Monday, 12 January 2015

Women in the Church

Here is a summary of my message in NBC on Sunday 11/1/15 to explain our elders position on this important subject.

An important decision for churches to make is to ascertain the exact role that women play in congregational life? So what can we say about the Bile says?

Genesis 5 vv1,2 “When God created mankind he made THEM in the likeness of God.  He created THEM male and female and blessed them.

So right at the very start God affirmed the identity of women.  He blessed both male and female.  Yet Judaism didn’t always value or recognise the dignity of women as it ought to have done. Jewish men used to pray “I thank you God that you have not made me a Gentile a slave or a woman!”.  Yet God reminds us through scripture of the value, role and identity of women in the world. He used Moses sister and Naaman’s servant girl; Deborah served as judge, Esther was used to save her own people and Rahab and Ruth were brought into the Saviour’s line by grace.  In the New Testament we see the inner circle of Christ included women. It was women who were the first witnesses of the resurrection and in the early church women like Dorcas (Acts 9) Lydia (Acts 16) Priscilla (Acts 18) were to the fore.

In essence with regard to male and female the Bible teaches

  • Equality of Worth – all are valuable in his sight 
  • Diversity of role – we are naturally made different.  He created THEM.  He blessed THEM

The complementarian position teaches that men and women are to complement each other.  There is equality in marriage but also diversity, highlighted in Ephesians 5 teaching regarding the roles of husband and wife. 

Jewish men might have prayed that prayer but the truth is that the gospel of grace brings all of us to the foot of the cross and at the cross we find forgiveness in Christ and we are equal sinners and find equal grace to save.  Hence Paul says in Galatians 3 vv26,28  “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus....there is neither Jew nor Greek (Gentile) slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus”.
So with regard to the church specifically.... (and here we are talking about the local church, the local expression of the universal church, the church which meets somewhere and which has people gathered together for purposes of worship, discipleship, evangelism, mission and pastoral care, the 5 purposes of our church – we must be careful to distinguish AUTHORITY and FUNCTION.  It is when we confuse these two that problems and confusion arises.

  1. AUTHORITY – final human authority in the local church lies with the elders. It is they who have ultimate responsibility for spiritual oversight and the teaching and the general witness of the church in the community. Eldership has its roots in the Jewish tribal system, where there would be heads of families and of tribes. They would bear serious responsibility for the conduct and business of the tribe. Likewise synagogues would be ruled by respected men. Christ too only chose men to be his apostles, charged with the responsibility for carrying the gospel message to a needy world. Early Christianity grew out of Judaism and so early spiritual leadership was male as it had been in Jewish heads  of tribe and synagogues. The very early believers had originally thought that the gospel message w as only for Judaism . Remember how Peter’s thinking had to be challenged by a vision in Acts 10 and he later had to defend his ministry to the Gentiles before the early Jewish believers.  Spiritual leadership is entrusted to males and for that reason NBC concludes that our elders should be male. 
  2. FUNCTION – this however is entirely different . Paul teaches us in 1 Cor 12 that ministry is for the whole body and is on the basis of GIFTING not GENDER .  All have a role to play in the body of Christ – as noses or feet or ears or hands. This actually is one of the most powerful witnesses of the local church in the community and demonstrates the power of the gospel to transform lives and to see them unified under the cross and in service of the Master.  So both men and women can perform many functions in the body of Christ.  Naturally, physically and socially men are different from each other and whilst more men than women might want to wield kango hammers to knock down walls, and more women than men might want to serve in the creche, actually there is nothing to stop either performing those roles if that is their gifting.  Men and women can teach Sunday school or lead youth or help prepare bulletins or operate sound and visuals. Likewise both men and women can perform the simple task of passing offering bags along rows or passing our pieces of bread and wine to help believers remember the Lord’s death.

With regard to the functioning of the body “Deacons” are important.  Many see the origin of this role in Acts 6 (though the word ‘diakonos’ or ‘deacon’ is not mentioned).  The early leaders turned over practical caring work to godly men as they were in danger of being overwhelmed by the needs of the church.  So the original function was caring. The role of deacon has often been misunderstood, so much so that it almost differs from church to church and from culture to culture.  It has also been affected by prevailing cultural understandings of men/women.  Neither male chauvinism nor liberal feminism should be allowed to dictate the church’s position.  It should be BIBLICALLY REASONED not CULTURALLY DETERMINED.

