Thursday, August 21, 2014

Women Deacons: Defining the Terms

Several months back a good friend of mine and I got in a discussion about women deacons. This lead to research and study on my part. I am going to blog on this topic here and there over the next few weeks. 

One of my pet peeves is people who write on a subject, but never really define what they are talking about, especially if the subject is controversial. I am sure I have been guilty of this in my writing. Insisting on precise definitions can seem tedious, especially in an age dominated by short blog posts. However, it is kind to the readers for a writer to give a clear definition of what he is talking about. I am about to embark on a series of blog posts exploring the issue of women deacons/deaconesses. Before I start I wanted to note what someone can mean when they say women deacons/deaconesses.  Here are the options when it comes to women deacons and deaconesses. If you can think of other options put them in the comments. By the way, I use the term office throughout this post to refer to both ordained and unordained positions within the church.

Summary of the Options
1. Ordained deacons, some male and some female, but with all having equal status and function.
2. Non-ordained deacons, some male and some female, but with all having equal status and function.
3. Male and female deacons with equal status, but different functions.
4. Ordained deacons with an office of deaconess, ordained or not ordained, under the authority of the deacons.
5. Non-ordained deacons with a non-ordained office of deaconess under their authority.
6. There is no office of deaconess/woman deacon at all.

Explanation of the Options
Option 1: All deacons are ordained. Women deacons can do everything a male deacon can do. Both men and women deacons have the same status, role, and function. There are not male and female deacons. There are just deacons. If there was a head deacon a woman could fill that role.

Option 2: The exact same as #1, except the deacons are not ordained.

Option 3: There are male and female deacons with equal status, but distinct roles and functions within the church.  These could be ordained or not ordained. I have not heard anyone endorsing this particular position, though it is possible.

Option 4: There are ordained men deacons. There is a separate office of deaconess (or even women deacons). These women could be ordained or not ordained, but either way they serve under the authority of the deacons. Deaconess is not equivalent to deacon in either status, role, or function, though is some overlap between the two offices. There are several possible ways for widows and deaconesses to relate under this position: 1) Deaconess and widow could be the same office, 2) Widows could be part of the deaconesses, but other women are included as well, 3) Widows and deaconesses could be distinct offices in the church, 4) Widow is not an office, but deaconess is.

Option 5: This is the same as option 4, except neither group is ordained. I have not heard this particular position put forth by anyone though it is possible. Usually a two office view, deacons and deaconesses, has either both ordained or ordained deacons only.

Option 6: There is no office of deaconess in the church. There are a couple of options here. One could say that widows, not deaconesses, are the only proper biblical office for women. This would be basically option 4.1 above but instead of calling them deaconesses they would be called widows. Or it is possible to say there are no officially recognized offices for women in the church.

Thoughts on the Options
For all practical purposes #1 and #2 are the same: one office with both genders included. Most people I have read who are advocating "women deacons" are advocating one of these options. They just are not as clear about it as they should be.

Those who hold to #1 or #2 should jettison the phrase "women deacons" and "men deacons." They should just have deacons. If the men and women have the same status, role, and function then they are equals. The whole point of 1 and 2 is that whether they are male or female is irrelevant to the tasks they can perform.

For all practical purposes #4 and #5 are the same: two distinct offices divided by gender. This group could have the office of "woman deacon" and not mean what #1 and #2 mean.

Option 3 is a bit of a wild card. I have not heard this exact position put forth.  It is an awkward position because it gives equal status, but not equal function. It would be like those who hold to a two office view (elders and deacons) saying that ruling elders could not preach while teaching elders can. I think some who are officially #1 or #2 function like #3. However, if a church has things women deacons cannot do, but men deacons can then they are not equal. For example, if a church has deacons that are men and women, but female deacons cannot visit a sick man in the hospital or cannot serve communion, but a male deacon can then they are not equal, at least not in function. My question would be, "Why give equal status, but not equal function?" That seems to be a contradiction. I am not saying deacons who are women must do everything men do in this type of a system. But if they are equal in status then they should be able to do everything men do. Otherwise you need two offices, not one.

Option 6 has the difficult task of explaining why throughout much of church history, including in Reformed churches, there have been offices for women.

Finally, it is odd to me that so much ink is spilled on I Timothy 3:11 and Romans 16:1, but so little ink is spilled on I Timothy 5:9-16.  Why is there not more discussion of whether or not the widow passage in I Timothy 5 should inform the office of deaconess/women deacons and if so how?

