Results tagged “ordination” from Reformation21 Blog

Standing Firm on the Slippery Slope

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A few weeks ago, the editorial team at Ref21 asked me if I would be willing to write something regarding Fred Harrell (pastor of City Church, San Francisco) and his recent postings in which he attacked the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement. In doing so, I made a connection between Harrell's prior shifts (first, adopting the ordination of women and, second, endorsing homosexual relations) and his most recent movement away from the clear teaching of God's Word. My conclusion was to posit this as evidence of a slippery slope, further noting that in our cultural moment the slippery slope is usually entered at the point of ordaining women to office in the church.

It would be an understatement to observe that this post touched a raw nerve for some readers.* Two responses, however, were somewhat surprising to me. First, in commenting on Harrell's trajectory, I found it necessary to provide some context. In doing so I noted some of his former ministry associations, drawing an accusation that I was smearing particular people and groups--as if to suggest that they too must hold similar views to Harrell. This criticism seems to me to arise from a most uncharitable reading of what I wrote. But I am happy to clarify that my point was simply to note that Harrell is a product of reputable ministries and not a wild-eyed liberal whose trajectory bears no relevance to his former denomination (the Presbyterian Church in America). I do not mean to suggest that his former associates inevitably share his views. Likewise, if someone was to draw conclusions from my career it would be necessary to note my association with James Boice and Tenth Presbyterian Church. To do so would not be to tar Boice with my failings but simply to provide necessary context.

A second response to my post was to deny that there is validity to the idea of slippery slopes. My initial response to this criticism is to marvel that people can take this position in light of recent church history. Cue the Santayana reference! Still, the topic is important enough that I think it good to defend the position I took earlier.

First, let me define what I mean in referring to the slippery slope. The slippery slope simply notes that those who remove the restraint against worldly conformity place themselves in peril of further and more damaging accommodations. The slope becomes slippery when the source of friction is removed. Far from the logical fallacy of which it is charged, there is a logical basis for the slippery slope argument: when the authority of Scripture is yielded to cultural demands, the loss of that authority renders us vulnerable to further cultural demands. Herein lies the wisdom of Scripture: "If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?" (Ps. 11:3). Indeed, the very first Psalm begins with a portrayal of the slippery slope, charting a progression from "the counsel of the wicked" to "the way of sinners" and ultimately (one thinks of the so-called Jesus Box) to "the seat of scoffers" (Ps. 1:1).

In making these observations, I do not mean that anyone who changes his or her view in the direction of cultural preferences is irrevocably bound to further concessions. It is blessedly true that people and churches have taken a perilous step to the left (or right) and later reconsidered, and to note examples of this happening does not prove that their previous action had not been imperilled. It is because the slippery slope can be escaped by recommitting to Scripture that warnings of peril are of value. Moreover, I do not mean to suggest that those who make any concessions to culture over Scripture have already abandoned the atonement of Christ. I am suggesting, however, that the slippery slope is...well, slippery. Those who remove traction from their feet may very well slide much further than they first thought possible. As Fred Harrell's progression illustrates (together with those of the PC(USA), CRC, RCA, Church of Scotland, and other denominations), the abandonment of clear biblical teaching at one cultural pressure-point (women's ordination), imperils us with further capitulations (homosexual acceptance), and if unchecked will find itself challenged to avoid "touching the Jesus Box."

Second, I noted that in our time, the slippery slope is usually entered at the point of women's ordination. This tendency is not surprising, since the assault of secular culture against the Bible is most tenaciously focused on gender and sexuality. To uphold biblical gender norms, including the Bible's clear teaching on male-only ordination (see the recent PCA study committee report), is the single most inflammatory position that Christians may hold in our culture. For this reason, it is hard to find an example in recent history when a Christian leader or church denomination moved from biblical conservatism to unbiblical cultural conformity when the slide did not begin with the ordination of women to church office. It stands to reason, then, that we should avoid thinking that we can conform to the worldly demands regarding gender and avoid further accommodations of greater significance.

