Understanding 1 Timothy 2 Today

Below is a discussion paper shared among a leadership training group at Mentone. It’s not attempting to answer every question or to journey down every pathway, but to outline the how and what and whys of our understanding of this passage of Scripture. This paper (and the seminar) served as background to a sermon series on 1 Timothy in 2022.

i. Introduction

The New Testament’s vision of Christian ministry and mission is often likened to a household. There are many people in a house. Everyone is valued and essential. Everyone is identical in our union with Christ and also differing in the ways we contribute and serve. The Church is also likened to a body. Christ is the head and each member belongs and performs an integral role albeit in many different ways. The New Testament teaches us that it is only as the body works together in unity that churches grow and become healthy and mature. 

As we read Bible passages such as Romans ch.16 and 2 Timothy ch.4 we find men and women partnering together for the Gospel. It is a wonderful display of grace and how the Gospel reorients lives. At the same time, the testimony of the Scripture doesn’t ignore God given order and cohesion. The New Testament demonstrates men and women contribute to the maturity of the local church and to the growth of the Gospel in ways that often overlap and at other times are quite distinct. One of the difficulties for churches today is to uphold both overlap and distinction without losing either one.

The focus of this paper is the meaning of 1 Timothy 2:11-15. The reason behind this restriction isn’t a belief that this is the most important Bible passage addressing the issue of men and women in the church. As I’ll explain below, reading the entire Bible is vital for understanding what it means to be a man and what it means to be a woman and how the two relate in the various contexts of life, including church. The reason for narrowing the focus here is a straightforward one: at Mentone, we are preaching through 1 Timothy in 2022, and given the controversial nature of some of Paul’s words in ch.2, I believe it is worthwhile providing a more detailed explanation in a paper, in addition to the sermon that will be preached. This paper will also provide material that will be used at a seminar for leaders at Mentone. 

I also want to acknowledge that while many Christian brothers and sisters will agree with much, if not all, of the material I present in this paper, others will disagree with aspects. Disagreement on these issues can occasionally be a Gospel issue, depending on the nature of the objection. Disagreement can also be significant and not rank as a first order issue. On other occasions there can be room and grace to continue partnering together on mission and ministry projects.

Before we come to the text of 1 Timothy ch.2 it may be helpful to explain something of where I am coming from and also to outline some broad biblical themes that aid us in reading the text in the bigger picture of biblical revelation and God’s plan of salvation. I’ll begin with highlighting two foundational beliefs. I will then offer a word in raising awareness of how existing assumptions and commitments can impact the way we read the Bible. Finally, before discussing 2:11-15, it is worthwhile providing a summary of the broader context for 1 Timothy.

ii. 2 Foundational Beliefs

As we begin, it’s important to highlight two beliefs that I am convinced about and that form part of the background to my reading of 1 Timothy ch.2: the nature of Scripture and the nature of male and female.

The first is this, I believe God’s Word is both true and good. What God teaches about men and women, family, church and about life and society isn’t designed to destroy or harm or abuse, but presents to us the good life. If we come to the Bible with the assumption that the Bible is wrong or harmful, it makes the following conversation difficult. It also reveals that you are turning to another authority to shape your views about men and women. 

Second, men and women are not interchangeable, meaning that alongside our shared humanity and intrinsic dignity, there are also creational and God glorifying differences.  I believe this for several reasons: 1. the Bible says so. 2. Observation and experience affirm this is so. 3. Science confirms this is the case.  The purpose of this paper isn’t however to explore personal observations or scientific evidence for what constitutes male and female, but it is to outline the message of 1 Timothy ch2.

Assuming the Bible is both true and good, we want to let God’s word be our guide on these matters. 

At the very beginning of the Bible, we learn that there is one race (mankind) and there are two genders (male and female).

Built into Genesis 1:27 are these 2 key components between men and women: There is both equality and difference. Male and female equally bear the imago dei and they are differentiated.

“So God created mankind in his own image,
    in the image of God he created them;
    male and female he created them.”

In our Western cultures, we have seen a gradual shift in the way we think about men and women1. There are societies in history that have not thought of women as having equal status as men. Such attitudes contradict how God made things in the very beginning. Indeed this is one of the subversive ideas found in the Lord Jesus and in the early Church; women are elevated. 

As we consider the past we ought to tread with some caution. Suggestions that women were always treated inferior to men, especially prior to the 20th Century, is far too simplistic, historically myopic, and can even be a case of enthocentrisicm. Sadly, this was often the case, but not always and it is hubris for 21st Century people to look down on previous generations with automated smuggery. For example, we can say that churches who followed the New Testament’s teaching on men and women did in fact view women highly.  We can also recognise that much good was accomplished in the 20th Century to restore the dignity and equal worth of women (ie education, voting rights). However, the thinking didn’t settle there. The pendulum has moved and has swung from ‘equal and different’ to the idea that women are no different to men. Whatever men can do women can and ought to do.  This is often referred to as second wave feminism. In more recent years societal thinking has again shifted, to the point where gender no longer exists in any objective sense. Gender is fluid and therefore men can be women and vice versa, sex and gender have been divorced from each other, and there is a growing number of gender options. As I write, some people suggest there are more than 70 genders, while Facebook provides a list of 58 gender options. 

I’m assuming that we (who are present at this seminar) affirm that a man is a man and a woman is a woman2. If the two sexes differ and yet complement each other, how do they differ and complement?

If there are two sexes and these two sexes complement each other, they must therefore have some distinguishing features. Is this explainable purely by or limited to biological differences? Are the differences simply cultural conventions? Does the Bible teach that the two sexes are complementary? If so, how so? 

If someone asked, what does it mean to be a boy or what does it mean to be a girl, what might you say? There is much in common between boys and girls because of our shared humanity. We want to stress how these shared attributes weigh more heavily than any difference but is nothing distinct? Is there anything that differentiates boys from girls and girls from boys? The point in raising the question here is to demonstrate that we know intuitively that there is difference and there must be difference, and yet it is often difficult to suggest that this is the case.  Part of the difficulty lies in the fact that in today’s culture it is unpopular to suggest there is difference. Not only are men and women equal, but the culture is trying to eradicate any differences, whether it is biological or psychological or theological. This intentional obliteration of gender identity and roles cuts against sound judgment. For example, common sense tells us that fathers and mothers are not identical in their roles; there may be much overlap but they are not synonymous. As another example, when it comes to mentoring it is wise for a younger woman to be discipled by another woman and a man discipled by a man. These are not merely social constructs, but instinctive understandings of what works and is good, and these cross cultural boundaries and times.

There are two dangers that I believe we need to avoid: 1. Making too much of the idea of difference between the sexes, and 2. Making too little of this reality. Either excess will see us damaging the body of Christ, individual lives, and our Gospel witness to the world. At the same time, and without diminishing the Bible’s teaching, we will see churches coming to slightly different conclusions as we grapple with God’s purposes. In trying to faithfully apply Scriptural principles churches will make decisions that differ; not fundamentally different but rather, variations on the biblical theme. This requires us to exercise grace toward one another and not assume motives or fidelity because of these diverse applications.

1 Timothy 2 is not the only Bible passage that talks about men and women. There are many Bible passages that teach a God given anthropology about men and women. Developing a full biblical picture requires us to examine more Bible and theology than time permits. However, the task before us in this paper is to understand 1 Timothy 2:11-15.

iii. Recognise a priori preferences

Before we examine the Biblical text it is important to acknowledge a simple fact; no one comes to the Bible without ideas and desires, as though we are neutral. We don’t live outside our cultural moment. We live and breathe at a particular time in history and in a country that exudes certain cultural preferences, orthodoxies and heresies. In addition, familial influences and personality play a role in developing life’s thesis and antithesis. Life experiences, both positive and negative, the encouraging and the painful, all influence the way we think and the attitudes we hold. 

Thomas Schreiner recently wrote a short article for Christianity Today where he responds to suggestions that a classical reading of gender roles in the Bible is more the result of cultural baggage than it is the teaching of Scripture. He reminds us that cultural prisms are something we all must contend with but such imports don’t make reading the Bible an impossible task,

“There is always a danger that we have reacted to or imitated the society around us. We are all influenced by culture and should receive any critique that returns us to scriptural witness in good faith. We should listen charitably to brothers and sisters who view things differently—and none of us should be above reforming and nuancing our views… there are social and cultural forces operating on both sides. No one is exempt, and no one inhabits a neutral space when it comes to gender dynamics.

Every argument for every perspective should send us back to the biblical witness. The word of God still pierces our darkness and can reshape how we think and live. The Bible can and should still be heard, believed, and followed—even though we are all fallible and culturally situated.”3

Every word and every phrase in 1 Timothy 2 has been pulled apart and a thousand opinions offered. The careful study of Scripture is of insurmountable value and has been the practice for believers since the words first came upon the pages of the original manuscript. However, one gets the impression that some new interpretations of ch.2 require an understanding of the Greek language that is greater than what even most first-century readers had and require us to know what may or may not have been going on in Ephesus and other Ancient civilisations. 

I want to contend that reading the Bible text accurately and faithfully is not as difficult as many people make it out to be. I don’t mean that a cursory or sloppy reading will produce a faithful interpretation, but it is not the near impossible task that we are sometimes led to believe. Remember Paul wrote his letters to be read broadly across churches, some would probably have little knowledge of the particulars of the original recipients and these Scriptures were inspired by and preserved by the Holy Spirit for churches across cultures and time.  Of particular interest is 2:8 where Paul indicates that his instructions are not limited to Ephesus but for ‘everywhere’. 

I suspect some of our difficulties lie not with the Biblical text as much as they do with our cultural lens and expectations. For example, many see the word ‘submit’ and assume that this is a morally objectionable notion. Yet, the Bible tells us that God the Son submitted to his Father. Similarly, we read the word, ‘authority’ and our natural impulse is to resist and even treat the word as a synonym for abusive power. However, the Scriptures tell us that all authority and power have been given to the Son, and the Bible exhorts believers to obey all kinds of earthly authorities (whether parents or governments or church elders).  To take one further example, there are some churches (albeit a very small number) who see the word, ‘quiet’ in 2:12 and wrongly conclude that women should never speak in church.

Our cultural preferences and influences are not an irreducible tunnel resulting in us being unable to truly know what the Biblical text means. It is, however, crucial for us to humble ourselves before the Lord, to pray and ask the Holy Spirit to check our motives and grant us understanding and a heart to embrace what God says. 

Also, the way in which biblical principles work out in practice will vary among fellow believers and churches. It’s not that the principles are hidden in a London fog, but it is inevitable that there will be variations as the same theme is applied in local situations. The shoe may be the same, but we may wear different sizes and walk across different terrain. Clarity and humility work together. Conviction and compassion are perfect partners.

iv. Reading Bible texts in their context 

Despite the way v.12 is sometimes perceived (or used), I am not employing this sentence as the lynchpin for interpreting all other Bible passages. A similar mistake is to treat Galatians 3:28 as the pivot verse for understanding the roles of men and women in the church. I believe that both verses are important and I would argue from the text itself, 1 Timothy ch.2 is providing a pattern for churches beyond Ephesus, but one thing we must avoid is playing Scripture against Scripture or ignoring verses that challenge the way we think.

To decide how narrow or broad we are meant to take the instructions of ch.2, we are helped by these 3 rings of context. 1. The instructions themselves, 2. The broader teaching in 1 Timothy, and 3. the broader framework of both the NT and the OT. On this point, I wish to offer a brief comment about context beginning with the outermost ring and making our way inward.

1. The Context in all Scripture

Genesis ch.s1-3 are pivotal to reading 1 Timothy ch.2 as the Apostle uses them to explain why congregational preaching/teaching is limited to qualified men.

The position I am convinced of is one that most Christians have believed and taught for millennia, namely,  when it comes to the dignity, identity, and roles of men and women:

  • A pattern is established (Genesis 1 and 2). 
  • The pattern is overturned and frustrated (Genesis 3).
  • The pattern continues and is protected under the Mosaic law but is frustrated through sin and the fall (OT).
  • The pattern is affirmed and also redeemed by Christ (The Gospels). 
  • The pattern is expressed in the home and in the church, with the added meaning that men and women are imaging the ultimate: the heavenly bride and bridegroom (Epistles, Revelation, Gospels).

My hypothesis is this: the pattern for relationships and God’s concern for order and godliness found in 1 Timothy is consistent with and supports other parts of the Bible. 

Throughout both the Old and New Testaments men and women know and serve God. There are many men and women who are noted for their faith and obedience to God, and who are used by God to achieve his purposes. Romans ch.16 is a wonderful passage filled with the names of numerous women and men who are serving alongside Paul for the sake of the Gospel. Gospel ministry requires and gains from a team working together.  Men and women are necessary coworkers, without which, the Gospel will not advance. It is however a mistake to conclude that there is no pattern established for church order or no difference between the two sexes. For example, Ruth is one of the giants of the Bible, a truly monumental model of faith in God. Ruth did not however nor did she attempt to, assume any of the roles reserved for men.

Both the Old Testament and New Testament demarcate some differences in gender roles. Christian Ethicist Andrew Walker uses the language of, “Not Identical, Not Totally Different“. 4

For example, the task of priest, of shepherding, and of ruling is given to men: whether it is Noah, Abraham and the Patriarchs, Moses, Aaron and the priesthood, Joshua, Gideon, Elijah, David and the Kings that follow, the 12 Apostles, Paul and so on. This is not to say that men take primacy of place in God’s work. Far from it. Women regularly feature in the Biblical story and are held as examples of faith. It is however a mistake to conclude that prominence equals ‘leadership’ or that equality means sameness. Sarah, Ruth, Naomi and others did not function as rulers or priests, but that does not denude their extraordinary contributions in God’s redemptive purposes. Some of these women were influential, such as Queen Esther and Deborah. In the case of Deborah, one of the issues of her day was men sidestepping responsibility. While Deborah heralds as a godly Israelite, she steps up because others were not. Even then, the book of Judges notes that when it came to military matters she did not overturn Barak’s job in leading the army. We should say, look at these women of God and learn from them and be encouraged by them. And we can uphold these examples without making them into something Scripture does not describe or prescribe, just as we should not misattribute to men in the Bible characteristics and roles that are not present.

There is a consistent pattern in both the OT and the NT for certain leadership roles. Why this may be the case will be considered later on. I will however make one comment for now, lest readers assume that I’m affirming a ‘patriarchal’ position (I’m using the word in the way it is commonly used today). Just as the teaching of Scripture conflicts with certain contemporary understandings of what it means to men and women, the Bible’s narrative does not fit neatly into the ‘patriarchal’ norms of other Ancient Near Eastern Civilisations. At various important points, both the OT and the NT clash with views about men and women from Egypt to Babylon and to Greece. Both Israel and the Church are called to be separate from and stand out from the world around. In fact, one of the repeated dangers for God’s people in both Testaments is an eagerness to borrow from and adopt the sexual ethics from surrounding cultures, and hence why God frequently calls for sanctification: 

“Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ (Exodus 19:5b-6)

“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” (1 Peter 2:9)

2. The context of the whole letter

The broad context of 1 Timothy shows us that ch.2 is exploring a subject bigger than men and women; this is about God’s church and how God’s household is to conduct herself. The reason why a church’s shape and structure matters is because of God’s intent for the church to be a visible representation of God’s truth. In the way we live and organise ourselves, the Church is designed to reveal God’s truth to the world. This central message of 1 Timothy is articulated in the very middle of the letter, 

“Although I hope to come to you soon, I am writing you these instructions so that, 15 if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth. 16 Beyond all question, the mystery from which true godliness springs is great:

He appeared in the flesh,
    was vindicated by the Spirit,
was seen by angels,
    was preached among the nations,
was believed on in the world,
    was taken up in glory.” (1 Tim 3:14-16)

Paul is convinced that God’s church is a particular type of community. We are not free to organise ourselves in any fashion. God owns his household and his church is to be built on God’s truth. It shouldn’t surprise us therefore to find Paul giving Timothy instructions about right conduct. These instructions include barring false doctrines and teaching sound doctrine and organising orderly and godly public worship, properly functioning leadership, and godly relationships between various members of the church.

