Tom Ascol

Why Women Cannot Be Pastors of Christ’s Churches

(The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) convenes in Indianapolis June 11-12, 2024. The most significant vote that will be taken will be to ratify the “Law Amendment” into the constitution of the SBC. That amendment, which was passed last year by a super-majority, must be ratified again this year with two-thirds of the messengers voting for it. If it passes again Article 3, Paragraph 1 will be amended to read, that a church will be in “friendly cooperation with the Convention” only if it “Affirms, appoints, or employs only men as any kind of pastor or elder as qualified by Scripture.” This article shows why biblical fidelity requires Southern Baptists to adopt this amendment. For a fuller discussion of the issues involved, a debate that Dwight McKissic and I had on women preachers can be found here.)

A godly woman cannot pastor a church of Jesus Christ because Jesus Christ forbids it. The debates surrounding this issue—including the recent Southern Baptist debate over the Law Amendment—really do turn on this simple reality. The Lord of the church has decided who He will have serve as pastors in local churches. He has expressed His will in simple, clear terms & those who have no desire to obfuscate His meaning readily acknowledge this.

Others, guided more by the feminist zeitgeist than the plain teaching of Scripture, sometimes suggest that the issue is really about the value of women. Unless a church is willing to have women pastors then, the reasoning goes, they are oppressing women. That argument is specious.

God created both men and women in His image (Genesis 1:26-27). Both men and women, therefore, are worthy of dignity, respect and honor. The Second London Baptist Confession of Faith says exactly this. 2LC: 4.2: “He created man, male and female, with reasonable and immortal souls, … being made after the image of God, in knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness…” (4.2). Likewise, the Baptist Faith and Message states,  “Man is the special creation of God, made in His own image. He created them male and female as the crowning work of His creation. The gift of gender is thus part of the goodness of God’s creation” (Article 3).

To submit to Scripture’s requirement that only qualified men may be pastors does not deny the valuable services in God’s kingdom that women can and have performed. In the Old Testament, as the late Roger Nicole wrote, “Miriam the prophetess, sister of Moses, wrote a song recorded in Scripture (Exodus 15:21). She was followed by Deborah (Judges 4:4), Huldah (2 Kings 22:14, 2 Chronicles. 34:22), Isaiah’s wife (Isaiah 8:3),…all of whom also were called prophetesses” (Priscilla Papers, Vol. 20, No. 2; Spring 2006, p. 5).

Similarly, in the New Testament we read of Anna, “a prophetess” (Luke 2:36) and Philip’s 4 daughters “who prophesied” (Acts 21:9). Add to them Mary, Martha, Euodia, Synteche, Phoebe, Priscilla, Tryphena Tryphosa, Persis, Rufus’ mother, Junia, and others, and you immediately that women played important roles in the early church. This pattern has continued throughout history. Perpetua, Felicitas, Anthusa, the mother of John Chrysostom, and Monica, the relentless, praying mother of Augustine, are all representative of mighty women of God who served Christ well throughout history. It is no wonder that the fourth century pagan, Libanius said, “What women these Christians have!”

Christ has not been unclear about who may serve as a pastor in any church that bears His Name.

As the father of five godly daughters (and one godly daughter-in-law) and husband of a godly wife, I have a front row seat to the important roles that women have been assigned in the kingdom of God. All these women are boldly devout, theologically astute, wonderfully gifted, and joyfully committed to serving Christ in their local church. Because they are strong, spiritually mature, and biblically grounded, none of them has ever aspired to be a pastor or ever felt in any way slighted because that job is not open to them. They delight in being women of God and celebrate the differences between themselves and their brothers in the Lord.

Christ has not been unclear about who may serve as a pastor in any church that bears His Name. He cares deeply about how His churches are organized and operate. We see this in the language that the Apostle Paul uses to instruct Timothy about giving leadership in the church at Ephesus. He writes, “I am writing these things to you so that, 15 if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:14-15). God cares about how His people conduct themselves in His house. In other words, His house—His rules.

And God has made it a rule that only qualified men can serve as pastors in His church. This is abundantly evident from the plain teaching of the New Testament both in the examples we have (no church was led by women pastors) and in the qualifications prescribed for pastors—“he must be…the husband of one wife” (μιᾶς γυναικὸς ἄνδρα, a “one woman man;” emphasis added), 1 Timothy 3:2. Additionally, the Apostle Paul addresses the question directly in 1 Timothy 2:9-14.

Verses 11-12 are simple and clear: “Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. This prohibition against women teaching or exercising authority over men comes amid Paul’s instructions about how believers are to conduct themselves “in every place” (v. 8), which is a reference either to the house churches in Ephesus or quite possibly to all the churches where Paul taught. With the modern rise of feminist hermeneutics this passage has been increasingly subjected to critique and reinterpretation in modern times. However, prior to this, there has been a remarkable consensus of its understanding across all of church history.

Paul identifies two positive activities that he does not permit women to engage in with respect to men—teaching and exercising authority. Some see this as one activity—that of teaching men with authority, believing that such an interpretation allows for women to teach men in the church as long as they don’t do it in an authoritative or “an elder-like way.” Yet, the word for “teach” (διδάσκειν) is normally used in the New Testament to denote the accurate teaching of the gospel. Douglas Moo says that it denotes “the authoritative proclamation of God’s will to believers.”[1] In the pastoral epistles, “teaching” always refers to “authoritative doctrinal instruction,”[2] as seen, for instance in 1 Timothy 4:11, “Command and teach these things.”

The second activity that this passage forbids to women is “exercising authority” over men in the church. The word Paul uses (αὐθεντεῖν) has been the subject of much research over the last forty years. Egalitarian scholars have tried to demonstrate that etymologically it has an ingressive or even pejorative connotation, so that it should be understood as “to assume authority” or “to lord it over.” Since this word is used only here in the New Testament and rarely elsewhere, etymological studies are tenuous at best. What is far more helpful is to note the way Paul uses it in the context.

Consider the rationale on which he bases his apostolic prohibition in vv. 13-14. “For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.” He does NOT ground this prohibition in the cult of Artemis or anything else that might be unique to the cultural setting of Ephesus where Timothy was. Rather, he says that the reason that women are not to teach or exercise authority over men in the church is because of what happened at creation and what happened at the fall.

Just as there was order between men and women at the beginning—by God’s design—so there is to be order in the church, again, by God’s design.

Paul appeals to the divinely created order that God established in the beginning. Adam was created as Eve’s head by God’s design. When Eve was deceived by the devil it was because God’s created order was overturned. She took to herself a responsibility she did not have, and Adam abdicated a responsibility that he did have by God’s design.

