Thursday, March 29, 2007

Biblical Church Leadership - Pt. 6

Male Leadership

Contrary to what many in contemporary society think, excluding women from the role of church leadership is not a ploy to discriminate and dominate unfairly over women. To discriminate against women is a sin that grieves the heart of God. While it is true that there have been times when men have abused their authority and acted cruelly toward women, that behavior is inexcusable and anyone who truly seeks to adhere to Scripture would recognize that error and avoid making the same error. It is unfortunate that there have been times where male have unjustly and cruelly discriminated against women.

But unfortunately, the feminist approach in its attempt to carry out justice for the wrongful acts of discrimination, have gone too far and denied the complementary functions of men and women. These role distinctions were designed by God so that the sexes complement each other in order to perform different functions in society. The Bible teaches that both men and women are indeed equal in personhood and value, but have distinctly different gender roles designed by God. It is tragic that there is so much confusion concerning these distinctive roles. Women are in effect, being exploited by a false view of female identity.

I have seen so many attempts to contort Scripture on this subject, in an attempt to discredit the notion that the Bible emphatically teaches that men are to be in charge of the spiritual leadership in the church. Yet if we take Scripture as it is plainly written, it teaches nothing but the fact that only men are to serve in the role of Spiritual leadership. The way I see it, attempts at undermining male leadership is just another sign of how the church is being unduly influenced by the culture.

But it is impossible to get around the emphasis on male leadership in Scripture. The most obvious example of male leadership is the person of Jesus Christ. He was the Son of God, not the daughter of God. This was theologically necessary to His person and work.

- He was to be a first-born male (Luke 2:23)
- He was the “last Adam”, making Him the antitype of Adam, not
Eve, which mandated that He be a male. (1 Corinthians 15:45, 47; Romans 5:14)
- He needed to be the first-born son of David and Abraham; He was the King, not Queen of Israel.
- In the created order, the male partner alone is charged with the authority and headship role. Therefore Jesus could not have been a woman, and He is the Head of the Church and the model for male leadership.
- Jesus appointed and trained twelve male apostles (Luke 6:12-16). His choice was after spending an entire night praying to His Father, indicating He was acting in obedience to His Father’s will.

It is interesting that in spite of these facts, there are those who claim that Jesus was just accommodating the culture. But since when did Jesus at any time in His life display an accommodating attitude toward the culture. It is clearly illustrated in Scripture that He stood in stark contrast to the culture, including the false rabbinical traditions. Scripture clearly tells us that Jesus showed no partiality to anyone (Matthew 22:16).

Another common argument is that the work of redemption by Christ did away with all male-female distinctions. But if this is the case, then why did Jesus not indicate this by appointing women to be apostles. It would stand to reason that He would have appointed at least one woman to be an apostle. Rather, Jesus continued with the Old Testament order of creation with male headship. And this practice was continued by both Paul and Peter.

The fact that Jesus maintained an all male apostolate does not take away from the fact that he sought to honor women, ministered to them and encouraged them in their service and devotion to God. This was distinctly different from the religious leaders of that time. However, Jesus still established an all male apostolate as the foundational office of His Church (Eph. 2:20; Rev. 21:14).

We can also look at the example of the apostles when they appointed servants to care for the church’s widows. Seven men were appointed to the task, not women (Acts 6:1-6). It is also apparent when Peter addressed the churches in Asia Minor, instructing the Christian women to submit to their husbands, using the example of the women in the Old Testament. He also admonished the men to take care of their wives and consider them as “fellow heir of the grace of life” (1 Peter 3:1-7). In doing so, Peter was upholding both gender role distinctions and male-female equality. Those who want to find justification to allow women elders are at a loss to find valid examples used in Scripture.