3. The immediate context: 1 Timothy 2:1-7 is about the Church’s godliness and Gospel witness.

The setting for Paul’s instructions in ch.2 is the public gathering of the church.  This section isn’t dealing with the workplace or general society or the home. There are Bible passages that address those settings. 1 Timothy ch.2 gives instructions for relationships in the church. What is evident is Paul’s concern is not only with what takes place in these gatherings but how we exercise these activities. 

“I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 

This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. 

For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time. And for this purpose I was appointed a herald and an apostle—I am telling the truth, I am not lying—and a true and faithful teacher of the Gentiles.

Therefore…”

A new section of Paul’s letter begins in 2:1, as the opening words indicate.  Paul combines the strong conjunction, ‘then’ (literally, ’therefore’), with the adverb ‘first of all’. Together these serve to introduce new material, much like a chapter heading.

The verb, ‘to urge’, “implies urgency but also encouragement. Paul is about to describe a positive priority. The importance of what follows  is underscored by “first of all.”5

New Testament scholar Robert Yarbough makes an interesting point about the prayers of vv.1-3: God is concerned for good order in society, for kings and authorities and how we live in goodness under them for the sake of the Gospel. Our life in the broader world matters and so does our life together in the church. It should be of no surprise to see God not only desiring good order in society but also in the church. 

The same ‘therefore’ is used again in verse 8, and this serves to connect vv. 8-15 with vv.1-7. Therefore is both pointing readers back to what has just been said and forward to what Paul is about to teach. The reason for these prayers is so that we can live quiet and peaceful lives in godliness and so that the church can offer an attractive Gospel witness. Verses 5-7 function as a parenthesis, expanding on the evangelistic desire expressed in vv.3-4. Given that v.8 hangs off vv.1-7 (and note the continuing theme of prayer), Paul is not changing course from the topic of public gathering but is continuing to outline what should take place when the church comes together. As Yarbrough says, 

“He [Paul] is rather refreshing the focus of his discourse, which is worship and prayer. In vv. 3–7 he veered a little to the side; v. 8 and following pick up where v. 2 left off.”6

In other words, the instructions given to men and women in the church are set in the context of godliness and Gospel witness. Chapter 2 then functions as a precursor for what Paul has to say about leadership roles in the church in ch.3, namely Elders and Deacons and their qualifications. This organising of God’s household serves to further display that we belong to God.

“While ch. 2 focuses on worship “in God’s household, which is the church” (3:15), ch. 3 moves to the character of those who qualify to be appointed to preside in that worship and oversee in that household. Neudorfer notes that none of the qualifications or qualities about to be set forth are merely local or “just cultural” in nature, raising the question of why many find it so easy to apply those labels to much of ch. 2.”7

It would be strange to suggest Paul’s teaching on Elders and Deacons contradicts what he teaches in ch.2. But of course, what we find is congruence between the two chapters. Note these two aspects of teaching from ch.3: First, Elders are to be men (cf Titus 1:6). “The Greek is explicit that the overseer is a male.”8 + 9 Whereas Deacons may be male and female, both 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 make the point that the Elders/Pastors are to be men. Second, one of the few features that distinguish Elders and Deacons is that Elders must be able to teach.

v. The Text 2:8-15

 Therefore I want all people everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing.

The word Paul uses here to address men is different from the word for men in v.1. The NIV is correct in rendering it ‘all people’. Paul uses anthropos in v.1, a word that can mean humanity or mankind; it’s not gender specific. However, Paul’s choice of word in v.8  is gender specific. 

Also notable is the generalisation of Paul’s instruction. He indicates that these commands are not just for one place and time, it’s for men everywhere, beyond Ephesus, “I want men everywhere to pray”.

This isn’t the only instruction that’s given to men in this letter, far from it. Whereas most of Paul’s words for men will be positive, this however concerns turning from a negative and instead adopting a positive posture in the church. Why does Paul’s teaching to men focus on ‘anger’? Surely anger isn’t only a male attribute?

1 Timothy 2:8 seems to support the idea that anger is a greater issue among men than it is for women. In a paragraph where Paul is making distinctions between men and women in the church, it is observable to Paul that a proclivity toward anger is one characteristic that sufficiently differentiates men from women. It’s not the only distinctive attribute but it is one. 

It’s not that women don’t experience anger. Of course, women can be angry, for good reasons as well as for sinful reasons. Is there however something in Paul’s statement that rings true? 

In 2018, The Conversation published an article on differences between men and women. The focus was on ‘happiness’ and how men and women experience happiness in different ways. The article also speaks of the converse. According to the piece, research demonstrates that men and women express anger differently. 

“Psychologically it seems men and women differ in the way they process and express emotions. With the exception of anger, women experience emotions more intensely and share their emotions more openly with others.”

“However within these studies lies a significant blind spot, which is that women often do feel anger as intensely as men, but do not express it openly as it is not viewed as socially acceptable.

When men feel angry they are more likely to vocalise it and direct it at others, whereas women are more likely to internalise and direct the anger at themselves. Women ruminate rather than speak out. And this is where women’s vulnerability to stress and depression lies.”

This makes sense of Paul’s observation about men raising hands in anger. It’s not that 1 Timothy 2:8 is valid because of what researchers are learning, but rather we shouldn’t be surprised to find reality matching what Scripture teaches and affirms. Paul wants sinful behaviour to be repented of and replaced with godly action, which in this case means prayer. 

From v.9 Paul shifts his attention from men in the church to women. V.9 begins with the adverb,  ‘also’ (or ‘similarly’). Just as men are to behave in a certain way in church, similarly women are to behave in a certain way. The fact that Paul gives separate instructions here for men and women is evidence of there being a differentiation of the sexes in terms of roles.  Given the connection between v.8 and vv.9-15, it is also difficult to argue for the contemporary relevance of the instruction for men and then argue for culturally bound and therefore non applicable instructions for women. In addition, Yarbrough makes this salient point by quoting another scholar, Thomas Oden, 

“The actual subject of this paragraph [1 Tim 2:9–15] is extraordinarily deep-going theologically—not merely petty moralism or culture-bound moral advice. It ranges widely over subtle themes of the relation of outward and inward behavior; the nature of leadership and its relation to sexuality; and salvation history from the fall to redemption, from Eve to incarnation. Hence it is regrettable that some treat it only as a petty moral regulation so filled with sexual bias that it is disqualified from serious modern consideration.”10

There are two sets of instructions given to women here: the first relates to clothing and the second concerns learning. In terms of dress Paul wants women to emphasise the heart over fashion, and good deeds over style. 

 I also want the women to dress modestly

with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, 

not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, 

10 but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God. 

The second instruction concerns learning and teaching in the context of church gathered. 

11 A woman should learn in quietness and full submission.

The verb ‘should’ isn’t a suggestion as it may be read in English. In the original language it is a present imperative, which means it has the weight of a command with ongoing relevance: ‘Let a woman learn”. Also note how the imperative isn’t pitched primarily at women in the church, but as Yarbrough explains, this is “to Timothy as the person responsible for oversight of Ephesian worship. The sense of Paul’s command is “See to it, Timothy, that the woman who seeks to learn does so.”11

The manner in which women should learn is twofold. There is a word for silence and Paul doesn’t use it. Rather he says, quietness, which denotes an attitude of attentive listening. Paul reiterates this concern for quiet learning in v.12. In a useful essay on 1 Timothy 2:11-12, New Testament theologian Hefin Jones explains, 

“The kind of “quietness” envisaged has been much discussed since both biblical and non-biblical usage suggests either a “silent attentiveness” or a “freedom from disturbance. While neither necessarily implies absolute silence, and both imply that the function of quietness is to aid learning (2:11), the idea of “freedom from disturbance” chimes with the instruction to men to pray “without anger or disputing” (2:8).” 12

The fact that Paul exhorts submission in other places, including men submitting (ie 1 Corinthians 16:15-17; Ephesians 5:21), does not take away or weaken what is prescribed here.

’Full submission’ further confirms the manner in which Paul sees women learning in the church gathering. Rather than contesting or arguing (perhaps this was an issue in the Ephesian church), they should submit to the teaching of God’s word. Again, this should not be understood as a negative, but rather  Paul is arranging the church meeting such that women can attend to the teaching of God’s word. On this phrase about submission, the Apostle is not advocating a universal submission of women to men, an interpretation that is not only incorrect but is fraught with moral and social problems. Again the context is speaking of the church gathered and the time for the public teaching of God’s word. 

12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.  

Following the positive instruction in verse 11, Paul gives this prohibition in verse 12. It is joined to the previous sentence with a small adversative, ‘and’ or ‘but’. The prohibition is teaching and having authority over a man, and the setting for this imperative is the local church, as opposed to other situations. 

More words have been written on each word of this sentence than can be read or responded to for a paper such as this. I highly recommend these two excellent volumes which address many of the alternate views that have appeared in recent years, as well as providing a lucid and convincing explanation for the classical Christian reading.13 Rather than diving into the rabbit hole and responding to all the possible explanations, I will try and outline the essence of this verse, and then explore Paul’s grounding for this instruction. 

The Apostle does not permit in the local assembly women to exercise two activities: teaching and authority over men.  What does teach mean and what does authority mean?

First of all, there is some debate over the syntax of this verse: is Paul speaking of two separate activities (teaching and authority) or one (authoritative teaching) or something else? Andreas J. Köstenberger and Tom Schreiner are among those who maintain that Paul is speaking of two activities14. Whether Paul has in mind one or two activities, the reality is, Elders exercise their authority primarily through teaching (1 Tim 3:2) and teaching is most often an authoritative action (cf 1 Tim 5:17). 

The verb ‘to teach’ signifies the transmission of the faith to the people of God15.

“Teaching here involves the authoritative and public transmission of tradition about Christ and the Scriptures (1 Cor. 12:28–29; Eph. 4:11; 1 Tim. 2:7; 2 Tim. 3:16; James 3:1).  The rest of the Pastoral Epistles makes clear that the teaching in view is the public transmission of authoritative material (cf. 1 Tim. 4:13, 16; 6:2; 2 Tim. 4:2; Titus 2:7). The elders in particular are to labor in teaching (1 Tim. 5:17) so that they can refute the false teachers who advance heresy (1 Tim. 1:3, 10; 4:1; 6:3; 2 Tim. 4:3; Titus 1:9, 11). It is crucial that the correct teaching and the apostolic deposit be passed on to the next generation (2 Tim. 1:12, 14; 2:2).”16

Paul uses a rare word for ‘authority’ in v.12. The fact that this particular word only occurs once in Scripture isn’t problematic, nor is it an argument for claiming we can’t really know the meaning of the word. In the  First Epistle to Timothy Paul uses more than 60 hapax legomena!17 Throughout the New Testament, 100s of words appear only once.

Al Wolters is among notable scholars who have undertaken extensive research into the use of this word in ancient literature18. He concludes that ‘exercise authority’ conveys the right meaning. Coupled with teaching, Paul is describing two positive actions. In the Greek language, when 2 infinitives are coupled together they carry the same direction, either both a negative or both a positive. In this case, it would mean Paul is prohibiting wrongful teaching and wrong authority or he is prohibiting women from exercising teaching and authority. Given that ‘to teach’ is denoted positively in the NT it follows grammatically that ‘authority’ also holds a positive meaning. In other words, the view that Paul is only banning ‘domineering behaviour’ doesn’t hold up to either the word studies or Greek syntax.19 

At Mentone Baptist Church we currently use the NIV 2011 Bible translation. While the NIV is on the whole our preferred translation, like all other Bible translations, it suffers from some problems. The 2011 revisions made one change that is unfortunate and needs to be explained here lest readers misappropriate how 2:12 reads in this translation. NIV has changed from “have authority” (in the 1984 edition) to “assume authority”. It is not that “assume authority” is incorrect but that it is less clear. The Committee on Bible Translation made the decision because they did not want to present either a complementation or egalitarian reading of the word, and hence settled on a translation that was believed to be neutral.20 How so? If having or exercising authority is the better translation, then the issue Paul is addressing is authority. If “assume authority” is the more accurate rendering, then the problem is one of an inappropriate assumption of authority.21 In other words, is Paul arguing that women should not teach or exercise authority over men in the church or is he arguing against an inappropriate styled authority, hence the Apostle is supportive of women exercising due authority over men in the church? On this point, I agree with Kevin De Young who notes the advances of etymological studies over the last 30 years and how this has clarified the meaning of ‘authority’,  not made it more ambiguous as the NIV now leans. In contrast to the decision made by the NIV Committee, other new Bible translations, such as the popular ESV and also HCSB, stick with the more literal and transparent  “exercise authority” and “have authority”.

Another approach to minimising the contemporary relevance of this Scripture is the cultural argument. There is now a significant body of work dedicated to proving Paul’s instructions in vv.11-12 are dealing with a specific issue in Ephesus and are therefore not active today. Of course, Paul is speaking to particulars going on in Ephesus, but that does not mean his instructions are only intended for that specific church, place and time. The fact that there was false teaching in the Ephesian church is undeniable. It would be quite bizarre to suggest otherwise given Paul speaks about false teaching in his letter on a number of occasions (1:3-11; 4:1-3 6:2; 6:20). It is possible that women were participating in this teaching but that is far from clear). On the other hand, Paul does name men who are espousing falsehood.

Thomas Schreiner is among recent scholars who have demonstrated the paucity of these reconstructions, “some scholars are far too confident about their ability to reconstruct the life setting in some detail.”22 Schreiner isn’t saying that none of these proposals have merit. Rather,  he is rightly pointing out that it is unwise to reframe the reading of Scripture based on fragmentary evidence that lies outside the Bible and which requires theorising and drawing firm conclusions from scant secondary information.

As Schreiner notes, even if one could firmly establish, as an example,  that the cult of Artemis had unduly influenced the behaviour of women in the church and was behind his prohibition on teaching, it is still a leap in the dark to conclude that Paul’s teaching can only be situational and not hold universal relevance. As we will see shortly, Paul grounds his instructions not in Ephesus but in creation. Not only this, but these instructions fit well with what is taught elsewhere in the New Testament about including Titus 1 and 1 Corinthians 11. 

