THE CHURCH AND THE BIBLE©
Edmund P. Clowney
Evangelicals will carry into the twenty-first century a full library of reflection on their twentieth-century experience.1 Their studies have traced the rise and fall of the tide of liberalism. Early in the twentieth century those who accommodated the Gospel to the rationalism of the Enlightenment gained control of denominational headquarters and educational institutions. Fundamentalism, on the defensive, rightly saw liberal modernism as a rejection of Christianity. A wider group of evangelicals continued to define themselves by that difference. The older liberalism, on the other hand, was undercut when the Enlightenment culture it imitated slipped out from under it. For evangelicals, the turning point was 1976, the year that Time magazine dubbed "The Year of the Evangelicals." Some evangelicals then began to justify the unaccustomed respect thrust on them by doing what the liberals had done, gradually accommodating their message to the secular mind-set.
That scenario is at least suggestive, even if oversimplified. The success of evangelicalism is undoubted if measured in the number and growth of its movements and institutions. It is successful, too, in the number of self-described evangelicals, especially when compared with evangelicalism in England.
But is evangelicalism beginning to gain the world by losing its own soul? Is the church becoming the compromised church? What issue or issues will determine our answer to these questions? The evangelical doctrine of the church can no longer be neglected, and its recent development will help us to consider the issues.
The issue of authority is central for the identity of evangelical witness. To be worthy of its name, evangelicalism must present the Evangel. Gospel proclamation binds evangelicals to the authority of Godís revelation in Scripture; we proclaim the Lord of the Word from the Word of the Lord. Further; Scripture tells us of the saving purpose of God, His redemptive plan to claim a people for His own. The Gospel not only calls the church into existenceóit announces the church as an essential part of the message. To assess their place and calling in the world, evangelicals must appeal to the standards by which the Lord will judge their service. His standards are necessarily creedal, not in the sense that any historic creed expresses them perfectly, but in the sense that the Lord has told us who He is and what He requires of us.
A quarter of a century ago a conference of evangelical scholars and leaders met for a week at Wenham, Massachusetts, to reconcile different opinions about the inspiration of Scripture. One Continental professor insisted on giving the Holy Spirit "elbow room" in inspiration. There are "bubbles," he said, in the Bible. Others held to the plenary, verbal inspiration of Scripture, maintaining that the Bible, while using ordinary language, is without error. J. I. Packer clarified the question by declaring that our doctrine of Scripture cannot be determined in advance by our own assumptions or by the "pragmatics" of our findings in biblical study. The doctrine of Scripture, like all Christian doctrine, must be derived from the Bible itself.
The question debated at the Wenham conference still remains central for evangelicals. Indeed, it was the question J. Gresham Machen addressed in Christianity and Liberalism.2 Liberals followed Schleiermacher, grounding religion in experience rather than in revealed truth. Machen insisted that liberalism was not Christianity. Experience and truth have also been separated in definitions of evangelicalism. Some see it broadly in terms of Christian piety; others insist on some core agreement on doctrine.3 D. A. Carson has rightly insisted that Christian doctrine, and especially belief about the Bible, is primary for evangelicals.4 Indeed, debates over authority and office in the church have shown how our view of the Bibleís teaching about its inspiration will affect our interpretation of its text.
No doubt the basic teaching of the Bible about itself needs reiteration more than new development. Evangelicals, however, are in danger of viewing as "fundamentalistic" a view of the Bible that is indeed fundamental to historic Christianity. The International Conference on Biblical Inerrancy sought to counter that error in the ten years of its activities from 1978 to 1987. The error has outlived that decade of effort and has now been heightened by the challenge to the interpretation of the Bible posed by postmodern pluralism. In The Gagging of God, Carson has addressed the hermeneutical issue, or as he calls it, "The Hermeneutical Morass."5 His work is basically apologetic. He accepts the insights of contextual understanding but exposes the inconsistency of relativist claims. He affirms that while the statement "Jesus Christ is Lord" is uttered in a cultural setting, it declares an absolute truth, expressible in every language and culture. Carson grounds his arguments in insights that flow from his own labors as a New Testament scholar. He does not, however, attempt a "full-orbed theology constructed to trace the patterns of redemptive history."6 While he traces major doctrines in the "plotline" of the Old Testament as well as the New, he does not develop the place of revelation and inspiration in the plotline of biblical theology.
