Posted on Wednesday, September 02, 2015 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
I review an interesting book today over at Books at a Glance. And if you are a member of their website, you can listen to the audio version of my review, read by me:
 
I have two teenage daughters. Two! So purity is definitely a Christian value that my husband and I want to guard, promote, and teach on a continual basis. And yet between technology advancing further than we seem to be able to catch up with and the obsession with sexualizing everything in our culture these days, adolescence is difficult to navigate through. It almost seems like a trial for both parents and their children – who will survive? 
 
Concerned and proactive parents appreciate all the help we can get. But perhaps we are too quick to give our encouragement and support. The parachurch purity movement has been one of those causes that may need a closer evaluation. Just because they use some of the same words and share many of our common concerns does not mean it is something Christians should wholeheartedly embrace. What if the very thing that appears to be helping our children is actually hindering their understanding of holiness? 
 
While chastity is a Christian virtue that we should both model and teach, some evangelical parachurch movements have taken it out of its context of Christian holiness and the local church’s disciple-making commission. So a very good thing, Christian purity, has become a commodity instead of a process in sanctification.
 
Given my apprehensions about what is marketed to my teenagers both by the secular media and the evangelical parachurch movements, Sara Moslener’s new book, Virgin Nation: Sexual Purity and American Adolescence, piqued my interest. Moslener traces the sexual purity movement in America, showing how it developed as an ideology linked to national security. She identifies “several cooperating impulses: evangelical political activism, deep anxiety over gender roles and changing sexual mores, fear and moral decay, apocalyptic anticipation, and American nationalism”, making the case that “sex and national survival are the poles around which evangelicals have constructed a national identity” (5).
 
An evangelical reading this book may be tempted to write Moslener off from the start. How dare she go after something that is so sacred to us as sexual purity? But the research done in this book is something we should take a look at.
 
Read the rest of my review here.
Posted on Tuesday, August 25, 2015 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
I married fresh out of college. I was a mere 21 years old. My husband and I found a church, and I was eager to be the perfect Christian wife. So I began reading books from trusted authorities in the church on this matter. One was Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. I remember my young, impressionable mind learning and underlining, and later even quoting from this book. There is plenty of helpful teaching in it. I embraced this word complementary, and wholeheartedly agreed that we live in a time where we need to respond to the new waves of feminism in our culture and affirm the beauty and distinctiveness of male and female.
 
But I was also confused at some of what I read. Was it my own sinful proclivity, or were some of these distinctives being taught in the book taking it too far? As a young wife, I gave the benefit to the authors, who were much more educated and experienced than myself.
 
But here I am, no longer a “young” wife, finding myself tripping over some of the teachings in that same book. I’ve been noticing more and more strange teachings on femininity and biblical womanhood in the last couple of years. Every now and then I decide to publicly respond on the blog. I do this because I know there are many young, impressionable women who want to be good Christian wives like me. And even though the teaching may be behind good intentions, it is damaging.
 
I realized that the Ask Pastor John answer that I responded to last week basically comes right out of his teaching in Chapter One of RBMW. So I decided to skim over the chapter again. It has been shocking for me to reread this as a more mature woman. Some parts were actually quite unbelievable. For instance, John Piper asserts,  “Mature masculinity expresses its leadership in romantic sexual relations by communicating an aura of strong and tender pursuit” (40).  After affirming that this is very difficult to put into words, he does just that. And it gets weird. But for the sake of brevity, I’ll focus on the part where he says a woman wrongly “attempt(s) to assume a more masculine role by appearing physically muscular and aggressive”:
 
It is true that there is something sexually stimulating about a muscular, scantily clad young woman pumping iron in a health club. But no woman should be encouraged by this fact. For it probably means the sexual encounter that such an image would lead to is something very hasty and volatile, and in the long run unsatisfying. The image of a masculine musculature may beget arousal in a man, but it does not beget several hours of moonlight walking with significant, caring conversation. The more women can arouse men by doing typically masculine things, the less they can count on receiving from men a sensitivity to typically feminine needs. Mature masculinity will not be reduced to raw desire in sexual relations. It remains alert to the deeper personal needs of a woman and mingles strength and tenderness to make her joy complete. (40-41)
 
First of all, why is John Piper calling men to strength and tenderness, but not the women? We aren’t to have muscular strength? I happen to train for muscular strength, not to arouse men, but because our muscles begin to deteriorate after age 50 and I want a good head start. Women especially need to be intentional in maintaining good bone density as they age because we are more susceptible to osteoporosis. And you increase bone density by strength training. 
 
So there’s my health argument, which we will file under good stewardship of our bodies. Now let’s talk about femininity and masculinity. I’m confident that my husband does not find me masculine or a threat to his own masculinity. In fact, we do go on regular evening walks together, enjoying significant, caring conversation.  He’s also talked about taking a strike fit class with me, which happens to be co-ed. I don’t see a conflict.
 
Are my “feminine needs” typical? I don’t know. I just don’t even know.
 
But I do know that not all women have soft, curvy bodies. We are all built differently. We do not want to question our biblical femininity in comparison to our muscle mass. Our bodies shouldn’t determine whether our husbands will meet our “feminine needs.”
 
But that’s not all we have to worry about. While John Piper says that women need to watch it with the muscles, Douglas Wilson mentions a wife’s weight (and hustle in washing the dishes) under areas in which a husband is to lead. In fact, if she is still rebelling after tender yet firm leadership, it could warrant a visit from the elders.
 