“Even if some women were spreading the heresy (which remains uncertain), we still need to explain why Paul proscribes only women from teaching. Since men are specifically named as purveyors of the heresy, would it not make more sense if Paul forbade all false teaching by both men and women?”23 

“If we were to claim that documents written to specific situations do not apply to the church today, then much of the New Testament would not be applicable to us, since many New Testament books were addressed to particular communities facing special circumstances. Universal principles are tucked into books written in response to specific circumstances.”24

Limiting the application of vv.11-12 to the Ephesian Church poses other textual issues, both in the immediate context and in the broader scheme of things. For example, egalitarians are then required to change vv.13-15 from being the reason or grounding for Paul’s teaching, to Paul providing an illustration of what not to do. The example of Eve becomes an illustration of women behaving badly rather than the theological frame of the creational order which provides a pattern for order in the church. Again, Schreiner is helpful here, 

“Those who adhere to the egalitarian position argue that the γάρ (“for”) introducing vv. 13–14 indicates not reasons why women should refrain from teaching but illustrations or examples of what happens when women falsely teach men. This understanding of the γάρ is unconvincing. When Paul gives a command elsewhere in the Pastoral Epistles, the γάρ that follows almost invariably states the reason for the command…Frankly, this is just what we would expect, since even in ordinary speech, reasons often follow commands.”25

How do we decide how and when principles are applicable and when they are not? We are aided by the words themselves as they are explained and argued by the biblical authors and arranged in the context in which they were written down.  There is one further reason and it is provided by Paul in verses 13-15.

In these 3 sentences the Apostles gives us a reason for the instructions he has just outlined,

13 ForAdam was formed first, then Eve. 

14 And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. 

15 But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.”

“For” (gar) indicates that Paul is giving a reason for his counsel about women.”26 The instructions are not grounded in Ephesian culture (although they certainly speak into it) but according to the creational order which God brought into being before there was any sin in the world.

Paul is not only stating that there was an ordering in creation, he is saying that it remains today. “Paul draws, then, on the protology, chronology, and teleology of Gen 1–2 to make application in his own time in Ephesus”27. It should be noted that Jesus provides a similar argument when he affirms God’s intention for marriage according to Genesis 1-2. 

These verses provide us with the threefold summary of salvation history: there is creation (v.13), and the fall (v.14) and redemption (v.15). 

V.13 affirms the goodness of creation. There is no inequality between the first man and the first woman, and there is distinction: God made male and female. The fact that Adam was made first is reason for intending certain men to lead in the church and not women. In other words, there is something built into the way God made us that God intends certain men to take the responsibility of church leadership (primarily exercised through the public teaching/preaching). I understand why in our egalitarian societies we struggle with this notion, but that is what the text says. Given (as I said at the outset) that I believe God’s word is good, it means that we may need to think harder about why we resist what God is saying. One of the shameful ways these verses have been read on occasion is by voices (who’ve sadly held much sway in some past generations) who have diminished the value and role of women, rather than building up women and praising God for their indispensable roles. God does not squash women and where churches and men have done so, repentance is necessary. 

V.14 is not acquitting Adam of responsibility for the fall and placing all blame onto Eve. Far from it. In the letter to the Romans Paul makes Adam culpable for bringing sin into the world and with it, death. 

“just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned—“ (Romans 5:12)

“For as in Adam all die” (1 Corinthians 5:22)

It is also true that Eve was deceived. Paul is alluding to how Eve overturned the order of creation by taking the lead instead of Adam. But the story doesn’t end with Genesis ch.3 and with 1 Timothy 2:14. Verse 15 speaks of redemption.

V.15 is in my opinion the most difficult one to comprehend in the entire passage. The phrase, ‘saved through childbearing’ may come across as confronting for our society. Too often in public rhetoric and in private lives, having babies has become an obstruction to womanhood and even a sexist suggestion. When a woman bearing children is considered a disruption or problem, it reveals how much how messed up our society has become. Children are an incredible blessing and good, they are not an obstacle to avoid or overcome. But what is Paul getting at in v.15? 

The verse can’t be saying that salvation comes literally through giving birth to a child because salvation is received through faith alone in Christ alone, and not by anything we do. Paul isn’t contradicting what he has already established in ch.1:12-17. 

There are 2 main lines of interpretations and both have merit. He may be using child bearing as an analogy, to speak of the coming of Christ. That is, the one by whom salvation comes, was born of a woman. Through Eve who eventually became a mother, came the promised line of the serpent crusher, Jesus (cf Genesis 3:15).  This is a possible interpretation and it highlights the privileged role a woman had in God’s plan of salvation, a unique gift given to her.

More likely however is that Paul is saying to women in the church, be the women God desires you to be. This makes greater sense of the final phrase in v.15, “if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.” It is important to stress, Paul is not saying that every women can or ought to have children (clearly that is not the case), but he is using as an analogy, a characteristic that is unique among women. In other words, women are not saved by subverting God’s purposes in creation and in the church, but by being the redeemed women God has called them to be in Christ Jesus. Therefore, don’t diminish your womanhood, but glory in it, in Christ Jesus.

VI. Objections to the classical reading of 1 Timothy ch.2

I have mentioned some of the objections to the classical view of 1 Timothy ch.2 throughout this paper, although my aim has not been to focus on these but rather it is to outline the positive and what I believe is the most compelling case. 

To get a sense of the wide ranging arguments against the classical reading of 1 Timothy, see this summary by Yarbrough,

“For exposition and refutation of egalitarian claims that this text is unclear or not central to Paul’s argument (M. Evans, G. Fee), that it nullifies logic and justice (S. Motyer), that redemptive history has moved on from Paul’s circumstances (W. Webb), that Paul’s argument is illogical (P. Hanson, P. Jewett), that Paul was speaking only of women who spread heresy or were uneducated (G. Bilezikian, B. Mickelsen, P. Payne, P. Zehr), that Paul is calling only for conformity to norms of his time (P. Towner), and many other objections, see Schreiner, “An Interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:9–15,”.28

To repeat and respond to every proposed reading is simply not possible here, given there are literally dozens of objections and suggested alternative interpretations.  However, to give readers a sense of the main kinds of objections to the classical reading of 1 Timothy ch.2, I’ve summarised them under 4 broad themes.

1. Paul is wrong and the text is therefore irrelevant. Paul represents a patriarchal society and promotes a misogynist view of women; this needs to be rejected.

In response, without question misogyny is sinful and should be opposed in and by churches. But to call hateful any view that affirms some kind of male and female difference in church is untrue and intellectually irresponsible. Also, to conclude that the writings of the Apostle Paul are wrong is to presume we know better than God and to place ourselves over and against Scripture. As Christians, this is not a position we can hold.

2. Paul is addressing a specific cultural issue that renders the prohibitions irrelevant today. 

What these ‘cultural issues’ depend on which commentator is espousing the theory.  I acknowledge that each biblical book was written for an original audience prior to ourselves, and this group of believers were facing particular cultural and spiritual issues, and these often shaped the way the biblical authors wrote their material. These cultural issues are clear and apparent, other times they are not. In the case of 1 Timothy 2, attempted historical reconstructions that are used to remove the contemporary significance of Paul’s instructions suffer the following problems: First, Paul grounds his argument in creation. Second,  they depend on hidden backgrounds that are not at all apparent or are based upon fragmentary pieces of evidence Third, the issue is not women wanting inappropriate authority (misread of the verse) but authority exercised over men in the context of the local church. Fourth, when it comes to false teaching in Ephesus while women may have been involved, Paul names specific men tied to this teaching but not women. In other words, the issue of false teaching is not a gender related issue.  Five. the letter to Titus contains similar teaching and yet is written to a different setting (Crete, not Ephesus).

While we shouldn’t discount recent scholarship and it is wise to carefully weigh up new insights and information, we should at the same time be wary of new interpretations that don’t find deep historical support. We should be wary of extra-biblical material that’s deemed necessary to rightly read and interpret a biblical text. Extra-biblical information may enhance our readings and enrich our applications, but we should take care if these should significantly change our readings of the biblical text and therefore the way we conduct ourselves as God’s church. 

3. The words used by Paul have a technical or narrow meaning, which does not prevent women from preaching and teaching God’s word in the public assembly or prevent women from serving as Elders.  I’ve commented on some of these arguments throughout the paper.

4. What about the other parts of the Bible? Aren’t women leading elsewhere, and if so, is it right to place this Scripture over and above other Scriptures? Please take note of the following: 

4.1. Be careful of arguing false equivalencies. For example, the NT shows us women praying and prophesying in the church but these activities are not preaching or pastoring. Women serve as deacons but concluding from this that they also served as Elders is a false equivalence. For want of a better analogy, to illustrate the problem with this line of argument: men and women are equal, therefore men can be mothers!

4.2 Paul argues for a creational order that is evident in the home and in the church. He argues for equality, not sameness. 

4.3. Other NT teaching is congruent with the understanding outlined in 1 Timothy ch.2.

4.4. We make our churches poorer and even disobedient if we are not encouraging women in ministry and to teach and lead in a whole range of areas. Anyone arguing that because men should be elders, women therefore shouldn’t serve publicly or in any capacity, is another example of false equivalence. Not only that, this view is simply wrong and unhealthy.

VII. Implications from 1 Timothy ch.2

This chapter of Scripture signals several important lessons and encouragements about the way we conduct ourselves as a church. 

i. God is concerned with godliness for both men and women

ii. God is concerned with order and right relationships in a church

iii. God is concerned with salvation. This cuts against the grain of ancient societies where a woman’s eternal status was often not cared about

iv. God is concerned with Gospel witness. How we relate to each other posits a positive witness to the world around us. This is of great significance in our current age where there is so much confusion about gender matters.

v. God is concerned for women and men to learn and grow in Christ. 

vi. The formal preaching/teaching of the church and the role of Pastor/elder is reserved for qualified men.

Vii. Don’t undermine creational mandates and patterns, and appreciate how Christ redeems.

Because of the way we sometimes read these verses (both complementarians and egalitarians), I want to stress that 1 Timothy ch.2 is not saying that women should not have a public role in church. This cannot be the case. The view that women should not speak at church gatherings is countered by the Scriptures themselves. For example, Ephesians 5:19-20 and Colossians 3:16- 17 address the entire congregation and exhorts everyone to speak and teach God’s words to one another in song. Interestingly, both of these passages then proceed to discuss marriage and uphold distinct roles within marriage. 1 Corinthians 11 begins a lengthy discussion on church life and Paul includes a discussion about women praying and prophesying during the gathering. In Romans ch16 Paul names many women and men who form his ministry team and who are serving Christ together in a variety of ways.

Neither are these verses saying that women can never teach the Bible. The Bible encourages and gives examples of women teaching other women and children. Timothy’s mother and grandmother are given special mention for their Christ-like example to him. Priscilla and Aquila together discipled Apollos. As I have mentioned earlier, we must be careful and avoid making the Bible say more than it is communicating or less than what it is teaching us. The examples of women teaching and being involved in Christian ministry is not an argument for women exercising any role in the church, and neither is Paul’s prohibition on teaching in 1 Timothy 2 a ban on all teaching and ministry for women in the church. 

Rather than signalling a negative view of women or Paul necessarily dealing with an issue of unruly or heresy teaching women in Ephesus, his positive emphasis on letting women learn reveals a very high regard for women in the church. Here lies the issue, in our current societal thinking we struggle to hold together both affirmation and difference, or equality with distinction. What we discover in 1 Timothy and elsewhere in the New Testament is God’s reconciling and sanctifying power at work, not to defuse creation, but to redeem men and women.

Conclusion 

The fact that there is nothing new or innovative in my explanation should give cause for encouragement, not suspicion. Surely, Western readers of the 21st Century are not the first to read this passage faithfully. We do not sit above churches in the rest of the world, whether those existing today or from 100 years ago or 1500 years ago. There must be very good reason established from Scripture and in support by Scripture for churches to change doctrine on any matter. In my view, the new readings of 1 Timothy ch.2 fail to meet the necessary standard.  

I recall Claire Smith sharing the story of a university aged woman who had just become a Christian29. The woman was from a non Anglo-Saxon ethnic background. She read 1 Timothy and Claire asked her, did you find ch.2 difficult? The woman replied, 

“No, it’s easy. Paul is saying women shouldn’t teach in church, because that’s the way God wants it.” 

Smith then admits how some people will support that “her ethnic cultural background probably made it easier for her to do that.” But Smith continues: “But can you see that the opposite might also be true—that our culture influences our reading of the text, and that many of the difficulties we find in it might exist because of our culture and our personalities and not because of the text itself?”

I appreciate that there are Christian brothers and sisters who will disagree with some of what I have written, perhaps with much. I am aware of how cultural preferences and pressures can influence the way I read different parts of the Bible. I do also believe it is a cop-out to say that we cannot know what the Bible means today for this presses against the God who gave us his word that we might know him and know how to live godly lives together for his glory. I also think that it is hard to deny how much the massive cultural changes of our times have influenced the way we view life, especially topics relating to family life and marriage and even what it means to be a man and to be a woman. 

Thomas Schreiner suggests,

 “It is a modern, democratic, Western notion that diverse functions suggest distinctions in worth between men and women. Paul believed that men and women were equal in personhood, dignity, and value but also taught that women had distinct roles from men.”30 

“It also seems to ignore how many women, through the ages and around the world, have found the Bible and its message far more liberating than oppressing. This largely Western, university-based hermeneutic seems out of touch with perhaps most women who are active in the church as Bible readers and believers worldwide.”31

To capture a more complete view of men and women and how we serve together in the local church we need to consider the full portrait given to us by God in his word. But as I explained at the beginning of this paper, my aim here is to outline a treatment of 1 Timothy ch.2 in light of the forthcoming sermon series on this Epistle at my church. For an example of these interdependent connections and service, we may turn to Bible passages including 1 Timothy 5, Titus 2, Romans 16, amongst others.

The vision God gives us in his word is one worth pursuing and it is important and worthwhile having these conversations together as we sit under His word. One of the tremendous blessings at Mentone is how God’s people believe in the sufficiency and authority of God’s word. Even when we disagree on some matters or share different insights, we have this common base from which we grow together in love and grace and truth.

In 2015 Morling College hosted a symposium, The Gender Symposium: Evangelical Perspectives on Gender, Scripture, and the Christian Life. David Starling offered this encouragement in conclusion to the event, and it is my encouragement also to those who are reading this paper,

“the conversation goes on, with us or without us on board. And it is a conversation worth having. If the gospel is about the Lordship of Jesus over all things; if it teaches us a wisdom that touches on every aspect of human life and relationships; if the saving purposes of God made known in the gospel embrace the whole of our humanity (and indeed the whole creation), then this is not a topic we ought to shrink back from or push to the margins as unimportant. The gender conversation is a conversation worth having. Somewhere within the big, swirling ocean of public conversation about gender that we participate in as Christians (and amongst the various private and sub-cultural tributaries that feed into it) is the particular conversation we have been engaged in today: the in-house conversation between Christian brothers and sisters who love the same Lord Jesus and who read and believe the same Scriptures, yet differ on how those Scriptures are to be interpreted and applied to matters of gender.”32


Endnotes:

1 see Carl Trueman’s excellent treatment of the subject, ‘The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to Sexual Revolution’ (Crossway, 2020).

2 We acknowledge there are medical conditions, commonly referred to as intersex, whereby a person is born with both male and female biological features. Intersexuality is extremely rare.