This brings me to the topic of women deacons. Several critics accused me of asserting that to support the ordination of women to the office of deacon is to abandon the gospel. This response is noteworthy because I made no mention of women deacons in my post. I will admit, however, to being unpersuaded that the move to ordain women deacons is unrelated to a broader agenda of cultural accommodation. In saying this, I do not mean to question the sincerity of those individuals who advocate the position that women should hold the office of deacon. But I would note the growing tendency among these same persons to employ women in roles that are as associated with the office of elder. For example, in many churches pastored by ministers who are supportive of the ordination of women deacons, women are placed in the pulpit during worship services for the public reading of Scripture and to offer the congregational prayer. Women are assigned to distribute the elements of the Lord's Supper (an action historically associated with what the BCO calls "the admission of persons to sealing ordinances," i.e., church discipline). These are functions associated with the office of elders, not deacons. Moreover, it is a matter of record that increasing numbers of men are seeking exceptions from their presbyteries on the matter of women elders and pastors. Word has recently come that pressure is being exerted in one PCA presbytery to install a woman as its stated clerk, making her a member of a court composed exclusively of ruling and teaching elders. Where is the outcry against these tendencies from those who say that they are only wishing to ordain women as deacons?

In light of this growing body of evidence, and without wanting to question anyone's sincerity, I would suggest that unity and mutual trust are strengthened not only by assurances but by actions. The slippery slope runs in many directions, of course, depending on the cultural pressures. Everything I have noted about the gender pressures of the left, for instance, equally pertains to racist pressures on the right. If we are to have unity in the coming years, it behooves us all carefully to consider how our actions line up with our assurances. Moreover, since the sole restraint to all our sin and tendency to compromise is our obedience to the voice of the Spirit of Christ speaking in Holy Scripture, the counsel given by Jeremiah at another moment of cultural of peril seems urgent: "Stand by the crossroads, and look and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls" (Jer. 6:16). In this way alone will we navigate the perils of our times, fortifying both our fidelity to Christ and our mutual bonds of unity and trust.

 

*One well-known pastor wrote me privately to accuse me of being schismatic. It is a feature of our times, I am afraid, that to defend the consensus on which we have built unity is to be labeled as divisive.

Double Black Diamonds: Navigating the Slopes

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In his helpful blog post "The Slippery Slope and the Jesus Box" Rev. Rick Phillips explains that there is indeed a slippery slope about which we must be concerned in theology.  I say indeed, because many will be aware that the slippery slope is typically considered a logical fallacy: one assumes that adoption of one position will lead to the adoption of another position, without showing causal relationship between the two.  However, if you can demonstrate a causal relationship then the argument becomes plausible.

In theology, it does indeed seem to be the case there is a valid concern regarding a weak doctrine of Scripture as a plausible slippery slope.  So Phillips writes: "It is the unstoppable descent into liberalism and unbelief that begins when the authority of Scripture is compromised out of cultural accommodation. The slope is slippery because without the friction of an inerrant, divinely authoritative Bible, faithfully interpreted, there is nothing left to restrain the downward gravitational pull of the world's demands."

I would suggest that we label this type of slippery slope the Hermeneutical Slippery Slope.  The sin of our heart and the pressure of our culture place special tension upon those passages of Scripture that oppose them.  Jesus says, "The Scripture cannot be broken" (John 10:35). But that does not mean that the world, our flesh and the Devil won't try.  As Phillips notes, in a culture hostile toward distinctions of roles based on gender, passages that restrict ordination to males will come under extreme pressure.  At the personal level, a person struggling deeply with sexual temptation may find special tension upon passages forbidding extra-marital sexual gratification.  When we are reading Scripture and feel this tension from without or from within we have three options before us:

(1)   In faith, we can let Scripture push back against the culture and the sin of our hearts.  Under the power of the Holy Spirit the living and active Word of God will wage war against the sin of our flesh and sustain us against the pressure of the culture.

(2)   In unbelief, we can reject the Scriptures entirely.  In some ways this is a position of integrity. Rather than twist the Scriptures, we own the reality that we no longer believe them.  It is ultimately foolish because we are rejecting the word of God, but it is an honest kind of foolish.

(3)   In self-deception, we could adopt hermeneutical strategies that allow us to yield to the flesh and the culture while attempting to hang on to our faith.  Unfortunately, there are a number of strategies to assist in this effort.  If one finds limits on women's ministry in Ephesus too restrictive (1st Tim. 2), emphasize the local and historical context in that city when Paul was writing while downplaying the normative aspects of Paul's argument which are intended to ground those restrictions in creation.  If clear prohibitions against homosexual sex are offensive, then look for local and historical reasons in Rome, Corinth or even throughout the Roman Empire that you may use to relativize what, on first reading, would appear to be normative for all people in every age.

