You’ve Been Invited To A [Fill In The Blank]: Should You Go?

As the culture descends further into post-Christianity and even the memory of Christianity fades in the minds of most Westerners, Christians will find themselves facing many of the same questions faced by the Christians of the first and second centuries. Many of us are probably finding ourselves in a circumstance where we are being invited to attend homosexual weddings, the ordination of persons who are not biblically qualified for office, a cultic/pagan/non-Christian ritual, or some other event that is equally problematic.

How should we respond? There are two things that we must communicate: our genuine love for those involved, and our resolute commitment to honor Christ and his Word in every circumstance. Let us start with the latter. How do we honor Christ in a difficult circumstance, when by saying “No” we may seem to be unloving and thus perhaps judgmental, uncharitable, and even unchristian? The answer is that if we act on biblical principles, we honor Christ, even when it is painful to do so.

As Christians we are free to do a great number of things. In Galatians 5:1 Paul wrote, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Gal 5:1). To the Colossians who were being falsely taught and tempted to the spiritual bondage of man-made rules (e.g., “do not taste, do not touch.”), the apostle Paul reasserted the Christian’s liberty to enjoy God’s good creation within the bounds of his law, in the freedom of the gospel (Col 2). In 1 Corinthians 8, Paul defended the Christian’s freedom to eat meat offered to idols, even when others think that we should not. Nevertheless, there are things we are not free to do. We are not free to do things that may cause a brother or sister to stumble back into paganism, unbelief, or into gross sin. Some believers understand that pagan gods and idols are nothing but figments of the imagination.

Not all, however, possess this knowledge. But some, through former association with idols, eat food as really offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. (1 Cor 8:7–8, revised from the ESV)

We are also free not to eat if the exercise of the freedom to eat will cause a brother or sister to stumble. We are free to eat until that eating becomes a competing communion. The moment our pagan host says, “We offered this to the gods,” then we must say, “Thank you for your kind invitation but I cannot participate.”

Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. I speak as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. Consider the people of Israel: are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar? What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he? (1 Cor 10:14–22)

Believers are already in communion with the Lord. Just as the Israelites (infants and adults) were baptized into Moses, and just as they communed in the wilderness between redemption and the promised land, so we have been identified with Christ and are sojourning between redemption and consummation (1 Cor 10:1–13). So too, we have been initiated into Christ’s covenant community (the visible church) and have identified with his death in baptism. We have made profession of faith and have eaten his ascended, proper and natural body and blood (John 6:53; Belgic Confession 35) by the mysterious work of the Holy Spirit, through faith. Our loyalties have been bought with a price. Therefore, we honor God with our bodies (1 Cor 6:20).

“All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor. Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience. For “the earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof.” If one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience. But if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for the sake of conscience—I do not mean your conscience, but his. For why should my liberty be determined by someone else’s conscience? If I partake with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of that for which I give thanks? So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved. (1 Cor 10:23–33)

As Paul says, we are free from the opinions of men and from bondage to the same; but we are not free to damage brothers and sisters by leading them back into sin, and we are not free to participate in rituals which rival those instituted by Christ. On this principle, Reformed folk have historically refused to participate in the Masonic Lodge or in related and parallel societies, their youth auxiliaries and the like.1 On this principle, Reformed folk have refused to commune in a Roman Catholic mass (Heidelberg Catechism 80).

Paul is clear to say it is not that we must withdraw from the world (1 Cor 5:10); but there are limits to our freedoms. We cannot participate in a competing religious ceremony or communion.

Whether attending an ordination service constitutes participating in a competing communion is a judgment call, but it is hard to attend such ceremonies (e.g., a homosexual wedding) without signaling approval. If something is really wrong, then to do it is to act against truth and conscience. We know that the apostle Paul would not participate in a meal in which the host said, in effect, “This meal is no longer purely common; it is a religious meal.” Would he attend the ordination of a homosexual male or of a female of any sexual orientation?2 Uncomfortable as it makes late moderns (and, according to surveys, millennials in particular), the apostle Paul categorized both homosexual orientation and behavior as sin. It is hard to imagine that he would sanction a homosexual wedding with his presence—not because he was a prude but because his conscience was bound to the Word of God. Arguably, the same is true for the question of the ordination of females. There are writers whose work I really like, outstanding female scholars who are also ordained ministers. I appreciate and value their persons and their work without endorsing their ordination or their defense of the ordination of females. Try as they may, the advocates of the ordination of females to the ministry have not been able to make 1 Timothy 2 disappear from Holy Scripture:

