The Problem Is the Bible
As the Gestapo Captain slowly waved the barrel of his Luger under the nose of my now aged Pastor friend, Rev. Heinrich Jochums, he made an astute observation. "Es geht hier um die Schrift," he hissed. "The problem here is the Bible!" "What could I say?" laughs Rev. Jochums today, as much with relief that the Captain did not pull the trigger as with wry humor. "The man was right, the problem WAS the Bible." The fact is that the problem ALWAYS is the Bible. When Satan tempted Eve he said, "Has God indeed said?" THIS question has rung down through the ages in every attack on the teaching of the Bible and is no less the issue at stake in the modern (and devilish) push to install women in the consistory rooms and pulpits of the Churches.
What is at stake here is at stake because of the nature of the Church, and especially of the Reformed Churches, as being formed upon the basis of God's word in the Bible. When we claim biblical authority for teachings which say exactly the reverse of what the WORDS of the Bible say, we are being most essentially the opposite of Reformed. Again, when we acquiesce to such teachings with the excuse that they have been approved by church councils and synods, we are being the opposite of reformational. Church councils can no more make a woman into a man than they can create a purgatory or release a soul from the same by the sale of an indulgence. What the Church says, it says ONLY by and with the authority of God speaking in the words of the Bible. When the Church speaks in accord with the words of the Bible, it carries the authority of God; when it speaks contrary to those words, it is a tinkling cymbal.
The Lord Jesus Christ makes exactly this point in one of His last public speeches before His death. Having come to Jerusalem to die, and having proclaimed that fact, He openly called men to faith in Himself. The conclusion or heart of this call to faith comes in these words:
He who rejects me, and does not receive my words, has one that judges him, the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day.John 12:48
Notice carefully that our Lord defines and identifies the rejection of His person as being not receiving His spoken words (Greek, "remata"). The separation that modernists and confusionists (my word for those who tell us the Bible does not speak clearly) make between the person of Christ and the words of Christ is by this text made absolutely illegitimate. You CANNOT accept the person of Christ without receiving His words. That is why reformation Churches have always proclaimed sola scriptura.
This point of the foundational nature of the SPOKEN WORD is reiterated and established upon even firmer ground in the very next verse of John 12. Here Jesus tells us that His words carry such weight because they are in fact also the words of the Father. The Father commanded me, He says, "What I should SAY and what I should SPEAK."
An Arminian Hermeneutic
"Oh well," someone will say with a yawn, "but it is just your INTERPRETATION of Scripture, that women may not have authority over men." Now we need to immediately point out that such persons have already taken the Arminian approach to the Bible, an approach which emphasizes not what the words say, but how they are to be interpreted. That is the only way the Arminian can also say concerning predestination that the texts of the Bible say exactly the opposite of what their words and sentences mean. Isaiah of course gives us the antidote to that position when he declares, "To the law and to the testimony, if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them." We are in the strictest sense not to interpret the Bible, but to listen to it. Far from man's interpretation of the Bible being valid, it is the Bible that is the only valid interpretation of man himself and his universe to man. Without the words of God spoken to man, also before the fall, man would have no idea of his own origin and purpose, much less of the God who made him in His image. With this in mind, we should not be surprised that Arminians and liberals often get along so well; they have the same hermeneutic.
It is what happens to the Bible when we consciously or unconsciously take the Arminian hermeneutic that is the issue before us. Historically, Reformed theologians have held not only to the inspired character of the Bible as God's words, but also to four "perfections" of Scripture, namely, its Necessity, Authority, Perspicuity and Sufficiency. It is in terms of the doctrine of inspiration and of these perfections of Scripture that we may see the devastating effect of the Church taking positions contrary to what the words of Scripture say.
