Wednesday, June 22, 2011

I Pledge Allegiance to . . . the Pastor?

As many IFB leaders continue to defend the actions of Chuck Phelps in the Tina Anderson rape case, I feel sickened by what I believe is a wide-spread problem in fundamentalism: an unbiblical, unquestioning allegiance to pastors and other religious leaders (e.g. college presidents, evangelists, missionaries). Let me first state that I am not on the attack against pastors and other church leaders. Though my husband is not a pastor, he does have a master of arts in Bible exposition, is a former college Bible professor, was a song leader for a retirement community congregation, and is now pursuing his masters of theology so that he can return to full-time ministry as either an assistant pastor or as a professor who will be training, among others, future pastors. I fully support my husband in his call to ministry. Additionally, I have great respect for my current pastor: he is a man of integrity who seeks to rightly divide the Word each week, as is the pastor of my "home" church in New Hampshire. 

As men who speak the unpopular truths of the Scriptures, pastors will naturally be met with opposition and possibly even disdain, from both inside and outside the church. When a pastor is being attacked on the op-ed page for stating that Christ is the only way of salvation or that premarital sex is outside God's design, the congregation most certainly should stand by him and even stand up for him. But what I'm concerned about is a far different thing. Let me cite a few examples I've come across recently. A Dallas-area pastor was arrested in May for allegedly raping a woman in West Virginia while he claimed to be at a pastors' conference. (News stations reported that this was actually the second such charge against the man. The first charge was in Texas.) A few days after his arrest, the pastor committed suicide in his jail cell. Thankfully, his assistant pastor, when interviewed by a Dallas news station, declared that he would not sweep anything under the rug, and I hope he holds to that. But, not everyone is willing to face the fact that the pastor they thought was a godly man was actually living a lie. A fellow preacher friend wrote an article praising the alleged rapist-pastor ad-nauseam as a devoted family man and faithful pastor, essentially ignoring the charges against him and instead referring to "mystery" surrounding his death.

Last week I listened to an audio-documentary referencing some of the more troubling doctrines of the late Dr. Jack Hyles. The producer played an audio clip of Hyles claiming his pastoral staff members were so loyal to him that they would jump off a bridge or drink poison had he told them to. Hyles praised this type of loyalty in all seriousness. Essentially, Hyles was presenting the rule—sometimes spoken, sometimes only implied—in fundamentalism that the pastor is not to be questioned. After all, he is "God's man," "God's anointed." 

These are extreme examples, yes, so I'll bring it closer to home. While teaching at Pensacola Christian College, I had occasion to hear many guest preachers in chapel. During lunch after hearing one guest preacher, a colleague had difficulty with something the speaker had said, but I could tell she was afraid to question him. I can't remember her actual words, but if I can paraphrase what she was saying and what she left unsaid, it would go like this: "He's a pastor, so he must know more about the Bible than I do; therefore, he's right and I'm wrong." No need to research it for herself: a pastor said it, that settles it.

No, no, no, no! I believe the Bible clearly demonstrates that pastors are not to be followed ignorantly. For instance, even the apostle Peter was rebuked by Paul on a doctrinal issue (See Gal. 2). If an apostle can err, cannot pastors of today? I suppose Paul could have taken the approach that Peter is God's man, one who learned from Christ himself. Like many of today's congregants, he could have thought, "Oh, Peter must know better than I" and left Peter unchecked, but he did not and could not.

Consider the New Testament warnings against false teachers. I'll just give one example from the many found in the epistles. Jude wrote, "For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ" (verse 4 ESV). Notice the words "crept in unnoticed." It sure would be nice if we could spot a false teacher or a pastor who's living in sin by his appearance alone, but we can't. Appearances are deceiving. How were Jude's readers to recognize a false teacher then? They were to compare his teachings to the true gospel. No blind acceptance of what the preacher said here. Jude's readers, like us, were to wear their proverbial thinking caps, filtering all they heard through the truth of God's Word. In the case of pastors who stand accused of sex crimes, abuse of children, tax evasion, and so on, we must be willing to investigate rather than take the pastor's version of events or claims that he is merely suffering persecution. A pastor who does not welcome such investigation is to be feared, for he is not allowing his congregation to heed the warnings of Scriptures such as Jude 4.

Encourage your pastor, thank him for his hard work, follow him to the extent he follows Christ (I Cor. 11:1); but remember, the only true and infallible head of the Church is Christ (Col. 1:18).

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A Few Thoughts on Jack Schaap and the Role of Women

I've read books on women's place in the Church and wondered why the authors spent so much time emphasizing the value of women. I had assumed that every Christian who was not a feminist was a complementarian (one who believes that men and women have different yet equally valuable complementary roles in the home and the Church). Except for a few very old men maybe, Christian misogynists had died out. Then, I heard Jack Schaap's defense of his own comments aired on ABC's 20/20.

Don't get me wrong: though I am an educated, highly opinionated, professional woman, I am not a feminist. I prefer to think of myself as a femininist (note the extra syllable!), a term I learned from my political science professor in college. (A femininist is one who accepts and delights in her unique God-given role as a woman.) That said, I'd like to share a few thoughts about why I believe Schaap is dead wrong.

First, Schaap's statement, "I'm glad I'm a man," in its context devalues women. He is essentially saying, "I'm glad I'm not a woman." He is implying that to be a woman is to be insignificant, to be inferior. But the role of helper, wife, mother is never viewed as inferior or insignificant in the Bible. God knew that for Adam to remain alone was not good. So what did He create? A woman to be Adam's ezer (helper). Yes, the Bible commands women to submit to their husbands and forbids them offices in the Church, but does it present them as inferior? No!

