Monthly Archives: September 2013

Authority: Women in the State and Business

This is part of a series of posts on the doctrine of Authority. Click here to see the entire series.

Evangelicals are united in their belief that the husband is the head of the wife and that in the marriage covenant the wife is to submit to the man.  Conservative Christians are also united in their belief that women are not allowed to exercise authority over men in the church and that women are to submit to men.  For some reason when we get to the representative institution of the state, it suddenly becomes completely permissible for women to exercise covenantal authority over men by holding office.  Why is this?

There is no reasoned position that describes why women should be allowed to exercise covenantal authority over men in the State.  The position is simply assumed to be true because that is the way things are done.  In the history of the United States that was not always the case.  The colonial period was characterized by the understanding that women did not have the right to exercise representative authority.  Only slowly did that understanding change, perhaps coming to a crucial high point with the granting of suffrage, the right to vote to women.  The reason that women had been forbidden the “right” to vote was because voting was seen as an “authoritative” activity and women were understood to have no right to exercise authority in the institution of the State (more on that topic later).  Nor were women permitted to exercise an illegitimate authority to perhaps cancel out the authority of their husbands via the vote.

Women are assumed to have the right to hold authoritative office in the State because of the presupposition that the State is a service/contractual institution.  But, that assumption is wrong.  Officers in the state are sworn into office with the taking of an oath.  God says that they are His representatives (diakonos) to do good.  God gives them specific, written instructions on what to do.  God grants them the monopoly exercise of the power of the sword.  The only logically consistent conclusion that can be made is that women have no more right to exercise authority over men in the State than they do in the other two institutions.  Anybody who believes that they do has the burden of proof to show why the State is somehow different.  If a woman may hold authoritative office in the State then it needs to be shown why the clear prohibition to hold office in the Family and the Church does not also apply to the State.

The logical conclusion then is that women are not permitted to hold any office in the State that is authoritative.  Therefore, a woman could act as a secretary to the Governor, but could not be the Governor.  A woman could act as an aid to a Senator, but could not be a Senator.  Any State office that is entered by means of a sworn vow and that gives access the exercise of monopoly power would be forbidden for a woman.   It necessarily follows that any woman who holds an authoritative office is in sin.  It further follows that any person who aids a woman in holding an authoritative office is contributing to that sin.  Lastly, anyone who votes for a woman to hold an authoritative office is sinning as well.

Women in Business

Because of the fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of biblical authority, many fundamentalist Christians do not understand the doctrine of female functional subordination.  Since they do not understand the difference between service and representative authority they issue a blanket pronouncement that since Paul does not allow a woman to teach she must also be forbidden to work outside the home.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

Proverbs 31 is the classic passage on the woman of tremendous service authority.  The passage is too long to quote here.  Take a moment and read the passage.  Notice how many business activities the woman is engaged in.  This woman has tremendous service authority.  The Bible does not prohibit women from having service authority.  Women are free to engage in as many business activities as they desire.  Women are free to be Presidents and Chief Executive Officers of corporations.  There is no limitation placed upon the activities of women when it comes to service authority.

The Four Reformed Spiritual Laws

It may surprise you to hear that, at one point in college, I was on the student leadership team for Campus Crusade for Christ. That is, until I was told that they emphasized “spirit” and I emphasized “truth” and that we didn’t make a good fit. Apparently Paul was confused when he put those two together. 

You may think of me as a troublemaker for joining the group and getting kicked out. I certainly didn’t join to create strife or engage in meaningless debates. I joined because, up until the year that I joined leadership, the group had been an enjoyable place for fellowship. It was our local “youth group” – and not the corrupt megachurch kind. However, the year that I joined, corporate sent out some new leaders to the area who seemed to have only one thing in mind: handing out tracts and getting people to “pray the prayer” so they could report numbers back to hq. Obviously, I wanted no part in this, so I decided to push back. 

I’ll leave the positive case for biblical evangelism to one of our Missionary-Evangelists and simply say I do not believe evangelism-by-tract to be the way to go. And, as you probably know, Campus Crusade uses (or at least used) the four spiritual laws as their tract of choice. The problem with the four laws, aside from the tract issue, is that they promote a false gospel. Christ didn’t die simply because He loves all mankind (which isn’t true in the way they use the word love anyway). He died because of the sin of His people. There is much wrong with those “laws”.

One of my acts of “rebellion” was to write a biblical version of the laws. I simply took their structure and replaced the rules with Biblical truth. They are slightly tongue-in-cheek in presentation, mostly because I would never actually use a tract. But don’t let the harshness of the presentation deceive you: these are the truth. So, without any further ado, the Four Reformed Spiritual Laws:

1. God might love you, but He probably hates you.

If you are one of the elect then God loves you. The number of elect is drastically smaller than the number of the damned and it is therefore probable that God hates you.

Psa. 5:4-6; Matt 7:13-14; Luke 13:23-28; Matt 13:10-15; 2 Thess 2:8-12

2. Man is sinful and the enemy of God and deserves the full wrath of God.

God has a standard of perfection which no man can ever hope to live up to. From birth man is doomed to an eternity of damnation if nothing is done to appease God’s wrath.

Rom 3:10-18; Deut 32:39-41; 2 Kings 22:17; Rom 9:6-26

3. Jesus, the Christ’s death on the cross is the only propitiation for man’s sin.

Jesus, who is the Christ, led a sinless life and died on the cross as an unblemished Lamb to satisfy God’s wrath. The Christ’s resurrection on the third day is proof that He is truly the God-man and victor over death.

Rom 3:21-26; Isaiah 53:4-6; 1 John 4:10; 1 Cor 15:20-28

4. Repent unto everlasting life!

Only he that is granted repentance from God may be saved through the washing of rebirth and regeneration by the Holy Spirit and become an heir according to the hope of eternal life.

Titus 3:3-7; Eph 1:3-12; Acts 2:37-42; Mark 1:14-15; Luke 13:1-5

Authority: The Deaconess

This is part of a series of posts on the doctrine of Authority. Click here to see the entire series.

The biblical office of Deaconess is largely ignored by the Church in the United States today.  Liberal churches ignore the clear injunction of the Bible to “not allow a woman to exercise authority over a man” and ordain gifted women to the authoritative offices of Elder and Deacon.  Conservative churches, in a knee-jerk reaction to liberalism, deny the existence of the office of Deaconess entirely.  Neither position is biblical.

In Romans 16:1 Paul says, “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a diakonon (deaconess) of the church in Cenchrea.”  He goes on to greet Priscilla (Prisca), whom he describes as a “fellow worker in Christ Jesus”.  It is assumed that she is a deaconesses as well.  Clearly Paul publicly recognized women who were “fellow workers” in the Gospel and who were called “deaconesses”.

