How Far Is the Sidestream from the Main One?

Travels to Hungary earlier this week and a pleasant conversation with a young woman training to be a pastor in the Hungarian Reformed Church got me thinking about women, gender, and how important male clergy is to “the gospel.” This woman could not quite wrap her mind around the idea that a church still places restrictions on ordination. The argument that Paul taught that elders and pastors should be male, since they should be married to only one wife (and Paul wasn’t thinking of Ellen DeGeneres), didn’t seem to be sufficient.

So I started to think, thoughts that took me back to CRC days, what is such a big deal about ordaining women? It is an error and violates God’s word, which is synonymous with sin (“any want of conformity unto or transgression of”). But Covenanters can fellowship with hymn singers which for some exclusive psalm folks is a violation of God’s word. Which means we all look the other way at least ecumenically when it comes to interpreting God’s word.

The experience of conservative Reformed boomers, however, was that the hermeneutic that allowed the ordination of women was one that would lead to cutting and pasting the rest of God’s word and church order. As a boomer this argument — the slippery slope one that almost sent me to Vietnam — makes some sense. But what if a communion decided simply to draw the line at women’s ordination? We will go this far, the women’s ordinationists might say, but no farther. Isn’t that what some communions have done with hymns? We will sing them but not P&W Praise Songs? In which case, what is the threshold that women’s ordination crosses by itself? Or is it simply a case of knowing what history teaches — when women ascend the pulpit doctrine slips.

Along with this set of thoughts went the one about women and head coverings. Should a communion like the OPC be consistent and encourage (maybe discipline) women to cover their heads in worship, with some preference given to those with long hair? Is this another one of those hermeneutical instances where we look the other way? At the same time, doesn’t the reality of women not wearing scarves in OPC churches, along with our hip and up-to-date revision of the Confession of Faith on the civil magistrate — doesn’t this make the OPC mainstream?

Oh yeah. What Christian women today would wear a head scarf? That’s Islam.


104 thoughts on “How Far Is the Sidestream from the Main One?

  1. Very thought provoking. Are there communions that are conspicuously confessional and only have women’s ordination as their deviation? Oh yeah, RPCNA. It seems to be more the case that women’s ordination is at the tail end of large changes and doesn’t come by itself. Even in the RPCNA, it is my understanding that they had started to go off the reservation and the Lord used men like Vos to bring them back from going liberal.

    Also with the EP thing (BTDT have the scars from friendly fire) – isn’t it more the case that both sides are being charitable and forbearing with brethren they believe are genuinely striving to follow the RPW?

    Seems like a good place to link to our Report of the Committee on Women in Church Office.


  2. What about otherwise conservative, even uber concerned with sanctification presby churches which have dispensed with or interpreted down the second commandment? Are they moderate or just selectively antinomian?


  3. What about presbyterian churches (with access to enormous BS detectors) which fail to ordain half or two thirds of their officers and define certain locally-popular sins as “not best for human flourishing”? Are they moderate or just selectively antinomian?

    Isn’t playing the antinomian game fun? Better than mixed Twister.


  4. Cw, you rock.

    But have the time, I don’t know what half of the words you type, even mean, let alone the meaning of your monikers.



  5. And is the very large presbyterian church (in possession of the mammoth BS detector) that, verily, layeth not their hands on any deaconing persons sinning more by ordaining none than they would be by ordaining the womyn? And if they did ordain the womyn would, verily, any be found who would send them on their way to another denom…which would cause them untold expenses in new stationery.


  6. How about the error of immanentizing the eschaton? We no longer recognize the distinction between male and female because of our union in Christ? So, the already-not yet tension is obscured in favor of an more anabaptist understanding of our now-freedom in Christ.


  7. Drawing only from my experience growing up and spending a number of years in the CRC, I didn’t run into very many pro-women ordination folks who also seemed terribly interested in justification by faith alone, penal substitution, double imputation, law/gospel, etc. There were some, but not many. But then again, correlation does not imply causation, and all that.


  8. The question for those who would that ordaining females is a mark of apostasy: If male clergy is a mark of the true church, doesn’t that put Rome (both staunchly male and gospel denying) one step closer to a true church? But perhaps there is a difference between an apostate church and a misguided denomination? Or is that the sort of limp distinction only who still owes much to the CRC as still having more Reformation than anything billing itself as “conservative evangelical” does makes?


  9. Another version of the domino theory:

    The simple answer to this question is that such denominations have stopped granting ultimate authority to the clear teaching of the Word of God. In almost every case, they no longer regard the Scriptures as inerrant and therefore they find it easy to disregard teachings they consider offensive and antiquated. Having removed their confidence in the Bible, they have granted authority to the culture in its place. Then, facing the kind of cultural pressure that has been mounted on this issue, the change from condemning to endorsing homosexuality involves merely overcoming internal political resistance to change.* In most cases, the authority of Scripture was previously breached with regard to gender and sex when these denominations violated Scripture by ordaining women to church office.** The prohibition against women elders and ministers is just about as clear as the prohibition against sexual indecency. So, having conceded to cultural authority on a lesser matter these same churches can hardly avoid doing so in a greater matter, which in this case is the mandate to endorse and approve of homosexual practice.

    *This is the dread “slippery slope” argument, which is so offensive to those who have slid down it but which is nonetheless proved by the chain of compromises that has left them in so obviously unbiblical a position as the endorsement of homosexuality.