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. (1 Timothy 2:12–13 )

Steve Baugh has effectively refuted the argument that Paul was responding to a particular kind of feminism in Ephesus and that therefore Paul’s prohibition in 1 Timothy 2:12–13 no longer applies today.3 As my dear friend Don Treick always says, “It’s in the Bible.” Indeed, as a practical matter, life would be easier if it was not; but it is and it is there for a reason, and this is one of those pressure points that will continue to cause friction between Christians and the broader culture. If we allow 1 Timothy 2 to be swept away for the sake of getting along, then the rest of Scripture must necessarily go by the board.

Since the liberals long ago caved in and evangelicals have conceded the ordination of females, those who resist will be regarded with even greater suspicion: “What’s wrong with you? Why won’t you go along with the program?” At that point, it is clear the real issue is no longer: What is the truth, what does Scripture teach, how has the church historically understood this passage, or what do we confess? Now the question is why some stubborn folks will not conform. That is exactly the challenge faced by the early Christians in the second century. As in the Martyrdom of Polycarp, the Romans were not typically asking Christians to believe that Caesar is a god.4 They were only asking us to say that he is. They were not typically asking us to stop believing in Jesus. They were only asking us to renounce Christ outwardly. They were asking us to conform outwardly. Those who refused paid for it with blood. We are not there yet, but we do not have to look far to see it, do we?

According to 1 John 4, there is a connection between words and what they signify. They signify spiritual realities with spiritual consequences. Therefore, there are limits to what we may say, and sometimes we are called upon to confess the faith in the face of moral and theological error, even when it is uncomfortable to do so.

Above, we considered the problem created by the prevailing culture’s movement away from Christian-theistic assumptions and the associated descent of the culture into neo-paganism. How do Christians respond to the pressure to conform to social and religious events and other gatherings that are contrary to Christian ethics? The first thing we must do is to understand the antithesis between belief and unbelief, and when we must stand on and assert that antithesis. The second question before us is how to respond when we find ourselves in a state of confession (i.e., when our non-Christian friends, relatives, co-workers, or others ask us or even seek to require us to do that which the moral law of God does not permit).

We are not the first believers to face these questions and challenges. The first Christians faced them in the first several centuries after the ascension of Christ and well beyond as Christianity moved beyond the Mediterranean to Western Europe, where it again came into contact with paganism. We did not always navigate these seas well. Sometimes we assimilated pagan ideas and practices into our theology, piety, and practice. Sometimes this happened in the attempt to communicate the gospel to pagans, and sometimes it happened out of desire to be accepted by pagans, as a way of minimizing the friction between Christianity and paganism.

After Scripture, one of the more helpful guides to these question is the Treatise to Diognetus.5 This document was written sometime in the mid-second century (c. 150AD) by an author who called himself simply “the disciple” (μαθητής; Mathetes). Scholars disagree about who the author probably was, but my favorite suggestion, defended brilliantly by Charles Hill, is that it was most likely Polycarp. Whoever “the disciple” was, he gives us a wonderful pattern for engaging our non-Christian friends, neighbors, relatives, and even civil authorities in a winsome way. Like Christians in northern Nigeria, throughout the Middle East, and the Far East, the Christians of the second century were under increasing pressure to conform to the prevailing paganism, and sometimes that pressure to conform came from the pointy end of a sword. In his appeal for toleration Mathetes wrote the following:

For Christians are not distinguished from the rest of humanity by country, language, or custom. For nowhere do they live in cities of their own, nor do they speak some unusual dialect, nor do they practice an eccentric way of life. . . . For while they live in both Greek and barbarian cities, as each one’s lot was cast, and follow the local customs in dress and food and other aspects of life, at the same time they demonstrate the remarkable and admittedly unusual character of their own citizenship. They live in their own countries but only as nonresidents; they participate in everything as citizens, and endure everything as foreigners. Every foreign country is their fatherland, and every fatherland is foreign. They marry like everyone else, and have children, but they do not expose their offspring. They share their food but not their wives. They are in the flesh, but they do not live according to the flesh. They live on earth, but their citizenship is in heaven. They obey the established laws; indeed in their private lives they transcend the laws. They love everyone, and by everyone they are persecuted.6

In this passage Mathetes does two things: he acknowledges that we do, in fact, have things in common with unbelievers, and he asserts the anthesis—the reality that, when it comes to ultimate matters, Christians have loyalties and commitments that transcend our commitments to this world.