Option three above is a Hermeneutical Slippery Slope.  It is valid to regard it a slippery slope because one cannot use one hermeneutic for one set of hard texts without applying the same method to other hard texts.  So we observe the slip and the slide: a change in one's view of women's ordination precedes a change in one's view on homosexuality. The hermeneutical strategies employed to arrive at those positions are very similar; indeed, in some cases identical. The slippery slope does not always materialize, but if it does not it is against the force of logic not with the force of logic.  This slip and slide won't stop at social issues either.  Miracles, the doctrine of the Trinity, and God's holy demand for justice will all come under the scrutiny of the world, the flesh and the Devil.  Indeed, we must be on guard against the Hermeneutical Slippery Slope.

But there is another type of slippery slope in theology and church life that is fallacious and spiritually dangerous.  It is akin to the way that the Pharisees read certain commandments, being sure to put a hedge around certain laws so as to not get even close to violating them.  We might call this slope the Slippery Slope of Fear. One may be tempted to react against a certain position for fear that it will lead to a more permissive position or action contrary to Scripture.  It is not the immediate position in question that is the concern, but fear of some future position that may come later.

On the Slippery Slope of Fear, however, Scripture is still not being honored.  Rather than breaking the Scripture, the one slipping down the Slope of Fear seeks to add to Scripture.  Some comfortable distance is located between his actual practice and what Scripture allows or encourages.  For example, one may choose to object to the Session appointing godly women to assist the deacons in ministry to the congregation not because it is unauthorized or unbiblical (it is authorized in BCO 9-7), but for fear that it will lead to women being ordained to the office of deacon or elder.  "Won't they just want to be deacons next, then elders?  Why get on that train?"

I have characterized this type of thinking to my own officers as the temptation to respond to error with its opposite.  It may feel right, but it is not right.  We don't respond to error by its opposite.  When the culture goes left we don't go right.  We go Biblical.  The Biblical response may be the natural opposite in some cases, but it is not always.  We must let Scripture guide us in responding to error or adopting policies and practices.  We should always endeavor not to add to God's word by placing additional burdens on people that God has not made clear in Scripture.

Discerning the Slippery Slope of Fear can get a little more complicated, however. The reason is that for some people positions that are a matter or wisdom can become Slippery Slopes of Fear when made normative for all people.  A common example is the consumption of alcohol.  There are those who cannot consume alcohol because they know that they will be led down a destructive path of addiction.  For them that position is a wise one to take. But to restrict all people from consuming alcohol because Scripture forbids drunkenness is to go down the Slope of Fear that any consumption of alcohol will lead to drunkenness.  Ultimately when we fail to discern the difference between matters of wisdom for individuals and matter of law for all we end up in a place of legalism: forbidding what God allows.  That distorts the gospel and creates an unhealthy church culture too.

Next time you are in a theological or pastoral discussion of whether an issue or decision is a slippery slope try to discern whether it is a Hermeneutical Slippery Slope or a Slippery Slope of Fear.  In both cases the Scriptures are not given the clear and final word in matters of faith and practice.

The Slippery Slope and the Jesus Box

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Over twenty years ago, while in seminary, I was present during a hallway conversation with a professor who then seemed to be moving toward liberal theology. A student asked how this man's higher critical methods would enable him to remain a Christian. The professor gave quite the revealing answer: "I have a Jesus Box that I never touch." By this, he meant that he had drawn a line of piety around his faith in Jesus to keep out the implications of his liberal scholarship. I remember thinking at the time how vain was this hope. Method always gobbles up message, and no pietistic zeal will ever protect us from our actual lack of faith. That professor has long since moved on, and from his seat in a liberal college he has not surprisingly revised his former evangelical faith in Jesus.

This conversation came to mind yesterday when I learned of Fred Harrell's tweet endorsing a denial of Christ's propitiation on the cross.1 He commented: "As the living Word of God, Jesus regularly forgave sins without the need for retributive justice." The article to which Harrell linked, written by Derek Vreeland on Missio Alliance, asks: "Is the Cross Even Necessary?" Informed readers will recognize the argument made here, which amounts to a blend of Abelard's moral influence theory and the New Perspective on Paul.