Hermeneutic and Authority
As we turn to the effects of the Arminian hermeneutic, I would point out the importance of having a consistently Reformed hermeneutic. Observe that the words of the Bible teach the subordination of women in Church government in the SAME WAY that the words of the Bible teach, for example, the resurrection of Christ. We do not accept any theory of the resurrection of Christ that does not confess that Jesus literally and bodily rose from the dead. Why? Because no other idea can be made to fit the words by which Scripture declares and applies this doctrine. We rightly condemn those who by verbal gymnastics or outright denial rob the Church of this precious and essential teaching.
However, the only REAL AUTHORITY we have to proclaim the resurrection of Christ is the written word of God. No scientific or social theory supports the resurrection. Indeed, all such theories cast doubt upon it, but we do not hesitate for a second to proclaim it because we KNOW that it is true, true because the words of the Bible are true. Now the teaching of different functions for male and female in the Church rests on the words of the same Bible, understood in the same way as we understand the literal resurrection of Christ from the dead. We have no more authority to proclaim, "He is risen!" than we do to say, "Let your women keep silence in the churches."
When we give up the authority to say, "Let your women keep silence in the churches," we throw away the authority to say, "He is risen." It is an interesting and sad fact that this is exactly what has happened to Churches which in the past have tried to give women the function of equal authority with men in the church. Go to a liberal Methodist or Presbyterian Church, count the number in attendance compared with the number on the rolls and then count the number of women in attendance in comparison with the number of men. The reason for this atrophy in attendance, especially on the part of men, is very simple: the Church no longer has authority to say anything! If that is what you want, full speed ahead and forget the torpedoes of warning from God's word. When man is a law unto himself, he soon ends up by himself.
Hermeneutic and Inspiration
As Reformed Christians, if that is anything more than a name, we believe in the inspiration and authority of the Bible. Furthermore, we believe in inspired words, not in inspired men, for while the Holy Spirit indeed inspired the men, He inspired the men specifically to write or speak, not to paint or drive race cars. They did not live inspired lives; they wrote inspired Scriptures, and at that, not all that they wrote is Scripture. We believe this too because it is according to the words of the Bible itself. (In this connection note particularly what is said not about men but about the words of Scripture in 2 Samuel 23:2; 2 Timothy 3:16; 1 Peter 1:25 (where "word" is "rema" in Greek meaning ONLY spoken and written word]; and 2 Peter 1:21). That is why we call Scripture the "self-authenticating word of God." As HIS word it does not need outside help to establish its nature and authority.
What happens to this Reformed teaching of the inspiration of Scripture when we hold teachings contrary to what the words of Scripture say? Either we change our doctrine of inspiration, or we begin to pick and choose which parts of Scripture are inspired and which are not. This is one of those cases in which NO ONE can have his cake and eat it too. There is no third way out of this dilemma and Church history is littered with the carcasses of those who have been impaled on either of its horns, not surprisingly, very often by deciding to open offices of authority in the Church to women.
Hermeneutic and Necessity
It should be quite easy to see that when we "interpret" the Bible to say the opposite of what its words mean, we are saying a great deal about "Necessity" as an attribute of Scripture. In this case what really becomes necessary to determine truth is not Scripture, but man's experience. Indeed, we do not have to travel far to hear the advocates of women's liberation deriding the Scriptures and declaring that the only way to interpret the Bible is "in light of the feminist experience."
It is this error which flows freely throughout the whole theological movement toward a view of Scripture as "culturally conditioned." The idea is that Paul was speaking some kind of hidden, "dynamic" and relative truth out of his cultural perspective, and we must understand that "truth" in the light of our own cultural perspective. It is amusing, but not edifying, to observe proponents of cultural conditioning deride the "static correspondence theory" of truth as they handspring their way to discovering in Scripture a "dynamic truth" which has no correspondence at all with what the words of the Bible say. If anyone is tempted to replace the "correspondence theory" of truth with the "non-correspondence theory" of the same, please be warned that such is rooted in the weed of Existentialism, which to this day has borne little but bitter fruit.