Notice his rhetorical strategy. He did not appeal first to the antithesis (that which separates Christians from non-Christians), but to that which we have in common. One mistake new Christians (or sometimes those who have newly discovered the Reformed confession) may be tempted to is to deny that Christians and non-Christians have anything in common whatsoever. This is understandable. When we first come to faith, we see how blind and ignorant we were, that we have lived in moral and spiritual darkness. Now that, by God’s free, sovereign favor, we see what we were and what we are, and who Christ is and who he is to us—our Savior and the Lord of all!—it is tempting to think that we no longer have anything in common with our unbelieving past or our unbelieving friends, relatives, and co-workers. That is not true. We do. Both of us, believers and unbelievers alike, continue to live in God’s world together. In that respect, nothing has really changed. What has changed is that, by God’s free favor in Christ, by the work of the Spirit in us by which we were granted new life, we now see things differently. But Christ was Lord all along. Our coming to new life and faith and union with Christ did not make him Lord. He was. We just see it now. We were God’s image bearers before we came to faith—even though the image was defaced and we were busily trying to deny that reality and to suppress the knowledge of God that all image bearers carry (Gen 2). Our non-Christian friends are also image bearers. They are in rebellion to the Lord, but that rebellion does not change the facts. It just adds to the chaos and confusion of this world.

Because we share a common, shared status as image bearers, believers and unbelievers live together under God’s general providence (he makes the rain to fall on believers and unbelievers alike; Matt 5). Recently, in San Diego County, we endured some unseasonable wildfires. Many acres have been burned so far but, thanks to God, relatively few homes or businesses have burned. Did God spare only Christians? No. He spared Christians and non-Christians; and likely both Christians and non-Christians lost homes. We live in God’s world together. We stop at the same traffic lights. We experience the same weather. We eat the same food. We wear the same clothes (although we may wear them a bit differently). We speak the same language. We drive the same cars. We use the same phones. We obey the same laws.

So, as we try to communicate to our non-Christian friends why we cannot join them in their celebration, we should be sure to begin with what unites us, what we have in common. One of the things that has always irritated non-Christians most about Christians is that it has seemed to them that we have nothing whatsoever in common with them, that we are “special,” that we consider ourselves exempt from the affairs of this world. From those places where we must separate from the world or distinguish ourselves from it, unbelievers sometimes (perhaps often) infer that we do so because we think we are intrinsically better than they, that we think God loves us because we are good and hates them because they are bad. This is because the natural impulse is to relate to God on the basis of works (being good). We were made to relate to God on the basis of works (HC 6, 9). We confess that we were made “in righteousness and true holiness, that [we] might rightly know God [our] Creator, heartily love him” and, upon completing the probation, “live with him in eternal blessedness” because we had obeyed what the Belgic Confession calls “the commandment of life” (BC 14).

Unfortunately, sometimes those who profess the Christian faith give unbelievers reason to think that is how the world works, that we really do relate to God on the basis of our personal obedience, when the truth is quite opposite: after the fall we are accepted only and ever on the basis of Christ’s perfect righteousness earned for us and imputed to us, and received through faith (resting, trusting) alone.

Of course, unbelievers may be misinterpreting our assertion of the fundamental spiritual (and consequently epistemic) difference between believers and non-believers as a claim that we have nothing in common. Perhaps, however, we have unintentionally given the impression that we have nothing in common? Sometimes Christians (and even some in the Reformed community) speak about the antithesis in a way that gives that impression.

There is a most profound difference between believers and unbelievers. It is the difference between spiritual blindness and sight, between spiritual life and death. The only reason the dead come to life (Ezek 37) and the blind are made to see (Matt 11) is the free, sovereign Spirit of God who raises the dead and grants sight to the blind. The dead have no prior claim on God, and he does not give sight to the blind because of any quality in them or even because of the quality of their faith. Therefore, we must never ascribe the difference to anything but God’s free favor and sovereign good pleasure.

Nevertheless, as humans made in the image of God, as fellow sinners judged by the law of God, as fellow recipients of God’s general providence and mercy by which he gives gifts and restrains evil, we do have genuine areas of community. And as we try to articulate our differences and our convictions, we do well to begin with those things we have in common.

