You have to be cautious in choosing a church today, even if it’s a Reformed/Presbyterian church in a conservative denomination. These churches often take away as much or more on one hand as they give on another. On paper, a church might subscribe to a confession of faith and you join only to discover that the pastor’s messages center around various hobby horses and axes to grind rather than the whole counsel of God. This is true at least half the time.
The most awful examples these days are the issues of marriage and sex. The post-modern minister will often point to a lack of explicit definition of sex and its roles in the Bible and assume that the roles of husband and wife are therefore very thinly defined. The husband is nothing more than a servant-leader who, as Aaron Renn explains, is expected to be much more of a servant than a leader. Husbands are to love their wives according to Ephesians 5 so that their wives will not sin – that’s about all husbands are supposed to do. Very rarely are wives exhorted to submit to their husbands because, you see, wives will have no problems submitting if the husband is properly loving and it is therefore the husband’s fault if the wife is unsubmissive.
This might be a persuasive argument if you leave out the opening chapters of Genesis which Jesus and Paul use to argue for marriage and marital roles. Jesus, when asked about whether it was lawful to divorce, said, “It was not so from the Beginning.” In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul uses the order of creation to explain order in church and home. Note that he uses both the order of creation but also that woman was created out of man, “For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man (1 Corinthians 11:8,9). In 1 Timothy 2:13-14, Paul uses the order of both Creation and transgression to order sex roles in the church, “ For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve. And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression. ” In II Corinthians, Paul urges us to be strong and act like men, so apparently even the Apostle Paul thought there were manly virtues – virtues that distinctly characterize men. Were this not obvious from the created order, Paul would not have made this case.
In fact, in Romans 1-2, Paul says that God is evident from the things that were made and this is enough to convict us before Him. If can learn about God from Creation even though he is invisible, how much more can we learn about visible things by observing the Creation? Indeed, this is what Adam did when God created animals in Genesis 2 and brought them to Adam to see how he would name them. The text suggests ADam observed their natural characteristics and gave them fitting names. The point is, Creation and observation are enough to learn a good many things not spelled-out explicitly in the Bible, and this is also true for marriage and sex roles. This is so true, in fact, that the Westminster Divines and many Reformers affirmed natural theology. Wyatt Graham explains
The Gallican Confession (1559), The Belgic Confession (1561), the Canons of Dort (1618–1619), and the Westminster Confession of Faith (1647) affirm ideas like the book of nature, innate knowledge in terms of common notions, or the light of nature. And in particular, Anthony Burgess, a framer of the WCF, penned a work affirming natural theology (Vindiciae Legis) whose imprint appears in the WCF (So Fesko 2019: 40).
Again, if we can learn things about God, who is invisible, from nature, how much more can we learn from things that are visible? Certain things like sex and marriage are so obvious from our body parts and physical and mental differences that they don’t need to be spelled-out in special revelation. They’re so obvious that Paul and Jesus use them to make theological points about the church. The ugly truth is that in spite of this, many Protestant ministers cannot affirm plain truths about sex and gender and will even go along with the culture to try to set Paul and Jesus against Peter even where Peter is explicit that wives should obey their husbands even when the husband doesn’t obey the word (1 Peter 3). But these ministers are also double-minded. They use the exhortations for men in the New Testament as a cudgel as though men were more fallen than women, sitting in the seat of Moses like Pharisees. There is only one way they affirm nature: white knighting these “less-fallen” women because nature affirms that men are supposed to protect women (physically) even though the Bible denies that women have less moral agency. Actually, Paul says that women sinned first with her eyes open and this has been historically understood to mean that women are more gullible and thus more error-prone. These types of ministers can actually destabilize your marriage and you should avoid these churches like the plague, whether they’re in a conservative denomination or not. The stakes are just too high nowadays to put your marriage into harm’s way. Knowing that, read this. We’ll talk about this minister’s writings in subsequent posts.