More interesting than Vreeland's standard denial of penal substitutionary atonement is Fred Harrell's endorsement. Trained in ministry under Tim Keller at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, Harrell planted a high-profile and well-funded PCA church in San Francisco in 1997. His career charted a path that progressive ministers in the PCA long to emulate: RUF campus minister; associate at progressive-leaning urban church; pioneering church plant in a progressive city. In 2006, Harrell led City Church out of the PCA and into the liberal RCA on account of a change of heart regarding the ordination of women (which the PCA does not permit). At the time, defenders chalked up the change to the pressures of charity in an uber-progressive setting. In 2015, however, Harrell announced that City Church had changed its view on homosexuality, so as to "no longer discriminate based 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. Those who defended Harrell argued, "What's the harm if they are trying to reach people for the gospel?" Yesterday's tweet supplies the answer: the method of cultural accommodation in theology and Bible interpretation eats up the gospel and demands that it, too, accommodate to the doctrines of the world.

What are some of the lessons of 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? I can think of at least three:

  1. There is such a thing as a slippery slope in theology and faith. While this claim infuriates progressives, Fred Harrell serves as exhibit no. 4,742. What is the slippery slope? It is the unstoppable descent into liberalism and unbelief that begins when the authority of Scripture is compromised out of cultural accommodation. The slope is slippery because without the friction of an inerrant, divinely authoritative Bible, faithfully interpreted, there is nothing left to restrain the downward gravitational pull of the world's demands.
  2. 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."
  3. Yes, the slippery slope will destroy your "Jesus Box." In short, it is not an aberration that Fred Harrell has tweeted in rejection of penal substitutionary atonement and the doctrine of propitiation. It was only a matter of time. And this will not be the end. Harrell's example adds just one more straw that is breaking the camel's back in proving where the slippery slope ends up: in a blatant rejection of the very gospel, on behalf of which well-meaning progressive Christians called themselves humble, gracious, and open-minded--when, in fact, they were proudly and callously abandoning the authority of God through his Word.

A Survey of Male-Only Ordination in Key New Testament Texts

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There can be little doubt that in years to come, when historians look back on our generation, the challenge of cultural pressure on the church will loom large. First, the theory of evolution challenged the Christian doctrine of God as Creator. This led to an assault on sexual morality, which has recently reached a crescendo in the cultural embrace of homosexuality. Having conquered sexual ethics, our culture has moved immediately to the topic of sexual identity. This being the case, it is essential that Christians and churches stand firmly on the biblical teaching of man created in God's image as male and female.

Given this context, it is not surprising that the fault line of biblical authority in Protestant denominations, one after another, has fallen on sexuality and gender relationships. For some years now, the evangelical community has upheld biblical inerrancy by standing firm on a complementarian view of men and women. In the face of increasing cultural scorn, the pressure mounts. Claims are made that our witness of Jesus is compromised by the belligerence of our stance toward cultural demands, and denominations face increasing challenges to compromise and accommodate.

With this vital cultural context in mind, it will be good to review the biblical case for gender complementarianism - the teaching that men and women have distinct, different, and complementary roles - especially as it pertains to the offices of the church. To this end, it will be helpful to review three biblical passages that, while not exhausting the biblical data, are widely seen as bulwarks of the complementarian position. In each case, we will not only recall how these passages speak to the issue but also how the arguments against them reveal the particular challenge of our time.

Acts 1:21-26

The first of these passages is Acts 1:21-26, where Peter instructs the church on the selection of a new apostle to replace Judas Iscariot. Acts 1:13 lists the names of the eleven people selected by Christ as his apostles, and all are male. In Acts 1:21, Peter specifies that the new apostle must be "one of the men" who had accompanied Jesus. The Greek word for "men" is the plural of andros, which the lexicon defines as "an adult male person of marriageable age."