1. Alexander Strauch, Biblical Eldership: An Urgent Call to Restore Biblical Church Leadership, p. 51-54.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Some Thoughts on the Eschatological Controversy

Since the controversy that has ensued due to John MacArthur’s opening message at the Shepherd’s Conference, my interest in eschatology has been piqued once again. I am amazed at all the controversy that has been stirred up as a result of MacArthur’s message. But I am interested in exploring the differing views on eschatology once again. There are good men, sound men of the faith, who hold to differing view on this matter. And we need to be careful concerning the charges of heresy leveled at those embracing the differing views. This included those in the “Reformed” camp who refer to those of us who embrace the pre-millenial view, and refer to it as “cultic” and heretical. I find it interesting that for so long I have heard those charges made from those in the amillenial and postmillennial camp against premillenialists , and now that the tables have been turned, they cry foul.

One thing that has gotten really irritating is the range of definitions that you hear on what it means to be “Reformed”. I have read many comments in this recent controversy that include things like “MacArthur really isn’t reformed” and even the notion expressed in a comment thread on another blog, that John Piper is really not “Reformed” either. If being “Reformed” in their strict definition means that one MUST embrace the amillenial position, then I really do not fit their definition either. The sad thing is that I do embrace most of Reformed theology and I am in substantial agreement with Reformed theology, but apparently for many that will not suffice.

Rather, I am compelled to abide by the teaching of Scripture and to teach accordingly by my convictions as I see revealed in the text of Scripture. One simply cannot blindly embrace a theological view independent of Scripture, but weigh everything in light of the inspired text of the Bible. We must always be ready to change our theology if we find it is out of step with the Bible, not bend the Bible to fit our theology.

But we also need to beware of another error. That is the error of ignoring what others have gleaned from Scripture, especially those who have gone before us. God has ordained that there be teachers in the church, teachers who are dedicated to studying the text of Scripture and have a desire to help others understand what God has given us in the divinely inspired text of Scripture. This, of course, is not some secret knowledge only revealed to the one teaching, but the same truth that is accessible to every believer. It is foolish, in fact potentially downright dangerous, to ignore what others have gleaned from Scripture. I believe that it ultimately leads to spiritual arrogance. While additional insights are often gleaned over time, we need to be careful of some “new” truth that no one else has ever seen. It could be something that has been previously overlooked. But it also could be that we are looking at something the wrong way. That can lead to theological error. We need to be careful about new “truth”. As Charles Haddon Spurgeon wisely said, "I cannot agree with those who say that they have 'new truth' to teach. The two words seem to me to contradict each other; that which is new is not true. It is the old that is true, for truth is as old as God himself".

Rather than clinging to the solid theological foundation that we have as a result of the efforts of the reformers and building upon it, the church has developed the propensity to set aside solid theology in favor of new found fads and methods. This has left the church wide open and vulnerable to error.

I believe that it is extremely beneficial to consider the teaching of those who have gone before us and understand how they drew the conclusions they have. This is not a case that just because many men down through history have held a particular viewpoint that it makes them automatically correct, nor does that make them the final authority. But we still need to understand their conclusions. We must also discern what is a primary or a secondary doctrine. On matters of primary doctrine that strike at the very core of the Christian faith, we had better cling tightly to the truths that have been established; on matters of secondary doctrine, we need to exercise grace, especially when it comes to more obscure subject matter, such as the finer points of eschatology. This is not to say that eschatology is unimportant, but there are valid reasons for men drawing different conclusions on those matters.

We need to take the time to carefully consider what Scripture teaches and be willing to adjust our theology in light of what we discover. We also need to consider the differing views and be careful to avoid misrepresenting those who hold to opposing views. This is one reason that in light of the current controversy, my interest has been piqued concerning the subject of eschatology, particularly amillenialism. One book that I am reading from the amillenial perspective is Kim Riddlebarger’s book, “A Case for Amillennialism: Understanding the End Times”. This book has been recommended by many. I doubt that I am going to be persuaded into the amill camp, but I am enjoying reading the book so far and gaining a better understanding of the amillenial position rather than hearsay from secondary sources. I want to gain a more thorough understanding, rather than abide by someone’s overly simplistic definition.