I Timothy 3 contains the qualifications for elders and deacons.  Verse eleven says this,  “Gunikas (women), in the same way, are to be grave, not slanders, sober, faithful in all things.”  Interpreters differ on the interpretation of the Greek word for ‘women’; some believe it is a reference to deaconesses and others believe it is a reference to the deacon’s wife.   It seems to me that the word should be interpreted as a reference to a deaconess for the following reasons:

1.  It seems very strange that Paul would be describing the characteristics required to hold public office in the church and judge a candidate for office based on the character of his wife.  Those who interpret the word “gunikas” as “wife” need to explain why a candidate for deacon should be judged by the character of his wife.  Furthermore, they need to explain why the office of elder does not specify qualifications for the wives while the office of deacon does.

2.  In the course of describing the character qualities for a deacon it makes perfect sense that Paul would also include the character qualities required for the “women” deacons, or deaconesses.  He recognized the public office of deaconess and referring to them here simply as “women” makes perfect sense in that it serves to distinguish them from the male deacons.

The existence of the office of Deaconess is seen in the writings of the Post-Apostolic Church.  In the famous letter from Pliny to Trajan (110) he makes reference to the biblical office of Deaconess.

The First Ecumenical Council (325) specifically discusses the qualifications for the office of Deaconess and describes their function primarily as one of instruction to female baptismal candidates.

Book II of the Constitution of the Apostles (325) specifically describes the office of Deaconess and instructs them to act as intermediaries between the women of the church and the elders.

Many theologians in the history of the Church have recognized the office of Deaconess and described it in their theological writings.  This list of theologians includes, but is not limited to:  Aquinas, Barnes, Calvin, Hodge, and Strong.

The biblical office of Deaconess is an office that recognizes that there are women in the Church who have been called to a public office of service and teaching of other women.  It is not an authoritative office and they are not ordained to the post.  It is an office of service/teaching to women and children and the practice of the historical Church has been to install qualified women in a ceremony in which they are publicly set aside to the office by the laying on of hands.  Besides the character qualities required in Timothy, the primary function of the Deaconess is the teaching of women (Titus 2: 3-5).  Those who have clearly shown themselves as gifted in this fashion should be installed to the office of Deaconess.

I Don’t Have “Faith” Anymore

It bothers me when a good word is ruined. I understand that such a phenomenon is a product of the post-modern world we live in. And I understand that “by any other name, a rose smells just as sweet”. No matter what you call it, truth is still truth, morality is still morality. However, in the case of the word “faith”, my frustration is compounded by the fact that I can’t simply abandon the word entirely because it is too deeply infused into the Christian vocabulary.

The problem is that, nowadays, the meaning of “faith” in no way resembles what Biblical authors were talking about. Just to be clear, here is what faith means today: wishing. Faith is, apparently, the opposite of reason and knowledge. Faith picks up where thinking leaves off.

The standard “christian” picture is this: when a person responds to the Gospel, they know very little about God and what they don’t know is supplemented by faith. So, if you were to quantify it, the average new believer has single digit percentage – say 5% – of knowledge, and 95% faith. But here is where things get tricky.

According to the Scriptures, the christian should seek to increase their knowledge. They do this by hearing the Word preached, reading on their own, and using logic and reason to come to conclusions. However, if faith is really the opposite of knowledge, a very unfortunate truth emerges: the more you know, the less faith you have. As you increase in knowledge, the opposite must necessarily decrease. We can only add up to 100%. When a person has 50% knowledge, they’ve lost almost half of their faith. Where can one go in the Scrptures to support the idea that as one matures they lose their faith?

So, the response to the faith vs knowledge debate for many elders is to avoid knowledge altogether. These are the christians who balk at any form of evidence in favor of their position. In fact, they go so far as to say that evidence is dishonoring to God because it destroys faith. Though this position is incredibly wrong, there’s something to say about the consistency of it. At least they understand that if reason and knowledge increases, faith must decrease – per their definition anyway. They have, for some reason, fallen prey to a misunderstanding of the word “faith”. And, to be honest, I have no clue why. I admit I am no church historian so I have no idea when this phenomenon began to take place. I wish I did and that I could point to some faulty reasoning along the way to show why this is so wrong. Instead, I will go back to the source – God’s Word – to show that this understanding is wrong.

But, before I do, allow me to point out something very significant about the Scriptures. High-brow theological types like to say that the Scriptures are God’s “Propositional Revelation.” To put it precisely: “God supernaturally communicated His revelation to chosen spokesmen in the express form of cognitive truths, and that the inspired prophetic-apostolic proclamation reliably articulates these truths in sentences that are not internally contradictory” (Henry, God, Revelation and Authority). In other words, God didn’t just make the authors of Scripture feel what they ought to say, and then hoped that the end product was intelligible. He made sure that they knew what to say in a way that is logically consistent throughout the entirety of Scripture. God used propositions – statements that, by definition, are either true or false – to communicate. Furthermore, in many cases, God ordered those propositions to form arguments. And, in case you don’t know, arguments rest upon the foundation of reason and logic.

A wise woman I know likes to say that God is “not a God of confusion.” She is quoting from 1 Corinthians 14, a passage I’d like to quickly examine just in case you are doubting what I have to say. In this section, Paul is giving the Church instructions about order in relation to those with charismatic gifts. There were many in the church speaking in tongues and prophesying and it seems that a sort of pietistic/spiritualistic competition had arisen among them. Order had dissolved as everyone was seeking to speak at the same time and over one another. So, beginning in 1 Corinthians 14:29, Paul addresses the order to be observed when prophets are speaking:

Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others pass judgment. But if a revelation is made to another who is seated, the first one must keep silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all may be exhorted; and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets; for God is not a God of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints. -1 Corinthians 14:29-33

Paul assumes that the prophets are speaking as ones given the spirit (or special charismatic gift) of prophecy from God. He orders them to speak, one at a time, so that all may be exhorted by God. Then comes the phrase in question – but first take note of something. That last phrase is given as a reason! If reason is so evil, why did Paul give one? Why didn’t he just say “do this and have faith that what I’m saying is true and good” and leave it at that? Because that is not how Paul, or God speaking through him, choose to operate.

Go ahead and read any other epistle or any other didactic passage of Scripture and you will see that God gives reasons all the time. He uses them so that His people would increase in knowledge. Why would we seek to operate by a different standard? If the Scriptures contain reason, how can we say that the average Christian shouldn’t? If we are called to grow in knowledge, how can we abandon the tools God has given for the pursuit of it?

So, let’s return to the word in question: faith. We have to get rid of the idea that faith and knowledge are opposites. The opposite of knowledge is ignorance and the opposite of faith is unbelief. These two things are related, but they are not opposite sides of the same spectrum. Because I know it will be difficult to change this definition, I suggest you use the word trust instead. There can’t be trust without something to trust in. Furthermore, you can’t trust in something you don’t know. There can’t be trust without an object (in this case, Christ) and you can’t trust without knowledge of that object.

