Christians face now the same great and unending struggle we have always faced: how to recognize when we are being more influenced by the culture than we are by the Word of God. The contours of that struggle have changed over the millennia. In some ways, in the early church before Christianity was legalized, there were bright lines distinguishing Christianity from paganism. The lines became blurrier under Constantine and after as the church came to be established as an institution of the state. Looking back we can see how the church began to imitate the culture and how we compromised in order to gain or to keep favored positions in the broader culture. Christendom, that period of history in which Christianity and the visible, institutional church had either an established or at least a favored place before the state and in the culture, is coming to a close. We are in a time of transition and the surrounding culture is beginning to look like that in which the New Testament church was born. Yet, since we are emerging from most of 2000 years of Christendom, there are still intellectual and cultural remnants of that order so the picture is blurred in that way too.
The authority of Scripture is another perennial question. Again, the status of Scripture was unquestioned for most of Christian history. Among the Fathers Scripture was revered and received as the infallible (unable to err), final, unique authority for the Christian faith and the Christian life. Only in the late 4th century was its uniqueness challenged within the church by the claim about an unwritten Apostolic tradition. The Reformation renewed the assertion of the unique, magisterial authority of holy Scripture (sola scripura) but did so in the midst of the virtually unquestioned assumptions under girding Christendom.
Then there was the various Enlightenment challenges to the truthfulness, reliability, and authority of Scripture. The rationalists asserted the superiority of the intellect (rationalism) and the empiricists argued for the superiority of sense experience over Scripture. In response, Romanticism and the subjectivism that followed in its wake asserted the primacy of the affections over Scripture. Since the Enlightenment and late-modern subjectivism Christians have struggled mightily to preserve the place of Scripture for the Christian faith and the Christian life. Modern evangelicals, whose roots are in Pietism, revivalism and the Enlightenment as much or more than they are in the Reformation have particularly struggled to retain sola scriptura since it is not clear that they were ever entirely committed to it in the first place.
Thus, the Modernists (the liberals and the children of the Pietists again whom Machen wrote in Christianity and Liberalism in 1923) openly and quickly jettisoned the authority of Scripture in favor of the approval of the culture. The revivalists, Pietists, and fundamentalists, the three major wings of American evangelicalism professed Scripture as did their neo-evangelical children in the mid-20th century. Their grandchildren and great-grand children, however, have been slipping. By the end of the 20th century we began to see theologians and pastors in precincts once firmly committed to sola scriptura denouncing the Apostle Paul as “hopelessly patriarchal” and thus to be dismissed. In the 21st century, however, after the Emergent/emerging church movements (great-great grandchildren of the Pietists), in the wake of the apparent death of the last remnants of the old fundamentalism, the dismissal of Paul (or other portions of Scripture) has become a more common sight. Not long ago a correspondent to this space wrote that, Paul has his opinion and I have mine and if they differ, well, too bad for Paul. More often, however, we see people simply ignoring passages that do not fit the egalitarian Spirit of the Age (Zeitgeist).
All this is background for this week’s episode of Abounding Grace Radio with Chris Gordon in which we consider, among other passages, 1 Timothy 2:
I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling; likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works. 11 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. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control (1 Timothy 2:8–15; ESV).
In this fast-moving episode we also look at Genesis 2, 1 Corinthians 14, and Galatians 3:28.
Here is the episode.
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