Tuesday, October 29, 2019

The issue of gender roles as it pertains to ministry within the church

With John MacArthur's two word answer to the question "Beth Moore" being "Go home," the issue of women in the church has risen again to the forefront. The assault against complementarianism it seems continues unabated. One of the defenses excuses concerning Beth Moore in ministry is that she is not preaching to men but merely "sharing," especially on special occasions such as Mothers' Day. But is that defense even valid at all?

Complementarianism, or the biblical teaching concerning the roles of men and women extending to the rejection of the validity of woman pastors and elders (and perhaps deacons), is based upon the whole of Scripture concerning what God has commanded concerning how men and women ought to function in the world and in the church. Since gender is a creation construct, therefore distinction in gender roles are not caused by sin and are to be celebrated. Although the teaching on gender roles permeate all of Scripture, there are particular texts in the Bible that specifically deal with the topic. One major text is that of 1 Timothy 2:11-15, and it was for that reason that I had read up and written an exegetical paper on that passage, which is entitled Gender Roles: Ordained order of mankind towards the Creator. This was written when I was in seminary nearly seven years ago, but I continue to stand by what I have written, and I reject the notion of gender egalitarianism in any form it manifests itself.

The question of the place of women in the church of course runs deeper into just whether women can be office bearers. In total's sharply (social) egalitarian society, there is pressure towards bringing that egalitarian mindset into the church. One way of doing that is to simply have women doing the functions of the special office, without the office that comes with those functions. Thus, Beth Moore merely "shares": she doesn't "preaches," even though for all intents and purposes she is preaching. Another way is to blur the line and be involved in radio programs where ordained men discuss theological issues affecting the church (e.g. Mortification of Spin), and say that you are not preaching by being on the program, which is technically correct. That is, unless you are a regular, where you are in effect given a platform with equal status alongside other ordained men. The sheer number of ways the sinful human mind can think of to attempt to circumvent God's prohibition on women preaching is truly astonishing.

Along this same line however is the focus on the issue of the special office itself, which is also under attack as being unfair at best and a "laity control" system or worse when egalitarianism comes knocking. Both gender roles and the special office are similar in the fact that God has ordained them both and limit people under both. But they are not the same thing. Gender roles is a creation ordinance, while the special office of the church is a redemptive ordinance. Yet, there is sufficient similarity that, in the context of the church, it can be said that unordained men are like women, in that just as women cannot partake of the ordained ministry of the church, so likewise unordained men cannot partake of that ministry of the church. The key point in positing this similarity is to show that gender restrictions in the church are not purely arbitrary since the restriction against ministry applies likewise to unordained men.

This analogy is sometimes framed as saying that women can do whatever unordained men can do in the church. But if that is the case, then conversely it can be logically inferred that unordained men cannot do what women cannot do [If p, then q = If ~q, then ~p]. But how does that affect ministry within the church? Well, if unordained men cannot do what women cannot do, then, when you wonder if an unordained man should be doing this ministry in the church, ask yourself, "Would I be comfortable with a woman doing it in the church?" If yes, then go ahead. But if no, then clearly, no unordained man should be doing that ministry in the church.

This applies particularly to preaching in the church, where many church plants have a practice of allowing anyone that the church planter feels is able to preach to bring the Word. But if the church plant rejects egalitarianism, then they should not have any unordained man preaching. They can have licentiates (who have been licensed to preach) or even those under care of the church to preach, but the pulpit should not be open to anyone else! Church plants are not free to violate the commands of God just because they are church plants! Did God give a special dispensation to church planters so that they can violate the commands of God because they have the "good intention" of starting a new church? Where is that taught in Scripture?

This goes for all aspects of the church's ministry, especially including the liturgical elements of the reading of the Law and the declaration of pardon. It should be abundantly clear that unordained men do not have the authority of the church to declare God's forgiveness of sins (Te Absolvo) upon the people, so upon what basis should they be asked to conduct that section of the liturgy? Neither do they possess Christ's authority to call the people of God to worship Him (Call to Worship), or take the authority of Christ to represent the church in public prayer to God in the service (Remember that this is public prayer not private prayer). If unordained men cannot do what women cannot do, then there is no difference between asking unordained men to do the Call to Worship, do the Reading of the Law and the Gospel and the Declaration of Pardon, doing the public corporate Prayers of the church, and asking any woman to do the same. Any church or church plant that does this is no different from a church having a woman pastor who regularly conducts the services of the church! It is sin, it is treason against the most holy God, and must be repented of! No two ways about it!