The unfolding of biblical theology focuses on Godís revelation of Himself through spoken and written words. Christianity distinctively confesses God, the absolute Person, the personal Absolute.7 His triune Being is forever in personal fellowship. Jesus, who is God the Son incarnate, reveals divine Personhood to us and claims to have received the words He speaks in eternal fellowship with His Father in heaven (John 8:26, 47). The living God is the speaking God. God the Son in Johnís Gospel is the Logos, the Word who proceeds from the Father.
Throughout the progressive revelation of the Bibleís plotline, Godís words spoken to create, to preserve, to deliver are His life-breath, His ruach, vocalized. Can dead bones scattered on the valley floor live (Ezek. 3 7:3)? Yes, for the prophet speaks the word of the Lordís power. Godís word of promise is His word of power spoken in the future tense: "I will put enmity . . ." (Gen. 3:15). The enmity is thereby put. Godís saving word does not return void but accomplishes His purpose (Isa. 55:11).
Nor does Scripture separate the written Word of God from the spoken Word. God who speaks from Sinai also writes the words of His covenant on the tablets of stone with His own finger (Exod. 31:18; 32:16). The recording of the covenant terms was an essential part of covenant-making.8 The written book of the covenant became a covenant "memorial"; its place was the "Ark of the Witness" that contained the tablets of witness (Deut. 3 1:2-26).
Godís promise of saving blessing shapes the whole history of His covenant. No word of promise is too wonderful or difficult for God (Gen. 18:14; Jer. 32:27; Luke 1:37). The promise must find its fulfillment, the call its answer, the commandment its observance, the final blessing its realization. Godís Word cannot be frustrated at last by human unbelief: "Let God be true, and every man a liar" (Rom. 3:4; cf. Ps. 51:4).
The written Scriptures are prophetic oracles inscribed by men who "spoke from God as they were carried along (pheromenoi) by the Holy Spirit" (2 Pet. 1:19-21). Quotations from the Old Testament are therefore attributed in the New to the authorship of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:16; Heb. 3:7; 10:15). The sacred Scriptures are able to make one wise unto salvation because they are "God-breathed" (2 Tim. 3:16, theopneustos). The meaning of this term is not so much "inspiration" as "spiration" or "exhalation," as Warfield has shown.9 The Scriptures as a product are the work of the Spirit.
The ascription of all word-revelation, and especially of all Holy Scripture, to the Spirit does not limit the Spirit to any one method of inspiration. "We are to think of the Spiritís inspiring activity, and, for that matter, of all His regular operations in and upon human personality, as (to use an old but valuable technical term) concursive; that is, as exercised in, through and by means of the writersí own activity, in such a way that their thinking and writing was both free and spontaneous on their part and divinely elicited and controlled, and what they wrote was not only their own work but also Godís work."10
Studies to show the distinctive perspective and theological emphasis of the writers of the Gospels are necessary and illuminating to show us the richness of their witness. A viewpoint at odds with the claims of Scripture goes beyond this to find contradictory theologies in the New Testament and to read the Gospels as reporting on views in later church circles rather than testimonies to the historical Jesus, the Christ.
The structure of the divine plan in Scripture is realized in Christ who is the Son of the promise, called, chosen, and beloved. He fulfills by word and deed the whole of the covenant promise and commandment and receives the full measure of the covenant blessing (Gal. 3:16, 29; Luke 9:35; 2 Cor. 1:19-20). Through Him, the Word of God is fulfilled in the church, the people of the new covenant (Gal. 3:29; 4:28; Heb. 11:39-40). This is the Word that is "living and active [and] sharper than any double-edged sword" (Heb. 4:12).
Jesus claims that the Scriptures testify of Him. More than that, He understands Himself and His mission as the fulfillment of the Old Testament. If His enemies believed the writings of Moses, they would believe Him, for Moses wrote of Him (John 5:46ff.). Jesus declared that Scripture cannot be broken, that the smallest letter or touch of the pen that distinguishes a letter cannot pass until all is fulfilled (Matt. 5:18). Jesus went to the cross to fulfill Scripture and cried, "I am thirsty" not merely from His agony, but that Scripture might be fulfilled (John 19:28).
That Jesus regarded the Old Testament as the promise of His own messianic calling is evident, but it is the implication that some resist. If Jesus was indeed wrong about the Bible, He was wrong about who He was and what He came to do. So, too, were His followers, who wrote the New Testament. All the efforts to create a Jesus different than the One to whom the Scriptures bear witness will continue to fail. Not the Gospel of Thomas with its gnostic Christ, but the canonical Gospels provide the truth about Jesus, and the church has bowed before that witness.