Very interesting to consider is Jesus' relationship to women during His earthly ministry. Women traveled in His company of disciples; wealthy women contributed financially to His ministry; women were healed by Jesus and had their dead raised to life. Women were even encouraged to sit at His feet to hear His teaching, and it was to women that Jesus first revealed Himself after His resurrection. Women are valuable to Jesus.

Secondly, Schaap's statement about it being a cold day in hell before he would get his theology from a woman implies that women are Scripturally forbidden to make theological contributions. Again, women are forbidden to be pastors or elders, and they are commanded by Paul in a discussion on tongues to keep silent in church and elsewhere to ask their husbands their theological questions at home rather than voicing them in church. However, these prohibitions do not mean women can have no theological input. Several examples of theologically-minded women are featured in Scripture.

Perhaps Schaap's comment that "Not one woman wrote the Scriptures" could be more accurately stated, "Not one woman penned the Scriptures." Case in point: Mary's Magnificat. Here was a girl who knew her theology, and God saw fit to record her beautiful prayer in His Word. (See Luke 1.) And what about "Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart" (Luke 2:19 ESV)? How did Luke know what was in Mary's heart? Supernatural revelation? Nope! Luke must have talked with her about the birth of Jesus and the visit from the wise men and used the interviews with her as a source for his narrative (See Luke 1:1-3).

Then there's Mary and Martha. Of course, Mary usually gets the credit for sitting at Jesus' feet; but it's Martha from whom many a man would have been wise to seek some theological advice. At the tomb of her brother, Martha made the most important of all theological assertions: "I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God" (John 11: 27 ESV). This is really astounding. Just sit and think about what she has declared.

Moving on to the book of Acts, we meet Priscilla who along with her husband "took [Apollos] and explained to him the way of God more accurately" (Acts 18:26 ESV). What about the young pastor named Timothy? Whom did he learn his theology from? None other than his mother and grandmother! Women can make theological contributions.

I'm concerned about how Schaap's teaching on women and theology will affect the future pastors and pastors' wives (students of Hyles-Anderson College) sitting under his preaching. As the wife of a former college Bible teacher seeking further theological training, I believe a wife's theological equipping to be very important. For one thing, I wouldn't understand a thing of what Nathan is learning if I didn't try to grow beyond the basics of theology. We would inevitably grow apart as Nathan learns more and more. The future pastors' wives in Schaap's church are at a disadvantage in their ability to relate to their husbands.

Author and wife of a former seminary president, Carolyn Custis James, relates an interesting story in her book When Life and Beliefs Collide. A young man asked James if his fiancee's lack of interest in theology would be a hindrance in their marriage. James told him that most certainly it would be, for men in ministry most often turn to their wives for support. If the wife has no theology from which to draw when her husband needs her counsel, that man is harmed.

The wife of a Dallas Seminary professor recently shared with student wives how her husband needed her help in his ministry. While he was in seminary, he had so much required reading for his classes that he never had time to read books on his professors' "suggested" bibliographies. So, he asked her to read some of the books and give him feedback. She realized that she could make a valuable contribution to his studies. They continue the practice today. In addition to teaching at the seminary, her husband also serves on a church pastoral staff: he's busy. Knowing he'd need to discuss Rob Bell's new book Love Wins in one of his classes but lacking the time to read it, the honor fell to his wife to read it for him and give him an assessment. I think it's unfortunate that couples heeding Schaap's advice could not have such a helpful and intellectually stimulating arrangement in their own marriages and ministries.

In conclusion, most of my blog posts concern error being taught or espoused in the Church. This post is certainly no exception. I don't know Jack Schaap, have never been to his church, and have never heard one of his sermons in entirety. But when I hear so much error in a three-minute clip, it's hard for me to keep quiet. My blog doesn't have much of a following, so I know it won't have any impact, but as a woman who loves theology, at least I've had fun writing it.

Friday, February 18, 2011

"Don't Push Me!"

Being a sociable girl, when Ashley saw two boys at the Chick-fil-A play area, she walked right up to them. The younger of the two brothers, a 24-month old probably, promptly pushed her. From my perch on the mommy bench, I observed her surprise and sadness. Clearly, she wasn't expecting that kind of reception. The aggressor pushed again, and again Ash looked dazed.

The attack not being particularly violent, I stayed put but called, "Ashley, say, 'Don't push me,'" imitating the firm yet in-control tone I wanted her to use. Too timid to comply, she walked off to play.

I was floored when at dinner tonight, Ashley said, "I didn't say 'Don't push me' to the boy at Chick-fil-A because it's not sweet." My two year old had articulated a serious problem that has existed for centuries. Whether the notion of perpetual female sweetness is the result of conditioning or is a product of (fallen) feminine nature, I don't know; but I believe it is one cause of teen girls (and grown women) tolerating mistreatment and abuse. (The statistics on teens in abusive dating relationships is staggering.) Certainly, telling a sexually aggressive boyfriend to "get your hands off me" isn't sweet, nor is dumping a guy who calls you fat; and it definitely isn't "sweet" to call the police on your abusive husband.

I want my daughters to be sweet, or, more specifically, compassionate, friendly, gracious and graceful, forgiving, and tender-hearted. But there are situations in which "sweetness" is inappropriate. When I told Ashley to say "Don't push me!", I was teaching her that the boy had treated her in a way inconsistent with her dignity and that it is appropriate, necessary even, to assert herself when boundaries of decency are crossed. I'm convinced that this lesson must begin early. Waiting till your daughter's heading out the door on her first date is too late. For all you know, she's already observed inappropriate behavior in this guy but thinks it wouldn't be "sweet" to judge him for his defiance of female teachers or his snickering every time the pudgy girl with acne walks by.

Ashley's education in self-respect and proper assertiveness began today: she's far too precious to put it off.