The Case for Family Integration in the Church

The Case for Family Integration in the Church

Professor Timothy Paul Jones laments at what he calls the “one-eared Mickey Mouse” in the church. This one-eared Mickey Mouse refers to the phenomenon that the youth of the church end up becoming disconnected from the rest of the body. The youth group had might as well be its own church because those who attend on Wednesday night are generally not the same group that attend on Sunday morning. I believe that to be faithful to Scripture, we must integrate the teenagers and children of the church back into the life of the church.

Paul assumed that the children of the church would be present when his letter was read to the church at Ephesus: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right” (Eph 6:1). The Bible teaches that the older women should not be separated from the younger women of the church (Titus 2:3-4). The integration of the ages is necessary for mentoring relationships to flourish in the church. What young people need is to be around older, more mature Christians who can help train them in the faith. If we want our teenagers to become mature men and women of God, we need to place them with those who are mature so they can imitate their example. As Proverbs 13:20 says, “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.” Putting the least mature Christians all together in one room while separating them from those who are mature Christians is a recipe for breeding immaturity.

Jeremy Walker summarizes the biblical data on children in the church:

“The constant presumption of Scripture is that children were present in the worship of the people of God. In Nehemiah’s time, men and women and all those who could hear with understanding gathered to hear Ezra the scribe read the Law (Neh 8.1-3; Ezr 10.1). Moses certainly anticipated the literal “children” of Israel to be present when the Law was read (Dt 31.12-13). Paul’s letters, intended to be read to the churches, assume the intelligent presence of children (Eph 6.1-4; Col 3.20), and children were present when the Lord Jesus taught (Mt 18.1-5; 19.13-15)” (Banner of Truth, November 7, 2002).

If Jesus was the one preaching the sermon that morning, wouldn’t you want your children to hear him?

The modern Sunday school movement was started with good intentions by Robert Raikes as an evangelistic outreach to street children whose parents did not attend church. The assumption was that the children of those who were members of the church would be taught the Bible by their parents. Scott Brown explains how this outreach eventually evolved into a system which allowed parents to neglect being involved in the discipling of their children:

“At that time, it was largely unheard of and considered inappropriate for Christians to hand their children over to others to disciple them in gospel truth. However, the Sunday school movement, which was born as an outreach to the children of neglectful parents and not as a tool of discipling the children of believers, soon evolved into a vehicle of parental abdication by Christians. Busy or slothful parents realized that it was convenient to let other people teach their children than to take the time necessary to do it themselves. With the rise of the Industrial Revolution in America and England, more and more fathers were leaving the work environment at home for that in the city, which offered more opportunities and higher wages. This means fathers had less time with their children. It also meant a fracturing of the father-directed discipleship. The Sunday schools were in place and could provide a seemingly excellent substitute. Thus began a two-century long movement of decreasing involvement of parents in the instruction of their children and increasing shepherding by third parties, programs, and ecclesiastical innovations” (A Weed in the Church, 40-41).

The end result was that the biblical model of raising children to become disciples of Christ through daily family worship (Deut 6:6-9; Eph 6:4) became overshadowed by the programmatic method of the church. Parents who did not want to take the time to disciple their children could just hand them over to the church who were more than happy to do it for them. Besides, the pastoral staff have degrees from seminary. How could I ever compete with them? The professionalization of children’s discipleship created an attitude of “no amateurs allowed!” Because of this, churches that do not have amazing youth and children’s ministries cannot compete with the other churches in their area. Teenagers are drawn to the youth group through music, games, food, fellowship, and outings. But as it has been said, what you win them with is what you win them to. Once you stop entertaining them, they leave and go to a church that does a better job of appealing to their appetites. If their parents attend the church, they will leave as well since if their children are not happy, they are not happy.

It is no wonder then that so many of the youth in the church fall away from their profession of faith when they go to college. They were drawn to the church because of what it offered them and were never discipled by their parents. Since the Christian faith was not modeled in the home and was something they only did once a week, they did not see it as important enough to keep. When they did go to church, the hard doctrines of the Bible such as sin, repentance, self-denial, hell, God’s wrath, and the holiness of God were barely mentioned or neglected altogether.

