Monday, July 8, 2013

General Synod Recap 2013

General Synod Overview: 2013

In the days immediately following the 2013 General Synod of the Reformed Church in America I was asked by a number of friends and colleagues if I would write a recap of what happened at General Synod.  I have agreed to do so and would put before you the following observations before I begin.

1.    This is not a comprehensive assessment.  If you want a more comprehensive assessment you can order the DVDs from synod and watch all the proceedings.  You are also free to browse for more information on what happened. I am not intending to give an account of all the proceedings.

2.    This is written from my perspective and will include my commentary.  I wrote the commentary largely for the elders of my own congregation, but I also kept in mind that this may well be read by others.  Personally I felt that this synod did not go well at all, I am sure that my ensuing comments reflect that perspective.  If you’d like another perspective you are free to seek one out.

3.    I have done my best to confirm my facts with those who were present at the Synod (I watched online through the Livestream) and through the’s coverage and commentary on Synod 2013.  If you notice factual errors please inform me immediately and accept my sincerest apologies.  It is my intent to give a fair account of what transpired and to add personal commentary when I feel compelled to do so.  My commentary is in the regular print, copied materials are in italics.

4.    You will notice that frequently I have cited the adopted recommendations in the form of “R-1 (Adopted)”.  You can see all recommendations that were either approved or rejected here.

Synod 2012 Revisited

Let’s start with the worst of it.  Last year’s synod narrowly voted to affirm that “any person, congregation, or assembly which advocates homosexual behavior or provides leadership for a service of same-sex marriage or a similar celebration has committed a disciplinable offense.”  This was, of course, a rather significant event as it affirmed discipline as a legitimate consequence for those who are in active rebellion against the Word of God concerning human sexuality.  Because of the significance of this decision those who were opposed to it were rather motivated to repeal it—they were successful.

R-83 (Adopted)
To acknowledge that in 2012 we, the General Synod, in the proceedings that led to the adoption of R-28, demonstrated a lack of decorum and civility, and a general atmosphere in which delegates were not always treating one another as sisters and brothers in Christ; and further,
to acknowledge that in 2012 we, the General Synod, usurped the constitutional authority reserved for the classes when, in R-28, we stated that “any person, congregation, or assembly which advocates homosexual behavior or provides leadership for a service of same-sex marriage or a similar celebration has committed a disciplinable offense.”

Of course parts of last year’s statement on homosexuality were left intact.  The declaration that homosexuality is a sin according to the scriptures was not removed, and some would count that as a partial success.  It’s not.  Under the RCA’s current position on homosexuality we have seen the emergence of a well-funded, well-organized, very public movement in favor of full inclusion of active homosexuals in the life of the church.  We have also seen a General Synod Professor of Theology author a book laying out a theological case for God’s approval of monogamous homosexual relationships.  At this year’s synod there were many officers of the church (elders, ministers, and General Synod Professors by all accounts) who wore pins advocating for full inclusion.  All of this has transpired under the current status quo.  A position void of discipline is no position at all—which is what we reverted back to this year.  As in the days of the judges so it is now in the RCA, everyone is doing what is right in their own eyes.

To top it off the 2013 synod repented of the actions of the 2012 general synod.  A few thoughts:

1.    The delegates from last year’s General Synod had nothing to repent of.  Confusion and frustration were rampant, but that was due to lack of clear and objective leadership not due to attempts from anyone on either side of the issue to sow discord or lack of decorum.

2.    I suspect that if the vote had gone the way it was “supposed” to go as far as the powers-that-be are concerned we wouldn’t have heard much this year about the lack of decorum.

3.    It’s always easier to repent of someone else’s sins, isn’t it?  Not many of these delegates were at last year’s synod (I was as an observer), not many of them (I’m sure) watched last year’s synod (I have copies of the dvds).  They simply took some else’s word for it.  This seemed reckless and inappropriate to say the least—it felt, quite honestly, like bullying.

4.    The policy wonks among us would certainly say that since General Synod is a continuous body that the repentance of the General Synod is not “repenting of someone else’s sins.”  And while they may technically be correct (as evidenced by the “we, the General Synod…”) that is only true in a technical sense.  In a personal sense it could not be further from the truth.

