Christian women, Complementarianism, Ministry, Sin

Throwback Thursday ~ Women Preaching: It’s Not a Secondary Doctrinal Issue

Originally published August 3, 2018

When it comes to Christianity, are the specifics of what people believe important?

I think most of us would answer a resounding “yes” to that question. Of course, the various concepts we believe are important. You can’t just believe anything you like and still be a Christian. There are certain things you must believe in order to become a Christian at all, and there are certain things you will come to believe because you are a genuinely regenerated Christian. But what are those things, and how do we know which is which?

Maybe you’ve heard the terms “essential doctrines” or “primary, secondary, and tertiary theological issues” or “first, second, and third tier levels of doctrine”? For years, theologians have been attempting to organize beliefs of the Christian faith – all drawn from the Bible, naturally – into nice neat categories in order to make things a little simpler. As someone who thrives on organization and categories, I’m grateful for their efforts. But if you begin to study this categorization of beliefs, you’ll find that we haven’t reached an across the board consensus yet.

Generally speaking, “essential”, “primary”, or “first tier” doctrines are those which you, biblically, have to believe in order to become a Christian and/or be considered a Christian. For example:

✢ Sin is a thing, and I am a sinner.

✢ God exists and is the supreme authority of the universe.

✢ Jesus was God in human flesh.

✢ Jesus rose bodily from the grave.

See how this works? If you don’t believe you’re a sinner, you’re not saved. If you don’t believe in the bodily resurrection of Christ, you’re not saved. Here’s how our friend, Pastor Gabe, briefly outlines essential doctrines:

 

(Gabe later tweaked the acrostic a little and added an “S”, which I think is helpful.)

The vast majority of brand new Christians have only the most basic understanding of most of these tenets at the moment of salvation. But it’s not an issue of fully understanding – or else we’d all have to be theologians in order to get saved – it’s an issue of believing. Someone who is genuinely regenerated may not completely understand how the Trinity works (honestly, no one does), but when she’s introduced to the biblical idea of the Trinity, she believes it, learns more about it, and does not reject it.

There is typically agreement among most reputable theologians regarding what constitutes first tier doctrine. Scripture is clear about these things, and several of these issues were settled long ago by the church fathers in assorted church councils (Nicea, Chalcedon, etc.)

Secondary issues are routinely defined as non-salvific but still extremely biblically important, if not quite as biblically clear-cut as primary issues. Doctrines surrounding baptism (credo versus paedo, affusion versus immersion), for example, are usually cited as a secondary issue. A disagreement on a secondary issue doesn’t mean one person is saved and another isn’t, but it normally prevents close partnership in ministry activities involving these issues. For example, my Presbyterian friends and I can join together in pro-life ministry, but we would most likely not plant a church together.

Tertiary issues are non-salvific, less immediately urgent, biblical issues in which the Bible is even less clear-cut and open to wider (yet still biblical) interpretation. These are issues over which Christians can disagree and still maintain close doctrinal fellowship, even in the same church, if they’re in agreement on first and second tier doctrine. Eschatology – the order and timing of events at Jesus’ second coming – is a doctrine that’s often considered third tier. Someone can hold a different eschatological view than mine, yet it doesn’t affect our ability to worship together, work together, or participate in the ordinances together in the same church.

Some theologians add a fourth category – issues of adiaphora, conscience, or Christian liberty. Usually these are issues of much less importance that the Bible either doesn’t specifically address, or doesn’t give commands about one way or the other. Individual Christians may use biblical principles to inform their consciences and decide for themselves. These would be things like whether or not to take your child trick-or-treating or deciding whether to dress formally or casually for church.

While theologians are largely in agreement about primary doctrines, there is wider spread disagreement on which doctrines are secondary and tertiary (many consider eschatology to be a second tier doctrine, for example) and whether or not there is a need for a category of adiaphora, since such issues are normally not considered to be “doctrinal” issues. In fact, there’s enough space for disagreement that pastors and theologians often wisely refrain from making concrete lists of secondary and tertiary doctrines.

But when we’re talking about the different levels of doctrine, what you won’t find is questions like these: Is murder a first, second, or third tier doctrine? What about gossip? Rape? Adultery? Lying? Gluttony? Pride?

And it’s not because these issues aren’t important or because the Bible doesn’t address them. It’s because they’re in a different category from the other issues: the category of sin. They aren’t doctrines upon which salvation hinges, they aren’t open to interpretation, and the Bible is clear that we are absolutely not to do these things.