Earlier we looked at Paul’s teaching to the Corinthians about the limits of their ability to relate to non-Christians, and his defense of Christian freedom in the same. We looked at the defense of the faith by a certain Disciple (Mathetes, c. 150AD), as part of which, he explained briefly what Christians have in common with non-Christians and what they do not. Now we will consider how this early Christian articulated the spiritual, theological, and moral antithesis to his non-Christian neighbors.

As we try to explain to our non-Christian friends, neighbors, and loved ones why we cannot join them in their event, we need to express the antithesis that exists between belief and unbelief. Paul says:

Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said,

“I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them,
and I will be their God,
and they shall be my people.
Therefore go out from their midst,
and be separate from them, says the Lord,
and touch no unclean thing;
then I will welcome you,
and I will be a father to you,
and you shall be sons and daughters to me,
says the Lord Almighty.” (2 Cor 6:16–18)

Before we express the antithesis, we need to try to communicate our genuine appreciation for those who have offered to include us in a significant event in their lives. Though they know in their conscience (Rom 1–2) that God is, that there is something wrong, and that they are ultimately accountable to God, they are also busily suppressing that knowledge. They do live in real darkness (Eph 2). Their affections are misdirected and confused. They hate the God who graciously gave us new life and opened our eyes, and they do not want to submit to his creational order and moral law. Yet, as image bearers, in the general providence of God, they can be genuinely kind, and none of us is as evil as we might otherwise be without the restraining hand of God.

We need to say to those who have included us in their lives, “We love you. We care for you as a fellow image bearer and as a friend/neighbor/co-worker/family member. We genuinely appreciate your invitation to participate in [fill in the blank]. We appreciate how important this event is to you and how important it is to you to have your friends and loved ones present.” It would be good to articulate what it is in particular about your non-Christian friend that you value—as I have mentioned before, we ought to value folk not just for their potential to become Christians, for then they become mere notches on one’s evangelistic belt. Rather, we ought to love them for what they are (fellow image bearers) and who they are to us.

We have good warrant for thinking and speaking this way. God loves sinners. Jesus, God the Son incarnate, loved sinners—the very sinners, for whom he came to obey and die, and for whose justification he was raised. He loved those who turned on him in a mob, the same mob that shouted for Bar-Abbas out of spite.

After we have expressed our affection for those who have sought to include us in their lives in this way, we should also explain why we cannot participate. It is not because we are morally superior or without sin, but because we are not our own. We have been bought with a price (1 Cor 6). We may be relatively autonomous with respect to civil authorities and others in this world, but relative to God we are servants, we are slaves. We are to “have this mind” in us that Christ Jesus had (Phil 2). Even if we might otherwise be minded to it, because we have been purchased with the precious blood of Christ (1 Pet 1:19), there are limits, there are things we may not do.

The limits of our participation are determined by our dual citizenship. We are free to do a great many things, but insofar as our heavenly citizenship (Phil 3:20) limits us, there simply are things we cannot do. As Americans (or wherever the reader might be) we love our country. But we love another country—a heavenly city-state (Gal 4)—even more, and we are ambassadors from that place to this. We must live before our unbelieving friends, neighbors, and relatives as if we represent the heavenly kingdom, because we do. The Ambassador for Whatevertania might like to appear before the president in flip-flops and sunglasses, but he dares not because he is, with respect to his office, a public person. So it is with us. We live fully in this place and time, under the Lordship of Christ. But as Mathetes says, our heavenly citizenship prevents us from sharing our wives, from putting our (unborn and born) children to death, from indulging in sexual immorality, and from sanctioning that which is contrary to the creational pattern—a pattern which is binding upon all image bearers.

Some correspondents have written to ask about Christian liberty in these matters. Yes, of course, there is liberty (1 Cor 6:12); but that liberty is circumscribed by God’s moral law—and when not limited by law, it is limited by wisdom. Even if, under God’s law, you might believe yourself to be free to do this or that, you should still ask yourself: “Is it wise? Is it profitable?” I understand the temptation to react to legalism, but not all limits are legalism.

©R. Scott Clark. All Rights Reserved.

Editor’s note: This essay was originally published on the Heidelblog in May 2014.