3 https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2022/january-web-only/complementarians-egalitarians-gender-compromise-culture.html

4 https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/beautiful-complementarity-male-female/

5 Yarbrough, Robert W.. The Letters to Timothy and Titus (The Pillar New Testament Commentary (PNTC)) (p. 180). Eerdmans. Kindle Edition. 

6 Yarbrough, Robert W.. The Letters to Timothy and Titus (The Pillar New Testament Commentary (PNTC)) (p. 194). Eerdmans. Kindle Edition. 

7 Yarbrough, Robert W.. The Letters to Timothy and Titus (The Pillar New Testament Commentary (PNTC)) (p. 218). Eerdmans. Kindle Edition. 

8 Yarbrough, Robert W.. The Letters to Timothy and Titus (The Pillar New Testament Commentary (PNTC)) (p. 223). Eerdmans. Kindle Edition. 

9 Paul uses the gender specific andros rather than anthropos

10 Yarbrough, Robert W.. The Letters to Timothy and Titus (The Pillar New Testament Commentary (PNTC)) (p. 178). Eerdmans. Kindle Edition. 

11 Yarbrough, Robert W.. The Letters to Timothy and Titus (The Pillar New Testament Commentary (PNTC)) (p. 202). Eerdmans. Kindle Edition. 

12 See the chapter written by Hefin Jones in Murphy, Edwina., ‘The Gender Conversation: Evangelical Perspectives on Gender, Scripture, and the Christian Life’. Wipf & Stock, an Imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers. Kindle Edition. 

13 Women in the Church (Third Edition): An Interpretation and Application of 1 Timothy 2:9-15. Eds. Andreas J. Köstenberger and Tom Schreiner. Tim Keller and D.A Carson speak highly of Robert Yarbrough’s Pillar commentary on the Pastoral Epistles. 

14 Women in the Church (Third Edition): An Interpretation and Application of 1 Timothy 2:9-15.

15 John Dickson (who is a convinced complementation, holds that the role of Senior Pastor is reserved for qualified men) argues that Paul has in mind a narrow view of teaching here. He believes the verb to teach in v.12,  

“is not about conveying Christian truth in all its forms. It is about transmitting and preserving for a congregation the apostolic traditions of the gospel. It certainly does not refer to all that one might include under the modern rubric of a “sermon.”

Dickson’s view (which he has adopted from a small group of evangelicals from previous generations) however has found little traction amongst New Testament scholarship.

16 Kostenberger, Andreas J.,Schreiner, Thomas R.. Women in the Church (Third Edition): An Interpretation and Application of 1 Timothy 2:9-15 (pp. 190-191). Crossway. Kindle Edition. 

16 hapax legomena is the technical phrase for words that appear only once in a document

17 cf Wolters chapter, ‘The Meaning of Αὐθεντέω’ in Kostenberger, Andreas J.,Schreiner, Thomas R.. Women in the Church (Third Edition): An Interpretation and Application of 1 Timothy 2:9-15 (p. 65). Crossway. Kindle Edition. 

19 cf Kostenerberger’s contribution, ‘A Complex Sentence’ in  Kostenberger, Andreas J.,Schreiner, Thomas R.. Women in the Church (Third Edition): An Interpretation and Application of 1 Timothy 2:9-15 (p. 117). Crossway. Kindle Edition. 

20 It should be noted that among the scholars who serve on the NIV translation committee are complementarians, and so one should not assume that they are supportive of a egalitarian rendering of v.12

21 https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevin-deyoung/assuming-too-much-about-assume-in-1-timothy-212/

22 Kostenberger, Andreas J.,Schreiner, Thomas R.. Women in the Church (Third Edition): An Interpretation and Application of 1 Timothy 2:9-15 (p. 171). Crossway. Kindle Edition.

23 Kostenberger, Andreas J.,Schreiner, Thomas R.. Women in the Church (Third Edition): An Interpretation and Application of 1 Timothy 2:9-15 (p. 173). Crossway. Kindle Edition. 

24 Kostenberger, Andreas J.,Schreiner, Thomas R.. Women in the Church (Third Edition): An Interpretation and Application of 1 Timothy 2:9-15 (p. 168). Crossway. Kindle Edition. 

25 Kostenberger, Andreas J.,Schreiner, Thomas R.. Women in the Church (Third Edition): An Interpretation and Application of 1 Timothy 2:9-15 (p. 200). Crossway. Kindle Edition.  

26 Yarbrough, Robert W.. The Letters to Timothy and Titus (The Pillar New Testament Commentary (PNTC)) (p. 211). Eerdmans. Kindle Edition. 

27 Yarbrough, Robert W.. The Letters to Timothy and Titus (The Pillar New Testament Commentary (PNTC)) (p. 211). Eerdmans. Kindle Edition. 

28 Yarbrough, Robert W.. The Letters to Timothy and Titus (The Pillar New Testament Commentary (PNTC)) (p. 370). Eerdmans. Kindle Edition.

29 Claire Smith, God’s Good Design (2nd Edition), 24.

30 Kostenberger, Andreas J.,Schreiner, Thomas R.. Women in the Church (Third Edition): An Interpretation and Application of 1 Timothy 2:9-15 (pp. 201-202). Crossway. Kindle Edition.

31 Yarbrough, Robert W.. The Letters to Timothy and Titus (The Pillar New Testament Commentary (PNTC)) (p. 175). Eerdmans. Kindle Edition. 

32 Murphy, Edwina. The Gender Conversation: Evangelical Perspectives on Gender, Scripture, and the Christian Life . Wipf & Stock, an Imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers. Kindle Edition. 

Government Commissioner Confirms Church Leaders Concerns

A spokesperson for the Victorian Government has made a series of admissions that confirm the concerns religious leaders are expressing over the Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Bill 2020.

Eternity newspaper sent questions to the office of the Commissioner for LGBTIQ+ Communities, within Victoria’s Department of Premier and Cabinet. Commissioner, Ro Allen, has responded.

The article was published on the Eternity website two days ago (Dec 17th). Within the hour the Government contacted Eternity and asked for the article to be taken down. This request is quite astonishing and one can imagine media outlets expressing concern over a Government asking media to delete an already published article, especially where the Government representative freely gave written comments on the record. There are a couple of significant changes between the two versions of the interview.

Before I offer comment on Ro Allen’s answers, it is worthwhile reiterating how wide societal concerns over over the Bill.

There is broad and growing concern over the Bill

The LGB alliance have expressed grave concerns with the Bill.

Feminists are speaking against the Bill. University of Melbourne’s Feminist Philosopher, Holly Lawford-Smith, has said,

”The Keira Bell verdict [UK High Court landmark case- see below] establishes that children are unlikely to be competent to consent to puberty blockers, which establishes that an ‘affirmation-only’ approach is the wrong approach where it is likely to involve medicalisation. Yet Victoria is heading in the opposite direction, with a new bill about to criminalise any individual who fails to ‘affirm’ or support a child’s claim about her gender identity.”

Men and women who have detransitioned are voicing grave concerns about how this bill will harm not help Victorians who are wrestling with their gender identity.

Legal experts believe the Bill poses needless and extraordinary infringements on religious freedoms. As one example (among many that can be mentioned),

“In the most aggressive action ever taken by an Australian government to attack freedom of religion, the Labor Government in Victoria proposes to make it a criminal offence, punishable by several years’ imprisonment, for a person to pray with another person about issues they are having concerning their sexual orientation or gender identity. It will not be a defence that the person actually wanted prayer.”

Barney Zwartz wrote earlier in the week that ,

“Most Victorian churches are concerned about the conversion bill”.

The Bill itself clearly denotes that the prohibitions are not limited to the few and awful practices that were once engaged in by a small number of religious groups. The Bill includes a ban on ‘prayer’. The Explanatory memorandum states that conversation with a faith leader can be considered conversion practice and therefore subject to prosecution. 

The Premier and the now Former Attorney General have each made their case. They oppose not only those rare and dreadful conversion practices, but they are pitching to remove the beliefs from Victoria.

“Cruel and bigoted practices that seek to change or suppress a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity will soon be stamped out across Victoria, thanks to new laws introduced to Parliament today.       

The Bill denounces such practices as deceptive and harmful, reinforces that the ideology behind these practices is flawed and wrong.”

Attorney-General Jill Hennssey said,

“We’re sending a clear message: no one is ‘broken’ because of their sexuality or gender identity,” 

“These views won’t be tolerated in Victoria and neither will these abhorrent practices.”

 La Trobe University’s Dr Timothy W. Jones wrote a report for the Government on the topic. Despite claiming churches have nothing to fear about the Bill he then proceeded to tell churches  change their beliefs and instead do what LGBT activists tell them to do. In his report he refers to “insidious development”. By this he is speaking of Christians who hold to the Bible’s teaching on marriage and sexuality (the very teaching that forms the foundations for our society). 

All those comments should be suffice to convince people that the Government is not limiting its intent to outlawing extreme practices. They are consciously legislating against religious Victorians who hold legitimate practices, even those doctrines that are as ancient and good for society as the Christian Bible. 

Photo by Ric Rodrigues on Pexels.com

Now to offer comment in response to the interview with the Victorian Commissioner.

The question of sermons

Are there any limits on what can be prosecuted? Yes, but these lines are often blurry and as both Jill Hennessy and Ro Allen admit, these boundaries may well expand over time to include even more religious practices.

For example, the one activity the Government is clear on is the sermon. Under the current provisions contained in this Bill preaching a sermon will not be prohibited. However, Jill Hennessy told the Parliament that the Government may later reconsider this activity, “such conduct may be considered as part of the Legislative Assembly’s ongoing inquiry into anti-vilification protections.”

The issue of sermons doesn’t go away.

Eternity asked,

“Will the educational role of the Commission act to discourage the general teaching that the Bible says homosexual sex is wrong?

This statement was made in the original interview

“The proposed law is quite clear in countering any teaching that says that homosexual sex is wrong, so this may well be part of their education”

In other words, a sermon may not lead to charges and 10 years imprisonment, but a sermon may be reported and the preacher compelled to attend a reeducation camp. Victorians should appreciate the authoritarian and Caesar like approach this Government has told religious freedom. If a Christians upholds the Christian view of sexuality and persuades others of this view, you may be forced to attend the Andrews school of ethics and be told that Christianity is bigotry and that queer theory is right. What makes Allen’s admission even more startling are the changes made in the new Government approved version of the interview.

The response becomes,

“If general prayer in c) is reported to the Commission, the Commission would not be required or empowered to do anything as this is not a change or suppression practice. The Commission would decline to consider the report.

There will be a 12-month period before the law starts, in order to allow important implementation work to be completed. The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission will lead this and consult widely with Victorians.”

Which version of the answer expresses the Government’s position? The former is a clear threat to Churches, while the latter communicates, ‘we’re not going to tell you what will happen should you preach, teach, or counsel in line with your church’s doctrine. Wait and see!’

There is a further significant revision made in Allen’s answer. Eternity referred to stories of individuals who allege harm at the hands of churches who prayed for them and whose churches disproved of non heterosexual marriage. “These activities may or may not have been targeted at the individual person in each case.” The question was then asked,

“Will there be experiences regarded as harmful by LGBTQ persons not covered by the bill?”

In the original interview Allen answered by saying,

“Under the current law, such practices are not covered. This law will be reviewed in two years. If the advice coming to the government is that these practices do indeed cause harm in the same way, then the government may have to revisit the law.”

In the new version of the interview, Allen takes a step back, offering a response that is more vague.

“This is unclear and may be determined when such a case is raised. If, for example, a religious leader was providing lessons to LGBTIQ people to “pray the gay away”,  it could possibly be captured under this law as inducing a person to try and change their sexual identity or gender identity.”

While the revised answer sounds less threatening, the point remain: this unnecessary law is likely to grow fatter with time. This is a further indication that the current Government has not finished its strategy to, “stamp out across Victoria” any view of sexuality and gender that does not fully embrace (and without questioning it), the current expression of queer theory. 

Allen also reinforces the Bill’s own statement about how the list of prohibited activities are only ‘examples’. It is not an exhaustive list at all.

“These religious practices given as examples are among those known to cause the most harm to people. Other religious practices that will be covered by the law will be any religious practice that is directed at an individual person to try to change or suppress their sexual orientation or gender identity.

As the Explanatory Memorandum goes on to say, the bill “is intended to capture a broad range of conduct, including informal practices, such as conversations with a community leader that encourage change or suppression of sexual orientation or gender identity, and more formal practices, such as behaviour change programs and residential camps.’”

 

Targeting ministry to individuals rather than groups

The Government’s Commissioner notes the Government’s aim is to distinguish between what takes place in a general setting and what occurs with individuals. Sermons are ok (for now) because they are teachings addressed to a group of people. He explains, 

“Some sermons may express beliefs that seem contrary to the aim of this bill, which affirms that people of faith have the right to express their views, but not to force them upon other people. The law becomes triggered when it is aimed at changing or suppressing an individual.”

It is reasonable to ask in response to this comment, for how long will a Government permit ‘sermons’ given that they supposedly “express beliefs that seem contrary to the aim of this bill”?

For now, the issue for churches relates to ministry that focuses on individuals. This includes praying with people, and exhorting people to live in accord with Biblical ethics.

Rev Dr John Dickson said on Eternity’s Facebook page, 

“advising an LGBT person to be celibate for life (because traditional marriage isn’t an option) seems to be described here as an outlawed practice.”

He is correct.

Personal prayer and conversation forms a regular part of clergy ministry. It is also not uncommon for a lay believer to meet with another person for prayer and bible study. These are normal activities. However, should the topic of sex and gender arise, the government may charge individuals with encouraging abstinence and moral godliness. Refraining from sex outside of heterosexual marriage has been normative for the entire history of the church.

The Government is forcing religious Victorians into an impossible position: do we remain faithful to our convictions and continue to love people by sharing our faith, or do we submit to these scandalous demands of a Government? 

Here is a further important scenario that may fall foul of this law. Christians churches require potential members to affirm the doctrinal convictions of the church. For example, Churches regularly require members to refrain from sexual activity outside marriage between a man and a woman. Members who sin in this way (to use the Bible’s own language) are usually asked to repent and discipline can take place (which may include being asked to refrain from taking Communion or even being removed from membership).  Given that these normal practices relate to individual persons, will the church’s actions be prohibited under this Bill?

The Government has chosen to attack churches rather than work with them

Premier Daniel Andrews last week directed an attack against church in leaders during a speech in the Parliament. 

“Some faith leaders have been critical of these provisions, critical of a law to ban the worst form of bigoted quackery imaginable.

“This is not kindness and love, or the protection of the vulnerable and persecuted. This is not something to be proud of. This is not what I pray for.”

His words are unfortunate. The Premier has dismissed the legitimate concerns that are being expressed and which Allen has now validated. Instead, Mr Andrews implied that teaching and praying for the Christian view of human sexuality is the “worst form of bigoted quakery imaginable?” But surely the Premier was only referring to those awful practices such as aversion therapy? But no faith leader is supporting such a thing. They are they are calling on the Government to amend a Bill so we may continue to practice of faith without the undue intrusion of the State. Allen’s words have given further substance to these concerns.

There are members of the Government who are privately expressing concerns about the Bill’s overreach. I trust they will find their voice and speak with the new Attorney General.

