Whither the Presbyterian Church?

“For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica.” (II Tim. 4.10)

“Do not love the world or the things in the world.  If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world.  And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.” (I Jn. 2.15-17)

Whither the Presbyterian Church (USA)?

For the 46th year in a row, the Presbyterian Church (USA) has lost members and churches, and for the fourth year in a row, the net membership loss has exceeded 60,000.  2011 represents the first time that the membership of the PCUSA has officially dipped below two million—the reported number is 1,952,287, which is actually inflated, as it includes the membership of churches (like mine) that have voted to disaffiliate but are being sued for their property.  To be sure, 86,645 people (a number that is annually declining) joined PCUSA congregations in 2011.  However, the loss of 150,449 members more than offsets that gain.

Not only is the PCUSA losing members, it is losing whole congregations.  In 2011, only eighteen new congregations were organized, and no congregations were received from other denominations, whereas 21 congregations were dismissed to other denominations and 75 congregations were dissolved (which number probably includes congregations that left the denomination without the blessing of presbytery as well as those congregations that simply died because its members were too old, too few, and/or too poor to continue constituting a viable congregation).  To remedy this egregious loss (and the like losses that have been transpiring for decades), the 220th General Assembly of the PCUSA voted to approve the General Assembly Mission Council’s proposal to organize 1001 new worshiping communities in the next ten years.  This same proposal was introduced last year at the PCUSA’s Big Tent event in Indianapolis by GAMC director Roger Dermody.  As I wrote in response to this proposal then, I still contend now: This proposal will not work because the PCUSA has not taken into account the consequences of the pluralistic worldview that pervades its seminaries and many, if not most, of its congregations, especially the insurmountable barrier that this worldview poses to evangelism.

The annual hemorrhaging of members and congregations is symptomatic of a much greater underlying problem: The PCUSA is in love with this present world.  Or, to be more precise, the PCUSA in large measure is given over to the doctrines of Theological Liberalism, which, in turn, is in love with this present world and ever has been since its inception.

Theological Liberalism was born in the aftermath of the devastating attack on religion in general—and Christianity in particular—by the Enlightenment.  During the Enlightenment, European philosophers, of whom Immanuel Kant and David Hume were foremost, succeeded in convincing most who were educated in Europe’s universities that supernatural revelation was simply irrational.  The only sources of knowledge accessible to humankind, the Enlightenment philosophers asserted, were empirical observation and reason based solely thereupon.  That a Supreme Being who formed the human mind and the human tongue might use the minds and tongues of just a handful of men in a minor civilization that had been gone from the face of the earth for seventeen or eighteen centuries to deliver His message to all humanity for all time was judged to be an offense to reason.

Moreover, during this same time, the disciplines of literary and historical criticism were developed that effectively said that the text of Scripture cannot be taken at face value (let alone as the Word of God); the books of the Bible were each hodge-podged together by ancient scribes from even more ancient sources.  Moses was deemed not to be the author of the Pentateuch (in contradiction to the testimony of the New Testament; Mt. 19.8, Lk. 16.29,31, 24.44, Jn. 1.17,45, 5.45-47, 7.19-23, Acts 26.22, 28.23), Isaiah was not the author of the last twenty-seven chapters of the book ascribed to his name (cf. Mt. 3.3, 12.17-21, Lk. 3.4-6, 4.17-19, Jn. 21.38, Acts 8.30-33, Rom. 10.20), and Peter was not the author of the second epistle ascribed to his name (cf. II Pet. 1.1,14,16-18, 3.1).  We Presbyterians are fond of quoting Chapter 20, Section 2, of the Westminster Confession of Faith, “God alone is Lord of the conscience, and has left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men, which are, in anything, contrary to His Word, or beside it in matters of faith of worship.  So that to believe such doctrines, or to obey such commands out of conscience, is to betray true liberty of conscience; and the requiring an implicit faith, and an absolute and blind obedience, is to destroy liberty of conscience, and reason also.”  Thus, those who use the tools of literary and historical criticism would bind our consciences to their teaching in opposition to the plain text of Scripture.