Way Forward Committee’s Re-Covenanting Recommendation is Rejected

Perhaps the most attention at this year’s synod revolved around what would come of the “Way Forward Committee’s” recommendation to allow for a “re-covenanting” period where churches would be permitted to leave the RCA without consequence after a time of redefining the RCA’s position on homosexuality.  The recommendation failed.

“A second recommendation--made up of three parts--dealt with the authority of General Synod statements as well as constitutional changes that would enable congregations and ministers to separate from the RCA "without recriminations such as forfeiture of property." The advice of the Advisory Committee on Church Order and Governance was to deny the second recommendation, noting that the BCO already provides a means for leaving the RCA and preferring a focus on dialogue rather than an exit strategy. After several failed amendments during an hour of debate, the recommendation was denied.” –

Their other recommendations, however, passed.  We are now entering our 3rd decade of “dialogue” about homosexuality in the RCA.

To instruct the General Synod Council to appoint a diverse working group representative of the constituencies of the RCA and the varying understandings within the Reformed Church in America regarding sexual orientation and gender identity to identify, design, and/or develop resources for use in congregations and other RCA settings that will encourage grace-filled conversations among those holding varying understandings; and further,
To identify, design, and/or develop resources for use in congregations and other RCA settings to assist the RCA in the development of strategies to preserve unity, purity, and peace.

The conversation was overwhelmingly positive in regards to R-17.  Many spoke from the floor in favor of "continued dialogue" and a desire to be "open to what the Spirit might be doing on this issue."  One delegate even commented that Paul was wrong on slavery so we need to be cautious on this issue as well.   It was clear that a majority of the room had little desire to cease discussion on the issue of human sexuality. 

Homosexuality Cont’d

Ursilla Cargill

Rev. Dr. Cargill has been installed by the Classis of New Brunswick to serve as an active minster of the classis.  Rev. Dr. Cargill is an active homosexual.  The decision was challenged and appealed to the General Synod, the General Synod sent the case back to the Regional Synod to be retried there on biblical grounds.  I suspect the case will end up back at General Synod next year.

While the vast majority of people agreed with the recommendation to send the case back to the Regional Synod, it was disappointing to hear from the President that the GS was not even prepared to address the case if the Synod delegates decided to move in that direction.  This action seemed to be a predetermined outcome.

R-59: Adopted
To remand the decision of the Regional Synod of the Mid-Atlantics for further hearing to resolve whether the Classis of New Brunswick properly examined and approved the installation of the Rev. Dr. Cargill, giving full recognition to the importance of Scripture as central to the faith and life of an ordained minister of Word and sacrament.

R-81: Adopted
To instruct the Commission on Theology to draft a paper on human sexuality from a Reformed perspective to be presented to General Synod 2015. (In response to overture 15.)

Room for All

Once again, Room for All had a significant presence at this year’s Synod.  Second Reformed Church (RCA) of Pella, IA hosted the official RFA gathering on the Sunday of Synod from 11:30AM to 1:00PM.  One of three GS vice-presidential candidates, Rev. Sophie Mathonnet-VanderWell, is the co-pastor at Second Reformed and hosted the event.  This groups continues to be well organized and influential at Synod.  In fact, their pride hearts could be seen worn by GS professors of theology, elder delegates, pastor delegates, seminary student delegates, and corresponding delegates.

Book Signings

Two RCA authors, Dr. Allan Janssen and Dr. Lynn Japinga, were present to do official book signings at General Synod.  Both authors openly support Room for All whose objective is the full inclusion of active homosexuals in the church.  General Synod Professor of Theology Allan Janssen was wearing a rainbow heart in his name badge at synod.  The rainbow hearts were distributed by Room for All as the official sign of LGBT support.  Hope College professor Lynn Japinga has previously been a speaker at Room for All’s national conference. Kevin DeYoung, an evangelical and the RCA’s best known author/speaker (including “The Good News We Almost Forgot” a book on the Heidelberg Catechism), has never been invited to sign books at synod

Removal of Conscience Clauses

While it was a foregone conclusion that the Conscience Clauses (which permitted complementarians to serve in the RCA without fear of persecution of any kind) would be removed from the BCO it still merits a mention.  We now enter a time when complementarians are fully dependent upon the grace of the seminaries and the MFCA for ordination.  In an environment that many complementarians already found to be rather hostile the one constitutional protection that was enjoyed has now been removed.