Just as there was order between men and women at the beginning—by God’s design—so there is to be order in the church, again, by God’s design. We have seen the devastating consequences of forsaking that order in the Garden. We should not be surprised by more grievous consequences when His order is forsaken in the church. If anyone would like real time examples of the latter simply consider the last century of the Unite Methodist Church and the Presbyterian Church in the USA. They did not become LGBTQIA+ celebrants overnight. Rather, their steady decline began with a rejection of God’s rules for His house.

Once God’s Word is rejected in the ordering God’s church, God’s judgment falls on God’s people. Those who love Christ and fear God should never stand idly by and let such perversion of the Word of God take place without a fight.

[1] Douglas Moo, “What Does it Mean” in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, edited by John Piper and Wayne Grudem, Crossway: Wheaton, IL, 241).

[2] Ibid.

What Does Genesis 1:1 Have to Do with John 3:16?

What Does Genesis 1:1 Have to Do with John 3:16?

In a word, everything. Soteriology is based on ontology. Salvation occurs in creation. Redemption takes place in reality. This should be self-evident but in our post-modern world more and more reality is being judged as simply social constructs or determined by the almighty self.

Let me explain. Ours is day when the very idea that absolute truth exists is judged outmoded, offensive, and hateful. This, of course, means that moral relativism dominates the thinking of many people. You can have your truth and I can have my truth and the two need not even approximate each other much less agree. What’s right for you may not be right for me. Ultimately each person (the self) is the determiner of is true and false, right and wrong, and good and bad.

It’s all relative, except, of course, the fact that it is all relative. That, my friend, is absolute. If you doubt me just try to live as if it is not and see how quickly you are charged with hate speech (or thoughts), bigotry, or violence. Such heresy must be canceled. The guardians of the left will not tolerate any questioning of their orthodoxy a person’s identity is precisely what [insert preferred pronoun] says it is. Biological sex has nothing to do with gender. Today when anxious friends ask brand new parents if their baby is a boy or girl, the only politically correct answer is, “We won’t know until they tell us.”

Ours is day when the very idea that absolute truth exists is judged outmoded, offensive, and hateful.

What is going on in the LGBTQIA+ revolution through which we are living is fundamentally a rejection of “Nature and Nature’s God.” This is the Apostle Paul’s point in Romans 1:26-27 where he describes the end result of those who “exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator” (25). “For this reason,” Paul writes, “God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error” (26-27, emphasis added).

Paul is talking about female (v. 26) and male (v. 27) homosexuality. Both are not “natural.” The word he uses is φυσικόςis (physikos)” everything which by its origin or by observation of its constitution seems to be a given. To call it ‘given’…is already to go beyond the sphere of naive description and implies a judgment on its actual constitution or true nature.”[1] In other words, male-male and female-female sexual relations are unnatural—against nature; against what is “a given.”

To put a fine but biblically and theologically fine point on it, such relations are a denial Genesis 1:1 and the rest of the creation account in chapters 1 and 2. It is a denial of creation and, therefore, of the Creator.

Here is where the connection to John 3:16 comes in. The God who “so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life,” is the same One who created the world in the beginning. To be reconciled to that God a person must lay down the arms of rebellion against him. That is, a person cannot continue worshiping the creation rather than the Creator and experience the saving grace of Jesus Christ, who is the Creator’s Son.

To make sure I am being clear—there is no such thing as a “gay Christian” or an “LGBTQIA+ Christian” or any other reality-denying-hyphenated Christian. You cannot deny the Creator and his creation and have his salvation at the same time. The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus took place in the real world. He is a real Savior for real sinners. The salvation he gives is a real salvation. It is impossible, therefore, to experience this salvation while denying reality and the real God who both created it and accomplished salvation in it.

You cannot have the God of salvation while continuing in rebellion against the God of creation. He is the same God.

What this means is that Tim Keller’s would-be aphorism, though readily parroted by J.D. Greear and Ed Litton (and who knows how many after them) is as spiritually dangerous as it is disingenuous. Said Keller, “I know homosexuality doesn’t send you to hell because heterosexuality doesn’t send you to heaven.” While progressives and homosexuals readily applaud Keller’s cleverness, the Apostle Paul begs to differ. He wrote, “For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 5:5–6). Homosexuals do are not excluded from the “sexually immoral.”

You cannot have the God of salvation while continuing in rebellion against the God of creation. He is the same God. You cannot have the real Jesus while you insist on living in unreality. An inevitable component of true repentance is the renouncing of every relation that is “contrary to nature.”

Soteriology is built on ontology. You cannot have the grace that saves while rebelling against the nature that is. We should never mislead anyone by suggesting they may savingly believe the gospel of Jesus Christ while living in the unreality of LGBTQIA+ identity or the contra-reality of homosexuality.

The good news is that those who are enslaved to such false ways of living are not beyond hope. The gospel really is the power of God to salvation for all who believe. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). The Corinthian church was a living testimony of this. In his list of the kinds of people who will not inherit the kingdom of God, Paul includes “the sexually immoral,” “adulterers,” and “men who practice homosexuality.” But then he reminds the church that “such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).

By all means, let us proclaim the amazing grace that is announced in John 3:16. But let us never do so to the exclusion to the undeniable reality that is revealed in Genesis 1:1.

[1] Helmut Köster, “Φύσις, Φυσικός, Φυσικῶς,” ed. Gerhard Kittel, Geoffrey W. Bromiley, and Gerhard Friedrich, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964–), 253.

Every Church is a Christocracy

If the last few years have forced evangelicals to reconsider anything it is the nature of authority in the world and in the church. On Monday, March 16, 2020, President Trump announced that a corona virus was spreading throughout the world in such a way that we were facing a pandemic of epic proportions. He and federal health officials proposed a “15 days to slow the spread—or flatten the curve” of the virus in hopes of minimizing the impact of the looming disaster.

As we know, those 15 days quickly expanded into months, and then years of governmental officials restricting the activities of citizens, businesses, and institutions—including churches. Very soon, governors began issuing executive orders telling churches that they could not meet, or that they could only meet according to governmental guidelines—which often included restrictions on singing or having no more than 10 people present (as in the case of Virginia).

Virginia Governor, Ralph Northam held a press conference December 10, 2020 and said,

“Christmas is two weeks away. The holidays are typically times of joy and community. We gather together, we celebrate our faith, and we celebrate with family.”

“But this year we need to think about what is truly the most important thing. Is it the worship or the building? For me, God is wherever you are. You don’t have to sit in the church pew for God to hear your prayers,” Northam said. “Worship with a mask on is still worship. Worship outside or worship online is still worship.”

He called on faith leaders to “lead the way and set an example.”

Similarly, Governor Gavin Newsom in California issued an executive order forbidding churches from meeting. Later he said that churches could meet but under very severe restrictions. His restrictions continued until Grace Church and Pastor John MacArthur successfully won a judgment against him in the Supreme Court.