Study of the New Testament continues to show how the convictions of the church about Jesus were deepened by inspired reflection on the Old Testament. After His resurrection, Jesus opened the minds of His disciples to understand the Scriptures. They had the key to the Old Testament Scriptures as they testified to the things that Jesus had done and said during His earthly ministry. Where the Greek Old Testament read, "Sanctify the Lord Himself" (Isa. 8:6ff.), Peter, quoting the passage, wrote, "In your hearts set apart Christ as Lord" (1 Pet. 3:14-15). The Lord of the Old Testament was now revealed as the Lord of the New, Jesus the Christ.
Those who led the New Covenant people of God into the understanding of the person and work of Christ were the apostles and the prophets associated with them. Jesus chose twelve apostles to be with Him and to be witnesses to His deeds and words. As apostles, they were "sent ones" commissioned to carry the Gospel to the nations, just as they had been sent to the villages of Israel during Jesusí ministry.
They were also foundation stones for the new form of the people of God. When Peter confessed Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of the living God, Jesus declared that he spoke by revelation from his Father in heaven.
In turn, Jesus declared Peter to be Cephas, the "Rock" upon whom He would build His church. Jesus gave the same authority of the keys to the other disciples (Matt. 18:18). The apostles had authority as recipients of revelation (Eph. 3:7-13; Gal. 2:8-9; Rom. 1:1-6). Luke describes Peterís claim to be one of the chosen eyewitnesses of Christís resurrection, one who ate and drank with Him after He rose from the dead and was then commissioned to preach Christ (Acts 10:4 1ff.). In the Book of Revelation, the names of the twelve apostles are written on the twelve foundations of the New Jerusalem (Rev. 2 1:14).
Paul wrote to defend his apostolic status against the claims of the "super-apostles" who challenged his authority (1 Cor. 9:1-2; 2 Cor. 10-11). His claim rests upon his unique calling, not from men, but from the risen Lord who appeared to him on the Damascus Road (Gal. 1:1; 1 Cor. 9:1; 15:8). While he is the least of the apostles, since he had persecuted the church of God, he is also the last of the apostles, for by the grace of God, the revelations granted to him as the apostle to the Gentiles put the capstone on the revelation of the New Covenant in Christ.11
Because of his apostolic authority, Paul could order the affairs of the churches. He required the discipline, in a formal church meeting, of a man guilty of incest, as though he were himself present (1 Cor. 5:3-5). He instructed the church in legal actions (ch. 6), in marriage (ch. 7), in matters of conscience (ch. 8), in spiritual gifts and worship (chs. 12ó14), as well as in the conduct of his own ministry (chs. 1-4). Some thought him weak, but he could come with the rod of spiritual power (1 Cor. 4:21). If anyone thinks himself spiritually gifted, let him acknowledge that what Paul writes is the Lordís command: "If he ignores this, he himself will be ignored" (1 Cor. 14:38). Paul, who worked with his own hands to support his team at Corinth and revisited Lystra after being stoned there, is a steward of Godís revelation (1 Cor. 4:1).
The church is apostolic, for it is founded on the teaching authority of the apostles. Yet the apostles serve the Lord. He alone is the Ruler of the church. The offices of the Old Testament all foreshadow dimensions of the full Lordship of Jesus Christ: a Prophet like Moses, a Priest like Melchizedek; a King like David. Jesus comes as Servant, fulfilling His peopleís side of the covenant, but He also comes as the Lord Himself, Immanuel.
Since all things are from Him and for Him, and all things hold together by His power, He is like no other, the One through whom the whole cosmos will be renewed and who rules over all things for the sake of His body, the church.
As the book of Acts makes particularly clear, Christís rule over the church and for the church is not that of a titular monarch who has ceded the control of His Kingdom to others. Jesus Christ actively governs all things. When Herod Agrippa persecuted the church, Christís judgment struck him down in the midst of his blasphemous acceptance of deification (Acts 12:20-23). The Lord Jesus who controls the nations also rules His church as its Head, governing it by His Word and Spirit. In Acts the growth of the church is described as the growth of the Word under the direction of the Spirit. The Word is the Word of Christ, in particular the Old Testament promise of Christ proclaimed in the light of the fulfillment, as we see from apostolic preaching in Acts (cf. 1 Pet. 1:11). The Spirit, given at Pentecost, is the promise of the Father and the enthronement gift of the Messiah. The Spirit guides the church in the spread of the Gospel. The Spirit and the Word of Christ are therefore never in tension (John 6:63).