When discussing deacons, women deacons, and deaconesses, function (what they can do) and status (their office), both need to be considered, not just exegetical and historical data. A writer needs to be clear on what office is being given and what the functions of that office will be.

After posting this I thought of one more option: the reverse of #3, where there is not equal status, but there is equal function. Many of the same arguments brought to bear against #3 would be brought to bear against this position as well. Why allow women deacons/deaconesses to do everything men can do, but not give them equal status? Again this seems to be contradiction. 

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Women Deacons and Equivocation

Equivocation is the misleading use of a term with more than one meaning or sense (by glossing over which meaning is intended at a particular time). (Wikipedia)

Recently J.A. Medders, a lead pastor at an Acts29 church, wrote a post on why his church has women deacons. There are exegetical and historical problems with his post. Here I am only going to address the way Pastor Medders uses church history. I will address the exegetical issues in later blog posts. By the way, I am not saying this equivocation by Pastor Medders was on purpose. I do not think he was trying to deceive people.

Pastor Medders says
When we are uncertain what the Bible teaches, not because of the Bible, but because of us—we should consider Church History. Historical theology shows us what the Body of Christ before us has done. This practice may not always lead us in the right direction, but it may help us see more clearly. We should always hold exegesis and texts in our hands, and Church History as a voice in the background. For me, the historical evidence here[in favor of women deacons] is overwhelming
There is wisdom in what Pastor Medders says. Church history can teach us a lot. However, it is easy to get sloppy with our history, especially when we are trying to summarize 2,000 years in less than a thousand words.

Does Deaconess Equal Woman Deacon?
The problem with his history lesson is that none of the quotes from church history use the phrase "woman deacon." All of them say deaconess. This may seem like a petty argument. Don't they mean the same thing?  Perhaps. But this must be proven not asserted. Even if all those quotes used "woman deacon" he must prove they mean the same thing he does.  To assume that similar words have the same meaning from Pliny to Calvin to Spurgeon to Pastor Medders is dangerous. To assert that every time someone used the word "deaconess" in the past they meant what Pastor Medders means in the present weakens significantly his historical argument. He does this while never really defining what he means by the phrase "woman deacon." I am pretty sure I know what he means, but his failure to clarify his position makes it hard to compare his position with the ones from the past.

Brian Schwertly sums this up nicely. While he is only speaking of the patristic age, his point could be expanded to other periods of church history as well.
The study of deaconesses in the patristic age is liable to different interpretations. Some writers (who favor deaconesses in the same office as male deacons) base their argument on the word deaconess without a careful analysis of its meaning or intent. These writers argue that the early church had deaconesses, and so should we. But they are arguing by equivocation. What modern women-deacon advocates are advocating is not women deacons who serve in a separate office from men deacons, who have different qualifications that are based on 1 Timothy 5:9ff. They are advocating something totally foreign to the early church. They believe women deacons would have the same qualifications and serve in the same office as male deacons. They are comparing apples to oranges. They do not bother to carefully examine the character, qualifications and duties of the office of deaconess in the ante-Nicene age but simply rest their case on the name deaconess. They presuppose that their modern conception of a deaconess is the same as the church fathers and councils, despite evidence to the contrary. [Emphasis Mine]

Additional Historical Notes
Here are few more notes from this book that clarify the history of the office of deaconess/woman deacon. The office of deaconess was often built upon I Timothy 5:9 not 3:11. That is why the earliest deaconesses were widows over the age of 60. That age was eventually lowered to 50 and then finally to 40. Some saw I Timothy 3:11 as referring to the same group at I Timothy 5:9. Deaconesses were under the authority of the deacons. Deaconesses ministered primarily to women. They did not minister to men except perhaps in a hospital setting. Deaconesses did baptize women in the early church, but that was because female converts were baptized naked. At some point deaconesses did start getting ordained. But this practice was not part of the earliest records, did not make them equivalent to deacons, and was abandoned at various stages of church history. As one might expect with an office only vaguely described in Scripture, there is quite a bit of variation in both the existence, status, and function of deaconesses throughout church history. To say otherwise is equivocation.