This statement is relevant to the principle of male-only ordained leadership in the church, including both elders and deacons, since it is indisputable that Jesus appointed only males, with not one woman, to the apostolic office. Some will counter that Jesus' decision was demanded by the social conventions of this time, which supposedly left our Lord with no other possible approach. The idea is suggested that if Jesus were to start the church today, he would of course include women as apostles. But a little reflection will cause us to pause. The composition of the apostolate was of foundational importance to the future history of Christ's church. Is it not troubling to suggest that the Son of God would have compromised an important principle due to contemporary cultural pressures? If he did, what else did Jesus compromise under pressure? Moreover, is there a shred of evidence that Jesus ever bowed to wrong-minded cultural conventions? Jesus was literally willing to be crucified rather than go along with false cultural practices pertaining to the church's doctrine and worship. Moreover, the evidence of the Gospel shows Jesus refusing to bow specifically to false gender restrictions. In a culture where a rabbi was disgraced for speaking even to his own wife or daughter in public, Jesus displayed close public fellowship with his female disciples. His treatment of the Samaritan woman (Jn. 4) and the woman caught in adultery (Jn. 8) are prominent among many instances where Jesus brazenly flouted false gender conventions. It seems best, then, to accept that Jesus intentionally ordained only males to the apostolate and to reflect reverently on the implications of this fact for ordination in today's church. Jesus' ordination of only males to the office of apostle does not end the discussion on women elders and deacons. But if we will make a primary commitment for Christ to be Lord and King of his own church, so that his sovereignty and wisdom is glorified in our own actions, we will be biased to follow the principle that he so clearly exhibited: male-only ordination to church office. In a context where few watchful believers can doubt that secular views of sex and gender are drawing churches away from biblical authority, we should be resolved to follow the wisdom and example of Christ.

1 Timothy 2:11-14

This leads us to a second key passage, Paul's prohibiting of women "to teach or exercise authority over a man" (1 Tim. 2:12). This would seem to be conclusive as to female ordination, since the whole point of ordination is the conferring of spiritual authority in the church to office-bearers, which includes elders and deacons. Given the strength of Paul's statement, it is not surprising that a wide variety of exegetical strategies are taken to blunt its edge or minimize the scope of its authority. One approach is to state that the word authentein means not to exercise but to usurp authority. However, verse 11 states that women should "learn quietly with all submissiveness" and must not "teach. . . a man." If authentein means only to usurp authority, it is impossible to see how a woman could obey the requirement to be quiet and to sit under male teaching if women are permitted to have authority over men.

A second approach against the validity of this passage is to assert that Paul's teaching here pertained only to the local situation in Ephesus. Paul did not intend, it is claimed, to establish a broad principle, but he was concerned with harmful associations with the prominent temple of Artemis and its cultic female prostitutes. The problem with this approach is that it makes a historical feature that Paul fails to mention the absolute key for its interpretation. Moreover, what else in 1 Timothy involves only local matters rather than universal principles? Why is it only restrictions on women in office that we deem local, on the basis of uncertain extra-biblical materials?

In fact, Paul tells us the basis for his restriction of women from teaching and exercising authority over men: "For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor" (1 Tim. 2:13-14). Paul appeals not to contextualized apologetics but rather to the order of God's design in creation. It is Paul who moreover states that the events of the fall indicate that the woman is less suited to exercise authority in the context of deception.

Christians today live in an age of rebellion that seeks to strike at the very foundations of how God created human identity and society. Our neo-pagan culture pursues an agenda in which all creation distinctions are destroyed and merged into oneness. According to progressive cultural revolutionaries, there is no longer a distinction between the Creator and the creation, life and death, truth and error, children and parents, or male and female. Seeing this strategy is a help to Christians who seek to gauge the significance of our resistance to cultural demands. Instead of conforming to secular demands that involve rebellion against God as Creator, Christians must confront the pagan vision of life with a Christian witness to biblical truth. By grounding male-only ordination in God's creation order, Paul identifies a vital arena in which our basic witness as Christians requires us to stand firm in the face of pagan demands for gender egalitarianism.

1 Timothy 3:1-13

The final passage for us to consider is Paul's qualifications for the offices of elder and deacon, given in 1 Timothy 3:1-13. When Paul states that an elder must be "the husband of one wife" (1 Tim. 3:2), he again uses the noun andros, signifying a male adult. The same wording is used for deacons in verse 12, showing that the office of deacon is likewise restricted for males. Those who would urge us to consider women deacons will note that when 1 Timothy 3:11 says that "their wives must likewise be dignified," that it is conceivable for this to be taken as deaconesses. Much is also made of Paul's description of Phoebe as a "deaconess," despite the conventional interpretation of this word in its common meaning of "servant" (Rom. 16:1).