  10. Sean, but what to do with unathorized women who preach the gospel and authorized men who don’t? Authorization and ability don’t always match up, but try telling that to the theorists who want everything tidy.


  11. The reason for defection really matters. If the central argument is that Paul was wrong, then there’s a problem with Scripture. If the central argument is that we’ve wrongly understood Paul, then there’s a food-fight over exegesis.

    The first is really fatal to a church. The second might not be so.


  12. You go with best available based on a matrix which (I think) should include doctrine, worship, and order. Factors like proximity will come in to play as well. For some this might mean worshiping with pastorettes and officerettes, but hopefully not. Some people do/can pick up and move to live near a better church.


  13. Jeff, it’s interesting that the contention for resistance theory does something similar to egalitarianism, namely that Paul didn’t have the benefit of modern reason and virtue. The upshot is female ordination and civil disobedience. More interesting is how some who affirm CD by that reasoning also oppose FO and tend to slot FO as a serious error. Which is what makes the idea that biblical inerrancy the issue at stake with FO a bit dubious. If that’s the case, what gives with affirming CD, which is as clearly opposed by the Bible as FO?


  14. That’s an interesting point, Zrim, very worth chewing on.

    Would you say, though, that the case against CD really is as strong as the case against FO?

    On the one hand, we have Romans 13, which is very clear. On the other, we have Acts 4, which provides a clear counterexample or exception under some circumstance.

    I don’t know of any corresponding counterexample or circumstance for female ordination, do you?


  15. Then there’s my breakfast, lunch, dinner, the house and my needs. Is it safe to have discussions about innate ability? How about roles? Not so much reveling just order and observation of applied talent.


  16. “Or is it simply a case of knowing what history teaches — when women ascend the pulpit doctrine slips.”

    Doctrine first – women are not allowed to be ordained
    History second – the above quote from DGH


  17. I’d agree that there are a number of people who embrace women’s ordination in ignorance of any cogent theological argument for the practice. But that fact doesn’t counsel against the practice. Otherwise, we’d have to dispense with a male-only eldership merely because many proponents of the practice are merely misogynists.

    Paul wrote within a cultural context. Thus, we are always faced with the task of sorting that which was normal for the culture in which Paul wrote and that which is normative for the church into perpetuity. Even though Paul counsels slaves to submit to their masters, practically every inerrantist under the sun would not view such an admonition as binding on the church today.

    This isn’t necessarily a debate between those who accept biblical authority and those who don’t. Rather, it’s a debate about whether Paul’s discussion of gender relations are more in line with his discussions of slavery or more in line with his discussions of justification. I tend to find the former argument to be a bit more persuasive. But I can see how others may disagree.

    I did find Peter Leithart’s blog piece this week on Genesis 2 to be an interesting read. He points out why the argument from creation order does not justify gender-role hierarchy.


  18. Jeff, I’m not so sure what we have in Acts 4 is an example of disobeying civil authorities but rather an example of obeying God rather than men, which is to say an example of obedience, not disobedience. I take civil disobedience to be that which undermines civil powers not on the basis of what God clearly demands but on the basis of what men determine is right by their own reasoning and on which God is silent.


  19. Bobby, that could be because Paul’s slavery doesn’t exist as commonly as his did and because we conceive of slavery differently in 21stC. America. But it’s not exactly obvious that any of that in itself makes Paul’s counsel obsolete. In fact, Peter’s admonition to submit to even unjust masters suggests the NT writers were familiar with situations moderns use to condemn the institution (and justify, even encourage rebellion) and yet counsel in ways that make us gasp. Some may wonder what inerrancy gets us when there are plenty of trap doors that get us out of clear but uncomfortable counsel.


  20. Why not ordain womyn?
    Because God is the Father, the Son and Holy Ghost, not the Mother, Daughter and Holy Spirit.
    As in when the minister gives the benediction he is speaking in the place of and for God to the congregation. Likewise in preaching to the congregation, while in the congregational prayer, he is speaking to God in the name of – what else? – the congregation.

    Two, some things are clearer in Scripture than others. (The RPCNA are psalmsingers by default, because it is the orginal confessional position.)
    Ahem, 1 Tim. 2:12f is grounded in creation, not culture.
    (Likewise marriage, which means Laurel and Hardy are not a handsome couple.)

    But then we all know the world began with the Big Bang, so all bets are off and the Tibetan Book of the Dead is as good as the Bible or the Book of Mormon to preach from.
    Which means that the Church of What’s Happening Now consequently has a unisex pulpit/ bathroom, as if you could tell the difference.


  21. Shouldn’t the regulative principle, as explained in our confessions, be guiding our worship and church order? Virtually all this jibber-jabber about worship, women-coverings (which I’m inclined to agree with), etc, have to do with people either ignoring what Scripture prescribes or wanting to add ‘a little this and that’ to spice things up without ‘harming’ anyone.

    A lot of it also has to do with seeking to please or ‘be relevant’ to cultural interests rather being faithful to Scripture. As someone postulated, it starts with trying to be sincere in ‘changing the culture’; when the going gets tough, many end up concluding that it is perhaps better when the culture defines/guides our religion and its practices… Just sayin’.


  22. @AB thanks for the Patheos link.

    Intersting thoughts about the university as suburb. Have you read David Kaiser’s 2004 article in American Quarterly “Suburbanization of Physics”? Very interesting reading that lays out the case for the parallel you make in the Patheos article. If you don’t have access to the journal, let me know and I’ll send it to you.