Thankfully, in contrast to these teachings, we have ourselves a swarthy woman in the one book in Scripture that shows us playful, intimate interaction between a bride and her groom. Her work in the vineyard affected her appearance to the point that she says, “Do not gaze at me” (Song of Solomon 1:6). She explains that she had to neglect her own “vineyard” because of all her laborious duties.  Doesn’t sound very feminine by our contemporary authors. And yet her groom calls her “most beautiful among women” (1:8). The poetry that follows assures me that her feminine needs were met.
 
Here are two men who have taken it upon themselves to give us more details about biblical femininity than Scripture. But which is it? Are we to work out or be soft? Muscles burn calories. And I’m pretty sure that offering to do the dishes may be the best way to meet a wife’s “feminine needs.”
 
You know what they say, “Everyone wants to be a leader, but no one wants to do the dishes.”
Posted on Monday, August 17, 2015 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
I know that John Piper’s books and sermons have been a tremendous blessing to many in the faith. That is a wonderful truth that I do not want to minimize. But especially because of this, because many Christians look up to him and receive his teaching with much enthusiasm and appreciation, I am concerned about some of his teaching on manhood and womanhood. So many people value Dr. Piper’s wisdom that there is an “Ask Pastor John” program.
 
Have you heard or read the transcripts of a recent episode, regarding a woman who wrote in asking, “Can a single Christian woman, who is a complementarian, become a police officer?”
 
When I saw the question, I thought, “Well this should be a short episode. Yes, as long as she can pass all of the education, physical, and background requirements for the job.” But I guess I didn’t realize that there is a biblical manhood and biblical womanhood filter that this question needed to go through. Dr. Piper lays out his definitions:
 
At the heart of mature manhood is a sense of benevolent responsibility to lead, provide for, and protect women in ways appropriate to a man’s differing relationships. The postman won’t relate to the lady at the door the way a husband will, but he will be a man. At the heart of mature womanhood is a freeing disposition to affirm, receive, and nurture strength and leadership from worthy men in ways appropriate to a woman’s differing relationships.
 
I find these definitions troublesome. Some of the words used here to describe mature manhood sound an awful lot like the Hebrew word ezer, or as we know it helper, that describes Eve in Gen. 2:18, and in verses like Ps. 20:1-2, 33:20 and 121:2, describes God’s provision and protection for Israel.
 
As far as the postman goes, I am at a total loss. Are we referring to the obvious, ontological fact that he is a man, or to something in his behavior that makes him a manly postman at the door? And if I am a woman opening the door, am I to be affirming this manliness in some sort of way?
 
And I suppose this definition of mature womanhood exposes me as terribly childish. I do not think it is my purpose as a woman to be constantly seeking affirming, receiving, and nurturing strength and leadership from worthy men. I am married to one man. I affirm that Scripture teaches that my husband has the responsibility of headship in our home. Even then, I take the ezer with the kenegdo. I should be a suitable strength matched for him, discerning if his leadership is of the Lord. I also affirm that only certain men are called to ordination in the church as pastors and elders. Those are special leadership positions that I affirm as a result of the goodness and authority of God, who is the authority of us all. Isn’t this what a complementarian believes?
 
I’m sure that Dr. Piper would agree that both men and women are made in the image of God and therefore share in their primary calling to glorify God, although I would say and enjoy him forever, where he would say by enjoying him forever. I don’t think these definitions for manhood and womanhood are helpful when it comes to living out our vocations as men and women. In fact, I think they can cause harm as we serve together in our vocations under the cultural mandate. 
 
Dr. Piper says that it is unwise to make a list of jobs that would be okay for a woman or a man to work, but offers two principles that he has written a book to fully unpack. He continues answering this question by offering these two principles as a guide for this woman and everyone listening:
 
There is a continuum from very personal influence, very eye-to-eye, close personal influence, to non-personal influence. And the other continuum is very directive — commands and forcefulness — directive influence to very non-directive influence. And here is my conviction. To the degree that a woman’s influence over a man, guidance of a man, leadership of a man, is personal and a directive, it will generally offend a man’s good, God-given sense of responsibility and leadership, and thus controvert God’s created order. To an extent, a woman’s leadership or influence may be personal and non-directive or directive and non-personal, but I don’t think we should push the limits. I don’t think those would necessarily push the limits of what is appropriate. That is my general paradigm of guidance. And you can see how flexible it is and how imprecise it is. So let me give some examples.
 
I am glad that he articulated that this is his own conviction, rather than saying flat out that this is what Scripture teaches. I find it very confusing. When are we pushing the personal versus directive limits? This kind of teaching has always made me uncomfortable with my own female body. My very presence is imposing. It has the same neo-gnostic ring that we hear in our culture today, separating the physical from the spiritual. Is the job okay for women if the men can’t see us? His illustration seems to say that:
 
A woman who is a civil engineer may design a traffic pattern in a city so that she is deciding which streets are one-way and, therefore, she is influencing, indeed controlling, in one sense, all the male drivers all day long. But this influence is so non-personal that it seems to me the feminine masculine dynamic is utterly negligible in this kind of relationship. On the other hand, the husband-and-wife relationship is very personal and, hence, the clear teaching of the New Testament that the man should give leadership in the home and that she give a glad partnership in supporting and helping that leadership come into its own.
 
On the other hand, some influence is very directive and some is non-directive. For example, a drill sergeant might epitomize directive influence over the privates in the platoon. And it would be hard for me to see how a woman could be a drill sergeant — hut two, right face, left face, keep your mouth shut, private — over men without violating their sense of manhood and her sense of womanhood.
 