I just hope that in matters of more secondary importance, believers can be more inclined to exercise more grace toward one another. This does not mean that we cannot have strong opinions concerning our convictions. It is certainly acceptable to teach according to our convictions and I believe that we should. But we also should exercise restraint before leveling charges of heresy against each other.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Amillenialists in an Uproar

Well it seems that the amillenial folks are all stirred up as a result of the opening session of the Shepherd’s Conference, where John MacArthur delivered the message on "Why Every Self-Respecting Calvinist is a Pre-Millennialist." Now, I was not there to hear what MacArthur said, but if everything I have heard is true, I think that I would have taken a little different approach to the topic, even though I am in substantial agreement with MacArthur. But I am not sure if it is more of a case that the amill crowd had taken things a bit too personal.

While I disagree with the amillenial view, I do not see it as rank heresy. It is certainly within the realm of biblical orthodoxy, though I disagree with the arguments in favor of the view. I still find merit from Scripture for the premillenial view.

But there have been plenty of charges railed against those of us who hold to a premillenial view from the amillenial camp. And the disagreements have not always been expressed in very gracious terms. Last year, Jason Robertson over at Fide-O went the amillenial route. I am certainly appreciative of the fact that Jason has taken the time to express his eschatological views on his blog. It has certainly been helpful in gaining an understanding of the amillenial position, even though I do not agree with his view. But I think that it is important to explore and discuss this subject and understand the differing views. I have been in several Independent Fundamental Baptist churches, where the only view that was taught was the dispensational premillenial view, and it seemed that anyone who even hinted at another view such as amillenialism, was almost considered a rank heretic.

I still hold to a dispensational premillenial view of eschatology because I see support for it from Scripture. I will share my thoughts in some upcoming articles.

For discussions on the subject of MacArthur’s message, you may want to check out these articles.

Tim Challies

Founder’s Ministries

Fred Butler

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Biblical Church Leadership – Pt. 5

While there is a team leadership approach indicated in Scripture, there is also the concept of what is called a “first among equals” as well. Not all of the elders are gifted equally in the areas such as biblical knowledge, leadership and experience. There are some who seem to naturally stand out among the elders with their gifts of teaching or leadership. This is what was often referred to by the Romans as primus inter pares or the “first among equals” or primi inter pares meaning “first ones among equals”.

As with the twelve disciples, there was an inner circle of three, Peter, James and John, that stood out among the group. Out of those three, Peter stood out as the prominent leader of the group. This in no way implies that these leaders dominate or have sole authority, but that they seem to be gifted in their leadership ability.

On occasion, Jesus chose only Peter, James and John to join Him to witness His power, glory and agony.

-Luke 8:51; 9:28
-Mark 14:33

It is seems to be evident in Scripture that Peter stands out as a “first among equals”. Peter’s name is listed first in the list of the names of the apostles:

-Matthew 10:2-4
-Mark 3:16-19
-Luke 6:14-16
-Acts 1:13

In fact, Matthew even refers to Peter as “the first”. This does not support the Roman Catholic Church’s erroneous elevation of Peter, but merely underscores Peter’s outstanding leadership within the twelve. You should also notice that if you pay close attention to how often Peter is mentioned in the Gospels that Peter stands out as a prominent figure among the Twelve. It was also Peter who was charged with the command by Jesus to “strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:32).

The book of Acts clearly demonstrates Peter’s leadership abilities.

Acts 2:14,42; 4:33,35; 5:12,18,25,29,42; 6:2-6; 8:14; 9:27; 15:2-29

You should note that it is Peter who stands out as the natural leader in the first twelve chapters of the book of Acts. It is interesting that if you do a word search on the name “Peter”, how often his name appears in contrast to the other Twelve. His prominence as the natural leader and key spokesman should be clearly evident.

Acts 1:15; 2:14; 3:1; 4:8; 5:3; 5:15, 29; 8:14-24; 9:32-11:18 (Partial list)

It is also interesting that you can split up the book of Acts between two central figures; Peter (Acts 1-12) and Paul (Acts 13-28).

When Paul wrote to the Galatians, he spoke of Peter, James and John as being the “pillars” of the church in Jerusalem, yet another example of the concept of the “first among equals”. (Galatians 2:7-9)

Peter’s giftedness was necessary to help energize, encourage and strengthen the group of Twelve. His ability as the natural leader and chief speaker proved to be the impetus that encouraged the group to take action. But what is important to note is the fact that Peter was surrounded by the other eleven apostles as his equals, keeping him well balanced, strengthening him and helped protect him from his weaknesses. What is important to recognize is that Peter’s prominence was not given as an official rank or title, but was more functional in nature.