  23. “how important male clergy is to “the gospel.””

    speaking too of slippery slope…. and not just any male, but men above reproach as God’s stewards, husbands of one wife, managing their household well, not: accused of dissipation or rebellion, self-willed, quick-tempered, addicted to wine, pugnacious, fond of sordid gain, a new convert

    but instead: hospitable, loving what is good, sensible, just, devout, self-controlled, holding fast the faithful word , exhorting in sound doctrine, refuting sound doctrine contradicting, temperate, prudent, respectable, able to teach, gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money, having a good reputation with those outside the church;, devoted to prayer and ministry of the word; being sanctified by the means of the word of God and prayer.

    btw, I watch Ellen but thinking maybe I shouldn’t


  24. The “who would you rather sit under a woman who would preach the gospel vs a man who won’t” argument is dog that doesn’t hunt. In our broadly gospel believing church circles, we have no shortage, of men whom pursue the office of teaching elder. The time in history we didn’t have that problem, the apostles walked the earth and they certainly stuck to their male ordination guns. If anyone had a reason to instruct Timothy to find anyone… Please Timothy just find anyone…. Paul certainly did.

    Hymn singing and female ordination may be both be cutting and pasting; I’ll give you that. But like murder and cussing are both sinful, they have consequences in proportion to their offenses. Female ordination necessarily leads to unbelief like murder leads to death.


  25. Mark, remember I took Abraham Friesen in college? Mennonite, I got B+ in upper division 16th century Europe history.

    Good to hear from you Mark

    Nice link


  26. “Even though Paul counsels slaves to submit to their masters, practically every inerrantist under the sun would not view such an admonition as binding on the church today.”

    Bobby, I have not come across this much in my reading. What inerrantists were you referring to? The most common view I’ve seen among inerrantists is that of Calvin, that Paul’s injunction was not temporary but perpetual. Here Calvin commenting on the Eph 6. slave/master passage:

    “His exhortation to servants is so much the more earnest, on account of the hardship and bitterness of their condition, which renders it more difficult to be endured. And he does not speak merely of outward obedience, but says more about fear willingly rendered; for it is a very rare occurrence to find one who willingly yields himself to the control of another. The servants (δοῦλοι) whom he immediately addresses were not hired servants, like those of the present day, but slaves, such as were in ancient times, whose slavery was perpetual, unless, through the favor of their masters, they obtained freedom, — whom their masters bought with money, that they might impose upon them the most degrading employments, and might, with the full protection of the law, exercise over them the power of life and death. To such he says, obey your masters, lest they should vainly imagine that carnal freedom had been procured for them by the gospel.. the same instruction applies to male and female servants of our own times. It is God who appoints and regulates all the arrangements of society. As the condition of servants is much more agreeable than that of slaves in ancient times, they ought to consider themselves far less excusable, if they do not endeavor, in every way, to comply with Paul’s injunctions.”

    A question I have asked a number of egalitarians, and have not had satisfactorily answered, is one concerning God’s power and character in all this. If God intended all along that women in the NC should be pastors, and thus he would gift women as men with such, why has the church for two thousand years failed to see it? In other words, if God promised to supply his church with what they needed for spiritual life, and then gifted women to preach as well as men to meet that need, why did God not illuminate the minds of his people to understand this from the Scriptures so as not to deprive them of these gifts? Was he unable? Was our proclivities for male leadership so deep-seated that even God could not overcome it until recently?


  27. Zrim,

    Your definition of civil disobedience is a little idiosyncratic. The Lutheran (1540s), following Luther’s reflections in the 1520s (Temporal Authority, 1523) and the Reformed particularly in the 1560s and 70s worked on a theory of resistance to tyrants. They justified civil disobedience against tyrants long before the Enlightenment on the basis of obedience to God when it conflicts with God’s moral law. It wasn’t merely obedience to God but active disobedience to magistrates. To be sure, opinion on this was mixed. Even as Guy deBres was determined not to resist Roman authorities, even if it cost him his life—as it did—the French volunteered to rescue him (by use of force). Calvin offered limited grounds for disobedience by “lesser magistrates” (Institutes 4.20) but Beza expanded that theory (De iure magistratuum) as did “Junius Brutus” (pseud.) in Vindiciae contra tyrannos. Althusius addressed the problem by reordering the hierarchy of authority. Instead of authority flowing from God through the monarch or the parliament to the people he said that family is the basic unit of society and worked outward thence. It was influential on the founders. Yes, much of this reflection was Constantinian but arguably the founders were able to make use of it (by harvesting from it) despite its defects. Arguably, Constaninianism was essential but accidental to it. In any event, resistance or disobedience was essential. They weren’t merely obeying God (though they were doing that). They were actively disobeying or advocating disobedience to authorities when those authorities crossed their natural or divinely authorized limits.


  28. Of course I do not have his frightening repertoire of historical knowledge, but Clark beat me to it.

    A man is commanded to provide for his family for instance. If the magistrate has instituted laws or policies that make that impossible, not by American standards, but by “food and raiment” standards, then that man is duty bound to defy the magistrate in obedience to God.

    IF it is a fact that God has ordained that only men may be the theological rudder of His church, then taking the incredibly presumptuous course of putting the opposite gender in that position is mortally dangerous on a level wholly unapproachable by female head coverings, the case for which is not even close to as strong.