I don’t think that God gives the headship responsibility to the man in a marriage just because it is a personal relationship. I have plenty of personal relationships. And I would even say that I often have both personal and directive influence over my husband, as his suitable helper. Any man who wouldn’t admit that would have to be lying or deceived. But I’m wondering why Dr. Piper is even using this personal distinction when answering a question about a profession? And again, saying it’s okay for a woman to have a controlling position over a man in her vocation in a non-personal format, one that is not eye-to-eye, falls under the same line of thinking on gender that we hear perpetuated in our culture, disconnecting who we are from what we are. 
 
I am having a hard time understanding these guidelines. My influence in the civil sphere has to be non-personal and non-directive? Or I will upset the feminine masculine dynamic? Should we then get rid of women doctors and nurses? I don’t see how one could do that job without being both personal and directive. I'm sure they have many male patients whom they have to tell what to do. And we wouldn't want women in any administrative roles then either. There would be so many jobs that “mature” women would not be able to serve in were they to follow these principles.
 
I respectfully disagree with John Piper's principles for women. This just isn’t biblical. After we clean up our own vocations that involve women in personal, directive positions, we will need to get rid of the Deborahs and Abigails of the Bible. Women are warriors too. And it does not violate a mature man’s sense of manhood when they do their job well.
Posted on Tuesday, August 11, 2015 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
I was eager to read G.K. Beale and Benjamin Gladd’s latest book, Hidden But Now Revealed, this summer. And I was not disappointed. Reading this book helped me to learn more about the relationship between the Old Testament and the New Testament. By a thorough study of the use of the word mystery in the Bible, the authors teach both the continuity and discontinuity of the Old Testament in the New---what was hidden, but is now revealed.
 
But I would like to talk about a different mystery. There was a statement made in the introduction about the target audience for this book that I found perplexing. Of course, it is good to clearly state who the book is intended for. And the looks of this book can be a bit intimidating. It is close to 400 pages and it’s written by a couple of professors. So is this a book aimed at seminary students? Not exactly. The authors tell us, “This project is intended for students, scholars, pastors and laypeople who seriously engage the Scriptures” (26).
 
That statement made me pause. Well, it was the last part about laypeople who seriously engage the Scriptures that made me pause. Shouldn’t all laypeople seriously engage the Scriptures? Isn’t that both the delight and duty of the Christian?
 
And yet, I don’t blame the authors for making this distinction. Given the market of so-called Christian books, this qualification needs stating. And let me be clear that Beale and Gladd do not mean that they have written an academic book that a small percentage of sharp and conditioned laypeople may have the fitness to read. In the same paragraph they explain that they have been carefully purposeful in the organization of this book to make it more accessible to the layperson. I can affirm that they are successful in their mission.
 
One reason for making a statement like that about the readership is that Beale and Gladd are dealing with texts in Scripture that have perplexed many able scholars. But as a layperson, that makes me even more eager to want to learn from those who have been equipped to teach on these complex themes in Scripture. After all, the Holy Spirit included it in the Word of God for a reason.
 
When I hear a statement like “This project is intended for…laypeople who seriously engage the Scriptures,” it gets to me like the “You must be at least this tall to ride this ride” sign. Sure, brand new Christians have a lot to learn, and it will take some growing in the basic doctrines of the faith, a routine of reading through the Scriptures, and sustained membership in the covenant community of faith before they grow tall enough to reach the line where they can ride some of the loop-the-loops. I get that. But a growing child anticipates that great day when they can reach the line to ride. The sign gets to them. It is their goal.
 
This statement made me think about how the genre targeted for a popular reading audience has perpetuated theological weaklings. And I say that as someone who has written two popular level Christian books. They are meant to be targeted to laypeople who are interested in further biblical teaching on different topics. I take that very seriously. Popular level books should help us to grow. They should challenge us. 
 
And yet there is a large percentage of books targeted at a popular level that are equivalent to the Tea Cup Ride in Disneyworld. You don’t even need to remove your binky to get on, and everyone screams with delight as if they are on a thrilling ride. It’s actually called the Mad Tea Cup Ride, which is fitting to my analogy, because the vast majority of popular level Christian books are filled with disturbing interpretations of Scripture. And yet they are so pretty and whimsical, many consumers are tricked into thinking they are reading something important. Popular level books should help build theological muscles and help us grow strong in the faith, not stick a binky in us while letting us go on believing that the dream we wish will come true.
 
Laypeople are students of the Word. We should all seriously engage the Scriptures. Maybe we aren’t all tall enough to ride some of the more mature books yet, but that should be our goal. After all, the Bible is not watered down for the toddlers. 
 
Reading Hidden But Now Revealed made me a better student of Scripture. But it also inadvertently revealed a mystery about popular level books to me. They should be helping us grow. But too many are doing the opposite; they are stunting the growth of Christians. Even worse, many of these books are deceiving people into thinking they are in the faith while they are teaching a different gospel. For that reason, I am thankful for the faithful publishers and authors who have helped me grow enough to ride the rides.
 
Posted on Monday, August 03, 2015 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
If I were to talk to you about the language of personal fulfillment and revolutionary expressions of sexual identity, you probably would think that I am referring to the LGBQ community. Or, maybe I am talking about the latest craze of cheating apps that married couples are using. But what if I told you I am speaking of the contemporary sexual purity movement?
 