These, and similar actions by civil authorities, forced churches and church leaders to reconsider what Scripture teaches about how the church relates to the state. Specifically, who has the right to tell churches what they can and cannot do, when they can gather, and how they can gather?

Jesus Christ is Lord of the Church. He and He alone is Head of the Church as well as the Head of every local true church.

Though that was a painful process for many churches, and some negotiated those challenges better than others, I think it is safe to say that for many it helped clarify what has always been true but can no longer be taken for granted, and that is that Jesus Christ is Lord of the Church. He and He alone is Head of the Church as well as the Head of every local true church.

I am confident that no church would deny that as an article of faith, but learning afresh to consider what it means practically—and what it may cost to honor His lordship in the face of opposition or persecution—has been a blessing to many churches.

Jesus Christ is Head of the church. When Peter confessed that Jesus is the Messiah, the “Son of the living God,” Jesus responded by saying, “On this rock I will build MY church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).

Paul introduces the idea of Jesus being the “head of the church” in six passages in his letters to the Ephesians and the Colossians. In Ephesians 4:16 he says that as we mature in sound doctrine and learning to speak the truth in love, we are able to “grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.” In Ephesians 5:23 Paul writes, “For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.”

In Colossians 2:19 Christ is called “the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.”

Christ is Head of the church in the sense that He is the One “who stands over it” in the sense of being the basis of its existence, the source of its life, and the authoritative Ruler over it.[1]

What this means is that every church—regardless of its polity—is ultimately a Christocracy. Jesus is Lord of the church. He is the Head of every true church. This truth, rightly understood, rightly guides church leaders in both addressing a church’s internal affairs and determining its mission.

Internal Affairs

When questions, challenges, or controversies confront a congregation the primary goal in responding to them should be to determine the mind of Christ. What does the Lord Jesus have to say on this? What is the way of Christ (1 Corinthians 4:17) to resolve this? Christ’s mind and ways are revealed to us in Scripture. There the job of church leaders and church members is to discern what the Bible says a church should do in any situation.

Granted, some situations are clearer than others, but no decision of any significance should be taken without first grappling with biblical teaching and principles. We do this because Christ is Head of the church.

Christ is Head of the church in the sense that He is the One “who stands over it” in the sense of being the basis of its existence, the source of its life, and the authoritative Ruler over it.

One clear example of how this works out practically is in the area of corrective church discipline. Matthew 18:15-20 unambiguously outlines normal steps for dealing with sin in the church. Since Christ is Lord of the church, true churches understand that they do not have the option to ignore these instructions. That is likewise true of the more urgent and immediate command to “purge the evil person from among you” (1 Corinthians 5:13; read the whole chapter) when a public, scandalous sin is being committed by a church member.

If a church sees itself as a Christocracy, it will obey the Lord Jesus in this area, even when it is painful and unpopular to do so.


How the church goes about making disciples is also governed by the Headship of Christ. Our starting point is with the exalted position of our crucified, risen Savior. Jesus Himself prefaces His great commission with this reminder: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” Only after asserting His universal lordship does He issue the command to His followers, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 18:18-20).

Churches own the mission to evangelize the nations. We preach Christ both personally and publicly, formally and informally; in pulpits as well as coffee shops; on the job site as well as the playground. There is no place nor any person who is outside the scope of our concern. Why? Because as Head of the church our Lord has “all authority.” His authority extends everywhere.

As Paul puts it in Ephesians 1:22, God“put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church.” Jesus is not only Head over the church but also, over “all things.” All principalities, powers, governments, institutions, and individuals are subservient to our sovereign, risen Lord. God made certain of that by raising Jesus from the dead and giving Him, in the capacity of our risen Mediator, to the church.

So our evangelism, while full of compassionate pleading with people to be reconciled to God through faith in Jesus, is never to be carried out as if our Lord is dependent on human power for disciples to be added to His family. He is Lord of lords and King of kings and we, His ambassadors, go out in His Name, calling all people to come to Jesus Christ and be saved (2 Corinthians 5:20-21).

Our evangelism is never to be carried out as if our Lord is dependent on human power for disciples to be added to His family.

The early church had this understand of Jesus as King and the church as a Christocracy as they carried out their mission. We know this by the response of their opponents to their efforts. In Thessalonica, the response to the preaching of Paul and Silas was so profound that hostile Jews dragged some of the new converts before city officials. There they charged them not with becoming Christians, but with proclaiming the kingship of Jesus. “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also,…and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus” (Acts 17:6-7).

Could it be that one reason so many churches seem to be making so little difference in the world today is because we have lost sight of the kingship of Christ? He is Lord. He is Head of the church. God has raised Him from the dead and made Him head over all things for the church. We carry out our marching orders to make disciples because all authority belongs to Him and we are His ambassadors.

Pastors and elders must teach their congregations to recognize every true church is a Christocracy. We do what we do in obedience to our Lord. We conduct our affairs and carry out His mission in the Name of our King Jesus. Perhaps, as the Lord grants us grace and courage to live this way, we will, like the early church before us, have reason to be charged with turning our world upside down.

[1] Heinrich Schlier, “Κεφαλή, Ἀνακεφαλαιόομαι,” ed. Gerhard Kittel, Geoffrey W. Bromiley, and Gerhard Friedrich, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964–), 679.

Reflections on Becoming a Pastor

Many years ago, on October 31 something took place that changed the course of my life. I am not talking about Martin Luther’s seemingly innocuous act in 1517 of nailing 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg. In ways that he could never have anticipated that act did come to symbolize the beginning of a movement that rocked the world as the Protestant Reformation recovered the full and final authority of God’s written Word and its message of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone for the glory of God alone. Luther, along with those who stood with him and followed him in proclaiming this gospel message, most definitely have impacted my life. The Reformation has impacted all Western civilization.

But I am reminded of October 31, 1978. On that Tuesday night I accepted a call to become the pastor of the Rock Prairie Baptist Church in College Station, Texas. Two days before that, the church let me know that they wanted me to become their pastor. That phone call was unexpected. The previous pastor had moved and I had preached for the congregation several times in the previous weeks. Though I had enjoyed worshiping with them and getting to know some of the members more personally, I had no thought that they would consider asking me to become their pastor.

I was not a great candidate. I was a single, twenty-one-year-old sociology major at a state university. I had taken a couple of seminary extension courses and preached intermittently over the previous five years. But by any reasonable metric I was ill-prepared to be a pastor. In fact, when the call came from the church, I was actively trying to avoid entering a life of pastoral ministry. The church in which the Lord saved me and that had nurtured me as a child and young person believed that God had called me to preach and had given me a license to do so (that was fifty years ago next month). But my antipathy for pastors caused me to shrink from the thought of pursuing vocational ministry.