    Egalitarianism is virtually unheard of in the history of the church going all the way back to Gen 12, UNTIL the last quarter of 20th century America where godless feminism was “coincidentally” also on the rise. The God of scripture would not leave His people in the dark about such a matter for 2 thousand years.


  29. Dr. Hart, I think your comparison of the women’s ordination issue with the matter of hymnody vs. exclusive psalmody and head coverings is like comparing apples to oranges. I would suggest that the issue of women’s ordination to church office (especially to the office of Minister of the Word) is more directly a “gospel matter” than the issues of worship song and head coverings, for ordination to the sacred office is directly connected to the means of grace (gospel word and sacraments). I’m not saying the other issues are unimportant, but I would also suggest that Scripture more directly addresses the women’s issue (for example, Paul’s straightforward, inspired prohibition, grounded in the creation order, against women holding teaching authority over men – 1 Tim. 2:11-15); whereas the matters of psalmody vs. hymnody and head coverings are more hermeneutically complex and rely more on inference (“good and necessary consequence”).


  30. I’m not convinced the quality of the woman pastor’s preaching makes a big difference. We’re talking about a central role in the church – the one who brings the gospel and is more vital to the church than any other person. To embody in that person – visibly & obviously – a deviation from biblical requirements of office is pretty tough to get past.


  31. Muddy Gravel: “We’re talking about a central role in the church – the one who brings the gospel and is more vital to the church than any other person. To embody in that person – visibly & obviously – a deviation from biblical requirements of office is pretty tough to get past.”

    GW: Excellent point! Can God use a woman preacher who proclaims the gospel to bring one of His elect to faith? Sure; God can “draw a straight line with a crooked stick.” But the very presence of a woman in the pulpit embodies – “visibly & obviously” (as you put it) – a distortion of the God-ordained ministry of word and sacrament, and thereby embodies a distortion of the gospel itself.


  32. Muddy Gravel: “We’re talking about a central role in the church – the one who brings the gospel and is more vital to the church than any other person. To embody in that person – visibly & obviously – a deviation from biblical requirements of office is pretty tough to get past.”
    Outstanding. Muddy and I agree. Very well said sir. That’s what I mean by the “theological rudder” of the church. No disrespect to Darryl, but this is a gravely vital issue of first importance. Not comparable at all to head coverings. It should be a clue when the church has NEVER held a view for millenia until the world does and then the church suddenly isn’t so sure.


  33. Not that I’m a defender of women’s ordination, but with your historical expertise, could you remind us all of when the PCUSA started ordaining women as elders and how that misstep figured into J. G. Machen’s defense of the gospel?


  34. AB, scroll up. The question is plain enough. It’s a simple historical question. No need for theological posturing.

    But for what it’s worth, I’ve observed over the years that the number of times someone says something is the clear teaching of scripture is inversely proportional to its actual clarity. An assertion of clarity is no real argument.


  35. Terry, ok.

    Question and Answer
    Women Teaching Men


    Could you please let me know what your position is on women teaching in the local church? Any info you could give would be helpful, as I seek to understand the true teaching of the Scripture concerning this. Thanks for your time.


    In accordance with the Word of God, the OPC ordains only males to the offices of minister, evangelist, teacher, ruling elder and deacon. The Bible teaches:

    Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. (1 Tim. 2:11-12)
    Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church. (1 Cor. 14:34-35)
    Here are the relevant sections from the OPC Form of Government. Concerning the minister of the Word, chapter VI, section 3 states:

    3. He who fills this office shall be sound in the faith, possess competency in human learning, and be able to teach and rule others. He should exhibit holiness of life becoming to the gospel. He should be a man of wisdom and discretion. He should rule his own house well. He should have a good report of them that are outside the church.
    Chapter XXV states the process for electing, ordaining, and installing ruling elders and deacons:

    1. Every congregation shall elect ruling elders and deacons, except in extraordinary circumstances. Those elected must be male communicant members in good and regular standing in the church in which they are to exercise their office.
    In his infinite wisdom our Lord Jesus Christ chose only males as his 12 apostles, commissioning them to go into all the word, preaching and teaching his gospel. Those who represent the Lord Jesus Christ in teaching and ruling his church must be men of good character and understanding. Women may teach other women or children but they may not teach men in any official capacity in the church. This has nothing to do with giftedness or worthiness but with obedience and headship. Though it may be unpopular in our egalitarian age, the OPC has chosen to be faithful to the Word of God in this matter.

    Christ is the only king and head of his church, ruling it by his Word and Spirit. The church is not permitted to practice anything contrary to Scripture. The Word of Christ forbids women to teach, or to usurp authority over the man (1 Tim. 2:12). This necessarily forbids women from holding church office.

    Now I would add something to what you asked. If anyone, man or woman, teaches as a part of the program of a church, the elders of that church have oversight to be sure that their teaching is according to the doctrinal standards of their church. Even pastors are under the oversight of their ruling elders. If, on the other hand, their teaching is in the home, it’s a different matter: the church does not have oversight of teaching outside the church, though the elders of her church would be disturbed if she was teaching false doctrine. But, of course, the Bible is our standard for all teaching. And whoever teaches Bible classes needs to be sure he/she is able to expound the Word of God accurately. But I hasten to say women are not inferior to men in their ability to be knowledgeable in Scripture.