Christ orders the life of His church by His authority. His yoke is easy, for His rule is perfect freedom, peace in the Fatherís will. His Spirit possesses the church, not less radically than demon possession, but more so. Demonic control depersonalizes, but the Spiritís possession restores and renews personality in Christ (Luke 8:30, 39). He sets us in His new community of families and the family of the church.
As the Spirit of Christ possesses us, He seals Godís ownership of us. On the other hand, the Spirit is given to us as our possession. He is the foretaste of glory, for in Him we have already the supreme blessing of glory, the immediate presence of the Lord Himself. It is the presence of the Lord in the midst that constitutes the church and unites our gatherings here with the festival assembly in glory (Heb. 12:18-29). Individually and corporately, the Spirit unites us to Christ. The order that Christ provides for His church is a holy, spiritual order. Without the work of the Spirit, the order of church organization becomes meaningless or oppressive. It is designed for those who have tasted Godís saving grace and enjoy common life in Christ. When men claim divine authority in the name of ecclesiastical organization, they destroy the freedom of the Spirit and bring in the worst form of tyrannyóbinding the conscience with the ordinances of men, subjecting the realm of the Spirit to the government of the flesh.
For this reason, too, the rule of Christ in the church cannot be defined within sociological structures that lack categories for the work of the Spirit. The church is not a democracy or a republic, nor does it offer an awkward form of government by committee. Church sessions or councils are not business boards, nor are senior pastors chief executive officers. Whatever the outward arrangements may resemble, the dynamic life of the church is the work of the Spirit from whom all the gifts come.
In the Old Covenant the people of God were formed as a family, then as a nation, but always in ways that were distinctive. God altered family customs, chose younger sons, and disrupted the family planning of weak faith (Gen. 17:18). So, too, when Israel was made a nation, God gave His peculiar people distinctive laws, a sabbatical system, and, at first, no earthly king.
In the New Covenant the church as the community of the Spirit of Christ is even more distinctive. The temptation remains to conform the church to the structures of the environment. Stanley Hauerwas, in After Christendom?, traces the greatest problems of the church today to the time when the church was given imperial recognition by the Roman emperor Constantine and then became the official religion of the Empire.12 The smothering effect of that official embrace can still be seen in the state churches of Europe. In the United States, however, a different accommodation has taken place. Nathan O. Hatch has described "Evangelicalism as a Democratic Movement" and traced the development of its character back to Revolutionary times.13 It is the democratic organization of the American churches, he argues, that accounts for their growth, as compared to the churches of Europe.
Among contemporary challenges to scriptural church order, the first, and strongest, is the American focus on individualism. The church is not seen as the body of Christ or the spiritual community of His people but as a religious club of individual Christians. The Gospel is a message for the salvation of souls but has nothing to say about ecclesiastical authority. This position is explicit in the Calvary Chapel churches in California, which have no church membership. Individualism is the unwritten assumption in most evangelical churches. In part, this is the consequence of urbanization and the splintering of denominations. Free to attend the church of their choice, individuals choose when and where to go. Any whiff of church discipline signals rapid departure to some other congregation where the newcomer is welcomed (no questions asked about former commitments). Brand loyalty is often stronger within parachurch organizations.
Individualism also marks religion with the modernity that grew out of the Enlightenment. It has become an axiom of American political thought that a multicultural democracy respects all religious opinions so long as they are privately held.
Recognizing American individualism, and assuming that evangelism and Christian nurture donít mix,14 the church growth movement has redesigned Sunday morning gatherings to attract non-Christians. Unfortunately, individuals reached by the Sunday celebration show little inclination to attend a midweek service designed for participative community worship.
Individualism has also undermined the unity of the church. Denominations and sects keep multiplying. Paulís question to those at Corinth who followed him in preference to Peter or Apollos goes unanswered: "Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you?" (1 Cor. 1:13). He demands that those whose hope of salvation is in their union with Christ on the cross must recognize their union with all others for whom Christ died (Eph. 4:2-6). Must it be through severe persecution that evangelicals will take seriously the apostleís words?
Separation in the church also appears in the complete independency of most evangelical churches. While some Baptist churches express their unity in denominational association, evangelical churches, whether congregational or connectional, usually operate as functionally independent. Significantly, the National Association of Evangelicals is by title a parachurch organization of individuals, although it does admit denominations to membership.
