Hearing her voice?
Adrian posted about the short and carefully reasoned booklet by Sydney evangelical John Dickson, in which John argues that, within the context of a complementarian understanding of gender and leadership, women ought to be allowed to give sermons. John argues that when Paul forbids a woman to “teach” in 1 Timothy 2, the activity he is prohibiting is the authoritative passing on of the apostolic traditions about Jesus, in the age before the canon of the New Testament was completed, and the New Testament was available as a written authority for churches. It is not the same as the preaching of sermons in our churches today.
John is a brother in Christ, a friend to many of us, and has been a blessing to many more through his writing and preaching ministry. He is also a careful and meticulous scholar. So when I downloaded this booklet, I hope I did so prepared to have my mind changed by the arguments in it. Lionel Windsor has given a response and John Dickson has responded to this.
I am not persuaded by John’s arguments, and I want here to offer two very brief comments. These are not based on a thorough and detailed study of the arguments. Nonetheless, I hope they may contribute to the discussions.
- My first observation is that it seems to me that, if Paul forbids women to do just this very specific, and time-limited activity, we need to come up with some theologically persuasive understanding of his reason. Why are women forbidden from this particular activity, but not from the other speaking ministries then or now? John says that, ‘When Paul refers to teaching in the technical and authoritative sense, he means not Bible exposition but preserving and repeating the apostolic deposit. While Paul was happy for women to engage in a range of public speaking activities, in 1 Timothy 2:12 he makes clear that “teaching” is a role only for certain handpicked men.’ In an endnote, John agrees that Paul’s reason for this is rooted in ‘the principle of male responsibility established at creation’. I may have missed something in John’s argument (and I hope he will forgive me if I have), but I don’t think he has given us a persuasive understanding of why Paul’s prohibition should be restricted to just this activity. The usual complementarian understanding, that Paul’s creation principle is one of male teaching responsibility and leadership in the churches of every age, seems to me to make more sense of this.
- My second point concerns John’s precision in distinguishing “teaching” (in this limited sense) from the other New Testament speaking ministries. John refers to ‘numerous public speaking ministries mentioned in the New Testament – teaching, exhorting, evangelizing, prophesying, reading, and so on’. He goes on to say that ‘Paul restricts just one of them to qualified males’. My question is whether the speaking ministries are really so clearly distinguishable. I agree with John that when Paul allows women to prophesy (1 Corinthians 11), he must be referring either to a different activity, or at least to a different context, from the teaching activity of 1 Timothy 2. Even if we do not know exactly what prophesying meant in first-century Corinth, 1 Corinthians 11 does suggest that there are circumstances in which it is a good thing for women to speak to men and women in the church ‘for their strengthening, encouraging, and comfort’ (1 Corinthians 14:3). I agree with John that it would be good if this happened more than it does in some of our churches. But I doubt that each of the different speaking words refers to a precisely-definable activity, as if a speaker could say, “Now I am teaching. In the next sentence I shall be exhorting. In five minutes time I shall be evangelizing.” (I hope I am not being too mischievous in parodying it like this.) If most of the speaking words refer to different aspects of essentially the same activity, then the semantic arguments would seem to carry a lot less weight.
I remain persuaded that what we try to do in our sermons is essentially the exercise of pastoral teaching authority in our churches, and that it is consonant with Paul’s teaching in 1 Timothy 2 that this responsibility be entrusted to male pastor-teachers in our churches.
Confidence in the ordinary
Very struck last weekend by Julian Hardyman's ministry at the FIEC Hub conference from Acts 20. There's lots I could say about it, but one thought – mentioned almost in passing – struck home with me. "We mustn't be overawed by great stuff on the internet. What people need is a local church pastor involved in their lives." It's an important calling to the ordinariness of ministry captured well by Don Carson's assessment of his father's ministry. Another man I interviewed over the weekend told me that he didn't want to be a mega church pastor or an internet sensation, he simply wanted to shepherd a local church. That was the limit (!) of his ambition. My heart leapt for joy. That's the kind of "ordinary" ministry that every pastor-teacher is called to – preaching to his people, involved in their lives, serving them with a loving shepherding heart. It's precisely the kind of "ordinary" ministry that we need to have confidence in.