I also understand how some members of the community are praising the Government’s Bill, and that some are already demanding that it be extended to include a greater range of religious activities.  Are not the beliefs that have carried and formed and blessed our societies for 2000 years no longer welcome?

It remains a disappointment that the Government didn’t follow the example of Queensland and write a Bill that focuses on the few, rare, and genuine harmful practices that once existed. Religious leaders could have partnered with the Government to make this Bill work. Instead, the Premier labels us bigots and quacks.

I appreciate how fellow Christians have approached this Bill with grace and gentleness, assuming the Government’s good intentions. Grace and gentleness should exude from us, but there is nothing virtuous about gullibility. Playing nice sometimes slides into naïveté. The Government’s spokesperson has reaffirmed concerns that many have raised over the past month.

Since the times of the Caesars Christians have prayed for Governments, honoured them, and submitted to their authority.  We will continue to do so. There is however a line that Christians will not cross, and this State Government is drawing that line thick in the black ink of law. It is bullying people of faith into either submission or having a criminal record with a stint at a reeducation camp. Does this sound like healthy pluralism? Does this bode well for a free and democratic society? Does this continue centuries of strong partnership between Church and State?

Presbyterians, Roman Catholics, Orthodox are among the many groups who are voicing legitimate concerns over this Bill. It is time for others to join. At the end of the day these voices may not persuade the Parliament to fix this Bill, but at least we can say that in this day of trouble we stood with Christ, with our churches and for our people.  One day we can look back and know that didn’t throw our congregations to the lions, we instead chose to remain with them. 


A correction. The original Eternity article spelled the Commissioner’s surname as Allan. They have informed me that they were incorrect and it is Allen. I have subsequently changed the spelling.

Bishop Curry: Preacher of love and Persecutor of the Church?

“give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong.” (1 Kings 3:9)

Who is wise? Let them realize these things. Who is discerning? Let them understand. The ways of the Lord are right; the righteous walk in them, but the rebellious stumble in them. (Hosea 14:9)

 

The world fell in love with Bishop Michael Curry last year as he delivered the sermon at the royal wedding. Even Christians were smiling and laughing at his wit and mesmerised at his storytelling, and nodding in agreement each time he spoke of love. He left convention behind, ignoring the stale, stuffy, and short sermonette that everyone has become accustomed to for a royal event, and he instead preached a long humorous monologue about love.

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Prior to this sermon which stole the news headlines around the world for days to come, few people had ever heard of Bishop Michael Curry outside The Episcopal Church (TEC), of which he is the Presiding Bishop. Within moments of beginning his homily, social media lit up with Christians and atheists alike, gleaming and expressing likes all-round.

Some voices dared challenge the message and the preacher; I was one of them. I understood why Curry’s sermon might appeal to non-Christians; his words sounded awfully like their own secular worldview, except that he added the idea of God to the conversation. But many Christians were disappointed and even angry by the fact that some Christian leaders questioned the royal sermon. Even when concerns were more fully expressed, some swiped them away as though we were throwing mud at a great man of God.

His sermon was stamped ex cathedra, out of bounds to any criticism. He mentioned love and God, and Jesus was thrown in somewhere, so what’s the problem? Jump off the critic’s chair and join the crowds in celebrating Bishop Curry and his message of love!

Earlier this week, a story reported that this preacher of love is perhaps less loving that he has been made out to be. Indeed, he is less like Apostle Paul who wrote 1 Corinthians 13 and more like Saul, the persecutor of the church.

Christian Today has reported that,

“The head of the US Episcopal Church has taken disciplinary action against the Bishop of Albany for opposing same-sex marriage ceremonies. 

Presiding Bishop, the Most Rev Michael Curry, moved to restrict part of Bishop William Love’s ministry after he introduced a policy in the diocese last year preventing churches from performing gay weddings.” 

The Bishop famed for his sermon on love has moved to discipline a local bishop who believes in upholding the biblical understanding of marriage.

In 2015, Episcopal Church’s General Convention protected dioceses who banned the practice of same-sex weddings, but those protections were removed last year. Bishop Love has instead chosen to follow what he believes is congruent with God’s word and to guard his congregations against damaging teaching and ceremonies. Bishop Love has responded to Curry’s disciplinary action, saying that his policy reflected the official teaching of the Church that marriage is between one man and one woman, and that no resolutions from the General Convention had overridden this. 

Before anyone assumes that this is the first of such instances, Michael Curry has a history of persecuting clergy and churches who don’t support his progressive views of sexuality and marriage.

This was one of the important facts that was whitewashed amidst all the public adulations being heaped on Michael Curry in the wake of the wedding; not only does he deny the biblical definition of marriage, he presides as Bishop over a denomination which has taken its own churches to court in order to remove them from buildings and property, on account that these churches won’t cave into theological liberalism. Michel Curry has been and continues to be one of the chief protagonists responsible for fracturing the Anglican communion not only in America but worldwide.

Curry’s latest actions against a local bishop are just another example of this man who preaches love and practices persecution.

It grieves me to know that while brothers and sisters in Christ in the United States are counting the cost for faithfulness to the Gospel, many other Christians remember that royal wedding sermon with fondness. It perhaps shouldn’t surprise us, but it ought to trouble us, that with a few slick words spoken at a wedding, Christians have sided with the world and decided that Curry’s heterodox beliefs and practices shouldn’t discount the warmth people enjoyed by his presence as he stood and spoke behind that pulpit in St Georges Chapel. It’s almost as though, for the sake of lapping up a captivating presentation, we are prepared to ignore reality and to toss out God’s loving truth, even when these things are made transparent to us.

Let us pray for and learn discernment. Let us side with those who are persecuted, and not with the persecutors. Pray for the churches and clergy who remain in The Episcopal Church and remain in Christ. And ask God that he might lovingly bring Michael Curry to repentance, just as God so graciously did for Paul on that road to Damascus.

Our Summer Vacation wasn’t a time for missing out on Church

“the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world—just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and truly understood God’s grace” (Colossians 1:6)

This year we decided to escape one month of the Australian summer by heading for the northern hemisphere. Susan and I had the opportunity to take an overseas holiday with our children, and so we packed our winter coats and gloves, grabbed the passports, made a dash across the equator and didn’t stop for 18000km.

We marched up The Mall to Buckingham Palace. We joined the Tottenham hoards at Wembley Stadium for an EPL game. We toured Lord’s Cricket Ground, wandered the galleries at Tate Modern, drove through Flanders and the First World War battlefields, spent days walking through the beautiful city of Paris, eating a ridiculous amount of tasty French breads and cakes, and finally, a mountain of bbq pork and daily yum cha in the enticing city of Hong Kong. Yes, it was amazing and alluring and many other adjectives beginning with the letter ‘a’.

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Amidst visiting and enjoying many wonderful sights, foods, and experiences, there was something else even greater and most astonishing, something we didn’t want to miss out on. To non-Christians, this may sound daft, and sadly, even among many Christians. What could possibly outdo the many places and tastes that garnished our holiday? What beats lunch in Paris and shopping at Selfridges? Answer? It was spending time with God’s people each Sunday. That’s right, the highlight of our trip was Church.

I admit it,  I don’t leap out of bed every week for church, let alone when I’m on holidays. It’s not that I don’t want to be with church, but rather, I’m exhausted, in every sense of the word. Nevertheless, I take Hebrews 10:23-24 seriously, and I have a beautiful wife who spurs me on even when I’m lacking motivation. And after all, when Christians in China are facing arrest and imprisonment for gathering together as Church, how can I justify nonattendance because I’m on holiday?

I remind my own congregation that regularly meeting with God’s people is both a command and a comfort, an exhortation and encouragement. Just as eating food is necessary and delicious, so church for the Christian is both vital and pleasing, nourishing the soul and feeding the body. That means, we need time with God, in his word, and with his people, even when I’m on vacation.

We visited several churches during our time away: 3 in London, 1 in Lille (France), and 1 in Hong Kong. We met people for the first time, who were already brothers and sisters on account of Christ. We sat among a French-speaking Church and heard the name of Jesus sung and preached with joyful earnestness. We watched another Church not only accommodate but love special needs children in the most natural and beautiful way; their spasmodic noises and motions were not an interruption to the service but were warmly embraced as part of their worship to God.

On our final Sunday before heading home to Melbourne, we listened to a sermon which captured wonderfully a truth that we experienced throughout our time away.

An old friend, John Percival, serves as the Senior Pastor of Ambassador International Church in Hong Kong. John opened the Scriptures to Colossians 1:1-8.

I was immediately struck by verses 3- 6, which reads,

“We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people—  the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven and about which you have already heard in the true message of the gospel 6 that has come to you. In the same way, the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world—just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and truly understood God’s grace.”

What I noticed is how the churches we visited are an embodiment of Colossians 1:3-6 (at the very least, this was our experience of them, as it is has been our joy and privilege in serving at Mentone Baptist for the past 14 years).

Each of the Churches we visited prayed for the nations and for the Gospel to advance throughout the world. They gave thanks for God’s grace at work in bringing people to Christ. The preachers pointed people to the Lord Jesus and called them to believe in him and put their hope in Christ and not the things of this world. It is always exciting to see these words spoken to a small town church 2000 years ago are still working today in the lives of congregations in different parts of the world, and knowing that it is the same Gospel at work in our own lives. And so, just as Paul thanked God for the Gospel at work among the Colossians, I am thankful to God for evidence of his grace among these churches

Our time away was beneficial for many reasons, and among them was seeing again how the Apostolic word is continuing to bear fruit all over the world, just as God said would happen. The same good news that we believe at Mentone Baptist is held by women and men 17000km away. The same message that is preached at Mentone is being proclaimed to people across continents in other languages. The same message that Paul speaks to the Colossians is, 21 Centuries later, still bearing fruit all over the world.

As in the years that have already past by, 2019 will no doubt provide us will another onslaught of church naysayers and Gospel skeptics. We’ll hear unbelievers knock the message of the cross and laugh at the notion of resurrection, and we’ll read about clergy doing the very same thing. New leadership gurus and theological “pioneers” will give advice about how we need to be more ‘radical’ and more ‘revolutionary’ in our approaches to ministry (as though innovation is the Gospel).

Instead, I have been refreshed by words that speak of a faith, love and hope that is growing among churches, born from hearing and understanding God’s grace, “true message of the gospel”. 

You see, if we had chosen the ‘easier’ path and not bothered to find a Bible-believing local church, if we had instead skipped church so that I could catch up on lost sleep or see more sights and try new things, we would have missed out on this great encouragement from God. I would have given up Divine food for stuffing myself with a few stale chips, such are medieval buildings, fashion houses, and restaurants, in comparison with what God is growing throughout the whole world.

So as I return to Melbourne and to a new year of pastoral ministry at Mentone, having enjoyed a time away and seeing God’s world and taking pleasure in many wonders of human intellectual and creative exercise. More importantly, I am reminded of the one Gospel which in 2019 will give birth to faith, love, and hope, and being reminded how these things grow together in and through the life of the local church.

Concerns with ‘Awakening Australia’ remain

Over the past two months, there have been several articles, many conversations, and 100,000s of people engaging in reading and talking about Christian revival.

The catalyst for this discussion is a revival event that is planned for  Melbourne next month, “Awakening Australia”.  Hundreds of Churches and thousands of Christians across Australia have been energised and excited by the idea of coming together and hearing Christ preached, and praying for many thousands of Aussies to come and to know Christ.

In September, Stephen Tan wrote an article for The Gospel Coalition Australia, in which he offered a critique of Bethel Church and Bill Johnson. Stephen attended a Bethel connected church in Melbourne for several years, and so he has first-hand knowledge of their teaching and practices. The impetus for that article is the upcoming “Awakening Australia’ weekend, which is heavily influenced by, supported by, and promoting Bethel ministries.

I have twice already stated that “Awakening Australia” is more than a Bethel event, but it is not less than. For example, the organiser and one of the keynote speakers, Ben Fitzgerald, is a Bethel missionary, Bill Johnson will be speaking from the platform, and Bethel is supporting the event financially and is sending hundreds of volunteers to serve in Melbourne. In addition, the vision for this event lays in similar events that have been organised in Europe, which again have their origins in Bethel Church, Redding. There is nothing wrong per se with an American Church coming to Australia and bringing other churches together for an event. It is misleading, however, to explain away or to minimise ‘Awakening Australia’s connections with Bethel and with the word of faith movement.

Why am I writing again on this topic? Because, as a Christian and as a pastor and as a Melbournian, I remain very concerned by this event and the potential it has in damaging the physical and spiritual well-being of many people.

One of the concerns that have been raised relates to Bill Johnson’s teaching about the Divinity of Christ, and the ways in which his writings repeatedly minimise and at times seem to deny, that the incarnate Christ is fully Divine. Two weeks ago Bill Johnson issued a statement through text message to Ben Fitzgerald, which I was given permission to make public. The statement clarifies and to some extent corrects Johnson’s own public teaching about the person of Jesus Christ.

If Bill Johnson’s statement reflects a genuine correction, surely he will make further public clarifications and go to great to lengths to correct this teaching in his books. After all, is there any more significant a subject than who is Jesus Christ? To date, Bill Johnson and Bethel have released no such statement on their websites or in any public forum, other than this one casual text message. I find that astonishing.

There have been a number of updates over the past couple of weeks. I wish to bring to attention two of these.

First, a major Christian documentary was released last week. American Gospel: Christ Alone. It is a documentary produced by Americans to warn Christians around the world of what is America’s most dreadful export around the globe, the word of faith movement. The documentary features  American theologians and pastors who are decrying a false Christianity that has gained wide acceptance in the United States and is now being transported globally and is leaving behind millions of shattered people.  There are two hours of interviews, testimonies and biblical explanations of what the word of faith movement is about, and why it is so dangerous and damaging. Of immediate interest are sections in the documentary that explore some of Bill Johnson’s and Todd White’s teaching and ministry, including White’s connections with Kenneth Copeland and the prosperity gospel, their views about healing and the kenosis heresies. If anyone is interested to know why Stephen Tan, myself, and many others are so concerned about ‘Awakening Australia’ and the word of faith movement more generally, it is worth taking the time to view American Gospel: Christ Alone.

Second, ‘Awakening Australia’ has released and promoted a profile of Bill Johnson, ahead of his visit to Melbourne. As part of this bio, we read,

“healing and deliverance must become the common expression of this gospel of power once again”

“Bill teaches that we owe the world an encounter with God, and that a Gospel without power is not the Gospel that Jesus preached.”

By power Gospel, Bill Johnson believes that miracles and deliverance from evil spirits is an essential aspect of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, so much so that “a Gospel without power is not the Gospel that Jesus preached”.

 

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First of all, let’s note the implication of these words. These statements work against the very claim that the organisers have been making, namely, these revival meetings are about building unity amongst Aussie Churches.  Hold on, Awakening Australia has just informed thousands of Churches across the nation that they don’t believe the real Gospel. Straight away, evangelical churches and reformed churches are excluded, based on these statements.

Let’s be clear, both Johnson and White believe that the Gospel centers on the manifestation of miracles and healings, and as Johnson loves to say, ‘on earth as it is in heaven’ (as though we can drag heaven into our lives now and overcome sickness and poverty, etc). This differs substantially from the Gospel of Christ that is revealed and taught in the New Testament.