The church’s mission is to win the lost and make disciples. When it strays from its God-ordained mission, it ceases to be a church and becomes a social club. Churches have become so incredibly busy with all their programs and activities while neglecting what is most important. As Greg L. Hawkins and Cally Parkinson noted in their study of Willow Creek Church:

“We discovered that high levels of church activity did not predict increasing love for God or increasing love for other people. Now don’t misread this! This does not mean that people highly involved in church activities don’t love God. It simply means that they did not express a greater love for God than people who are less involved in church activities. In other words, an increasing level of activities did not predict an increase in love for God. Church activity alone made no direct impact on growing the heart . . . it was a flat line – and a stunning discovery for us” (Reveal: Where Are You?, 35–36).

The church’s main obligation when it comes to family discipleship is to equip parents to train their children so that they can fulfill the responsibility they have been given by God. As Voddie Baucham argues:

“While I believe the vast majority of those who shepherd segregated portions of congregations are well meaning and would never presume to replace parents in their biblical role, I believe the modern American practice of systematic age segregation goes beyond the biblical mandate. I believe it is a product of the American educational system, and in some instances it actually works against families as opposed to helping them pursue multigenerational faithfulness. The church’s emphasis ought to be on equipping parents to disciple their children instead of doing it on their behalf . . . there is no biblical mandate for the current approach” (Family Driven Faith, 180-81).

So, what should churches do to recover the biblical model for discipling children? Scott Brown lists ten ways churches can move toward family integration: 1. Lead your fathers to conduct family worship; 2. Encourage your families to study what the pastor is preaching on; 3. Embrace the sufficiency of Scripture; 4. Provide biblically qualified elders; 5. Build strong families through biblical methods; 6. Teach the church how to be a true family; 7. Work for biblical headship in the home; 8. Encourage biblical womanhood; 9. Minister to youth without creating a youth culture; 10. Begin the process of leading the church to unify and bring the ages together (A Weed in the Church, 182-86). The Bible is sufficient not just for matters of faith and practice, but also for how we are to do church.

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Can Women Teach Men in the Church?

Can Women Teach Men in the Church?

I have written previously on the meaning of the verb “to have authority over” in 1 Timothy 2:12 with regard to the role of women in the church. Paul is prohibiting women in the church from teaching or having authority over men based on the order of creation rooted in the concept of primogeniture. But among complementarians who believe that there are certain roles in the church which are limited to men, some argue that women can still teach men in the church as long as they are under the authority of the elders or if their teaching is non-authoritative in nature. John Frame argues that women can teach men in the church as long as it is not the same kind of teaching that the pastors do. Jonathan Leeman responds by noting that this argument is rooted in a Presbyterian understanding of authority which Baptists do not share. As such, those who hold to congregational church government cannot consistently use Frame’s arguments.

In this article, I will be critiquing the arguments of Frame that women can teach men in the local church in a general or non-authoritative way. The main problem with his argument is the artificial distinction he makes between authoritative and non-authoritative teaching in the local church. The first text he uses to argue his point is Colossians 3:16:

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God”

Since we are commanded to teach and admonish one another, he argues that women are called to teach men in the local church. But the problem with this argument is he assumes that the command to teach “one another” means that everyone is called to teach everyone else. But this is not how we interpret Paul’s words in Ephesians 5:21 when he speaks of “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” If Paul is teaching in this verse that everyone is called to submit to everyone else in the church, then that would mean parents are called to submit to their children. But since we know this is not how the parent-child relationship works, Paul’s words must be interpreted in light of the rest of Scripture. When he calls us to submit to one another, he means that those who occupy positions of submission in the church and home submit to those they are called to submit to: children to parents, wives to husbands, and slaves to masters. Likewise, husbands do not submit to their wives because that would reverse the God-ordained role of headship in marriage. The husband has authority over his wife because he is the head of her just as Christ is the head of his bride the church. Christ does not submit to the church, but the church to Christ.

