When a Church Becomes a Man’s World it has Strayed from Christ’s Model, And from His Blessing

I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church at Cenchreae, that you may welcome her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints, and help her in whatever she may need from you, for she has been a patron of many and of myself as well. Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks but all the churches of the Gentiles give thanks as well. Greet also the church in their house. Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who was the first convert to Christ in Asia. Greet Mary, who has worked hard for you. (Rom 16:1-6)

but standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. (Joh 19:25)

Soon afterward he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with him, and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s household manager, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their means. (Luk 8:1-3)

I suppose that in some ways this is one of the most important articles I have ever written. It is the result of realizing something that is so pervasive in the church, so much the air which we breathe in typical Christianity today, that we cannot see the log right in our eye. Let me explain.

I recently watched the memorial service at St. Andrews Chapel for R.C. Sproul. I wanted to watch because Sproul taught me so much, even though I never met him personally. I absorbed his teaching tapes some 30 years ago and still have them all in our church library. I have steered many people to them over the years.

But as I wrote in last week’s post, published at A Cry for Justice, addressing the fact that Sproul changed his view on abuse as a grounds for divorce, I did not always agree with him. He taught, you might recall, that domestic abuse was not a biblical grounds for divorce. We documented for you all that he in fact changed that position at least by 2012, but never publicly announced that correction.

This morning, I listened to the Ligonier broadcast of Renewing Your Mind, entitled Spiritual Father: Remembering R.C.  It was very interesting and I appreciated the testimonies given by two of his long time friends who were led to Christ by his ministry.

But something really struck me as I listened. What I am about to say, I do not say in a critical way, but simply as an observation of what I would call “the obvious log” that so many churches and church leaders have in their eye – the one they do not see. Here it is:

Conservative, evangelical churches and organizations, pastors and elders and church members, often (even typically) become so male oriented that they almost forget about women. Women become secondary, even to be seen and not heard. The men lead. The men hold office. The men are the theologians. The men serve the Lord’s supper. The men preach and teach. The men are even told that they are the priests of their homes. The men, the men, the men.

I am not here proposing that women are to be pastors and elders in the church. That is not a subject I even want to address here. But what I am stating is that men in the church so typically develop a mindset in that climate of trivializing their sisters in Christ. You will notice from just the Scriptures quoted above that women were very, very active and prominent in the ministries of Jesus, of Paul, and of the New Testament church. In fact, Scripture records for us that sometimes when the men bailed, the women stayed.

What does this have to do with my viewing of R.C.’s funeral and listening to Renewing Your Mind today? Well, if you watched the funeral (you still can see it on YouTube), what you saw was:

  • Men who were friends of R.C. giving eulogies
  • John MacArthur, Jr. gave a eulogy as well, which I very much appreciated
  • Robert Godfrey, a theologian and I believe current President of Ligonier, spoke
  • At least two men, pastors I assume, offered prayers
  • The primary message from Isaiah 6 (the basis of R.C.’s great book The Holiness of God) was delivered by Sinclair Ferguson, pastor and theologian.
  • Both the choir and the congregational singing were directed by men

And then you have the Renewing Your Mind program for today (Dec 22, 2017) which focused on R.C. as a personal evangelist. Two of his long time friends told how they were led to Christ through his ministry. Both of them were men. Furthermore, as they related their stories, they described how they met R.C. at the golf course and especially at the locker room where R.C. spent time almost daily writing and studying after a round of golf. They told about all the other men that R.C. influenced in that place over the years.

And that is why this all struck me today. I know that the funeral service and the RYM program cannot and did not present a comprehensive view of the entire ministry of R.C. But nevertheless, what struck me is that in such a world that R.C. ministered in, in such a church and in his professional contacts, and at Ligonier, at the seminaries and Bible College, the climate appears to me to have been one of male….what? Male leadership. Male emphasis. Male ministry. Men of God. Brothers.

And where does such an atmosphere leave the women?

Oh yes, I have no doubt there are some kinds of women’s ministries at St. Andrews. We know that men and women both attended the Ligonier conferences. And yet as we pointed out in our article last week, when it came down to dealing with men who are hypocrites, men who abuse women, men who are church members but who cruelly oppress their wives, R.C. taught that a woman cannot divorce an abusive husband. In addition, even after he changed that view (or at least “broadened” his opinion on it as he wrote to me), R.C. never did make it a priority to publicly correct his error. Why? Why did he not feel the burden of those many victims in Christian churches, including his own? Why did he seemingly just blow off our pleas to announce his changed position? Why?