Deacons were part of the ruling class of early church right underneath bishops and priests. Even with this office there was of course variation. They read Scripture, administered the Lord's Supper, preached in some cases, determined who got financial aid, and were ordained clergy. The office of deacon in the early church was built on Acts 6:1-6.  Here is a quote from The Constitution of the Holy Apostles, which indicates some of the authority deacons had. "If any brother, man or woman, come in from another parish, bringing recommendatory letters, let the deacon be the judge of that affair, inquiring whether they be of the faithful, and of the Church? whether they be not defiled by heresy?" In this document, deacons determined whether or a not person could transfer to their parish. It appears from the last phrase that they examined the transfer's orthodoxy. 

We can debate whether or not the deacons should have had this authority, but the point is that historically they did. Church history has examples of deaconesses who had specific tasks and roles in the life of the local body and in the Church at large. But no matter how many times the word deaconess is quoted, church history is not littered with women deacons who had the same status, role, and function as men deacons.  

Note: A few updates were made at 2:45 pm on August 15th. 

Monday, August 11, 2014

Book Review: Deaconesses

Deaconesses: An Historical StudyDeaconesses: An Historical Study by Aime G. Martimort
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

One of the most meticulous works of scholarship I have seen. The subject is narrow and the research is thorough. Martimort examines the office of deaconess from the post-apostolic era to the late middle ages. A majority of the work is devoted to the early church through the tenth century. The reason for this is that the office had disappeared by the Middle Ages due to the rise of nuns and other factors. He is Roman Catholic, but he examines the history of the deaconess in both Western/Latin and Eastern/Greek church. He looks at texts which mention deaconesses, including sermons, manuals, and liturgical documents. He also looks at inscriptions, which mention deaconesses. Like a previous reader I dropped one star because a later chapter has too much untranslated Latin.

He is careful not to overstate his case, but several things are clear from his study. There is no definitive office of deaconess in the history of the Church. The office was absent at points, at some points they were right under a deacon, and at other points they were pretty far down the list of non-ordained ministers in the church. The role of deaconess was almost always restricted to ministering to females. The exception is when they were ministering to the sick, but even then it was usually restricted to females. Deaconesses were in certain situations equivalent to an Abbess in a convent. They were allowed to perform certain liturgical functions in the convent, but only when a priest or deacon was not available and only to women. They did perform baptisms of women at some points because adult women were baptized naked. However, there are several baptismal documents that make no mention of a deaconess, yet do mention women being baptized naked. In other words, deaconesses were not necessary to baptize women, nor were they standard.

They were not equivalent to deacons. They were not ordained in the same manner (when they were ordained), they were not given the same role as deacons, they did not play a role in the Lord's Supper, they of course, did not teach, which deacons often did, and their presence in the history of the church is inconsistent, while the presence of deacons is prevalent. From the early church onward the office of deacon is there and mentioned over and over. This is not the case with a deaconess.

The office of widow is the only office mentioned for women in the 1st and 2nd century and continues to be the dominant office for women through the first several centuries of the history the church. Virgins eventually come in, though it is worth noting that in one place widows are called "virgins" by a church father. That is, they were spiritual virgins who were now espoused to Christ.

On a historical note, Martimort notes that many later liturgical manuals retained the liturgical order for ordaining deaconesses, but they did not actually have deaconesses in practice.The copyists simply copied what the earlier manuscripts had written down. This is interesting because it shows that just because an office or liturgical practice can be found in a document does not mean it was actually used in real life. I think this is important in many areas, not just this subject of deaconesses.

The one thing I wish he had done was more comparison between what the deaconesses did and what deacons did. He covers it in some places, but I wish that had been more thorough.

All in all, a very interesting and excellent study. It is not an easy read for a Protestant. The writing is not exciting and at times he is tedious. Martimort speaks in Roman Catholic terms, which makes it difficult at times to understand everything he means. However, any attempt to formulate a doctrine of deaconess grounded in church history must give heed to this book. Now we need a thorough study for Protestants from the 1300's to the present.

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Friday, August 8, 2014

Dress, Manners, and the Created Order

Stephen Clark's book Man and Woman in Christ has been an excellent read. Near the end of the book he summarizes his conclusions from his study. One point is that Christians should use cultural expressions to express the role differences between men and women. Most societies throughout history, including Western society, have had ways of distinguishing between men and women and their roles. This was done in many ways, but primarily through different modes of dress and manners. Manners here would include what was done and said between men and women. An example my wife just read me was how in the Civil War South women did not discuss their pregnancies in front of men. When they became visibly pregnant they stopped going out into society as well. Whatever we think of the practice, it was a way of women distinguishing themselves from men.