In Colossians 3:16, Paul does not mean that all Christians should teach all other Christians in the church because not all Christians have been given gifts of teaching and that would contradict his teaching on women in 1 Timothy 2:12. Rather, Paul means that those who have been given a gift of teaching use it to teach the church. For those women who have been given a gift of teaching, they are to use it to teach younger women (Titus 2:3-4). Their teaching is directed toward other women, not the men of the church. If Colossians 3:16 means all Christians are to teach all other Christians in the church, then we should allow believing children to teach as well because they too are part of the church.

Frame also cites Acts 18:26 when Apollos is instructed by the husband-wife team of Priscilla and Aquila to argue that women can teach men:

“He began to speak boldly in the synagogue, but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him and explained to him the way of God more accurately.”

This is an important verse to bring up because it demonstrates that not all teaching that is done is that which takes place in the context of the local church such as in 1 Timothy 2:12. A woman can offer correction to a man from the Bible outside of the local church. This distinction is not one of authoritative versus non-authoritative teaching, but one of teaching publicly in the church versus teaching in a private encounter outside the church. And Priscilla was with her husband Apollos the whole time.

Another text Frame uses to establish this distinction is 1 Corinthians 14:26:

“What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up”

The term “lesson” here is better translated as teaching or instruction to describe the act of teaching in the church. Because Paul says “each one” has one of these things, Frame argues that women must be able to present their teaching before men in the church. But the false assumption here is that anyone in the church can bring any of these things before the congregation. The only people in the church who can bring a revelation or tongue before the church are those who have been given the gift of prophecy or tongues. So likewise, the only people who can bring a teaching before the church are those who have been given the gift of teaching and are qualified to do so. Since Paul has placed limits on the role of women teaching men in the church, we must interpret this verse in light of 1 Timothy 2:12.

A final set of passages in the Bible Frame appeals to are those which speak of female prophets in the church who prophesied to both men and women (Acts 2:17; 1 Cor 11:5). But the gift of prophecy is completely different from the gift of teaching. When someone engages in prophecy, he or she is not the one doing the teaching. That person is merely a mouthpiece for the very words of God which are infallible. Every word from a prophet is the exact word of God which does not come from man. On the other hand, the content of teaching does come from man and is not infallible. The words that a pastor speaks are not the very words of God though he is called to base his teaching on the Word of God. When women engaged in prophecy in the first century, they were not teaching or having authority over men because it was not them who was speaking, but God. They merely acted as passive agents when God literally spoke through them.

The assumption of the New Testament is that it is the elders who are called to teach the church. If Sunday school is to be done in the church, it must be as an extension of the teaching authority of the elders in order to have biblical warrant. With the growth of Sunday schools, churches are in desperate need for teachers. As a result, many churches select teachers who do not meet the qualifications of an elder in 1 Timothy 3. But James warns us, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness” (3:1). The assumption is that each church would only have a few teachers in comparison to the rest of the church and all of them would have the gift of teaching.

If teaching in the church is based on God’s Word, then by definition it is authoritative because it is the teaching of God when rightly interpreted. Non-authoritative teaching is an oxymoron because the only authority Christians have is the Bible which is always authoritative. When Paul says, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man,” these are actions, not offices. Paul does not say, “I do not permit a woman to be a pastor,” but he prohibits actions that are contrary to the order of creation.

Others argue that women can teach men in the church as long as they are under the authority of the elders. But no one can give someone else permission to disobey the teachings of God’s Word. The result of Frame’s position is that he turns “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over men” into “I do permit a woman to teach men.” If he can do that, he can make the Bible say anything he wants. In fact, this is exactly what he does in his book Theology at the Movies where he says it is OK for Christians to look at nudity on film as long as they don’t actively seek it out:

“Similarly, if film actors wish to commit sin before the camera, that is their responsibility. I don’t believe I commit sin when I, in the normal course of my cultural pursuits, observe what they, without consulting me, have chosen to do in public.”

Disobedience to one of the commands of Scripture leads to disobedience in other areas.

Can Grape Juice Be Used in the Lord’s Supper?

Can Grape Juice Be Used in the Lord’s Supper?