R-3: Adopted
To declare amendments 1 through 3 to be approved and that they be incorporated into the 2013 edition of the Book of Church Order.

New Strategic Goal

The RCA’s most recent strategic goal, “Our Call” has expired and Synod 2013 approved a new one.

Culminating a years-long process of discernment, prayer, and discussion that began in 2010, "Transformed and Transforming" calls on the RCA to focus on three strategic priorities during the next fifteen years:

·   cultivating transformation in Christ,

·   equipping emerging leaders of today and tomorrow, and

·   engaging in Christ's kingdom mission.


Curious about how much your congregation will have to pay per assessing member to the General Synod next year?  Here it is.

The synod voted to fund RCA mission and ministry with a per-member assessment of $49.29 in the coming year, an increase of $1.67 (3.5 percent). –

Many people believe that if they don’t give extra money to the seminaries that no money from their congregation goes to support the work of WTS, NBTS, or MFCA.  That is incorrect.

R-13: Adopted
To approve the $5.68 per-member assessment for theological education in 2014.

R-19: Adopted
To allocate an assessment for theological education to the RCA seminaries and to the Ministerial Formation Certification Agency (MFCA) at the level of $840,000 for a period of three years, with this amount not to decrease but to increase at a percent equal to potential GSC assessment increases during this period;

President’s Address

Tom Smith, the General Synod President, gave a speech.  You can read the full text here.

Here’s some things to highlight.  These come from pages 9-10 in the report.  I recommend that you read the context thoroughly.

--“Can we live in unity, purity, and peace when we draw lines in the sand?  Must we live by ultimatums?”

I delivered one of these lines in the sand to Tom when I met with him along with other pastors this past year in Fulton, IL.  I said that I simply could not see myself living in a denomination that is void of the third mark of the true church, church discipline.  It is important, even vital, for me that the church takes orthodoxy seriously and calls those who have strayed from it to repent.  The church has always drawn lines in the sand, we must resist the cultural pressure to say, “’peace, peace’, when there is no peace.”

--“Can we live together when one classis wants to ordain gays and lesbians and another classis wants to ordain only males?”

It has become quite common in the RCA to refer to complementarians as the moral and theological equivalent of the open and affirming crowd.  But I want to vociferously refute this understanding.  The clear majority of the worldwide church today, and the vast (nearly unanimous) majority of the history of the church has embraced Paul’s teaching concerning male headship in the home and church as authoritative and good.  The open and affirming crowd does not have any historical support from the universal church, nor does it enjoy support from the church of the majority world.  To equate the two is a form of historical ignorance and seems to discount the witness of the majority church from the majority world.

The answer to his question is, “no.”  Isn’t it?

--“In the RCA today the Holy Spirit is evident in healthy, growing, complementarians congregations.  In the RCA today the Holy Spirit is evident in ministries where LGBT folks are welcomed. And there are people on both sides saying, “The Holy Spirit is there?  With those guys?”  People are saying this on both sides!”

A few thoughts:

--Again the comparison and implied equality between ministries which embrace biblical manhood and womanhood and those which embrace rebellion against God’s design for human sexuality is disturbing.

--LGBT folks are welcomed in complementarian ministries just like all other sinners.  Their sin will not be coddled or excused or ignored, but they are welcome to come and find forgiveness and healing in Jesus Christ!

--I wonder how the author of Romans 1 would feel about this statement.


Congregations will now have to report on how they are being shaped by the Belhar Confession. 

R-27: Adopted
To request General Synod Council to add to Part II of the Annual Consistorial Report the following question: How have the Belhar Confession and its principles of unity, reconciliation, and justice shaped your congregational life and witness?