Is this language okay to use when it is in the confines of sexual behavior that Christians support? And when we use terms such as “sexual identity,” are we even talking about behavior anymore?
 
I’m excited to air our upcoming Bully Pulpits for Mortification of Spin, where we discuss Rosaria Butterfield’s latest book, Openness Unhindered.  In it, she meaningfully addresses so much more than sexual identity and homosexuality because her focus is on life in Christ. But speaking as an ex-lesbian who helped build the LGBQ community that exists today, Butterfield hashes out an easily overlooked point in the discussion: “Before you can resolve the issues of our day, you must be able to clarify them.”  Interestingly, I made some connections between the brilliant way Rosaria Butterfield clarifies the issues of our day and the critique Sara Moslener gave in her book Virgin Nation*, regarding the sexual purity movement.
 
I interrupt this article with an important announcement. I don’t usually write in caps, but I am going to go ahead and act against my own style for dramatic emphasis. I WHOLEHEARTEDLY ADVOCATE SEXUAL PURITY. I WOULD NEVER WANT TO INLUENCE ANYONE IN PROMISCUITY OR SEXUAL SIN OF ANY KIND. SEXUAL SIN IS A VERY BIG DEAL. Okay, back to your regularly scheduled post...
 
Butterfield writes, “Sexuality moved from verb (practice) to noun (people), and with this grammatical move, a new concept of humanity was born---the idea that we are oriented or framed by our sexual desires and different objects of desire made up separate species of people, and that self-representation and identity rooted now in sexual orientation, and not in the purposes of God for his image bearers…Prior to the nineteenth century category-invention of sexual orientation, no one’s sexual practice or sexual desire prescribed personhood or defined their personal identity” (97). She goes on to explain that both Christians and unbelievers embrace this form of self-identification. We are heterosexuals, homosexuals, bisexuals and transsexuals. Heck, we’ve even extended subcategories of metrosexuals and lumbersexuals to add style to our sexuality. Butterfield continues, “If I self-define as heterosexual or homosexual, I express that this deep and originating mark of selfhood presents itself in everything I do, from how I walk the dog in the morning, stir the pot of soup at lunch, and take the garbage out at night” (98). 
 
This language presents sexuality as key to our identity. And it isn’t merely about how we behave, what we do, or even whom we are attracted to. It is about who we are at the core of our being. Sexual desires and decisions are now linked to other strange terms like human flourishing. And this is troubling. What happened to our identity as being made in the image of God? With that starting point, we then learn how we are affected by the fall, what God has done in Christ for our redemption, and what we are becoming. After reflecting on Psalm 139, Butterfield concludes, “Our identity is in finding refuge in God. Nothing More” (130). As a believer, I identify myself as in Christ, and this is glorious.
 
Okay, okay, but what does this have to do with the sexual purity movement? After tracking it’s history, beginning with first wave feminism, Sara Moslener examines the contemporary evangelical purity movement by taking a closer look at two organizations: True Love Waits and The Silver Ring Thing. I found some striking similarities in the language these organizations use with the language we hear in our overly-sexualized culture. The rhetoric is one-dimensional. And it sounds just like your typical psychological speak of “self-care, self-development, and self-improvement,” with the spiritual element as an add on, “authentic personal transformation is only possible with the assistance of Jesus Christ” (120). In promoting sexual purity, these evangelical movements are “position[ing] sexuality (and sexual transgression) within the trajectory of adolescent spiritual development” (121). 
 
Moslener explains how the sexual purity movement markets itself as “the new sexual revolution…Claiming to be a sexual minority, sexually pure adolescents positioned themselves as new sexual revolutionaries owed personal respect and political voice.
 
“’So many of us are coming out of the closet,’ seventeen-year-old Lara McCalman told the New York Times on June 21, 1993. ‘I’ve had so much fun saying no. I’m a virgin and proud of it.’” (118). Doesn’t this language sound eerily familiar? Moslener continues, “Downplaying their commitment as a form of religious obedience, numerous young people portrayed themselves as defiant, independently minded individuals seeking personal fulfillment and the right to self-expression” (118).
 
As I was reading Virgin Nation, I realized how many evangelicals have moved from discussing sexual behavior as a fruit and outworking of being made in the image of God and Christian holiness, to focusing on sexual purity commitments as the core of our identity, our own sexual orientation that dictates how we walk the dog in the morning, stir our pots of soup for lunch, and take out the garbage at night. We have moved sexuality from verb to noun as well, from practice to people. And this decision-based, revolutionary orientation for the contemporary evangelical adolescent is couched in a soup of spiritual and psychological language that has become a church of its own. The ministry of Word and sacrament seems to be replaced with powerful personal testimonies, elaborate media productions, and silver rings. They even have their own Bibles. Meslener rightly concludes, “For evangelicals who focus more on personal spirituality than theological tradition for the formation of Christian spiritual life, private, sexual acts, rather than doctrinal statements, are sites for reinforcing orthodoxy, especially during the formal years of adolescence” (124).
 
Butterfield makes a great point in her book, “We can use words and word can use us” (114). Truth. As they say, you better check yourself before you wreck yourself. Maybe it would be better if we use the categories that God has already given us.
 
*I have a forthcoming review of Virgin Nation.
Posted on Monday, July 20, 2015 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
In my last article, I discussed how Christ has given the church the gift of ordained ministerial office and that this is how the church ministers to every member through Word and sacrament. With that in mind, let’s get back to women. What goes under the umbrella of women’s ministry? 
 
