Last week John MacArthur (pastor of Grace Community Church and president of The Master’s Seminary), hosted the “Strange Fire” conference denouncing the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement and accusing them of opening the door to “aberrant theological error”. The conference served as a launching point for the upcoming release of his book of the same title. If you want to learn more you’ll find links to a number of stories here, including a commentary by David Hayward, who drew the cartoon in this post. (One interesting turn of events was that Mark Driscoll turned up, tried to sell his books and apparently was asked to leave.)
I don’t know as much about the Pentecostal movement as I should.
I do know that in their experiences as long-term Baptist missionaries to Japan my parents sometimes witnessed the moving of the Spirit in ways that are not the norm here in the West; for example, the exorcism of demons and speaking in tongues. I also know that the movement has a long-standing history of including women as equal partners in ministry, stemming primarily from the belief that spiritual gifts are not distributed by gender, a belief also foundational in egalitarian theology. While I’m sure the charismatic movement has it extremes and outliers just like any other movement, I respect and love these brothers and sisters in Christ and resent MacArthur’s characterization of them as a movement which has nothing good to offer the church. (Yes, he really did say this. You can find a complete transcript here.)
I think it’s odd for MacArthur to denounce Paul’s extensive teaching on spiritual gifts as not relevant today, yet embrace a few verses that appear to restrict women’s full participation in church leadership.
A document on biblical eldership on the Grace Community Church website says this: “In addition, the office of elder is limited to men. 1 Timothy 2:11-12 says, ‘Let a woman quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet.’ In the church, women are to be under the authority of the elders, excluded from teaching men or holding positions of authority over them.” A similar statement is found on the college website.
I thought maybe I was missing something here, so yesterday afternoon I read through all of Paul’s New Testament letters to try and get a sense of the whole of his teaching on spiritual gifts. I noticed that there are more than 70 verses containing Paul’s teaching on spiritual gifts*, but just 6 verses about women speaking**, and those verses are highly contested.
For example, some have suggested that 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 may have been added in later, or that Paul is quoting these words to make just the opposite point. Most English translations make a note of this in the margins or put these verses in parentheses. (You can find a lengthy discussion of this passage and the various concerns about it here.) And in addition to the translation difficulties of 1 Timothy 2:11-15, there are legitimate reasons to believe that this passage was written to address a specific situation in a specific church about a specific misuse of authority***; and perhaps even about a specific woman.
Yet MacArthur would have us believe that the charismatic gifts are no longer relevant for the Church today, but questionable “restrictions” on women are.
I’m not a theologian, but as I noted in a recent post on women in church leadership, this seems like very shaky ground on which to build church doctrine.
*Paul’s teaching on spiritual gifts (73 verses): Romans 1:11-12, 12:6-8, 1 Corinthians 2:14, 12:1-31, 1 Cor 14:1-33, Ephesians 4:11-13.
**There are actually more verses about women speaking, but they support women’s participation, not restrict it. Some examples are 1 Corinthians 11:5 and 1 Corinthians 14:26-27.
***The word “authentein”, translated in 1 Timothy 2:12 as “authority” is only used once in the Bible and is now understood to refer to the inappropriate use of authority.
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