Consider this: when Paul gives his famous sermon on Mars Hill, he gives his audience lots of information about the unknown god. If knowledge doesn’t matter, why did he do this? Why didn’t he just say:

So Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, “Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects. For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, ‘TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. ’ Repent and believe in Him.”

If knowledge doesn’t matter, this would be the expected response – this scenario requires the most faith. But, instead, he says:

Therefore what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things; and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His children. ’ Being then the children of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man. Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead. -Acts 17:22-31

Depending on how you count, he gives at least fourteen pieces of information about the unknown god: the True God. In fact, he has the audacity to even furnish proof! If knowledge is the opposite of faith, why provide a single piece of information? He provides all of this information so that his audience has an object for their trust. Faith in an unknown god is no faith at all. Faith – or trust – in the God that Paul describes is what must accompany the repentance that Paul declares.

Before I finish, I must address at least two objections to what I’ve been saying. First, if God wants faith based on knowledge, why was anyone upset with doubting Thomas? John records this story in chapter twenty of his gospel:

But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples were saying to him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.”
After eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors having been shut, and stood in their midst and said, “ Peace be with you.” Then He said to Thomas, “ Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing.” Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed. -John 20:24-29

This passage is used by some to prove that knowledge is not necessary. If someone has knowledge, that’s okay – but if someone has no knowledge and still believes, they receive extra special blessings. But there’s a problem with this interpretation: it doesn’t take into account the context of the situation. Think of it this way: Thomas was one of the twelve. He spent almost three years going around with Jesus hearing him teach and seeing Him perform miracles. He also, like the rest of the twelve, abandoned Christ when He was handed over to crucifixion. But unlike the others, he would not believe anyone when they said that Christ was risen. He wouldn’t believe the women. He wouldn’t believe the accounts of those who said the tomb was empty. And, worst of all, he wouldn’t believe the other ten who had seen him. It wasn’t that he required evidence that Christ was risen because they all required information to come to their conclusion – even Peter had to go to the tomb to see it empty for himself. His problem was that he wouldn’t believe in light of overwhelming evidence that Christ had risen. It’s not faith vs knowledge, it’s reasonable evidence (like, say, the Scriptures) vs unreasonable evidence (like seeing Christ Himself).

Second, I have to make it clear that the Scriptures describe that certain things must simply be believed. God doesn’t give the reasons for His own existence. He doesn’t fully explain how man’s responsibility and God’s sovereignty work together (who are you o man, that answers back to God?). And, though the Word contains reason and argument, they avoid a worldly type of argument. Paul makes it clear in his first letter to the Corinthians that he was not seeking to be clever or persuasive as the world is persuasive. He makes it clear by saying:

And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.-1 Corinthians 2:1-5

We have to understand exactly what Paul is arguing against. He isn’t arguing against knowledge and reasons, which he makes clear by saying that he preached Christ, and Him crucified. He did give them an object for their faith and reasons for them to believe that He is the correct object. However, he didn’t play games and seek to persuade them by speaking cleverly or rhetorically or deceptively. He wasn’t attempting to persuade them with lots of form and very little substance – the wisdom of the age. He relied simply upon the facts and the power that comes with those facts to give knowledge and, with God’s help, faith based on that knowledge.

Faith isn’t wishing. It’s trust. When you were born again you had faith based on the knowledge you had at the time. But, as one grows in knowledge and maturity, that faith should only grow. As you better know your God – the only true God – your trust in Him should be bolstered and established, not diminished. Reject the deadly idea that faith is the opposite of knowledge and trust the God whom you know.

Authority: The Role of Women

This is part of a series of posts on the doctrine of Authority. Click here to see the entire series.

I have established the point that God has ordained three institutions in human society to which He delegates His authority.  In addition, He does not leave the representative heads and members of these institutions with no idea about how to function.  Instead, He has given specific, written instructions about the form and function of each institution in the Bible.  I have also shown that entrance to these societal institutions is by means of a sworn oath in which the participant agrees to be bound by the specific, written terms of  form and function for the institution.  Lastly I argued that each representative institution is granted a monopoly of power that is to be used to discipline the members of the institution.  At this point a legitimate question that should be raised is this, “What are the qualifications to hold office in these institutions?”  That question brings up the more exact issue of the role of women in institutions that represent the authority of Jesus over heaven and earth.

I Timothy 2: 11-14 says:

Let a woman quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness.  But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet.  For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve.  And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being quite deceived, fell into transgression.

Evangelical interpreters go to great lengths to try and make this passage say something other than what it is obviously saying.  Because of the presuppositional bias that believes that the Church is an example of an institution that is functioning under service/contractual authority, it becomes necessary to interpret this verse in some fashion that will allow women to teach and exercise authority (of the service type, they say) over men.  However, the Church is not an example of an institution that operates under service authority.  There can be no doubt that the Church is a God ordained institution that operates under His representative authority (the covenantal type).  In I Timothy we have a passage in which Paul clearly spells out the role of women in the Church and, by direct logical extrapolation, in other societal institutions that operate under the representative/covenantal authority of God.

The exhortations of Paul should not be surprising or difficult to understand.  We have seen perfect consistency in his arguments that those who are lower in the chain of authority are to submit to those who are above them.  He begins his teaching to Timothy by reiterating the position that should have been well known to all:  women are to submit to men.  This was clear in the Family.  It should be clear in the Church.  In fact, there has never been any reason to believe that women should ever be above men in the chain of representative authority.  (Note:  In cases of single women, they are not exercising authority over men because there are no men present.  A single woman is the head of her own household.)

Paul then argues from the lesser to the greater when he says, “I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man”.  Teaching is an authoritative activity.  The elders in the church are the ones who should be doing the teaching  (I am not speaking of teaching children here).  Teaching is one of the spiritual gifts by which an elder may be identified (Titus 1:9).  Beginning with the specific example of teaching, Paul then moves on to the general principle of exercising authority.  A woman is not permitted to teach in particular because a woman is not allowed to exercise authority over a man in general.  Even a rudimentary understanding of the doctrine of biblical authority makes this point abundantly clear.

Paul concludes his argument for not allowing a woman to exercise authority over a man by appealing to the same historical reality that he appealed to when teaching that a wife is to be submissive to her husband:  the creation and fall.  There is nothing that is new in what Paul is saying.  He is simply being consistent in his application of the principles of authority in the three different covenantal institutions.

That having been said, one of the errors that frequently is associated with this view is the fallacious argument that a woman is forbidden to teach at any time.  It is important to remember the chain of authority in covenantal institutions.  A woman may not exercise authority over someone who is above her in the chain.  However, a woman may exercise authority over someone who is equal to or below her in the chain.  Who is equal to or below her in the chain?  Other women and children are proper subjects for instruction.  Paul’s prohibition against teaching does not apply to women teaching children (anybody less than 20 years old, Numbers 1: 2-3) nor does it apply to women teaching other women.  Those who argue that a woman may never speak in a church building and may certainly never teach any other human being are completely missing the point about representative authority.