The best that an argument for female deacons can achieve is a state of ambiguity based on disputed texts. But if this is so, how should we handle the ambiguity? I would urge that the overwhelming biblical pattern of male-headship practiced by Jesus and taught throughout the Bible should prevail. If male-only ordination pertains to the apostolate, the eldership, and the Christian home, by what logic would we assume that the diaconate breaks this pattern and promotes female participation in ordained offices, especially on evidence that is uncertain at best?

A Question of Our Witness

There is little doubt that church leaders who urge an embrace of women into ordained church offices are motivated at least in part by a desire to remove barriers to our witness of the gospel. The reality is, however, that our witness to God as the Creator, to Jesus Christ as the Lord of his church, and to the Bible as an abidingly relevant source of truth is ultimately compromised by accommodating cultural demands in the blurring of gender distinctions. Recent history shows a well-worn path that leads from such an acceptance of cultural authority over against the Bible. The biblical teaching on male-only ordination is not reasonably in doubt. What is in doubt is our commitment to the authority of Scripture in the face of mounting cultural demands.

1.  For a detailed analysis, see Peter R. Jones, One or Two: Seeing a World of Difference (Escondido, CA: Main Entry, 2010).
During a recent evening worship service at our church, the Rev. Scott Cook was ordained to the gospel ministry.  Scott is a recent graduation of RTS (Charlotte) and had previously been an outstanding intern at our church.  I had the enormous privilege of preaching from John 3:22-30, on the theme, "The Friend of the Bridegroom."  Ordination services are important, and I'd like to note just a few reasons why I love them.  

  1. The Church.  An ordination service reminds us that the church is not just a social body where we have all decided to hang out for a while.  Rather, it is the household of God and the repository of the means of grace.  God is always acting in the church through the means of grace, but in an ordination service we especially see God's hands resting on the man he has called.  It reminds us of God's presence in all that we do according to his Word.  An ordination service also reminds the church members that it is Christ's church more than it is their church.  Few things helps communicate to the church better than an ordination service the spiritual authority invested in the church, to which Christians are to yield proper submission by receiving God's Word from the minister's mouth.  It is also most wholesome in these gender-confused days for the church to see faithful and loving men exercising biblical leadership for the good of the whole church.  (My wife says that ordination services are her favorite: "It makes me feel like a woman to see all those faithful men in God-given authority," she says.
  2. The Gospel Ministry.  An ordination service involves the exalted Lord Jesus' on-going fulfillment of his promise to provide ministers to his gospel.  Paul writes that when Christ ascended into heaven "he gave gifts to men" (Eph. 4:6).  Among these gifts are "the pastor/teachers" (Eph. 4:11).  So to see a faithful man called and ordained into Christ's gospel ministry is to realize that our Lord continues to provide for the needs of the gospel in this world.  It gives me chills to lay hands on a new minister and to realize (without imbibing any Romish apostolic succession theories) that we are today carrying on a divine provision that goes back to the apostles and to Christ himself.  It reminds us what history is really about.
  3. The Gospel Minister.  An ordination service speaks extremely powerfully to those already ordained.  It reminds us of our high calling and its divine origin.  It points out to us the privilege and thrill of being a minister of the gospel.  It also invokes a fearful sense of responsibility and inadequacy that drives us to the grace of our Lord for our lives and ministry.  Just as, when conducting a wedding, I always make eye contact with my wife when the bride comes down the aisle -- seeing with crystal-clear memory the glory of my own wedding day -- during an ordination service I lift my eyes to my Savior and Master, letting him know that I do realize the privilege and obligation that he has given me by making me a steward of his grace.

Sweet simplicity

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It has been rather disconcerting to see the British (and, from what I can tell, the world) media fawning over the pomp and pageantry of papal pursuits. The most incisive discussion I heard as the vote was going on was a gentle altercation over whether you wanted to call it 'thrilling theatre' or 'rich ritual.' 'Extravagant superstition' did not seem to be an option.

All rather different to the events reflected in a slim volume dating from 1796, entitled The Duty of Ministers to be nursing Fathers to the Church; and the Duty of Churches to regard  Ministers as the Gift of Christ, a collection of addresses from the ordination of one W. Belsher to the pastorate of the Baptist church meeting in Silver-Street, Worcester. The Rev. G. Osborn gave the opening address, followed by Belsher's confession of faith (it was rather the done thing among Dissenters at the time for the incoming minister to draw up and declare his own personal confession of faith), and then a charge was given to the minister by John Ryland Jr. and a sermon delivered to the church by Samuel Pearce.