I have no problem with confessional integrity and confessional consistency, but I’d like to know how our congregations and seminaries are being shaped by the Belgic Confession and Canons of Dort as well.  I’ve talked with more than a few RCA folks who express more than a little discomfort with the theology of those documents.  My confessions professor through MFCA told our class (before Belhar was included among our confessions) that he had a “love-hate relationship with the confessions.”  I suppose my wondering has at its root the question of why we felt the need to add accountability in regards to the fourth confession when it seems most of us don’t really take the first three all that seriously.


As with most General Synods there was significant discussion of various political agendas.  Generally speaking I think the General Synod should focus more on its own problems, like 40 years straight of shrinking membership and serious theological conflict with no end in sight, and spend less time on contemporary political issues.  There are exceptions to this, particularly when issues of grave significance are involved such as holocausts.  But for the most part I think the church should pick its battles when it comes to engaging the state.  The RCA’s General Synod doesn’t typically agree with me.

White Privilege

R-29: Adopted
That the General Synod Council develop an online and interactive RCA resource for freely discussing, understanding, and dismantling white privilege.


R-46: Adopted
To post the Christian Churches Together "Statement on Immigration Reform" on the RCA website.

R-47: Adopted
To encourage congregations of the RCA to engage in a letter writing campaign and other advocacy efforts in getting Dream Act legislation passed on the federal and state levels.

Children at the Lord’s Supper

For those who are interested in the debate over children at the Lord’s Table here’s a few adopted resolutions. 

R-48: Adopted
To direct the General Synod Council to prepare an interpretive resource for the use of A Place at the Table in RCA congregations, in order to renew the resourcing of RCA congregations considering the inclusion of baptized children at the Lord's Table.

R-49: Adopted
To direct the Commission on Christian Discipleship and Education, in consultation with the Commission on Theology, to revise and update the procedural guidelines for inclusion of children at the Lord's Table and present the updated guidelines to the 2014 General Synod.

Representative Delegation

Zeeland Classis overtured the General Synod to make changes to its own composition to reflect the size of the classes in the RCA.  Each classis currently gets representation at General Synod based on size but not in direct proportion to the number of members within the classis.  Some classes, particularly those on the east coast, have fewer than 1,000 confessing members while others (such as Zeeland) have over 10,000 members.  This has been a source of frustration for the larger classes which tend to be more evangelical for quite some time.

R-79: Adopted
To instruct the Commission on Church Order, in consultation with the Commission on Theology and the Commission on History, to study the assumptions and implications—theological and constitutional—of the allocation of delegates to General Synod from the classes, and to report back to General Synod 2014. (In response to overture 6.)

Even if the commission on Church Order recommends these changes (which they almost certainly will not do) they will not pass.  To pass a change to the Book of Church Order requires ratification by 2/3 of the classes.  The problem with this is that over 1/3 of the classes lean considerably towards the theological “left”.  This 2/3 ratification is the immovable object which threatens to impede any and all reform in the RCA.  Ratification of an amendment like this one simply will not happen.  I suspect the authors of this overture were aware of that when they wrote it.

Rev. Ben Kappers 1st Reformed Church, Lansing IL

*With special thanks to my eyes on the ground, Rev. Jeremy Visser.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

A Theology of Examination

Theological examinations are an event that seems to make even the most confident of theological students a bit weak in the knees.  The student has studied hard, poured hours and hours, weeks, months, even years of their life into preparation for serving the church and now they come before their governing body for examination.


Seriously, why?  Why do we put our students through this ordeal?  Why do we give them so much reason for stress?  Why do we ask every pastor within the bounds of the classis or presbytery to take time out of a day to show up for these exams?  Why do we ask elders to take off of work (Side note: it's often a much greater sacrifice for an elder to attend these meetings than for pastors.  We should thank them for their willingness to serve.  We should also meet at times that are conducive to their involvement.) and come listen to candidates answer questions?

Is it really worth all of that?

Yes, but only if we understand why we're examining and if we do it properly.