  1. For more on the Reformed views of the Masonic Lodge and other secret societies, see RSC, “Of Sacred Cows and Secret Societies.”
  2. For more on issues of homosexuality and human sexuality, see RSC, “Resources On Homosexuality.”
  3. See S. M. Baugh, “The Apostle among the Amazons,” Westminster Theological Journal 56, no. 1 (Spring 1994).
  4. Kirsopp Lake, trans., The Martyrdom of Polycarp, in Apostolic Fathers, vol. 1, Loeb Classical Library, no. 24 (London: Loeb Classical Library, 1912).
  5. J. R. Harmer, trans., Diognetus, in Joseph B. Lightfoot and J. R. Harmer, ed., The Apostolic Fathers (London: Macmillan & Co., 1898).
  6. J. B. Lightfoot and Michael W. Holmes, trans., The Epistle to Diognetus, in The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations, 3rd ed., Michael W. Holmes, ed. (Ada, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 701–702.

©R. Scott Clark. All Rights Reserved.


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  1. Dr Clark, Christians trying to reach Moslems have traditionally had no problem with eating halal, and the same seems to be true of Judaism and kosher. My rationale is that you only participate in this kind of false religion if you abstain from eating food of which it disapproves, rather than merely eating the food of which it does approve. However, there is a growing body of Christians, who are saying that we should not eat halal food, and it isn’t just on grounds of cruelty. What is your take on this?

  2. Very interesting. “The ordination of persons who are not biblically qualified for office” – Makes me wonder about the ordination of an elder I attended recently who’s a very wealthy man, works full time in the secular world and has never been to a seminary… I’ve wondered if I should have been a part of that.

    • Paul divides elders into four categories: 1. Elders that sin and should be rebuked, 2. Elders worthy of honour, 3. Elders that rule well and are worthy of double honour, and 4. Elders who labour in the word and doctrine and are especially worthy of double honour. I assume this ordination is a statement that this particular wealthy man, who works full time in the secular world and has never been to a seminary, is one who also labours in the word and doctrine. It’s not impossible, is it? I’m sure you have a better idea than I have as to whether this is indeed the case.

    • Neo,
      Likewise, “Very interesting.” Nothing you mentioned would be a basis for disqualification of an Elder, per se. Now, if you are describing someone being ordained as a Pastor, considered a Teaching Elder, that would be another thing altogether.

  3. Dr. Clark, it appears you are missing part of a sentence:

    “The initiation rites On this principle Reformed folk have refused to commune in a Roman Catholic mass…”

    • Isn’t a reformed person supposed either to be entirely absent from the Roman Catholic mass or raise a visible and audible protest if compelled to attend it? John Bradford’s booklet was entitled “The Hurt of Hearing Mass”, not just “The hurt of Receiving Mass”.

  4. On the other hand I vaguely remember hearing about a guy who was refusing a call to be a teaching elder because he hadn’t done enough study and was planning on going somewhere else to do more, only to hear the words “God curse your studies!” from the person issuing the call – Something like that.

  5. John-

    Yes Christians should not even be present at the mass for it is abominable idolatry and thus we should avoid any sign of giving approval to it. To attend something and observe it is to give the impression one approves of it. But not only that: one is exposing oneself to something which is harmful.

    • Certainly we should not be attending a (Roman) mass for the purposes of worship or to assent to the errors that are taught but it does seem morally possible to attend for academic or scientific purposes. Protestants who criticize a mass without ever having seen one (there are different types of masses) are at a disadvantage and less credible in their criticisms. Obviously, there are limits to what one can see in order to argue against it. One need not see a murder to criticize it but is a mass morally equivalent to the crime of murder or theft etc?

      What we reject is the Roman claim of transubstantiation and the Roman doctrine of propitiatory, eucharistic sacrifice. We also, of course, object to the invocation of the BVM and the saints. The mass is more than these things.

      Those who’ve come out of Rome or who might be tempted by it ought to avoid it but I couldn’t say that it is sin to attend a mass for academic reasons.

      In our reaction to errors we should not set up new laws that bind the conscience.

      Those who refuse to come out, however, are another case. Calvin called those who refused to leave Rome: Nicodemites.

      Here’s an explanation:

  6. Well one example given is John Kennedy of Dingwall who, when travelling in Italy and visiting churches, witnessed masses being performed in parts of the church. Whether that would be advisable (I’d say no) it’s different from going to a Catholic Church to attend a service: i.e. the reason you’re there is to attend the service.