The holiness of the church stands also in peril in the contemporary evangelical church. Preaching may be moralistic, replete with suggestions for better marriages and reducing the stress of the workplace, but lacks the devotional depth of union with Christ as the source of grace and motivation for holy living. The place of Christian fellowship in reproving and rebuking one another has been recognized in small-group structures and in menís movements such as the Washington Christian Fellowship and Promise Keepers, but formal church discipline continues to be neglected. Without effective church discipline, the clear difference in lifestyle between the church and the world will never be apparent.
Individualism also fuels resistance to the catholicity of the church among evangelicals. Evangelical interest in world missions has been met by a new era as the peoples of the world come to live in the United States. Urban evangelical churches have gained in multicultural membership. Yet individualism can also be racist. If I can attend the church of my choice with no thought of the people in my neighborhood, then I am likely, consciously or unconsciously, to seek out a church where I will feel at home among people most like myself.
The remedy to unbiblical individualism, however, is not communitarianism or socialism, making the community or society supreme. God joins His people to Himself not just corporately, but also individually. The seal of our union with Christ is the Holy Spirit, and both individuals and the church are temples of Godís Spirit (1 Cor. 3:16-17; 6:17-20). Jesus called disciples individually, by name. The crowds who were added to the early church were believers (Acts 5:14). Paul greets Christians "whose names are in the book of life" (Phil. 4:3). Paulís use of the figure of the body of Christ emphasizes individuality of gifts as well as the harmonious way in which they are to function (1 Cor. 12). The body figure beautifully joins the individual to the community.
A number of recent books about the church have reacted strongly against evangelical individualism.15 Rodney Clapp inveighs against an American Christianity that can "profess with a straight face that God exists to meet my needs."16 For the privatized Christian, "Spiritualityí is an amorphous, ever mutable engagement between two isolated selvesó the human individual and ĎGod,í both apart from the world, change, time, place and community." Clapp writes as a "plebeian, postmodern Christian."17 He presents the church as a way of life together and quotes with approval the statement of Bruce Marshall "that the churchís participation in Godís life happens Ďnot primarily in the minds and hearts of individuals . . . but in the public eucharistic celebration by which Christ joins individuals to himself and so makes them his own community.í"18 He deplores the civil religion that has made the nation-state the public, historical life of peopleís faith. "We do not so need a nation-state, because we already have the church." He takes Charles Colson to task because Colson "cannot countenance the primacy of social formation in the building of character." Colson was arguing that government programs canít make people moral: "They can punish behavior; they cannot transform hearts."19 Clapp sees Colson as embracing the liberal individualizing of religion and ignoring the role of the church as community in forming character.
Clapp also concludes that the Reformation was handicapped by the inventing of printing, since that opened the door to use of the Bible in private rather than in the social context of the church.
While Clapp loses balance in his advocacy of the community over the individual, he should be credited with revealing the depth of our own commitment to the individualism of modernity. Yet his final vision of life, sailing in the community boat, seems to leave too much at sea.20 As a post-modern, he rejects the rationalistic grounding of thought in undeniable postulates ("foundationalism"). As culturally conditioned, we cannot lay claim to absolute truth but assert that there must be a God for Christianity to be true.21 This is not said for the sake of the argument, but as an epistemological statement. Reformed epistemology is not locked in to foundationalism either, but finds a better way by insisting on presuppositions that begin with Godís own existence. These are presupposed, not to support Christianity as one community of faith, but to ground all reason and created existence.
D. A. Carson sees a drawing together in evangelical apologetics between presuppositionalists and evidentialists and favors the presuppositional view of John Frame (a view that roots in Cornelius Van Til and his development of Christian philosophy in the Netherlands).22 A Christian, whether postmodern or not, may well dissent from the rationalism of Rene Descartes who sought to prove the existence of God from the self-evident proposition cogito, ergo sum. But to reject foundationalism without finding an alternative in the divine establishment of revealed truth only substitutes for the liberal relativism of "truth for me" a postmodern relativism of "truth for my community." Because no community has access to absolute truth, Clapp says that the choice is to become either sectarian or syncretistic.23 Of the two, he chooses, as Christians must, the holistic sectarian community rather than the compartmentalized eclectic life of the polytheistic paganism.24 But Clapp urges that while the Christian community remains a sect, it need not be a narrow one. Much is to be learned from other communities, and the Christian sect develops through time, as it struggles in and with changing cultures. As the earliest Quakers said, "We want you to follow the Spirit, which we have sought to follow, but which must be sought anew in every generation."25
Truth is indeed not detached but participative, as Clapp says;26 but the participation that grasps truth is not first our participation with one another, but with the Spirit of God. Clapp says, "If I ever reject Christianity as my root narrative, it will be because I have learned enough of another narrative or code to find Christianity wanting."27 On the other hand, he also says that we must strive "to check all other stories by the story of Israel and Jesus Christ, to live by a hierarchy of codes that always sees the Christian code as most relevant and, indeed, as uniquely and finally true."28 He is willing to continue using the masculine pronoun for God, since he is certain "that the God of Israel and Jesus Christ is narratively (and so quite specifically) identified, so that the unsurpassable and irreplaceable name of the Christian God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit."29
Clappís continuing use of "narrative" as a qualifier binds the community to its "story" and avoids the suggestion that the Bible could be a storehouse of truth, especially truth as propositionally expressed. To be sure, the words of Scripture are understood in their total context. There is a narrative, or even "metanarrative," of the unfolding of Godís plan from creation to consummation.30 But when God speaks His own name from the burning bush or from Sinai, His authority to name Himself is not drawn from His revelation; it constitutes it. Clapp sincerely professes devotion to the Triune God, but the epistemology he has developed loosens the authority of Scripture to the thrust of a story, and thereby also questions the specific authority of the King of the church as expressed in His Word.