In the early nineteenth century, Friedrich Schleiermacher, jealous for the high regard of the cultural elite, sought to recast Christianity into the world’s way of thinking, jettisoning the idea of propositional revelation in the hope that the cultural elite would find this sentimental Christianity more palatable and to their liking than the inflexible approach of “It is written” or “Have you not read” (cf. Mt. 4.4,7,10, 11.10, 21.16,42, 19.4, Mk. 7.6, Lk. 3.4, 24.46, Acts 1.20, 2.16,25,34, 4.25, 7.42,48, 13.33-35,40,47, 15.15, 28.25).  The doctrines of Christianity, he believed, must be decontextualized from its foundation in Scripture and recontextualized into the prevailing contemporary worldview.  If there is a conflict between the text of Scripture and the fundamental presuppositional beliefs of the prevailing contemporary worldview, it is the text of Scripture that must be made to agree with the world’s way of thinking than to require those in the world to reorient their thinking to the context of God’s self-revelation in Scripture.  Furthermore, if there is anything in Scripture that is unpalatable to the prevailing contemporary worldview, it must be jettisoned in order to make Christianity appealing to those in the world so that they might meet Christ in the context of prevailing public opinion.

Moreover, not only did Schleiermacher seek to recontextualize the Christian faith into the worldview of its cultured despisers, he adopted the cultured despisers’ literary and historical critical approach to the Scriptures, seeing it as merely a different interpretation of the Scriptures rather than as an utter repudiation of the objective self-revelation of God in the context into which He chose to reveal Himself.  In the context of Scripture, all of God’s self-revelation coheres.  But if that context is discredited, as is far too often attempted through the employment of literary and historical criticism, God’s self-revelation becomes marred, distorted, obscured, and even obliterated.

Thus, the Christian faith became for Schleiermacher and his spiritual heirs a deeply personal, subjective reality that has meaning only for oneself, but which has no objective content to which one is obligated to conform.  Only the external demands made on the Christian faith by the world must be obeyed; otherwise, the Christian faith will be judged to be irrelevant.

Thus it is that Schleiermacher was too in love with the world and the things in the world that he compromised the Christian faith to the world, hoping to curry the world’s favor.  And Schleiermacher’s spiritual heirs in the PCUSA today are still doing the same thing.

In the wake of hundreds of PCUSA congregations reevaluating their relationship with the PCUSA in the aftermath of the ratification of the removal from the PCUSA Book of Order of ordination standards that required PCUSA officers to practice either chastity in singleness or fidelity in marriage between one man and one woman, a group of PCUSA pastors and seminary professors calling themselves NEXT Church wrote, “Some seek separation, differentiation, even the establishment of a New Fellowship which has all the marks of a new denomination.  This new fellowship echoes the church of a century ago, when there was not a Book of Confessions, but a singular confession, and Scripture was yet to be read aided by the tools of historical and literary criticism.  The New Reformed Body seems to us to be the church we once were, rather than the church God is calling us to be.”  A with Schleiermacher, the NEXT Church leaders are envious of the world’s methods of interpreting Scripture.  To them, the PCUSA’s state of being compromised and continuing to compromise itself to the world’s way of thinking is “the church God is calling us to be.”