Well, think about it. If you live and move and have your being in a structure that is so male dominated, a place where elder meetings and presbytery meetings and General Assembly board meetings consist pretty much solely of men, just how likely is it that such men are inevitably going to end up rather deaf to the needs and pleas and talents of their sisters in the Lord? How do such men view a woman, for instance, who comes into their office asking for help?

Compare this with Jesus and Paul. Look at their writings and the accounts of  their dealings in the New Testament in ministry. What do you see? You see men called as Apostles, but you see women mixing it up right in there with them. You see a church where women’s names in the registries are as prominent as those of the men. You see stories of women clinging to Jesus when men abandoned Him. You see Jesus coming to a screeching stop in order to heal a poor woman who dared touch His robe. You see Jesus nailing the male hypocrite clergy of the day with a pronouncement of divine woes!

And I submit to you that all of this male-emphasis not only had an effect on R.C. Sproul, but it has had a significant effect upon all of us in the church today as well.

And that effect has not been a good one.

You shall not mistreat any widow or fatherless child. If you do mistreat them, and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry, (Exo 22:22-23)

 

Most Local Churches Today are Dominated by a Plague of Legalism and Taught by Legalists

Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions. Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted. (1Ti 1:6-11)

Most local churches, though they speak much of things like mercy and grace and forgiveness, in actual practice betray the fact that they are legalists. How can we say this? Because all you need to do is watch how they deal with people who are oppressed by the wicked – domestic abusers, sexual abusers, and so on. Let me show you.

Most of you know what happens when the victim of domestic abuse goes to her pastor or church leaders for help. So often her abuser spouse is a member “in good standing” in her church. She is not believed or the wickedness against her is minimized….you know the old sick story. And what is she told? LAW (that really isn’t God’s law at all) –

  • Divorce is forbidden. You shall not divorce
  • You shall forgive your abuser
  • You shall reconcile with your abuser
  • You shall look at your own sin as a cause of this abuse
  • You shall not speak to others about the abuse
  • You shall not call the police
  • You shall…
  • You shall not….
  • And if you do not abide by these laws, you will be cursed

See it? This is law, not gospel. This is treating the victim as if she were an ungodly, lawless, disobedient, unholy, profane person rather than the spiritual new creation in Christ that she actually is. A person with God’s Law written upon her heart, indwelt by the Spirit, guided and directed, taught and led by Christ. Such pastors and church leaders and even individual members who claim to be Christians preaching the gospel are in fact, right out legalists preaching another gospel with the intent of enslaving people.

This, says Paul, is what is at the root of this evil:

desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions

I say again, most churches are actually driven by law, not by Christ and the Spirit. They believe, like the Pharisees, that unless law is brought to bear upon Christians, all hell will break loose. Everyone will run to sin. Open the floodgates and the divorce rate will skyrocket. Their remedy? Law. They treat Christians like unbelieving pagans and they handle unbelieving pagans like Christians! The latter error is carried out when such churches tell the abuser “Yes, you have sinned. But Jesus will forgive you.” Understand – the typical abuser hiding in a church is anything but repentant! No matter. He is promised divine forgiveness anyway.

Martin Luther wrote much about law and grace and how vital it is that we understand their realms and purposes. In particular, he emphasized that every person who believes they are called by God to serve the church as a preacher, must be absolutely certain of that calling. Because if a man is not called to preach or teach God’s people, if his “calling” is one of his own imagination, the inevitable result will be that his preaching will kill and destroy, not give life and build. He will enslave Christians because he does not know the proper use of the Law, and he will enable the wicked because they love to hear how they can in themselves merit God’s acceptance.

I submit to you that a primary, foundational reason local churches are abusing victims of domestic and sexual abusers and enabling the wicked is because they are teachers of law, not of gospel. Furthermore, I maintain that a chief reason for this evil is that many, many pastors and preachers and elders are not called by Christ to those positions.