The problem with us living in a society of radical individualism and autonomy, with an unholy entitlement complex, is that we subconsciously bring this mindset into the church. We think that ministry is an entitlement that we can grasp, and see God's good commands as limitations upon our ambitions of "service." We resent the fact that God has only called SOME to serve, not all, and we are constantly thinking of new ways to circumvent God's holy ordering of the world and the church. This is something that we all have to repent of constantly, and submit to Christ in all things in our lives, both men and women, ordianed men and unordained men. Amen.

Monday, October 28, 2019

A defense of an ordained ministry against anti-institutionalists

In church history, there has always been those who are against the Institutional Church. During Augustine's time, it was the Donatists. During the Reformation, it was (most of) the Anabaptists, then the Quakers. Among the more orthodox Protestants, most of the Restorationist groups did not attack the church as an institution, but attacked the established churches and created new denominations or associations in their place. The late-modern quest for autonomy and radical distrust of authority has however spawned movements such as the western "House church" movement, or "organic church movement," founded by George Barna and Frank Viola, who may not be currently associated with the movement but they were its original founders, and to which I have written a paper against it here. This anti-intellectual anti-institutional impetus however remains at the fringes of visible Christianity. Recently however, someone posted this particular poster attacking the institutional church as being "Nicolaitan," citing Revelations 2:15 to that effect. It is to this that I would like to give a brief response.

The first thing to note is the attack on institutional churches as "Nicolaitan." First of all, although the picture attached to the top part of the photo is of a megachurch concert, to contrast that with a small group setting is more than just a criticism of megachurch "Big Eva" market-driven evangelicalism. The attack, while superficially against the unbiblical excesses of a megachurch, is against any form of the church as an institution. Otherwise, why would the contrast not be given between a megachurch and a traditional church setting? No, rather, the author of the poster clearly sees no difference at all between all forms of the institutional church. The problem, according to the author, is that the church is institutional whereas it should be organic. The problem, according to the author of the poster, is that the institution itself is a "laity control grid." Any form of "hierarchy" of "clergy" in the church is part of the "laity control grid" which is the sin of the Nicolaitans

Second, it is clear that the author thinks that he and his group alone have the sin of the Nicolaitans figured out. It is astonishing how the sin of the Nicolaitans is stated as the "laity control grid" because the name Nicolas can mean "victory over the people." So are all who call themselves Nicholas (not an uncommon name at that time and definitely not now) all tyrants over the people? Is the "Nicolas" of Acts 6:5 also a tyrant? Are the churches that have a "Nicholas" in their leadership all tyrannies in the making, purely because of the name "Nicolas"?

This kind of "interpretation" of Scripture is what I will call the "Bible code" way of interpreting Scripture. Instead of treating Scripture as communication in a language that is spoken and read normally during the first century AD (i.e. koine Greek), the words are treated as if they are a treasure chest of meaning that needs to be deciphered for its hidden content. In this case, even though no Bible scholar that I know of can say definitively what the sin of the Nicolaitans actually is, the author of the poster can confidently declare that the sin of the Nicolaitans *must* be a "laity control grid." Essentially, this is linguistic gnosticism! And yes, I have heard other so-called pastors do it, but it is still wrong. Koine Greek is a language, extinct today, but still a proper human language with syntax and the need to be interpreted in context. It is a language, not a code!

Thirdly, the object of contrast is that of a small group setting, where the verse used makes it abundantly clear that what the author of the poster sees as biblical is a fully egalitarian context where nobody is the leader, in contrast to the supposed "laity control grid." In other words, it is clear that the small group photo with the attached verse is meant to convey that the "biblical practice" is radical egalitarianism along the lines of that promoted by Barna and Viola in the 1990s to 2000s.

Over and against such an unbiblical rejection of the institutional church is Ephesians 4:11, whereby we are told that God gave (direct object; accusative case) apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. In other words, it is God who gives these officers, these men, to His church. To receive church officers is to receive the gift of God to His church. To reject them is to reject God's gift and ultimately God Himself. But if Ephesians 4:11 is correct, then God give men to serve the church as church officers. God did not just give gifts to people in the church, although He does do that also as seen in 1 Corinthians 12. But more than just gifts to individuals is the gift of men set apart to serve God in a special capacity, as office bearers in the church.