Looking back, though I had many reasons for my lack of regard for pastors, the bottom line was that they were mainly rooted in pride and arrogance. I was a self-righteous prig when God saved me and much of that remained (and remains) unmortified in me. Because of that, as I embarked on my last year of college I was developing a plan that I hoped might satisfy God and ease my own conscience. Since pastors help people, I thought that if I entered a “helping profession” that would do the trick. 

Through a connection with some professors, early in my senior year I was offered a contract to work for an organization that provided care and counseling for troubled youth. The job was to begin upon my graduation the next semester. I let the contract sit on my desk for the month of October with a growing sense that this was a wonderful opportunity that would allow me to help young people, be active in the life of a church, and perhaps fill in preaching and teaching on occasion. 

Those plans were disrupted when the chairman of deacons told me that Rock Prairie wanted me to be their pastor. Donna (who was seven months away from becoming my fiancé) and I decided to go to the church’s “harvest festival” two days later on the 31st. The church provided this each year as an alternative to trick-or-treating for kids in the community. As we watched the members of that small church work together to serve children and parents the few remaining doubts I had about accepting their call vanished. I had harbored many doubts and fears and my list of reasons for saying no was long, but several trusted counselors urged me to give the call serious consideration. So, that night, October 31, 1978, I told the deacon chairman, Arthur Olden that I believed it was God’s will for me to accept their call and that I would start immediately. 

One relative, as we discussed my new role, pulled out a handheld calculator (which was a novelty at the time) and jokingly congratulated me for taking a job that paid $15 an hour (which was $12.35 more than minimum wage!) while requiring only three hours of preaching a week. In reality, that move cost the church much more than money and what they gave me cannot be measured in finances. The people of Rock Prairie Baptist Church loved me and patiently endured with my inexperience and ineptitude. They genuinely cared for me and, after we were married, for Donna and me. They were forgiving of my many mistakes. And they genuinely loved me. 

I only served that church for two years but doing so led me to pursue theological training that I would have otherwise eschewed. The discipline of preaching week after week was good for me. I still have notes from those sermons and though much of the understanding of God’s Word that they reflect now make me cringe, I would not trade anything for the lessons I learned in those early years of pastoral preaching. That church gave me a start. They were used by God to put me into pastoral ministry and on a path that continues today, 45 years later. 

I thank the Lord for His faithfulness through those years. I am grateful for the way that He providentially overruled my plans and changed my desires about being a pastor. To me it is the most wonderful calling in the world and I am still amazed at the privilege of being a servant of God’s people in a local church of Jesus Christ. All of it is a testimony to the steadfast love and immeasurable grace of our sovereign God. 

Soli Deo Gloria

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What Should We Think about the Attack on Israel by Hamas?

I awoke early October 7 to discover that Israel was under attack by Hamas (the Islamic Resistance Movement) terrorists. Early reports said hundreds were likely already or soon-to-be dead due to the strategy of the terrorists to attack the Supernova Music Festival in the Negev desert in southern Israel. Current reports indicate more than 1300 people have been killed in Israel and more than that in the retaliatory strikes inside Gaza.

I immediately began reaching out to friends who might have better information than I could get. Like many other pastors, I also began fielding questions from friends and church members who were similarly trying to understand what was happening. At the prompting of church members our elders decided to address the situation to help our members think biblically about the tragic events that were and still are unfolding.

Following are some of the points we covered along with further thoughts I have had since then. I offer them here in hopes that they may help other pastors and churches think principally and carefully about this still fluid situation.

1. The Bible grants jurisdictional authority to deal with evil

The three primary jurisdictions that God has established are the home, the church, and the state. Christ, who has all authority, delegates authority in all three of those jurisdictions and commands that it be wielded according to His will.

• In the home Christ delegates authority to parents, and primarily husbands and fathers, for the welfare of the family. Specifically, He has given them the rod of correction to help administer their authority (Proverbs 22:15). The most extreme use of this is corporal discipline.

• In the church Christ delegates His authority to the members, and specifically the elders for the welfare of the congregation. God has given them the keys of the kingdom to help administer their authority (Matthew 16:13-19; 18:15-20). The most extreme use of this is excommunication.

• In the state (nation, government), Christ delegates authority to civil officials for the welfare of the citizens. He has given them the sword (Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-17) to help administer their authority. The most extreme use of this is capital punishment and war.

2.  War is the province of the state

Our church’s confession of faith, the 1689 or Second London Baptist Confession, in chapter 24, paragraphs 1 and 2 summarizes the authority that Christ has given to the state and the legitimacy of war.

1. God, the supreme Lord and King of the whole world, has ordained civil authorities to be under him and over the people, for his own glory and the public good. For this purpose he has armed them with the power of the sword, to defend and encourage those who do good and to punish evildoers.

2. Christians may lawfully accept and carry out the duties of public office when called to do so. In performing their office they must especially maintain justice and peace,according to the wholesome laws of each kingdom or other political entity. To carry out these duties they are authorized now under the New Testament to wage war in just and necessary situations [see 2 Samuel 23:3; Psalm 82:3,4; Luke 3:14].

3. For a war to be legitimate, it must be waged justly

When the 1689 confession speaks of waging war “in just and necessary situations” it is referring to “just war theory” that has been described and debated from at least the time of Augustine. In various sermons and writings (specifically see City of God IX.7) Augustine encouraged Christians to evaluate the legitimacy of any particular engagement in war by three criteria (these have been debated, refined, and expanded through the centuries but these three are largely still recognized by conservative Christians):

1. Is there a legitimate authority behind the declaration of war? In our American constitution that authority is in the hands of the US Congress.

2. Is there a just cause for the war? Is it to avenge wrongs or to restore what has been illegitimately taken?

3. Is there a just intent? The motive must not be hatred or simple desire to dominate. Will the war promote the greater good? Will it promote peace? Will it reduce evil?

Based on these criteria Israel’s declaration of war on Hamas is just. The evil that was unleashed by the terrorists in the name of an organization whose purpose for existence is to annihilate all Jewish people deserves to be destroyed. The nation of Israel’s stated resolve to do this is just. Though all Christians long for peace and must never glorify war, we should support the right of Israel to wage war against Hamas.

4. Christians are people of truth who serve the God of truth. Our Savior, the Lord Jesus, is Truth incarnate (John 14:6)

Because this is so, be very careful not to be deceived by lies or to traffic in spreading untruths. Propaganda has always been a part of warfare. In a day of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and social media, the ability to create and spread propaganda exceeds anything that humanity has dealt with in prior wars. In your zeal to be relevant or even helpful do not forward images, articles, or information from sources that you cannot verify as trustworthy. And recognize that even trustworthy sources can get duped.