In 2005, Dr. Albert Mohler wrote an excellent article about the different levels of doctrine entitled A Call for Theological Triage and Christian Maturity. He carefully explains the importance of each level of doctrine and what it covers in a plea to keep each level’s urgency in its proper place of significance during discussion, debate, and decision-making.

It was a helpful article to which I always refer people who have questions about tiers of doctrine, and I agree with Dr. Mohler’s thoughts wholeheartedly (as I usually do) …except on one point:

“In recent years, the issue of women serving as pastors has emerged as another second-order issue.”

Women serving as pastors, women preaching, women teaching men Scripture in the church, and women exercising authority over men in the church is not a secondary issue. Nor is it a primary or tertiary one. It does not belong in the category of “doctrine” in the same way baptism and eschatology do. It belongs in the category of sin in the same way murder, gossip, and adultery do. Let’s take a look at the reasons for this.

I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. 1 Timothy 2:12

(The preponderance of Scripture supports and affirms this concept, so to keep things simple, we’ll use this verse as an exemplar.)

✢ The prohibition in 1 Timothy 2:12 is a clear command against a certain behavior. And when we behave in a way God has prohibited, that is called “sin”. All of the tenets in the three levels of doctrine are affirmative statements regarding beliefs (you must believe in the resurrection of Christ, we believe in baptism by immersion, etc.). None of them are commands, in the negative, against sinful behavior (Thou shalt not murder, I do not permit a woman to teach… etc.)

✢ Secondary and tertiary doctrines can be open – to varying degrees – to biblical interpretation. Every stripe of non-heretical eschatological thought can provide you with chapter and verse passages that can, depending on the angle from which you approach the subject, be biblically plausible and scripturally supported. There is no biblical support for anything God prohibits. No one can cite a properly handled, in context Bible verse in which God says, “It’s OK to commit adultery,” or “Women are allowed to preach.” There can be multiple views on a secondary or tertiary issue that can all be considered biblical, but there can only be one view of sin that is biblical.

✢ Differing beliefs on true secondary and tertiary issues are not sin. My Presbyterian friends have a different view of baptism than I do. That doesn’t mean either of us is sinning. I may think their interpretations of the verses they believe support paedo baptism are incorrect, but they are not breaking any of God’s commands. Differing behavior (again, we see the distinction between doctrinal belief and sinful behavior) on issues of sin is sin. If someone behaves differently from God’s command about lying, she is sinning. If a woman behaves differently from God’s command in 1 Timothy 2:12, she is sinning.

✢ Differing beliefs on secondary and tertiary issues are not born of disobedience and rebellion toward God. Usually, it’s quite the opposite. When someone has studied a theological issue enough to hold a particular position on it, it’s usually because she is striving to please God and to be biblical in her beliefs. Differing behavior on issues of sin is born out of disobedience and rebellion toward God. Someone who steals has already decided in her heart that her desires are better than God’s command. A woman who knowingly holds improper authority over men in her church is doing so because she has already decided to defy God’s clear command against such.

✢ Because different beliefs on secondary and tertiary issues are not born of rebellion and are not sin, they do not require church discipline. Sin does require church discipline. If someone in your church is openly dishonoring her parents, she is sinning and should be subject to church discipline. If a woman is pursuing a career as a pastor, she is sinning and should be subject to church discipline. 

Since the publication of Dr. Mohler’s article (and perhaps as a result of others teaching the same thing) the idea of the violation of 1 Timothy 2:12 being a “secondary doctrine” has spread in a most unhelpful way, leading many Christians to treat the issue in a c’est la vie, “We can just agree to disagree on this,” manner.

No, we cannot.

We would not say, “We can agree to disagree,” on lying or adultery or homosexuality or abortion, and we cannot say it about women preaching, teaching men, or holding unbiblical authority, either. We disciple and teach a sister in Christ who is unaware of what the Bible says on these matters, and if she is committing any of these sins, we begin the process of church discipline. But it would not be loving toward her, or honoring God, to allow her to continue in biblical ignorance or in willful sin.

Furthermore, the violation of 1 Timothy 2:12 brings with it dangers to the church that true secondary and tertiary issues, and even many sins, do not.

I have mentioned several times when dealing with this issue that women preaching to men is highly correlated with women teaching false doctrine. I have researched scores of women teachers. Every single one of them who unrepentantly teaches men also teaches false doctrine in some other aspect of her theology (usually Word of Faith or New Apostolic Reformation). In other words, if a woman teaches men, you can just about take it to the bank that she also teaches false doctrine. False doctrine and heresy are infecting the church – via female preachers – at an alarming rate.