In American Gospel: Christ Alone, one of the interviewees offers this comment on Todd White’ messaging,

“This method of evangelism by blessing, it’s changing the Gospel from you are dead in your sins and this is what you need by God’s grace, repentance, and faith…it’s changing that message to God loves you, he accepts you, here’s some free stuff. He’ll cure you of your ailments, he’ll heal  your back pain”

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The focus shifts from sin and God’ wrath, to a positive message of, ‘you’re ok and let me give you a blessing today’. What did the Apostle Paul teach?

“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.” (Ephesians 2:1-5) 

Not only does the New Testament focus on atonement for sin by sufficient death of Christ, New Testament authors specifically repudiate teachers who add to the Gospel of Christ, including those who demand or expect to see signs

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written:

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”

20 Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 22 Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified.” (1 Corinthians 1:18-23)

Hymenaeus and Philetus are two blokes who are mentioned in the Bible, not as examples to emulate, but as people to avoid (2 Timothy other 2:17-18). They taught that the “that the resurrection has already taken place.” In other words, they alleged that the promises that will one day be experienced at the resurrection could be enjoyed in the present. Paul says of these two men that their teaching is like ‘gangrene”, they had “departed from the truth” and that they “destroyed the faith of some.”

God does not promise physical or mental healing in this world. If you’re sick, visit your GP. Doctors and medicine are God’s common grace available to us. We can, of course, pray for God’s healing for our Heavenly Father invites us to talk to him about everything, but it is a lie for any preacher to promise such and to suggest that miracles must accompany the Gospel. The power Gospel is not signs and miracles today, it is Christ crucified: “we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1).

Sean DeMars rightly points out in the documentary, “bad theology hurts people.”

I am not suggesting that there are not genuine believers involved in Awakening Australia. I am not discouraging Churches from partnering together in the Gospel. I am not dissuading Christians from praying for revival. Praise God for such things. The greatest joys I have witnessed in life are when I have witnessed or heard of someone coming to know Christ through repentance and faith in him. Christian unity is beautiful and precious, but fudging the Gospel or downplaying aspects of the Gospel will not create a greater sense of unity amongst brothers and sisters; it only distorts and fractures.

Over the past month, a number of people have suggested that it is wrong and divisive to question ‘Awakening Australia’, and instead of criticising we should get behind it. Let’s remind ourselves, by their own promotional material,  Awakening has implied that thousands of Australian churches are not preaching the Gospel.  My response to those who have pushed back and raised concerns from what I and others have said is this, pastors of churches have a responsibility under God to be concerned for truth and to teach what is right and good and to warn our churches of ideas that or contravene or muddy the Gospel.

Jude exhorts us to “to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted”

As Paul shared with Timothy that he was being poured out like a drink offering, he gave him this charge,

“In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge:Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.”

I trust and pray that this is not the case, but if the Gospel presented at ‘Awakening Australia’ reflects the messaging that Bill Johnson and Todd White are widely known for espousing (and remember they are both speaking at the event), the effect will not be greater Gospel unity or genuine Spirit given Christ glorifying revival. The effect will a hyped up pseudo- spirituality which will fade in the weeks to come and which will confuse unbelievers as to what Christianity is really about, and which will cause great pain for the sick who are offered false promises of healing. Until such time that Awakening Australia distances themselves for these speakers and their links with the word of faith movement, concerns will remain.

 

 


Encouraging Update (July 29 2020): Todd White has publicly acknowledged that God has convicted him of preaching an errant gospel and that he is repenting. For the story – https://au.thegospelcoalition.org/article/a-real-miracle-in-prosperity-network/

12 Lessons from Jeremiah

I am currently preparing for a sermon series at Mentone on the book of Jeremiah. It is a daunting task, not least because of the size of this volume; Jeremiah is the longest book in the entire Bible. More than that, the message that God speaks through his prophet is often distressing and frightening. God’s indictment of Judah and on the nations is terrifying in what it reveals about the human heart. The sheer number of words given over to spell out the charges and judgment can be overwhelming to read.

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Here are 12 things that have struck me as I’ve been meditating on the book Jeremiah:

1. Disobeying or making light of God’s word is dangerous and reckless.

“‘How can you say, “We are wise,

    for we have the law of the Lord,”

when actually the lying pen of the scribes

    has handled it falsely?

 The wise will be put to shame;

    they will be dismayed and trapped.

Since they have rejected the word of the Lord,

    what kind of wisdom do they have?”  (Jer 8:8-9)

Refusing to accept, believe and obey God’s word led to an entire nation being destroyed, its cities made rubble and survivors sent into exile.

2. God not only uses history to achieve his purposes, but he shapes history according to his purposes.

For example, God’s orchestrates Babylon’s rise to regional power and they will become an instrument to punish Judah, and yet Babylon is not exempt from being accountable for their own actions.

 

3. God’s warnings about judgement are also an expression of grace.

Within lengthy passages where God expounds his pronouncements on Judah, we also find words of grace and mercy.

“Return, faithless people,” declares the Lord, “for I am your husband. I will choose you—one from a town and two from a clan—and bring you to Zion. Then I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will lead you with knowledge and understanding.” (Jer 3:14-15)

God loves to show mercy. God longs for his people to repent and to return to him.

 

4. Social sins (i.e caring for the poor) are integrally connected to spiritual sin (what we think of God and his law).

“But these people have stubborn and rebellious hearts;
they have turned aside and gone away.

They do not say to themselves,
‘Let us fear the Lord our God,
who gives autumn and spring rains in season,
who assures us of the regular weeks of harvest.’

Your wrongdoings have kept these away;
your sins have deprived you of good.

“Among my people are the wicked
who lie in wait like men who snare birds
and like those who set traps to catch people.

Like cages full of birds,
their houses are full of deceit;
they have become rich and powerful

    and have grown fat and sleek.
Their evil deeds have no limit;
they do not seek justice.
They do not promote the case of the fatherless;
they do not defend the just cause of the poor.” (5:23-28)

5. Fake repentance is a thing

“In spite of all this, her unfaithful sister Judah did not return to me with all her heart, but only in pretense,” declares the Lord.” (3:10)

6. God’s promise of judgement is not merely rhetorical:

God promises:

“I have determined to do this city harm and not good, declares the Lord. It will be given into the hands of the king of Babylon, and he will destroy it with fire.” (21:10)

God acts:

“In the ninth year of Zedekiah king of Judah, in the tenth month, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon marched against Jerusalem with his whole army and laid siege to it.” (39:1)

“Then he put out Zedekiah’s eyes and bound him with bronze shackles to take him to Babylon.The Babylonians set fire to the royal palace and the houses of the people and broke down the walls of Jerusalem.” (39:7-8)

 

7. God is serious about his 10 commandments

22 For when I brought your ancestors out of Egypt and spoke to them, I did not just give them commands about burnt offerings and sacrifices, 23 but I gave them this command: Obey me, and I will be your God and you will be my people. Walk in obedience to all I command you, that it may go well with you. 24 But they did not listen or pay attention; instead, they followed the stubborn inclinations of their evil hearts. They went backward and not forward”. (Jer 7:22-24)

 

8. Wrath is often a slow drip rather than a sudden flood

Jeremiah’s public ministry extended for almost 40 years, and there were prophets before him and afterward, who warned God’s people about their sin and who called them to repentance.

During the latter years of Jeremiah’s ministry, 13 years separated Nebuchadnezzar’s first invasion of Judah, and of his final defeat and destruction of Jerusalem.

This gradual unfolding of wrath and periods of ‘relief’ was sometimes interpreted as evidence that Jeremiah was wrong. It was not God who was lying, but Judah’s leaders and prophets,

“The prophets prophesy lies, the priests rule by their own authority, and my people love it this way. But what will you do in the end?” (5:2)

 

9. Not every story ends with grace, judgment can be final.

“There at Riblah the king of Babylon killed the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes; he also killed all the officials of Judah.” (Jeremiah 52:10)

 

10. Leaders of God’s people must not twist or ignore God’s word.

The strongest warnings and judgments are directed toward Judah’s teachers and priests, those who claim to speak for God and yet deny him with their words and actions. Churches leaders cannot afford to trivialise, ignore, and remove words of Scripture, simply because they are unpopular or difficult.

“They dress the wound of my people

    as though it were not serious.

“Peace, peace,” they say,

    when there is no peace.

Are they ashamed of their detestable conduct?

    No, they have no shame at all;

    they do not even know how to blush.

So they will fall among the fallen;

    they will be brought down when they are punished,

says the Lord.” (8:11-13)

 

11. Divine grace and forgiveness is more astonishing and wonderful than we can ever imagine

“At that time,” declares the Lord, “I will be the God of all the families of Israel, and they will be my people.”

This is what the Lord says:

“The people who survive the sword
will find favor in the wilderness;
I will come to give rest to Israel.”

The Lord appeared to us in the past,[a] saying:

“I have loved you with an everlasting love;
I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.

I will build you up again,
and you, Virgin Israel, will be rebuilt.
Again you will take up your timbrels
and go out to dance with the joyful.

Again you will plant vineyards
on the hills of Samaria;
the farmers will plant them
and enjoy their fruit.

There will be a day when watchmen cry out
on the hills of Ephraim,
‘Come, let us go up to Zion,
to the Lord our God.’”

This is what the Lord says:

“Sing with joy for Jacob;
shout for the foremost of the nations.
Make your praises heard, and say,
‘Lord, save your people,
the remnant of Israel.’

See, I will bring them from the land of the north
and gather them from the ends of the earth.
Among them will be the blind and the lame,
expectant mothers and women in labor;
a great throng will return.

They will come with weeping;
they will pray as I bring them back.
I will lead them beside streams of water
on a level path where they will not stumble,
because I am Israel’s father,
and Ephraim is my firstborn son.

10 “Hear the word of the Lord, you nations;
proclaim it in distant coastlands:
‘He who scattered Israel will gather them
and will watch over his flock like a shepherd.’

11 For the Lord will deliver Jacob
and redeem them from the hand of those stronger than they.” 
(Jer 31:1-11)

 

12. Jesus is the promised redeemer in Jeremiah

“the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, since the new covenant is established on better promises.

For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another. But God found fault with the people and said:

“The days are coming, declares the Lord,
when I will make a new covenant
with the people of Israel
and with the people of Judah.

It will not be like the covenant
I made with their ancestors
when I took them by the hand
to lead them out of Egypt,
because they did not remain faithful to my covenant,
and I turned away from them,
declares the Lord.

10 This is the covenant I will establish with the people of Israel
after that time, declares the Lord.
I will put my laws in their minds
and write them on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people.

11 No longer will they teach their neighbor,
or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’
because they will all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest.

12 For I will forgive their wickedness
and will remember their sins no more.”

13 By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear.” (Hebrews 8:6-13)

Bishop Curry and his Royal Sermon

“Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.” (John 14:23-24)

 

Michael Curry’s royal wedding sermon has been the hot topic of conversation over the last 2 days. Newspapers, television shows, and social media are alight with opinions over the bishop and his sermon.

I have heard people speak favourably of the preacher because of his energy and enthusiasm.

Some people are admiring Michael Curry because in their opinion, he has broken with royal convention and stuck it up at English tradition.

There were voices praising how this is a sign of dismantling white privilege and power.

Others were warmed by Curry’s message of love

Other again, were annoyed because he spoke too long.

Some people, including Christians, thought he preached an amazing Gospel sermon, while others have criticised Curry’s message for being Gospel absent, perhaps even implying an alternate gospel.

In other words, there are many very different reasons why people responded positively and negatively to this wedding sermon.

abc royal wedding.png

My reaction? I was partly pleasantly surprised, and also profoundly concerned.

Did Michael Curry say some things that were true and helpful? Yes. Did he speak too long? For a wedding, probably yes, but every preacher know that temptation. Was it positive to see an African American preaching at a royal wedding? Absolutely. Maybe in the future we’ll see a Chinese or Persian Pastors preaching the Gospel at such an auspicious occasion. Did the bishop say anything unhelpful or untrue? The answer is, yes.

One Anglican Minister made this astute observation,

“Here’s the biggest problem I have with it: The Archbishop has made our love of others the driving force of the renewal of the world.

“Dr. King was right: “We must discover the power of love, the redemptive power of love.

And when we discover that, we will be able to make of this old world a new world. Love is the only way.”

According to Archbp Curry, Jesus dies to save us, but it’s *our love* of the other, including in marriage, that ultimately renews creation.”

If this is the case, then there is a significant theological problem with the message.

The one comment that I did share on social media Saturday night, wasn’t about the sermon or about Michael Curry’s ethnicity or personality, but one glaring point that was being overlooked. As someone who has the joy of marrying couples, I found it ironic, and sad, that the invited preacher doesn’t believe in the definition of marriage that was articulated in the wedding ceremony. I can’t imagine a church inviting someone to preach at a wedding service who doesn’t accept the understanding of marriage being declared, and who is also known publicly for their errant views.

The view of marriage that was read out loud at the start of service comes from the Anglican book of common prayer, and it is a beautiful expression, theologically rich and Biblically sound. The wording is so clear and helpful, that many other Christian denominations use the language themselves. As another friend noted, ‘it almost makes one want to be Anglican!’

Yes, it is great to see people talking about love and especially God’s love. We should pray that it will cause people to seek out a Bible believing and Jesus loving Church, and even to open a Bible for themselves to discover this extraordinary God who loves so much that he sent his only son into the world to atone for our sin. We cannot however ignore the fact, that despite his proclamations of love,  Michael Curry is partly responsible for leading an entire Christian denomination away from the Bible, and in so doing, is fracturing the Anglican Communion worldwide.

Michael Curry has not shied away from his belief in same sex marriage. He has publicly acknowledged that his views are out of sync with conservative Anglicans, and he has insisted that his American churches would not be returning to an orthodox view of marriage.

Many leaders in the Anglican Communion, including from Australia and especially from Africa and Asia, have explained their considerable concerns over Bishop Curry’s teaching and how it is causing harm both within the American Episcopal Denomination and Anglicans globally. The problem is most poignant for thousands of Anglicans in America who love God and his word, but who now face losing their church property and financial security, should they not conform to the newly fashioned views on marriage. Indeed, this is already happening.

My understanding is that in 2017, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, agreed to the wishes of the International Primates, and so sanctions were imposed on the American Episcopal Church, whose presiding bishop is Michael Curry.

The decision made by the American Episcopal Church is not insignificant; our view on marriage has important corollaries including how we understand the cross, sin, the Bible, ethics, and many other matters. This is unsurprising given the connection the Apostle Paul made between sex, sound doctrine, and the Gospel (1 Timothy 1:9-11). Relevant to the running theme of love, it is worth grappling with Paul’s logic in 1 Timothy ch.1 and how love is integrally tied to what is taught.  Love is not without definition and intent, but promotes truth.

As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer or to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. Such things promote controversial speculations rather than advancing God’s work—which is by faith.The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Some have departed from these and have turned to meaningless talk. They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm.

We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. We also know that the law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, 10 for the sexually immoral, for those practicing homosexuality, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine 11 that conforms to the gospel concerning the glory of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me.”

This matters because both love and truth matter, and to deny one is to reject the other. Without God’s truth, what remains is a sentimental religiosity, powerless to change and save. 

