boy became a man. In the South, where I grew up, it was getting your first shotgun. My father gave me mine for Christmas when I was 10. I still have it. Bly describes a moment when a boy becomes a man. He is recognized as an adult with all the privileges and responsibilities that attend to his new status. Bly says that he becomes a warrior. In the most literal sense, he stands ready to fight for what is right, to fight in the defense of his people or homeland. I submit that we are rapidly losing this warrior mentality. I’m not talking about Conan the Barbarian, but a willingness to do the right thing. It will be interesting to see how the PCA responds to those who basically thumb their noses—tastefully of course, at the 2008 GA decision.

[1] Brian Schwertley, A Historical and Biblical Examination of Women Deacons, (Southfield, MI: Reformed Witness, 1998), p. 12.

[2] Ibid., Emphasis added.

[3] Aimé Martimort, Deaconesses, (K.D. Whitehead [trans.]), (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986), p. 53. Emphasis added.

[4] Schwertley, HBEWD, 14.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid., 17.

[7] Calvin, Inst. 4.3.9, 1061.

[8] Schwertley, HBEWD, 21.

[9] Calvin, Inst., 4.13.19, 1274.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Jeff Snyder, A Nation of Cowards, (Lonedell, MO: Accurate Press, 2001), p. 15.