We Cannot but Speak
July 5, 2016
In this guest post, Dr. Liam Goligher reflects on what we have discovered in this trinitarian debate so far:
If even lifeless instruments, such as the flute or the harp, do not give distinct notes, how will anyone know what is played?
And if the bugle gives an indistinct sound, who will get ready for battle? (1Cor. 14.7-8)
Since the first blast of the trumpet some weeks ago I have listened carefully, have spoken to participants personally, and have chosen my written words as wisely as I could getting as much help as I can from expert theologians in the field. I want to explain to ordinary people what has been going on: on the one hand you have read and heard a statement of historic Christian teaching of the Trinity---the confession of our church fathers, medieval scholars, and reformers. The doctrine of God upheld by Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, Owen, Whitefield, Ryle and Spurgeon. On the other hand you have read the responses of those who are evangelical folks who affirm the words of the creed but reinterpret its meaning.
When I wrote I expected to be a lone voice, as on this topic I have been for some years. But there is something about the nature of truth, when it grips the heart (especially when that truth has biblical warrant and churchly agreement, even though it may be currently unpopular and apparently irrelevant), we cannot but speak.
This is a minister's business, to speak up for the gospel and to do so whether it is convenient or otherwise. In this case, we are speaking up for the primary doctrine of the Christian Faith. That was always the main issue. The Blessed and Holy Trinity, God in His Sacred Persons, is the object of our most fervent worship and most heartfelt devotion. We dare not depart from the old truths just because they are inconvenient to our current hot button issues.
What have we discovered in the debate so far? That the opponents of this vital matter are good men? Of course. That they have influential supporters? Yes. But we have also discovered that they have an agenda. In their Trinitarian theology they are attempting to locate authority and submission/subordination in the being and nature of God. They are doing so because they want to draw a clear line from God's essential being and that of human beings (male and female). It is this move towards inserting authority/submission in the nature of God which the church fought hard to counter in the language of the creeds echoed by later confessions.
Taken to its logical conclusion, regarding Christ as eternally subordinate to the Father would please Muslims and Mormons in equal measure. It is therefore a matter of enormous importance. Its implications for human relations could not be plainer. If a direct link can be made between (which is highly problematic exegetically and theologically) God in Himself and human relations, it leaves us with two image bearers of God who, strictly speaking (since they both share His image), have both authority and submission in themselves.
Of course, that is not what is being argued: what is being said is that men have authority by nature and women are subordinate by nature, and that eternally. Now this pernicious error flies in the face of biblical evidence. In the economy of marriage, husbands are called to love their wives as Christ loved the church, and wives are called to submit to their own husbands in the Lord. In the economy of the church, certain, qualified men are called to hold the offices of the church and women are prohibited from holding such offices. Outside of those limits men and women are both "sons" of God and "co-heirs" with Christ; a Mary can teach the church through her Magnificat; an Anna can prophecy of the Messiah; a Samaritan woman can be taught exalted Trinitarian truth; a Mary can sit at Jesus' feet; Martha can be given an exposition of the resurrection; another Mary can be sent to tell the apostles the glad news that the tomb is empty; that Christ is risen; and that He wants them to go to Galilee to meet Him; and in the epistles older women must teach younger women the faith, not to mention the service of Junia and Pricilla to the church. In other words the Bible teaches a proper complementarianism.
This will not go far enough for the thought police, of course, and their suspicions that we have been promoting a "soft complementarianism" will be confirmed. They are wrong, and their abuse of this doctrine of God has been allowed to do dishonor to the glory of Christ and to our Christian sisters long enough. The men who use this teaching as their excuse for throwing their weight around have had their day.
I am a pastor whose calling is to preach the truth; rebuke error; and stand up for the weakest in our churches. Is this feminism? Of course it's not, though they will doubtless claim it is. If men are to be true men they will nourish and nurture the women in our lives and churches. We will want to make them great for God.
In my national church we are at the heart of resisting the impulse to seek women's ordination because we believe there is enough biblical warrant against it. We don't need to pervert the doctrine of God (and in so doing the doctrine of man made in His image) in order to defend ourselves. We will stand for truth whatever the cost to friendships and believe that, whether now or long into the future, Christ will be the friend to truth.
Let there be no doubt of this: what is at stake is the honor of Christ and the good of His body. The call to the powerful is to act boldly on behalf of the weak. To be a man is to stand up for the women in our church who are being beaten over the head with this evil nonsense. If we stand by and say nothing we will never enjoy Christ's smile upon our work and all the conferences in the world will not bring life and healing to our churches.
This debate, public as it has been, is a God given moment for reflection and repentance. It is to me one of the most encouraging and hopeful signs that younger scholars and ministers are rediscovering the exegetical tools of the early church and revisiting the very texts that laid the foundations of our Trinitarian and Christological theology. To bring these truths out of the classroom and study onto our pulpits and into our people's hearts and minds will bring true renewal to the church, will offer the best resistance to error, and will be the most precious medicine for people's souls.
Dr. Liam Goligher is Senior Minister of Tenth Presbyterian Church. He is the author of A Window on Tomorrow (Christian Focus, 1994), The Fellowship of the King (Carlisle, 2003), The Jesus Gospel (Milton Keynes, 2006), and Joseph—The Hidden Hand of God (Fearn, 2008). Liam and his wife Christine have five adult children (Louise, Ruth, David, Sarah, Andrew) and nine grandchildren.