Some Christians believe that only fermented wine can be used in the Lord’s supper. It’s not merely that they prefer wine over grape juice in the celebration of the Eucharist, but that they believe that any celebration of the Lord’s supper that uses grape juice instead of wine is invalid in God’s sight. They believe those who do not use fermented wine in the Lord’s supper do not really partake of the Eucharist and that God is displeased with them.

The main argument for this view is that fermented wine was what was used during the Lord’s supper from the beginning of church history and it was not until the invention of grape juice in the nineteenth century that Christians began to use it instead of wine due to Prohibition. They argue that since the wine Jesus drank at the Lord’s supper could result in intoxication if enough of it was consumed, the wine we use at the Lord’s supper must likewise be alcoholic.

But we must keep in mind that the only difference between wine and grape juice is that grape juice is unfermented while wine is fermented. The process of turning grapes into grape juice which is not alcoholic involves heating it to kill the bacteria in grape juice to prevent the process of fermentation. The only real difference between the two is that in one the bacteria has been killed while the bacteria in the other has not been killed leading to fermentation. One results in drunkenness when consumed in a large enough quantity while the other does not.

The Lord’s supper is not invalidated by the use of grape juice because it is still “the fruit of the vine” (Matt 26:29) and the product of the crushing of grapes. The lack of fermentation does not disqualify it from being the fruit of the vine. Both wine and grape juice are visually indistinguishable from each other. As the fruit of the vine, it maintains the symbolism of picturing the blood of Christ.

I believe the real reason so many people are opposed to the use of grape juice in the Lord’s supper is not so much because of their fidelity to Scripture, but because they believe unfermented grape juice endangers the real or spiritual presence of Christ in the cup. If Jesus is really present in the wine of the Lord’s supper, the lack of fermentation might prevent him from being there since the wine of the first Lord’s supper was fermented. On the other hand, we should not use water in the Lord’s supper as the Mormons do because water could never represent the blood of Christ and is not the fruit of the vine as grape juice is.

Deaconesses in the New Testament and Early Church

Can women serve as deacons? The first indication from Scripture would seem to be no. According to 1 Timothy 3:12, a deacon is required to be “a one-woman man” which could never apply to a woman since no woman could ever be a man. In Acts 6:3, only men were considered for the role of deacon in serving the widows of the church. But on the other hand, Romans 16:1 makes reference to “Phoebe, a servant of the church at Cenchreae.” The Greek word translated as “servant” here is diakonon which can be interpreted as either an office of service within the church since this is the same word used to refer to a deacon or as being a servant of the church in general without having an office tied to it.

A document which sheds light on the early church is the letter of the Roman governor Pliny to the emperor Trajan written between 111-113 AD. Pliny makes reference to torturing two female Christians “who were called deaconesses” (Letters 10.96). The Latin word translated as “deaconesses” here is ministrae which is the equivalent of the Greek word diakonoi referring to servants. Since they were called ministrae by the church, this was an official title given to them by a local church. Interpreting “servant” (diakonon) as “deaconess” in Romans 16:1 is consistent with the practice of the early second century church. Since Phoebe is a listed as a servant of a particular church and not in a general sense, we should interpret diakonon here as deaconess.

Since deaconship is not a position of teaching or having authority over men, it would not be in violation of 1 Timothy 2:12. However, a distinction needs to be made between the offices of deacon and deaconess because a deacon is required to be a “one-woman man” which could never be said of a woman (1 Tim 3:12). Distinguishing between the offices of deacon and deaconess is the only way to avoid a contradiction between 1 Timothy 3:2 and Romans 16:1. This means there are four offices in the local church: elder, deacon, deaconess, and the order of widows who care for the orphans of the church and infants who had been abandoned (1 Tim 5:9-10).

Another argument used to support deaconesses in the church is 1 Timothy 3:11 which is normally translated as “their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things.” But because the Greek word for “wife” is the same as for “woman,” the context must determine whether verse 11 should be translated as “their wives” or “women” referring to deaconesses. “Their” is not in the Greek text. Since verse 12 uses the same word to refer to the wife of the deacon, it is more likely that verse 11 is referring to the deacon’s wife for the same reason an elder must manage his household well (1 Tim 3:4-5).