This is made nowhere more evident than in the address of Princeton Seminary Professor William Stacy Johnson at a NEXT Church conference on February 27, 2012.  “Mainline religion,” he said, “faces a tsunami of change: and adaptive challenge.  The real adaptive challenge is not confronting the tsunami, but the gospel itself.”  In other words, the Gospel must be adapted to conform to the deeply-held presuppositional beliefs of the prevailing contemporary worldview.  He claimed that a large number of factors collectively imperil the probability of the survival of Theologically Liberal denominations like the PCUSA.  “But if you are a conservative, the news is even worse.  (There has been a) dramatic decrease in the percentage of Americans who believe the Bible is inerrant, and (a) dramatic increase in the acceptance of religious pluralism and inter-religious marriage.  Three quarters of Americans respond ‘yes’ that there are religions other than their own that can offer a true path to God.  The number of people who adhere to no religion at all—the ‘nones’—increased from two or three percent in 1990 to close to seventeen percent in 2010, (and) the number of ‘nones’ in their twenties now stands at twenty-five percent.”  Furthermore, he said, “The real adaptive challenge comes from the gospel itself.  The adaptive challenge in the church goes all the way down.  It includes the need to envision and re-envision the gospel itself.  (What we need is) not just a better delivery system for the message, (but the) message itself needs to be re-envisioned.”  But this has been the approach Theological Liberalism has been taking ever since Schleiermacher.  The Church in Europe adopted this approach, and now the Church in Europe is dead.  This has been the approach that has dominated the PCUSA since the 1960s, and the PCUSA has been losing members every year ever since.  Johnson complained that “Christianity as usual is not working,” but what he has proposed in the re-envisioning of the Gospel is “Christianity as usual” in the recent experience of the PCUSA.

The NEXT Church leaders, like Schleiermacher before them, are “in love with this present world.”  Johnson has rightly noted the inherent pluralism that is part and parcel with the spirit of this age.  But he is in love with the spirit of this age and would have the Church wed the spirit of this age by conforming the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the liking of the spirit of this age.  But the Church’s Bridegroom is not the spirit of this age but rather her Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and in order for her to wed the spirit of this age, she must forsake her first love (Rev. 2.4), who “loved (her) and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present (her) to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish (or holy and blameless).” (Eph. 5.26-27)

But the PCUSA has prostituted herself, and continues to prostitute herself, to the world.  But the world has never loved her, does not love her, and will never love her.  Certainly the world approves of her prostitution, for by it she does its bidding.  But it is written, “The waters that you saw, where the prostitute is seated, are peoples and multitudes and nations and languages.  And the ten horns that you saw, they and the beast will hate the prostitute.  They will make her desolate and naked, and devour her flesh and burn her up with fire, for God has put it in their hearts to carry out his purpose by being of one mind and handing over their royal power to the beast, until the words of God are fulfilled.” (Rev. 17.15-17)

But this need not be the fate of the PCUSA.  Even after philandering Israel had prostituted herself with other gods, the Lord said,

“Therefore, I will allure her,
     and bring her into the wilderness,
     and speak tenderly to her.

“And there I will give her vineyards
     and make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.

“And there she shall answer as in the days of her youth,
     as at the time when she came out of the land of Egypt.

“And in that day, declares the LORD, you will call me ‘My Husband,’ and no longer will you call me ‘My Baal.’  For I will remove the names of the Baals from her mouth, and they shall be remembered no more. … And I will betroth you to me forever.  I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy.  I will betroth you to me in faithfulness.  And you shall know the LORD.” (Hos. 2.14-20)

The prostitution by the Church of Jesus Christ to the world that is inherent in the re-envisioning of the Gospel grieves Him.  If she persists in her prostitution until the end, then her end will be as described of the Great Prostitute in the Book of Revelation.  But until then, He persists in calling her tenderly back to Himself, for He wants her restored to Himself and not to perish.  “Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit!  Why will you die, O house of Israel?  For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord GOD; so turn and live.” (Ezek. 18.31-32)

Whither Evangelical Presbyterianism?

The love that Theological Liberalism has for this present world is plain for all to see.  But what is less plain is the love that Presbyterian Evangelicals have for this present world that lulls them into complacency.  In their aforementioned letter, the NEXT Church leaders claim that they “will miss (Presbyterian Evangelicals’) focused commitment to evangelism.”  Unfortunately, this is not the case.  American Evangelicals are losing their commitment to evangelism, and Presbyterian Evangelicals are not significantly different.