Along with this, limit your consumption of all media, especially social media. It can become addictive to the point of contributing to serious anxiety and stress. Make it a goal to spend as much time reading and meditating on God’s Word as you do consuming news from the media.

For many years I have discouraged my family and friends from trusting legacy media outlets. They sell news and all have agendas that influence what they report and how they report it. Remember basic scriptural principles like Proverbs 18:13 and 17,If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame….The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.

5. Other specific admonitions

1. Remember the gospel. What Hamas needs is Jesus Christ. That is exactly what Israel needs. It is what every Muslim, Jew, and Gentile needs. The only hope for the world is our crucified, risen Savior. You will have opportunities to speak of Christ as this war continues. Do not miss them. Pray for wisdom and boldness to make the gospel known.

2. Do not feel obligated to make public judgments about every public event. You do not have to have an opinion about everything. Remember David’s prayer and let it be your own, “O LORD, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me” (Psalm 131:1).

What Hamas needs is Jesus Christ. That is exactly what Israel needs. It is what every Muslim, Jew, and Gentile needs.

3. Do not feel compelled to speculate about foreign policy. Unless you are involved in governmental leadership, you have no duty to do so.

4. Think biblically about Israel. Faithful, Bible believing Christians disagree on what the Bible says about modern Israel. The questions that divide include, “Are any or all of the Old Testament promises given to Israel already fulfilled?” “What is the difference between Israel as a nation-state and Israel as a people?” “What does it mean to be a ‘Jew inwardly’?” “Are Christians the ‘true Israel’ today?” “What is the Bible promise about the future of Israel?” “Are those promises for the nation of Israel or ethnic Israel?”

As I said, good, faithful Christians disagree on how to answer those, and many other related, questions. What we must carefully avoid is letting the current headlines drive our eschatological understanding of the Bible’s teachings. The books, articles, podcasts, sermons, etc. that will come out over the next few months giving details about how these current events fulfill specific Bible verses about the end times will be obsolete in two years (“if the Lord tarries”). If you doubt this, check out the blockbuster books that came out after 9/11.

5. Prepare for possible future scenarios

Congressional leaders have spoken for years about “sleeper cells” of terrorists in the United States who are waiting for orders to carry out attacks against this nation. While we must not allow that to dampen our love for strangers or create any xenophobia in us, it is naïve to think such cells do not exist. With the influx of illegal immigrants into the USA the last three years, prudence demands at least a modicum of awareness and preparation.

What that looks like in practical terms will vary from household to household, but every Christian should prepare spiritually and emotionally by remembering the truths of God’s Word and thinking often of our ruling, reigning Savior. Meditate on Psalm 2 and remember what the wicked strategies on earth look like to our triune God in heaven.

The Christian who forsakes the gathering of his church for sports or special activities for his children because he thinks he is giving them some kind of advantage in life is at best immature and naïve.

6. Ground yourself in your church. For some that will mean simply continuing on the path of faithfulness that you have been walking. But for 90-minute-a-week-on-Sunday-morning Christians (or those who think themselves Christian but are unwilling to submit to Christ in a church), it will mean repenting of spiritual apathy that has crept into your life. “Find a healthy church and build your life around it.” I have given that counsel for years. Though at times it can be hard to find such a church, it is always a challenge to keep building your life around one. To do so you must be willing to know and be known. You must order your priorities and schedule to meet when the church gathers. The Christian who forsakes the gathering of his church for sports or special activities for his children because he thinks he is giving them some kind of advantage in life is at best immature and naïve. As we have seen with the disruptions caused by natural disasters, it is the church that gives strength and stability to endure through them. Your son’s baseball team will not serve you like the church can and will when moral evil erupts.

7. Finally, and most importantly, pray. Our God rules and reigns in this world and He has encouraged us, indeed He has commanded us to pray. Pray the Lord’s Prayer. Pray that He will cause justice and mercy to prevail in this war. Pray for Jewish and Palestinian brothers and sisters who are directly affected by it. Pray that in their suffering, Christ will be honored and the gospel will advance. Pray for Prime Minister Netanyahu, President Biden, and other political leaders. Remember Proverbs 21:1 as you do, that the Lord has their hearts in His hands.

What is happening in the Middle East is tragic. Let it be a call to humble ourselves before the Lord with fresh repentance and renewed faith seek the Lord and His glory with renewed zeal. May the cries of His people and the reminders of our frailties and dependence result in genuine spiritual renewal and steadfast resolve to live wholeheartedly for Him now and forever.

Christian Realism in this Vale of Tears

The key to living well in this fallen world is Christian realism. I could just say, “realism,” because the real world, as it has been revealed by God and believed by Christians is the only world we have. The fact that atheists, Muslims, Buddhists, or secularists do not believe in it does not make it any less real. It’s like gravity. Deny it all you want on whatever grounds you want but when you step off a ten-story building your anti-gravity convictions will not save you from reality.

The reality to which I refer is described in the Bible, beginning (but hardly ending) in Genesis 1:1. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” So, this world was created by God and for God. Everything that exists, exists by Him and for Him. Reality consists of Creator and creation; God and not-God; or what Peter Jones calls, “twoism.”

Just as your eyesight allows you to access the beauty of a sunset so your faith allows you to access the power of the resurrection.

Coupled with this, and extending from it, is what the rest of Scripture teaches about “the things that are unseen” (2 Corinthians 4:18). These are the realities that Paul said kept him from losing heart as he focused on them. What are the unseen realities? They include divine promises like the assurance that God works all things together for good to those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28-30) and that having once begun a good work in His children, He will most certainly bring that work to completion (Philippians 1:6). Add to this, teachings such as God’s meticulous providence that governs our lives (as taught in Matthew 10:29-31 and Ephesians 1:11), the resurrection of the dead (which Jesus’ historically validated resurrection guarantees, 1 Corinthians 15:3-23), and the future new heavens and earth when Christ will return to make all things new (Revelation 21:1-8).

These and many other unseen things are just as real as rain, trees, cancer, death, deceit, sin, and betrayal. Seen realities can be accessed by our senses and experience. Unseen realities can only be accessed by faith. That does not mean that faith creates them. It means that faith accesses them. Just as your eyesight allows you to access the beauty of a sunset or the wickedness of a crime so your faith allows you to access the power of the resurrection, the comfort of the risen Christ’s unending presence with His people, or the assurance of God’s sovereign, meticulous, personal, and loving rule over the details of your life.

Faith does not create those realities. It accesses them. In that way faith is like a radio tuner. The tuner allows you to listen to music through the airwaves. The radio doesn’t create the music. The music is already there. The radio lets you access it. 