  36. Well, let’s stir the pot some more.
    Samuel Johnson said something like: “A woman’s preaching is like a dog’s walking on his hinder legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all.”
    Obviously he didn’t benefit from watching our modern TV preachers.

    Dabney considered ordaining women to be Jacobin egalitarianism, which is still with us in part, in driving the marital rights for sodomites and lesbians juggernaut.

    And just like the latter, at first it starts out as toleration; women may be ordained. Only later does it become: not only must you ordain women, you cannot dissent to the practice. Sound familiar? Vide the PCUSA on women/homosexual ordination.

    FWIW while head coverings may not be as clear as 1 Tim. 2:12-14 and the argument from creation, the short answer is that the Westminster divines appealed to 1 Cor. 11:13,14 as a proof text for the “circumstances” of WCF 1:6. IOW the RPW does not apply.

    Long answer: Dutch theologian Witsius in his Sacred Dissertations on the Lord’s Prayer (pp.87-90).

    Paul, when writing to the Corinthians who were Greeks, gives preference to that custom. (1 Cor. 11:4) In doing so, he did not intend to lay down a universal law which should everywhere be observed. He [87] merely accomodated himself to a custom of civil life observed, at that time, by those whom he was writing. This is admirably, I think, explained by Altingius in a discourse already quoted. The Greeks, we have said, were wont to perform their sacred rites with uncovered heads, in the worship of their idols. Those who perpetrated dishonourable actions were in the habit of concealing their heads by throwing over them old tattered clothes. Those, again, who were engaged in any honourable occupation, were wont to keep their heads uncovered. Hence originated the proverbial expression, γυμνή χεφαγή, with naked head, applied to those who did anything openly and without shame. Now, as nothing is more noble than religion, they thought that its services should be observed with bare or uncovered head. At a subsequent period, however, when the Greeks, in considerable numbers, had abandoned idolatry, and gone over to the Christian faith, they appeared to have departed from the practice of laying bare the head, either in imitation of the Jews, or from an aversion to the ancient custom. From this change in their outward services, some of the their Greek neighbors might apt to fancy that they treated the Deity with profane contempt, in consequence of their abstaining from every expression of reverence in their new religious observances. Paul, therefore, exhorts that in praying or prophesying, they should attend to the proprieties of manner which were customary among the Gentiles, and that, after becoming Christians, they should not hold out [88] to strangers the appearance of being more ashamed of their new religion than they had been of their former idolatrous services. Such is the view given by Altinguis.

    To this observation may be added one by Ludovicus Capellus. Both among the Greeks and Romans, says he, all respectable persons appeared in public without any covering on their heads, and were not accustomed to cover the head except when the were compelled by mourning, by disease, of by any necessary cause, or when broken down by effeminate softness. Paul, therefore, did not wish the Corinthians to attend religious services with the head covered, according to the custom of superstitious or idolatrous persons. Such a practice would argue a perverted, and certainly uncalled for ambition to follow the Jewish customs, or would betray δεισιδαιμονίαή, an unhappy and slavish dread of the Deity, and not that open freedom and boldness which Christians should cultivate and profess toward God. Or, in fine, he would give no countenance to an approximation, in Christian assemblies, to the effeminacy of some persons of that age, who gave out that they were unable to endure any severity of weather.

    It must not be supposed that the same rule, which he had given to the Corinthians from a regard to their customs, would have been invariably given to Jews dwelling in their own country, or to Egyptians, or Arabians, who followed a different custom. The usages of civil life are endlessly varied by place and time. Consequently what, at one place and time, [89] is sufficiently becoming, would be, at another place and time, highly unbecoming. Yet the Apostolic rule has been in force, since that time, among almost all Christians. Is it because keeping the head uncovered is universally regarded by them as a token of reverence? I hardly think so. It has spread widely in the north, through the nations of France and Germany. But among the Jews, the Greeks, ancient Italy, and the whole of the east, the custom is wholly unknown. It appears, therefore, to belong to the liberty of the New Testament. With uncovered head, says Tertullian, because we are not ashamed. . . [90]


  37. @Terry

    Well said re: assertions concerning clarity. Whenever someone uses the term “clearly,” I take it as an admission of error. If something is actually clear, then it should be easy enough to demonstrate it.


  38. TG: “I’ve observed over the years that the number of times someone says something is the clear teaching of scripture is inversely proportional to its actual clarity. An assertion of clarity is no real argument.”

    Terry, if we’re throwing sweeping one liners around,”I”ve observed that people who say a position is unclear don’t like the position.” Isn’t this a fun way to dialogue?

    Bobby: “Whenever someone uses the term “clearly,” I take it as an admission of error.”

    Then I trust you have empirically tested gravity and putting your hands on hot stove, since you deem it as an admission of error “whenever” clarity is asserted.

    But the burden’s on you folks to argue that a belief and practice of two millenia is in error. Clearly.


  39. Cue Erik Charter’s trackback and monday morning QBing of us who actually have skin the game.

    Thanks MG.


  40. Terry, what is unclear about Paul? “An elder must be blameless, faithful to his wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient.” Titus 1:6

    Or was Paul advocating same-sex marriage?


  41. Geoff, I hear you but look at it this way. Psalm singing is in the confession. And it’s part of worship. If we start to fudge with how we think about what’s acceptable in worship, do we get in the business of lowering the threshold for blasphemy and idolatry? I think we do. I can’t say now that non-inspired songs are idolatrous. But I can see how the movement away from Psalm singing has fostered praise songs and all the kitsch that goes with it.