In our society there has been a breakdown of differences between men and women. (That sentence is like saying the Titanic was a ship that sunk.) There are now coed bathrooms on many colleges, as well as coed dorm rooms. There are women firefighters, policemen, boxers, wrestlers, soldiers, pastors, and football players. Add to this the sexual confusion seen in sodomy, lesbianism, bisexuals, transgender, divorce, and abortion and we see a society that has lost any vision of the distinct, God-ordained differences between men and women. Therefore it is not a surprise that we have tossed aside cultural expressions of those differences. I want to briefly explore how we have done this in dress and manners.

Clothing for men and women has become more uniform. Can you imagine a store with male and female employees requiring their female employees to wear skirts? That thought experiment is enough to show how far we have come. Many movies depict women in pants and military style tank tops just like men wear. Men wear skinny jeans,which are basically yoga pants with buttons. There are clothes that are more feminine or more masculine. But our culture does not demand or expect that. For example, a girl could wear a nice dress to school, but she should just as easily wear a tank top, jeans, and tennis shoes. Her hair could be long or short. Feminine dress has become an individual expression instead of a cultural expectation and norm. Many women dress a certain way, not because they are women, but because it is an expression of their personal desires. That is why a woman can wear a nice dress to church, but go work a man's job, dressed like a man the rest of the week.

But the loss of manners, which distinguish men from women, is more pronounced that the uniformity of dress. Men used to open doors for women, give their seats up for women, wait for women, speak with careful respect to women, avoid certain topics when speaking with women, not lay their hands on women, etc. Men used to be cautious about what they said in front of the ladies. Now we talk to them just like they are one of the guys. Men and woman playing each other in sports would have been unthinkable. Now it is normal. We have completed flattened out the differences between men and women. Do we have any normal, social manners where we distinguish men from women?

There is no Biblical command that says, "Open doors for ladies." However, it is a cultural expression of a Biblical truth: Women and men are different and are to be treated differently. We don't have to necessarily hang on to opening doors for women. Here is the crux though. We have jettisoned our fathers' cultural expressions of role differences without replacing them with new ones. Therefore we are left with little non-verbal language by which we say, "Men and women are different."

There are many people, including some Christians, who do not think there is much of a difference between men and women. They are happy that these walls have been broken down. These people are in rebellion against the created order.

But for those of us who still think men and women were created by God for distinct roles, then cultural expressions of these differences are necessary. Here I offer two suggestions. Dress in a way that says, "I am a man." Or "I am a woman." I am not saying women can't wear pants or jeans. Nor am I saying that men must wear camo. But make sure your dress fits your sex. There is a lot of freedom here. I am not encouraging a return to all women or men wearing the same thing. I am encouraging men and women to wear clothes that distinguish them from the other sex.

Second, we should bring back distinct ways of treating the opposite sex. The men are primarily responsible for this. We should open doors for the ladies, wait to sit until they are seated, not speak of certain things in front of them, smoke our cigars outside, run late night errands instead of sending our wives into the night, rise when they enter the room, protect our ladies physically and spiritually. In short, we should find ways of saying, "Men are different from women." Ladies should let men do this. I find that many ladies hate having a man give up his seat for them. Why? We don't have to do all of these, but for Christians who think men and women are different we need to work at creating a cultural language that defies the egalitarian ethic that dominates the world we live in. It is not enough to preach from the pulpit or write in books that men and women are different. We must embody that truth in our homes, churches, and communities.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Courtship in Geneva

This is the continuation of a series based on John Witte Jr and Robert Kingdon's book Sex, Marriage and Family in John Calvin's Geneva: Volume 1, Courtship, Engagement, and Marriage. At the end of the series I will draw some conclusions from the book. For now I am surveying each chapter with a few comments thrown in. If you hit the John Calvin label to the right you can find other posts from the book. 



Marriage was done differently 500 years ago than it is today. Today many, if not most marriages are arranged by the two parties with little consideration of what their parents or other adults might think of the proposed spouse. Often the path that leads to marriage is taken by the two parties alone. There is very little parental instruction to the young people on how to proceed. From the youngest years dating dominates our interaction with the opposite sex and usually our closest advisers are peers. This usually means that the choice of a marriage partner is driven by a fluttering heart or an excited body instead of reason, discretion, and prudence.