It needs very much to be understood that the "Necessity" of Scripture is an attribute of its CONTENT and not only of its usage. Indeed, the two cannot properly be separated. Scripture is necessary to tell man the truth about his spiritual relationship to God and the creation, even before the fall, because those covenant relationships are NOT discoverable in the physical makeup of things. To operate with the assumption, as do some, that the Scriptures are necessary only as a tool of the Holy Spirit in regeneration and that ALL truth is subsequently discoverable in creation itself by the regenerate mind, is in actuality to deny the necessity of Scripture in toto. This is the error of Neo-Orthodoxy, which openly declares that we "encounter" God in the Scriptures, though in themselves they may and do contain many errors of fact and doctrine.
It is exactly this hermeneutic of error which is in operation among those who today are so glibly telling us that the Bible means exactly the opposite of what its words say with respect to the exercise of authority in home and church. Those who hold to the historic Reformed doctrine of the Necessity of Scripture should never be intimidated by such misuse of Holy Writ. A brief reflection on the fact that it is the Scripture that is necessary to determine truth and not man's experience, should serve to stabilize our thinking of God's thoughts after Him and keep us from falling prey to every wind of theological and social novelty, no matter how attractive those novelties are to the world around us. Let us not forget that this "liberation" of women within the Church came only after the pagan society around us became married to the "equality means identity" principle. The Church for almost 2000 years studied the New Testament without "discovering" that God did not mean what He says in it. With the apostle Paul, our principle must be, "Indeed, let God be true, but every man a liar." If NO man on earth believes the Bible, the Bible is still true!
Hermeneutic and Perspicuity
When Reformed teachers say that the Scriptures are "perspicuous," they are making an interesting claim, one that needs a little explanation. Webster's definition of "perspicuous" reads: "Plain to the understanding; not obscure or ambiguous." This is indeed exactly what is meant; the Scriptures are plain to the understanding and are neither obscure nor ambiguous. On the other hand, there are two things that some might falsely think are implied by this idea, but which are not. By saying that the Scriptures are perspicuous we do not mean that the illumination of the Holy Spirit is unnecessary to true faith. Just because the Bible is plain and unambiguous does not mean that everyone will believe it. Indeed, many men who think of themselves as Christians do not believe the Bible at all. They spend their time trying to explain away the plain teaching of the Bible about the supernatural while telling us that they are searching out the true and divine "kernel" of meaning within what they take to be only the words of men, full of error and falsity. In our day we call such teaching "liberalism" or "modernism," and rightly so, because such teaching simply uses the Bible as a false prop for man-centered and man-invented ideas.
The second thing which might mistakenly be expected from the perspicuity of Scripture is the idea that every part of Scripture must be equally plain. There are indeed, as the apostle Peter observes, some things in Scripture which are "hard to understand, which those who are untaught and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures" (2 Peter 3:16). What this clearly means, however, is NOT that the Bible as a whole is hard to understand, but that there are places in the Bible which are difficult to understand. Thus the Bible's teachings are clear, even while there are passages in it that need other Scripture to make them clear. That is why Christian interpreters of the Bible have always operated on the principle that the difficult places are to be interpreted in the light of the clearer places. What has been happening in the present debate on women in office is that the passages which are clear on this subject are being called "culturally conditioned." At the same time, other passages, for whose interpretation we ought to depend on the help of the clearer passages, are being used to claim that Scripture as a whole is unclear on the subject. This is true for example in the cases of Deborah and of Philip's daughters, who exercise judgment and prophesy but who do not in any way violate the principle of submission to men. Indeed, simply because Barak insists on Deborah's accompanying the army (note, she is not asked to lead it), she proclaims shame upon him for not acting properly as a man.
