Faithful shepherds stand in the gap...
We all know what it is to play warfare in mock battle, that it means to imitate everything just as it is in war. The troops are drawn up, they march into the field, seriousness is evident in every eye, but also courage and enthusiasm, the orderlies rush back and forth intrepidly, the commander's voice is heard, the signals, the battle cry, the volley of musketry, the thunder of cannon--everything exactly as it is in war, lacking only one thing...the danger.
So also it is with playing Christianity, that is, imitating Christian preaching in such a way that everything, absolutely everything is included in as deceptive a form as possible--only one thing is lacking...the danger
-Soren Kierkegaard, Attack Upon "Christendom" 1854-1855, translated with an introduction by Walter Lowrie, (Boston: The Beacon Press, 1956) p. 258.
Addendum: Wednesday evening, March 8, Bryan Chapell and I met together to discuss this recent series of posts. After our discussion, here are several clarifications and corrections that I believe need to be made. I have made them here, at the top of the post, because it would be difficult to weave them into the post itself in a way that would call attention to them sufficiently as corrections.
First, it is unclear that the paragraph beginning, "The whole things is a tempest in a teacup" is not my judgment, but rather a hypothetical construct of what the average member of the PCA might have thought to himself.
Second, I refer to "the Covenant/Redeemer/Reformed mantra, "A woman may do anything a non-ordained man may do." Bryan told me that this is not his position and that he speaks against this position as an adequate representation of the Biblical perspective. This is an encouragement to me.
Third, Bryan rehearsed his actions in response to the chapel time in which Diane Langberg spoke, and clearly my own summary of those actions is not accurate. Here is an accurate record of what happened:
When General Assembly convened that summer and the time on the agenda arrived when President Chapell was asked to give an answer for what had happened on his watch, President Chapell told the assembly:
That Diane Langberg had been told ahead of time what the standards were for her speaking during the chapel time;
That after she spoke at Covenant Seminary, Diane Langberg received a letter reminding her of the standards, and expressing concern that those standards had not been followed; and
That the administration of Covenant Seminary met with students to explain the situation and to assure the seminary community that what had happened was not according to the standards they were committed to upholding.
Since I implied Covenant Seminary was not upholding the PCA position in its response to Diane Langberg's chapel time, I regret this inaccuracy and now believe Covenant's response was good.
Some wonder how I could accuse prominent teaching elders of the Presbyterian Church in America and the institutions they lead of sympathizing with the egalitarian, feminist cause? Don't I know the PCA's reason to exist is tied at the heart to opposing these ideologies? When a group of mainline PC(USA) churches left their own denomination for a more conservative one back in 1983, wasn't it necessary for them to found the new denomination, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, precisely because the PCA wasn't willing to compromise on women in office? And isn't the same reason behind our present failure to bring into the PCA many churches currently departing the PC(USA) train wreck: that these churches and their pastors are determined to enter a denomination that allows their women to serve as pastors, elders, and deacons?
So, as a denomination we've paid our dues. We've seen the cost of our convictions, and haven't wavered. What on earth am I thinking, then, to accuse our seminary and its president of being allies of the egalitarian, feminist ideology?
It's a fair question, although I have no confidence I'll be able to answer it to the satisfaction of more than a few because the heart of the answer is tied up, not with specific arguments about Scripture's teaching about sexuality, but rather its teaching concerning the nature of pastoral ministry.
Several years ago, Covenant Theological Seminary had a woman preach in chapel. When it was reported within our denomination, it scandalized a number of presbyters across the country...
Many asked questions like, "What was this--a woman exercising preaching authority over our young men preparing for the ministry? How did this happen? Is our seminary president asleep at the wheel?" And so forth.
Although I had no part in the controversy, I watched keenly from the sidelines because, being older, my memory goes back several years, now. Specifically, I remembered that a few years earlier a friend of mine had left Covenant being disillusioned over the lack of heart there for opposing feminism. And more specifically, he was scandalized by Covenant allowing women to preach in Covenant's chapel. I encouraged him to stay, thinking he was overstating his case. But he declined to take my advice and transferred to Greenville Seminary. Thus I watched this later battle carefully, having been skeptical in past years but now wondering whether I may have been wrong in being dismissive of my friend's earlier accusations against Covenant.
So I was a close observer as Covenant's president, Bryan Chapell, came to our denomination's national general assembly to defend his institution and leadership against the charge of being lax in upholding God's truth concerning sexuality.
At the time, most people likely thought something along these lines:
"The whole thing is a tempest in a teacup, a rather unfortunate slip-up in administrative oversight of the chapel program combined with a woman who, in her zeal for God's Word, overstepped the bounds of biblical propriety. When she was invited to speak in Covenant's chapel, someone likely failed to remind her that it was a lectern they were asking her to fill, not a pulpit. This is a mistake anyone could make, isn't it? All that's needed is a slight course correction."
General assembly convened that summer and the time on the agenda arrived when President Chapell was asked to give an answer for what had happened on his watch. President Chapell expressed shock and disappointment that anyone would seriously question Covenant's commitment to biblical sexuality, proving his point by holding up a stack of books written by Covenant men that, he said, made the seminary's commitments on this issue unequivocally clear. And the visual image of these books was the heart of his defense.
Quick, now: off the top of your head, what authors and titles were in that stack of books President Chapell held up as proof of the courage of Covenant men in fighting against the feminist and egalitarian enemies of God's Word? Remember, it was a stack, so one or two volumes won't cut it. You ready with your list?