As the Bible is progressive revelation its in the pastoral epistles that Paul outlines some significant qualities for those in certain positions.  This climaxes in 1 Tim 3, where writing to the young pastor of the church in Ephesus, Paul outlines the qualities of elders in vv 1-17, and the qualities of the ‘diakonoi’ (deacons) in vv 8-10 So far so good but v11 is problematical “In the same way, the women (Gk = Gyne) are to be worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything” Who are these women here?

There are 2 possible interpretations .....

They could be wives of the deacons OR they could be ladies who are raised up to special service as deacons of the church in assistance of the work of the elders. In NBC we lean towards the latter. So do many other very conservative Christian leaders.  Others do legitimately differ.  But we favour the understanding of lady deacons here for the following reasons

  1.  The use of the word “hosautos” in v11 as in v 8 Translated  ‘in the same way’ or ‘likewise’. It points to the same idea, the same concept 
  2. In vv 1-7 women are not mentioned re eldership. This makes sense if, as we have seen elders are to be male. If those referred to here in v 11 are wives of deacons, it would seem strange that Paul would not make any reference to elders wives, - surely at least an equal responsibility 
  3. Phoebe is referred to as a ‘diakonos’ in Romans 16 v2 (the word is neither masculine nor feminine) 
  4. We have to interpret scripture by itself. Since deacons do not have authoritative roles in the same way as elders, but functional roles , it seems to fit with the general tenor of scriptural teaching about service being open for all

For these reasons we take the position that both men and women may serve as deacons on the local church.

Whatever any church’s position on this, it is important that every church honours God in the conduct of its affairs.  That is the overriding principle.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Christmas is History

So many people get ‘wrapped up’ in Christmas and talk about their feelings at this time of the year – generosity, festivities, goodwill, warmth, family, gratitude.  Many say, “the world’s in a bad state so let’s have a little more Christmas spirit, let’s all try to be a little nicer at this time of the year, let’s smile at the person on the bus, let’s not growl at the nice girl behind the desk.  After all, it’s Christmas”.

Nothing wrong with that.  We could all do with a little more kindness and a lot less harshness.  But if that’s all it is, then it is in danger of becoming just entirely subjective and personal.  When people talk about how it makes them feel and how they hope to behave then they miss one important fact - Christmas is first and foremost something OBJECTIVE, not SUBJECTIVE.  It is HISTORY not PHILOSPHY.  It is FACT, not FEELING.

Paul said, “For the grace of God HAS APPEARED that brings salvation to all men” (Titus 2 v11). That was it.  HAS appeared.  The appearing.  God has done something in history.  He has acted.  Man was lost in sin and darkness and no amount of feeling or different spirit or attempt to change behaviour would help.  God acted because he had to.  There really was a virgin, there really was Joseph, there was an actual birth, there was Herod, there were shepherds and there were Magi.  There really were.  FACT.  These were not fictional characters in some made up legend – a created, simple and beautiful story - but actual, real, historical, flesh and blood figures, who lived and breathed and eventually died like the rest of mankind.

We are in grave danger in 21stC society of losing the real historical basis of the Christmas message.   Secularists play around with it as if it can be put in the same category as Cinderella, Toy Story or It’s a Wonderful Life.  “We love the characters but we know they are not real!”“It’s a shame Christians peddle this story every year, we’re past that now”.  Really?  Might as well dismiss the founding of the USA, the world wars or the sinking of the Titanic as fiction.  He has spoken.  He really has.  And grace has appeared – only when we have grasped that, can our behaviour really be changed forever by the wonderful Babe of Bethlehem.

Friday, 14 November 2014


It's not often I get to write about science.  I like science.  Good science always confirms what the Bible says.  There never is a real contradiction between God’s truth and what honest scientists discover and Christians have nothing to fear from science – quite the opposite.

But you will have heard in the media the last few days the fuss over the landing of the probe Philae on the comet 67/P.  It was 25 years apparently in the planning, Philae has traveled 4 billion miles since 2004 and the overall cost is estimated at around 1.4bn euros.  I watched incredulously as some scientists jumped about like overgrown schoolboys in their excitement, when the probe finally landed.  It was like they were playing a rather sophisticated video game.  A phrase came to mind, “The only difference between men and boys is the cost of their toys”.  What a load of nonsense and what a total waste of time and money.  

