Monthly Archives: August 2009

Because saying ‘no’ to a bacon sarnie isn’t sinful, apparently

Dave Bish has been considering the issue of women teaching in student Christian Unions. He says that where CUs are divided on this issue, the majority should lovingly submit to the minority. For example, in a CU where the majority hold to the complementarian position (they believe that women are equal in status but not in role, and believe it is exclusively a man’s role to lead through teaching), they should allow women to teach so that the minority don’t feel oppressed. Or vice versa, in a majority egalitarian CU, the majority should not impose women teachers on the complementarian minority.

Dave distinguishes between the position in a CU, which is an evangelistic organisation with a small shared doctrinal basis, and a church, where decisions have to be made about how to teach about marriage and whether to appoint female elders.

I want to make a couple of points in response.

Firstly, a lot of what Dave is saying seems to be an application of Romans 14, correct?

A quick sample:

As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions.
Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.


An egalitarian CU ought to welcome a complementarian person (whom they would judge weak in faith), by not putting the hinderance of a female speaker in front of the complementarian.

That’s fine, but when we looked at Romans 14 in our small groups earlier this year, we noted that Paul specifically talks to those who are ‘strong’ in faith – those who are happy to eat anything or drink anything. He tells those people not to destroy the work of God by what they eat or drink. So in essence, the strong should love the weak by being willing to give up their bacon sandwiches or their beer so that the weak people don’t feel that they are in sin or unwelcome.

What he doesn’t say is that the weak people should act like the strong to welcome the strong. So if the house church contained a majority of people who felt eating pork was not right, Paul’s not saying they should start serving bacon sandwiches before church just so the people who feel that eating them is ok feel welcome.

No, because for the person who thinks eating bacon sarnies is wrong, eating them really is a sin. Verse 23:

But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.

But for the person who thinks it’s ok to eat bacon sandwiches, it is not a sin for them not to eat them. (NOTE: THIS DOES NOT MEAN THAT ANYTHING YOU THINK IS ‘OK’ IS NOT A SIN!!)

So basically, as well as being loving, Christian communities should default to the “least sin” position. It is the strong who have an obligation to the weak.

I’d argue that in the complementarian/egalitarian debate in CUs, it is the complementarians who are more obviously weak. That’s because everyone agrees that male speakers are ok, it’s just whether female speakers are ok or not.

When a male speaker speaks, both complementarians and egalitarians are happy. No one is sinning. The egalitarians might be thinking it would be great to get that really excellent female speaker in sometime, but like missing out on bacon sandwiches, they’ll just have to put up with it for the sake of their weaker brothers and sisters.

However when a female speaker speaks, often complementarians are sinning. If they really are convinced it is wrong to sit under a woman’s teaching then they are sinning, and we’ve just mucked up our application of Romans 14.

An egalitarian CU leader might feel that he’s sinning by not allowing women to have their God-given right to teach, but I think we can agree that this is a less obvious sin than the complementarian’s.

Ok, that was point 1.

Point 2 is much more brief. Which is to consider how CUs and churches are different in this respect. I think they are, but possibly not for quite the same reason as Dave.

The “minimal doctrinal basis so we can have a shared mission” point is fair enough, but it’s quite a pragmatic argument that is prone to a ‘where do you draw the line?’ response.

I think the reason churches can be a bit more inflexible on this is that they have elders who have authority and responsibility for those decisions. If I’m not sure whether someone should or shouldn’t teach in my local church, I am happy to sit under that teaching regardless, because I defer to the authority of my elders, knowing their God given role is to make those kinds of decisions and to bear the responsibility for them. In a CU it’s not quite the same, because I’m not convinced that a CU leader has quite the same authority to make those kinds of decisions.

Additionally, I would think that a convinced egalitarian church leadership would probably be sinning if they didn’t appoint a woman they considered suitable to the eldership since the nature of church leadership is quite different to an occasional CU speaking engagement. So in a church the egalitarian/complementarian positions become a bit harder to classify into weak/strong.

It’s complicated stuff, and I haven’t had a coffee yet, so please don’t take this as anything other than tentative. If you think what I’ve said is wrong, or has dangerous implications let me know. With that, I’m off for a bacon sarnie!


Admitted into a participation of this grace – Calvin on Romans 6

Let us know, that the Apostle does not simply exhort us to imitate Christ, as though he had said that the death of Christ is a pattern which all Christians are to follow; for no doubt he ascends higher, as he announces a doctrine, with which he connects, as it is evident, an exhortation; and his doctrine is this — that the death of Christ is efficacious to destroy and demolish the depravity of our flesh, and his resurrection, to effect the renovation of a better nature, and that by baptism we are admitted into a participation of this grace.