When it comes to weddings, couples are of course free to ask for someone outside the local church to marry them or to preach at their wedding. The presiding clergy however have the right and the responsibility to say yes or no to that request. Given the present suspension over the American Churches, which the Archbishop of Canterbury had agreed to follow, it is difficult to fathom how this decision came about. No doubt, there were many closed door conversations and internal pressures, but at the end of the day, was the decision so impossible to make?

The sheer volume of excitement over Michael Curry should at least make us ask the question, why is the media and the public so enamoured by his message? Is it because the message of love is universal and it hit the right spot? Is it because his message of love was broad that most people found nothing offensive about it? Maybe, a bit of both.  Perhaps I’m a little skeptical, but I think Jesus was also skeptical about the world loving him and his Gospel.

Will the decision to invite Michael Curry help heal deeps wounds within the Anglican Communion, or further alienate evangelical congregations  and confirm to them that her leaders lack the courage to stand on their own doctrinal positions?

These are very difficult times for Anglicans worldwide, especially for our brothers and sisters who live and serve in Dioceses that are moving away from the Gospel. Is it helpful for the rest of us to be praising a preacher who is leading his denomination away from Scripture, and in so doing, straining and even dividing the Communion?

We can be grateful for things said that were true, but let’s be slow to join the Michael Curry facebook fan club. The issues at stake here are far greater than a wedding sermon. The excitement and enthusiasm will soon disappear from news headlines, but the word of God remains, and I reckon it’s better for us to keeping believing God and not getting swept away by a few moments in Windsor.

 

 

 

For a slightly different but helpful take on the sermon, read Michael Jensen’s piece in the SMH

Penal Substitution is the heart of the Gospel

 “In Christ alone, Who took on flesh,

Fullness of God in helpless babe!

This gift of love and righteousness,

Scorned by the ones He came to save.

Till on that cross as Jesus died,

The wrath of God was satisfied;

For ev’ry sin on Him was laid—

Here in the death of Christ I live.”

As we approach Easter there is always someone stirring the theological pot and throwing doubts over Jesus’ death on the cross and his resurrection from the dead. On this occasion, the thesis isn’t penned by an atheist, agnostic, or nominal Christian, but a pastor of a church.

Over the last few days, an article has been appearing on Facebook feeds, and one concerned colleague brought it to my attention.

Chuck Queen is Senior Pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church, Frankfort, Kentucky, and he has written a piece denouncing the ‘heretical’ doctrine of penal substitution, It’s time to end the hands-off attitude to substitutionary atonement.

He is not the first person to cast aspersions over penal substitution and he will not be the last. In every generation, there are ‘Christian’ leaders who explain away core teachings of the faith.

In what is one of the most important volumes on the atonement written in our generation, Steve Jeffery, Mike Ovey, and Andrew Sach open Pierced for our Transgressions with this summary of penal substitutionary atonement,

“The doctrine of penal substitution states that God gave himself in the person of his Son to suffer instead of us the death, punishment and curse due to fallen humanity as the penalty for sin.

This understanding of the cross of Christ stands at the very heart of the gospel. There is a captivating beauty in the sacrificial love of a God who gave himself for his people. It is this that first draws many believers to the Lord Jesus Christ and this that will draw us to him when he returns on the last day to vindicate his name and welcome his people into his eternal kingdom. That the Lord Jesus Christ died for us – a shameful death, bearing our curse, enduring our pain, suffering the wrath of his own Father in our place – has been the wellspring of the hope of countless Christians throughout the ages.”

It is this doctrine that Chuck Queen wants to be repudiated and removed from Christian pulpits. This will take some doing, for PSA is deeply held by hundreds of millions of Christians world-wide, and one can’t ignore the fact that many of history’s most notable Christian thinkers affirmed PSA with love and wonder, including Justin Martyr, Athanasius, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin, John Bunyan, John Owen, John Stott, John Piper, Tim Keller, and on and on. Ultimately though, truth is not a popularity contest, but it is determined by God who reveals truth in his word.

lamb

I don’t intend to speak to every argument in It’s time to end the hands-off attitude to substitutionary atonement, for many words can be written, however, something needs saying given the popularity of his piece.

Queens comments,

“In the church I pastor we omit certain verses of hymns because of allusions and references to Jesus’ death as a substitution.”

“Bad Christian theology leads to bad Christian living. If one has any doubt about that just consider the voting record of evangelicals in the last election. Eighty per cent voted for Trump.”

“Perhaps the first step in dethroning such a terrible doctrine”

We are left in no doubt that Chuck Queen believes penal substitution is heretical, immoral and to be expunged from Christian Churches. Notice also, Queen’s not so subtle slight of hand in associating Donald Trump with the Evangelical teaching on PSA! Such ad hominem attacks are plainly silly and achieve nothing to help us understand the atonement.

Does Jesus believe in penal substitution?

Queen claims that the presence of substitutionary atonement as deriving from ‘an ancient, primitive view of God than the view taught and embodied by Jesus of Nazareth.’

This revisionism is simply appalling. While he does not explicitly equate this ‘primitive view of God’ with the God of the Old Testament, it is difficult to see who else he is directing this remark. The Bible, however, does not make such a distinction between Jesus and the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The God of the Old Testament is the same as the God of the New Testament, having the same being, character and purpose. Jesus Christ is the fulfilment of all the Old promises, he is word incarnate, he is the I Am, he is the paschal lamb.

PSA is a central concept to the atonement in both OT and NT. To cite 3 examples:

First, the temple was central in Israel’s life and key to ministry of the temple was the sacrificial system, and at the heart of the sacrificial system was the blood of an animal taking the place of the sinner to avert the wrath of God. Indeed, the most sacred day in the calendar was Yom Kippur. Kippur (or atonement), carries connotations of forgiveness, ransom, cleansing and averting God’s wrath, and this final aspect is clearly on view in the teaching about the day of atonement in Leviticus 16.

A second example is the Servant Song of Isaiah 53; it may only constitute a small part of this prophetic book and an even tinier part of the OT, but its significance is rarely overestimated. The Servant Song delivers more than a penal substitutionary view of the atonement, but PSA lays at the heart of its presentation of the work of God’s servant.

The four Gospels either explicitly quote or implicitly reference the Servant Song more often than any other OT passage. R.T France is correct when he talks about Jesus‘ repeated self-identification with the servant of Isaiah 53. Thus, the entire trajectory of Jesus’ earthly ministry as recorded in Scripture is an embodiment of the suffering servant whose life culminated in a cross and death, before climaxing in a resurrection:

“But he was pierced for our transgressions,

he was crushed for our iniquities;

the punishment that brought us peace was on him,

and by his wounds we are healed.

We all, like sheep, have gone astray,

each of us has turned to our own way;

and the Lord has laid on him

the iniquity of us all.”

A third example is Paul’s tome, the letter to the Romans. Paul explains that the primary human condition is sinful rebellion against a righteous God who is now revealing his wrath against us. No human effort can save us from this judgment, only the substitutionary death of Christ. The great turning point of Romans is that masterful exegesis of the gospel in 3:21-26, which spells out God’s gift of righteousness that comes through faith in Jesus Christ and by his propitiatory death on the cross. Throughout Romans Paul explores the full gamut of the atonement, in all its facets and with many of its wonderful implications, but laying at its heart is PSA.

“With the other New Testament writers, Paul always points to the death of Jesus as the atoning event, and explains the atonement in terms of representative substitution – the innocent taking the place of the guilty, in the name and for the sake of the guilty, under the axe of God’s judicial retribution” (J.I Packer, Knowing God)

God didn’t need a sacrifice?

In contrast to Queen who believes, ‘Jesus didn’t die because God needed a sacrifice. Jesus died because the powers that be had him killed,’ Scripture offers a different testimony.

Both prior to and following the events of Easter, Jesus himself said, he had to die.

‘The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life’ (Luke 9:22).

The verb, ‘must’, functions as a Divine imperative, reinforcing the notion that in God’s wisdom he ordained for his Son to enter the world and to die on the cross.

On the day Pentecost Peter explained that while human beings plotted Jesus’ death, it was also of God’s design and plan. Not only this, Peter makes explicit links between Jesus’ death and resurrection with Old Testament promises.

“Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him…Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”

To an audience in Jerusalem who had only weeks earlier witnessed the crucifixion of Jesus, Peter both affirms human culpability and Divine intent.

Is Penal Substitution language merely metaphoric?

In another attempt to explain away PSA, Queen asserts that it is being used in a non-literal way, “Perhaps the first step in dethroning such a terrible doctrine is to help Christians realize that the  sacrificial language utilized in the New Testament are symbols and metaphor, not to be taken in any literal sense.”

In one of the rare examples where he uses the Bible, Queen cites Matthew 20:28  in order to prove his case, “Just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

It is important to understand how Queen is arguing his point. He begins by asking us to doubt that these words were ever spoken by Jesus. But just in case they are genuine (although now we’re told to believe they’re probably not), he then adds another layer of doubt by suggesting scholars no longer believe ransom means ‘ransom’. (However, see Leon Morris’ seminal work, The Apostolic preaching of the Cross, for a clear explanation of ransom).

I agree with Queen, in that Jesus is presenting his disciples with a model of servanthood, but there is more at stake here.

For Queen, the phrase, ‘ransom for many’ is metaphoric, but the accompanying infinitive phrase, ‘to serve’ is not a metaphor. Grammatically, it is implausible that of two co-joining infinitival phrases, one is literal and the other metaphoric. Jesus is not speaking of himself as metaphorically serving, but actual serving and he is not speaking of dying as a ransom metaphorically, but literally.

Queen carefully chooses a Scriptural example that can be used in part to highlight the exemplar model of the atonement, but what of the multitude of other references to penal substitution that are scattered throughout the entire Bible? How does he exegete Roman 3:21-16, Romans 4:25, Galatians 3:10-13, 1 Peter 2:21-25 and 3:18, and many other passages?

Is atonement language merely metaphorical? The answer is, no. “Facet” or “aspect” are better ways to describe such language, for in speaking of the atonement we are dealing with historical events which are given Divine interpretation in Scripture. The cross carries more than symbolism, but effects actual judicious judgment, brought upon the Son in the place of sinful human beings. We can no more speak of the cross as metaphor and symbol, as we would of the Federal Court of Australia sentencing a guilty person to prison. There may be symbolism and metaphor to be found, but the atonement cannot be reduced to those categories; it is an actuality.

Did Constantine change the Christian message?

Queen offers a strange rewrite of history when suggesting that PSA was given prominence post-Constantine, while other and more important idea such as Jesus’ life and teaching, found a diminished role in Churches catechisms. While it is possible to site examples on both sides Constantine’s rule where Christians play various doctrines over others, the historical record demonstrates the penal substitution was treated as foundational prior to Constantine, not only by the New Testament authors, but among the Early Church Fathers.

For example, Justin Martyr who lived almost two centuries before Constantine wrote,

“If, the, the Father of all wished His Christ for the whole human family to take upon Him the curses of all, knowing that, after He has been crucified and was dead, He would raise him up, why do you argue about Him, who submitted to suffer these things according to the Father’s will, as if he were accursed, and do not rather bewail yourselves?”

Penal Substitution and Christian living

Another contention for Chuck Queen is the apparent powerlessness of PSA to cultivate Christian living. He says,

“Another problem with substitutionary atonement is that it reduces salvation to a legal transaction that has nothing to do with the actual transformation of the individual…In such a Christian system the actual life and teachings of Jesus have little bearing on what it means to be a Christian.”

To bushwhack both history and contemporary Christianity in this way is simply disgraceful.

Flowing from the preaching of Charles Spurgeon, who taught  the centrality of penal substitution, were many organisations caring for the poorest of Londoners, including orphanages.

Tim Keller has been used of God to plant and grow Churches across New York City, and accompanying Redeemer Presbyterian Church is Hope for New York, a mercy and justice outreach to the city providing volunteer and financial resources to more than 40 nonprofit organizations serving poor or marginalized populations in New York City.

The man who wrote perhaps the most famous defence of penal substitution in the 20th Century was John Stott. Stott was responsible for the global Lausanne movement and was known for calling Christians to engage in social justice ministries. John Stott famously did not serve in the armed forces during the Second World War, largely due to his convictions about violence, and yet he defended and articulated the case for penal substitutionary atonement. Belief in a righteous God who is angry against sinful people and who judges rightly does not lead to angry judgemental Christians (well, it ought not) but rather it produces men and women who are loving and passionate and keen to see their neighbours also know this righteous God who saves.

In short, it appears as though any time Queen doesn’t approve of way the Bible speaks of God, sin, and humanity, he explains it away by arguing, “this isn’t the god I believe in”, or “it’s a metaphor”, or “we can explain it away because culture of Rome isn’t ours”.

We are left wondering, how does Chuck Queen view the significance of Jesus’ death on the cross? He suggests,

Jesus bore our sins on the cross in the sense that he, as the Son of Man, as the representative human being, bore the hate and animosity of the world in his service to God. He became a scapegoat to end scapegoating, to expose the folly and evil of scapegoating any human being. He became the lightning rod where the pent up oppositional energy of the powers that be (the world) became focused. In bearing the sin — the hate, evil and animosity of the world — he exposed it and exhausted it, thus overcoming it. The resurrection served as God’s vindication, God’s “yes” to Jesus’ sacrificial life and death.

No need for a sacrificial victim.”

Does Chuck Queen realise that the scape goat of Leviticus ch.16 was in fact a substitute for the sins of Israel?

According to Queen’s view, God absorbs the world’s hate, like a lightning rod. There is no punishment for sin, no one will account for their own sins before a righteous God for he simply sucked it all in. For clergy who rape children, for totalitarian regimes who oppress and murder their own people, for the 10,000s of victims of Islamic State, there is no day of reckoning, no God who is angry and punishes with hell.

The biggest problem with Queen’s thesis

At the end of the day, as Queen admits, penal substitution doesn’t reflect his view of God, and that is precisely his problem.

“The major problem with substitutionary atonement is the way it imagines God. This interpretation of Jesus’ death makes God the source of redemptive violence. God required/demanded a violent death for atonement to be made. God required the death of an innocent victim in order to satisfy God’s offended sense of honor or pay off a penalty that God imposed. What kind of justice or God is this? Would a loving parent make forgiveness for the child conditioned upon a violent act?”

The nonviolent God of Jesus, however, is incompatible with a God who makes a horrendous act of violence a divinely required act of atonement.

Queen doesn’t begin with Scripture and allow God’s self-revelation to inform, shape, correct our own understanding of God; he begins with a pre-conceived view of God, that (s)he is a non-violent god, and from that belief he then attempts to bend, re-shape and even remove any part of the Bible that doesn’t conform to his portrait. In the end Queen is left with an image of his own making whom he worships and calls God. His nonviolent god does not account for Jesus’ actions in the temple where he physically drove out local businessmen and bankers. His nonviolent god ignores the God of war in the Old Testament. His nonviolent god does not permit Paul to write to Christians, ‘Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.’

The world needs a powerful and good God who punishes wrong and who can show mercy to wrongdoers.

4 basic positions on Penal Substitution

Two years ago I wrote a post in which I outlined 4 basic positions on the penal substitutionary atonement (PSA). I appreciate that these are generalisations, and the accusation of straw men might be apt, apart from the fact that I know people who fit into each of these groups. For all the dangers when making generalisations, they nonetheless have warrant and therefore they offer some clarity to the discourse.