Like many things in the church it sometimes seems as though we've forgotten the "why?". We've gotten so accustomed to doing things just because "that's just what we do."  Of course we cannot accept this but we also should be careful not to throw the baby out with the bath water. So allow me to offer a three fold theology of examination to answer the question, "Why should we do theological examination."

1. We should do examination because it is good for the church.  Peter wrote in II Peter 2:1-2, "But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction.  And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed."  Later he goes on to say, "They promise freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption." 

As a church we must ensure that false teachers are kept out of the church and that the sound doctrine of the Word of God is taught clearly and accurately.  (2 Tim. 4/Titus 2:1)  Those who are led astray will share in the destruction of the false teachers.  For a classis or presbytery to faithfully carry out their duty to ensure the sound preaching of the Word within the bounds of their ministry requires a rigorous examination process.  Once sound doctrine has been lost it is increasingly difficult to regain.  Vigilance on the front end is essential to avoid pain and destruction spoken of all-to-often within the Scriptures.

2.  We should do examination because it is good for the candidate.  James writes, "Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness."  Each teacher will give an account of his teaching before the Lord.  On that day the excuse, "But I thought it was true!" will be insufficient. If a candidate's exposition of the Word would be anything less than faithful according to our best understanding of the Word (often expressed within our confessions) then we should preserve and protect them from the strict judgment which all teachers in the church will endure. 

In a more pragmatic sense we should also protect unfit candidates from the eventual heartaches that often accompany the inability to find a call or the rejection experienced when one is asked to leave a call on theological grounds.

3.  We should do examination to ensure that ordained ministers and teaching elders are qualified according to the Scriptures.  In multiple places within the New Testament we can read of the requirements of leaders within the church.  Paul instructs us of these things in both 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 2 and Peter writes in 1 Peter 5.  To act as though these instructions are mere recommendations is to consign the church to error, pain, and eventual death.

So, here's a few brief thoughts on how to approach classis or presbytery exams:

1.  Approach exams with grace and love.  We should not be adversarial in the church.  If a brother is unfit for ministry we should tell them that, and it should be said with tears in our eyes. 

2.  Approach exams with a willingness to do the extra work required from a rigorous process.  Does a candidate need a better understanding of justification?  Then you should be willing to talk with him about it.  Does a candidate need more time to reflect on the pastoral nature of being a minister of the gospel?  Take him under your wing and have those conversations.  Will a young man who feels a call to gospel ministry need a mentor?  Then be willing to mentor him.  Will a family within the church be upset if their son is not approved?  Then be willing to have a conversation with them and their son.  Having examinations where it is possible that candidates will fail is not an easy endeavor, we must be prepared to deal with the consequences and to do so graciously and lovingly.

3.  Approach exams as if they mattered.  They do.  It matters what sort of food is fed to our bodies, how much does it matter what kind of food is fed to the souls of God's people.  It matters whether our candidates are able to rightly divide the word of truth.  It matters whether our candidates are candidates who will thrive in ministry and whose ministries will thrive through the work of the Spirit through their preaching of the Word.  Giving students easy exams is a waste of everyone's time and is of no benefit to the church of Jesus Christ.  Passing students just to avoid the hurt feelings or difficult conversations of "what now?" is nothing more than theological neglect.  We must have an appropriately rigorous process in which we seek the good of the church and the candidate with an eye on the coming of the Lord.  "In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the Word." (2 Tim. 4:1-2a)

Tuesday, March 12, 2013


Recently I've been doing a considerable amount of work reading and writing about topics related to biblical manhood and womanhood.  This is my latest piece, it was written for the Church Herald Blogs and you can read that here.

Complementarianism:  What Is It? Why Should I Believe It? Why Should I Delight in It?

In light of some recent controversies in the Reformed Church pertaining to human sexuality the editors of the Herald Blogs solicited a short submission from me on the topic of complementarianism.  I hope that you will find this concise post both timely and helpful as you consider the teaching of the Scriptures concerning human sexuality.

Let’s start with the basics:  What is complementarianism?

Complementarianism is a belief based on two core truths:

1.        God created Adam and Eve, man and woman, equally in his own image.

It cannot be emphasized enough that complementarians believe strongly and unequivocally that men and women are of equal value, dignity, and worth in the sight of our loving Lord.