In the early church, the office of deaconess eventually became tied to the concept of a vow of perpetual celibacy. Deaconesses were required to remain unmarried parallel to how priests would eventually be required to remain celibate. This unbiblical requirement is likely the result of interpreting 1 Timothy 5:9-12 to be a reference to deaconesses instead of a separate order of widows. But if 1 Timothy 5:9-12 is describing the office of deaconess, then that would mean only widows of at least 60 years of age can serve as deaconesses. But most of those in the early church who believed deaconesses had to take a vow of perpetual celibacy did not require all of them to be widows of at least 60 years of age. Also, these requirements are different than those for a deacon in 1 Timothy 3 demonstrating that it is not the same office. Eventually, women were forbidden from serving as deacons altogether.

Does 1 Timothy 5 Teach That Women Can Be Elders?

One of the arguments for egalitarianism or the belief that there are no distinctions of roles between men and women in the church is Paul’s teaching in 1 Timothy 5:2 where he refers to a group of women as presbuteras. Since the word for an elder in the church is presbuteros, some argue that Paul is affirming in this verse that women can serve as female elders.

But there is a reason why scholars translate the word as “older women” rather than “female elders.” The word presbuteros in Greek simply refers to an older man. This word was chosen to describe the elders of the church because those who are pastors must be mature in their walk with the Lord. Whether it is being used to describe elders or older men in general as it does in 5:1 must be determined by the context. In 5:2, the feminine form of the word is contrasted with the younger women indicating that Paul has age in mind, not an office of elder. In 5:1, Paul is referring to older men in general because it is contrasted with younger men. The context in which Paul is speaking is that of widows who need to be taken care of by the church, not a position of pastoral leadership.

Another take on this passage is that of Robert Morey who argues that while women cannot teach men in the church, they can serve as female elders. He notes that verses 9-11 speak of an enrollment of certain widows in the church which distinguishes them from the rest of the older women in the congregation. This group is known as the order of widows who have all but disappeared from the modern church. Morey argues that the order of widows are female elders who are the counterpart to the male elders of the church. While Morey is correct that the order of widows has fallen into disregard (see canon 11 of the Council of Laodicea), he is incorrect that they are female elders.

It is true that the qualifications for an elder in 1 Timothy 3 parallel the qualifications for the order of widows in 1 Timothy 5:9-10, but they just as equally parallel the qualifications for a deacon. If one person can argue that the order of widows are female elders, another person could just as equally argue that they are female deacons. The qualifications demonstrate that this is about more than just taking care of older women. These women were called to serve the church through their gifts in their old age in exchange for being taken care of by the church. The money they were given would go towards supporting themselves and the orphan children they cared for. That is why they must have the gifts of hospitality and the ability to care for the afflicted. This order is different than the office of elder and deacon because these qualifications are distinct from them.

Because the order of widows is limited to older widows, limiting an office of female elders to these women alone would not make the feminists happy anyway. So, to conclude his essay by saying, “If this biblical program would have been carried out in obedience for the last 1,900 years, we would not have the feminist issue today” is simply untrue because egalitarians want for female elders to be able to do all the things that male elders can. Limiting female elders to those who are older widows and saying that they cannot teach men would not make egalitarians happy since equality is incompatible in their minds with role differentiation. The feminist issue is the product of the sexual revolution, not the church’s neglect of using its widows.

What Is Novatianism?

Novatianism is the belief that Christians who commit apostasy can never be readmitted back into membership in the church. The historical background which led to Novatianism is the Decian persecution of 250 in which Emperor Decius ordered that all Roman citizens make a sacrifice to the Roman gods on his behalf. Because Christians cannot engage in idolatry, many of them chose to die for their faith rather than comply with the emperor’s orders. But many professing Christians did apostatize from the faith by offering sacrifices to the gods so they could procure a libellus or document which would ensure their safety. Those who denied the faith by this act were called lapsi or those who lapsed in their commitment to Christ.