The Lord’s complaint against the Church in Ephesus is rightly leveled against Presbyterian Evangelicals today.  We “have abandoned the love (we) had at first.”  Therefore, we are admonished to “Remember therefore from where (we) have fallen; repent, and do the works (we did at first.  If not, (the Lord Jesus) will come to (us) and remove (our) lampstand from its place, unless (we) repent.” (Rev. 2.4-5)

The world is lost in sin.  Our friends, neighbors, family members, and co-workers do not know the hope that lives within us, the hope of salvation that is found only in Jesus Christ.  Our hearts must be broken by the plight of the lost, which plight breaks the heart of the Lord Jesus.  We must renew our commitment to reaching out to the lost with the hope of salvation from the penalty, power, and presence of sin that is found only in Jesus Christ, for that is the only hope the world truly has.  The works of the Law cannot save; Allah, Buddha, and the pantheon of Hindu gods cannot save; the doctrines of pluralism and Theological Liberalism cannot save.  Jesus Christ alone can save, but those who do not know Him will perish in their sin.  Do not forget the warning that the Lord gave to the Prophet Ezekiel: “If I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, in order to save his life, that wicked person shall die for his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. … Again, if a righteous person turns from his righteousness and commits injustice, and I lay a stumbling block before him, he shall die.  Because you have not warned him, he shall die for his sin, and his righteous deeds that he has done shall not be remembered, but his blood I will require at your hand.” (Ezek. 3.16-21)

“For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.” (I Cor. 1.21)

But the biggest impediment to evangelism in the Church today is a sense of guilt for the sins of which we have not truly repented, which sins continue to fester and plague us.  These are sins that this present world has in abundance.  Yet we are called to put them to death, for their continued presence in our lives undermines and belies our testimony of the power of Jesus Christ to deliver us from the power of sin and darkness.  “How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Rom. 6.2)  “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.  On account of these the wrath of God is coming.” (Col. 3.5-6)  And indeed, if we have not put our sins to death, it shows that we are “still in love with this present world,” and that “the love of the Father is not in” us.

Likewise, our love of things—nice homes, nice cars, things that money can buy—is another impediment to evangelism in the Church today.  The Apostle Paul wrote, “For the love of money (and by extension, that which money can buy) is a root of all kinds of evils.  It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.” (I Tim. 6.10)  They lead to complacency and dullness of heart toward the things that break the heart of the Lord Jesus, and they show that we are “still in love with this present world,” and that “the love of the Father is not in” us.

“But as for you, O man of God, flee these things.  Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness.  Fight the good fight of the faith.  Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” (I Tim. 6.11-12)

On the Ordination of Women (Archived)

Note: This post has been archived and replaced.  The new post on the subject of the ordination of women can be found here.

In the past five years, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, with which my home congregation is affiliated, has experienced growing pains as the influx of congregations from the Presbyterian Church (USA) has doubled the number of congregations in the EPC’s fold.  As a consequence of this growth, the recent General Assembly voted to refer to the Committee on Administration the possible creation of a new presbytery—called “Great Plains”—that would be carved from the Presbyteries of the West and Mid-America—and would stretch from Oklahoma to North Dakota.

The study group that presented this recommendation to the General Assembly stated that it “is mindful of the particular complexities of state boundaries in the metropolitan Kansas City area in relation to existing EPC congregations.”  Perhaps the greatest of these “complexities” is my home church, Colonial Presbyterian, which has campuses in two states—Kansas and Missouri.  Adding to this complexity, is that Colonial, like the majority of former PCUSA congregations that have been received into the EPC in recent years, is egalitarian—that is, she has taken the position that the ordination of women is Scripturally permissible—whereas the Presbytery of Mid-America, which is the presbytery into which Colonial would naturally fall geographically, is comprised of a majority of congregations that are complementarian—that is, they have taken the position that the ordination of women is not Scripturally permissible.  Moreover, because one of Colonial’s associate pastors is a woman, Colonial has been received into the Presbytery of the West, which is comprised of a majority of egalitarian congregations.  As such, Colonial is geographically distant from the majority of congregations in her new presbytery in Colorado.  A new presbytery thus comprised would, of course, be to Colonial’s benefit, as the great distance to travel in the Presbytery of the West naturally limits her ability to participate in the presbytery’s life and ministry.