2.       Men and women are given different and equally joyful and significant roles in marriage and the church.  These unique roles work together (they complement one another) in such a way that achieves God’s purposes for his people.  The complementarian believes the Bible is clear that men are given the weighty responsibility to lead in the home and the church while women are given the joyful duty of submitting to and helping their husbands and male elders as they lead.

So, why should you believe that men and women are created with complementary roles instead of identical or interchangeable roles? 

Let’s consider a few brief passages from the Scriptures:

1.        Adam and Eve were designed differently and with different roles within God’s good creation.  Adam’s role of leadership within the creation is established already before the Fall in a number of ways.  Adam was formed first from the dust of the earth while Eve was formed second from Adam’s rib.  Adam is given the honor of naming not only the animals (who are not created in God’s image) but Eve as well. (Gen. 2:23)  Adam was formed to work the earth while Eve was formed to be Adam’s helper.  (Gen.2:15&18)


2.       The differences established by God in the beginning are normative patterns for male-female relationships within the church and the home.

It is quite apparent from even a casual reading of the New Testament that men and women maintain distinct roles within marriage and the church.


a.       Ephesians 5:22-25 makes this point clearly saying, “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.  For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its savior.  Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.  Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”   See also: Colossians 3:18-19.


b.      In I Timothy 2:12-13 Paul speaks of the need for male eldership in the church saying, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.  For Adam was formed first, then Eve.”  Notice here that Paul grounds his teaching not on present cultural issues, but in the creation order itself as we saw earlier.


Now, finally, why should I delight in these teachings?


I’m a product of the modern feminist West.  I grew up thinking that women could and should be elders and pastors; in fact the very first two people I nominated for the office of elder were women.  I was a full-fledged unapologetic believer in women’s ordination and I had a mind to stick it to the knuckle dragging Neanderthals from the dark ages who thought differently than I did.  But then something strange happened to me: I met my wife and she was a complementarian and soon thereafter I realized that the Bible is too. 


Above all else it should delight us that every godly marriage and every church is a theatre in which God’s gospel--the self-sacrificing love of Christ for his church and the joyful submission of the church to Christ--is to be powerfully proclaimed.  Of course what we want most is to glorify God and to proclaim the gospel of Jesus!  Embracing the complementarity of man and woman in our homes and churches is a powerful and joyful way in which we can do just that.


Ben Kappers is the pastor of the Baileyville Reformed Church.


For more information on the unique and complementary beauty of manhood and womanhood check out, and be sure to check out the Danvers Statement.

Also for a more in-depth analysis of the biblical and wonderful differences between men and women be sure to get your free PDF copy of “What’s the Difference” by Dr. John Piper.

All Scripture references are taken from the English Standard Version (Crossway, 2001)

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Bible, Gender, Sexuality--A Review

In Bible, Gender, Sexuality Dr. James V. Brownson attempts to “reimagine” the Bible’s teaching on homosexual relationships in such a way that we come to the conclusion that the moral logic of the Bible is accepting of committed, monogamous, mature, self-giving, homosexual relationships.  While there is much to consider here, and Dr. Brownson is an articulate and skilled writer, it is my conclusion that his arguments fail to accomplish his purpose.  I think there are multiple reasons for this failure but I will focus my review on just one of them.

Brownson’s Egalitarian Foundation and Dismissal of Sexual Complementarity is Unbiblical

Brownson selects Dr. Robert Gagnon as his principle opponent in this debate.  As I am no expert on Dr. Gagnon’s work I will leave it to someone who is better qualified than I am to defend his positions and to discern whether Brownson has presented those arguments fairly.  To this end I have contacted Dr. Gagnon and asked if he would be willing to defend himself in person during a debate with Dr. Brownson.  Dr. Gagnon expressed an eagerness to defend his positions and I think it is incumbent upon Dr. Brownson to give him that courtesy.  I would be happy to make the arrangements if Dr. Brownson would be so gracious as to accept this invitation.