Well, speaking only for myself, I have no list, no pile of books to hold up that have been written by Covenant men in defense of the biblical doctrine of sexuality. And this is significant because I served as Executive Director and a member of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood for a number of years. During those years I spoke in a wide array of forums including parachurch groups on secular campuses, seminaries, Bible colleges, Christian colleges, and individual churches. Those speaking and preaching engagements provided me many opportunities to recommend books, yet I never recommended a book written by a Covenant man. Why?
Because the world is filled with both secular and Christian books and articles on servant leadership, but who can find a book that teaches women not to use their femininity to manipulate their husbands, but rather to give themselves to the tough reality of biblical submission--what Scripture refers to as "a gentle and quiet spirit?" Where is the book warning Christian wives against fomenting rebellion in the home, against using their children to emasculate their husband, against husbands ceding the leadership of their family to their wives, against wives giving themselves to work outside the home in such a way that they have neither time nor energy to serve their husbands? And the list could go on for quite some time.
Without question, there are husbands who refuse to take out the trash, clean up the kitchen, change the baby's diapers, provide for their family, treat their wives with dignity, and die to their own desires for the sake of their wives and children. Without question these sins must be corrected and rebuked by faithful pastors and elders.
But also without question, this is not the most common problem in the evangelical and reformed church today. Speaking from many years of observation of our culture, as well as personal pastoral care, I say without hesitation that the breach in the wall needing our attention today with regard to marriage and family issues is not just chastity in singleness and fidelity in marriage, but equally the connection between sexuality, authority, and submission; the authority of husbands over their wives and the submission of wives to their husbands. Husbands need to be taught how to exercise the authority over their wives that God wrote into the man/woman relationship when He created Adam first, and then Eve; and when He announced that the meaning of that order of creation was that Eve is called to be Adam's helpmate and to submit to him "in everything": and on their part, wives need to be taught to be daughters of Sarah, calling their husbands, "Lord," as Sarah called Abraham; and to realize that when they rebel against their husbands, they are rebelling against God Who Himself established their husband's authority over them.
These are the biblical doctrines under attack today, and anyone with the slightest discernment can see that seminary professors, Titus 2 women, elders, and pastors who understand their calling will focus their efforts here. Church officers are soldiers, and the soldier is tested at the breach in the wall.
The world is filled with articles and books and lectures and posters opposing authoritarian leadership and celebrating servant leadership. And generally, the theme is biblical as it points us to our Lord Who came, not to be served, but to serve. The world is also filled with books and articles and lectures and sermons directly denying, or damning with faint praise, the authority of husbands over their wives. So where is God's servant needed?
Years ago, I read The Company of the Committed by Elton Trueblood in which he pointed out that it's the mark of wisdom to fight the battles of today, rather than the battles of yesterday. Well, we all know where today's battle is. It's as plain as the nose on the end of our face. Those who don't see it will never see it, unless the Holy Spirit intervenes with them. They don't see it, not because it's not plain and clear, but because they refuse to see. Remember our Lord's words, "He who has ears, let him hear"? Remember the old saying, "There's no one so deaf as the man who doesn't want to hear"? In other words, when we look at shepherds who can't see the breach in the wall, who don't notice the thief coming in over the wall; who can't recognize the fearful bleating of the mothers with their lambs; the problem is not their eyes or ears, but their heart. They lack the heart of a shepherd.
Now am I saying that men mentioned in prior posts and comments on this blog lack the heart of a shepherd? Well, yes and no. Bear with me a minute.
It seems obvious from Scripture that all of us grow through rebuke as well as encouragement, correction as well as instruction. So is there some reason to think that national ecclesiastical leaders have matured beyond needing such ministry? Is there a point in our lives where, by virtue of age and elevated position, we cease needing to be rebuked ourselves, and are raised to the status of only being the giver--never the receiver--of rebukes? Was this true of the Apostle Peter when he sneaked across the dining room, exchanging the company of the Gentiles for that of the Jews?
Speaking for myself, I regularly receive correction and rebuke from my mother, brother, wife, daughters, sons, fellow elders, older women of our church, other pastors, and the civil authority. I praise God for surrounding me with faithful brothers and sisters who serve God by giving me what I need. You think I'm kidding? Ask them.
Every shepherd is perpetually on the edge of going bad; turning from faithfulness to unfaithfulness. But every shepherd is also within a heartbeat of returning to faithfulness because of receiving and taking to heart rebukes the Holy Spirit lovingly sends him through another pastor, his wife, a fellow presbyter, the ass he rides, or even a blog. That the sheep under this shepherd would not understand such rebuke is no surprise; we don't teach our sheep to sit in judgment on their shepherds.
But the shepherds should take heed to themselves and their flocks, knowing "the time will come when they (our flocks) will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths." Shepherds are commanded, "...be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry." (2 Timothy 4:3-5).
The real proof that, while right for a time, I've become wrong concerning the leaders I've criticized, would be that they never again utter such a pathetic canard as "a woman can do anything a non-ordained man can do," but rather that they become known for their sermons and books and articles opposing the sexual anarchy that absolutely permeates our culture and churches. But more, that by God's grace the time comes when, because of their faithfulness in the gap, with the Apostle Paul they too will be able to take off their shirts and show us the brand-marks of Jesus.
Shepherds who show zeal for opposing male chauvinism within the church, but lack any zeal for opposing egalitarian feminism and female rebellion, are culturally brain-dead, at best. At worst, they have decided to avoid standing in the gap precisely because the gap is the place faithful soldiers die. But can we repent, and turn again to our Master's commands and promises concerning those who faithfully guard His sheep?
Let's remember the Apostle Paul's charge to every minister of the Word and Sacrament, and plead with God to make us love His appearing:
I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths. But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing. (2 Timothy 4:1-8)