Now the EPC allows each local congregation to choose whether or not to ordain women to the offices of elder and deacon and each presbytery to choose whether or not to ordain and/or receive into membership women as pastors.  The EPC holds that the ordination of women is not an essential of the Christian faith—that is, the Christian faith does not hinge upon this doctrine as it does, for example, on the doctrines of the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Substitutionary Atonement, and the Resurrection.

The first essential doctrine held by the EPC has to do with the Bible.  “All Scripture is self-attesting and being Truth, requires our unreserved submission in all areas of life.  The infallible Word of God, the sixty-six books of the Old and New Testaments, is a complete and unified to God’s redemptive acts culminating in the incarnation of the Living Word, the Lord Jesus Christ.  The Bible, uniquely and fully inspired by the Holy Spirit, is the supreme and final authority on all matters on which it speaks.”  That includes the matter of the ordination of women to the offices of elder, deacon, and minister of Word and Sacrament.

The complementarian position—that is, that the ordination of women is not Scripturally permissible—is the majority position throughout Church history and is still the official position of the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, and most Evangelical churches and denominations.  It is predicated especially upon teachings by the Apostle Paul.  Referring to the creation of Adam and Eve in Genesis 2, Paul wrote, “For man was not made from woman, but woman from man.  Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man.  That is why a wife (or woman; Gk. gunæ) ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels (or messengers, that is, people sent to observe and report; Gk. angeloi).” (I Cor. 11.8-10)  Again, in the context of orderly worship, “As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silent in the churches.  For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says.  If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home.  For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.” (I Cor. 14.33-35)  And perhaps most significantly, following a plea for prayer for all people and preceding the qualifications for the offices of elder and deacon, Paul wrote,

“I desire then at every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling; likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works.  Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness.  I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.  For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.  Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.” (I Tim. 2.8-15)

In the complementarian position, the responsibility of the husband to lovingly lead his wife and the responsibility of the wife to submit to her husband’s leadership (Eph. 5.22-33, I Pet.3.1-7) extends also to the life of the Church.  In the regular organization of the church, the pulpit ministry, the ruling council of the church, and even those who are responsible for leading the compassion and mercy ministries of the church are to be exclusively staffed by godly men—godly women, even those with preaching, teaching, and leadership gifts, are Scripturally ineligible from serving in these offices.

Most complementarian churches do not adhere to the strictest interpretation of Paul’s prohibition against women actually participating in the worship of the church.  They are permitted to serve as readers of Scripture, to sing solos and participate in choirs and worship teams—even to lead worship singing or conduct the choir—and to pray aloud.  On rare occasion in some complementarian churches, they are also permitted to speak from the pulpit (although because they are excluded from pastoral ministry, the message they deliver cannot be considered to be a sermon).

Although Paul prohibited women from teaching or exercising authority over men or from speaking in church, there are a number of passages in Scripture where women do, in fact, do these things.  For example, the Prophetess Deborah was appointed by God to judge Israel (Judg. 4.4-5.31); the Prophetess Huldah was appointed by God to instruct King Josiah (II Kg. 22.14-20); the Prophetess Anna prophesied at the dedication of Jesus that He was “the redemption of Jerusalem” (Lk. 2.36-38); Priscilla, with her husband Aquila, taught the Evangelist Apollos “the way of God more accurately” (Acts 18.26); and the four unnamed daughters of the Evangelist Philip prophesied in Caesarea (Acts 21.8-9).