I wondered why they were doing it – what was the point of it all?  Ah.......then I heard someone explain that on the radio.  One of the main purposes, he said, is to help us understand more about the origin of the universe.  Ok, so let me save them all a lot of time and trouble and expense.  Genesis 1v 1 “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”.  There you have it in a few succinct words in all its glorious simple complexity and complex simplicity.  Any inexpensive copy of the revealed word of the living, eternal, supreme, creator God tells us more about the universe than all of this expensive pointless nonsense.  

“Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools” (Romans 1 v 22)

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Why is Prayer so Difficult?

Every Christian I know affirms three things about prayer...
  • It is Important
  • We don’t do enough of it – personally, corporately or any other way
  • We are going to try to get better at it

Every church I know or ever been associated with would acknowledge that prayer’s important, yet the prayer meeting is the worst attended meeting of the week.  That's almost universally true.  Something’s not quite right – somewhere between theory and practice there is a disconnect, a breakdown between what we say/think is important and what we actually do.  Somewhere in my life and your life this strange process takes place – a massive gulf between belief and behaviour.  We know prayer changes things, makes a difference and affects people and circumstances as God works in answer. Yet, strangely we don’t really do that which we affirm is important - it becomes difficult, awkward, sidelined, uninteresting and forgotten about.  How come?

Maybe there is something in that. Maybe the reason why it is so difficult, is precisely because it is so important.  Our enemy doesn’t want us to do it – so in his subtle way, he distracts us, keeps us busy and sidelines us from the key task.  Maybe if we did less and prayed more, greater things would happen. Families transformed, communities transformed, churches transformed, societies transformed, workplaces transformed by the power of God in answer to believing prayer.  If you find yourself agreeing to that statement, then stop right now and go and pray.  Praying for the next few minutes is far more important than reading the rest of this blog.  Go on....well?? 

But still we don’t do it – not really.  We need to change something.  Stop being a hypocrite. Either stop pretending it’s important – change our belief – or start practicing it in reality – change our behavior.  Well, what do you think? Send me your comments or better still – see you at the next prayer meeting!

Monday, 8 September 2014

40 Years Ago Today - 8th September 1974

He was just a callow youth with many insecurities.  His god was sport, all kinds but especially if it involved a ball. But in some remarkable ways, strange things were happening in his life.  There was a restlessness and a questioning about eternal issues.  So during the summer, he started reading a Gideons New Testament he had been given a few years before in school.  Then when Sunday rolled around he would go for a summer walk and deliberately pass by a local evangelical church – a church with a reputation for attracting many young people - people of his own age.  He would stand across the road under the awning of the local shops and watch the many young people who were arriving for the 6.30 service.  That was strange he thought – why would they want to be there on a summer evening?  He would walk for an hour or so and then arrive back past the church as they were leaving.  Taking up the vantage point across the road, he would watch with fascination as they poured out.  What was going on in that place?

So it was that he ended up going to that church on Sunday evenings and meeting some of those young people.  He listened attentively for a few end of summer Sundays as the summer gave way to the autumn and each week heard a message he had never heard before.  It centred on Jesus and his love – a love so great that it took him to a cross, and there he sacrificed his life for people like this young man.

He wanted to do something about it, to talk to someone but the pastor was always busy and surrounded by the crowds.  But he jumped at the chance one Sunday night to go with some of his new found friends to a local area, where they were going to engage in open air witness.  He had come to understand enough of this message to know it had to be shared, but not enough to personally grasp it for himself.  But that all changed as they stood at the side of the road as the sun sank and he realised what Jesus had done for him.  Sitting in the back of the car, he came to Christ – willingly, gratefully and totally. It was 8th September 1974.  40 years ago today.

Now that young man is late middle aged and the pastor of Newtownbreda Baptist Church.  For that was me.  This is my story and for 40 years I have tried hard to follow that Jesus I first met 4 decades ago.  It may be a tired cliché to say “I have failed him many times; but he has never failed me”.  But cliché or not, it is still true.  To God be the Glory, Great things He has done.