We dare not simply “agree to disagree” on this.

The violation of God’s command that women are not to instruct men in the Scriptures nor hold improper authority over men is a sin like any other. It is not a doctrinal issue in the same sense that other second and third tier doctrines are. If left undisciplined, however, it can lead to first tier doctrinal issues infiltrating a church and eventually destroying it. It is detrimental to the church to label and treat any sin as a secondary doctrinal issue.

Abuse, Suffering

From Victimhood to Victory: Biblically Helping Abused Women Heal

Ever since the Me Too movement exploded on social media a couple of years ago, we’ve been hearing more and more heartbreaking stories of women who have experienced physical and sexual abuse. If anyone can help and should be helping victims of abuse, it ought to be the church. But, unfortunately, it seems that the people in the evangelical spotlight who are stepping up to advocate for victims are often popular false teachers.

In 2019, we saw Beth Moore take the lead at the Caring Well conference, which centered around helping abuse victims. Christine Caine is the founder and leader of A 21, an anti-human trafficking ministry. In 2018, Lisa Harper was the keynote speaker at the Pastors’ Wives Conference at the annual Southern Baptist Convention where she addressed the issue of abuse. And in addition to stepping out into the spotlight as champions for abuse victims, Beth Moore, Christine Caine, and Lisa Harper, as well as Joyce Meyer, Paula White, Lysa TerKeurst, Jackie Hill Perry – and many more, I’m sure – share their own personal stories of abuse at their conferences, in their books, and so on.

These are the people being showcased to the average Jane in the pew as those who care about abuse victims. These are the people who are actually (supposedly) doing something about abuse. By and large, we’re not seeing doctrinally sound men and women being put forth on the stage of the visible church as caring about abuse victims or doing anything about abuse.

And so, when an Evangelical woman is coming to terms with her abuse, these are the women she’s seeing, so these are the women and their resources that she reaches out for. And by the same token, because these false teachers are in the spotlight and have name recognition and resources available, and there aren’t very many well known doctrinally sound resources available, churches who want to help abuse victims are also reaching out and grabbing hold of false teaching to try to help the women in their churches.

So what we’re finding is that women who are victims of abuse are especially vulnerable to false teaching because they see these teachers as someone who has gone through the same thing they’ve gone through: “This teacher knows how I feel. She has experienced the same thing.” And that’s the primary reason victims seek out these false teachers, rather than seeking out someone who – regardless of whether or not he or she has experienced abuse – can help them to heal with rightly handled Scripture.

This is one reason I am purposely not disclosing in this article whether or not I have ever been abused. Because biblical healing from abuse isn’t about me or my personal experiences. It’s about what the Bible says. My experiences don’t change what God’s Word says. The Bible remains the same whether I’ve been abused or not. Scripture is our standard, not our personal experiences.

But, unfortunately in the church, and particularly in the realm of women’s Bible study, we have indoctrinated women with the idea that personal experience reigns, not Scripture. So what abused women get when they seek out these false teachers for help dealing with their abuse is exactly what I’ve said before is the problem with women’s Bible study in general: narcissism.

These victims of abuse don’t get taught how to biblically come to terms with what happened to them and how to biblically heal from it. They get a cheap, shallow compassion that teaches them to focus on their own pain and feelings, and to harbor bitterness against their abuser and everyone and everything else they can assign blame to for the abuse (some of those things supposedly being biblical complementarianism, sexism in the church, misogyny in the church, not enough women in positions of leadership in the church, as Beth Moore said at the Caring Well conference, etc.)

These women are being victimized twice.

And so these women are being victimized twice – once by the abuser, and once by false teachers who are not only not helping them to heal biblically, but are actually eroding biblical teaching and sound doctrine – for that woman personally and in the church in general – by saying that biblical precepts, such as leadership of the church being restricted to men, are at fault for their abuse. It’s really insidious, because what’s implied by this whole paradigm is that this mixture of focusing on your feelings and believing unbiblical teaching is the quick fix that will make them feel better right away. This is what will finally bring them healing and wholeness. They’re being sold a lie.

Praise be to God, there are lots of doctrinally sound Christians out there who are quietly, out of the spotlight, helping victims of abuse in a biblical way, one on one, in their own local churches. So, how are they doing it, and how should we be doing it? What are some biblical ways we can help abuse victims?