Only it's not so ordinary, is it? It's glorious joy. It's precious delight. It's amazing privilege.
What's your ambition, would you say?
Where are all the seniors workers?
Youth workers are invaluable. They are also a very common concept. Churches that don't have paid youth workers generally have unpaid volunteers doing the same role. Churches that have no youth workers often wish they did. There's training available. There are courses. Books. Resources. All good.
But I wish the same could be said for seniors workers. The church has thought very little, it seems to me, about reaching and pastoring an increasingly elderly population. There are theological issues to grapple with – how do I pastor a church member with dementia? There are practical issues to deal with – how do we physically arrange things to make church accessible? There are urgent evangelism issues to deal with – not least, statistically speaking, older folk are closer to the Day than those who are younger (though I recognise there is a common urgency).
Given all of this, it is surprising there are so few (any?) seniors workers. Why? It's tempting to think that your next church appointment must be a youth worker. You see that as intrinsic to the survival of the church. Perhaps you're right. But have you even thought of appointing a seniors worker? It need not be expensive – perhaps a newly retired man or woman; they may have a pension and even some housing. But think of the benefits it could bring…..
Woah, slow down Tiger!
We have long espoused the practise of looking at the text carefully and working out what the teaching units are and using those as a basis for preaching. That is especially important when it comes to preaching narrative – old or new testament. It works well for prophecy too. But it is often the case that preachers in our constituency can be tempted to go too fast through a book. True, there is often value in stepping back and taking in the big picture – it's something we commend. But there are times when it does well to slow down. Even take one verse.
In those situations, carefully working out the context and making sure it informs the text is even more critical. A stupid example suffices: 1 Corinthians 7.1 needs the verses that follow otherwise you would miss the point or get completely the wrong point. There are some texts that will sustain a slower approach and some that won't and we mustn't try to force those that won't.
But some slowing is useful and helpful. I thought about this morning. I'm studying through Romans in my devotions and spent all my time this morning on one particular aspect of 1.16-17. It was an immensely rewarding time. It made me want to preach 1.16-17 as a little unit, without speeding off into the distance. That would be of great benefit to the congregation. Of course, to go through the whole of Romans at that speed would take years and years (hasn't someone done that?). But there is surely a case for, every now and again, pausing, stopping, slowing, reflecting.
Slow down Tiger!
Applications are now coming in for the PT Cornhill Training Course starting in September 2013. The course is unique in terms of its focus (on preaching and teaching) and intensity (four days over one year or two days over two years). Most people do the course part time and work in a church. We've enjoyed partnering with churches in and around London, but also further afield. This year we've students from Bristol, Oxford, Lincoln: they mostly stay in London overnight for the two day part of the course. We've found that the combination of doing PT Cornhill and working in a local church is a precious way of making what students learn grounded in reality. Do call us and speak to one of the staff if you would like to find out more about how you can partner with us (or rather, as befits our ecclesiology, how we can partner with you, the local church is king!).
Perhaps you have suitable guys (and girls) in your church whom you would love to encourage into training? Even if they don't go on into ministry (and a large minority of our students don't), the PT Cornhill course prepares them really well for a lifetime of service in the church. Perhaps you have students but are not in a position to finance them or host them? Why not consider partnering not just with us but with another church which runs a training scheme? I happen to know that Duke Street Church, Richmond, Whittlesey Baptist Church, nr Peterborough, ChristChurch Harpenden, ChristChurch Southampton and Farnham Baptist Church are both looking for people for September 2013. There are also opportunities in Dublin, though obviously not doing the PT Cornhill course…!!
The biblical imperitave to train a new generation is critical to the life of the church. What part is your church playing?
Important announcement on EMA audio
We've decided that from now on ALL our online audio will be free. That means that the last few EMAs are all now available online for download at no cost. Spread the word!
- EMA 2012 Heart Matters here
- EMA 2011 Preaching that connects here
- EMA 2010 Not by might, nor by power
The best way to enjoy the EMA is still in person of course! Booking is now open.