Ignorance of the doctrine of authority has also resulted in a commensurate ignorance of the doctrine of ordination.  Ordination has always been recognized by the orthodox Christian Church throughout history as the outward ceremony that recognizes that a man has been called to hold an office of representative authority.  (In the case of deacons, who are considered qualified for that office on the basis of their demonstrated service authority; they are installed, rather than ordained, to their office.)  Evangelical churches have done a lot of fancy footwork to try and get around the plain teaching of Paul on the role of women with respect to representative authority.  One step in that dance has been to ordain women to the office of elder and then describe that office as an “office of service”.  It is obvious what is going on.  Once again, the presuppositional bias that authoritative offices within the Church are established on the grounds of service authority appears.   The fact that a person is ordained to the office of elder confirms the reality that covenantal authority is being recognized.  There is no way that a church can be faithful to the specific, written instructions God has given the church about the qualifications of His representatives and ordain women to the office of elder at the same time.  So what is to be done with women who appear to be able to teach and seem to have leadership abilities?

The Good Samaritan and bad Theology

It never ceases to amaze me how easy it is for a preacher to reach inaccurate conclusions when he approaches the biblical text with bad theology. I heard a sermon last week on the Good Samaritan. The preacher read the parable from Luke 10. The parable in his Bible was the same as the parable in my Bible; but at the end of the sermon, I felt like I was in some sort of Star Trek episode where there are multiple realities and where no one knows which reality is the real one.

We all know the parable. A man is walking down the street and is robbed and beaten nearly to death, and the man is left bleeding and dying on the side of the rode. A priest comes by and ignores him. Shortly after, a Levite comes walking down the road and also ignores the bleeding and dying man. Then, a Samaritan comes and tends to the man’s needs. Jesus says that the Samaritan is the one who behaves like a neighbor and who fulfills the law to love your neighbor as yourself.

At this point, the preacher and I were in agreement. Then, he started to apply this text to the lives of the people in the congregation. He claimed that the doctrine that should be derived from this parable is that people in the church should go about looking for people outside the church for whom they can do nice things. People in the church should give food and money to people outside the church who don’t have as much food and money as they have. Church members should spend their days actively looking for unbelievers who have some kind of material need that can be met, and then they should meet that need. This is where I started to get confused. The preacher read the same parable that was in front of me, but he reached a wildly different conclusion.

Maybe I missed something. Maybe there is something in the parable about the Samaritan going around looking for people to whom he could give his money, so I read the parable again. Nope, the Samaritan just happened to be walking down the street, and he wasn’t handing out money and food to people who simply did not have as much money and food as he did. He was walking down the street and happened to come across a man who had been beaten nearly to death. The man was in need of medical attention. His life was in danger, and the Samaritan gave him the attention he needed. That’s it. How can anyone read this parable and conclude that the church needs to give money to poor people? The parable clearly teaches that caring for the immediate needs of a man who has been beaten by thieves is a fulfillment of the command to love your neighbor as yourself. It says nothing about handing out goods and services to poor people.

This is what happens when preachers approach a text with bad theology. Having already determined (based upon what, I have no idea) that the main function of the church is to pass out goods and services to poor people, preachers begin to see things in the text that are not actually there. They have a preconceived notion in their heads, and they insert that preconceived notion between the lines in the text. It is a delusional practice, but it happens all the time. It’s a sad day when preachers begin to put words in God’s mouth. It’s supposed to be the other way around. Preachers should be speaking God’s words, not trying to make God speak their words.

If you have ever been told that it is your Christian duty to give money and food to people outside the church who have less money and food than you, I urge you to read the parable of the Good Samaritan and do what he does. If you come across a man who has been robbed, beaten, and left for dead on your way home from work, stop and tend to his needs. In doing this, you will be loving your neighbor as yourself. If, however, you pass by someone ringing a bell outside the grocery store at Christmas time and feel a tug in your heart to give, feel free to ignore that tug. Whether you put a dollar in the jar or not has nothing to do with loving your neighbor.

Authority: Monopoly Powers of Covenantal Institutions

This is part of a series of posts on the doctrine of Authority. Click here to see the entire series.

Another characteristic that covenantal institutions have in common is the presence of monopoly power over the members of that institution.  Once again, monopoly power is not seen in voluntary/contractual activities.  Economically, it is impossible for a monopoly to come into existence when there is free and open competition.  It is only in the presence of an institution that has been granted monopoly power by God that this can exist.  The family, church, and state have all been granted a monopoly on a particular power that they are ordered to exercise over the members of their respective organizations.

Proverbs 13: 24 says, “He who spare his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him diligently.”

Proverbs 22: 15 says, “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; the rod of discipline will remove it far from him.”

Proverbs 23: 13-14 says, “Do not hold back discipline from the child, although you beat him with the rod, he will not die.  You shall beat him with the rod, and deliver his soul from Sheol.”

These, and dozens of passages just like them, all point to the duty of the representative head of the family to exercise corporal discipline on the disobedient children of the household.  The husband may delegate this duty to his wife to perform while he is absent or indisposed.  Nowhere do we read that somebody outside of the husband/wife team is permitted to strike a child of that household without the expressed permission of the father.  The father has been granted the monopoly power of corporal punishment over his household.  Although Evangelicals disagree over the severity of the punishment and the means to determine what is a punishable offense, I  believe that they generally agree with this doctrine.

In the same way that the father has a monopoly power over his children, the elders of the church have a monopoly power over the members of the church.  Matthew 16: 19 says, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you shall bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you shall loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.”

Matthew 18: 18-20 says, “Truly I say to you, whatever you shall bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.  Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by my Father who is in heaven.  For where two or three have gathered together in My name, there I am in their midst.”

The “Keys to the Kingdom” described in Matthew 16 have always been recognized by the orthodox Church as the monopoly power of church discipline.  The elders of the church have the right and the responsibility to discipline the members of the church.  As is always the case in covenantal institutions, God has not left His people without instructions.  Matthew 18 describes in detail how to proceed in cases of church discipline.  The passage quoted above concludes the teaching on procedures of discipline  and adamantly asserts that the representative authority of Jesus is present when the elders act in His name and according to His instructions.  The covenantal authority is so strong that Jesus actually says that he is “in their midst.”  That is not some sort of mystical statement that can be used to describe  what is going on when Christians are having a good time worshipping together.  That statement is made in the context of excommunication, the most severe censure of the church.