    I feel I must disagree with your argument about having greater legitimacy by observing things one condemns. If we are told something is wrong- transubstantiation &c.- and we are told that something contains that then I think we can quote legitimately condemn that thing without viewing it ourselves. One doesn’t have to know all the ins and outs of the mass to object to it. And anyway we have detailed accounts of the mass so I don’t see why we need to see it for ourselves. Others have already done so and written about it.

    I don’t dispute that being educated on an issue is helpful but that education does not need to be first hand. A lot of what we are educated on and examined on is second hand knowledge.

    • John Kennedy’s example came up in the controversy over the disciplining by the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland of Lord MacKay of Clashfern for attending two requiem masses for two previous colleagues of his. Kennedy did rubberneck churches in Italy and observed masses being said. To protest, however, he would have to have walked over to the part of the church where mass was being said (Some of these Italian churches are massive), so he simply passed by. That was indeed different from actually attending a mass.
      My sympathies were initially with Lord MacKay and the people who separated to form the Association of Presbyterian Churches (He himself withdrew from the FPs and started attending St Helens Bishopsgate for a time; however, not too long after, he was to be found in the rather less evangelical Temple Church, the church traditionally frequented by barristers – I say traditionally, because a number of bachelors among them started going to the Charismatic movement dominated Holy Trinity Brompton because there was far more “talent” there), but I was, and still am persuaded by the arguments produced by the FPs. In particular David Clemence, from the Barnoldswick congregation reprinted John Bradford’s “The Hurt Of Hearing Mass”. Subsequent events have rather vindicated the FPs, as I understand the APC now to be wholly given over to pop-style worship.

    • This is somewhat of a calumny. The Associated Presbyterian Churches are still a capella metrical psalms only!

    • I was mistaken as regards present practice in the APC and majority practice since its inception (Their website only mentions psalm-singing) and James is probably right. The information on which I based my assertion came when they still had a congregation in Aberdeen and was about practices at the premises they occupied, under a minister who soon after departed for the Church of Scotland (having previously been quoted as saying that the APC was now somewhere between the Free Church of Scotland and the Church of Scotland). Following his departure, the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland reclaimed the buildings (which were being used contrary to trust deeds), and there is now no longer an APC congregation in Aberdeen. Contrary to the impression I had, Aberdeen was not typical of the denomination as a whole.
      I notice that their website teaches that believers are not saints until they get to glory (i.e., their definition for the term differs from that of the Bible)!

  7. Pioneer missionaries have an extra problem: How on earth will they pick up anything of the language or the culture without taking the risk that something they find themselves doing may actually be idolatrous?

  8. On the matter of women’s ordination, C. S. Lewis wrote a perceptive essay, “Priestesses in the Church?” Of course it’s from an Anglican perspective, but expresses astute observations of human nature and created order.

  9. “What’s wrong with you? Why won’t you go along with the program?”

    I’m sure they said that to Daniel and his three friends!

  10. I didn’t read all the comments, but I have a question… How do you feel about going to a wedding of non-believers? That may have been living together before marriage. I agree with the article and would not chose to go to a homosexual ‘marriage’ ceremony, but have then been asked about the non-believer thing. Anyone have good thoughts to help me with the argument?

    • Bre,

      Well at least we’re talking about a union that is not contrary to nature, i.e., to say it’s heterosexual. So, there’s that.

      I suppose that if we were to say that we aren’t going to attend any wedding of those who previously co-habitated, we could save a lot of money on wedding presents!

      Insofar as this rite/ceremony is fundamentally a creational, civil function, then I can’t see why Christians could not attend. Marriage is rooted in creation. It is analogous to salvation (Eph 5) but it is not salvation or an administration of salvation (i.e., a means of grace).

  11. “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… (1 Timothy 2:12-13 ESV).”

    It appears the issue is women teaching men. Is there any reason a woman can’t be ordained to pastor other women?

    • Teresa,

      No one has ever asked me that question before. As I understand Scripture, Paul intended that only males be ordained to pastoral office. 1Tim 5:17ff, Titus and 1 Pet 5 all seem to indicate that the ruling and teaching offices in the church are to held by males—however politically incorrect that might be today.