Genuine Compassion

Abuse is a horrible, despicable thing that no one should ever have to suffer. The pain that it causes doesn’t just magically disappear because it happened years ago. It is not something about which any woman should ever be told, “You just need to get over it and forget about it.”

And certainly no woman should ever be made to feel that it was her fault, or that if she had just done something differently it wouldn’t have happened. The sin of abuse lies with the abuser, not the victim.

The sin of abuse lies with the abuser, not the victim.

So when we disciple a woman who is just beginning the journey of healing from her abuse, it should be handled with biblical compassion every step of the way. It’s important, especially in the beginning, to do what Romans 12:15 says, and “weep with those who weep”.

Let her pour out her feelings of pain and anger, and sit there in that with her.

Yes, that was awful.

No, you didn’t do anything to cause it. It wasn’t your fault.

That man was evil and took advantage of you. It was his sin, not yours.

We need to have that same heart for her that God has in Psalm 147:3: “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.”

A Biblical Perspective of Suffering

It’s imperative that we have a biblical perspective of suffering so we can teach it to abuse victims. Because one of the things you’ll notice about the way false teachers approach the issue of abuse is that this component is completely missing. Why? Because walking through suffering in a biblical way can be hard and scary and painful and messy. It’s much easier to just smile and exude sympathy and say, “Just listen to me and I’ll tell you how to feel better right now.”

And if we’re honest with ourselves, that’s what we all want, isn’t it? Our flesh doesn’t want to suffer, we just want to feel better now. And that’s what makes this a hard sell that false teachers don’t want to deal with. It doesn’t fit in with their ear-tickling paradigm. But if we want to offer victims true help and true healing in Christ, we have to address the issue of suffering, and address it biblically and correctly.

A biblical theology of suffering applied to the issue of abuse understands that…

Everyone suffers. You’re not the first person to suffer, and you won’t be the last. 1 Peter 4:12 says, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.” When it comes to suffering, you’re not special, and neither am I. We don’t all suffer in the same way, but everybody suffers. It’s just the human condition resulting from the Fall.

Even Jesus suffered. Isaiah 53 tells us: “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,”

Abuse is not a special class of suffering that exempts you from dealing with it in obedience to Scripture. We’re kind of seeing this line of thinking with homosexuality- that it’s a special class of sin that people don’t have to repent of. That homosexuals can hold onto their sin, cherish it in their hearts, and maybe even live it out, and still supposedly be biblical Christians.

And that’s the same sort of mindset a lot of the false teachers espouse: Abuse is a special class of suffering that you don’t have to walk through in a biblical way. You get to wallow in your victimhood for the rest of your life and think and act and feel and express yourself however you want to because you’ve been hurt so deeply. That’s not right. Perpetual victimhood is not biblical, it doesn’t help you heal, and it doesn’t bring your abuser to justice. It makes God look impotent and uncaring. If He can’t or won’t transform someone from victimhood to victory, how could He have the power to raise Christ from the dead? If He doesn’t care about a victim of abuse, why would He care about anybody else’s problems?

I would never minimize the pain and suffering of abuse victims, but all Believers are required by Scripture to act in a godly way regardless of their particular kind of suffering. Believers who have terminal diseases have to deal with that in a godly way. Believers who have lost a child have to deal with that in a godly way. Believers whose spouses have cheated on them have to deal with that in a godly way. Believers who are being tortured and persecuted just for being Christians have to deal with that in a godly way. We all have to bear up and respond to suffering in a godly way, regardless of what kind of suffering we’re dealing with.

1 Peter 4:19: “Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.”

Jesus understands your pain and serves as your perfect example for responding to suffering. Go back and read Isaiah 53. Go back and read the gospel accounts of Jesus’ trials, flogging, and crucifixion. He knows what it feels like to be abused. And look at the way he handled it. He didn’t give up. He didn’t feel sorry for himself or lash out at his abusers or become bitter. He didn’t blame God or the church or anyone else or His circumstances.

Jesus knows what it feels like to be abused.

Jesus kept his eyes on the Father. He continued to walk out God’s plan for Him and didn’t let the abusers distract him from that plan. He continued to behave in a godly way. He forgave his abusers, even though it must have been extraordinarily difficult. Remember what He said on the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

You don’t have to suffer alone. If you are a Believer, the Holy Spirit dwells within you. He will enable you and empower you to suffer well. You are never alone.