Many churches include hospitality service such as organizing and making meals for new moms or someone who is ill, inviting visitors over for coffee, baby showers, and some even go so far as to organize the Sunday morning greeters. These are wonderful services for a church to provide, but I question why hospitality is under the umbrella of women’s ministry. The biblical command to be hospitable was not directed to women only. 
 
What I am getting at here is that maybe under all the best intentions of having a thriving women’s ministry that serves the church well, the men may be missing out on the blessings of serving in some of these areas designated for women. We may be divvying up services in male and female categories that aren’t necessary and missing opportunities to serve together.
 
A major cultural challenge that the church is up against in our day is gender distinctiveness. It’s real and good, and yet, how do we express it? We want to be careful to teach and model male pastoral and elder leadership in church, as well as headship in the home, but we do not want to foster a male culture. Sometimes I think women’s ministry can add to this problem rather than help it. How can we show forth gender distinctiveness and exemplify healthy male/female relationships in the church: brothers and sisters in the Lord? How do we model the hope that we have for living on the new heavens and the new earth as new creations living in the already and the not yet?
 
We can easily add to this problem when all of the ways that women serve in the church are separated to a women’s ministry. And, as I’ve already shared, we lose focus of the ministry that we all truly need. Here’s the thing: complementary churches may be giving lip service to the importance of male leadership in the office of pastor and elder, while simultaneously neutering them of their ministerial role. We recognize that women are gifted in many ways to serve and teach, and so we think we create a safe place for them to do that by offering women’s ministry. These often informal and organically formed groups become viewed as the place where the real ministry is happening because of its practical value. And then we say we are being complementary because we have designated a separate wing for women to do their thing in the church. It has the appearance of valuing women and giving them a place to serve under male headship, but far too often these women are not properly invested in or led in the most meaningful way. 
 
My first article of this series pointed out the bothersome verse in 2 Tim.3:6 regarding weak women in the church who become caught up in false teaching. This infects a whole church. Although I’ve been steering away from having a formal women’s ministry as we see it in the evangelical church today, women teaching women is biblical. Not only that, women teach women all the time, whether they are equipped to do it or not. I broke down this term “weak women” as a term of contempt toward a particular group of women. As nonworking-class, they had time on their hands. And they were easily seduced by the teaching that had an appearance of godliness over the real thing. I see this happening on a major scale in the church today. 
Churches can have great teaching from the pulpit, and yet there is a lack of connection from the ministry on Sunday morning to the teaching they let in through the week. Where is the discernment? What are we missing?
 
It has become easier to target “weak” women to infect the church with false teaching because we have separated them to their own ministry. There are so many books full of bad theology with these groups in mind. Pastors can hardly keep up with what the women are up against in the danger zone ostensibly labeled as Christian publishing. But it is imperative that they do. With the technology we have today, not only do false teachers have more access to spread their doctrine, but the weak people they target move on to publish their own books, speak to their own crowds, and lure in more of the same.
 We are all familiar with Titus 2. But I think that we forget who it is addressed to. Paul is instructing Titus as he is bringing his ministry in Crete to a close, and equipping elders there to carry out the work they have begun. Some main concerns are the organization of the church and dealing with false teachers. We see in this letter how the ministry produces fruit in all the different people in the church. Titus is exhorted to teach sound doctrine (2:1), and then under his ministerial care, mature women are to “teach what is good” (2:3) to younger women in the faith. We see in these verses how doctrine and life go hand in hand, and mature women should not only model this, but train the younger women. This isn’t a mere appearance of godliness, but an embracing of sound doctrine and the fruit of it.
 
There is a responsibility that lies on the elders here to invest in the women so that they are equipped to teach what is good. Women teaching women flows from the ministry. What we do in our own households outflows from and pictures our participation in the household of God.
 
I’m all for having a the women of the church plan fellowship activities together. In fact, I love being a part of that. I especially love attending women’s retreats and conferences that are full of good teaching. It’s been an honor to do some speaking to different women’s groups. I have learned from many of the women in these retreats and they have been a great blessing to me.
 
And of course we should be encouraged to use our gifts to serve the body of Christ and in our vocations in loving our neighbor. I’m not convinced we need a formal women’s ministry to organize this. What we do need is to prioritize the ministerial office given to the church and their role in equipping lay members in teaching what is good. Our service and conversations are shaped by the theology that we believe. Let’s be passionate about investing in good teaching and the discernment to spot a counterfeit. Let’s improve communication between the leaders in the church and the women who teach, so they can participate in solid women’s Bible studies and book studies, outworking from the ministry of Word and sacrament. This will be blessing to the elders and the church as a whole. 
Posted on Thursday, July 16, 2015 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
So I am a woman, who is a Christian, who loves to be a part of women’s Bible studies. I used to think that meant that I should be actively involved in a women’s ministry. But I haven’t always been sure of what women’s ministry should entail. And one theological concern that has been nagging away at me is the whole use of this word “ministry.” 
 
It seems that everyone in the church needs to be a part of some kind of niche ministry these days and women’s ministry is the queen of them all. As Protestants, we believe that Jesus is our only mediator between believers and God and that by grace we are all gifted with his Holy Spirit. And since Scripture tells us that each Christian is given spiritual gifts to serve Christ’s body, we have developed a popular manner of thinking about every member ministry. It seems like a simple matter of stewardship of our gifts, right? So now we talk about my ministry and your ministry, Randy’s ministry and women’s ministry. With all this excitement to serve with our gifts, I’m afraid that we may have lost the value of the ministry.
 