The perspicuity of Scripture on the issue of the reservation of offices of authority to men is obvious both in the Scriptures themselves and in the lack of controversy about this matter in the history of the Church. The former is, of course, foundational; even if there were a great deal of controversy, as there has been on a number of theological issues, the Scriptures are clear, and the Church is bound to obey them, no matter what other men and even other Christians believe. Such controversy, of course, has simply not happened within the Church that takes the Bible seriously, that is, not until recent times when our heathen society has made a humanistic notion of equality its god. Thus the history of Christian doctrine itself witnesses very powerfully to the perspicuity of Scripture on this issue.
While it is not the focus of this article to survey the Biblical evidence, I would like to note a couple of important things about that evidence, particularly as it relates to the perspicuity of Scripture. First, the subordination of women in governmental authority is not an obscure doctrine in the New Testament. Not only are there several very clear and even extended discussions of this principle in which the language is unmistakable, but the collaborating evidence from passages dealing with the exercise of authority is completely consistent with the principal statements. Thus we find the official meetings of the Church addressed as "men, brothers," (Acts 1:16), the deacons are designated to be "men" chosen from among the "brothers" (Acts 6:3), and the passages listing qualifications for holding office include the requirement that officebearers be the "husband of one wife" (1 Timothy 3:2, 12; Titus 1:6). To use passages like Galatians 3:28, where Paul talks about the unity of male and female in Christ, in an effort to contradict these other passages is not only illegitimate, but extremely dishonest. Paul speaks in this latter passage about unity, NOT about equality, and even if he were addressing equality, there is not a hint that he is discussing the exercise of authority in the Church. Only people with the very unbiblical presupposition that equality must mean identity of function can read into this a contradiction of those passages which do speak about the exercise of authority, and even then they must twist the passage to refer to equality rather than unity. Now then, if this latter mis-exegesis were right, what would happen to the Perspicuity of Scripture? Interestingly, this fits exactly with one of the claims of the new hermeneutic: "The Bible just isn't clear" on a lot of "those" issues, it is claimed. "Those" issues, not surprisingly, have a habit of coming up the same wherever we look in Church history. When a Church is becoming liberal, the first questions that arise concern the doctrine of creation and the historicity of Genesis 1-11. When it is becoming antinomian, the first issue that arises is almost always the Fourth Commandment, with the Seventh close behind. Liberalism and antinomianism are, of course, often close bedfellows. Always involved in such church degeneration is the perspicuity of Scripture, a Reformed doctrine which is most often unceremoniously dumped without even being mentioned by name.
Hermeneutic and Sufficiency
There can by this time be little illusion about what happens to the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture when teachings which contradict the words of the Bible are adopted. The Bible itself condemns the idea of its own insufficiency.
You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor take anything from it, that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you, said Moses in Deuteronomy 4:2.
When men contradict the Bible, they often do so under the guise of saying, "There is just so much more to the matter than we find in the Bible. Things have changed; we must understand that the Bible was written in the language of its time for the people of its time." This is just a clear denial of the sufficiency of Scripture as our ONLY rule of faith and practice. When we believe and practice things contrary to what the Bible demands, we simply shift ground, whether we are willing to admit it or not.
Certainly perfection of doctrine is never the salvation of any person or institution, for then no one would be saved. On the other hand, true faith is faith which believes the truth; sincere acceptance of the lie can only condemn. Saving truth comes only from the Bible, which ALONE is the Necessary, Authoritative, Perspicuous and Sufficient revelation of God's truth unto our salvation. The heavens declare the glory of God but only the Bible declares His saving truth. When our teachings contradict the clear statements of the Scriptures, we make those Scriptures out to be unnecessary, non-authoritative, ambiguous and insufficient.
Individuals and Churches may claim to be Reformed while they reject this Reformed view of the Holy Scriptures, but all their trappings and jargon then become only the outward disguise for an inward bankruptcy. Even the Reformed Creeds become empty vessels which cannot give life to those who deny the one authority on which those Creeds stand. Without the Bible, even those Creeds become only the voice of man speaking and echoing into and out of the abyss on his own puny authority. Is it any wonder that no one bothers to listen?