Certainly one of the most substantial and provocative recent works on ecclesiology is What On Earth Is the Church? by Kevin Giles.31 R. T. France, in his "Foreword," again identifies individualism as a great threat to evangelicalism and commends the book for tackling it "head-on."
Giles shows through New Testament scholarship (combined with commitment to his thesis) that "community" is the master New Testament term for the church. Like Clapp, he emphasizes the social definition of the church; he does so by examining the whole New Testament with the question in view. He sees hierarchical structure in the church as traceable back to Platoís Timaeus, institutionalized in the medieval church, and not adequately rejected in the Reformation.32 In the New Testament he finds varying views of the church. The community he finds is one in transition. While he does not accept the details of Ernst Kasemannís lecture to the 1963 Montreal conference on Faith and Order, he responds favorably to Kasemannís view that the New Testament does not present a unified understanding of the church, but "a number of ecclesiological archetypes: and an incessant process of change."33 He believes that the "old dogmatism" that established every doctrine of importance with a proof-text from Scripture must be abandoned, but says that there do appear "major themes and ideas that bind together the parts."34
Well, not all the parts, for in the Pastorals he finds a different perspective from anything earlier. The dynamic is replaced by the institutional; charismatic ministry is not mentioned; "women are to accept the authority of men and not teach in the church; the freedoms given to women in the earlier Paulines are cancelled; and Ďsound teachingí and preserving the truth are the responsibilities of leaders. A struggle to see how the gospel applies to new situations is not in evidence." Instead, the church is "described as an unshakeable, stately edifice and bearer of Ďthe truth.í"35 Giles says: "Whether we applaud these developments or abhor them is of no significance." This is how the churches "in Pauline circles" developed, and how the Gospel was preserved.
Yet Giles wants to curb somewhat the declarations of the Pastorals. The argument of 1 Timothy 2:13-14, he says, is ad hominem and cannot be taken as a continuing law for the church.36 The Pastorals present human relations as they do only because they want to endorse the general norms of their society. People are to accept the stations their culture accords them. The real message of the Pastorals is that the church must not hinder the Gospel by being out of step with the general ordering of society.37 Giles does not fully explore what that would mean todayóin Australia or the United States!
He is sure that the fellowship that constitutes the church is egalitarian and democratic. Nevertheless, in his study of Ephesians 5:21-33, he does not try to explain away Christís headship. He denies that "head" here means "source." Instead, he agrees that Paul is saving that the wife should be in subjection to her husband as the church is to Christ (v. 24). Had Paul stopped there, he says, the total submission of the wife to her husband would have been as "binding and demanding as the worst of patriarchalism."38 But Paul did not stop there, and Giles provides a beautiful description of what Paul requires of husbands, modeled upon Christís love for the church.
Giles, however, supports his conviction about the egalitarianism of the church by citing arguments taken from the doctrine of the Trinity. He features an argument taken from the doctrine of "perichoresis." He defines this as the residing of each person of the Trinity in the others, so that what one person of the Trinity does, the other does.39 He cites the Athanasian creed: all the persons of the Trinity are "co-equal," "none is afore, or after other: none is greater, or less than another."40 The differences of the persons in the Trinity are not hierarchical but are distinctions constituted by differing relations, which he likens to male and female differences in humanity.