One of a number of frequently circulated arguments opposed to sexual complementarity states that Adam’s headship over Eve was established after the Fall.  This argument asserts that Adam and Eve lived in an egalitarian relationship before the Fall and the church has a duty to do whatever possible to disestablish Adam’s headship in an attempt to live into the egalitarian ideals of the kingdom of God.  Brownson employs this very argument. “Genesis 3:16 portrays patriarchy not as grounded in creation, but in the conflicted relationship between men and women resulting from the Fall.” (58)

Setting aside the inflammatory nature of the term patriarchy--which Brownson couples frequently with the term domination which is equally misleading, as are his frequent comparisons of biblical manhood and womanhood to American slavery--let’s consider whether or not Adam’s leadership in his relationship with Eve was established before the Fall or after.  Here are three brief reasons to conclude that Adam was in a position of loving leadership in relationship to Eve before the Fall and that proper sexual complementarity is marred by the Fall not a product of it.

1.       Adam was formed first and then Eve.  Chronological primacy as an indicator of headship may be easily brushed aside as coincidental or insignificant by modern scholars.  But Paul didn’t think it was coincidental or insignificant.  In making his case to Timothy as to why men should exclusively serve as elders within the church he says, “For Adam was formed first, then Eve.” (1 Tim. 2:13)  Paul considered the complementarity of the sexes from Genesis 2 to be normative for the church.

2.       Eve was created to be Adam’s helper.  Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make a helper fit for him.” (Gen. 2:18)  The fact that Eve was the helper does not mean that she was inferior, less intelligent, less capable, or to be dominated by Adam.  It simply means that God granted to Adam the joyful duty of leading and to Eve the joy of following the man formed in God’s own image.  Submission does not imply inferiority, nor does it in any way imply that Eve was not equally created in God’s image.  To insinuate that complementarians believe otherwise is either ignorant or disingenuous.

3.       Adam named Eve.  This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” (Gen. 2:23)  The naming of Eve by Adam implies leadership on his part and submission on her part.  In the same account God names Adam and Adam submits to God and Adam names the animals who are under his authority, so too then Adam names Eve.  The pattern is unmistakable and significant.

Certainly Brownson would not be convinced by these arguments; he’s certainly not convinced when the New Testament writers themselves make them.  But despite these attempts of New Testament writers to find a basis for certain forms of patriarchy in the creation narratives, we must also note the remarkable egalitarian motifs that appear in the creation stories themselves.” (58)  Note the language that is employed here.  For Brownson these arguments are not convincing, authoritative, or even successful; they are mere “attempts” on the part of the inspired authors to find a basis for their own biases within the creation account.  Brownson believes that these accounts actually teach the opposite of what the New Testament writers find in them.  We must ask ourselves who we believe is better equipped to interpret Genesis 1-3: the inspired New Testament writers, or modern Western theologians.

The logical result of the denial of sexual complementarity is to create a human race composed of interchangeable parts.  No longer are men and women given uniquely joyful duties, but now men and women are interchangeable in the home, in the church, and, for Brownson, even in marriage itself.  This conclusion is arrived at largely through the dismissal Paul’s clear teaching in letters such as 1 Timothy, Titus, and Ephesians, and also by a misconstrued interpretation of Galatians 3:27-28.

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise. (Gal. 3:27-28)

Paul writes the book of Galatians to deal with a specific problem: Jewish converts to Christ were insisting that the Law must be maintained as it formerly had been in Judaism.  Paul was clear that this was not to be so.  Within this context we can well understand that Paul is not stating that there are no longer men and women in the church. Whether we like it or not we live in this reality every day.  I have yet to attend a church that had gender neutral restrooms, nor have I met Christian parents that insist on having their sons or daughters share locker rooms with people of the opposite sex. What Paul means to teach here is that the old covenant distinctions between male and female, Jew and Greek, slave or free that were established under the Mosaic law no longer have any binding force for the Christian.  Hence, for Paul, the only distinctions that remain between men and women are those that would have been in place before the Mosaic covenant was established; this, not coincidentally, is precisely what Paul teaches in 1 Timothy 2.