It is thus very clear that, if Ephesians 4:11 is to be taken as Scripture, the rejection of the institutional church is unbiblical. There is no point in pointing to passages such as 1 Corinthians 12 because it is never denied that God does indeed give spiritual gifts to people in the church; it is never disputed that this happens. But unless one wants to pit Scripture against Scripture, then one has to deal with what Ephesians 4:11 expressively teaches, not obfuscate with spurious screeching about 1 Corinthians 12. The way anti-institutionalists argue is in fact an assault on the authority of Scripture, because one cannot use one part of Scripture to "override" the other part of Scripture. If one uses one part of Scripture to override what is plainly taught in the second portion of Scripture, then what one is doing is to set up a canon within a canon. "All Scripture is authoritative, but some portions of Scripture are more authoritative than others, and I get to decide which parts are more authoritative and which parts less." Such an attitude should not be accepted by Christians, and it is sad that some behave in this manner.

Thus, in conclusion, this poster is unbiblical. It teaches contrary to what the Scriptures actually teach, and engages in serious mishandling of the Word of God. As such, it and the ideology it is promoting ought to be rejected by all Christians, at least all who are willing to live their lives in love and submission to the God of Scripture and of Christ.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

On being Reformed: An appreciative but critical response to Dr R. Scott Clark

What we have come largely to differ from our forefathers is on a particular ethical inference. This revision of Reformed ethics is not of the substance of the faith. We still hold and confess the same view of the moral law and its application of the Christian life. [R. Scott Clark, "A House of Cards? A Response to Bingham, Gribben, and Caughey," in Bingham et al., On Being Reformed: Debates over a Theological Identity (Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave MacMillan, 2018), p. 80)

The book On Being Reformed: Debates over a Theological Identity puts together three British and two American scholars in a debate over the identity label "Reformed." What does it truly mean to use the label "Reformed" as a theological identity of oneself or one's theological tradition? The three British men by and large locate "Reformed" as a historic identifier of a group of traditions linked to each other via a "theological family tree" (Chris Caughey and Crawford Gribben, "History, Identity Politics, and the 'Recovery of the Reformed Confessions,'" in ibid., p. 20), with Matthew C. Bingham as a baptist claiming the title "Reformed" due to the "Reformed Baptist" utilizing of a covenantal framework to understand all of Scripture (Matthew C. Bingham, "'Reformed Baptist': Anachronistic Oxymoron or useful Signpost?," in ibid., p. 48).

In contrast, D.G. Hart and R. Scott Clark demur, claiming that the identifier "Reformed" is an ecclesial definition not a historical definition. Hart further points out the seeming inconsistency in Baptists wanting the name "Reformed" while not at the same time desiring the label "Lutheran" (D.G. Hart, "Baptists are different," in ibid., p. 65). Clark states that the Particular Baptists have a different covenant theology than those in the Reformed tradition as they reject "the Reformed view that the covenant of grace is substantially one administered variously in redemptive history" (Clark, in ibid., p. 79). Lastly, against the claim that modern-day Reformed churches are substantially different from those in the Reformational era, he asserts that the difference is one of ethics, not of the substance of the faith.

Having read both sides, I would say historically, the British writers do have a point. If one looks purely historically, one can sortof discern a type of family tree between various Evangelical traditions that have some relation to or derivation from the Reformed tradition. The question however is whether such genealogical relationship is sufficient to merit the label "Reformed." And here I appreciate the point made by Hart and Clark that the term "Reformed" should be an ecclesial label. If the church is the bride of Christ, it seems more logical that the label should be decided by the church more than the academy.

At the same time, I do not believe Dr. Clark has made a good case in his assertion that any changes through the centuries is merely one of applied ethics. First of all, in church history, there has been a huge diversity of churches and denominations (excluding Baptists) that were part of the Reformed tradition and still claim to be of the Reformed tradition. Yet, Dr. Clark will likely not regard them as being Reformed. I am thinking of church bodies like the PRCA with their monocovenantalism. I would ask Dr. Clark, "Is the PRCA Reformed?" Or how about many mainline Presbyterian churches around the world that revere Karl Barth, and think that to be Barthian is to be Reformed. Are these church bodies Reformed? Now, if it is admitted that these church bodies are Reformed, then can it be truly be said that to be Reformed is to have only a "revision of Reformed ethics" which does not touch "the substance of the faith"? But if Dr. Clark denies that these church bodies are Reformed, then does it not seem that "to be Reformed" = "being in NAPARC (North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council) and having a similar understanding of Reformed theology like Dr. Clark (and Dr. Hart and WSCAL and so on)"?