“Pray without ceasing,” 1 Thessalonians 5:17 tells us. “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness,” God says in 2 Corinthians 12:9. Ask God to carry you through the difficult times. Ask God to heal you, to help you forgive, to give you strength. Whatever you need, ask Him for it.

God has a purpose for your pain. The abuse you suffered was horrific, but in God’s economy, it wasn’t random and senseless. God can take what that abuser meant for evil and turn it around and use it for your good– to grow you and strengthen you. There are so many passages of Scripture that talk about this. One of my favorites is Romans 5:3-5:

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

Jesus didn’t save you for you to live in self-pity, bitterness, unforgiveness, and victimhood. That is not the abundant life He promised you in John 10:10. It’s no life at all. Christians are not weak, helpless victims. Jesus makes us victors. Yes, what happened to you was unspeakably evil and hurtful. But in Christ, that’s not where your story ends!

Jesus makes us victors.

As you walk with Christ – trusting Him, obeying Him, loving Him – day by day, He will bring you that peace that passes understanding. He will reveal Himself to you as hope of the hopeless. He will heal your broken heart and bind up your wounds. If you refuse to handle your pain biblically, you’re missing out on all of the good things God wants to use that pain for – the godly character He wants to build in you, the healing He wants to give you. If you refuse to handle your pain biblically, you’re choosing to give that abuser the power to continue to stand in the way of all those good gifts God wants to give you.

Your pain and suffering won’t last forever. Once Christ begins healing you, your pain will fade over time, and eventually He will wipe it out all together in Heaven. Consider these two wonderfully comforting and hope-giving passages:

2 Corinthians 4:17-18: For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

Revelation 21:1,3-4: Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more…And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

Your suffering has a time limit.

Your suffering has a time limit, and one day God is going to take it away forever. Rest in that hope.

 

How can we biblically help abuse victims move from victimhood to victory? We continually take them back to the truth of God’s Word and remind them of His goodness and grace, and the hope and healing He wants to bring them through Christ.


Additional Resources:

This article is excerpted from the A Word Fitly Spoken Podcast episode It’s Time for Sound Leaders to Talk About Abuse

Band-Aids vs. Chemotherapy: Why Suffering Women are Drawn to False Doctrine and 7 Things We Can do to Help 

Weeping with Those Who Weep 

Christ- the Suffering Servant 

Six Reasons to Rejoice that Christ is Enough in Our Suffering 

True or False: Is Your Theology of Suffering Biblical? 

God’s Good Purposes in Suffering

Basic Training, Bible Study, Sermons

Throwback Thursday ~ Basic Training: Bible Studies and Sermons

Originally published January 25, 2019

For more in the Basic Training series, click here.

 

When I started the Basic Training series, I thought I’d be writing about foundational theological concepts and practices in Christianity. You know, like baptism or the sufficiency of Scripture. It never occurred to me that I might someday need to explain something so basic that most lost people could define it as well as (sometimes better than) many professed Christian leaders.

But the more “Bible” studies and sermons I take in, the more I think a remedial course in exactly what those things are supposed to consist of might be very beneficial to the church at large, and an unfortunate necessity for many pastors, teachers, and Christian celebrities.

I could be way off base here, but I’d almost bet that if you went up to ten random people on the street and asked them what a Bible study class is supposed to do, at least nine out of ten of them would answer, “Study the Bible.” If you asked those same people what a sermon is, you might get more varied answers, “It’s when the preacher explains what the Bible says,” or “It’s a pastor telling you how to be a good person,” (remember these are random, probably unsaved, people) or “A sermon tells you about God.” But I’m guessing none of them would answer, “It’s when a preacher gives a stand up comedy routine,” or “A sermon is mostly stories about the preacher, his family, and other people,” or “A sermon is when you watch a movie and then the preacher adds a few remarks at the end about what you can learn about God or life from the movie.”

Yet, that’s pretty much where way too many churches are these days.

So let’s take a look at what Bible studies and sermons are and aren’t supposed to be.

It’s All About The Bible

This is supposed to be a “duh” moment for Christians, pastors, teachers, and churches. If someone is teaching a Bible study or a pastor is preaching a sermon, the first thing he should reach for is his Bible. He is to be preaching or teaching God’s written Word. It’s right there in black and white in 2 Timothy 4:1-2:

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.

That’s a very solemn and weighty charge to pastors. In today’s vernacular, it’s almost like placing your right hand on the Bible, raising your right hand, and saying, “As God is my witness, I swear to God I will ______.” (and actually understanding the gravity of that and meaning it). God is witnessing this charge to you pastor – you’d better take seriously your duty to preach His Word.