Brownson argues that in Galatians 3:27-28 “all gender distinctions seem to be obliterated.” (71)  This of course merely takes the modern feminist-egalitarian understanding of so called “gender” to its logical conclusion.  We can commend Dr. Brownson for having the integrity to make these clear connections which many complementarians have been making for years.  But in considering the Pauline writings as a whole do we really see the obliteration of sexual distinctions and roles?  Of course not, no honest reading of Paul’s letters to Timothy or Titus, 1 Corinthians or Ephesians can conclude that manhood and womanhood no longer have any bearing in the home, family, or marriage.  Paul defines marriage clearly in Ephesians 5 in terms of “husbands” and “wives”, not mere “persons” as Brownson would prefer to believe. “Marriage is…a school of Christian living and a means of grace, as two persons learn to live with each other and to deepen their love over the long haul, discovering more deeply the love and faithfulness of God in their relationship with each other (Eph. 5).” (123-124) Consider the astounding, and biblically untenable, shift in meaning that occurs when you perceive of men and women as interchangeable parts due to the obliteration of sexual complementarity.

In the end Brownson’s arguments for the church’s acceptance of same-sex eroticism fail before they start.  They fail when the similarity between men and women is mistaken for uniformity, when the distinctions between the sexes and their God-given roles are smoothed out in ways that are convenient for a feminist Western culture but would have been entirely foreign to the writers of the Bible or to our brothers and sisters in the non-western world. 

Finally, we need to be willing to accept that Moses and Jesus really meant that “a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”  We don’t need to reimagine or retranslate the clear teachings of scripture, we need to proclaim them to a lost and broken world that desperately needs to repent and believe the good news of Jesus Christ.








For more information on the unique and complementary beauty of manhood and womanhood check out, and be sure to check out the Danvers Statement.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Wise Prayer

I think anyone who sits down to write a public post on prayer must feel some level of anxiety.  I've known few men who would claim to have the prayer life they'd like to have (I'm not there yet), and I've known even fewer men who were really open about their prayer lives at all.  When you write or speak about prayer it seems that people find it easy to think you're being high-and-mighty or trying to sound uber-spiritual.  I am most certainly not trying to do either of those things!  But, it is important to talk about prayer and to emphasize it in our families and churches and so a post on it here seems appropriate.

Prayer has been on my mind a lot lately.  I'd like to pray more, I'd like my first response to almost any situation to be prayer, and I'd like to pray more wisely.  It's this last desire, to pray more wisely, that I think is worth sharing.

In the past two years I have become a pastor and a father.  Both of these responsibilities require prayer for true success.  I lead my family in prayer each night, and my church in prayer each Lord's Day.  I pray for the meal, I pray for my wife, I pray for my kids, I pray for the sick, I pray during times of rejoicing, and I pray at funerals.  There are times when my heart leaps for joy during my prayers and times when I can barely choke out the next word through my grief.  And yet, even with all these different experiences in prayer I often feel as though I'm not sure what to say.  Each week I stand before the people of God and I am to offer a pastoral prayer and I need to know what to say.  Each night I sit with my family and we bow our heads to pray and I need to know what to say.  It's easy to blather on and on, it's easier to try to pray so that people think what you said was really neat or particularly moving, but what I really want (and what those I pray for really need) is to pray more wisely.

What I've found is that (surprise!) when I follow Jesus' example it's much better.  By keeping to the general outline of the Lord's Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13) I find that my prayer is focused on the Lord, fruitful for myself and others, and wise.  I don't find myself praying for the things of this world, I don't pray that God will help me to build my kingdom, I don't forget to confess sin and ask that he'll forgive it (while remembering the necessity of forgiving others as well!), and I don't forget to confess that he alone is the source of my provision and protection.  There are other prayers to emulate such as the Psalms or Jesus' prayer in John 17, etc, but for my day-to-day prayer life I find that this prayer is exceptionally helpful.

I know the difficulty of bowing your head to pray and not being sure what to say, I know the difficulty of being absent-minded during prayer, and I know the feeling when you know you're rambling and you're not sure how to stop or what to say next.  My solution has been to pray as Jesus taught us to pray.  It's not original or clever, but it is wise.