I am talking about the ministry of the Word and sacrament, administered by particular people ordained in the office of ministry. Michael Horton has written on the topic of every member ministry on occasion in a helpful way. In The Christian Faith he spends some time critiquing some of the newer translation’s of Ephesians 4:11-12:
 
However, there are good reasons for preferring the older translations (for example, the King James version), which render the verses, “And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.”
 
Reflecting the actual construction of the Greek, the older translation draws three lines of purpose clauses for the offices given that newer translations obscure. The same officers who are given for the completion (not equipping) of the saints are also given for the work of the ministry and edification of the body. On this reading, Christ has given apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastors and teachers for the ministry of the Word that brings the whole body to unity, maturity, and completion in the truth. This is not to say that the body is complete in and through these offices alone, for there are other gifts mentioned elsewhere (esp. Ro 12 and 1Co 12). However, the focus here is restricted to that work of bringing unity and maturity to the body through sound doctrine…
 
It is significant that the gifts mentioned in Romans 12:3-8 and 1 Corinthians 12:4-28 include hospitality, giving, administration, and other acts of service, but Ephesians 4 only mentions Christ’s gift of officers to his church for the maturity of the whole body in sound doctrine. So the point is that in his ascension Christ has given the ministry of the Word to his people as a gift. This does not mean that those who are not ministers are not gifted and called to love and serve each other, but that comes later in verses 17 through the whole of chapter 5. Before they serve, they are served. This underscores again the remarkable generosity of the church’s victorious head, that he would make his people receivers first and active givers as a result. 
 
While every member and every gift is needed in order for the body to be fully operative, the very life of the body depends on the faithful maintenance of the ministry of Word and sacrament. (887-888)
 
We downplay the value of this amazing gift, and our need for it, when we call all of our less formal programs and services ministries. Christ, the head, ministers to every member through Word and sacrament: women, men, marrieds, singles, elderly, and children. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t have any separate initiatives for these groups, but if every way that we serve others with our gifts is called a ministry, then the gift that we so desperately need ourselves in the ministry of Word and sacrament blend in to look like just another ministry among the many. And it is easy to become so wrapped up in our ministering that we lose perspective. We are first receivers.
 
So let’s get back to women’s ministry. Women are ministered to by Word and sacrament just like everybody else. That is the formal ministry of the church. Just like there isn’t a special Bible for women and a special Bible for men, both men and women together are built up through the ministry of the Word. As I alluded to in my first post of this series, danger creeps in when we begin thinking of ourselves in a ministerial status. I don’t think that is what is intended when we talk about non formal ministries, but as my balding, British colleague has mentioned before, it isn’t a far step from labeling Christ’s ministry our own when we hijack a word. 
 
These are the main reasons I don’t think it is helpful to use the term "women’s ministry." When we talk about the ministry, there is clarity about what it entails: particular people, particular means, and particular result. But one thing that has always confused me about women’s ministry, no matter what church I’ve been to or what books I have read, is what exactly that entails. That is what I want to discuss in my next post.
Posted on Monday, July 13, 2015 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
On Friday I kicked off a series of posts I will be doing with the heading The Danger of Women’s Ministries. I am encouraged from the responses and messages I have received over the weekend that many women resonate with this danger. And there has been some good reflection on this word “gullible,” that I honed in on from 2 Tim. 3:6. But such strong language does make some women defensive. So before I continue, I want to make it clear that Paul was talking about a particular type of women. 
 
However, we can all be susceptible if we are not adequately conditioned in the Word. Think about it for a minute. Paul is exhorting Timothy, the pastor to the church in Ephesus. This is a church known for it’s passion for the truth! If Timothy needs to watch out for this in his congregation, then so do pastors today. We are all vulnerable to false teaching.
 
But like I said in my last post, this is a jarring warning to read:
For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth.
 
This expression, weak women or gullible women, insults us. It is meant to. The phrase, literally translated “little women” or “small women,” was a term of contempt. Paul isn’t soft-pedaling the issue here. And he isn’t being chauvinistic. Most of his writing shows a high view of women and much appreciation to their service to God. I wish we could all be that kind of woman that is praised.
 
And Paul is not saying that men are not gullible. He is saying that this particular type of immature women were the targets for godless false teachers to manipulate and infect households. Why do you think they were a target? I want to briefly look at two reasons for going after women in general, and then two that make these particular “little women” more of a target:
 
Their Value
I want to start with something I mentioned in my last article. The tactic that the very first false teacher and the father of them all, Satan, used in the garden was to go for the woman. Why didn’t he approach Adam? Was it because Eve was more susceptible to error? Scripture doesn’t tell us the reasoning behind his strategy, but we do see that he is “more crafty than any other beast of the field” (Gen 3:1). Satan was going after Adam by going after his bride. He went for a target of value for Adam’s fall. It is no surprise then that he is still relentless in trying to deceive Christ’s bride, the church, through false teachers.
 
The Influence They Have Over a Household
Women are influential both in their personal households and in the household of God. Research shows that men open up and have deeper conversation when a woman is involved (see Housewife Theologian, 139). God has given us a gift of being relational. But this can also be used in a very sinful way. Our propensity for intimate conversation helps us to be persuasive to others. This is especially true with our husbands. Before the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding popularized it, Spurgeon gave this witty advice to a bride in a wedding ceremony he was officiating: "According to the teaching of the apostle, 'The husband is the head of the wife.' Don't you try to be the head; but you be the neck, then you can turn the head whichever way you like." It’s funny because it’s kind of true. We don’t have to be the head to have heavy influential power.
 