The doctrine of the Trinity continues to be debated.41 Does penchoresis deny the eternal generation of the Father by the Son? In any case, scriptural revelation has been formulated in the doctrine of the economic Trinity that defines different roles for the coequal persons of the Trinity in the work of salvation. It is role difference that distinguishes men and women as they serve the Lord in the family and the church. That is the distinction Paul supports from the account of creation (1 Tim. 2:15; cf. 5:14; Gen. 2:7, 22; 1 Cor. 11:8-12). Further, we cannot derive directly from the doctrine of the ontological Trinity what ordering of male/female relations God has ordained for the church in this time between the times. The church already participates in the Spirit and in the foretaste of the life to come, but still awaits the consummation glory. We are all, men and women, sons of God in Christ Jesus (Gal. 3:26), for in union with Christ, all those things that divide us and separate us from one another are transcended (Gal. 3:28).
Yet the full expression of this reality differs. Paul teaches that in Christ Gentiles are Abrahamís seed, heirs of the promises given to Abraham (Gal. 3:29). They are no more Gentiles, but the Israel of God. He also teaches that union in Christ makes masters and slaves brothers (Philem. 16). The structure of slavery is subverted when the slave serves his master as he would serve Christ (Eph. 6:7) and when the master serves his Master in heaven as he cares for his slave (Eph. 6:9). Slavery is not a creation ordinance, but the outcome of human sin. But in the case of man and woman, the sexual difference that is transcended in Christ remains until the resurrection, when we will be like the angels in heaven, and marriage will be surpassed. Marriage, contrary to many Christian sects, is not transcended in this life, though, as Paul teaches, its abuse in male oppression is removed.
There is some analogy here with the way the sting of slavery is removed in Christ, since neither institution is attacked. But the differences are far greater than the likeness. Since marriage itself is a major image of the relation of the Lord to His people, it is in no way seen as an evil to be undermined. Rather, the relationship of marriage is transformed by the analogy that emphasizes its permanence. The duties of the husband, well explained by Giles,42 make the husbandís role as the head of the wife unlike anything advocated apart from the Gospel. Yet Giles adds a sentence that summarizes the difference in his approach to this Scripture: "Paul has subtly sought to transform the marriage relationship in his own historical situation, and in doing so set a trajectory that would culminate in the modern partnership model of marriage."43
These words set before us the issue for evangelicals. Will we accept in Scripture that which our age will accept and put what doesnít meet its norms on a developmental trajectory that lands us when we are accepted? Or will apostolic teaching transform our minds and our practice? Paul is surely doing more than subtly suggesting a better way than he dare articulate, given his cultural milieu. He is affirming a transformed order that gives new meaning to a husbandís headship. Yet the responsibilities of the new headship are part of the transformation. Not in the order of the family, nor in the church as the family of God are we yet in resurrection glory. We need to interpret Scripture in its cultural context, but not to forget its revelatory context, written for us upon whom "the fulfillment of the ages has come" (1 Cor. 10:11). Jesus Christ, the final Word of God, has spoken. The salvation that was "first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him" (Heb. 2:3). "We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away" (Heb. 2:1).
The issues for ecclesiology, whether of the individual and the community, of male and female, or of truth for the post-modern mind, are all transformed in Christ under His authority, His revealed Word, illumined by His Spirit. He is Lord and governs His Church by His Word and Spirit.
- Rather than providing a long bibliography, it may be sufficient to name some of the authors, or editors of compilations: John H. Armstrong, David W. Bebbington, Donald G. Bloesch, Charles Colson, Michael Cromartie, Donald W. Dayton, Carl F. George, Os Guinness, D. G. Hart, Stanley Hauerwas, Michael Scott Horton, James Davison Hunter, Robert K. Johnston, George Marsden, Alister McGrath, Mark A. Noll, Richard John Neuhaus, Lesslie Newbigin, Bruce and Marshall Shelley, David F. Wells.
- J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1923).
- Note the citation of Douglas A. Sweeney in D. A. Carson, The Gagging of God: Christianity Confronts Pluralism (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996), p. 453.
- Carson, The Gagging of God, pp. 444-46 1. Carson presents the authority of the Bible as the formal principle of evangelicalism, and the message of the Gospel as the material position. He shows the difficulties of maintaining that clear position as doctrinal conviction ebbs.
- Ibid., chaps. 2ó3.
- Ibid., p. 242.
- Ibid., p. 224, citing and discussing John Frame, Apologetics to the Glory of God (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed, 1994), p. 38.
- See Meredith G. Kline, "The Two Tables of the Covenant," The Westminster Theological Journal, 1960, 22:133-146.