Secondly, is it really true that the revisions like 2-Kingdom theology is merely a matter of application and not of the substance of the faith? I am here not saying that the changes are truly of the substance of the faith. But what I am questioning is the somewhat implicit assumption that everyone in the Reformed tradition will agree that 2-Kingdom theology is merely a "revision of Reformed ethics." Would the 17th century Scottish Covenanters see 2-Kingdom theology in its modern form (as advocated by Drs. Clark, Horton and VanDrunen) as a mere "revision of Reformed ethics"? I doubt so. So how does one go about determining whether any theory promoted by any Reformed theologian does not strike the substance of the faith? I have heard that Misty Irons (Lee Irons' wife) had used 2-Kingdom theology to condone homosexuality in society, and I have found a video of her as a "straight ally" in the apostate Revoice conference. Notwithstanding her particular case, is it true that 2-Kingdoms theology has nothing whatsoever to say about the obligation of society and the State to the Law of God?

The reason for me raising this question is not to assert that theories such as 2-Kingdom theology is or is not indeed a mere revision of Reformed ethics. The reason for raising this question is to show how it seems that the assertion that this is a mere revision of Reformed ethics is a self-serving reason that anyone in history who claims the label "Reformed" can use for his own unique brand of ethics. Coupled with the first question, Dr. Clark's statement seems to be a self-serving statement. Now, that does not imply he is wrong. But let us not have the illusion that it is some dispassionate statement of fact that Dr. Clark is putting forth in defence of his view of what constitutes the "Reformed" identity label. It is not!

In conclusion, it is appreciated that the "Reformed" identity label is to be an ecclesial label. Yet, it seems to me that it is also a label for a particular type of theological tradition, namely NAPAC as the representative of the Reformed tradition. The way I see it, this is where Dr. Clark's definition would lead us, and I do not personally have a problem with it, as long as it is explicitly stated.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

In defense of mental properties against Daniel Dennett

Human consciousness is itself a huge complex of memes (or more exactly, meme-effects in brains) that can best be understood as the operation of a “von Neumannesque” virtual machine implemented in the parallel architecture of a brain that was not designed for any such activities. The powers of this virtual machine vastly enhance the underlying powers of the organic hardware on which it runs, but at the same time many of its most curious features, and especially its limitations, can be explained as the byproducts of the kludges that make possible this curious but effective reuse of an existing organ for novel purposes. [Daniel C. Dennett, Consciousness Explained (New York, NY: Black Ray Books, 1991), p. 21]

There is no single, definitive “stream of consciousness,” because there is no central Headquarters, no Cartesian Theater where “it all comes together” for the perusal of a Central Meaner. Instead of such a single stream (however wide), there are multiple channels in which specialist circuits try, in parallel pandemoniums, [/253] to do their various things, creating Multiple Drafts as they go. Most of these fragmentary drafts of “narrative” play short-lived roles in the modulation of current activity but some get promoted to further functional roles, in swift succession, by the activity off a virtual machine in the brain. The seriality of this machine (its “von Neumannesque” character) is not a “hard-wired” design feature, but rather the upshot of a succession of coalitions of these specialists.

The basic specialists are part of our animal heritage. They were not developed to perform peculiarly human actions, such as reading and writing, but ducking, predator-avoiding, face-recognizing, grasping, throwing, berry-picking, and other essential tasks. They are often opportunistically enlisted in new roles, for which their nature talents more or less suit them. The result is not bedlam only because the trends that are imposed on all this activity are themselves the product of design. Some of this design is innate, and is shared with other animals. But it is augmented, and sometimes even overwhelmed in importance, by microhabits of thought that are developed in the individual, partly idiosyncratic results of self-exploration and partly the predesigned gifts of culture. Thousands of memes, mostly borne by language, but also by wordless “images” and other data structures, take up residence in an individual brain, shaping its tendencies and thereby turning it into a mind. (pp. 253-254)

Our tales are spun, but for the most part we don’t spin them; they spin us. Our human consciousness, and our narrative selfhood, is their product, not their source. (p. 418)

… the directives from mind to brain. These, ex hypothesi, are not physical; they are not light waves or sound waves or cosmic rays or streams of subatomical particles. No physical energy or mass is associated with them. How, then, do they get to make a difference to what happens in the brain cells they must affect, if the mind is to have any influence over the body? A fundamental principle of physics is that any change in the trajectory of any physical entity is an acceleration requiring the expenditure of energy, and where is this energy to come from? It is this principle of the conservation of energy that accounts for the physical impossibility of “perpetual motion machines,” and the same principle is apparently violated by dualism. This confrontation between quite standard physics and dualism has been endlessly discussed since Descartes’s own day, and is widely regarded as the inescapable and fatal flaw of dualism. (pp. 34-35)

Daniel Dennett is a prominent British philosopher who happens to be a vocal proponent of physicalism in the philosophy of mind. According to Dennett, the mind, the soul, does not strictly speaking exists. Rather, consciousness is a product of multiple biological processes in the brain that work together and give the illusion of a self, an individual. Consciousness is a "virtual machine" that comes into being by the interaction of the self with the cultural products known as "memes." In Dennett's words, the "thousands of memes... take up residence in an individual brain... turning it into a mind" (p. 254). Thus, there is no soul, no spirit, and consciousness itself is not a property (against property dualism) but a product of brain states and culture memes.

