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............."Oh, the gallant fisher's life, It is the best of any 'Tis full of pleasure, void of strife, And 'tis beloved of many." ..........[Piscator's Song, "The Compleat Angler" by Izaak Walton] "The fishers also shall mourn,and all they that cast angle into the brooks shall lament, and they that spread nets upon the waters shall languish." [Isaiah XIX:8]

Friday, April 30, 2010

Of Matters of Conscience

The following question was passed on to me by a church member, he having received from a non-reformed friend.

I have a spiritual question for you. My parents still go to the United Methodist Church that I was raised going to. Recently, they got a new senior pastor, and she's a woman. Well, [my wife] and I don't feel like it's Biblical for a woman to be a pastor, especially a senior pastor like that. So that has caused some problems with what we're going to do when we visit there on weekends. We have talked about telling my parents that we don't think it's Biblical to have a woman pastor, and so we don't feel right about attending church with them. But, that feels to me like a pretty harsh approach to take, because we are then saying that we'll never to go church with them when we visit, and this pastor will surely be there for a few years. I'm sure they wouldn't want to go to church without us, so that just creates problems. The other issue is, if [our son] goes to visit by himself, do we just let him go to church with them, even though we disagree with the pastor issue?

[My wife] and I had a pretty intense discussion about this tonight. She feels very strongly about it, and has said that she just would not feel comfortable going to church there, but that if we talk to my parents about it and share our beliefs with them, then she'd be willing to go to church with them on the occasional visit. Last time we went, we had to just tell them we would rather stay home instead of go to church, because [my wife] and I hadn't resolved this. She and I have each sought counsel from godly people through our church, and the man I spoke to told me he would probably sit down with his parents and tell them that he didn't agree with the female pastor thing, so he wouldn't be going to church with them. The women [my wife] spoke to all told her that she needed to consider her own witness in the matter, and not hurting it. They thought the best course of action would be to speak the truth, and let it be known how we feel about it, but to still be ok with going to church with them when we're there. The problem I have with that approach is, if we're going to go to church with them, why even confront that issue and voice our opinion? What good would that do, or what benefit would that have? Then my family would always just feel like we didn't really want to be going to their church.

It's a difficult and delicate matter, and I have to say, it has worn me plumb out tonight. I decided to call my mom and just tell her that it wouldn't work with our schedule to have [our son] visit over the weekend, but that he could come on Sunday afternoon. That way, we can just avoid the whole church issue until we're able to pray about it and reach some kind of resolution.

Anyway, if you have any insight, advice, opinion, counsel, whatever on this issue, I'd welcome it.

Dear M____,

Greetings in Christ.

I truly do appreciate your desire to do the right and helpful thing.

Let me begin by saying that your conviction about a woman pastor is biblically justified. The apostle Paul writes, “Let a woman learn in silence with all submission. And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence” (I Timothy 2:11-12). And also he writes, “Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says. And if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is shameful for women to speak in church” (I Corinthians 14:34-35). Of course, there is also the instruction that the overseer is to be “the husband of one wife” (I Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:5). We could multiply texts of biblical warrant. Important to remember is that the apostle does not root this in culture but in creation. In both I Timothy 2 and in I Corinthians 11, the apostle points to the order of creation in that the man was created first, and the woman was created “from man” and “for the man” (I Corinthians 11:8-9). Now I Corinthians 11 is, of course, a much debated passage as it relates to what Paul means about “head coverings”, but I think it is important to understand that Paul begins with an absolutely clear principle: “the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God” (I Corinthians 11:3). [Note: without trying to argue all the details, I believe very strongly that I Corinthians 11:1-16 is about right order, about honoring one’s head (whether that head be a husband of a wife, or Christ who is the head of the church, or God the Father who is head over God the Son. In other words, in my opinion, headship is the overriding issue.]

Having said that, I believe, M______, that it behooves you to take the lead in this matter and to lead your family well as head of your family.

God would have you and your family worship Him where He is honored, where His word is kept, preached, and obeyed. If a female pastor is a violation of His word; it is thus a dishonor to Him. Is that not your conviction of conscience?

Many of the mainline churches have sorely compromised God’s word in many ways. Many churches have long since compromised the Biblical command regarding the ordination of women to the office of minister or elder. The more recent furor over the ordination of homosexuals in the Episcopal and Presbyterian churches is even more notorious. But even deeper to the core, over the past century many of the churches/denominations have denied the authority and infallibility of the Scriptures, the deity of Jesus Christ (the Second Person of the Trinity, the Word become flesh (John 1:14)), and the necessity of the blood atonement.

I believe, M_____, that it behooves you to lead your family (your wife, your son) into worship in a church where the Word of God is honored on a weekly basis. Do we compromise that conviction when we are visiting family or on vacation? Should we? I think you know the answer to the latter question. Does it require some courage of faith to speak forth your convictions? Of course, it does. But God will help you do the right thing by the presence of the power of the Holy Spirit. I encourage you to pray for that courage and conviction, and that you not compromise. Speaking a firm but gentle word to your parents would be a great testimony, especially if that is coupled with you, on those Lord's Days when you are visiting your parents, finding another place of worship you where you and your wife and son can attend and worship in good conscience. A good conscience is a gift of God’s grace, knowing that our sins are forgiven and that we are endeavoring by faith to walk in a manner pleasing and honoring to the Lord, our Head.

And, yes, you do have a responsibility for your son on those occasions when you are absent. I think it is right that you take measures to insure that he is in a place of worship where your consciences as parents are clear, even when you are not there. If that means avoiding those times over a Lord’s Day with your parents, then so be it. That may sound severe, but love looks out for the well being of another, doesn’t it?

Allow me to conclude with a personal note. I grew up with my parents in what was then the United Presbyterian Church of North America (which in 1958 became the UPCUSA and as of 1983 is now known as the PCUSA). I was baptized in that denomination; I professed faith in that denomination; I attended a United Presbyterian Church seminary; I was ordained in the United Presbyterian Church; our daughter S_____ and our son J_____ were baptized in that denomination. In my first two years of ordained ministry, however, I witnessed my denomination accept a minister who denied the deity of Christ, who denied the blood atonement, and who would not affirm the bodily resurrection. Despite appeals to our church’s General Assembly (the highest judicatory in the church) over the course of successive years, his acceptance into the ministry was upheld. My conscience required that I with my family leave that denomination in 1981. Eventually my wife and children and I joined the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, a Bible-believing denomination. That was nearly thirty years ago. My point is this; while I loved my parents very dearly at the time and still do, even more, and while they love me very dearly, they know why I chose to leave the denomination of which they are still a part and why, over those 29+ years and to this day, we have not worshiped with them on a Lord’s Day in one of the churches of their denomination. I might say that on occasion they have visited our churches and worshiped with us; and to this day we rejoice in those family times we have together with them. They have remained at their same church for all these years, and while they have never had a female pastor, they have had a number of female ruling elders. Still, they consider their congregation pretty conservative and it is my hope that their Christian confession is genuine. Even so, it remains my conviction that their denomination as a whole remains apostate.

M____, I cannot predict what reaction your parents might give if you speak with them about your concerns and if you take the steps I have suggested above. Even so, you can be sure that the truth spoken in love to them would be a good thing with which God would be well pleased. If we confess Christ before others and do not deny Him, He will confess us before the Father. He is faithful, and His Word is true.

May God bless you richly and may His grace toward you abound. I am praying for you.

In Christ,


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