Moreover, in his list of qualifications for the offices of deacon, Paul wrote that “(the deacons’) wives (Gk. gunæ; linguistically, it can be interpreted as either “the wives” or “the women”) likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things” (I Tim. 3.11); and he commended to the Church at Rome a woman named Phoebe, who was a deacon (Gk. diakonos, the same word employed in I Tim. 3.8) at the Church in Cenchreae (Rom. 16.1-2).  Likewise, in I Corinthians 11.5, Paul commends women who pray or prophesy in church, and in II Timothy 1.5, he pays homage to Timothy’s mother and grandmother, who were instrumental in instructing Timothy in the faith.

Because “all Scripture is breathed out by God” (II Tim. 3.16), and because God does not contradict Himself (Num. 23.19, I Cor. 14.33), the passages which prohibit the ordination of women must be reconciled with the passages in which women function in ordained capacity.  Those who hold the complementarian position hold that the passages which prohibit women from serving in ordained office are normative, whereas those passages in which women apparently function in this capacity are divinely-sanctioned exceptions.

Conversely, Bible-believing Christians (as opposed to those who claim the name of Christ and yet undermine the authority of Scripture) who hold the egalitarian position hold that the passages in which women function in ordained capacity are normative and that those passages where the Apostle Paul prohibits them from ordained office require special handling.  To be sure, egalitarian Christians, like complementarian Christians, are committed to uphold the integrity and authority of God’s holy, inspired, inerrant, and authoritative Word.

Egalitarian Christians predicate their belief that the ordination of women is permissible upon those passages in which women prophesy in church, or teach or exercise authority over men, and upon Paul’s teaching that in Christ, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal. 3.28)

The prohibition against the ordination of women hinges upon the three passages, previously mentioned, in which Paul stated that women “ought to have a symbol of authority on (their) head” (I Cor. 11.8-10), that women ought not speak in church (I Cor. 14.33-35), and that women ought not teach or exercise authority over men (I Tim. 2.8-15).  Egalitarian Christians hold that these proscriptions must be interpreted in the context of the specific circumstances that existed in Corinth and Ephesus at the time Paul wrote I Corinthians and I Timothy.  Corinth was the home of the cult of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of lust, whose priestesses were cult prostitutes.  Similarly, at the time Paul wrote to him, Timothy was ministering in Ephesus (I Tim. 1.3), which was the home of the cult of Diana (or Artemis; Acts 19.21-41), a fertility goddess portrayed in art with many breasts, whose priestesses were also cult prostitutes.  Moreover, the Lord Jesus chastised the Church of Thyatira for tolerating “that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols.  I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her sexual immorality.  Behold, I will throw her onto a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her I will throw her onto a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her I will throw into great tribulation, unless they repent of her works, and I will strike all her children dead.” (Rev. 2.20-23)  Likewise, it is known that sexual immorality was an issue with which many early churches struggled, including the churches in Corinth (I Cor. 5-6) and Ephesus (Eph. 5.3-5, I Tim. 1.9-10).  Because of the association in Ancient Greek society of women religious leaders with cult prostitution, it is likely that Paul forbade them in that context specifically for that reason.  Because this association between women religious leaders and cult prostitution no longer exists in modern society, and given the Biblical precedence of women in leadership roles, it follows that Paul’s prohibition of women from ordained office no longer applies today.

Now it must be granted that Paul nowhere gives this line of reasoning as the basis of his prohibition against the ordination of women.  Moreover, he did give reasons that relate to the creation of woman before the Fall and Eve’s role in the Fall.  Because woman was made from and for man, and not man from or for woman, it follows that a woman “ought to have a symbol of authority on her head.” (I Cor. 11.8-10)  And again, “Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.” (I Tim. 2.11-12)

However, the first reason ought to be interpreted in the context of I Corinthians 11.3, which relates the relationship of a woman to her husband.  As such, vv. 8-10 relate to the relationship of husband and wife.  As noted above, the Greek word used in this passage is gunæ, which linguistically can be translated as either “woman” or “wife”.  Given the context of the passage as the relationship of husband and wife, it does not follow that it applies to women in the broader life of the Church.