A few people have emailed to ask what exactly we taught on our marriage course and how we ran it, so here's the low down. We took two Saturday mornings and ran from 10.00am-2.00pm. The actual teaching only ran from 10.00am to 12.30pm including a break for coffee. That's because we wanted to encourage couples to take a lunchtime together without their kids, with us providing central childcare. In the event, that didn't work out exactly as we expected, but it was the plan. Our overall aim was to be biblical first and foremost. There are other courses around which provide lots of practical wisdom, but we wanted to encourage couples to think about big issues from biblical principles, and also learn to work things out for themselves.
Mrs R and I ran it jointly. We've done similar days before but this was the first on home turf. I did the teaching (apart from one section where we split in two and she taught women, I taught the men). She tended to introduce application questions or video clips (we had Mr Bean and Fawlty Towers among other clips). We sat the couples in…well, couples and told them that they would only have to discuss with their partner. There was no group discussion or asking for answers. We think this is pretty important to make this kind of day hit the right note.
So, four sessions:
- purpose and role
- words and communication
- sex and intimacy
- rows and in-laws
All pretty self-explanatory. We spent longest on number one. All the way through we emphasised the importance of strong marriages not just for their own sake but for the sake of the church too. I commend the idea. Well worth doing in your own setting. And we had a nice invite which I've shown above and below:
We asked Doug Moo to say a little about Bible translation (and the updated NIV in particular) at our Autumn Ministers Conference. He made some helpful observations that are worth bearing in mind when it comes to translations – some of which are useful for preachers as well:
- it is important to read theology out of the text rather than the temptation to read it into the text
- all translations have to think about meaning – you can't simply translate words. A literal Bible is not, by definition, a more accurate Bible
- translation is important because translation is a form of communication; therefore you always have to be asking for whom you are translating (all preachers should be thinking this way)
- the general and steep decline in the ability to read and comprehend has huge implications for Christianity given that it is based on the interpretation of a book. Churches have not really begun to grapple with this sea-change
Doug's presentation is online for free here, Doug starts speaking just over half way through, you can scan through until Glynn's voice disappears and Doug's appears!
Autumn Joint Ministers audio
Sorry if you missed the Autumn Joint Ministers! I did too (a family illness) and I've enjoyed catching up. We think it's one of the best conferences we've put on for some years and it's worth downloading and catching up with all the audio – Doug Moo, Glynn Harrison and Vaughan Roberts were all excellent. The audio is all free and available for listening online or downloading here.
This article below (from Today's Times) is sad, distressing, alarming (etc.) but not, to be honest, surprising. It makes the importance of the task that we do (and you do in your churches) – the task of proclaiming and handing on the "pattern of sound teaching" (2 Tim 1.13) absolutely critical. Increasingly, we are fighting against the prevailing world view but our fundamental position is not a particular one on sex or marriage or work or whatever, but a conviction that the Scriptures, rightly, faithfully and prayerfully interpreted, are the true word of the living God. If we are not training the next generation to carry on that mantle – indeed, if we are not training our current people to read the Scriptures that way, then we have already lost.
One of the country’s most influential senior evangelical Church leaders has come out in favour of homosexual relationships and gay marriage.The Rev Steve Chalke, a Baptist minister who has been a regular guest at Downing Street, has called on Christian Churches to “rethink” traditional attitudes to homosexuality. In an article in Christianity magazine, Mr Chalke, who a few weeks ago conducted his first gay blessing service in his church in Waterloo, says that the Bible paints a far more inclusive picture than many acknowledge. Mr Chalke, who has written a special liturgy for gay partnerships that he publishes on his Oasis charity website today along with a full evangelical exegesis of his pro-gay stance, says in the article that he felt “compelled” and “afraid” to write it. He writes: “Compelled because, in my understanding, the principles of justice, reconciliation and inclusion sit at the heart of Jesus’s message. Afraid because I recognise the Bible is understood by many to teach that the practice of homosexuality, in any circumstance, is a sin or ‘less than God’s best’.” He is a key member of the Evangelical Alliance umbrella group, which represents two million evangelical Christians in Britain, including thousands in the Church of England.