Another interesting thing to mention is this word “household” in our text. In their commentary on 1& 2 Timothy and Titus, R. Kent Hughes and Bryan Chapell note that “the original Greek says ‘the homes.’ They were probably the spacious homes of the wealthy, where house churches often met” (245). So it may be that these ungodly men were even more direct in their own stealthy manipulation tactics in the house of God.
 
Practicality
This term of contempt may tell us a little more about the type of women who were being manipulated. Robert W. Wall and Richard B. Steele explain in their commentary that this phrase which they translate as “immature women” is “based on a caricature of middle-class women in antiquity” (262). They explain that these are women with time on their hands, unlike the working-class women. They had the time to chat. Extra time is a blessing if it is stewarded well, but immature women do not use it for God’s glory. Idleness is a practical gem for someone who wants to infiltrate bad doctrine into a church.
 
Susceptible Women
Paul doesn’t just use this term of contempt without qualifying it. If you combine idleness with women “burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning and never able to arrive at the knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim. 3:6b-7), you have some low-hanging fruit for the picking. Weak women are satisfied with half-truths because they are already invested in their sin. They are attracted to counterfeit, something that appears godly, but doesn’t embrace all of God’s truth. And so they don’t trust in God’s Word to transform them, they deny its power. This is why Wall chose the word “immature” to describe “this working principle: these are female believers whose spiritual maturity, not yet brought to maturity by the word of truth, are more easily seduced by false appearance” (262).
 
This leads me to why we are so insulted when we read this passage today---we should be! I don’t want to be a little woman, immature in the faith, and an easy target for false teaching. This should shake us up to evaluate our own theological fitness. Many of us, working class or not, do have extra time on our hands. Are we investing in that time well? Are we holding on to a particular sin that is weighing us down? The preacher to the Hebrews tells us to “lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith” (12:1b-2a). 
 
Make no mistake, weak women are still being targeted. Much of the material that is marketed to woman in the so-called Christian market is banking on our immaturity. Maybe you think no one is susceptible in your church because of its good teaching. But if Timothy needed to be warned, so does every other pastor. 
 
No, not all women are gullible---don’t be one of those women! I agree with Wall and Steele that this is a haunting passage. We may think our desire to learn is a good thing in itself, but this Scripture shows us the danger of not coming to the knowledge of the truth. There are enemies making their way into the doors of our churches. Wall and Steele warn us that this situation is grave. These enemies are “further described as those who not only ‘oppose the truth’ and ‘ruin the mind’ but are without the intellectual equipment…(anoia, literally ‘without a mind’)---needed to come to a knowledge of the truth and repent. Unlike that of Hymenaeus and Philetus, their situation is truly hopeless” (263).
 
Now that we are warned, I will return to the topic of women’s ministry. We will look next at how the church ministers to every member and whether every member is a minister.
Posted on Friday, July 10, 2015 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
Every now and then I get a disturbing email from a pastor or concerned woman about the women’s ministry in their church. The scenario is usually about a group of well-intentioned women studying a popular book that is marketed for women’s ministry groups, and it is full of bad doctrine. But the author is extremely likable, she has done many good deeds in the name of the Lord, and frankly, the women in the group are now invested. They are offended that someone is questioning what they think has been an edifying study. So you can see how I usually get this email after significant damage has already been done.
 
Or has it? I mean, why quibble over words when these women are thriving by studying a book that many other good churches are using? I will tell you why, because the truth of God’s Word is important and women are very influential in both God’s household and their own. 
 
There seems to be a pattern going on from the beginning of time. We read in Gen. 3:1, “Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made.” And what is the very next line after being given this information?
 
He said to the woman, “Did God actually say…”
 
In his malevolent shrewdness, Satan went for the woman. He went after Adam’s gift from God, his bride. That is indeed a clever way to get to Adam. And it isn’t surprising that Satan is after Christ’s bride, his church, with the same distortion of God’s Word. 
 
Are there any sections of Scripture that make you uncomfortable to read and especially to discuss with others? There’s one particular Scripture that gets to me, and it should be troubling to any pastor or elder in God’s church, any husband who wants to love and care for his family, and every single woman who professes the name of Christ. I’m talking about 2 Tim 3:6-7:
For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth.
 
This is a jarring warning. It is in the larger context of Paul warning Timothy about false teachers infecting the church. They have an appearance of godliness, but discernment shows that they are rebellious against the true the power of godliness (v.1-5) in the Spirit. This accusation about how they target weak women is something I have been studying and want to write a lot more about. But for now I will say that these are women with some time on their hands. Yet they have no theological fitness. One translation uses the word gullible. They do not have good discernment because they seem to have a proclivity to learn all kinds of so-called enlightening things, but not the knowledge of the truth. 
 
I can’t help but notice how these false teachers, we could say messengers of Satan, creep into households all stealth-like and target specific women. The language makes me think of a certain snake…
 
You would think that every church would want to have a strong women’s ministry. After all, women often make up more than half of the church. And we want our women to be active members of the church body. But with all of the initiatives for churches to have a thriving women’s ministry, this verse in 2 Timothy is still extremely pertinent. Why are there still so many gullible women? Have we made any progress in equipping our women to discern truth from error in what they are reading? Do the women in your church actually have the skills to lead a Bible study? How come I talk to so many women who are under good preaching and have all the best intentions, yet they fall prey to the latest book marketed to them that is full of poor theology?
 
