Looking To Jesus, Chapter 9

By BARBARANNE KELLY|CONTRIBUTOR

This week in our book study we are considering the importance of Scripture in the challenges the church faces in holding fast to truth in a culture of rapidly changing and declining values. Our study of women’s ministry returns again and again to keeping our understanding of biblical womanhood centered on the truth as revealed in God’s holy Scriptures. The challenges come in many shapes; the single issue at the core is: will our homes, our friendships, our fellowship, our ministry, and—frankly—even our Bible studies be shaped by the world or the Word?

As the culture runs headlong away from the truth, our uncompromising stand on the Word of God will become more and more offensive to the world (hard to imagine, but true). In our book, Ligon Duncan quotes Dorothy Sayers as she dealt with this issue in 1940, saying, “It is not the business of the church to conform Christ to men, but men to Christ.”[1] Elsewhere in the same essay Sayers writes:

“I believe it to be a grave mistake to present Christianity as something charming and popular with no offense in it. Seeing that Christ went about the world giving the most violent offense to all kinds of people, it would seem absurd to expect that the doctrine of his person can be so presented as to offend nobody.”[2]

The pressures to compromise with the world are all around us and they weigh on us all. The issues that were pressing on the church in the mid-20th century may have changed on the surface, but at their core they share with the issues of our day a basic challenge to the authority of scripture. They all boil down to the same question, “Did God really say…?”[3]

When confronted with this question, even—no, particularly—on the issue of biblical womanhood, we must stand firm. As Ligon writes, “If you can write off, ignore, or distort the Bible’s teaching in this area, as crystal-clear as it is, then you can do so with anything the Bible teaches.”[4]

This is precisely the point made by Richard D. Phillips in a post he authored at Reformation 21 last week. Rick described the slide from orthodoxy by Fred Harrell, who trained under Tim Keller, served in RUF ministry, then as an associate pastor, planted a PCA church in San Francisco, and then gradually began compromising with the progressive pressures surrounding him. It started with a change of heart concerning the ordination of women (for which cause he led his church out of the PCA into the more liberal RCA). The next compromise was changing the church’s view on sexual orientation.

“Harrell insisted that City Church had not abandoned its high view of Scripture. Yet it was clear from Harrell’s explanation that the shift resulted from factors other than more careful exegesis: LGBT men and women were coming to the church, wanting to be Christian while also enjoying homosexual marriage; Harrell lamented hearing “stories of harm” resulting from the church’s rejection of homosexuality; and based on “pastoral conversations and social science research,” he and his elders decided to change their view of Scripture’s teaching.”[5]

Did you catch that? Based on personal interaction and cultural pressures, not on the authority of scripture, the decision was made to compromise the teaching of scripture. But wait, there’s more. Bowing to the pressure of the LGBTQ agenda isn’t news. The more recent incident, the reason for Rick’s article, is even more stunning. Rick was responding to a recent Tweet from Fred Harrell endorsing an article titled, “Is the Cross Even Necessary?” in which the author denies Christ’s propitiation on the cross. Harrell tweeted:

“As the living Word of God, Jesus regularly forgave sins without the need for retributive justice.”

Harrell began by “present[ing] Christianity as something charming and popular with no offense in it,” and slid from one compromise to the next into a denial of one of the basic pillars of orthodox belief.

Rick outlines three lessons to be learned from Fred Harrell’s “progression from the ordination of women to the acceptance of homosexuality and now, apparently, to the rejection of penal substitutionary atonement and the propitiation of Christ,” the second of which pertains to the focus of our study:

“In the late-20th century and early 21st century, the slippery slope has tended to begin over the issue of women’s ordination. The reason for this is not because there is something especially nefarious about women being ordained, but because this is the point of maximum cultural outrage at which progressives have tended to capitulate. “We will never accommodate homosexuality,” they then cry, “and we will certainly never abandon an evangelical understanding of the gospel.” Yet – let the PCA beware! – the fact is that the cost of abandoning the clear biblical teaching of male-only ordination is the abandonment of the authority of Scripture against all further demands of secular culture. As Paul Gilbert once wrote about Harrell: “The principles of biblical interpretation employed in embracing the ordination of women opens the door wide for these same principles to be employed in more devious ways in relation to the core doctrines of Scripture.””[6]

The very real and present danger of compromising on scripture and thus deviating from the truth is not merely unwise, it is perilous. Sound teaching on the Bible is vital to women’s ministry today because women’s ministry is squarely on the front lines of the battle. We, as women, need to know the truth that God designed us with distinct differences from men, and that those differences do not make us less than men but rather, they complement them.  Our homes and churches function best when men fulfill their God-given roles and women, coming alongside the men, fulfill their God-given roles. We work together for the benefit of our families and churches, as God designed, and it is good.

And so, in women’s ministry—from the classroom to the kitchen table, woman-to-woman and life-on-life—we teach one another, speaking the truth in love, that God’s design for women is a high calling and biblical womanhood is not being a doormat but is fulfilling in ways the world cannot comprehend. As we gather around the Scriptures in our Bible studies—married and single, young and old—we must affirm its authority over our lives and the truths therein. When we encounter worldly ideas which oppose the Word we must stand firm and not compromise the truth, “with humility and gentleness, with kindness, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”[7]

As we submit to Scripture in humility we are being equipped to carry out the roles for which we are designed. As Paul teaches in 2 Timothy: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man (and woman) of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”[8] And this equipping serves and strengthens the whole body, as he writes in Ephesians:

“And he gave the . . . . shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.”[9]

The equipping begins in the pulpit and works its way down to the saints, men and women, who need to be trained in the truth of Scripture so that we are not subject to the waves and winds of false doctrines or the human cunning and craftiness of deceit which the world brings to bear with unrelenting force.

Sorting it all out is confusing at least, and painful at worst. Sorting it out takes wisdom gained by experience, and so we need to walk alongside one another, the weak with the strong, the young with the mature, one generation teaching the next to grow up in the wisdom and knowledge of the Lord. Sorting it out; wrestling with the truths of Scripture; seeking to understand even the difficult parts, is part of our sanctification, for which Jesus prayed on the night of his arrest, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.”[10]

Our goal is to grow up to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, but we can’t reach it alone. We need one another, called by the Father, empowered by the Spirit, walking in submission to the Scriptures, and looking to Jesus, to the praise of his glory.


[1] J. Ligon Duncan and Susan Hunt, Women’s Ministry in the Local Church, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2006) 132

[2] Dorothy Sayers, Creed or Chaos (1940) reprinted in Letters to a Diminished Church (2004; Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson), 54.

[3] Genesis 3:1

[4] Duncan and Hunt, p. 132

[5] Richard D. Phillips, The Slippery Slope and the Jesus Box, (August 4, 2017; Reformation 21: Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals) accessed August 9, 2017, http://www.reformation21.org/blog/2017/08/the-slippery-slope-and-the-jes.php (emphasis mine)

[6] Ibid. (emphasis mine)

[7] Ephesians 4:2, 3

[8] 2 Timothy 3:16, 17

[9] Ephesians 4:11-14

[10] John 17:17