With respect to the second reason (I Tim. 2.11-12), Paul claims that Eve was deceived, whereas Adam was not.  However, both Adam and Eve transgressed the commandment (Gen. 3.6-7,16-19), and it was on account of Adam’s sin that our race is accounted guilty (Rom. 5.12,18-19, I Cor. 15.21-22).  And Scripture does not bear evidence that a woman is more gullible than a man.  Indeed, Abigail proved wiser than either her first husband, Nabal, or her second husband, David (I Sam. 25), and the “excellent wife” of Proverbs 31 “opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.”  Thus, women are not inherently more susceptible to deception than men on account of their gender.

What is more, Paul claimed that women “will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.” (I Tim. 2.15)  But as Paul emphasized elsewhere, “A person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ.” (Gal. 2.16; see also Rom. 3.28, Eph. 2.8-9)  And Paul elsewhere stated that it would be better for the unmarried persons and widows, if they could keep from sexual desire, to remain unmarried so that they would be more unencumbered in order to serve the Lord (I Cor. 7.8,25-40).  Paul, therefore, could not have meant that women would, in fact, be saved by the work of childbearing.

Rather, given the context of vv. 13-14, it would seem that there were in the Ephesian Church women who were susceptible to false teachers (I Tim. 5.15).  Likewise, it would seem from the context of vv. 8-15, that Paul is instructing Timothy that these women ought to give attention to spiritual discipline, learning sound doctrine, and doing good works that befit godliness, and not seeking positions of authority in the Church.  However, just because there were in the early Church, and still are in the Church today, women who were susceptible to false teachers, it does not follow that Paul’s proscription against women serving in ordained office in the Church, if there are godly, wise women who fulfill the spiritual and character requirements of I Timothy 3.1-13, Titus 1.5-9 for elders and deacons.

If it be objected that women do not meet the requirements of being the “husband of one wife” (I Tim. 3.2,12, Tit. 1.6), it should be pointed out that neither did the Apostle Paul.  If godly single men should not be excluded from ordained office in the Church, then neither should godly women.  What is of concern here is that a man who is called by God to ordained office be either chaste in singleness or faithful to his (only) wife in the covenant of marriage.  Likewise, a woman who is called by God to ordained office must be either chaste in singleness or faithful to her (only) husband in the covenant of marriage.

Complementarian Christians will point out that today, there are still women in ordained offices of churches who, like “Jezebel” in the Church of Thyatira, are “teaching and seducing (the Lord’s) servants to practice sexual immorality” (Rev. 2.20).  Of course, such should not be ordained to office in the Church, but few of these, if any, are practicing cult prostitutes.  Moreover, there are men in ordained office who do the same thing; they ought not be ordained either.  It does not, therefore, follow that godly women should be precluded from ordained office.

Certainly, the egalitarian position is not unassailable, and it could be in error.  But the same holds true of the complementarian position.  Whether or not one holding to the binding authority of the Word of God believes that the ordination of women is Scripturally permissible, such is not an essential doctrine of the Christian faith.  To be sure, the position that the ordination of women is not Scripturally permissible but that the Scriptures may be corrected by secular scholarship and cultural norms must be avoided, for it is not a position that comports with the Christian faith in that it places the interpretation of the Scriptures as an authority over the Scriptures rather than bringing one’s interpretation into submission to the same Scriptures that one purports to interpret.  Complementarian Christians and egalitarian Christians, therefore, ought to be charitable toward one another on this issue and ought to extend to one another that hand of Christian fellowship.

“I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.” (I Cor. 1.10)

“By this all people will know that (we) are (Christ’s) disciples, if (we) have love for one another.” (Jn. 13.35)