  42. “all the kitsch that goes with it.”

    interesting word, kitsch = appeals to lowbrow taste = suitable for a person with little taste or intellectual interest

    sounds a bit like Luke 18:11?


  43. Scott, which is not easily harmonized with the Bible. Quoth DVD on Calvin:

    Calvin’s convictions on this subject [civil disobedience] were, on the whole, strikingly conservative. In an extended series of discussions toward the close of the Institutes, he hailed the honor and reverence due to magistrates as a consequence of their appointment by God [ICR 4.20.22-29]. Calvin exhorts Christians that they must “with ready minds prove our obedience to them, whether in complying with edicts, or in paying tribute, or in undertaking public offices and burdens, which relate to the common defense, or in executing any other orders.” [ICR 4.20.23]. He goes on to make clear that this applies to bad rulers as well as good: “But if we have respect to the Word of God, it will lead us farther, and make us subject not only to the authority of those princes who honestly and faithfully perform their duty toward us, but all princes, by whatever means they have so become, although there is nothing they less perform than the duty of princes.” [ICR 4.20.25]. “The only thing remaining for you,” Calvin adds shortly thereafter, “will be to receive their commands, and be obedient to their words.” [ICR 4.20.26].

    VanDrunen goers on to point out that Calvin, when elucidating on the topic of civil disobedience and resistance qualifies his words by saying, “I speak only of private men.” VanDrunen then goes on to show how Calvin made some interesting stipulations about the less private and more extraordinary men known as lesser magistrates, typically the doctrine invoked to justify rebelling against a magistrate who says some people can’t sit at lunch counters or on certain sides of buses. Not only may “lesser magistrates curb tyrants,” but “only magistrates who have already been appointed for such a task.”

    Is “actively disobeying or advocating disobedience to authorities when those authorities crossed their natural or divinely authorized limits” just code for “when he does stuff I don’t really like”? As you have pointed out before, Paul’s magistrate was Nero and hardly one who could be said to abide natural or divinely authorized limits (unless using believers to light up his garden at night falls safely within those parameters). And yet, what is the biblical counsel? Submit and obey. Not one word in the opposite direction.


  44. Geoff, as I asked before, if male ordination is a gospel issue then does that put Rome (both staunchly male and gospel anathematizing) one step closer to true? Why not be content with what is confessed as the three marks and not try to add other marks? Why not distinguish between seriously misguided communions and false? Scripture may be more direct on the latter, but it’s hard to see how doxology doesn’t trump ordination when determining orthodoxy.


  45. Terry, if you’re not a defender of women’s ordination then how do you remain in the CRC? Perhaps it’s as a non-officer (which would seem to be a capacity that would demand it’s affirmation and defense)?


  46. Zrim
    Posted April 19, 2015 at 2:52 pm | Permalink
    Scott, which is not easily harmonized with the Bible. Quoth DVD on Calvin:

    Is “actively disobeying or advocating disobedience to authorities when those authorities crossed their natural or divinely authorized limits” just code for “when he does stuff I don’t really like”?

    “In March 1562, a Calvinist congregation at Vassy, France, was massacred by Catholic extremists under the leadership of the Duke of Guise. When the Duke was praised rather than admonished by the monarchy, even more Huguenots took up arms. The Presbyterian church structure was used to organize the formation of armed groups, under the supervision of Calvin’s successor, Theodore Beza. Despite some initial successes, the Huguenots lost the ensuing civil war, settling for a peace which allowed Calvinist worship only in the religion’s historic regions. Despite having previously opposed resistance in France, Calvin denounced the compromisers who accepted the peace terms.


  47. As I’ve said before, ‘sing ’em (non-canonical/non-confessional) hymns and in 20 years time, you’ll be ordainin’ gays and you won’t know how you got there or what hit ya’.


  48. @ DGH:

    You seem to rest on the parallel structure of the argument. But the quality of the evidence matters as well.

    * In the case of female ordination, there are two clear passages against, and none that provide any possible exceptions. So arguments in favor of female ordination must begin with speculation concerning historical context of 1 Tim or with loose argumentation from “In Christ there is neither male nor female…”

    The textual case against female ordination is accordingly strong, so that an argument for female ordination is more likely to be an argument against the authority of Scripture.

    * In the case of hymn-singing, there are no clear passages against, and three that are arguably in favor. So a hymn-singer leads off with, “The regulative principle applies here, and Col 3 provides the ground.”

    In other words, whether the hymn-singer is correct or not, he is arguing *from* Scripture in a manner that upholds the authority of Scripture.


  49. Zrim: “Geoff, as I asked before, if male ordination is a gospel issue then does that put Rome (both staunchly male and gospel anathematizing) one step closer to true? Why not be content with what is confessed as the three marks and not try to add other marks? Why not distinguish between seriously misguided communions and false?”

    GW: We agree that male ordination does not guarantee gospel fidelity (your example of staunchly male Rome being a perfect case in point). That was not the point of my comment. Nor was I trying to add another “mark” to the three classic marks of a true church. (See my comment above where I acknowledge that our sovereign God may choose to bring some of His elect to faith through the Word preached by women.) What I was trying to say (and obviously I didn’t make myself very clear) is that because ordination to the sacred office is closely connected to the primary and most vital mark of the church (the faithful preaching of the Word) and visibly embodies the ministry of word and sacrament, it is, in that restricted sense, a “gospel issue.”