In his book Consciousness Explained, the main bulk of Dennett's writing is to argue against what he calls "Cartesian materialism," defined as a position that holds to both Dualism and Materialism. Substance dualism itself is rejected in a single paragraph in pages 34 and 35, as reproduced above, and not touched on again in the rest of the book. But what exactly is the argument against substance dualism? It turns out that the argument against substance dualism is an argument that makes sense only if we assume materialism. According to Dennett, if there are mental properties, then how can it be said that these mental properties interact with physical properties, if they have no energy, mass or wave function? In other words, if mental properties are not physical, they cannot interact with physical properties. Or, if there are mental properties, they cannot affect the physical neurons in the brain, and therefore there are no mental properties at all.

The problem with such an argument is that materialism is assumed to be true. If materialism is false, then the argument is in error as well. Even if we agree that the firing of the neurons must come about through physical causes, a rejection of materialism would result in a parallel process understanding of mental and physical processes. But we do not have to go there for the simple reason that there is no violation of any law of nature to say that a mental process calls for certain neurons to send electrical impulses across the brain. After all, what decides whether any particular neuron in a brain sends an electrical signal? Why does one neuron send an electrical signal and another nearby does not? Is there a physical explanation for that?

In conclusion, Dennett's dismissive argument against substance dualism is in error. It assumes materialism, which is not and cannot ever be proven true. Even the atheist Thomas Nagel was forced to reject materialism in his book Mind and Cosmos as he realized that materialism is not tenable. And just because mental properties cannot be empirically described does not make it false. We may not know exactly what mental properties are, but by virtue of us having a mind, we can give an approximate description for them.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Factionalism within the Reformed blogosphere

Rachel Miller, of anti-ESS screed fame, has published a book entitled Beyond Authority and Submission, which has at least a chapter against ESS in it. One of the main targets of her book is the supposed "patriarchy" promoters, specifically Douglas Wilson and company. The link is drawn from ESS to "patriarchy" (whatever that means) and then to Federal Vision and the denial of Justification by faith alone. In social media, the link is drawn almost as if to draw a line in the sand. To be confessionally Reformed is to be against Federal Vision and thus against Doug Wilson and against patriarchy and against ESS. To be for ESS is to be for "patriarchy" and to be for Doug Wilson and for Federal Vision and against Justification by faith alone, and thus against the Gospel. One has to be situated in either camp it seems. Before she deleted her Twitter account, Miller basically labeled all her critics misogynists and promoters of "patriarchy" (which unfortunately I did not take a snapshot of it before it was deleted, but I did see it).

The sad part about this is that we see factionalism come into play here. The question is no more about what is true, but about which faction you belong to. If you are of the "confessionally Reformed" camp, you must hold to all these beliefs (FV bad, ESS bad, Doug Wilson bad, R. Miller good). There is no middle where anyone can say, "Wait a second, on THIS issue that position looks more biblical."

This is the main problem with Pruitt's tweet here. While Wilson's quote CAN be problematic, the paragraph here is not necessarily false. Absent of context, there is no way of determining whether what is said is biblical or not. The citation of Wilson here is merely another guilt by association whereby since we *know* Wilson is a heretic on FV, so anything that he says on the family and gender roles must be likewise suspect. (For the record, I have little knowledge and thus no opinion on Wilson's view of the family except that I no not like what I am hearing about the Sitler case). And I will also say for the record that I have no problems with women working outside or even running for political office, so that should place me beyond the pale of any supposed "patriarchy" group.

The sad thing about Reformed social media is that it has descended into the same rancor as secular twitter. Factionalism reigns supreme, as the issue about whether something is objectively true or not has lost its importance. What is important it seems is to attack the other faction for any infraction, real or perceived, and the labeling of any detractors as those of the opposing (and thus heretical) camp. It is perverse and ungodly, no matter whether the person doing it is a pastor or a "member in good standing." Is the truth important? Or do we just want "our group" to win "at all costs"? That I think is the question here, and I hope Reformed Christians in America regain their vision of what is truly honoring to the Lord of truth, instead of their over-inflated egos.