But it has not always been so.  In John Calvin's time romantic interaction with the opposite sex was supposed to be reserved for when a person could physically and financially marry. When a couple began to seriously consider marriage they were usually overseen by their parents or guardians. In the third chapter of Witte and Kingdon's book they explore this process of courtship in Geneva.

In Geneva, courtship did not take an exact shape. Calvin gave a few courtship rules such as no sexy dressing, unsupervised trips, overnight stays, dancing, "ribald letters," and premarital sex. But as to the exact way a courtship worked out there were no strict rules. The parents were involved. There had to be free consent of both parties. There parties were to be honest about their financial state. But the details of courtship were a matter of wisdom. "While the Bible said a great deal about the sins of fornication, it said little about the ethics of courtship." Since Scripture is largely silent on the specifics of courtship, so was Calvin. This is an important point for modern courtship advocates. I believe courtship is the model most rooted in Scriptural principles. There are general guidelines, which should govern courtship. However, the specifics should be left up to the parents, couple, and church. Those specifics will flex from family to family, community to community, and age to age. To say, "This is how courtship must be done" is to go further than Scripture.

While how a couple courted was left vague, who they courted was not. There were two issues. First, who could they legally and biblically marry. There were "conditions, experiences, or relationships past or present [that] disqualified [certain parties] from courtship and marriage." It was forbidden for certain people to marry certain other people and some cases people could not get married at all. This idea is explored at length in later chapters of the book.

Second, a potential spouse's moral, physical, and socio-economic status were to be evaluated.  Christians were expected to think through these factors before pursuing marriage. A potential spouse's moral character was most important when determining whether or not to marry. A person with moral failings, such as laziness, a bad reputation, or sexual immorality should not be pursued. Someone of a different class should not be pursued either. An educated man should not pursue an uneducated woman. A rich woman should not consent to marry a poor man. The elders at Geneva would not have necessarily forbidden such a marriage, but they would have strongly counselled against it. They felt marrying in the same class would give the couple the greatest chance of success. Reformers were especially wary of young men marrying rich widows. All of this backs up what Steven Ozment says about the Reformation approach to marriage.

While moral and class issues played a large role in courtship, Calvin did not ignore the physical side of it either.
Physical beauty was thus properly part of the natural calculus of courtship and marriage, Calvin believed. It was not 'wrong for women to look at men." Nor was it ' wrong for men to regard beauty in their choice of wives'...It was thus essential to Calvin that couples spend some time together before considering marriage...If there was no natural and mutual attraction, there was no use for a couple to go forward toward marriage. Accordingly, Calvin opposed the late medieval tradition of arranged or child marriages, sight unseen.
The authors conclude the chapter with this,
A strong pro-marriage ethic and culture was the new norm of Reformation Geneva...One key to a strong marriage, Calvin insisted, was picking the right mate-a person of ample piety, modesty, and virtue especially, of comparable social, economic, and educational status as well. A mate's physical beauty could play a part...but spiritual beauty was the salient issue.
There is one funny anecdote in the chapter. Calvin was a bachelor for quite some time. In fact, he had all but given up getting married when someone suggested an Anabaptist widow named Idellette, whom he eventually married. Calvin's good friend Farel wrote to him saying that she was an excellent wife, filled with all godly virtue and to his surprise she was pretty as well. Was Farel surprised that such a godly woman could be so pretty? Or was he surprised that a man like Calvin could land such a pretty woman? I am betting on the latter, but unfortunately we do not know.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Imitating Christ in John's Writings


Imitation is an important part of the Christian life.  We imitate those around us whether we want or not. No doubt this is part of the reason for Paul’s command to avoid bad company (I Cor. 15:33).  Paul also encourages his readers to imitate him as he imitates Christ (I Cor. 4:16, 11:1). Our entire Christian life is summed up as becoming a disciple and obeying everything Christ taught (Matthew 28:18-20).  Fundamentally this means looking to and like Jesus.

In John’s writing there is an emphasis on imitating Christ. This begins in John’s Gospel and carries through in his Epistles. Throughout this post I am going to focus on places where John uses the word “kathos,” which is usually translated “just as” or “as” in the English.  Here are the places where John focuses on imitation using the word "kathos." Each use of the word makes a comparison between us and Christ. 