There are several ways to look at this, but I think that we first need to look at the idea of “women’s ministry” in the first place. I’m afraid that in the church’s good intentions to minister to every member, we have swung the pendulum too far over to “every member ministry.” In doing this, we have lost focus of the actual ministry itself.
 
This needs to be treated in a format longer than a blog post, but I thought I would throw out a few points for discussion in a series of posts. Here are some questions I hope to address in some upcoming posts:
 
How does the church minister to every member?
Is every member a minister? 
What is it that women should be teaching other women?
What Happens When Women Teach Bad Theology? Why is this so destructive? How do they react when they are challenged?
Should the church have women’s ministries? 
 
And before I ask any more questions, I will end with how I respond to these emails that make me so sad. I sure wish that women (and men) in leadership would have enough discernment to recognize bad theology. Many don’t. And we can all be sharpened. This is an opportunity for an elder to step in and teach these skills. Instead of just saying “This book is dangerous because of A, B, & C, so therefore you must stop reading it,” step in and read it with them. Find out what is so appealing about this book and get to know the women studying it. Come prepared for discussion with good questions and Scripture so that these women will walk away with some tools for discernment. Teach them how to look for what this author is saying about God, about man, and about God’s Word. We need resurgence in teaching people how to read a book.
Posted on Monday, July 06, 2015 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
I love reading Simonetta Carr’s Christian Biographies for Young Readers. The books in this series highlight those who have persevered in the faith. Some are familiar names, like all the “Johns:” John Calvin, John Owen, John Knox, and Jonathan Edwards. But Carr has also written on some lesser known saints such as Lady Jane Grey. I was eager to read her latest on Marie Durand because I knew little about this French Protestant from the 18th century.
 
One thing that I appreciate about Carr’s writing is that she doesn’t debone it. What I mean is, she doesn’t take out all of the inconvenient truths and stumbling blocks that most children’s authors would remove for easy digestion. Carr tells is like was and leaves the reader faced with some of the same perplexities as the Christian figures in her books. Our faith isn’t in people or in present blessings, but in Jesus Christ our Lord and the resurrection life to come. Carr’s biographies showcase how this truth helped God’s people to endure in some of the worst of circumstances. I am reminded of our great cloud of witnesses in Hebrews 11, “These all died in the faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar” (Heb. 11:13).  
 
Carr opens up with a killer hook, “Born in the enchanting region between the Rheine River and the Massif Central Mountains in Southern France, Marie Durand chose to spend most of her life in a dark, unhealthy prison rather than follow a religion she considered contrary to the teachings of Christ” (4). Carr then gives the background of the tension between the French Protestants and the Roman Catholic monarchy, including a time Protestants were allowed to worship according to their conscience under the rule of King Henry IV, his great grandson revoking that law that protected Protestants after his grandfather’s death, and the following war of rebellion. By the time Marie was born in 1711, her family had to worship in secret.
 
Her brother Pierre became a Protestant pastor and also a wanted man. Sadly, because the authorities could not find Pierre, they imprisoned his family. At the age of 19, the newly engaged Marie was sent to the Tower of Constance, “an ancient building that had been used as a watchtower and prison,” simply for being the sister of a Protestant pastor (20). She was never to see her fiancé again. The rest of the book unfolds the dreadful living conditions that Marie endured with about twenty-five other female prisoners for the next thirty-eight years. As Marie persevered, holding fast to her confession of hope, she watched some of these women lose their children, lose their mind, health, and some their faith. Some recanted their Protestant faith and converted to Roman Catholicism in exchange for their freedom. 
 
During her long imprisonment, Marie’s brother Pierre was captured and executed. Marie developed an intimate correspondence with her niece, Anne. After Anne’s mother died, Marie tried to provide that motherly love for her from a distance, sacrificing her own health to make and send Anne new clothes from the prison, and encourage her in the Protestant faith. Carr gives us a glimmer of hope when she shares the happiest part of Marie’s life, when Anne was able to live in the area for a whole month, visiting her aunt frequently. 
About nine years later, after many crushed prospects for release, Prince de Beauvau was moved by compassion for these women, releasing them against direct orders from his superior. Marie was fifty-seven years old.
 
This is part where we would think Marie would be able to live out the rest of her life, close to her niece, enjoying her long-awaited freedom. But that is not the case. Her house had been ransacked and robbed by cousins. Anne wedded a wealthy Roman Catholic and cut off correspondence with Marie. “In fact, instead of supporting her needy aunt, Anne had allowed her husband to rent out part of Marie’s farm without asking for her permission and to charge Marie for any repairs he had to make” (50). I can’t imagine how devastating this betrayal of the faith was to Marie, who had sacrificed her entire life for it while loving her niece so dearly. Thankfully, a Protestant church in Amsterdam stepped in to support her with yearly donations, saving her from complete poverty. “Marie continued to rely on God’s providence until the end of her life and died peacefully in her home at the age of sixty-five” (50).
 
These kind of stories force the reader to ask some of the same questions that Christians like Marie must have constantly been faced with: Is God sovereign? Is God good? The answer is of course yes, and Marie held this truth until the end, where she has received her true reward, Christ himself.
 
Simonetta Carr has given us another great biography that can be thoughtfully read by adults as well as children. And the illustrations by Matt Abraxas along with all the accompanying photography further enhance Carr’s flashbacks into history. I recommend it, bones and all.