And notice, there are only two times when a pastor is supposed to preach the Word: in season and out of season. When his people want to hear it and when they don’t. When he feels like it and when he doesn’t. When he’ll be persecuted and when he won’t. When it’s easy and when it’s hard. When it’s a pleasant, encouraging passage, and when it’s a passage that offends people. Pastors, and, by extension teachers, are to preach and teach the written Word of God in every sermon and teaching opportunity. Always.

It’s Not About the Preacher/Teacher/Author

There are a lot of awesome pastors, teachers, and authors out there who labor faithfully to rightly teach God’s Word to His people. I am unspeakably grateful to them and for them.

But let’s face it, there are also a lot of narcissistic gas bags out there who use the pulpit and the pages to pump up their already over-inflated egos by endlessly blathering on and on about themselves, their families, their friends, and their experiences. You can tell by the ratio of personal stories to Scripture who they love best and are most interested in.

I’ve read books and heard sermons that I walked away from thinking, “I know more about that pastor or author, his family, his trips, the charity work he does, and who his important friends are than I do about God and His Word.” (I’ll tell you this, he’s received his reward.)

Pastors, teachers, authors aren’t to preach themselves, they’re to preach the Word.

It’s Not About Gimmicks and Entertainment

A sermon series based on movies. A pastor riding a motorcycle into church. Ziplining during the sermon. Rock concerts and light shows. Raffles and giveaways of cars and other big ticket items. The pastor and his wife promoting a sermon series on sex. On the news. From a bed. On the roof of the church.

Pastors and teachers aren’t charged to entertain people or get them in the doors of the church and keep them there by any means necessary. Pastors and teachers are charged – with God as their witness – to faithfully preach and teach His written Word. Jesus said shepherds who love Him will feed His sheep, not entertain them.

Newsflash – the world isn’t going to find that interesting enough to get out of bed for on Sunday morning. Newsflash – That’s fine. The gathering of the church isn’t for the world. The gathering of the church is for the church – the people who have been saved out of the world and into the body of Christ – to give them an opportunity to worship the Savior they love with their brothers and sisters, to disciple them in God’s Word, and to equip them with God’s Word to go out and share the gospel with the world.

It’s Not About You, Either

The flip side of “it’s all about the Bible” is, it’s not about you. What does that mean? The sermon or the Bible study lesson should not teach us to look down in narcissistic navel-gazing, it should teach us to look up at God, who He is, what He has done, and what He says in His written Word.

Over the years, I’ve had the discouraging duty of reviewing various women’s “Bible” studies. Though some have been better than others, the theme running through the majority of them is “it’s all about you” – your feelings, your hurts, your ego, your opinions, your personal experiences. It’s evident in the way authors insert long stories about their own lives and base their ideas, agendas, and assertions on those personal experiences rather than on Scripture. It’s evident in the questions the reader is supposed to answer at the end of each lesson: “Have you ever experienced _____?” “How does ____ make you feel?” “If you could ____, how would you do it?” “What do you think others’ opinion of you is?”

Good Bible studies give you rightly handled, in context Scripture until it’s coming out of your ears, and then they ask questions like, “What are the attributes of God listed in this passage?” “Verse 3 talks about lying. What are some other verses that talk about lying, and how can we tell from these verses how God views lying and why?” “How does this passage point us to Christ?”

Is there a need for introspection during Bible studies and sermons? Sometimes. But the focus is not you and your feelings and experiences. The focus is on reflecting on the glory of God in the passage you’ve just heard, repenting of the sin the passage you’ve just read has convicted you about, obeying the command in the passage you’ve just heard, and things like that. It’s Bible-focused, driven, and governed, not me-focused, driven, and governed.

Context, Context, Context

It’s not just important to preach and teach the Bible, it’s important to handle the text of the Bible correctly and in context.

You’ve probably heard the old joke about the guy who wants God to tell him what he should do with his life. So he opens up the Bible to a random spot, closes his eyes, puts his finger down on the page, and looks at the verse he’s pointing at. It’s a New Testament verse: “Judas went and hanged himself.” “Hmm,” he thinks, “that doesn’t make much sense.” He shuts his Bible and tries the process again. This time, it’s an Old Testament verse, “Go and do thou likewise.”

We laugh at the silliness of this little story, but it hits frighteningly close to home for far too many pastors and teachers.