In a similar way Christians are believers. We live by faith. That is, by taking God at His Word we are enabled to order our lives according to unseen realities. We are not relegated to having our thoughts, affections, or aspirations governed only by the material world. Yes, we live in the seen world as full participants in it, subject to all the joys and sorrows that go with life east of Eden. But we also know about and have access to the unseen world with all its promises, blessings, and assurances. 

By taking God at His Word we are enabled to order our lives according to unseen realities.

Because of this Christians can let the realities of both the seen and unseen worlds shape our attitudes, choices, hopes, and emotions. This is particularly helpful when dealing the trials, sorrows, and loss that inevitably come in this fallen world. Christians do not have to deny the painful realities of the seen world. We have no need to pretend or to downplay the grief that tribulations bring. We are creatures of like nature with other people (Acts 14:15). We know what it is to lament, to weep, and to suffer. It would be a denial of reality—the things which are seen—not to let oneself respond with normal human emotion when going through trials. But, we need not be cast into hopeless despair, either.

Why? Because there is more to reality than what can be measured by our senses. Unseen realities—those things that have been revealed to us and that can be genuinely accessed by faith—must also be factored into our thinking and emotions. 

Are you suffering sickness, death of a loved one, or some other kind of painful loss? As you face your trial honestly—realistically—do not forget the unseen, eternal realities that are also true. As a child of God, you are eternally loved by Him. Your life is in His hands. He is orchestrating even painful events in ways that will result in what He deems best for you. Though you have not chosen this path of sorrow, you can know for certain, just as assuredly as you know the pain you cannot deny, that your loving Heavenly Father has ordained it for you and has done so for your eternal welfare.

Where this all comes together in sharp focus is the death of Jesus Christ on the cross. The seen realities were obvious. He has betrayed, hated, ridiculed, mocked, beaten, treated unjustly, and executed on a Roman cross. But the unseen realities cannot be denied. In that murderous event, the greatest miscarriage of human justice in history, God was doing His deepest work of redemption. Though not apparent to the senses God was reconciling the world to Himself (2 Corinthians 5:19). He was making a full atonement for the sins of His people (Hebrews 10:10-25). He was securing justification for all who trust Jesus as Lord (Romans 3:20-25).

Though you have not chosen this path of sorrow, you can know for certain, that your loving Heavenly Father has ordained it for you and has done so for your eternal welfare.

There was more going on than met the eye. The same is true in all our trials. That unseen “more,” which we know by faith, is an essential part of reality. 

For Christians who are determined to live in reality, there is only one path forward. We must learn with Paul to be “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” (2 Corinthians 6:10). Sorrowful when we suffer loss and our hopes and plans have been overturned, yet rejoicing because Christ lives. He rules. He loves us and cares for us and is working to make certain that no promise given to us will fail.

This is undoubtedly the hardest emotional path, but it is the best one. It is also the right one. Far easier to calibrate your emotions by only one set of realities to the exclusion of the other. You can deny the pain of what your senses assure you is true and often feel spiritual in the process because you allow only unseen realities be felt. Or you can let what you see and experience overwhelm you to the point of despair as if that there are no unseen realities to be taken into account. In other words, you can respond to trials with either sorrow or rejoicing exclusively. But both of those paths consider only part of reality. To let yourself be both “sorrowful” and “rejoicing” is the path that takes into consideration all reality—both seen and unseen. As such it enables Christians to display genuine faith in our crucified, risen Savior as we continue our walk through this vale of tears.

God’s Faithfulness Our Hope

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

— Lamentations 3:22-23

There is a vital relationship between your memory and your anticipation. Memory provides the foundation for expectation. What you remember powerfully influences what you expect. What you know and can recall inevitably fuels what you anticipate.

My favorite restaurant is a local place called The Blue Dog. I have always enjoyed wonderful meals served by friendly staff there. My past dining experiences make me anticipate another excellent meal the next time I eat there. 

The same thing is true of gathered worship. The sweet memories of meeting with and hearing from God that believers share together on the Lord’s Day cause them to look forward with great anticipation to the next opportunity to meet. 

But it works the other way, too. If you remember bad experiences in a restaurant then it will be difficult to have high expectations when you are invited there for another meal. 

What you remember necessarily influences what you anticipate. Because this is true your memory can either work FOR you or AGAINST you when it comes to your spiritual life. 

Are you ever haunted by memories? David was: “My sin is ever before me” (Psalm 51:3). The sons of Korah also were plagued by difficult memories: “All day long my disgrace is before me, and shame has covered my face” (Psalm 44:15). 

Remembering your past failures and sins can keep you locked in the dungeon of despair. 

John Bunyan graphically portrays this in Pilgrim’s Progress. Giant Despair captures Christian and Hopeful and locks them in Doubting Castle, where they are beaten and tormented for four days. What kept them in that sad condition? It was their memory of their past failures! They had left the right road—despite having been warned of that danger. They also took their ease in by-path meadow and fell asleep when they should have been watching. It was the memory of their many sins that kept them in despair.

Has that ever happened to you? One of my favorite hymns expresses it well:

When I look all around me

And all I can see

Are my mountains of failure and sin

When I’m standing accused

And I’m guilty as charged

And I’ve nothing that I can defend

Those times when you are facing hardships, and you know that they are the result of your own sin and foolish choices. Or the times you look back on opportunities squandered and your mind begins to play the “what if” game. 

• What if I had not married so hastily?

• What if I had not committed adultery?

• What if I had stayed in school?

• What if I had not cheated on the job?

• What if I had never smoked that first joint?

Memory can supply the club in Giant Despair’s hand to bludgeon you until you are almost spiritually senseless. 

But memory can also be the chauffeur of peace, hope, and comfort to your soul, when, in addition to remembering your sins, it brings back to your mind the mercy and grace of God in Jesus Christ.

What finally delivered Christian and Hopeful from Doubting Castle? It was the memory that they had in their possession a key called promise! When that thought occurred to him, Christian said, “What a fool am I to lie in a stinking dungeon, when I may as well walk in liberty! I have a key in my bosom, called Promise; that will, I am persuaded, open any lock in Doubting Castle.”

He was correct. The memory of God’s grace & of His mercy-filled promises in Christ set them free. “For all the promises of God find their Yes in [Christ]. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory” (2 Corinthians 1:20). 

The steadfast love of the Lord cannot ever cease because it has been given to us in Christ. By His life, death, and resurrection, He has sealed and secured it forever for all who trust in Him. 

So, what do Christians do when all they can see is their sin? What do we do when we are justly accused with no defense to make for ourselves? We return to the One who has proven faithful throughout all of our life. 