Summary of "Kathos" in John’s Gospel
  • We are to serve one another just as Jesus served us (John 13:15).
  • We are to love one another just as Christ loved us (John 13:33, 15:12). 
  • We are not of this world, just as Jesus was not of this world (John 17:14, 16).
  • We are sent into the world, just as the Father sent the Son into the world (John 17:18). 
  • We are to be one, just as the Father and Son are one (John 17:11, 21-22).
  • We are to be one so the world will know that we are loved by the Father just as the Son is loved by the Father (John 17:23). 
What is most striking to me from this list is how we are sent into the world just as Jesus was sent into the world. Our mission is a similar mission to the mission of our Savior. He is gone, but his work continues through his Spirit empowered people. Do we view our mission as a continuation of the work of Christ? Many commentators note that when Luke wrote Acts he used language that linked up the work of the early church with the work of Christ.

Summary of "Kathos" in John’s Epistles
  • If we are to abide in the Father we must walk just as the Son did (I John 2:6). 
  • When we get to heaven we will see Christ just as he is and therefore we will be like him (I John 3:2). 
  • Those who look forward to seeing Christ purify themselves just as Christ is pure (I John 3:3).
  • The one lives a righteous life is righteous just as Jesus is righteous (I John 3:7)
  • We are not to be just as Cain was, a murderer (I John 3:12).
  • We are in this world just as He is in this world (I John 4:17). 
  • We are to walk in the truth just as the Father commanded us to (II John 1:4, III John 1:3). 
The two uses of “kathos” in 2nd and 3rd John are interesting. Both of these are connected with walking in the truth. II John 1:4 says that John was glad that some children were walking in the truth just as the Father commanded. In III John 1:3 he is glad because Gaius is in the truth, just as he is walking in the truth. While there is no specific mention of Jesus, John tells us that Jesus is the Truth (John 14:6) and the idea of  walking is associated with being like Christ (I John 2:6).  So I think we can say that John is glad that his children and Gaius are walking in the truth, just as Jesus walked in the truth.

John says we will be like Jesus when we get to Heaven and see him. But he also says that the one who does righteousness is just like Jesus right now. Here is the classic already/not yet paradigm. We are already like Jesus. We have been sent by the Father, we do righteousness, we purify ourselves, etc. But we are not yet like Jesus. We will not be truly like him until we see him face to face. The future hope of seeing Jesus helps conform our present lives to his image. 

Monday, August 4, 2014

Book Review: Parenting by God's Promises

Parenting by God's PromisesParenting by God's Promises by Joel R. Beeke
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A wonderful book on parenting. Pastor Beeke does a great job of keeping the central aspects of parenting before the reader. Prayer, God's Word, forgiveness, love, consistency and worship dominate the various chapters of the book. He balances nicely the objective aspects of the covenant with the subjective work of the Spirit in the heart of the child. He covers a wide range of topics, which adds depth to the book and makes it useful for parents at almost any stage of life. He talks about spanking, training a child to listen, teaching a child godliness, and sibling interaction. He closes with some chapters on teenagers, which were excellent. Throughout the book he is warm and pastoral without being so vague as to be ineffective. This is a book that I would recommend to any parent.

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Thursday, July 31, 2014

Genuine Submission

Here is a wonderful quote from Stephen Clark's book Man and Woman in Christ: 
Christians are often tempted by a selective submission [to God's Word]. Some scriptural teaching is very attractive to them, and they find in themselves an admiration and a willingness to submit to it. Modern Christians usually  find it easier to be enthusiastic about Christian teaching on God's fatherhood or about love of others. Some scriptural teaching, however, contradicts their desires. Some may even repulse them. To be sure, often the difficulty is genuine uncertainty about how to respond to some part of scripture. Often a person may know that the scripture is saying something on a given subject, but can be uncertain how to understand or apply what is said. Despite some uncertainties, for most Christians there remains much scriptural teaching that is sufficiently clear, or could become sufficiently clear with more investigation, but which they find themselves unwilling to submit to. The genuineness of submission is tested precisely at these points. They prove their submission is genuine, and not a mere pretense, when they submit to the Lord in something which is personally difficult and which may lose them the respect of the world around him. (Emphasis mine)

A Declaration of Insanity


It is odd that a book that is usually the cornerstone of a doctrine of sinless perfection begins with an extended section on the nature of sin, which removes any doubt that we are sinners. I just finished preaching I John 1:5-2:2. Here are some thoughts from this great passage.