I shall give you a snippet of Ryland toward the end, and perhaps a little from Pearce on another date, but what struck me first and forcibly was the sweet simplicity of the process, as outlined by the little-known G. Osborn, outlining what was and was not happening. Osborn had been asked "to introduce this solemn service, and to assign our reasons, as Protestant Dissenters, for such an observance" (5). Disavowing and rejecting "the imposing dominion of any Lord-bishop, or of any Lord-brother, in the prescription of our faith and worship" (5), he explained that the church was seeking to follow Scriptural example and apostolic practice.

Working from Acts 13.3, he dealt first with the essential character and necessary qualifications of Christian ministers, highlighting their moral goodness (knowing and feeling in themselves the evidences and truths of the gospel), spiritual gifts (neither miraculous nor equal in all, but necessary for the work), and disinterested zeal (for the glory of God, the edification of the church, and the good of all mankind). Then he turned to those who separate such to the work of the gospel, a work carried out by the direction and leading of providence, by the free choice of the people themselves, and by solemn acts of devotion, suggesting that simple fasting and prayer would be appropriate on such an occasion, with the laying on of hands as the mark of concurrence in designating the appointed brother a minister and a mode of entreating divine blessing on a particular person. Such, said Osborn, are our views of evangelical ordination: "we only desire to follow Scripture direction and examples" (9).

No smoke, bands, drums, processions, robes, incense, nothing but God's people identifying God's man, equipped and sent by the Spirit of God to preach the Word of God. Here is a sweet simplicity and purposeful purity that puts first things front and centre.

I understand the contention that the Roman Catholic communion does what it does well: call it theatre, call it ritual, in recent days we have seen it raised to the apogee of extravagant emptiness. But in the battle for souls we should not be sucked into trying to compete with such performances, as if - could we only do it as well or better ourselves - we might obtain the same sort of attention and applause. Rather, in Scripture, the men who turned the world upside down (Acts 17.6) did not come with all the childish trappings of worldly glory, but with the gospel of Jesus Christ as Saviour and as Lord. Perhaps we would do better not to try and forge carnal weapons with which to compete with ungodly systems, but rather to strip away a little more of the accretions of performance and showiness, and allow the gospel blade to do its cutting unencumbered by the gaudy and ineffectual trappings of human wisdom and power. I doubt Ryland had il Papa in mind as a counterpoint to the paternal model he was urging upon the new minister in Silver-Street, but his charge points us in a rather different direction for true spiritual fatherliness:
The great essentials of religion, the doctrine of salvation by the blood of the Lamb, and by the renewing of the Holy Spirit, are like daily bread, which must never be forgotten; but the whole system of faith and duty must be brought more and more to light if we would edify the souls of men. I persuade myself, brother, that you will neither affect unscriptural novelties, nor yet confine your whole ministry to four or five favourite points, to the neglect of all the truths in the Bible besides. But all you say, will, I trust, have an ultimate reference to our glorious Redeemer; to shew the need, the suitableness, the glory, the tendency of his great salvation. Him you must preach, as dwelling in his people's hearts, and being the hope of glory: like Paul, warning every man, and teaching every man, in all wisdom; that you may present every one of your hearers perfect in Christ Jesus. To this end you must labor, as long as you can find an unbelieving sinner, or an imperfect saint, striving, according to his working, who worketh in you mightily. Every one of your auditors possesses a soul of inestimable worth, which nothing but the blood of Jesus could have ransomed from eternal burnings. Every one of them demands your pity, your prayer, and your earnest endeavours to subserve his salvation. The rich, who cannot enter into the kingdom of God, but with extreme difficulty; the poor, who must be so wretched in both worlds, if not made heirs of the kingdom; the aged, who stand on the brink of hell, and must fall in, if not very soon converted; the young, who may be so very useful, if called by times, and who are the chief objects of our hope for the continuance of the church, after we are silent in the dust: All the classes into which we can divide our congregations, demands our exertions; and how should it rouse us to think, every time we preach, that some of our hearers are, probably, hearing the last message we can deliver to them from God. (20-21)