First, those who deny PSA. There are two basic groups of people who fall under this category: those who reject the idea that PSA is affirmed in the New Testament, and those who believe it is taught but have decided to reject that part of the Bible. There are of course further subgroups, those who have issue with the concept of substitution and those who only discredit the adjective penal.

Second, Those who accept the Bible’s teaching on PSA, and believe it is necessary but not the centre. They understand it to be one aspect of the atonement they dismiss the notion that it is the necessary central concept of the atonement.

Third, those who accept the Bible’s teaching on PSA and who believe it is central, but who believe that other aspects of the atonement have been downplayed and need to rediscovered and given proper emphasis. To explore other dimensions of the atonement at length is not too deny PSA, but it is restoring the beauty of these facets that are sometimes hidden. Of course, there is also more to the ministry of Christ than the atonement: there is his pre-incarnate work, his incarnation, life, resurrection, ascension, reign, intercession, return and Kingly judgement.

Fourth, those who accept the Bible’s teaching on PSA but downplay other aspects of the atonement.

It is difficult to see how the first position is tenable within Christian orthodoxy, for PSA is intricately tied to too many Christian doctrines. Chuck Queen is an example in point, his view of the god whom he worships would not and cannot permit penal substitution. Rejection PSA follows adherence to an imaged God who is not that God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The second position is problematic because the Bible does view PSA as critical and foundational. There are many Gospel presentations found in Scripture that do not explicitly speak of either substitution or penal, but of course, no Gospel outline ever says everything. And yet, there is a clear weightedness given to substitutionary nature of Jesus’ death which appeases the righteous wrath of a righteous God.

When it comes to things like apologetics and evangelism, we would rarely begin with PSA, although there may be conversations where this is possible. When eating an apple you don’t begin with the core, but with the skin and flesh, and eventually, you reach the core. Depending on ones’ context different aspects of the Gospel will connect with our engagers more readily than others. For example, reconciliation may make more sense to people in our community than ransom or Christus Victor, and yet, regardless of where we begin, we will need at some stage to unpack this thunderous doctrine of PSA.

I wonder whether the problem lies not with PSA but with Christian thinkers not working hard enough to demonstrate how it connects to all the facets of life and society and the world (I’m thinking of my own ministry as much as anything).

The fourth position is understandable when ministering in a context where PSA is being attacked, however in defending the truth of one doctrine we must be careful not to neglect other important biblical notions of the cross.

The fourth position can end up becoming a reduced gospel. If we only ever preach on the penal aspect of the cross, we will be missing out on the full wonder of the atonement, and we will also be guilty of executing Scripture poorly. If we never speak about PSA then we are guilty of misrepresenting God’s message, and if we neglect those other facets then we are starving our churches and cutting bridges with people where we should be building them. If Chuck Queen’s criticism was of those who represent this fourth view, there would be some validity to his concerns, however he is reaching well beyond, and steadfastly places himself in the first category.

The third position is where we ought to find ourselves. Penal Substitution is at the heart of the atonement, and therefore the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and yet there are other aspects that are beautifully and powerfully affirmed in Scripture and need to be presented at length so that we can properly engage with people and encourage our churches. I want to argue that preaching all the aspects of the atonement, as they arise in Scripture, we will make us better preachers. This requires substantive thinking, both in the text and in our culture, and while some parts of our theology are more easily communicable to our culture than others, we will begin where we begin and we will endeavour to take people into the wonders of God in Christ who died for us, in our place, that we might have our sins forgiven, reconciled to God, and adopted as his children.

Conclusion

The question is quite simple, does the Bible teach and affirm penal substitutionary atonement? The answer, in both Old Testament and New Testament is, yes. Penal substitution language, imagery, and actions are found at key junctions in both Testaments, and especially in the death of Jesus Christ on the cross. The second question is also simple, do we believe and trust God’s explanation of salvation?

Chuck Queen’s theological cut-and-paste job characterises the stench of death that is theological liberalism, which continues to plague and destroy churches across the Western world. He is committing violence on the word of God and stripping the good news of Jesus Christ of its power. It is unsurprising to learn that elsewhere Queen describes himself a ‘universalist’. Those who reject penal substitutionary atonement do so against the face of the Biblical testimony, and so it is inevitable that other Christian teachings are also thrown into the bin.

At the end, Christianity becomes another moralist religion, where we must do. Rather, the good news that is Christ’s death for us is that God has done.

This Easter at Mentone Baptist Church, we will be singing all the verses of ‘In Christ Alone’, and with joy, we’ll be thanking God for the incarnation, life, atoning death, resurrection, and the promised return of the Lord Jesus.

“For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.” (1 Peter 3:18)

Why I value expository preaching

Yesterday while enjoying a final day of annual leave, as a family we visited another church in Melbourne, which we enjoyed. The preacher took us to Colossians 1:15-29, exhorting us from Scripture to avoid domesticating Jesus and instead capturing a vision of this Lord of creation and Lord of the Church. It was a hot day and the building didn’t have any air conditioning. Did I mention, it was hot?! The poor kids did well, although they let out the occasional groan, as a reminder to Dad and Mum that they were feeling the heat. That aside, it was a joy to hear the Bible being opened, and the truth of Jesus Christ being affirmed and expounded.

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One of the highest and most humbling opportunities I have as a Christian minister is to preach God’s word. Preaching is an exciting yet fearful task. It brings immense pleasure and yet requires great earnestness.

Paul writes in 2 Corinthians,

“We have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.”

According to Paul, the aim of preaching is not to mystify people or to promote a personality or to gain profit, rather it is to ‘set forth the truth plainly’.

In one of the most famous charges ever given to a pastor, Paul says to his apprentice, Timothy,

“Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.  For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.” (2 Timothy 4:2-3)

This is such a helpful passage for understanding the work of the preacher:

  • We’re told what to do: preach.
  • We are told what to preach: the word.
  • We are given a context for preaching: all the time is the season for preaching. 
  • We are given a set of aims in preaching: to correct, rebuke and encourage those listening.
  • We are given instruction as to the manner in which we preach: with great patience and careful instruction.
  • We are not however given a method. Having said this, I believe the Bible comes closer to methodology than we at first realise, for the content and aim of the sermon must surely drive the method. Not for a moment am I suggesting that there is only one way to preach. There are several valid styles of preaching including topical, doctrinal and narrative. Even among expository preachers we discover slightly different approaches: Dick Lucas, Don Carson, Tim Keller and Phillip Jensen are all well known for their expository preaching and yet no two are alike in their preaching. 

Broadly speaking, all preaching ought to be expository preaching, in the sense that the content of our sermons must come from the Bible. The authoritative, true and sufficient word that God has given to us is the Bible, and as 2 Timothy 4:2 reminds us, it is a God given mandate that our message be this word.

Evangelistic, topical and doctrinal sermons all can and ought to be exposition of Scripture. By this I don’t mean the verse by verse exegesis and application of consecutive passages, but that the point of the sermon must be grounded in and shaped by the word of God. In fact, a sermon may pool together several different Bible passages and yet teach them in such a way that they are being explained and applied correctly.

More specifically, expository preaching is an approach where the preacher takes a self-contained portion of the Bible (usually a book, which is subsequently divided into its constituent sections and then systematically preached over a number of weeks or months). He then explains and applies that passage according to the natural parameters set by the text, which includes genre of writing, the original audience, place in salvation history, its theme and tone. This may take the form of a careful verse by verse exposition, or it may cover several chapters in a single sermon with the preacher teaching and applying the main points that are contained within it.

While this method for preaching is not dictated in Scripture, it is the approach to preaching that I have found most helpful as I seek to be faithful to 2 Corinthians 4:2 and 2 Timothy 4:2.  Here are 8 reasons:

  1. Expository preaching shows that the authority lies in the word not in the preacher
  2. It helps ensure that it is God through his word who is setting the agenda, and not the preacher or the congregation or issues around us.
  3. Expository preaching helps me to be clear in my preaching. There is a structure and message in the text. My role isn’t to create a message, but rather the passage gives me the parameters.
  4. I want to be faithful to the whole counsel of God. All Scripture is God-breathed and is for our benefit, so we should aim to eventually preach through the entire Bible (one very long term project!).
  5. I want the church to value the whole Bible. Scripture is an incredibly rich book and I want people to explore all of it.
  6. Far from creating dull or irrelevant preaching, expository preaching keeps me interested and challenged in my preaching, and it pushes my congregation There are 66 different books in the Bible written at different times in history by different authors, in more than 12 different genres, exploring hundreds of themes. The literary diversity of the Bible also helps the congregation to sustain interest in the preaching.
  7. It helps the church to follow the preaching from week to week as they can read ahead.
  8. It is harder for the preacher to ignore difficult and unpopular topics.

In a season where confidence in God’s word is diminishing as people read the Bible less, and the Bible is less frequently read and preached in Church, expository preaching offers a significant antidote.

There is more to preaching than method, and admittedly, there are potential dangers in preaching expositorily, but they have more to do with the preacher than the method: i.e. a lack of training, limited experience, or a preacher who takes short-cuts in their preparation. If I am aiming for my preaching to be faithful, clear, interesting, and compelling to the hearer, then expository preaching will serve me well.

The preacher’s task is immense: heaven and hell are the outcomes, life or death are on offer. Surely it is wise to pursue an approach that will help our preaching to be as faithful and clear as can be.

Redeeming social justice from liberals (and conservatives)

Behind this post are two conversations that I’m having with myself today: One, Mike Frost wrote a piece titled, It’s Not a Liberal Agenda, it’s the Gospel!. Second, this Sunday I’m preaching on Matthew 7:15-23, and so I’m spending time grappling with these words from the Lord Jesus.

As you read these ponderings you shouldn’t read them as a critique of Mike Frost, unless I refer to him explicitly. Mike’s meanderings serve as a jumping point for some ideas rather than the framing of what I want to say.

Also, as you read this article I understand that some people may burst a boil as you spot caveats, ‘what ifs’, and buts. In light of these medical emergencies may I offer this prefatory remark: this is a blog post not a 15,000 word essay, and so don’t be disappointed if I don’t fill in every gap or close every alleged theological aperture.

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i. Social selectivism

The Bible is certainly not short of individuals who lived a ‘form of godliness’, but ‘denied its power’, meaning they were bereft of Christ’s Gospel.

In my experience, both cultural conservatives and progressives have a propensity to fail in this way.

First of all, they are almost always selective in the kind of issues they promote. When was the last time you heard social and theological progressives defending the rights of unborn children and fighting to retain a classical view of marriage? Of course, the question could be asked of many issues across the socio-political spectrum.

It shouldn’t need to be said, but we know it needs to be said, Jesus never voted Green, Labor, or Liberal. Trying to squeeze Jesus under under any socio-political umbrella is wrong;  maybe he would prefer to stand out in the rain!

There are historical reasons why evangelicals have dropped the ball on many social concerns. These include the World Council of Churches’, Missio Dei, Second Vatican, and Lausanne 1974, each which have negatively impacted confidence in and need for verbal proclamation of the Gospel. Before this century long trajectory, Evangelicals immersed themselves in caring for the poor and suffering in society; some of the greatest evangelists were also intimately involved in creating orphanages and charities for the poor (John Wesley and Charles Spurgeon, for example).

Perhaps Mike’s critics smell some WCC residue in his social concerns; I don’t know.

But I love the fact that Mike Frost (and others) is seizing these issues from those who think they belong to a ‘leftist agenda.’ Concerns for Refugees and Indigenous people doesn’t belong to theological liberals, any more than other issues belong to the ‘right’. Rather, he’s rightly placing all things in the scope of God’s cosmic rule in Christ. While none of us can be active across all that troubles this fallen world, there is no opting out of loving our neighbour, including further examples that Frost cites,  people caught up in gambling and in the sex industry.

ii. Missing the Evangelical heart.

“Our job, as his followers, is to both announce and demonstrate what the rule of King Jesus is like and invite others to join us, to recognize that Jesus’ sacrificial death atoned for the sins of all, and that his resurrection establishes him as the Son whom God has appointed judge of the world and Lord of the coming kingdom.” (Mike Frost)

It’s a great statement, but the question is, in practice what is this looking like? Four questions/concerns come to mind. I don’t know Mike well enough to know what he’d think of these points, but they are certainly true of some of my friends who readily identify with some social justice issues. With the view of loving the poor:

1. Verbal proclamation of the Gospel is often relegated, if not dispensed with altogether.

I remember sitting in a seminar a few years back, addressing the topic of local mission. The presenter spoke of ‘doing mission’ by creating programs to help the poor and marginalised. I asked a question about evangelism, to which he answered, one might explain the Gospel but it is not necessary.

I did find this comment of Mike’s about evangelism a little boorish,

‘Is the gospel really just a set of magic words, like an incantation, I have to blurt out to appear to be true to Jesus?’

I certainly don’t know anyone who thinks this way, and it’s a bit mischievous to portray folk this way. We would do well to remind ourselves of Jesus’ earthly ministry where he prioritised the public preaching of God’s Word, a model adopted by the Apostles and passed on to future generations of pastors. At the same time, they didn’t ignore the very real social needs around them, and Jesus gives us the example par excellence of loving society’s most disadvantaged.

2. Aspects of the atonement such as Christus exemplar and Christus victor take centre stage while penal substitution is squeezed out, often becoming little more than an awkward ‘theory’.

3. The Gospel of ‘forgiveness of sins’ drops from the centre of  the Christian message, and we fall danger of converting people into a Gospel of works.

4. I want to be careful about confusing Gospel fruit with the Gospel, although we want to say the Gospel will inevitably and necessarily produce fruit (cf. Matt 7:15-23).

If any of these points are representative of the bald man of Manly, then there may be warrant for criticism, but fighting for refugees is no indicator of belittling evangelism or compromising the Gospel. And of the social concerns he has written, how can we not want to speak up and to defend and love?

iii. Redeeming social justice.

None of the above points are inevitable. Serving the hurting, lonely, and unwanted, are beautiful and necessary examples of loving our neighbours. These actions are fruit of the Gospel.

Does not the good news of Jesus Christ change everything? When we have experienced God’s forgiveness, and by grace been brought into his family, this love changes the way we view other people. Therefore, we mustn’t leave these issues to the left or right, for the love of Christ compels us.

In light of the Scripture I think it is fair to say that a Church who promotes social justice but doesn’t practice evangelism has failed to understand the Gospel and is disobeying God. And Christians who believe in evangelism and who think it unChristian to fight for the most oppressed, they too are yet to grasp the Gospel. As Jesus says, a good tree will produce good fruit. And in the Sermon on the Mount, fruit is almost a synonym for righteousness, and righteousness here includes purity, humility, sacrifice, and generosity. Is it not applicable to live out these things for the good of society’s most vulnerable people?

From what I can see, Evangelicals are returning to social justice ministries, and many respected evangelical leaders are increasingly speaking to these issues, including Tim Keller, Russell Moore, Al Mohler, and the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney, Glenn Davies. Why? The Gospel changes everything.

We don’t have to choose between helping the poor and doing evangelism. We ought to do both for both express love for others, and we commit to both without de-centralising the place of Gospel telling.