    I think your distinction between a “seriously misguided” communion and a “false” communion is both charitable and helpful. But I also think it can sometimes be difficult from our limited, pre-glory perspective, to determine whether a particular communion is true but “seriously misguided” or in fact “false.”


  50. @Jeff
    “…and none that provide any possible exceptions.”

    Don’t egalitarians argue that one of the elders named in the NT was a woman? Am I misremembering or is that a contested inference?


  51. TBR: “As I’ve said before, ‘sing ‘em (non-canonical/non-confessional) hymns and in 20 years time, you’ll be ordainin’ gays and you won’t know how you got there or what hit ya’.”

    GW: Slippery slope fallacy. Confessional Lutheran churches have been singing non-canonical hymns for centuries, and today confessional Lutheran denominations (like the LCMS) continue to adhere to Lutheran orthodoxy. Confessional Presbyterian churches like the OPC have been (for the most part) singing non-canonical but doctrinally-orthodox hymns for decades, and yet the OPC continues to be staunchly resistent to heresy and unbiblical cultural trends (like ordaining practicing, non-celibate gays). And if, in 20 years, such hymn-singing communions do in fact cave in to cultural pressures to ordain gays (God forbid!), I doubt future church historians will be able to attribute such a cave in to the practice of singing hymns.


  52. Geoff, thanks, but to be blunt the connection seems strained and is what I mean by adding other marks (perhaps not the best way to put it). I get that the what and the who have some connection, but it doesn’t seem to work to say to authorize the unauthorized is the same as distorting the message itself. MG calls it “a deviation from biblical requirements of office,” which seems sufficient. Going further is what doesn’t help the often difficult task of discerning the “seriously misguided” from the “false.” My worry is in lumping those who are straying but haven’t necessarily denied the gospel with those who have.

    After all, there is a difference between the Corinthian and Galatian churches, no?


  53. SDB,

    You’re thinking (I presume) of the contested gender of Junia as “an apostle” in Romans. There is also the cryptic designation of Phoebe as a “deacon” in Romans 16.


  54. That’s what I was thinking of. Thanks! I looked it up and ot seems that both her/his sex and status as an apostle are contested. At any rate, it isn’t clear.


  55. Darryl, thanks for the factoid. I’m genuinely curious as to whether Machen ever addressed the question.

    FWIW, I’ve never said the question of ordination to the offices of elder or minister was unclear. I do think the question of women deacons is significantly less clear. My recollection is that Warfield allowed for women deacons. (But, sadly, most in the OPC consider Warfield to be a less than clear thinker on certain issues.)

    Zrim, the CRC actually allows dissent on this issue and there are individuals, churches, and classes that dissent. The official position is something like “an equally compelling case using a Reformed hermeneutic can be made for both sides, so we will allow it, but not require it”.

    Darryl’s original question continues to be my question and why I’m not leaving in protest. There are central matters and there are peripheral matters. I don’t regard women’s ordination to be as central as the Reformed confession. It’s peripheral even as exclusive psalm singing and the days of Genesis are peripheral. There is no perfect church. And even where there might be denominations that are more pure, local manifestations of those denominations may be absent or less thang ideal in their peculiarities.

    While Dr. Clark may not agree with me in the particulars, I think his thesis in Recovering the Reformed Confession is fundamentally sound. We need to agree and enforce agreement on what we confess and allow differences on what we don’t confess. Most regard church order issues, especially in the particulars as opposed to the principles, to be secondary to the confession itself.


  56. Terry, I agree with you on the central and secondary point. But the CRC seems to be generally dovetailng with the RCA, and given that the RCA is now at the place of not allowing dissent, it seems to be only a matter of time for the CRC.


  57. Zrim, worrisome, I agree, but it remains to be seen. This sort of provision is not new in the CRC. I think there’s a provision in the church order that allows congregations to say that only men can vote at congregational meetings. Even the OPC allows women to have that kind of authority in the church.


  58. @ DGH: That seems to be the central concern as I hear it articulated.

    There’s something to Geoff’s point, by the way. I read 1 Tim as expressing federal headship. What is the point of mentioning that Eve sinned first? It is certainly not to say that women are somehow more likely to be deceived or to sin. It is rather to point out that, though Eve sinned first, sin came to man through Adam. He was the head.

    So male headship in churches is symbolic of Christ’s headship in the church.

    Is that a gospel issue? Tough call.


  59. C-dubs, and sacraments. And I repeat: why not a fourth doxological mark in the one tradition with something like the RPW?


  60. @CW – great that you are appreciative of the TGC! The reformation itself was about soteriology, was it not? Catholics would (rightly) claim that that the reformation messed up church order, but hopefully you’d agree that messing up church order was a small price to pay for reviving the doctrine of justification by faith? Paul certainly gave primacy to preaching and soteriology – Phil 1:18. Church order and worship are important….just not primary.


  61. Calvin disagrees, Rocky.

    “If it be inquired, then, by what things chiefly the Christian religion has a standing existence amongst us, and maintains its truth, it will be found that the following two not only occupy the principal place, but comprehend under them all the other parts, and consequently the whole substance of Christianity: that is, a knowledge, first, of the mode in which God is duly worshipped; and, secondly, of the source from which salvation is to be obtained.”