The elders of the church, acting as Jesus’ representatives, have the responsibility to excommunicate the unrepentant individual from the local church.  When done properly, the elders have the full assurance that Jesus is “in their midst”.  The excommunicant is declared to be an unbeliever, condemned to hell if he does not specifically repent and return to the church.  This power may only be administered by the elders of the Church.  Neither the state nor the family has the right to excommunicate a member of the church.  Unfortunately, this responsibility is rarely exercised in Evangelical churches in the United States.  See my essay entitled “The Case for the Reformation of Church Disciplinary Procedures” for a detailed study on this topic.

Romans 13: 4 says, “…for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath upon the one who practices evil.”  As we saw earlier, this is a statement about the State.  The covenantal institution of the State has the monopoly power of the sword.  The State, and only the State, is permitted to enforce the civil law of God over its citizens and resident aliens.  This power extends all the way to the ultimate sanction of the penalty of death.  No individual citizen, no family, no church is ever permitted to take up the sword against his neighbor.  God has ordained the State as the means by which the sanctions of His civil law are to be administered.

Although most Evangelicals would wrongly say that the State is not to administer the civil law of God, I know of none who do not agree that the State has the monopoly on “the sword”.  Some modern day Christian anarchists might try to argue that point but they are so far from rational that I will not waste my time dealing with them.

This concludes my explanation of the nature of authority with respect to covenantal institutions.  There are hundreds of practical applications that may be drawn from the principles that have been established.  What follows is a discussion of some of the applications that I deem to be most significant.

Why Are We Here?

We have received some not-so-supportive responses to our recent polemic posts. We’ve been criticized for what we’ve been saying and how we’ve been saying it. Last week Pastor Doug responded to the question of tone. Today I’d like to respond to the more fundamental question – why say anything negative in the first place?

The answer to this question is quite simple: we believe that it is the job of the Church – and specifically the elders – to proclaim what is true and rebuke what is false. This has been the job of God’s authoritative representatives from the beginning. From Moses and the Prophets to the Apostles and their delegates, God has charged his representatives with the most solemn duty of speaking for God.

Our goal is to live up to the charge given by Paul in the third and fourth chapters of 2 Timothy. Paul is writing his last letter to his son in the faith to encourage the young pastor and to emphasize the most important parts of his ministry. It’s a powerful letter throughout, but everything in the first two and a half chapters is building up to this, the most important part of the letter:

But evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.
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.

There are (at least) three important principles to glean from this passage. First, just because someone is acting “in the name of Christ,” it doesn’t follow that they are doing what is right. Second, the initial response to false teaching is to “continue in the things you have learned.” And third, elders are charged with preaching the truth and refuting false teaching.

The name of Christ is spoken by many who have nothing to do with Him. Go back and read all of 2 Timothy 3, 2 Peter 2 or Jude and try to deny this. Paul and Peter are not describing the leaders of other religious institutions – they are describing what will happen inside the Church. This shouldn’t be anything new. The history of the Church – especially everything recorded in the OT prophetic books – is filled with men rebuking the leaders of the Church for their sin. Nothing has changed in the New Covenant except for the fact that things are only going to get worse.

This fact is lost today and I think it is because of a misapplication of Philippians 1:15-18:

Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ even from envy and strife, but some also from good will; the latter do it out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel; the former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition rather than from pure motives, thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice.

How are we to reconcile 2 Timothy 3 and Philippians 1? In Philippians, Paul is describing bad men teaching the right thing (the Gospel). In this case it doesn’t matter who the mouthpiece is as long as the truth is being preached. However, when describing false teachers, lies are in view and there is no circumstance where this is acceptable. To confuse these two wildly different circumstances exposes a fundamental inability to interpret the Scriptures. Just saying the name of Jesus doesn’t make you a legitimate Christian leader – faithfully doing what elders are ordained to do makes you one!

So, how should the elder respond to false teaching? They should hold fast to what has been delivered in the Scriptures. The Scriptures must be the sure foundation of everything the Christian, and especially the elder, does. But, the elder has an additional responsibility to build on this foundation: they must preach the truth.

Timothy is charged – in the most solemn manner that Paul could imagine – to preach the word, reprove, rebuke and exhort. Notice that Paul tells Timothy to do one positive action – preach – and three negative actions. According to Paul it isn’t enough to simply promote the truth, he must speak out against what is false. Nowadays we don’t take this command very seriously. The church has been convinced that as long as you say what is right there’s no need to condemn anyone else. Live and let live. Preach and let preach. Why can’t we just all get along? We do this because we don’t consider what a false teacher really does: they harm the sheep and make God to be a liar.

Harming one of God’s people is a serious matter. How did Jesus accuse Paul, then Saul, of his persecutions of the Church? Why do you persecute my people? NO! He says “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” (Acts 9:4) Jesus so identifies with His people that a malicious act against one of us is taken as a malicious act against Himself. You see the converse in Matthew 25 – a righteous act toward one of us is taken as a righteous act for Him. If this is true for God’s people in the case of physical harm, it is certainly true in the case of intellectual and spiritual harm. And if you don’t believe that teaching what is false is harmful to God’s people, read what Peter has to say in 2 Peter 2:

But these, like unreasoning animals, born as creatures of instinct to be captured and killed, reviling where they have no knowledge, will in the destruction of those creatures also be destroyed, suffering wrong as the wages of doing wrong. They count it a pleasure to revel in the daytime. They are stains and blemishes, reveling in their deceptions, as they carouse with you, having eyes full of adultery that never cease from sin, enticing unstable souls, having a heart trained in greed, accursed children; forsaking the right way, they have gone astray, having followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness

If they are fit for destruction, will those they teach be any better? If they will suffer wrong, can we expect only blessing for those who follow? If they receive the wages of unrighteousness, what will their followers earn? If the fate for these men is so terrible, how could it be any better for those they take down with them?

However, this is not all we can say about false teaching. What makes false teaching even worse is that it makes God out to be a liar. The elders are God’s officially delegated mouthpieces. We have been charged with preaching and teaching that which has been delivered to us. And what has been delivered to us but God’s own word? When anyone speaks a lie in God’s name it is evil, how much more so when it is one that has been specifically charged and appointed to speak the truth? God’s established authorities will be held accountable for those they care for and for what they say.

So, we speak out because it is the right thing to do. God has called His elders to refute what is false because he cares about his people who are being enticed by false teachers and because He cares about His name that is dragged through the mud when it is used to promote lies. As we look to the Church today, we see false teaching almost everywhere. There is no denying that things have gotten and continue to get worse. Turn on the “christian” TV station and you will see fool after fool that men have accumulated to tickle their ears. We speak so adamantly against what is false because there is so much falsehood out there! What other loving response could there be? Is it loving to see someone believing or teaching something false and turn a blind eye? We have been accused of hate for our actions – how much further from the truth can it be?! Refuting false teaching is the only way to save them from the destruction Peter describes in 2 Peter 2.

To preempt what is surely the first response to what I am saying, I must say that we do not do this because we think that we are the only ones that are right. We are not so foolish or arrogant to think that we have exclusive claims on the truth. We speak because we know we are not alone. God always has a remnant and we want to minister to them.