This foundation being laid, Christians may very suitably be exhorted to strive to respond to their calling. Farther, it is not to the point to say, that this power is not apparent in all the baptized; for Paul, according to his usual manner, where he speaks of the faithful, connects the reality and the effect with the outward sign; for we know that whatever the Lord offers by the visible symbol is confirmed and ratified by their faith. In short, he teaches what is the real character of baptism when rightly received. So he testifies to the Galatians, that all who have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ. (Galatians 3:27.)

Thus indeed must we speak, as long as the institution of the Lord and the faith of the godly unite together; for we never have naked and empty symbols, except when our ingratitude and wickedness hinder the working of divine beneficence.

— John Calvin, Commentary on Romans

Romans 6 and baptism in the early church

I’m somewhat hesitant to post this, as my views are not fully formed, it’s a comment on a major source of disunity in the church, and many greater minds than myself have come to a different view on this.

But what is blogging for if not to discuss a few ideas, while practicing discernment?

With that in mind, read this passage assuming that the early church had a normative practice of infant baptism:

3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.


If you suppose all-age baptism in the early church, what is the most obvious interpretation of this? Surely that all of us who have been baptised with water have been spiritually united to Christ, adults and infants alike. You’d be looking around your Roman house church thinking there’s Andronicus and Junia – they’re baptised, so they’re united to Christ. And their two little sprogs, Andronicute and Juniette. They’re baptised too, so Paul is saying they’ve been buried with Christ in his death.

This has some interesting implications. This baptism is not presented as a breakable bond, so surely it means that all the baptised will be saved. Breakable or not, we’re in Federal Vision territory. Does it not also mean that the unbaptised will not be saved since they cannot be united to Christ through baptism? In which case, what about the old “if you confess with your mouth and believe in your heart that Jesus is Lord” line from a few chapters later? Are there two ways to be saved? I’m sure we would all say ‘certainly not!’

Additionally, why exactly would God chose the application of water upon an infant to be the thing that joins them to Christ?

To avoid these issues, you’re forced to say with Dunn that this passage refers to a spiritual baptism leading to a spiritual unity with Christ. But most agree this is unlikely. Or you say, with Calvin, that baptism unites you to Christ conditionally upon faith (and indeed mortification! Institues 4.16.16). But are we to imagine that Paul wanted his Roman readers to keep inserting “and repentant faith” in this passage every time he mentions baptism? No, Paul is really saying that baptism unites you to Christ in his death – we have been united with him.

Let’s try again, this time reading the passage presupposing an early church practice of normative believers’ baptism upon profession of faith.

If baptism stands for the public declaration of faith in the Christ who died for your trespasses and was raised for your justification (Rom 4) then the link between faith and baptism is much clearer. If baptism in the early church presupposes faith, then it is easy to see why Paul is able to use baptism as a kind of synecdoche for faith. It becomes obvious why baptism should unite you to Christ – it does it in the same way faith does. Christians can look back on their baptism as a point where they became united to Christ as they publicly identified themselves with Christ in his death. It’s essentially an intensified, objective expression of faith – a confession with the mouth and with the body that Jesus is Lord.

Obviously this is not to say that all baptisms follow true faith, nor that all who are saved must be baptised. But this passage makes most sense if it was the norm in the early church for baptism to be an expression of an individual’s faith.


All the better for it

I was just sitting on the bench in the garden having lunch, and some thoughts about brokenness and fixing occurred to me.

You see, the bench used to be broken, and looked like a sad tangle of spars. But soon after I moved in we managed to fit all the pieces back together, and drill some screws into it. It’s almost as good as new, and I take an almost absurd pleasure in sitting on it.

It’s the same with my bike. I really enjoy the freedom of cycling around, but for a couple of months I’ve been stranded by a puncture. I finally got round to replacing the inner tube last week. After finishing the process of taking off the wheel, removing the tyre, pumping up the new tube and replacing the wheel, it feels better than ever to be rolling round East London.

It’s like that in the Bible too. In Luke 15, Jesus tells three stories about lost things being found. A shepherd loses a sheep. A widow loses a coin. A father loses a son. But in each story, what was lost is found. And because it is found, life is better than ever. The shepherd calls his mates to say ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ The widow calls her girlfriends to say ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ The father celebrates and kills a fattened calf, saying to his other son ‘It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’

When what we lost is restored to us, life is better than ever. Jesus said ‘there is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents, than 99 righteous persons who need no repentance’.

We all know the hurt broken things can cause. Broken homes and broken relationships look ugly and leave us stranded.

But Christians know that God is a fixer. They know that he’s remaking the world, slotting every broken spar into place. When he’s finished, life will be better than ever. Paul writes to the Romans:

I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.

When broken things are fixed, it’s a beautiful thing. Whatever happens to the broken things of this world, one day the whole world will be fixed. And it will be all the better for it.

Our freedom is sweeter because we were stranded. Our rest will be more satisfying because it was lost.

And God will rejoice in a people who are his, who once were dead, but now are alive. Who were lost, but now are found.