God's character restricts who he fellowships with. God cannot have communion with darkness therefore we must be light (Ephesians 5:8) if we are to be in fellowship with God.

A man cannot be a Christian and live a life dominated by sin.

People can claim to be Christians and yet be lying. They are shown to be liars by their actions (walking in darkness) or by their theology (I am sinless). There is such a thing as a false profession.

When we have fellowship with God by walking in his ways we also have fellowship with other Christians. We cannot claim fellowship with God and live in bitterness and antagonism towards our fellow believers. Yet this does not mean that everyone who claims to be a Christian we must be in fellowship with. See point above.

A claim to be without sin is a declaration of insanity. Any man who believes this about himself is living in a fantasy land.

Few of us will say we are sinless. However, many of us function as if we are not sinners. When we are confronted with our sin our mouths drop open and we say, "Impossible!" So while theologically we may not claim to be sinless, practically we live as if we are.

The truth and God's Word are equivalent (See also John 17:17). Notice this pattern
I John 1:6 We lie and do not practice the truth
I John 1:8 We deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us
I John 1:10 We make him a liar and his word is not in us

Truth is not just a person, Jesus Christ, nor simply a set of beliefs, though it is both of those. Truth is something we practice or do. True grasp of the truth produces actions formed by that truth.

Regular confession of sin is the antidote to an elevated view of our own holiness.

I John 1:9 is not an excuse to keep on sinning. Anyone who uses God's mercy in forgiving sins as excuse to keep on sinning does not understand God's mercy. (See also Psalm 130:4).

One goal of Christ's death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and sending of His Spirit is so we might not sin. Jesus, John, Paul, and Peter all believe we can make substantial progress in holiness in this life. We can never be perfect. We just begin to obey in this life, but it is real Spirit fueled obedience that is conforming us to the image of Christ.

Jesus' blood is the key to our forgiveness and cleansing. It is easy, much easier than we would like to admit, to forget the cross.

God is faithful to his promises to forgive our sins and make us clean. He has shown this faithfulness in the death of His Son.

Christ is our propitiation, a covering our for sins that turns God's wrath away from us. Trying to remove God's wrath from the equation is a compromise.

Jesus Christ is our ever present intercessor. This means we always need intercession. There is never a day when we don't need Christ pleading before the Father on our behalf.

Our Intercessor is righteous. We can put complete faithfulness in our High Priest. He will never do us wrong.

I John 2:2 does not teach that Christ's death on the cross was a covering for all the sins of all the men who ever lived. But it does teach that he covered our sins at the cross.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Execution and Banishment: The Key to a Small Prison Population

It in interesting to note that Geneva's prison
Did not house any long-term prisoners. Imprisonment for long periods of time was simply not a punishment used in sixteenth-century Geneva. Even people sentenced to life in prison as the result of criminal trial were usually released within a few months, often paroled to the custody of relatives. Most prison sentences lasted only a few days (Witte and Kingdon, p. 69).
There were several reasons for this, but two of the major ones were:

Geneva executed for a lot more crimes than we do. Witte and Kingdon note that
Criminal punishments would involve...to a degree we would find appalling, capital punishment by a town executioner hired by the city for the purpose. There were a number of rather gruesome ways in which capital punishment was administered. Traitors might be beheaded, thieves hanged, notorious adulteresses drowned, heretics or witches burned. Every city of the period maintained an execution ground, usually with several rotting corpses of executed criminals on display, to let visitors know that this community maintained law and order. 
It is important to note that the Consistory, which I discussed in an earlier blog post, did not have the power of the sword. They could only recommend the civil court look into something and the civil court would decide the appropriate punishment. The Consistory could neither decide someone should be executed nor carry it out, although there was interaction between the civil courts and the pastors of Geneva. 

Also Geneva banished serious offenders from the city. Throughout the book Witte and Kingdon note that often those who would not receive instruction or committed serious sins or crimes were to get out of the city or be whipped and some cases executed. One example they cite is a man and wife who ran a brothel. They were given seven days to get out of Geneva. If they ever came back they would be whipped and then driven out again. 

The prison population was small and the terms short because serious crimes were dealt with by execution or banishment. 
Let the saints be joyful in glory, let them sing aloud on their beds, let the high praises of God be in their mouth, and a two edged sword in their hand, to execute vengeance on the nations, and punishments on the peoples; to bind the kings with chains and their nobles with fetters of iron. Psalm 149:5-8