The Church today focuses almost exclusively on the world. Almost every service is “seeker sensitive” and organized to make unbelievers feel welcome. Every “ministry” is dedicated to taking the time, effort and money of God’s people and spending it on outsiders. All of this is done with a false piety that believes the world is all that matters. The Church has been very successful in accumulating “teachers in accordance to their own desires.” And while this is done, God’s people go unfed and neglected, told time and time again that they don’t matter. Do elders forget Christ’s identification with His people? When the sheep are neglected, God Himself is neglected. God always has a remnant and we want to minister to them.

So, if you are one of His in the midst of the wilderness that is the church, we want to encourage you. We want to help you get some meat. We don’t have any desire to steal you from your current congregation, we want to encourage you and help you know the truth so that you can work to refine it. We want a hearty and heart-felt debate based on the issues we raise so that people learn how to think and not just follow feelings or mysticism. And we must refute the lies that are being masqueraded as Biblical Christianity. God is not honored by falsehood, but He is most certainly honored when it is shown to be false.

Authority: The Oath or Vow in Covenantal Institutions

This is part of a series of posts on the doctrine of Authority. Click here to see the entire series.

Matthew 5: 33-37 says:

Again you have heard that the ancients were told, “you shall not make false vows, but shall fulfill your vows to the lord.”  But I say to you, make no oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet, or by Jerusalem, for it is the City of the Great King.
Nor shall you make an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black.  But let your statement be, “yes, yes” or “no, no”; and anything beyond these is of evil.

The doctrine of the oath or vow is rarely discussed by evangelicals these days.  It has been lost along with the doctrine of authority that is being advanced in this essay.  The oath (I will use the term ‘oath’ and ‘vow’ interchangeably) is an integral part of the doctrine of authority.  It is only in light of the doctrine of authority that the concept of any oath can make any sense.

The writing and sealing of a voluntary contract does not involve the use of an oath.  I have never known of anyone in the business world today who has required that the other party to a contract  swear an oath to uphold his part of the contract.  Indeed, the contract is written on the basis of the law of the land and both parties know their rights in the event of a breach of contract.  Signing the contract is not taking an oath. Signing a contract establishes a voluntary legal document that then can be adjudicated among the parties to the contract according to the law of the land.

Pietists take the words of Jesus in the passage quoted above and universalize them to mean that it is always a sin to swear an oath.  This is the exegetical practice of  pietists with respect to all the Sermon on the Mount.  That practice of universalizing the statements of the Sermon on the Mount has led to much confusion on proper Christian behavior in the world.  It is a grave mistake to assert that all vows are sinful.  Paul himself swore a vow while on one of his missionary journeys.  Although Paul certainly was not perfect, and he did sin, it is strange that he would publicly declare his vow and nobody would rebuke him for the sin of swearing a vow if it was indeed a sinful practice.

The apostolic church quickly established the use of baptismal vows in order to initiate new members into the local congregation.  Many of the written documents that have survived down to our time are documents that contain elaborate systems of vows and oaths the initiate had to go through prior to membership.  It seems strange that this practice would have been encouraged if the taking of a vow was a sin.

The reason for the confusion is the pietists misunderstanding of the nature of the vows that Jesus is speaking of.  Indeed, it was the practice of the Jews in Jesus’ time to swear an oath or make a vow as a regular part of their business dealings. Elaborate systems of oaths and vows had been developed for every type of voluntary contract that could be imagined.  It is into this context that Jesus enters and forbids the taking of a vow.  He is not forbidding the taking of a vow in a covenantal setting.  He is forbidding the taking of a vow in a contractual setting.

This really should be obvious to all of us.  Most people are married or have been married at some point in their lives.  Even most pietists who say that a vow should never be taken have sworn a marriage vow.  The initiation of the institution of marriage starts with a vow; and that is how it should be.  Many people have been involved in the legal system of the state in one way or another.  Getting involved with the state involves several vows.  To become an officer of the State or the Court you must take a vow to uphold the Constitution of the United States and the law of the land.  To testify in a criminal trial you must swear a vow to tell the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.  No pietist that I am aware of has ever refused to take these vows.  The point is quite clear:  covenantal institutions are intimately tied up with the taking of vows.  Why would this be so?

Remember that in a covenantal institution where the authority of God is being delegated downward from God Himself to the representative head of the institution, the person who serves as head already has a complete description of the form and functions of his office; that is, the biblical imperatives that he is to follow.    The vow/oath is the act whereby the person being appointed to a position in a covenantal institution swears to uphold the pre-existing terms and conditions that come with that office. (This creates a real problem for those who willingly swear an oath to uphold a document other than the Word of God or, even more of a problem for those who swear an oath to a document that is contrary to the Word of God.  More about this later.)  This is not necessary in a voluntary/contractual arrangement because the terms are always subject to change.  God’s Word, however, is never subject to change and those who would represent God to others are required to swear an oath to do so.

God takes the vow seriously.  He expects that those who represent Him will do so as He has ordered them to do so.  Taking the vow is the promise to represent God accurately.  It is also the promise to submit to those higher than you in the chain of command for that institution.  The vow is what initiates and vitalizes the covenantal institution.

Evangelicals have no problem in understanding the importance of the marriage vow.  Few, if any Evangelicals would be willing to live together outside of marriage.  They understand that the taking of the marriage vow initiates the marriage covenant that establishes the family.   They understand that God has clearly described the chain of authority in the family and that He has given specific, written instructions on how the family is to be run.

Unfortunately, many Evangelicals, due to a woeful ignorance of the doctrine of authority, have a very low view of the local church and church membership.  The debilitating effects of the presupposition of the contractual nature of church membership leads many believers into the mistaken idea that God has no opinion about their membership in the local church.  This, however, is not the case.

The local church is a part of the Church universal, the Body of Christ.  The Body of Christ is an institution that is best understood as one in which the authority of Jesus is delegated to His representatives (Eph 4  and I Cor 12).  Jesus has given the local church specific, written instructions about what they are to do and how they are to function.  Jesus has told His Church that the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.  Jesus has promised His Church that He will protect it and provide for it throughout this age.  Jesus has promised His Church that He will come for her in the future to be united in a tremendous celebration called the “marriage feast of the lamb”.  Jesus has told His Church that she will live with Him in the New Jerusalem for eternity.  Individual membership in this institution is more than just a simple “I do”.

When a person is regenerated by the Holy Spirit and repents and is saved, he is expected to align himself with the Church universal though membership in a local church.  (I am ignoring the status of children, that is another issue entirely.)  All orthodox Christians throughout the history of the Church have been united in their profession that “there is no salvation outside of the Church”.  This sounds like a terribly nasty thing to say in this Evangelical age when membership is seen as unimportant or even unnecessary; but it is the truth.