- B. B. Warfield, "God-Inspired Scripture," in The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible, ed. S. G. Craig (Philadelphia: Presbyterian & Reformed, 1948), p. 277ff.
- James I. Packer, ĎFundamentalismí and the Word of God (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1959), p. 80.
- Peter R. Jones, "1 Corinthians 15:8: Paul the Last Apostle," Tyndale Bulletin, 36, 1985, pp. 3-34.
- Stanley Hauerwas, After Christendom? How the Church Is to Behave If Freedom, Justice, and a Christian Nation Are Bad Ideas (Nashville: Abingdon, 1991).
- George Marsden, ed., Evangelicalism and Modern America (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1986, repr.(, pp. 71-82. See also two essays by Hatch in Darryl G. Hart, ed., Reckoning with the Past (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1995), "The Origins of Civil Millennialism in America," pp. 85-107 and "The Christian Movement and the Demand for a Theology of the People," pp. 154-179.
- Dr. Timothy Keller challenges this assumption at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan.
- The fellowship of the church as the people of God is also emphasized in other books on ecclesiology. Everett Ferguson, The Church of Christ: A Biblical Ecclesiology for Today (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1996) writes systematic theology based on the unity of canonical revelation (pp. xiv-xv). See also David L. Smith, All Godís People: A Theology of the Church (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996). My own book presents an evangelical theology of the church from a Reformed perspective: The Church in Contours of Christian Theology (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1995). I have limited my remarks to two chosen for their importance and for the definitive issue facing evangelicals.
- Rodney Clapp, A Peculiar People: The Church As Culture in a Post-Christian Society (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996), p. 36.
- Ibid., p. 12. By "plebian" he indicates his alignment with Anabaptist theology and social ethics (although he is a member of an Episcopal church). By "postmodern" he means that he does not appeal to universally self-evident truths as a base for thought (foundationalism). In this he might appear to agree with Richard Rorty and other deconstructionists. Yet he rejects Richard Rortyís liberal view of religion as private. Clapp is "in that sense profoundly antiliberal" (p. 219).
- Ibid., p. 56ff.
- Quoted on p. 69. The Clapp quote is on p. 70.
- Ibid., pp. 181-182.
- "Nothing else, even if supposedly Ďuniversallyí available and self-evident, can be more basic than this: For Christianity to be true, there must be a God who engages people in their history." Clapp, A Peculiar People, p. 182.
- For discussion of Reformed presuppositionalism, see Richard R. Topping, "The Anti-Foundationalist Challenge to Evangelical Apologetics," Evangelical Quarterly, 1991, 63:1, pp. 45-60; John Frame, "The New Reformed Epistemology," Appendix 1 in The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed, 1987), pp. 382-400; and Carson, The Gagging of God, chaps. 3-4, pp. 93-191.
- Clapp, A Peculiar People, pp. 145-146.
- Ibid., p. 146.
- Ibid., p. 156. He quotes from the epigraph to Eberhard Arnoldís, Why We Live in Community (Farmington, PA: Plough Publishing House, 1995).
- Clapp, A Peculiar People, p. 186.
- Ibid., p. 182.
- Ibid., p. 180.
- See Carson, The Gagging of God, p. 191, where he defines the "jargon" term "metanarrative" as applied to the Bible: Ďa comprehensive Ďstoryí that provides the framework for a comprehensive explanation, a comprehensive worldview." He then proceeds in two chapters to consider movements in the plotline of the Bible and relates them to religious pluralism.
- Kevin Giles, What On Earth Is the Church?: An Exploration in New Testament Theology (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1995).
- Ibid., p. 215.
- Ibid., p. 183.
- Ibid., p. 148.
- Ibid., p. 151.
- Ibid., p. 143.
- Ibid., p. 226.
- Ibid., p. 227.
- For the doctrine, see Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press; Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), pp. 248-261.
- Giles, What On Earth Is the Church?, pp. 143-144.
- Ibid., p. 144.
Edmund P. Clowney (B.A., Wheaton College; Th.B., Westminster Theological Seminary; STM, Yale Divinity School; D.D., Wheaton College) is adjunct professor of practical theology at Westminster Theological seminary in California and is a former president of Westminster Theological Seminary (1966-1982) in Philadelphia. A former pastor and church planter, he is author of ten books including Called to the Ministry, Christian Meditation, The Unfolding Mystery: Discovering Christ in the Old Testament, and The Church
Permission to use this article has been granted by Dr. John H. Armstrong, General Editor of The Compromised Church© (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1998). It appears as Chapter 1.
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