      It’s probably the case that men and women were physically separated within the congregation, at least in some cultural settings, but they were in the same congregation at the same time. In other words, I’m not aware that there were same-sex, segregated congregations. When Paul gave his instructions to Timothy, it doesn’t appear that he was intending to limit the ordination of females to same-sex, segregated congregations. He only gave the one ground there but it seems perverse to use the ground to get rid of the rule, but of course this is what some have tried to do in other ways, to so limit the original circumstances—even going so far as to read into 1st century Asia Minor issues from 800 years prior, as in the suggestion that Paul was addressing alleged proto-feminist “amazons”—and to conclude that his restriction is no longer in force because the problem no longer exists. As far as I know the early church understood Paul to restrict the teaching and ruling offices to males on the basis of the creational order.

      A combox is poor medium for sorting out a thorny question like this but yours is an interesting one.

      • Dr. Clark, it surprises me that nobody has ever asked you this question before. It was a significant part of the arguments during the 1980s and early 1990s in the Christian Reformed Church over women in office. I had to deal with this question regularly.

        Would I have a problem with a female professor leading chapel at an all-female college in the 1800s? Or a female teacher leading chapel at an all-girls school? Those are rare today, but what about a woman leading a Christian retreat for women students at a Christian college or high school? Or a woman leading chapel at a prison for women?

        My own view, for whatever it may be worth — I don’t have a problem with women in those roles. If it’s more than just an occasional role but is a paid full-time position, come up with some title other than “minister” or “pastor” to make clear the woman isn’t ordained. Christian colleges used to have positions such as “dean of women” so creating a similar position for women working only among women that shouldn’t be a problem. A woman who actually wants to serve women in those roles won’t care about the title, and a woman who does care about the title is by definition disqualified.

        We have very few “women only” spaces in the modern world, but historically they were more common. In certain mission contexts even today, they are quite common.

        Only a little more than a century ago, the Korean Presbyterians not only reinstituted deaconesses but also created the new roles of kwonsa and jondosa, women kwonsa essentially doing the work of elders among women, and women jondosa receiving seminary and/or Bible college training comparable to assistant pastors so they could work with women and children. Why? For moral and cultural reasons, in an era when upper-class Korean women were still cloistered in their homes and Korean churches sometimes put curtains down the middle to keep men and women from seeing each other, male elders and pastors simply could NOT be teaching and pastoring women outside their extended families.

        Besides Korea of a century ago, where else might that principle apply?

        The Arab world is an obvious example where it is essential to have women teaching women. Other cases could be cited. The Koreans didn’t get their idea out of nowhere; they adopted it from the practice of “Bible women” in India — native female believers trained by British and American missionaries working in India to do work men, for cultural reasons, could not do.

        None of that is an argument for ordaining the woman involved. It’s an argument for applying the biblical principle that older women can and SHOULD teach younger women.

        I would argue the issue is spiritual maturity, not chronological age, so relatively young female professors who are theologically trained and spiritually mature can teach students. The alternative would be to argue that elders must always be older men and that only teaching elders, based on the precedent of Timothy, may be younger men, which separates the qualifications for ruling and teaching elder more than I believe to be biblically warranted.

        If we’re not going to follow the Korean model of instituting kwonsa and jondosa or some equivalent, at a bare minimum, we probably should be using pastors’ wives and elders’ wives far more often than we do.

        Given the number of moral scandals in American evangelical Christianity, I’m not at all sure the Korean concern of the late 1800s and early 1900s about male pastors shepherding women was wrong. This may be an example of something the experience of mission churches can teach Americans.

      • Even to countenance ordination of women is disturbing. It questions the necessity of Jesus the Christ being a man. The creative order as seen in Christ the second Adam. If women were to be ministers he would have been compelled to appoint one as an apostle.

    • Dr. Warfield may be helpful here:

      “The difference in conclusions between Paul and the feminist movement of today is rooted in a fundamental difference in their points of view relative to the constitution of the human race. To Paul, the human race is made up of families, and every several organism—the church included—is composed of families, united together by this or that bond. The relation of the sexes in the family follow it therefore into the church. To the feminist movement the human race is made up of individuals; a woman is just another individual by the side of the man, and it can see no reason for any differences in dealing with the two. And, indeed, if we can ignore the great fundamental natural difference of sex and destroy the great fundamental social unit of the family in the interest of individualism, there does not seem any reason why we should not wipe out the differences established by Paul between the sexes in the church — except, of course, the authority of Paul.” (PAUL ON WOMEN SPEAKING IN CHURCH by Dr. Benjamin B. Warfield).