Perhaps you’ve read a devotional that quotes a Bible verse (or maybe even just part of a verse) at the top of the page. The author then goes on to teach on that verse or tell a personal story. When you look up the verse and read a little more of the chapter it’s in, you discover it has nothing to do with the author’s story or doesn’t mean what the author was teaching.

Or maybe you’ve sat in a church service where the pastor reads a verse or two at the beginning of the sermon and then basically closes his Bible and shares personal thoughts and stories for the rest of the sermon time that have nothing to do with the verses he read at the beginning. Or a sermon in which the pastor hopscotches all over the Bible (often using a myriad of translations) reading a verse here, half a verse there, in an effort to prove his homespun thesis or support the agenda he’s crafted.

Yes, technically, there’s Bible in all of those teachings, but none of those methods handle Scripture properly or in context. That’s called eisegesis, and it basically means reading your own ideas into the text of Scripture, or twisting Scripture to get it to say what you want it to mean.

The proper method of teaching Scripture is exegesis. Exegesis is taking a passage of Scripture in context, and “leading out” of it- teaching what the passage means. That’s nearly always going to require reading several verses from the passage to catch the reader or listener up on what’s going on in the story she’s just parachuted into.

Good pastors and teachers read and teach the biblical text in an organized way. When you sit down to study, say, a history book, you start at the beginning of the book and you work your way through to the end. You don’t start by reading two paragraphs out of the middle of chapter 7, then move on to the last three sentences of chapter 49, then the first half of chapter 1. That’s how people preach, teach, and “study” the Bible sometimes, and it’s just as crazy to read the Bible that way as it would be to study a history book, or math book, or science book that way, or even to read a novel or a magazine using that helter-skelter method.

Expository vs. Topical

This section is a brief, modified excerpt from my article The Mailbag: Expository or Topical Preaching: Which is better?.

For readers who might not be familiar with the terms, expository preaching and teaching is basically when a pastor preaches (or a teacher teaches) through books of the Bible from beginning to end carefully explaining what each passage means. (Ezra is an example of an expository Bible study.)

Topical preaching can have a couple of different meanings depending on who you’re talking to and what she understands the term to mean. Some people understand “topical preaching” to mean a sermon series, usually in a seeker driven church, that centers around something in pop culture. (For example, popular movies or the Olympics.) Normally, these sermons are very shallow, biblically – sometimes nothing more than a pep talk or self-help tips. This type of preaching and teaching is unbiblical, and if it makes up the bulk of the teaching at your church, I’d recommend finding a new church.

There is, however, a biblical form of topical preaching and teaching that can be very helpful, occasionally. If a doctrinally sound pastor sees an issue in the church that needs to be addressed, or a biblical topic to explore, there is nothing wrong with his taking a break from preaching through a certain book (or when he’s between books) to teach on this issue from the pulpit. (Imperishable Beauty: A Study of Biblical Womanhood is an example of a biblical, topical Bible study.)

In my opinion, the majority of a pastor’s preaching and a Bible study’s teaching should be expository with occasional breaks for (biblical) topical preaching and teaching as needed. There are a variety of reasons for this (more in the linked article):

• Expository preaching models for the congregation the proper, systematic way they should study the Bible at home.

• Expository preaching helps a pastor better preach the whole counsel of God.

• Expository preaching pushes pastors to tackle hard and unfamiliar passages as they come up in the text.

• Expository preaching should keep the Old Testament and certain books of the Bible from being neglected as much as they usually are.

• Expository preaching gives the congregation a better grip on the overall story arc of the Bible and the culture of the period being studied.

Expository and topical preaching are both helpful in their own ways, but the most important thing is that the pastor is “rightly handling the word of truth.”

 

There’s a lot of lousy preaching and teaching out there these days, but if you’ll look for good, solid biblical preaching and teaching (check the Recommended Bible Teachers and Bible Studies tabs above for ideas) God can use it mightily in your spiritual life to grow you to greater Christlikeness.

Favorite Finds

Favorite Finds ~ January 14, 2020

Here are a few of my favorite online finds…

“How can I know with certainty what the Bible is saying? How can I be certain what books really belong in the Bible? How can I be sure that my interpretation of any text is correct, and, still more, what its proper application is…?” Have you ever tried to explain a biblical principle to someone only to hear the retort, “But That’s Just Your Interpretation!“? D.A. Carson has some helpful words for us in the latest issue of Themelios.