Entrance to the Body of Christ is through faith by grace and the taking of an oath of membership to a local congregation with a God ordained authority structure being present.  It is not an option.  The voluntary nature of joining the church is with respect to which particular church the believer wants to join.  Joining the Church universal is not an option and it must be expressed by membership in a local church somewhere.  Taking an oath at the time of membership is what tells God that the individual will submit to His authority, as seen in His designated representatives.  A simple test can be taken.  Read Hebrews 13: 17 and ask yourself, “Who does this apply to?’  If you have no answer, you are outside the church.  All Christians should be able to give a specific answer to the question, “Who are you submitting to as a leader of your church?”

Lastly, the oath of citizenship to the State is something very few people have a problem with.  In the United States, prior to the ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment in 1868, the decision to become a citizen was a voluntary one.  It was possible to live in the United States as a resident alien.  Those who wished to become citizens took an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States and were admitted to citizenship.  For a variety of political reasons (mostly an attempt to punish the South after the Civil War), the Fourteenth Amendment was passed in which all people born in the United States are automatically deemed to be citizens of the country.

It should be obvious to those who are reading this essay that mandatory citizenship is akin to conversion at the tip of a bayonet and growth of the family by kidnapping.  All involve involuntary actions that are imputed upon the “victim”, perhaps against his will.  The State should allow for the classification of “resident alien” in which an individual would live, work, pay taxes, and submit to the law of the land in which he lives without being forced to take an oath of citizenship.  In the United States, since citizenship is automatic, this oath is imputed, whether you like it or not.  Since most people, and most Christians, are happy to be citizens of the United States, this rarely causes a problem.  As we shall see later however, this imputed oath causes a gigantic problem for those who understand the nature of biblical authority.

In Defense of Harsh Speech Among Christians

In light of recent posts and comments, it seems timely to write something in defense of the use of harsh speech and satirical tone in communications between professing believers. The most recent critiques of the theology and practice of certain elders of Hillside Community Church has caused quite a stir. As usual, there has been no comment whatsoever about the actual content of the critiques. Instead, we have been condemned for the tone and style of the critique. I do not believe the authors have sinned in what they said nor do I believe they have sinned in the way they said it.

The standard argument used by most Evangelicals is that we are required to submit to our leaders in the church. So far, so good. Submission is defined to exclude the use of harsh language with leaders or fellow believers. That is where the problems start. I Timothy 5:1 is quoted (“Do not sharply rebuke an older man, bur rather appeal to him as a father, to the younger men as brothers, the older women as mothers, and the younger women as sisters…”) and universalized to support the position that it is always wrong to use a harsh tone when communicating to fellow Christians.

Hebrews 13:17 is quoted (“Obey your leaders, and submit to them; for they keep watch over your souls, as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.”) and universalized in support of the position that it is always wrong to use a harsh or mocking style with any person in Christian leadership. Submission, it is argued, precludes harsh style.

The harsh words of Jesus for the folks He came into contact with are dismissed as being in one of two categories. First, they were words spoken to people who were heretical apostates. It is argued that if a person (or group of people) has been properly declared to be a heretical apostate, it is then proper to use harsh terminology. That is the only time, it is said, it is proper to use a mocking style. Second, Jesus is God and was infallible in His use of harsh tones and mocking style. As a result, men are not permitted to use a harsh tone and a mocking style since they are not infallible and only God is permitted to use a harsh tone with people who are not heretical apostates. In this case the old question “What Would Jesus Do?” no longer applies. According to this position, we should only do what Jesus did when He did things that were not harsh or mocking (again, with the exception for groups that have been declared heretical apostates).

I believe it is fair to assert that Evangelicals believe it is always sinful to use harsh tones or mocking style when communicating to fellow believers who have not been properly declared to be heretical apostates. Harsh tones and mocking style are alleged to be disrespectful and to not show the requisite honor that we are required to have for one another. Hence, since there has been no judicial proclamation that the elders of Hillside are heretical apostates, it is sinful for us to use a harsh tone and a mocking style when we write in critique of their horrible actions. I disagree.

Several items need to be considered about this topic. First, let’s look at the example of Paul in Acts 23. Evangelicals use this passage in support of their position. They say that Paul repented of the immoderate and sinful use of an insult against the High Priest. I will show that just the opposite took place. Second, let’s look at the example of John the Baptist in his dealings with the religious leadership of his time. Third, let’s look at the issue of how our culture can influence the way we think about this topic.

Acts 23:1-6 contains the first part of the encounter between Paul and the Sanhedrin. Paul begins his defense before this body of religious leaders by asserting his innocence before the law. Ananias, the High Priest of the Council, ordered him to be struck in the face for saying that he had a clear conscience before God. After he was struck, Paul shouted out, “God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall. And do you sit to try me according to the Law, and in violation of the Law order me to be struck.” Luke records that some bystanders then informed Paul that Ananias was the High Priest. Paul then said, “I was not aware, brethren, that he was high priest; for it is written, ‘You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people.'”

Evangelicals assert that Paul’s statement quoted above constitutes repentance and an apology to Ananias. That can hardly be the case. Paul did not apologize. Paul did not address Ananias. Ananias never responded to his alleged request for forgiveness. Paul could hardly have been unaware that Ananias was High Priest. What was Paul doing when he quoted Exodus 22:28? Calvin gives us some great insight into this passage. He says, “Therefore Paul knew what place he (Ananias) had when he said that he abused his power….Therefore, subscribing to Augustine, I do not doubt but that this is a taunting excuse….plain speech becomes the ministers of the Word. For seeing there be two sorts of ironies, one which is covered with subtlety and means to deceive, another which figuratively points out the matter that is at hand; in this second there is nothing which does not well fit the servants of Christ….he (Paul) denies that Ananias is to be counted a priest of God, who hath corrupted and perverted all the order of the Church.”

Calvin clearly asserts, I believe quite properly, that Paul was mocking Ananias with his response. Ananias was the legitimately constituted religious authority over him and he mocked him nonetheless. Calvin goes on to deal with the question of submission to unjust authority. He says, “When the spiritual government does degenerate, the consciences of the godly are at liberty, and set free from obeying unjust authority.” The question is not merely if a person (or group of people) has been declared to be a heretical apostate. The question has to do with the justice of the proclamation. When an unjust proclamation is made and enforced, the Christian is required to resist. Clearly Paul had no problem with using a mocking style when he confronted those who issued unjust orders.

As far as the harsh tone of Paul was concerned, Calvin goes on to say this, “So Paul did not speak for his own sake, that he might, with sharp words, requite the injury done to him by the high priest; but because he was a minister of the word of God, he would not wink at an offence which did deserve sharp and serious reprehension; especially seeing it was profitable to bring to light the gross hypocrisy of Ananias….If the spirit of meekness is reigning in us, we may handle the wicked according to their deserts, as it were out of the mouth of God…”

The message is simple. A harsh tone and mocking style are not wrong provided the motivation behind their usage is not based upon selfish revenge and vindictive pettiness. However, when a biblically justifiable anger is brought to bear upon a grievous act of tyranny and oppression by a religious leader, it is entirely proper and correct to use a harsh tone and a mocking style in responding to the tyrannical behavior.