We can also observe the principle of the “first among equals” in the relationship between Paul and Barnabas during their first missionary journey. Both were apostles, but Paul stands out as the chief speaker and leader. (Acts 13:1-13; 14:12)

The concept of the “first among equals” can be discerned by the way a congregation is to honor their elders. 1 Timothy 5:17 says “Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching.” It is imperative in Scripture that all elders must be able to teach. But not all elders desire to work primarily at preaching and teaching. There are those who are particularly gifted in this area and have a strong desire to do so. These men should be recognized by the congregation and should receive double honor for their work.

The elders who are the “first among equals” do not rule by making all the decisions and controlling the rest of the group. To treat this individual as the “pastor” and the others as “elders” or “lay elders” has no biblical warrant, and will not result in establishing biblical eldership.

The key advantage of the “first among equals” structure is that it allows for drawing on the diversity of gifts within the eldership team, without creating a superior official ruling over subordinates. The leading elders receive no special title, and the difference is more functional rather than a formal position.

In many cases, it is necessary that the congregation provide the necessary financial support to allow the highly gifted elder(s) to focus their attention on their service to that local church body. Attempting to juggle full-time employment outside of the church may take too much time away from the needed focus and attention to the tasks of eldership. This in no way means that part-time elders are ineffective. There are many who are self-supporting or what would be referred to as “tentmaking elders” who are very effective leaders and teachers. But the time and effort that they can devote to the task of eldership is limited. This probably can also be affected by the size of the church; the larger the congregation, the more time is needed to devote to the task. As a congregation grows, the more beneficial it is to support some of the elders at least part-time.

1 Timothy 5:17 puts emphasis on the support of those whose primary work is to labor in the Word of God. It is essential that the flock be nourished through the preaching and teaching of God’s Word. This is so the flock can grow, be strengthened, and protected from false doctrine. This can only occur though the diligent study and handling of the text, with precision and accuracy, which God demands from those who are elders. It is vitally important that the congregation honor those men with their support.

Stressing the part “among equals” is important. Elders who are particularly gifted need to be encouraged to use their giftedness. But they also need the accountability of their fellow peers as a checks and balance to curb negative tendencies such as ego and greed. If a gifted elder seems resistance to that accountability, that should be a warning that he is headed down a self-destructive path.

But there is a danger with the concept of the “first among equals”, as there is with any form of governing structure run by humans. Elders can have a tendency to relinquish much of their responsibility to a couple of particularly gifted men. This arises due to the tendency in human nature for people to become lazy and allow others to do their work. But once this happens, biblical eldership disappears.

There is also the danger that a domineering, power hungry elder will abuse the concept of the “first among equals”, attempting to take over the key ministries and forcing his own agenda. These types could care less about having fellow colleagues. Instead they only want men who are loyal to them, the typical “yes men”.

To help combat these tendencies, leadership and the congregation must take the biblical requirements for eldership seriously. Self-willed, domineering men are unqualified for church leadership and should be removed from their position. (1 Peter 5:3; Titus 1:7) Those elders who do not carry out their God-given responsibilities need to be removed from their office. Elders should be ready and eager to carry out their task (1 Peter 5:2)

Elders also need to work closely together as a united team, building camaraderie of trust and encouraging one another to grow. It is important that the elders focus on ministering to one another as well as taking care of business. This needs to include spending considerable time in prayer. It is also important to include times of relaxed fellowship to build friendships and teamwork.

It is also important for elders to be active in building up one another. Younger elders need to be mentored by the more experienced elders. They need to challenge one another to continue to educate themselves. And they need to exercise discernment to recognize when their colleagues are growing weary and recommend that they take a time of rest. These things are vital to the spiritual health of the eldership.

1. Alexander Strauch, Biblical Eldership: An Urgent Call to Restore Biblical Church Leadership, p. 45-50.