      As Warfield says, a woman pastor (in any sense) undercuts the very creational order which is carried into the church. Even by placing women as quasi-elders over women’s ministries, as many churches do, undermines God’s design of male rule in the church. Paul is explicit on the spheres appropriate to men and women in the church (Titus 2:3-5). Our culture tells us this oppressive. But God says it’s in fact glorious, healthy, and right. Men and women are created with distinct functions. Women leading, pastoring, ruling is not one of them. History has only verified the danger of the feminist regime on this very point.

  12. I’m not sure if prison chaplaincy is considered the same as pastoring, but that’s one area I can think of where single-sex ministry would be necessary.

  13. Re read this a week ago and thought how prophetic and forward thinking it was in light of this present age.

    It’s a bit out of context but it seems the principle of trying to bless them without calling out the truth of their unnatural sin is joining with them.

    2Jn 1:10  If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed:
    2Jn 1:11  For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds.

  14. Willing participation in ceremonies pertaining to homosexual and trans marriages seem pretty straight forward scripturally. What about participation in a wedding taking place between professing Christians being married for a second time? If reasons for first divorces aren’t necessarily biblically supported, are we supporting, participating and condoning the couples sin of adultery?

    • Seems the answer would be yes. What about attending a wedding of unbelievers where the fact that marriage was ordained by God is not acknowledged? Or a clearly pagan wedding ceremony? One officiated by a woman?

      Which sins will we endorse and which will we not?

      • Andrew,

        It depends. Is it a religious wedding? In such a case, probably no. My analogy would be 1 Cor 8–10. If pagans invite us to a secular meal (even one in which the meat was offered to the gods by the butchers) that’s one thing but if it’s a religious meal, which is to be devoted to the gods right in front of us, that’s another thing.

        A civil wedding is one thing, a religious pagan wedding would be a problem.

        The officiant (e.g., a female judge) isn’t an issue in a civil wedding. In a religious wedding, it would be more problematic.

  15. Regarding attending the ordination of people who are not qualified to be ordained, such as women:

    I attended the ordination of the CRC’s first woman minister as a reporter for Christian Renewal. I went to seminary with her and while we certainly were not friends, I knew her fairly well in a context separate from our obviously adversarial roles on the issue of women in office. At the risk of putting words in her mouth, I’ll use two statements made by others at Calvin, though not her — “Darrell, you’re a nice guy who runs with the wrong crowd.” Again, “I can’t figure out why you’re a conservative, Darrell. You’re not mean like those people.” She didn’t mind me attending her ordination and was probably glad it was me and not someone else reporting on her ordination, and that I wanted to actually go there myself and see it rather than believe what other people might say.

    While attending the ordination service, I watched a number of people in the audience wearing As We ARE T-shirts, which was the CRC’s pro-gay group. I was surprised because I know that’s not what the woman involved believed, but they were members of her church and came up for communion at the denomination’s first communion service led by a female CRC minister.

    I think most of my readers were happy that I attended that ordination service. If I had not done so, it is very unlikely that the word would ever have gotten out about As We ARE members openly declaring their membership in that group as they came to communion.

    It was hard to argue after that service that there was no tie between the arguments for women’s ordination and for far worse things.

    Now maybe my role was a special case. However, I think that example shows that we cannot make a one-size-fits-all rule that we can never attend an ordination service of someone who should not be ordained.

    Before people ask, no, I did not come to communion. I would not have done so in any case, and the woman involved understood why, though she gently reminded me that I had in the past, years before, sat under women’s preaching more often than almost any other student at Calvin Seminary. (The UCC church from a German Reformed background that I attended in college before transferring to Calvin had a husband-wife co-pastor team.) However, admitting the As We ARE members to communion was far more of a problem than a woman administering communion.

    I think my experience illustrates the difference between attendance and participation and could apply to other similar situations.

    I would defend my attendance to this day. I would also argue that coming to communion at her ordination service would have indicated endorsement of her ministerial ordination, and beyond that, in that specific situation, would also have endorsed the consistory’s practice of admitting people to communion in an organization that was in open opposition to the official Christian Reformed stance on homosexuality. That is not a minor moral issue and is far more serious than women in office.


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