I will hope in the One

Crucified in my place

Jesus Christ the Redeemer of men

I will trust in the righteousness

Given to me

By Jesus my Savior and Friend

Trust and hope in our crucified, risen, reigning Savior. Remember Him. Remember His faithfulness in the past. He never forsakes His people. He never has let one of His promises fail. So, regardless of where you are or what you are going through, trust Him now. Trust Him for your future. 

Remember His goodness, wisdom and power. And say with Jeremiah, “Great is Your faithfulness.”

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2023 SBC Resolution On The Office Of Bishop/Elder/Pastor

I have submitted the following resolution to the 2023 Resolutions Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention for adoption at the annual meeting scheduled for June 13-14 in New Orleans, Louisiana. My hope is that the committee will recommend it to the convention and give the messengers an opportunity to vote on it. From their beginning in 1845, Southern Baptists have been clear about the nature, qualifications, and function of the office of Bishop/Elder/Pastor. All three designations are used for the same office. It is only in recent years that Southern Baptists have begun to speak on this issue equivocally. Though some contemporary Southern Baptists may be unclear on what a pastor is, our heritage is free from such uncertainty. May this resolution provide the messengers gathered in New Orleans the opportunity to reaffirm that heritage and speak with clarity on this unambiguous New Testament teaching. 

2023 SBC Resolution on the Office of Bishop/Elder/Pastor

Tom Ascol

Whereas, The Baptist Faith and Message that was adopted by the Southern Baptist Convention in 1925 was identified in its preamble as the “New Hampshire Confession of Faith, revised at certain points, and with some additional articles growing out of present needs”; and

Whereas, The revision of the Baptist Faith and Message in 1963 was led by a committee who declared that it “sought to build upon the structure of the 1925 Statement” while “in no case [seeking to] delete from or to add to the basic contents of the 1925 Statement”; and

Whereas, The committee that revised the Baptist Faith and Message that was adopted in 2000 stated in its preamble that it “respects and celebrates the heritage of the Baptist Faith and Message, and affirms the decision of the Convention in 1925 to adopt the New Hampshire Confession of Faith, ‘revised at certain points and with some additional articles growing out of certain needs . . . .’ and further affirmed their “respect the important contributions of the 1925 and 1963 editions of the Baptist Faith and Message”; and

Whereas, Article XIII of the New Hampshire Confession states that in a gospel church the “only scriptural officers are Bishops, or Pastors, and Deacons”; and 

Whereas, Article VI of the 1925 Baptist Faith and Message states that a church’s “Scriptural officers are bishops, or elders, and deacons”; and

Whereas, The same article (VI) in the 1963 Baptist Faith and Message substitutes the word “pastors” for the words “bishops, or elders” in the 1925 Baptist Faith and Message, so that it says that a church’s “Scriptural officers are pastors and deacons”; and

Whereas, The same article (VI) in the revision of the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message retains the exact language found in the 1963 version when it states that a church’s “scriptural officers are pastors and deacons”; and

Whereas, The New Testament uses all three titles that the Baptist Faith and Message has used to describe the one office of bishop (ἐπίσκοπος, episkopos; Phil. 1:1; 1 Tim. 3:2; Titus 1:7), elder (πρεσβύτερος, presbuteros; Acts 14:23, 20:17; 1 Tim. 5:17, 19), and pastor (ποιμήν, poimēn; Eph. 4:11; 1 Pet. 5:1-5), thus demonstrating that from its first expression in 1925 through its revisions in 1963 and 2000, the Baptist Faith and Message has affirmed that, along with deacon, the only other office in a New Testament church is that of bishop/elder/pastor; therefore, be it

Resolved, That the messengers from Southern Baptist churches convening in the annual meeting in New Orleans on June 13-14, 2023 affirm that the only officers of a local church that the New Testament recognizes is that of deacon and of bishop/elder/pastor; and be it further

Resolved, That Southern Baptist churches be encouraged to remember our biblical heritage and teach that these are the only two officers appointed by Christ to serve along with all the members of a New Testament church and to insist on all the biblical qualifications that the New Testament requires of all those who would hold either office of bishop/elder/pastor or deacon.

False Narratives And Those Who Perpetrate Them

False narratives are an affront to God and damaging both to those who promote them and those who are slandered by them. God never lies and is the God of truth (Titus 1:2). The person who traffics in lies—concocts stories and accusations that are not true—breaks the ninth commandment and sins first and foremost against God. In a day when sin is not taken nearly seriously enough, those who regard the Bible should pause and soberly consider what God says about lying.

Jesus said of the devil, “When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44).

“You destroy those who speak lies; the Lord abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man” (Psalm 5:6).

“No one who practices deceit shall dwell in my house; no one who utters lies shall continue before my eyes” (Psalm 101:7).

“There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers” (Proverbs 6:16-19).

“Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, but those who act faithfully are his delight” (Proverbs 12:22).

There are more, but those verses are sufficient to show that the person who perpetuates lies is acting like the devil and making themselves liable to God’s judgment. Anyone who fears God should tremble at the thought of spreading false narratives before His very face.

Such malicious activity is also a violation of love because bearing false witness against your neighbor can be deadly for the one about whom you lie. “Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Proverbs 18:21). This has been sadly illustrated countless times throughout history. 

This is what happened to our Lord. After Jesus healed a man’s hand on the Sabbath, the Pharisees and Herodians began to plot a way “to destroy him” (Mark 3:6). They had a goal in mind, an agenda. All they needed was a plan to execute it. That plan included having Him falsely arrested and unjustly condemned by the testimony of false witnesses. Mark succinctly describes the success of their plot:

Now the chief priests and the whole council were seeking testimony against Jesus to put him to death, but they found none. For many bore false witness against him, but their testimony did not agree. And some stood up and bore false witness against him, saying, “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.’” Yet even about this their testimony did not agree (Mark 14:55-59).

Their lies didn’t have to agree. They merely had to further the narrative that this Man deserved to die. 

A false narrative is a conclusion in search of an argument. It is an agenda in need of patrons, a goal that, in the mind of the narrator, is worthy of being supported by lies because, you know, the end is so noble that it fully justifies the means. 

Anyone who fears God should tremble at the thought of spreading false narratives before His very face.

Because false narratives are inherently unscrupulous and ungodly, no Christian should ever traffic in them. Yet, too many who bear the Name of Christ do exactly that today. In fact, in our tribal age the zeal to justify “my side” can easily numb otherwise well-meaning believers to the biblical standards of truth-telling.

I was reminded of this last week when I received a text asking me if claims made in a series of tweets by Stephen Feinstein, a pastor in California, were true. I’ve met Stephen and believe him to be a sincere, faithful pastor. The story that Stephen told (which involved me at several significant points) to rebuke people for promoting false narratives was simply not true. When I pointed this out to him in the same forum where he had made his assertions, he apologized and deleted his false comments (which is proper and greatly appreciated).