Matthew 3:7-10 contains the record of John the Baptist addressing the Pharisees when they presented themselves to him for baptism. The Pharisees were the legitimately constituted religious authority over John. At this point in time nobody had declared them to be heretical apostates. Jesus, in fact, said that they were to be respected because they “sit in Moses chair”. This example of John cannot be dismissed as an example of dealing with a heretical apostate group. Furthermore, these people were coming to John to be baptized. They were not looking for a fight.

Here is what John said to them as they approached him for baptism. “You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” That is rather harsh and intolerant speech. Here is something of what Calvin had to say about the words of John. “Does any one suppose that John acted improperly, in treating them with so much harshness at the first interview? I reply: They were not unknown to him, and the knowledge he had of them was derived, not from acquaintance or experience, but, on the contrary, from a secret revelation of the Spirit. It was therefore necessary that he should not spare them, lest they might return home more inflated with pride….Those whose habits of uttering falsehood to God, and of deceiving themselves, lead them to hold out hypocrisy and pretension, instead of the reality, ought to be urged, with greater sharpness than other men, to true repentance. There is an astonishing pertinacity, as I have said, in hypocrites; and, until they have been flayed by violence, they obstinately keep their skin.”

Notice what Calvin is saying here. Sometimes it is necessary to use an extremely sharp tone just to get through to a hypocrite. The hypocrite is an expert at creating an alternative universe that he can live in consistently. The use of mocking is designed to get through to them.

Calvin always emphasizes the importance of not being motivated by selfish ambition when using a harsh tone and a mocking style. He says, “Yet let all godly teachers beware, lest, while they are influenced by a holy zeal against the tyrants of the Church, they mingle with it the affections of the flesh.”. This will be my principle (indeed it has been my principle for many years): If the cause is just and the audience is deaf, employ massive doses of satire, harsh tone and mocking style. If the cause is motivated by selfish ambition and my own hurt feelings, keep the mouth shut.

I have used Calvin extensively in my defense. I have been told that Calvin cannot be used in defense of harsh speech because he lived in a time when such things were common and he was, therefore, unable to overcome his culture and see the impropriety of it all. Calvin, we are incessantly told, was quite the nasty person himself. Using him to defend my style is akin to using the writings of Hitler to defend my anti- Semitism.

There is no doubt that Calvin lived in a different time. That is not the question. The question is this, was his time better or worse than ours with regard to the issue of harsh tone and mocking style in communication? The question is was his culture more biblical in it’s approach to communication than ours? I would argue that his time was much better than ours and that his culture was more biblical in it‘s communication style.

How many Christians bemoan the cultural bane of politically correct speech? How often have you complained about the need to take course work designed to teach you how to speak in such a way as to never offend anyone? How often have you observed that nothing is really being communicated anymore because we are all so terrified about how we speak? I believe most everyone can related to what I am saying. We all recognize that our culture is a culture that regulates speech in order to eliminate all offense, real and imaginary. We also recognize that that regulation is a degeneration of genuine communication. Why then, do we have such a problem with the old, straight-forward style of communication?

Augustine said that if something was ridiculous it deserved to be ridiculed. Luther was infamous for his tirades against anyone and anything that opposed him. Calvin’s Institutes contain one insult after another for those who disagree with him. Erasmus wrote a book entitled “The Praise of Folly” that is entirely and completely a satirical mockery of those who opposed the Reformation. Luther, thinking Erasmus had not gone far enough, wrote a letter to Erasmus that was entirely a satirical mockery of him. All of these documents are considered to be classics of Christian literature. Today, however, we have no stomach for such style. We have adopted the communication standards of the world and we roar in objection if anyone ever deals with us in a harsh or satirical fashion.

I believe the earlier style of communication is more biblical. Paul opposed Peter to his face, in front of the brethren, when he reproached him for separating himself from the Gentile believers at meals. Do we really believe that he spoke to him according to the modern, seminary trained, objectively stoic, style that we demand of ourselves today? Do we really believe that he first praised Peter for all the good things he had done before getting around to the little, teeny-weeny problem that he had with his behavior? I don’t think so.

Jesus called Peter “Satan” and told him to “get behind me” when he objected to the way of the cross. That was hardly a pleasant conversation. We are to be like Jesus. The mere fact that He is perfect and we are not does not mean we are to ignore all of His harsh statements. If that were the case, no preacher would ever be able to preach because his preaching is not perfect. The mere fact that we will not be perfect in our use of harsh tones and mocking style does not mean we are never to do it. Yes, we will make mistakes. Yes, we will sometimes be harsh when we should not be. But we must never throw out the baby with the bathwater.

We have become a nation and a culture of communication sissies. We are quick to jump up and down and assert our rights the moment somebody says something in a tone or a style that we do not like. Get over it. Grow up. We know this is true. We talk this way about secular communication all the time. Why do we not see it in our Christian communication?

Paul wrote to the Galatians and called them “fools” and “hypocrites”. He said that he wished that some of their teachers would “castrate themselves”. That hardly sounds like acceptable speech in our culture today. That hardly sounds like an acceptable tone for a pastor to take when addressing his congregation. Paul wrote to the Corinthians elders and mocked them. He said that they were “wise” when he meant that they were foolish. Then, he said that they were “babies”. Then he said that they were “arrogant”. Then he said that they were braggers. Then he said that their behavior was “shameful”. Write a letter like that to any church today and all you will hear in response is how offended they were at the tone and the style of the letter. The content would be ignored. Paul was not ignored. He followed up his accusations with a threat to come to them “with power”. That meant that he had the apostolic power to providentially execute them for ignoring him. He got their attention.

We need to recognize that the Church has adopted the culture of the world with respect to our communication style. We need to grow up. We need to get tough. We need to recognize that there is a time for harsh and intolerant speech.

I do not believe it to be the case that we are only permitted to use a harsh tone and a mocking style whenever we are dealing with heretical apostates. I believe we are permitted to do so whenever we are dealing with specific behaviors that are horribly tyrannical, oppressive, and immoral. Our response says nothing about the eternal state of the souls we are talking to. That is not the issue. Christians are so quick to go to the question, “So you are saying I am not a believer?” NO! A thousand times NO! I am not saying anything like that. The only time that can be said is when a person has been justly excommunicated. I don’t know what the state of the soul of the other person is. It is none of my business. I am just dealing with the facts as they present themselves. I am saying that, based upon the facts as they are, what you are doing is viciously wrong and needs to stop immediately.