So what does the gospel look like in such situations? I can tell you. When we are dealing with, for example, a Christian wife who is oppressed and abused by an evil husband, the gospel approaches her as a new creation in Christ. A person indwelt and led by the Holy Spirit. A person who has been taught by Jesus and who possesses therefore the ability to discern righteousness from unrighteousness. We do not thunder laws to her and command her to obey, “or else.” That is Sinai, not the New Jerusalem:

For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.” Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.” But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
(Heb 12:18-24)

We do not fear that she will run to evil if we do not bind her with the Law. Why? Because she is a new creation. Because grace in the believer does not promote sin. In fact, it is the LAW that is the power of sin! So we pray with her. We tell her she has the right to separate from and divorce her abuser. We stand with her and tell her that we will support her in her decision. We stand ready to bring the Law of God and the law of the civil authorities to bear upon her abuser when it can be done so without violating her safety. In other words, in accordance with Scripture, we give her the freedom that is hers in Christ to heed His leading in her life. And then we pronounce God’s blessing, not his curse, upon her.

 

 

If We are to Walk in the Light, We Must See the Darkness

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:5-7)

Christ is the Light of the world and the truth of His Word is the lamp that guides our feet along the path He calls us to follow – the way of faith in and obedience to Him.

Light illumines the darkness so we can see what is lurking in it. Peter says we are to give careful attention to Christ’s Word as if it were a flashlight shining in a dark cave:

And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, (2 Peter 1:19)

A Day is coming when Christ’s Light will be gloriously unveiled in all creation. His truth will shine fully in our hearts and minds. But right now, in this dark world, we must take care to pay close attention to His Word. Most people who claim to be Christians are not. So they are stumbling around in the darkness, blind to the enemy’s lies and unable to discern truth from error. Are they even Christians?

Now, here is a very important example of the Light of Christ illuminating evil hiding among us. If this all is starting to sound familiar to you, well then, very good! I have written about it before and will keep doing so. Alright, listen to this:

These are waterless springs and mists driven by a storm. For them the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved. For, speaking loud boasts of folly, they entice by sensual passions of the flesh those who are barely escaping from those who live in error. They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption.

For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved. For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them. What the true proverb says has happened to them: “The dog returns to its own vomit, and the sow, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire.” (2 Peter 2:17-22)

This Scripture is having a very powerful effect on me lately and I hope that it will do the same to and for you. Do you grasp what Peter is telling us here about the false prophets (the creeps who creep in among us, see Jude 1:4)? It is rather incredible actually and reveals the amazing deceptive abilities our enemy has. These are people who:

  • Claim to be servants of Christ
  • Say they are teachers of Christ’s Word
  • Actually demonstrated apparent “new birth” through a repentant and reformed life
  • Have “known” Christ in some way
  • But have then turned away from Christ’s truth, denied the Master who bought them (see 2 Peter 2:1)
  • Who, it turns out, were never really regenerate at all and have now once again embraced evil, preaching a sensual, flesh-pleasing false gospel, deceiving many

Now get a firm grip on all of this and its implications. Peter is telling us that there are people among us in the visible church who even appear to have had remarkable and powerful “conversion experiences.” People who left off their old evils and appeared to become zealous servants of Christ. But, eventually, if you watch them, these ones who “washed” themselves “clean” like a pig in water always return to the muck and mud. Turns out they were never changed at all. But they keep right on teaching and preaching, all the while wearing the holy disguise.

What does this mean for us? It means that the Light of God’s Word is shining upon a great evil that we all must be on careful guard against. It means we must all STOP listening to the false gospel of our day that is telling us the lie that it is wrong for us to judge anyone. It means that we must be skeptics when we hear of some notorious and even famous sinner “getting saved” and the masses in the visible church start calling for that person to go on a speaking and conference and book writing tour.

Because Peter is carefully and plainly warning us that the enemy is quite capable of amazing caricatures of saintliness. Listen to him again:

For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. (2 Peter 2:20)

I can tell you from years of personal, firsthand experience with these evil ones and in speaking with their victims, there are many of these in the visible church today. In fact, I suggest very pointedly to you that the darkness of their evil is continuing to increase rapidly and as a result the counterfeit “church” is very much on the rise.

If we are to walk in the Light of Christ, then we must necessarily acknowledge that darkness and evil exist, always working to creep in among Christ’s people. Don’t look for “spirits.” Evil always comes to us embodied. With a face and a name. Looking, always looking and sounding, ever so pious and “Christian.”

Fail here and the darkness will sweep over you and your church. Christ will depart and you will become Ichabod.