A far more serious and insidious false narrative has been perpetrated against John MacArthur in recent weeks. Sadly, that is not uncommon because there are numerous people who always seem ready to spread unfounded accusations about him. Rachael Denhollander is simply one of the latest and most outspoken of his critics to employ this strategy against Pastor MacArthur.

Mrs. Denhollander is well-known in the evangelical world for her faithful witness for Christ as she testified against rapist, Dr. Larry Nassar when he was convicted of sexually abusing numerous girls on the US women’s gymnastics team. Since then, she has been an outspoken advocate for sex abuse victims. At times, sadly, her zeal as an advocate has led her to perpetuate falsehoods in pursuit of what she believes is justice.

Most recently, she and her followers have boldly accused MacArthur of being closely associated with Bill Gothard and working to resolve claims of abuse by Gothard to avoid litigation. The conclusion that these false charges were meant to support is that MacArthur and Gothard are birds of a feather and all the unbiblical teachings of the latter on authority and submission should be attributed to the former. When those in positions to know sought to refute or even question the accusations they were assured that there are plenty of receipts, including “photographic evidence.” 

Such “evidence,” Denhollander claims, demonstrates that “they were closely aligned during that era.” Furthermore, she boldly claims, “I also have first-hand information directly from individuals involved in both ministries at the time.” All of this sounds convincing, and it is to people who have no interest in truth. Because all those claims are, in fact, false. 

If there were ever any doubt about this, Ron Henzel has completely erased it with his thorough, measured, and devastating critique of the false narrative that has been concocted, believed, and promoted by those who should know better. You should go read it here. If you have believed and spread the false narrative Denhollander et al have spread and you are a Christian, you should repent. Jesus died for just such sins, and He freely forgives us all our sins, so there is no reason to pretend or try to cover up when we sin. Christians are repenters as well as believers. 

Scripture is filled with warnings against bearing false witness—against lying. It is also not silent about believing lies or believing any accusation without careful warrant. “A single witness shall not suffice against a person for any crime or for any wrong in connection with any offense that he has committed. Only on the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses shall a charge be established” (Deuteronomy 19:15). Paul reiterates this in the New Testament, instructing Christians to be especially careful about entertaining accusations against elders without warrant. “Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses” (1 Timothy 5:19). If these and other passages about being careful were taken seriously by Christians, the false narratives would die quickly after leaving the lips (or keyboard) of the talebearer (For lack of wood the fire goes out, and where there is no whisperer, quarreling ceases, Proverbs 26:20).

False narratives should be renounced by every follower of Jesus Christ. After all, He is the truth. Those who belong to Him should walk in the light as He is in the light (1 John 1:7). We should, “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them” (Ephesians 5:11).

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Godly, Courageous Leadership: The Need of the Hour

No organization will be healthier than its leadership. That is true in business, politics, sports, and education. It is also true in churches, Christian networks, and denominations. As a pastor that is a sobering reality that constantly challenges me never to lose sight of the Apostle Paul’s admonition in 1 Timothy 4:16 to keep a close watch on myself and on my doctrine. The reason that Scripture places far more emphasis on a pastor’s character than his gifts or proficiencies is because what a pastor is required to be is more important than what he is called to do. When a pastor forgets this, he can easily drift into professionalism, relying more on mental muscle-memory than the Holy Spirit to carry out his responsibilities. That quickly devolves into trusting in gifts rather than grace and can result in a pastor operating on autopilot rather than walking and leading by faith. It is spiritually deadly—both for the man and the church he serves. Good, courageous leaders—including church leaders—serve as stack-poles for those who follow them. They will stand if they have someone to lean on. Absent such leadership, good causes will go unsupported and bad causes will go unresisted. Good people often remain timid and uncertain when their leaders remain mute in the face of such causes—both good and bad. This has been demonstrated time and again the last few years in the American evangelical world and especially in the Southern Baptist Convention. Key Christian leaders have refused boldly to support the good cause of seeking equal protection under the law for unborn babies. Some have even boldly opposed it. Too many influential Christian leaders have also failed to oppose the infiltration of godlessness and godless ideologies, including critical theory and feminism, into their churches, seminaries, and organizations. As a result, many Christian churches, organizations, and institutions are floundering, and many sincere Christians confused and suffering. The need for godly, courageous leadership in our churches has never been greater. That’s why I deeply appreciate the insights of Alistair Begg on this subject. My wife and I are reading through volume 2 of his daily devotional book, Truth for Life, 365 Daily Devotions. The following is taken from his March 15 entry. May the Lord give more godly, courageous shepherds to His people in these needy days. 
In the middle of the 20th century, the Church of England commissioned a report entitled Towards the Conversion of England. The goal was to discover what was taking place within the parishes of the Anglican Communion. In that report, the writers came very quickly to the topic of leadership, on which they observed, “A spiritual leader can often make an astonishing difference.”* The adjective “spiritual” is crucial. If the church is going to flourish in the world, it must have spiritual men in the position of leadership. Although we are distanced from that report by many years, and although a lot has changed since then, the strategic necessity for spiritually mature leaders, in whatever country or denomination we are in, has not changed. No church of Jesus Christ progresses beyond the spiritual progress of its leaders.

Every sports team has a captain or equivalent. Each member of the team may be equally valuable, but someone has to lead. Without a captain, a team loses direction and will often lack the discipline needed to win. The same is true in an orchestra: without a conductor, it risks losing coordination and any meaningful sense of harmony.

The necessary role of leadership is true in every area of life—and it’s no different with God’s people. Jesus was the leader of a group of twelve disciples. When He ascended to heaven, Peter and James appear to have become the leaders of the apostles and the church in Jerusalem. The apostles then established leadership in the local churches. When Paul wrote to Titus, he was very concerned that the right kinds of men were appointed to positions of leadership within the church (Titus 1:5-9). If an error was made in who was appointed, then the resulting damage would not be easily undone. And when he had limited time near Ephesus, it was “the elders of the church” who Paul summoned to Miletus in order to encourage and exhort.

Without good leadership, chaos easily follows. Many of the unsolved problems in the life of local churches can be traced back to defective leadership. Conversely, the resolution of problems almost always can be traced back to effective leadership.

If success depends upon the quality of leadership, then Christians should care deeply about leaders within their local church. Christ purchased the church with His own blood, and it is through the church that God intends to display His glory in the world and to the spiritual realms (Ephesians 3:10). Take time, then, to pray for your leaders. Consider how you can actively encourage them to faithfulness and in their labors. Be someone whom to lead is an occasion for joy and not groaning (Hebrews 13:17)—for your leaders’ sake, and for yours.

*Towards the Conversion of England (J.M. Dent, 1946), p. 3.

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