  62. “To return to the division which we formerly adopted. All our controversies concerning doctrine relate either to the legitimate worship of God, or to the ground of salvation. As to the former, unquestionably we do exhort men to worship God neither in a frigid nor a careless manner; and while we point out the mode, we neither lose sight of the end, nor omit anything which bears upon the point. We proclaim the glory of God in terms far loftier than it was wont to be proclaimed before, and we earnestly labor to make the perfections in which his glory shines better and better known. His benefits towards ourselves we extol as eloquently as we can, while we call upon others to reverence his majesty, render due homage to his greatness, feel due gratitude for his mercies, and unite in showing forth his praise. In this way there is infused into their hearts that solid confidence which afterwards gives birth to prayer; and in this way, too, each one is trained to genuine self-denial, so that his will being brought into obedience to God, he bids farewell to his own desires. In short, as God requires us to worship him in a spiritual manner, so we most zealously urge men to all the spiritual sacrifices which he recommends.”


  63. Geoff Willour, are you a Lutheran?

    I have a feeling you don’t understand how Lutherans/Catholicism/Anglican work. Their cultures are much more different from Presbyterian cultures.

    Until you understand that I am NOT making a slippery slope argument…you won’t understand the point I’m making.

    Have a nice day.


  64. @CW, sincere question here. I’m not clear on what Calvin’s phrase “of the mode in which God is duly worshipped” means. What is a “mode” or the “mode”?

    Comment: in the link you cited, Calvin’s next sentence seems to contradict your point, as he says “AFTER these come the sacraments and the government of the church” making matters of church structure (ie, government, or women being ordained), a secondary matter. How would you read that?


  65. If it be inquired, then, by what things chiefly the Christian religion has a standing existence amongst us, and maintains its truth, it will be found that the following two not only occupy the principal place, but comprehend under them all the other parts, and consequently the whole substance of Christianity: that is, a knowledge, first, of **the mode in which God is duly worshipped;** and, secondly, of the source from which salvation is to be obtained.

    – the second sentence of Calvin’s The Necessity of Reforming the Faith


  66. More from CW’s amen corner.

    Moreover, the rule which distinguishes between pure and vitiated worship is of universal application, in order that we may not adopt any device which seems fit to ourselves, but look to the injunctions of him who alone is entitled to prescribe. Therefore, if we would have him to approve our worship, this rule, which he everywhere enforces with the utmost strictness, must be carefully observed. For there is a twofold reason why the Lord, in condemning and prohibiting all fictitious worship, requires us to give obedience only to his own voice. First, it tends greatly to establish his authority that we do not follow our own pleasure, but depend entirely on his sovereignty; and, secondly, such is our folly, that when we are left at liberty, all we are able to do is to go astray. And then when once we have turned aside from the right path, there is no end to our wanderings, until we get buried under a multitude of superstitions. Justly, therefore, does the Lord, in order to assert his full right of dominion, strictly enjoin what he wishes us to do, and at once reject all human devices which are at variance with his command. Justly, too, does he, in express terms, define our limits, that we may not, by fabricating perverse modes of worship, provoke his anger against us.

    This is what he means by “mode.” Read it yourself:


  67. Pete, I simply offered the quote to support Zrim’s idea about doxology being the fourth mark of the church. I don’t read French or Latin, not learned enough to exegete Calvin here re: “mode” or what other things he might have said about church government vis-a-vis priority.


  68. “I have a feeling you don’t understand how Lutherans/Catholicism/Anglican work. Their cultures are much more different from Presbyterian cultures.” Wow: Catholics, Lutherans, and Anglicans together. Presbyterians apart. (But wht about the Baptists? How does their culture work? Are they “much more different” too?


  69. Wilbur, that’s the rip-roaringest joke we’ve heard since Falwell’s “Ellen Degenerate.” It was so funny we’ll give you a special dispensation: you don’t have to tell another joke. No, please, accept our gift.


  70. Muddy, didn’t realize you (or anyone here) is an Ellen fan. Neither mine nor Falwell’s line was a joke, though mine IS funny.


  71. “CW: Calvin spoke of worship being as important as soteriology.”

    The Word of God emphasizes the theme of worship hundreds and hundreds of times. Simply put, God saved us so that we might truly and acceptably worship Him. Worship means to give homage, honor, reverence, respect, adoration, praise, or glory to God. Acceptable, true, spiritual worship is offered on the basis of God’s transforming work in Christ. Worship is not an addendum to life, it is at life’s core. You see, the people who worship God acceptably enter into eternal life, but the people who do not worship God acceptably enter into eternal death. Worship, then, becomes the core. Time and eternity are determined by the nature of a person’s worship.
    Of Exodus 30:34-38 you say, “Well, what’s the point?” The point is this: here was a fragrance designed to be only for God. When this incense rose to God’s nostrils, it was unique to Him. This is a beautiful picture of worship, showing that worship is to be a unique, separated, sanctified, holy act that arises out of a person’s heart to the very nostrils of God.
    Of John 12:1-3-as the fragrance rose from Mary’s ointment, it portrayed the essence of a worshipping heart. That’s what God is after.
    .(John Mac Arthur extracts)

    God is spirit and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth; presenting your bodies a living and holy sacrifice; for the kingdom of God is righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit and he who in this way serves Christ is acceptable to God; and show gratitude by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe John 4:24; Rom 12:1;14:17-18;Heb 12: 28


  72. watch out CW, I might send my Wailin’ Jennys ‘One Voice’ song, which would then irritate Andrew, and that would create some disunity


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