But what should the church do when those who are among the lapsi want to return to the church after engaging in idolatry? Some in the church, such as Bishop Cornelius of Rome, allowed the lapsi to return to the church after a period of penance while Novatian opposed all attempts to allow repentant apostates to return to the church. Those who followed Novatian were known as katharoi or “pure ones” who advocated for a pure church in which those who left could not return. The later followers of Novatian expanded the list of sins which permanently excluded one from the church to include murder and sexual immorality. The Novatians were in general agreement with Tertullian that God could forgive all sin, but that there were some sins the church could not forgive.

Now why would anyone believe that apostasy cannot be forgiven by the church? The Novatians came to this conclusion based on their understanding of Hebrews 6:4: “For it is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have once been enlightened.” Because it is impossible to restore to repentance those who had apostatized in the Book of Hebrews, restoration is impossible for apostates. They also argued that we should not restore those who commit mortal sins that lead to a loss of salvation based on 1 John 5:16: “If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life – to those who commit sins that do not lead to death. There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that.”

I have written elsewhere on Hebrews 6 explaining why it is impossible to restore these people to repentance. The mistake Novatian made with regards to Hebrews 6 is that he misunderstands why it is that repentance is impossible for them. The reason it is impossible is because such people will never desire to return to the church again because they will never be given the gift of regeneration by the Holy Spirit. But if a person believes that the act of baptism results in regeneration rather than it coming about by the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of his elect through the gospel, then he will badly misunderstand the apostasy passages of Scripture.

Novatian’s interpretation of the passage is the only consistent way to interpret it if one believes that a Christian can lose his salvation because baptism brings about regeneration and not everyone who is baptized endures to the end. Those who use Hebrews 6 to argue that a Christian can lose his salvation are not being consistent because they believe that a person can be saved and lost many times during his life. If Hebrews 6 and 1 John 5 are describing mortal sins that cause a Christian to lose his salvation, then salvation cannot be restored and we should not pray for that person. But because those who believe in a category of mortal sins believe that salvation can be restored and that we should pray for apostates demonstrates that they really don’t believe what the text says. The Novatian controversy exposed the inconsistency of baptismal regeneration and the belief that salvation can be lost when the very texts used to support such beliefs taken literally in the sense in which they were interpreted resulted in the absurd conclusion that truly repentant people cannot be restored to repentance. But the fact that they are repentant demonstrates that they have not committed the sin of Hebrews 6 or 1 John 5.

Why Do We Have So Many Shut-ins?

Why do churches have so many older people on the membership roll who never attend the gathering of the church on Sunday morning? I have come to the conclusion that a large portion of them are not really shut-ins at all. It is not so much that they are unable to attend church, but that they are unwilling to attend. The same people who are on the membership roll as shut-ins still leave the house to go to the doctor when they need to or have a friend drive them where they need to go. Most shut-ins could go to church if they really wanted to. They could ask another member of the church to give them a ride on Sunday morning or call the pastor to ask him to send someone to pick them up so they can go to church. But they choose not to.

So why is this? I believe the reason is because they are bitter and angry with God. Because God has not given them what they wanted in life, they refuse to go to church as a means of getting back at God. Because God has not given them what they want: health, prosperity, a happy marriage, and children who do not die before they do, they refuse to give God what he wants: worship. In their old age, they are revealing the true condition of their heart. By removing themselves from the fellowship of the church on Sunday morning, they are unknowingly practicing church discipline on themselves when the church did not have the courage to remove them earlier when they first stopped attending. To leave the church is to leave Christ (1 John 2:19). True Christians are marked by love for God and for one another (1 John 3:10, 14). But if someone is not part of the gathering of a local church, how can he show love for the brothers of Christ?

So what should churches do about all the shut-ins on the membership roll who are not really shut-ins? Of course there are some people who really are shut-in and confined to their bed. But those people usually do not have much longer to live and their absence from the church is only temporary until they are taken into glory. But for those shut-ins who are able to come to church on their own power or through the assistance of others, the church should admonish them gently to return to the fellowship of the church and offer them any assistance they need (1 Tim 5:1). If they still refuse to listen, then the church should begin the process of church discipline in Matthew 18 which may end with that person being removed from the membership of the church. By not attending, they have already removed themselves from the membership of the church and the final stage of church discipline is only making formal what has already happened informally.