 

“Pastors, I have a plea for you. Please, love your women enough to warn them against false teachers. It isn’t enough to simply teach the good stuff; if they don’t know what is out there that is not good and why it isn’t good? They will continue to fall for it.” Check out Amy Spreeman’s article, When Seemingly Solid Pastors Fail to Protect Women.

 

“Christianity is sexist!” “The Bible is patriarchal and just wants to keep women down!” We hear these tired arguments trotted out again and again, but are they really true? No, Eric Davis explains in his excellent article over at Cripplegate, 10 Reasons Why the Bible Regards Women Higher than All Other Systems, “The fact is…the Bible regards women higher than any other ideology, religion, philosophy, or system in history. Nothing teaches a higher view of women than biblical Christianity.”

 

Crossway has an interesting infographic for us on a study they conducted on prayer: “Over 14,000 people recently shared about various aspects of their prayer lives with us…we invite you to dig into the data, looking at established prayer habits, common pain points, and useful practices and tools for prayer.” Take a look at Infographic: How Is Your Prayer Life?.

 

Hermeneutics is the lens through which we view Scripture. Dr. Dane Ortlund helpfully explains some right and wrong lenses to use when studying Scripture in 6 Ways Not to Read the Bible (a brief excerpt from a longer seminar). Are you handling Scripture correctly?


The resources listed above are not to be understood as a blanket endorsement for the websites on which they appear, or of everything the author or subject of the resource says or does. I do not endorse any person, website, or resource that conflicts with Scripture or the theology outlined in the Statement of Faith and Welcome tabs at the top of this page.
Top 10

Top 10 Articles of 2019

I always enjoy the annual “year in review” articles and TV shows that run in abundance in late December, so I thought I’d contribute my own. Several Mailbag articles were among this year’s most popular, so I decided to make two separate lists, the Top 10 Mailbag Articles of 2019, and the top 10 non-Mailbag articles of 2019. Here are my ten most popular non-Mailbag blog articles from 2019:

Answering the Opposition:
Responses to the Most Frequently Raised Discernment Objections

There are also occasional comments and messages from women who are disciples of the false teachers I warn against, who take me to task for doing so. The same unscriptural accusations are raised again and again against me and against others who take a biblical stand against false teachers and false doctrine. Here, in no particular order, are the most frequently raised objections to my discernment work and my answers to them…


 10 Biblically Sound Blogs and Podcasts by Christian Women

False teachers. You can’t throw a rock out the window these days without hitting one. But are there any “good guys” out there who are getting it right? Discipleship, Bible study,and theological issues bloggers who rightly divide God’s word? You bet…


Christine Caine: Have No Regard for the Offerings of Caine

Unfortunately, Christine’s teachings and some of her actions do not meet even these basic biblical standards, and it is my sad duty to recommend that you not sit under her teaching for the following reasons…


 A Few Good Men: 10 Doctrinally Sound Male Teachers

Let me introduce you to a few of my favorite male authors of Bible studies
and other great Christian books and resources…


An Open Letter to Beth Moore – Timeline of Events

Since the discussion of the events and commentary surrounding the open letter have mostly taken place on Twitter, and many who have an interest in these events and comments are not Twitter users, this article is intended to be a timeline outlining the sequence of events, beginning with the publication of the open letter.


Living Proof You Should Follow Beth (No) Moore

For these reasons it is my sad duty to recommend that you not follow Beth Moore or receive any teaching from her or anyone connected to Living Proof Ministries.


Guest Post: Why I Left Elevation Church

I was part of Elevation Church for about six years. At the time, I thought it was the greatest church on Earth..


Going Beyond Scripture:
Why It’s Time to Say Good-Bye to Priscilla Shirer and Going Beyond Ministries

Should she repent in these areas in which she has broken Scripture and align herself with biblical principles, she would have no bigger fan than I, and I would rejoice to be able to point Christian women to her as a doctrinally sound resource. Until that time, however, it saddens me to have to recommend that Christian women not follow Priscilla Shirer or any materials or activities from Going Beyond Ministries for the following reasons…


 An Open Letter to Beth Moore

We as female Bible teachers ourselves write this letter to you in hopes of receiving clarification of your views on an important issue: homosexuality.


Leaving Lysa:
Why You Shouldn’t Be Following Lysa TerKeurst or Proverbs 31 Ministries

For these reasons, plus her habitual mishandling of Scripture, unfortunately, I must recommend that women not follow, support, or receive teaching from Lysa TerKeurst or Proverbs 31 Ministries(including any writers or speakers affiliated with Proverbs 31 Ministries)…


What was YOUR favorite article of 2019?